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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - FINDING DUCH

FINDING DUCH

090213_04duch_4.jpg
090213_04duch_4.jpg

The Post's Georgia Wilkins speaks to photojournalist Nic Dunlop about the man he found and exposed to the world as Kaing Guek Eav, Cambodia's most notorious prison chief.

Photo by:

NIC DUNLOp/PANOS

One of the few surviving photos of Duch during the regime, in 1977.

What were your impressions of Duch when you met him for the first time?

He cut a small and somewhat eccentric figure. When he talked about the violence of the regime, it was never clear to me if he was aware of the consequences of what he was saying. He seemed a little distracted and distant. I think he felt safe talking with foreigners.

Duch described himself to you during your first meeting as a "technician" of the communist party. What do you think he meant by this?

I think he wanted to give the impression that he simply followed orders and didn't have the authority to give them, lessening his responsibility.

Duch has expressed guilt and remorse for what he did during the regime. Why do you think he waited to be found rather than confessing his crimes on his own behalf?

He was worried for his life. He expressed concern when he began to talk. He believed some Khmer Rouge leaders would be only too happy to have him killed. The war in Cambodia had only just ended, so there was still tension with the shifting of allegiances. I don't think he ever thought he'd end up in prison, but he believed that he might be killed.

"When he talked about the violence of the regime, it was never clear to me if he was aware of the consequences.

You heard and saw Duch confess in person for the first time. What will it mean to you to hear him confess again before the court and a national and international audience?

When I stumbled on Duch, it was a chance encounter. Yes, I carried a photograph of him with me, but there was a part of me that thought that I'd never actually find him. And I never set out to bring people to account. Rather, I wanted to reach an understanding about what had happened under the Khmer Rouge. The fact that Duch was willing to talk the way he did was extraordinary. But I don't feel in any way central to this. I was just a small, accidental part of something much, much bigger. I'm sure that it would have been a question of time before someone else stumbled upon him.
It will only mean something to me if it means something to Cambodians. This is their story and their history. But I worry that ordinary Cambodians don't feel that they have ownership over the process of bringing people like Duch to account. In my experience, they have little understanding of what it means and how it relates to them. It would be a real shame if we have Duch telling the court important things that people need to know and few people are actually aware of it.

When you met Duch, he admitted guilt, but he also suggested that the killings were "the rule of [the] party". What do you think Duch will reveal at the trial about the regime and his place in it?

I would expect him to be able to explain how the orders for the killings were made and how the security apparatus worked and who was ultimately responsible.

Did you get the sense, when you met him before he was arrested, that Duch genuinely felt remorse for what he had done during the regime?

Very hard to say. It was difficult to get a sense of anything, to be honest. It just seemed so ordinary and, of course, it wasn't. I think the fact that he accepted his own role as well as pointed the finger elsewhere was significant. All the others blame others and shirk all responsibility. Duch, by contrast, said he was responsible, but so were others. So, I think that there has to be some remorse, but its hard to say. Having said that, it's important to remember the backdrop to this expression of remorse is thousands of innocent lives.

As the person who searched for and found Duch, do you have personal hopes or expectations about what the trial will reveal?

I hope that the process isn't lost on Cambodians, and I think there is a real danger of that. There is overwhelming support for this court among the population. They want it to happen and to succeed. But because donors have failed to put enough emphasis on making this widely accessible, there is a danger of it being irrelevant. I

really hope it isn't.

Do you believe that there are other people of Duch's rank who are free and should be put on trial?

Absolutely.

In an article you wrote shortly after Duch's arrest, you ask the question, "Would a full account from Duch's lips make any difference?" Do you still ponder this question?

Of course. It would be a shame if Duch said important things and really answered questions that Cambodians would like answered and only a handful of people took any notice.

There are universal questions here. I think we can often learn much more from perpetrators than victims - that is, if we're serious about preventing these things from happening again.

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