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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Former S-21 guards found

Former S-21 guards found

Former S-21 guards found

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Former Tuol Sleng guard Chim Theang, who said he merely opened and closed doors at the prison.

F

orty-six-year-old Meng has lived a peaceful existence for more than two decades

on his farm in a village in Kampong Cham raising livestock to feed his wife and four

children.

But Meng's past recently caught up with him. The Documentation Center of Cambodia

(DC-Cam) recently identified him as one of the guards at S-21, the notorious Khmer

Rouge prison and execution center.

Meng told the Post he was worried what his neighbors would think of him, and concerned

at the impact it might have on his family.

"Don't bring me trouble," he said. "If I am arrested there will be

no one to take care of my children and my wife."

Meng is one of around 100 guards still alive who worked at S-21, also known as Tuol

Sleng. He said he had no choice about working there and did nothing wrong.

"My responsibility as a guard was just to take prisoners in and out when there

was an order from high-ranking officials," said Meng. "If the prisoners

in my care died, then I would have been killed too."

His comments are echoed by 51-year-old Chim Theang, another Tuol Sleng guard, who

said he merely opened and closed doors at the prison. He called for senior Khmer

Rouge leaders to be held responsible for the genocide between 1975-1979, not guards

like himself.

"[The senior leaders] may not have killed people directly but they gave orders

to others to do so," said Theang.

Youk Chhang, the director of DC-Cam, said a large number of former S-21 guards had

told him that they wanted a tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders as soon as

possible. He said many saw it as a way of clearing themselves of the suspicion that

they were involved in the torture and killing of prisoners.

Youk estimated that only 5 percent of the guards at S-21 were involved in the murder

of inmates, but said that even those who had killed had said they were prepared to

tell their stories in court.

Both Meng and Theang told the Post they would not be afraid to testify in court if

there were a tribunal for former leaders such as Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

Talks between the UN and the government on creating the tribunal stalled in February

when the UN pulled out of negotiations. Hope now centers on a mandate from the Security

Council or more likely the General Assembly to re-start the talks.

Youk said it was not just S-21 guards like Meng who would play an important role

in any future trial - staff from all 165 prisons built during the Khmer Rouge regime

could be vital witnesses.

"We hope that these people will tell us in the future about who was responsible

for the security system of the Khmer Rouge," he said. "They are very important

as witnesses to history, and very important as witnesses to the court."

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