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Kem Sokha’s S-21 remarks questioned

The government’s resident provocateur, Sathya Rak, has struck again, with a recording in which acting opposition leader Kem Sokha purportedly entertains a conspiracy theory that the Khmer Rouge’s primary torture centre was a myth.

Sokha, the Cambodia National Rescue Party deputy president, flatly refused to comment on the recording yesterday, in which he is heard claiming the Khmer Rouge regime’s S-21 torture centre never existed.

S-21 victims Chum Mey and Bou Meng have threatened to sue Sokha if he does not apologise for the remarks in the recording, which was posted by the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit on May 20, and which opposition members claim have been misleadingly edited.

“Why is the Tuol Sleng prison remaining there? I think that the Khmer Rouge were not stupid,” Sokha says in the recording.  

“If they [the Khmer Rouge] knew they themselves were murderers, why didn’t they destroy [the evidence] instead of keeping the scene for display and photography. This was staged, brothers. I personally believe that it was staged.”

CNRP whip Son Chhay said yesterday said he had spoken to Sokha, who had said the recordings of him speaking to a crowd had been edited out of context.

“He was saying that they had to look at the issue of the killing seriously and to find the reason why so many people were killed, instead of the current government using the killing of so many Cambodians for propaganda,” he said.

“Those were the words of the Khmer Rouge leaders, including [Khmer Rouge tribunal defendant] Nuon Chea. They have denied that it existed, and he said he had mentioned that [the Khmer Rouge leadership] said this was created by the Vietnamese and so on.”

Chhay noted that Sokha was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, whose father had been killed by the regime, and said that he was refusing to comment because he was tired of responding to routine personal attacks against him by the CPP.

Sokha and opposition leader Sam Rainsy have been the targets of a series of recordings from the government’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit produced by CPP commentator Sathya Rak called “Two strong men fight each other”, in which he paints disunity between them.   

But while previous episodes have had little public impact, focusing on disagreements the two leaders had before their parties merged, the latest recording has proved highly offensive to survivors of the regime.

Chum Mey, one of only two known living survivors of S-21, otherwise known as Tuol Sleng, said he and Bou Meng were giving Sokha 10 days as of May 24 to apologise for the comments.

“If he ignores apologising to the victims of Tuol Sleng, I and Bou Meng, as representatives of the victims, will file a lawsuit against Sokha in order to find justice.”

Mey rejected the possibility that the comments had been edited out of context, saying he had heard them himself on the radio on May 18.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), said there was ample evidence to show that Tuol Sleng was undeniably a Khmer Rouge crime site.

“Kem Sokha himself was a victim of the Khmer Rouge. I don’t understand. What was he [thinking]?,” Chhang said.

DC-Cam’s Khamboly Dy said there had been many politicised interpretations of historical incidents that occurred during the Khmer Rouge regime over the years.

One such conspiracy theory was that Tuol Sleng, as a crime site, was created by the Vietnamese to justify their occupation after 1979, which blatantly contradicts all known evidence.  

“Everyone knows that Tuol Sleng was the top security centre of the Khmer Rouge, where 14,000 people were put to their death,” Dy said.

“I think as victims of Tuol Sleng, Chum Mey and Bou Meng would suffer double harm by the distortion of the historical facts, and I believe an apology might help Chum Mey and Bou Meng recover from this suffering.”

Tuol Sleng was the focus of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Case 001, in which former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, was convicted to life in prison, proceedings in which Meng and Mey were witnesses and civil parties.

Lao Mong Hay, a political analyst and frequent court observer, said that during the case, some testimony indicated that the Vietnamese had made some “rearrangements” of evidence at Tuol Sleng, but that it was still undeniably a mass torture centre.  

“I think he should [clarify his position]. That also would be [politically] damaging to him as well,” he said.

Sathya Rak could not be reached for comment yesterday. When asked if the recording had been edited in a misleading fashion, Ek Tha, a Council of Ministers spokesman, said he had no comment.

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