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Mixed reactions to Duch apology at second day of trial

Many Cambodians watched the first public hearings of the Khmer Rouge tribunal with interest, but opinions on Duch remain divided.

AS images of stony-faced former Tuol Sleng commandant Kaing Guek Eav were beamed out across the globe during trial hearings Monday and Tuesday, people across the country have crowded around televisions to witness the historic proceedings that many hope will bring closure to the wounds opened up 30 years ago by the Khmer Rouge.

But many Cambodians - including former Khmer Rouge soldiers based in Pailin province - have expressed mixed feelings about finally seeing Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, in the dock.

"I have followed Duch's trial on television closely because it [involves] former Khmer Rouge leaders," Teang Sen, a 54-year old who joined the communist insurgency in 1972, said by phone Tuesday from Pailin, after watching Duch's sudden, rambling apology to his victims.

"Some are paying attention to [the trial] because they want to know who is involved and some are worried they might [soon] be involved," he said.

Meas Muth - who is likely on a list of additional suspects for investigation compiled by foreign co-prosecutor Robert Petit - said by phone that he has listened to the court's proceedings on the radio during each day of the trial.

But he said he was neither completely convinced of Duch's sincerity, nor his claims that he was forced by his superiors to commit the brutal acts that he has confessed to while overseeing the regime's most important torture centre.

"Duch has blamed the Khmer Rouge leaders for committing crimes, but he still stayed with the Khmer Rouge until [its] integration into government and his arrest," he said.

"If he thought the Khmer Rouge was bad, he should have left them after the Vietnamese liberation in 1979," Meas Muth added.

"This is a point other Khmer Rouge figures have raised against him."

Pailin provincial Deputy Governor Keut Sothea - also a former Khmer Rouge cadre - agreed about Duch's comments at the court Tuesday, saying that he always "tries to raise something" to deflect guilt from himself.

"The finger-pointing will go back and forth between those accused," he predicted.

Don't forgive, forget

Phnom Penh resident Phon Seng said the trials could give young generations a new insight into the history of Cambodia, but added that Duch's apology for his crimes would do nothing to wipe away the effects of his actions.

"I see that Duch expresses sorrow for taking people's lives. He is right to make an apology, but he must not be forgiven and must be punished according to the crimes he committed," he said.

Yeang Touch, another Phnom Penh resident, said that she also watched the trials, but that she had not yet learned much because Duch also wanted to portray himself as a victim.

"I do not understand this trial because he just points at other leaders for ordering him to kill people. I do not know who is to be blamed," she said.

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