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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - S-21 survivor tells of painting for Duch

S-21 survivor tells of painting for Duch

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090702_02.jpg

Three decades after his release, Bou Meng confronts former jailer about his wife's fate.

Photo by: AFP

Tuol Sleng survivor Bou Meng testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday.

A TUOL SLENG survivor described on Wednesday how he painted 3-metre high portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot while under the watchful eye of prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, a task that he said saved him from death.

Bou Meng, 68, estimated that he spent a year-and-a-half at the secret detention facility, a period in which he was subjected to beatings and electric shocks to his inner thigh.

He told Cambodia's war crimes court that his treatment improved only after S-21 staff enlisted him to paint portraits of Pol Pot and Mao Tse-tung as well as cartoon-like propaganda images of Ho Chi Minh's head attached to the body of a dog.

As Bou Meng painted, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, sat in a nearby chair with his legs crossed, watching him and occasionally offering critiques, the artist said.

"At that time, [Duch] sat next to me watching me paint a portrait of Brother Number One, Pol Pot," he said. "He ordered me, ‘You should adjust the throat. It's not a tumor, it's just fat.'"

He said Duch told him he "would be used as human fertiliser" if he could not paint images that exactly resembled Pol Pot.

"I did not understand if I would be used to produce human fertiliser or if I would be the human fertiliser myself," he said.

He added: "I survived because I could paint the exact portrait of Pol Pot."

Bou Meng said Duch never beat him, though he did instruct him to fight with another detainee.

He recalled an incident in which Duch ordered the beating of a Vietnamese detainee who had falsely claimed he could make wax molds.  

"Duch saw that he could not do it, and he ordered the interrogators to kick him like you kick a ball," Bou Meng said. "From what I understood he was angry that that person lied to him."

Duch ‘moved' by testimony

Bou Meng and his wife were sent to Tuol Sleng in 1977. His interrogators would later accuse him of espionage and force him to sign a false confession before ordering him to paint portraits.

Bou Meng said the only photo he had of his wife, who was presumably executed, was the one taken of her when they entered Tuol Sleng.

On Wednesday Bou Meng was given the chance to ask Duch where his wife was killed, saying that he would like to go to that spot and "pray for her soul".

In response, Duch said he did not know because the killing would have been carried out by one of his subordinates.  

Duch said, though, that he had been "moved" by Bou Meng's testimony.

"Please accept the highest assurance of my regards and respect to the soul of your wife," Duch said before he began to cry. 

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