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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Woman identifies herself in Tuol Sleng museum gallery

Woman identifies herself in Tuol Sleng museum gallery

Mom Kimsen, a 61-year-old Khmer Rouge survivor from Kampong Cham province, points to her photograph during a visit to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum yesterday. Mom Kimsen was imprisoned at Prey Sar prison, aka S-24, during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

This is the second time a survivor has found her
mug shot at S-21 while
she was still alive

Mom Kimsen was walking through Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum yesterday with dozens of other villagers when she received a start: staring out at her from among the photos of the many victims of S-21 was an image of herself, 34 years younger.

The 61-year-old from Kampong Cham province’s Kampong Siem district was one of roughly 350 villagers who toured the facility yesterday as part of an outreach event led by the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s public affairs section.

After working as a pig raiser on a Khmer Rouge collective, Mom Kimsen was arrested on accusations of “betraying the regime” and was taken to S-24 prison, or Prey Sar, in 1977, where she said her photograph had been taken.

“During my time in jail, I was not beaten, but I was treated badly and forced to work hard,” she said yesterday at Tuol Sleng. “I am very shocked to see my picture, and I never thought I would survive until today.”

The photos on display at Tuol Sleng come from film collected at the facility after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

While the dozens of chilling, black-and-white mug shots are popularly thought to depict exclusively prisoners who were later executed, Tuol Sleng museum deputy director Chey Sophearom said this was not necessarily the case.

“There is no reliable confirmation about whether all the film collected was taken only at Tuol Sleng or was brought from somewhere else,” he said.

“This is the second time a survivor has found her mug shot at S-21 while she was still alive, though they were both jailed at S-24, or Prey Sar, at that time.”

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said the prisoners in the photos came from S-24 and another security centre in Kandal province in addition to S-21.“Just because their photos are in S-21 does not mean those people were killed,” he said.

Scholars generally estimate  the number of survivors among the roughly 14,000 prisoners who came through S-21 at around a dozen, just a handful of whom remain alive today.  In a report earlier this year, researchers from the Documentation Centre of Cambodia said more than 200 people may have in fact survived.

However, during the trial of former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in 2009, the former jailer said that prisoner lists apparently showing higher numbers of survivors had been fabricated by S-21 staff.

Duch was sentenced to 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions in the tribunal’s first verdict last year. His appeal is currently pending before the court’s Supreme Court Chamber.



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