Duch, the former director of the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 interrogation centre in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng, has been taken to a hospital in the capital with respiratory problems, reports said on Wednesday.
In 2010, Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, became the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to be found guilty of crimes committed under the genocidal regime more than 30 years ago.
Chat Sineang, the director of the Kandal prison where he is serving his sentence, told AFP that Duch had been undergoing treatment for respiratory problems since October 20, and was moved from a provincial treatment facility to the capital.
“He is still at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship hospital,” Sineang said, describing Duch’s condition as “quite serious because he is 76 now”.
He later said that Duch’s health had deteriorated by Wednesday afternoon, and he was taken to intensive care.
Judges at the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia sentenced Duch to 35 years in prison. However, his term was reduced by five years after it ruled he had been illegally detained by a military court following his arrest in 1999.
In 2012, Duch had his prison sentence increased to life in an appeal ruling by the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s highest judicial chamber.
He was convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes for his role at S-21, the regime’s most important interrogation centre where as many as 16,000 men, women and children were brutalised before being systematically exterminated.
Only 14 people are known to have survived Tuol Sleng, which under Duch’s meticulous and rigid hand evolved into an efficient killing machine that came to symbolise the worst excesses of the Khmer Rouge.
Entire families were imprisoned for the alleged crimes of a single member.
On a single day in 1977 alone, Duch ordered the executions of 160 children.
The period witnessed one of the 20th century’s worst tragedies, with an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians dying of disease, exhaustion, overwork, torture or execution.
S-21 is now a museum commemorating the horrors that were committed in the former school.