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M-13 survivor tells of horrors

M-13 survivor tells of horrors

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Ouch Sorn recounts to tribunal an incident in which Duch beat a woman into a seizure - and laughed. Duch denies the claim.

Photo by:
AFP

French anthropologist and M-13 survivor Francois Bizot shown here in a video screen grab from Thursday's proceedings.   

CAMBODIA'S war crimes court Thursday called on its second witness in the trial of former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, uncovering more details of the brutal acts carried out under his command.

Ouch Sorn, a survivor of M-13 prison, told a near-empty courtroom how he survived incarceration by the former schoolteacher by quietly obeying orders to dig pits for the dead.

"I saw the torture activities and ill-treatment of prisoners in all forms. It's hard to describe.... Every day I saw prisoners die, every single day. Not a day went past without a prisoner dying," he said.  

He described one incident in which the 66-year-old defendant, known as Duch, was laughing while he slapped a woman whom he had beaten so badly that she suffered a seizure.

"One day I saw [Duch] beating a female person with a whip ... then the young guards came and beat the girl. After she became unconscious, he slapped her backside and he laughed because she was having a seizure on the ground," he said.

Duch denied the event happened.

"He is talking more than the truth," he told judges. "I interrogated women, but when I did so I never let any detainee see it," he added.

However, Duch did admit that another incident,  described as the execution of one of several prisoners tied to a pole, was not a fabrication.  

"It's true," he said.  

‘Terror was everywhere'

The cross-examination followed further questioning of Francois Bizot, the only Westerner to survive imprisonment at M-13.

The French anthropologist, who wrote about his ordeal in a bestselling memoir The Gate, described in more detail an incident in which he thought he would be executed.

"I can't recall M-13 without recalling the terrifying atmosphere of fear and death, or how much this atmosphere was embodied in Duch. Terror was everywhere," Bizot told the court Thursday.

However, he said that he had formed some sort of bond with Duch, though he said he would still would classify him as a cruel individual.

"The interrogations were able to create some sort of bond, some sort of humanity between us. Therefore, sending me to my death became something more difficult than when you send people that you did not seek to humanise to their deaths," he said.

 "I don't see how else he could be perceived [other than cruel]. A person in charge of a camp where prisoners are taken in, interrogated, beaten, can hardly elicit any other feeling but fear."

Although crimes occurring at M-13, a secret prison in the jungle, are not part of the court's jurisdiction, judges say evidence from the camp will assist in ascertaining Duch's personality and his broader relationship to the regime.

When Ouch Sorn was asked if he was still afraid of Duch, he said no, as the prison chief was now "a tiger with no teeth".

The 72-year-old survivor finished his testimony by thanking the chamber.

"Nothing else is more valuable than this process," he said. 

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