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S-21 babies 'smashed', Duch says

S-21 babies 'smashed', Duch says

Duch acknowledges infants battered against tree trunks

FORMER Khmer Rouge jailer Kaing Guek Eav told Cambodia's war crimes court Monday that babies were slain under his supervision by being held by their legs and smashed against trees, as gruesomely depicted in paintings of the act on display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum that now exists at the prison site.

"The horrendous images of those [babies] smashed against trees, yes, that was done by my subordinates," the top prison chief, known as Duch, said.

He said that he hadn't believed it was happening until he was shown the images and realised it was true.

"They were killed at [the Choeung Ek killing fields] and at S-21; it was done by my subordinates.... I am criminally responsible because it was under my supervision," he told judges.

Answering questions put to him by the prosecution about the regime's policies at Tuol Sleng, Duch said it was necessary for children who accompanied their parents to the prison also to be killed so as to prevent them from taking  "revenge" on regime leaders in the future.

"My superior [former Minister of Defense] Son Sen said to me that there is no gain in keeping them, as they might take revenge on you," Duch said from the dock.

"You have to remember the class stance," he added.

Though acknowledging the "smashing" of babies against trees, Duch denied that they were thrown from the top floors of the prison's building.

"We have found documentation to suggest that babies were also brutally killed in Pursat province," Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said Monday.

"The only explanation that we can give was that the soldiers were children, too," he added.

Youk Chhang, whose centre began conducting research into the matter in 2004, said that there were few accounts of baby killings, as all other members of the family were usually slain as well, and there was "no one left to tell the story".

He said he was aware of one only woman who was thrown from the prison's top floors, but that babies were also thrown in the air and caught with bayonets, according to the centre's investigation.

Responding to questions from the deputy co-prosecutor, Tan Senarong, Duch said he did not know whether every child was photographed before  being killed.

"I saw some of them being photographed, but the majority of them were not," he said.

"My main role was not to release anyone, so whether the prisoners were photographed or not, this was not my main concern."

Duch ‘rewriting' his story

Though Duch has repeatedly accepted responsibility for the actions of his subordinates, he still maintains that it was his unwavering dedication to the communist line that led him to such crimes.

"Duch has been able to rewrite his story and create an image of forgiveness. We need to understand the brutality," Youk Chhang said.

"We need to know what kind of orders made someone do this? Was he joyful to be fulfilling the orders of Angkar?" he added.

Duch apologised at his trial in late March, saying he accepted blame for the extermination of thousands of people at the prison, which served as the centre of the 1975-79 regime's security apparatus.

But he has denied prosecutors' claims that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge and maintains he only tortured two people himself and never personally executed anyone.

He is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder and torture, and faces life in prison if convicted by the court.  ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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