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S-21 photo leaves husband's search futile

S-21 photo leaves husband's search futile

After learning the fate of his wife while giving testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday, Kim Vun yesterday sat with Documentation Center of Cambodia S-21 file photos trying to find the last living photo of his wife.

Flipping through the thousands of passport-sized photos collected by DC-Cam, an anxious Vun paused, his forefinger resting on an unnamed photo of a young woman with short-cropped hair, marked only as “1226” by the organisation.

“Her hair was just like this,” Vun, whose wife ,Chim Nary, was taken for re-education in 1977 and never heard from again, said.

“But in this photo, she is so skinny, it is hard to know absolutely,” he said, his eyes lingering on the black and white mug shot.

Nary’s name is on a May 1978 execution log from S-21, but the whereabouts of Vun’s infant child, who disappeared with Nary, remain a mystery.

Choung Sophearith, of the tribunal’s Witness and Expert Support Unit, sat beside Vun in a courtyard at DC-Cam.

“He had actually asked me before his testimony if I know of any way that he could find out about his wife, because he knew I used to work for DC-Cam,” Sophearith said.

Vun, who is writing a book about his experience as a journalist in the Ministry of Propaganda under the Khmer Rouge, said that in the chaos after the regime’s collapse, his mother-in-law had been in contact with him through a walkie-talkie system and asked after her daughter.

“Around 1996, I often contacted my wife’s mother through walkie-talkie and told her that my wife was OK and fine, but I lied  to her. I did not know where my wife was. Now I have lost contact with my mother-in-law,” he said.

Prior to Vun’s arrival at DC-Cam, researchers had found an S-21 biography and prisoner photo of a man bearing the same name as Kim Vun.

“It was a blurred photo, so we could not recognise it, but when we showed [Vun] the documents, he said it was not him,” DC-Cam deputy director Vanthan Peoudara said. “It may have been possible.

Documents show that releases from S-21 did happen, but we don’t know where any of these released prisoners are now,” Dara said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Bridget Di Certo at [email protected]
Chhay Channyda at [email protected]
With assistance from Joseph Freeman


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