Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - S-21 survivor's reported demise much exaggerated

S-21 survivor's reported demise much exaggerated

S-21 survivor's reported demise much exaggerated

Bou Meng2.jpg
Bou Meng2.jpg

Bou Meng, one of only seven survivors of the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng prison,

reappeared in Phnom Penh for the first time in almost two decades. His resurfacing

surprised some researchers who assumed he had died in the late 1990s.

S-21 survivor Bou Meng at Tuol Sleng on January 22.

Meng turned up at the former prison, also known as S-21, on January 22. He told the

Post that he had come to the capital from Svay Rieng after reading an article in

the magazine of the research archive, the Documentation Center of Cambodia, stating

that he had died.

"The story said I was already dead, so I came back to show that I am still alive,"

he said, holding up a photograph taken in the early eighties of the seven survivors.

"I want to tell the world about the crimes of the Khmer Rouge."

Meng was arrested by the Khmer Rouge in 1977 along with his wife and two children.

He had been working in a technical school in Russey Keo district painting spare machinery

parts. All four were taken to Tuol Sleng prison.

His ability to paint saved his life, he said, but his wife and children were not

spared.

"When I arrived back at Tuol Sleng [today], I felt so horrible," he said.

"It reminded me of my wife and children who died here."

Meng survived after the director of S-21, Duch, ordered him to paint black and white

portraits of Pol Pot. He did that until early 1979 when a combined Vietnamese and

Cambodian force drove the Khmer Rouge out of power.

"[Duch] said that if I did not paint them to look just like the real photograph

of Pol Pot, I would be killed," he said.

Sitting on a concrete bench in the grounds of Tuol Sleng, which these days is a genocide

museum, he pointed out Building C, where he slept, then took off his shirt to show

the scars on his back. Before he was appointed as a painter, the Khmer Rouge would

torture him every day before taking him back to his cell.

"They whipped me with electrical wires and bamboo sticks twice a day,"

he said. "I fainted at least twice a day."

When asked why he had not returned to Tuol Sleng years ago, Meng said he simply did

not have the money to travel. Instead he has eked out a living painting pictures

of the Buddha at pagodas in Svay Rieng.

But he had still found time, he said, to follow the slow progress towards a possible

trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders. He had learned of the end of the Khmer Rouge

movement in the mid-1990s, the death of Pol Pot in 1998, and the arrest of senior

military commander Ta Mok the following year.

"I am still angry [with the Khmer Rouge], and I want to get the anger out,"

he said. "If there is a trial, I want to be there as a witness. I want to tell

the world about Pol Pot's crimes and the torture they inflicted on me. [The Khmer

Rouge] must pay compensation. I still wonder why they killed our countrymen."

Two other survivors of S-21 are also still alive: Vann Nath and Chum Mey. The former

head of S-21, Duch, has been in jail since 1999 awaiting trial for crimes against

humanity.

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