"THEY are the April 17 people, they must be arrested ... I don't know whether
the Northern committee has purged them all ... More detailed observation requested."
These notes, carefully written in thick red ink in the margins of a confession of
a Tuol Sleng victim, are believed to have been penned by Son Sen.
On June 10, at 2 am in the morning, the past of Son Sen, the silent executioner of
Tuol Sleng's estimated 12,000 victims, may finally have caught up with him.
It may have happened like this: As tensions within the party spilled over, his comrades
went to his house and killed him, his wife Yun Yat and 10 other persons. Then the
bodies were run over by trucks.
Pictures of bloody corpses, apparently including Son Sen, his face caught for eternity
in a chilling grimace, were then brandished by people in Phnom Penh as evidence of
the end of a bloody chapter of Cambodian history.
"This is the end of the Khmer Rouge. They are starting to kill each other,"
said First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh on June 13.
Son Sen's past was equally bloody. He presided over the forced evacuation of Phnom
Penh's two million inhabitants after the capital fell to Khmer Rouge forces on April
17, 1975. During the Democratic Kampuchea regime, he took charge of security matters
including the Tuol Sleng detention center, reporting directly to Nuon Chea and Pol
The trail of red ink recorded in documents collected at the Documentation Center
of Cambodia leads directly to Son Sen, according to the center's director.
"I have studied his initials, his signature, and handwriting for months by comparing
them with his handwriting and [his] signature [on] the Paris Peace Agreements.
"His name, his signature, his initials appear too many times, too many to refuse
to believe," said Chhang.
He said that he does not believe Son Sen is dead.
Controversy over the authenticity of the pictures grew in the days after they were
released to the press.
Funcinpec General Nhek Bun Chhay claimed, during a June 14, press conference that
the pictures were taken by Bun Chhay's bodyguards. But observers questioned that.
They found anomalies: fresh blood stains on the hands of Son Sen when most of the
other stains seemed to have been already dried; and the enlargments themselves. They
pointed out that there are no facilities in Phnom Penh to have such high-quality
At least one person who was at the press conference, who knew Son Sen personally,
said he recognized Son Sen in the pictures.
According to other sources in Funcinpec, however, the photos were actually given
to the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok by Thai military sources
During a June 22 speech, Second Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his doubts that
the pictures were genuine.
"Even Son Sen's death is still a mystery," he said. "Who took the
pictures of Son Sen's death? They said that Son Sen was killed at night, but in the
pictures [taken later] the blood is still fresh."
"It did not look like Son Sen. I always met [him] at the Supreme National Council
meetings," he said.
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