CHOEUNG EK, Cambodia - The former head of a notorious Khmer Rouge torture center was moved to tears yesterday when he was taken by Cambodia's genocide tribunal to one of the country's notorious "killing fields," to which he is accused of sending thousands of people to their deaths, an official said.
Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, has been charged with crimes against humanity for his role 30 years ago as commandant of the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison. He was taken into custody by the UN-assisted tribunal last year pending trial.
An estimated 1.7 million people died during the 1975-79 communist Khmer Rouge regime, which cut off contact with the world and forced the entire population into agricultural collectives, leading to starvation and disease. The regime tortured and executed thousands of people.
Duch, 65, is one of five former high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials being held for trial by the joint UN-Cambodian tribunal established in 2006 to prosecute aging top Khmer Rouge leaders.
Yesterday's so-called re-enactment, closed to the public and media, was part of an investigative process that involves taking the accused to the crime scene to be questioned about what happened in the past.
But Duch wept during the 3½ hour visit as "the accused explained what happened . . . when he was the chief of S-21," said Reach Sambath, a tribunal spokesman.
"We noticed that he was feeling pity, tears were rolling down his face two or three times," Reach Sambath said.
Duch was especially moved when he stood before a tree with a sign describing how executioners disposed of their child victims by bashing their heads against its trunk, the spokesman said.
Some 16,000 men, women and children who had been held at S-21 were killed and buried at Choeung Ek, now a memorial site.
At the end of the tour, Duch clasped his hands together in prayer and cried again in front of a Buddhist reliquary crammed with 8,985 skulls, some bearing clear evidence of death by hammers, hoes, bamboo sticks, and bullets, Reach Sambath said.