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Child of Khmer Rouge Prison Emerges

Sitting at a small table in the office of the Documentation Center of Cambodia Wednesday, Nang Chan Sophal, 39, waited to watch a film of Tuol Sleng prison shot by Vietnamese soldiers in January 1979.

He is one of four children depicted in the film.

“They brought my father, but I don’t know when,” he said. “And three or six months later, Khmer Rouge soldiers came in two jeeps with five or six persons and arrested my mother in Phnom Sruoth district, Kampong Speu province.”

He gazed at the floor.

He is the first former child prisoner of Tuol Sleng to be publicly announced, just ahead of the trial of the man who once ran Tuol Sleng prison, Kaing Kek Iev. An initial hearing in his tribunal trial opens Feb. 17. More than 12,000 Cambodians were tortured at the site, to be later executed and dumped into mass graves.

Nang Chan Sophal was taken with his mother to the prison with his two younger brothers and sister, sometime in the middle of 1978. He was 7 or 8 years old.

For nearly one year, Nang Chan Sophal and his siblings stayed in Tuol Sleng with four or five other children. They were separated from the adults. They were not tortured or forced into labor, he said.

Every day, however, he would hear the tortured cries of prisoners as they begged their jailers to tell them what they had done wrong.

On Jan. 7, 1979, the day the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, cadre of the regime tried to carry children with them in flight. He and his siblings hid in a pile of prisoners’ clothes, behind a building in Tuol Sleng. One soldier in particular came looking for them, passing the pile of clothes two or three times.

“I was waiting for my mother,” he said Wednesday. “I pictured her watching us through the window of the building as we hid. And then as the liberation came, all the gates of the prison were opened. Khmer Rouge soldiers went out, and then I was trying to find my mother everywhere in the prison. I couldn’t find her. I saw many bodies of those who had died very recently, on the beds, covered in documents, near typewriters. I sifted through the papers to see the bodies.”

He never found his mother. He was taken along with his siblings to a state orphanage. One brother, as well as his sister, were adopted by “foreigners” during the State of Cambodia. He has lost touch with them. Now a resident of Phnom Penh, Nang Chan Sophal drives a bulldozer for a living. His younger brother drives a tractor.

Earlier this month, he prepared a complaint against Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Duch, who faces a number of atrocity crimes charges for his role as Tuol Sleng chief.

“I heard that Duch would be tried soon, and it interested me to prepare the complaint for justice of the death of my parents, and for the nation, for other victims,” Nang Chan Sophal said.