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In Trial Remarks, Duch Apologizes to Victims

As Cambodia's first Khmer Rouge trial resumed Tuesday, its defendant, Duch, apologized for killing more than 15,000 people as head of Tuol Sleng prison, and he apologized to anyone who had made it through his killing machine.

"I would like to express my sorrow and great suffering for all kinds of crimes that were committed April 17, 1975, to Jan. 6, 1979," he said, referring to the period when the Khmer Rouge ran the country and when nearly 2 million people died.

As chief of Tuol Sleng, a prison known as S-21 to the Khmer Rouge, Duch oversaw the torture and execution of up 16,000 people. He also oversaw a mass grave site where the bodies of the executed were buried, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

"For the crimes in S-21, I would like to recognize my responsibility under the law," Duch said in a clear, strong voice Tuesday. "More importantly, for the acts of torture and killing, I would like to apologize to the witnesses who are still alive, and I would like to apologize to the families of the victims who died at S-21."

Only a handful of people survived the prison. One of them was Bu Meng, who had been a civil servant for the Lon Nol regime and spent nearly three years there.

Now 68, Bu Meng has closely followed Duch's trial. He told VOA Khmer that Tuesday's apology was not enough to assuage the mental anguish caused by his time in the prison.

"I need justice from the courts to try Duch," he said.

Y Lay Theng, 62, an audience member watching Tuesday's proceedings, said Duch had made "serious mistakes" as a member of the Khmer Rouge. "So the court of law will not allow him to be freed from the charges." The apology was unlikely to have an effect on the outcome of the trial, he said.

Duch's Cambodian attorney, Kar Savuth, told the court Tuesday that 14 top Khmer Rouge leaders were responsible for serious crimes and violence under the regime, but Duch was not one of them.

"Among the 14, there is no name 'Kaing Kek Iev,'" he said. "So: the person other than these 14 gets to be tried. This violates the one article of the law on the establishment of the [tribunal]."

The tribunal is tasked with trying the senior-most leaders of the regime, and is currently holding only four of its top leaders: ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and social affairs minister Ieng Thirith.

Duch was the head of what has become a well-known prison, now converted into a torture museum, but researchers point out there were 197 other such prisons under the Khmer Rouge.

Duch said Tuesday he was willing to cooperate closely with the tribunal and would answer "all questions" from judges, prosecutors and civil parties.