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Former Khmer Rouge Prisoner Finds Herself in Photo

A tourist walks past photos of former prisoners displayed at Tuol Sleng genocide museum, a former Khmer Rouge prison known as S-21, in Phnom Penh.

On an organized tour through the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum last week, a woman from Kampong Cham province had a startling surprise. Among the photos that many people presume to be executed prisoners from Tuol Selng, know to the Khmer Rouge as S-21, the woman found a photograph of herself.

In fact, she had been a prisoner at another Khmer Rouge site, S-24, the functional government prison now known as Prey Sar.

“In fact, she is alive,” said Dim Sovannarom, a spokesman for the UN-backed tribunal, which organized the tour. “She is a living witness. This means that not all photos seen at the [Tuol Sleng] museum are dead.”

The 57-year-old woman, Mom Kim Sein, said she was kept by the Khmer Rouge at S-24, where prisoners were tortured, forced to work and given meager food rations. She remembers the day her photograph was taken there.

Last week, she had attended a court-sponsored tour with about 400 people from Kampong Cham province. It was then that she saw her own photograph, she said.

Chhang Youk, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said many people mistakenly assume the photographs in Tuol Sleng are those of prisoners who were later executed after a stint at the prison.

In fact, he said, the Vietnamese forces that ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979 gathered photographs and other materials from other prison sites and gathered them at Tuol Sleng.

More than 60 people have so far been able to identify themselves in the photographs, he said.