Ex-Pol Pot Leader Acknowledges Mass Murders

December 30, 2003

One of Pol Pot's former Khmer Rouge henchmen has admitted for the first time that mass murders were committed during the ultra-Maoist movement's four-year "Killing Fields" regime during the 1970s. No Khmer Rouge leader has ever faced credible justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died in the genocide, many of them tortured and executed. Others died of starvation, disease or overwork in vast rural labour camps. But with a United Nations-backed genocide trial likely to get under way in 2004, former Khmer Rouge president Khieu Samphan, 73, has acknowledged that mass killings did take place under the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 administration. However, in a letter sent to local media and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, Khieu Samphan said he only recently became aware of some of the killings after seeing a film about the notorious S-21 interrogation and torture centre in the capital Phnom Penh. "Between 1976-78 I was not aware and I did not hear about S-21 at all," he said. "But now I understand that S-21 was a state institution located in Phnom Penh. It was part of the regime," he said.

Out of the more than 10,000 documented S-21 prisoners, the real total is probably far higher, only seven survived. After weeks of interrogation involving anything from electric whips to thumb screws, prisoners were driven to the outskirts of the city where they were shot or clubbed to death in mass graves. Khieu Samphan, one of those almost certain to face the genocide trial, also denied responsibility for the overall tragedy which befell Cambodia, saying the country became a pawn sucked up in the polarised politics of the Cold War and the American war in neighbouring Vietnam. "Right now, it is easy to blame me, but to follow the right track at the time was difficult," he said. The movement's reclusive leader, Brother Number One Pol Pot, died in 1998. Besides Khieu Samphan, widely regarded as the Khmer Rouge's frontman, other likely genocide defendants are Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former foreign minister Ieng Sary. Former military chief Ta Mok, known as "The Butcher" for his suspected role in mass executions in the east of the country, is already in jail awaiting trial.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Special Tribunal for Cambodia

FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.