Khmer Rouge Trial Reopens Old Wounds

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Out of five leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, Kaing Guek Eav is the first to be tried in court. He is also the one with the highest position. The first trial was on Feb. 17, 2009.

For one year now, Eav, better known as Duch, has been on trial in the un-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal for alleged crimes against humanity.

He was chief of the Toul Sleng prison, where more than 17,000 Cambodians were unlawfully detained, tortured and executed.

Vann Math was among the handful who survived the inhuman conditions at the prison. He says he painted his horrific experiences to expose the truth about the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime and serve as a warning against human rights abuses.

"It's like I was living in hell," he recalled. "All I heard was crying and screaming. We were beaten up. I did everything they asked me to do. I had no choice, no hope. All I think about is dying the next day."

Because of his artistic painting skills, he had the chance to meet Duch.

"He was very polite and a good leader," Math said. "He asked me to paint Pol Pot. I've been hoping that this day of justice would come. I am disappointed with Duch, because he was a good leader, but he killed his own people."

More than 2 million Cambodians -- one third of the population --perished under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge rule.

Like other teenagers, Lign Kim Chhay was subjected to hard labor in the fields, digging five cubic meters a day. He dug from 4:30 in the morning to 11 in the evening. Failure to meet the quota for three consecutive days resulted in merciless execution for prisoners.

"They let you dig your own grave and throw you in," Chhay said. "I lost 148 friends because they could not meet the quota."

But the most difficult trial came when the Khmer Rouge soldiers ordered Chhay to kill his own mother. She was judged as being a loose woman for being pregnant without her husband. No one knew that she secretly met with her husband who was in hiding.

"I told the leader 'I have an idea. Surely if she commit a mistake she will die, but it's not me who will kill her. Keep my mom alive, I offer her to you. Whatever you want her to do,'" he said. "I push my mother into prostitution. She worked for Pol Pot's house and she did everything. My mother was crying, but I told her it was important you and I are alive."

Through the years, Chhay managed to get an education with the help of Christian missionaries. He learned English by reading the Bible. And when he got seriously ill, he was miraculously healed when the missionaries prayed for him.

But it was when he translated the English Bible to Khmer that he finally understood God's saving grace. Today Chhay is a pastor running his own student center.

Three decades have passed since the genocide. Like Pastor Chhay, families of the victims have moved on with their lives. But nevertheless, in the eyes of the world, justice must still be served.

The continued court hearings have received the attention of the international community, but for the victims, it's just old history.

"Cambodian people based on Buddhist religion don't care so much about anger, revenge," Chhay explained. "They believe [you] must do good in this life."

On the other hand, Pastor Chhay believes in what the Bible says about God's justice and mercy.

"Anyone can ask forgiveness from the Lord. Jesus will surely save," he said. "That is the system of Heaven."

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Lucille Talusan

Lucille Talusan

CBN News Asia Correspondent

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