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Khmer Rouge Killer May Be Protected

May 8, 1999

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) _ The emergence last month of the Khmer Rouge’s chief executioner after 20 years of hiding in western Cambodia has human rights groups in the ironic position of calling for the protection of an admitted mass murderer.

The reason: Kaing Khek Iev _ the notorious Khmer Rouge prison chief known as Duch _ is the only person who can provide direct evidence that former guerrilla leaders ordered the killings, and he has said he is willing to do so.

Human rights groups now fear that Duch will be killed by Khmer Rouge loyalists or others who want to bury the past _ along with the 1.7 million people who perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

``Everyone is entitled to basic human rights, whatever they are believed to have done,″ Amnesty International’s Demelza Stubbings said from London on Saturday.

Fearing for his life, Duch, who admitted personally torturing and killing more than 14,000 men, women and children at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, has gone into hiding.

In interviews with the Far Eastern Economic Review, Duch has implicated comrades above and below him in the 1975-79 regime. Now a converted Christian and school teacher, he has also vowed to stand trial and serve as a star witness against Khmer Rouge leaders.

Human rights organizations have called on the Cambodian government to protect Duch until he can be indicted, but the government has been slow to react.

Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered his police and military Thursday to locate and protect Duch, but the sluggish effort has critics doubtful the government is taking the case seriously.

``The Cambodian government’s failure to arrest or safeguard Duch highlights how incapable it is of prosecuting offenses from the Khmer Rouge era,″ Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth said from New York. ``Human rights organizations can hardly offer him sanctuary. However, because he is an important witness, he should be held in safe custody.″

The organization best able to deal with the matter, the Cambodian Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, is treating the case gingerly.

UNHCR investigators say they’ve made contact with Duch’s family, but are wary of doing much more. Director Rosemary McCreery has said that if Duch requests protection, the request will be considered.

As of Friday, however, Duch had not made any such request.

Without the cooperation of the country in question, legal experts say it is almost impossible to bring suspects into custody.

Hun Sen has rejected a U.N.-proposed international tribunal for Khmer Rouge killers. He wants the trial in Cambodia’s courts, which the United Nations says are politicized and not capable of doing a fair job.

Only one Khmer Rouge leader, army chief Ta Mok, is facing criminal charges. Other former guerrilla leaders are living freely in Cambodia, having struck de facto amnesty deals with Hun Sen.

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