Comrade Duch, a former senior figure of the Khmer Rouge convicted of crimes against humanity in Cambodia, has died.
He was serving a life term after being sentenced by an UN-backed court.
Kaing Guek Eav, referred to as Comrade Duch, ran the notorious Tuol Sleng prison where thousands of individuals were tortured and murdered within the late 1970s.
As many as two million people are believed to possess died under the Khmer Rouge, a Maoist regime that controlled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.
In 2010, Duch became the primary senior Khmer Rouge leader to be convicted by the UN-backed tribunal after a journalist found him doggo a decade earlier. He was sentenced in 2012.
He died on Wednesday, aged 77, a spokesman for the tribunal in the capital Phnom Penh said, without giving details of the cause. He had been ill for many years.
“Duch died this morning on 2 September at Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital. Details of what he died of, I can not tell,” the spokesman said.
Duch’s testimony at the tribunal was a landmark moment for Cambodians who had suffered under the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign, and future generations.
While prison chief at Tuol Sleng, Duch maintained an enormous archive of photos and documents, including thousands of prisoner “confessions”, that exposed many aspects of the Khmer Rouge’s inner workings. They also helped prosecutors trace the ultimate months of thousands of inmates’ lives.
In Phnom Penh, there have been mixed feelings about his death.
“If he stayed alive then we should hear more of the history from him for the younger generation and other people,” one man told Reuters press agency.
Another resident said that she would always remember his crimes. “He deserves to serve more prison terms. But now he has died, I can forgive him and his case is finished.”
Who were the Khmer Rouge?
The brutal Khmer Rouge, in power from 1975-1979, claimed the lives of around two million people.
The regime led by Pol Pot tried to require Cambodia back to the center Ages, or “Year Zero”, forcing many people from the cities to figure on communal farms in the countryside.
They initially targeted “intellectuals” – often identified as those that wore glasses or spoke a far off language – and people connected to the old, US-backed regime that they overthrew. But their paranoid leaders later began to ascertain “enemies” everywhere.
Ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims in Cambodia were also targeted. Many of the Khmer Rouge’s victims died from starvation, disease, and overwork.
The regime was ousted in 1979 by Vietnamese troops, but the Khmer Rouge leaders escaped and continued to resist the new, Vietnamese-backed government from areas along the Thai-Cambodia border.
Who was Comrade Duch?
Duch was born in the early 1940s. He was an educator but joined the Communist Party and his leftist activism led to brushes with the authorities.
When the Vietnam War threatened to spill into neighboring Cambodia, Duch joined the Khmer Rouge communist rebels under leader Pol Pot.
After the rebels took control in 1975, he became the director of Tuol Sleng.