Bangkok, Sep 2 (efe-epa).- Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, a senior figure in the brutal Khmer Rouge regime which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, died Wednesday aged 77.
Duch, who was the first person to be convicted by a special international court investigating the Khmer Rouge for crimes against humanity in 2010, had been serving a life sentence in Phnom Penh.
The former Khmer Rouge torturer had been suffering from severe lung problems, and was admitted to hospital on Monday.
The former head of the Pol Pot regime’s notorious S-21 security prison, passed away at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Neth Pheaktra, a court spokesman, reported on Twitter.
The body of Duch, once a Buddhist who became an evangelist Christian during the 1990s, has been transferred to the Chak Angre Krom temple in Phnom Penh for cremation, according to Cambodian media reports.
“His death is a reminder to all us that if you commit crimes against humanity, you will be punished until you die,” said Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), according to the Phnom Penh Post.
Chhang added that Duch’s death coincided with Pchum Ben, a Buddhist festival which sees Cambodians commemorate their ancestors, saying he hoped his death would help bring Cambodians “together, perhaps to remember his many victims as well”.
Duch, who showed remorse for his crimes during his trial, was responsible for the torture and deaths of more than 12,000 people in the S-21 (Tuol Sleng) prison in the Cambodian capital.
A former mathematics teacher, Duch painstakingly documented the prisoners entering the jail, which is now a memory museum displaying photographs of the victims and the cells where they were tortured.
The Khmer Rouge, a Maoist group that wanted to abolish private property and ruralize the country’s economy, took power in 1975 and imposed a repressive regime until they were expelled in 1979 by Vietnamese troops, who were also communists but on the Soviet side.
Some 1.7 million people died from purges, famines and mistreatment under the Khmer Rouge, led by leader brother Pol Pot, who died in 1998 in the northern jungle of Cambodia.
The UN-sponsored court was launched in 2006 and, in addition to Duch’s conviction, sentenced two Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, to two life sentences in 2014 and 2018.
In the second conviction against deputy Nuon Chea, and Khieu Samphan, former head of state, the court recognized for the first time the commission of genocide by the Khmer Rouge against the Vietnamese minorities and the Muslim Cham.
Nuon Chea died last year, while other regime ringleaders, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, died in 2013 and 2015, respectively, before being sentenced.
Pol Pot died in the last stronghold of the Maoist guerrilla in northern Cambodia, a prisoner of his own followers and months before they agreed to his dissolution in negotiations with the central government. EFE-EPA