Khmer Rouge chief: babies were 'smashed to death'

The former head of a prison run by the Khmer Rouge has confessed to one of the darkest crimes committed during the regime's brutal rule – smashing the skulls of babies and children against the trunks of trees.

In testimony before a genocide tribunal in Cambodia, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, said that the children were executed to prevent them seeking revenge. Always watchful to save bullets, executioners would hold the youngsters by their legs or feet and smash their heads against tree trunks located in now notorious "killing fields" on the edge of Phnom Penh.

"I am criminally responsible for killing babies, young children and teenagers," said Duch, referring to photographs he was shown of how the children were killed. "The horrendous images of the babies being smashed against the trees ... I didn't recognise it at first. But after seeing the photographs I recalled that it had happened. It was done by my subordinates. I do not blame them because this was under my responsibility."

Duch, 66, was the head of Tuol Sleng jail, also known as S21, to which anywhere up to 14,000 or more prisoners, most of them Khmer Rouge members accused of disloyalty or sedition, were sent for interrogation and torture before being dispatched for execution. Thousands were taken by truck to an orchard near the village of Choeung Ek on the southern fringe of Phnom Penh. There they were made to kneel in front of pre-dug graves and were then struck on the back of the head with a steel axle shaft. However, a sign at Choeung Ek marks where young children were dispatched by using the tree trunk.

Last year, on a court-ordered visit to the killing fields, Duch fell to his knees and wept, first as he passed the tree where the children were killed and again when he stopped at a stupa in which are held the remains of around 80,000 skulls, all of them victims of the regime. In all, the Maoist-inspired regime was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians through execution, disease or starvation between 1975 and 1979.

Duch has previously admitted his role as head of the prison and in overseeing the killing of prisoners delivered there. In interviews with journalists he has also previously admitted personally killing people, but during the trial he has confessed only to torture and has denied killing anyone.

The former maths teacher, who later converted to Christianity and worked for an international charity in the jungle under a false identity, said the regime's policy had been to avoid keeping children as prisoners. He said that he was told by the regime's former defence minister, the late Son Sen, that there was "no gain to keep them, and they might take revenge on you".

The joint UN-Cambodian tribunal is due to try five former senior regime figures, of whom Duch is the first.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project