30 years on, spotlight on Cambodia’s killing fields once more

New Delhi, April 29 (Inditop) The world sat up and took notice when Hollywood director Ronald Joffe captured bloodied images of Cambodia, ravaged by the dread Khmer Rouge militia in his 1981 screen masterpiece “The Killing Fields”.

Now, as a handful of Khmer Rouge leaders face a UN-backed trial 30 years after the fall of the regime, journalist Dan Rivers, the CNN correspondent in Bangkok, has revisited Cambodia’s dark years with his camera crew to re-capture the memories of horror and take stock of the ongoing trial, tainted with allegations of corruption.

His documentary “Killing Field: Long Road to Justice”, will be aired May 1 (at 8.30 a.m. in India).

“The reason why I wanted to explore the Khmer Rouge massacre once more was that the trial was on and after 30 years, I wanted to do an in-depth story. Quite a lot of people don’t know. Perhaps Cambodia is too remote and forgotten,” Rivers told IANS on phone from Hong Kong.

Rivers, in his movie, goes in quest of Ta Chan, the chief interrogator of the Khmer Rouge’s notorious S-21 prison camp. Ta Chan, in the documentary, is shown on a tour of Khmer Rouge jungle prison.

“There were at least 189 torture camps in Cambodia,” says Rivers.

As S-21 commandant Comrade Dutch and four of his Khmer Rouge colleagues currently face the UN-backed trial, Ta Chan continues to live in a remote Cambodian village.

Rivers tracks down the village and talks to Ta Chan’s family as the alleged former torture mastermind ducks the lens. The documentary chronicles details of the torture – that was part of S-21 daily regime. It resulted in 14,000 deaths.

“Many historians like to compare the Khmer Rouge atrocities with the Nazi holocaust. But the scale of killing in Cambodia was incredible. (Between you and me) A lot more people were killed than that officially registered,” Rivers said.

An estimate says the Khmer Rouge killed a greater proportion of its own people – over 1.7 million men, women and children – than any other regime in the 20th century.

Everyone in Cambodia, says Rivers, has a story to tell. “You can’t meet anybody who has not been touched by the violence. Pol Pot’s (the Khmer Rouge leader) legacy continued till the 1990s. The country is still in the process of recovery,” the journalist says.

Pol Pot died in 1998 just before he could be brought to justice.

One of the docu-feature’s most extraordinary moments is when a survivor of S-21 sees himself in an old footage shot on the day he was rescued.

“Nong Champal was nine years old in 1979 when he was rescued from a jungle camp. His mother was killed by the Khmer Rouge,” said Rivers. Even today, the 39-year-old breaks down as he recounts the horrors of the death camp.

Everyone wants Ta Chan to be prosecuted, says Rivers.

“But with the United Nations being forced to accept a hybrid court system with the Cambodian government, corruption is eating into the trial,” he says.

Rivers also probes the allegations of kickbacks at the Phnom Penh trial of Khmer Rouge leaders.

The costs of the proceedings are spiralling out control, according to him. “The trial budget would have swollen to more than $100 million by the end of this year.”