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Defendant blames US for Pol Pot leadership

THE man accused of serving as the Khmer Rouge's chief torturer testified yesterday that American policies in the 1970s contributed to the brutal regime's rise to power.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his nom de guerre Duch, made the observation while recounting his journey to revolution.

Early on, he said, he realized that the Khmer Rouge's activities would end up in a "disaster."

Duch is standing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as homicide and torture, in the United Nations-assisted tribunal.

The 66-year-old commanded Phnom Penh's S-21 prison ?? also known as Tuol Sleng ?? when the Khmer Rouge held power in 1975-79.

As many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been tortured there before being executed.

Duch demonstrated a phenomenal memory for detail, reciting without notes people's names and exact dates of activities from four decades ago.

One of the judges, Jean Marc Lavergne of France, led him through detailed questioning covering everything from personal motives to the guerrillas' administrative structure and conditions at their jungle camps.

Asked by Lavergne to put his story in a historical context, Duch said - without any apparent intention to justify his actions - that he believed the Khmer Rouge would have died out by 1970 if the United States had not supported Cambodia's military-led government following the 1970 coup d'etat that removed Prince Norodom Sihanouk from power.

"I think the Khmer Rouge would already have been demolished," he said of their status by 1970. "But Mr Kissinger (then US secretary of state) and Richard Nixon were quick (to back coup leader General Lon Nol), and then the Khmer Rouge noted the golden opportunity."


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