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September 25, 2017

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Khmer Rouge child survivor speaks out

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The first known child survivor of the Khmer Rouge's largest torture center said Monday he and his brother hid in a pile of rags as captors who killed his mother fled approaching Vietnamese troops 30 years ago.

Norng Chan Phal, now a 38-year-old father of two, was eight when the Vietnamese stormed into Phnom Penh to end the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. He was held at the notorious S-21 prison where some 16,000 men, women and children were brutally tortured and executed.

Camp commander Kaing Guek Eav, goes before a U.N.-backed tribunal Tuesday. Better known as Duch, he will be the first of five former Khmer Rouge leaders to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Phal said at a news conference Monday he and three other children, including his brother, lived through the ordeal, but that his mother was killed. Earlier, only 14 adults were believed to have survived incarceration.

Phal's story surfaced last week when previously unseen footage was shown of Vietnamese troops entering the prison, also known as Tuol Sleng. It showed living children and many adult corpses, some decapitated.

Duch is accused of having committed or abetted a range of crimes including murder, torture, rape and persecutions on political grounds.

The charges stem from the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 brutal rule over Cambodia, during which at least 1.7 million people died of disease, starvation or execution.

Phal, who grew up in an orphanage, said his father was arrested and taken to Tuol Sleng in 1978. Six months later his mother was arrested, and he and his brother were sent to the prison with her.

His mother was put in a cell on the second floor while he and his brother were sent to the prison kitchen. They helped tend the vegetable garden.

"I saw my mom look through the window at us. The next day I never saw my mother again," he said.

Phal broke down in tears at a news conference as he described revisiting Tuol Sleng, which is now a genocide museum.

Phal said he and other children hid in a pile of discarded prisoners' clothing in January 1979. The prisoner guards shouted at them to come as they loaded the prisoners in trucks to take them away before the arrival of Vietnamese forces.

"A woman came to put the kids in the vehicle. I called my sibling to hide in the clothes. Because they were in a rush they couldn't find us. I hid there and hoped my mother would come and find us," he said.

The Vietnamese soldiers gave them food and later took them to the hospital.

Two of the Vietnamese photographers who shot the films — Ho Van Tay and Dinh Phong — were also at the news conference.

They said they arrived at Tuol Sleng and found five children who had been hiding. One of them later died.

The films were recently given by the Vietnamese government to the Cambodia Documentation Center, a U.S.-funded effort which has collected some 1 million documents related to the Khmer Rouge era.

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