Toul Sleng Khmer Rouge Photographer apologizes for death of millions during the Khmer Rouge Regime

Posted by khmernews on January 31, 2007

Phnom Penh: A former Khmer Rouge photographer publicly asked for pardon from those who died people during the Khmer Rouge regime and stated his intention to establish a Khmer Rouge photography museum in Anlong Veng for national and international visitors.

“This apology is for the dead victims whose pictures took and who I could not help,” said the photographer Ngem En at a press conference on the 25th   of January at the American Embassy organized by the Club of Cambodian Journalists and the Documentation Center of Cambodia with cooperation by the American Embassy. “I hope there are still no misunderstandings about the past. The regime was a bitter experience and if we continue to have misunderstanding, we will not be able to have reconciliation.”

A photographer since the age of 16 and sent by the Khmer Rouge to be trained in China in 1976, Ngem En and six other photographers worked taking photos of the prisoners of “Angkar” sent to Toul Sleng prison and Cheung Ek zone. Besides this, he also took pictures of many foreign delegations who visited Cambodia in the Khmer Rouge regime.     

“We were photographers so we only took the pictures,” said the photography team leader, “,as a Khmer Rouge slogan said ‘Their work they know, our work we know. Your hair grows on your head only.’” He said when the prisoners were brought to Toul Sleng prison, they were all blindfolded and he untied the blindfolds and carefully took their pictures. He never asked those prisoners anything, instead they always asked him what their mistakes were and why they were arrested. He just answered that he didn’t know and that he was only a photographer. “At that time, we did everything according to the 12 articles of morality of the Khmer Rouge regime, everything was owned by ‘Angkar’, even your life,” he said.

This Khmer Rouge photographer said that the six photographers took turns taking photos using Japanese ‘Rolex’ and ‘Eska’ cameras in which one roll of film took 12 pictures. In total, he took 500 rolls of film which was more than the other photographers. who are no longer alive.
He said that on the 7th of January 1979 when Vietnamese troops took over Phnom Penh, he had already left the city, with two guns, (AK 47s.) From 1983 to 1995, he was also a photographer. He said now that he wanted to open a museum in Anlong Veng to show more than 1000 photos he took during the Khmer Rouge regime to the young generation. The cost of the museum is not estimated yet, but the Ministry of Fine Art has previously planed a museum costing US$61,117.

In response to the question whether he would sell the photos or not, Ngem En said that if there was approval from the related ministries and especially the government, he would sell photos of the Khmer Rouge leaders, but not the photos of the victims.

Ngem En, 46, was appointed as Anlong Veng District deputy-governor after integration with the government by the Khmer Rouge. Pen Samithy, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said the participants may have different opinions of what Ngem En had said and those ideas would be released in our local news. “But what I believe is important, is ‘national reconciliation’,” said Samithy.

Some people said that journalists had no other obligation besides telling the truth. However, after realizing all the suffering the country has experienced in several decades, journalists also take part in nation reconciliation.

Joseph A. Mussomeli, American ambassador in Cambodia, said that every visitor was terrified by those photos. “Their [victim’s] eyes watch us, haunt us and scream at us. No one can forget those photos after they’ve visited Toul Sleng prison,” he said.

Adopted from: Reaksmey Kampuchea. Vol:15 #4195. Friday, 26 January, 2007.   


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