Vann Nath, survivor of Khmer Rouge prison, dies

Vann Nath was among only 7 people to survive Cambodia`s notorious prison of Khmer Rouge regime.

Last Updated: Sep 05, 2011, 21:45 PM IST

Phnom Penh: Vann Nath, an artist who was among
only seven people to survive Cambodia`s most notorious prison
of the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime and who later depicted the
facility`s horrific torture, has died, his daughter said
on Monday. He was 66.

Vann Nath, who had been ill for several years, died today
after falling into a coma in late August, his daughter Vann
Chan Simen said.

Vann Nath, whose death leaves only two surviving inmates
of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, was the first of the
survivors to testify before a UN-backed tribunal that is
trying members of the Khmer Rouge regime on war crimes
charges.

"We are saddened by the news of the death of Mr Vann Nath,
who gave a voice to victims," tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen
said.

Vann Nath in recent years had chronic kidney disease
requiring regular dialysis treatment. In April 2010, he was
hospitalised in critical condition with a hemorrhaging ulcer.

His widow, Kith Eng, blamed his illnesses on the torture
he suffered at Tuol Sleng, telling The Associated Press in
August that he would have lived a long and healthy life had it
not been for his year spent there.

Born in 1946, Vann Nath trained as an artist, but was
later forced to work at a cooperative farm after the Khmer
Rouge seized power in April 1975.

He was accused of being an enemy of the regime in 1978 and
imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, and kept there
until January 1979 when the regime fled ahead of invading
Vietnamese troops, who found only seven inmates alive at the
prison.

Between April 1975 and the late 1978 up to 16,000 people
were tortured at the former school before being taken to the
killing fields outside the capital and executed, most often
with a blow to the back of their neck. Vann Nath was spared
because he was ordered to paint and sculpt portraits of the
late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.
He would later paint images of torture such as
waterboarding at Tuol Sleng and write a memoir of his year
spent there.

The regime`s radical policies left about 1.7 million
people dead through overwork, disease, malnutrition and
execution.

In June 2009, Vann Nath testified before Cambodia`s war
crimes tribunal against Kaing Guek Eav better known as Duch
who was in charge of S-21 from 1975-1978. Duch, now 68, was
sentenced to 35 years in prison for war crimes and crimes
against humanity in July 2010.

Bureau Report