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Pol Pot’s Chief Torturer Comes To Christ

ICC: Where as humans we find it hard to believe but Jesus changes even the lives of evil ones. Remember, good or bad can only experience salvation by asking Christ to change your heart, Jesus answers if we ask!

by Dean Smith

10/19/07, Cambodia (ANS) ― The Khmer Rouge started as a Maoist, guerilla group in the Cambodian jungles. Run by a despot named Pol Pot, they overthrew the Cambodian government in 1975 starting a four year reign of terror.

In an effort to transform Cambodia into an agrarian society, Pol Pot emptied the cities forcing people into the country where hundreds of thousands starved to death and others murdered or simply worked to death. Phnom Penh, the capital city with a current population of 1.2 million, was turned into a ghost town in the late 70s.

One of the regime’s mottos was “To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss” and certainly they lived by it. There were mass executions of former government loyalists, intellectuals (this included people wearing glasses which indicated they could read) and non Cambodians such as Vietnamese and Chinese. Religious groups were also targeted particularly Christians and Muslims.

Though the Khmer Rouge was finally ousted by the Vietnamese in 1979, it’s estimated the Khmer killed 1.7 million Cambodians or nearly 20% of the population. The British movie, The Killing Fields, won three Academy Awards for it portrayal of this horrific time in Cambodian history.

The International community has made repeated attempts to have Cambodia come to terms with this dark period in its history. Finally after 30 years of prodding, the Cambodian government will hold trials in 2008 bringing to justice those responsible. The Cambodia government only allowed the trial — referred to as the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) — to proceed once certain conditions were met. First, the costs of the ECCC needed to be paid by the international community and the tribunal will not be allowed to prosecute any government officials with a Khmer past.

So instead, the ECCC will focus on former Khmer leaders who are not politically connected to the current regime. Though Pol Pot died in 1998 under mysterious circumstances, many former Khmer leaders walk free in the country. This includes Leng Sary, the foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge, who has lived in a mansion in Phnom Penn under police protection. Nuon Chea — Brother #2 — second in command behind Pol Pot was considered the master mind behind the Khmer genocide and lives in northwestern Cambodia.. Nuon Chea was arrested in September and is the second person slated to face the tribunal.

The first is a man named Khang Khek Ieu. He has been in jail since 1999 and was finally charged this past July. Khang whose revolutionary name was Duch (pronounced dook) was leader of the Khmer Rouge’s secret police and oversaw its prison camp system used to torture and execute individuals (men, women and children) considered enemies of the state.

Duch also commanded the notorious S-21 — known as Tuol Seng — the highest security prison in the regime where an estimated 12,000 people were imprisoned and executed. Most sent there were actually members of the Khmer Rouge, as Nuon Chea regularly purged the party of dissidents real or imagined. Using extreme measures of torture, S-21 routinely gained confessions before execution. Only a handful of people survived detention at S-21.

Duch has confessed his involvement and repeatedly stated he would “reveal the details of crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge.” To date, he is the only major leader of the Khmer Rouge to confess to his crimes.

Christopher LaPel — a Cambodian-born pastor living in Los Angeles — regularly travels to Cambodia to preach the Gospel and hold leadership training seminars.

In 1995, while in Chamkar Samrong a village in Battambang province, he met a withdrawn and gaunt man named Hang Pin, 54, who was encouraged to attend LaPel’s meetings at the urging of a friend.

After listening to LaPel’s sermons, Hang made a commitment to Christ and asked to be baptized. LaPel said this resulted in a remarkable transformation. Hang went from being withdrawn to open and laughing and concerned about how he looked. LaPel had no idea his newest disciple was the notorious leader of the Khmer Rouge secret police — Duch.

Looking back, LaPel told the Laredo Morning Times that the only hint he had of Hang Pin’s dark past was from a comment he made: “Pastor Christopher,” Hang Pin said, “I’m a sinner. I don’t think my brothers and sisters can forgive me because my sins are so deep.” [3]

After his conversion, Hang Pin returned to his village and started a church. He eventually went to work for a non government agency called the American Refugee Committee (ARC) in 1997 — all the while, maintaining his connection with LaPel and preaching the Gospel.

As the Holy Spirit drew Hang Pin to salvation, British photographer and Journalist Nic Dunlop was in the country reporting on Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge past.

In his article “On the trail of Pol Pot’s chief executioner,” published in Prospect Magazine, Dunlop said he was drawn to S-21, which had been turned into a museum of the genocide.

Photos taken of the thousands people incarcerated there hung on the walls. He was mesmerized by their faces filled with desperation and terror. During one of his visits, he saw a picture of the camp commander — Duch. He obtained a copy thinking it might prove useful in identifying the former commander, if he ever came across him.

In 1999, while on one of his tours, Dunlop met Hang Pin in a village near the city of Samlot in Western Cambodia. Dunlop was convinced he had found Duch.

Dunlop returned a week later with a fellow reporter, Nate Thayer, to confront Hang Pin. Thayer asked Hang Pin if he ever worked for the Khmer Rouge. Hang Pin deflected the question stating he currently worked with ARC and was translating school text books. Thayer asked the question two more times and finally Hang Pin paused and said, “It is God’s will you are here.” [1]

“I have done very bad things in my life,” he told them. “Now is the time to bear the consequences of my actions.”

Duch confessed his involvement with the secret police and S-21. After Dunlop and Thayer broke the news, Duch went into hiding for a couple days before finally turning himself in to the police. Dunlop has no doubt Duch’s commitment to Christ played a role in his confession and arrest.

In a later interview with Thayer published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Duch said he was willing to testify against other Khmer perpetuators and feared for his life because of his willingness to do so. “It is OK, they can have my body,” he said, “Jesus has my soul. It is important that this history is understood. I want to tell you everything.” [2]

This past June, I contacted Christopher LaPel and received an encouraging report about Duch who at the time was incarcerated in a military prison in Phnom Penh just a few blocks away from S-21. He has since been transferred to the ECCC detention center.

“Yes, I would like to answer your questions regarding Khang Khek Ieu or Hang Pin or Duch, one of my disciples and one of our leaders serving our Lord Jesus Christ in Northwest Cambodia before he came forward … Yes, he is in jail in Phom Penh and he [is] still preaching and sharing God’s word with people around him.”

Duch’s conversion is a powerful testament of the complete work of Jesus on the Cross.

Paul said we are “justified by faith” (Rom 5:1). The word justification does not mean to infuse with righteousness; rather it means you were declared not guilty because there is no evidence to condemn you. Paul explains in 2 Cor 5:21, “He (God) made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

At the moment of salvation, all of Duch’s acts of torture and murder were transferred on to Jesus and God no longer has any record of this sin. Though Duch will be found guilty of all charges in the earthly trial, he is acquitted of all charges in the heavenly.

In fact, Paul wrote: “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom 5:20). Where there is great sin, there will be more than enough grace to cover it.

When Christopher LaPel found out who his disciple was, he personally had to come to grips with the issue. His parents, brother and sister were killed during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. One cousin, a science professor, even ended up in S-21 and her photo hangs on the wall.

“I was shocked when I found out who he really was,” Chris said in a TimesAsia article, “because what he did was so evil.” “Then I reflected it’s amazing; it’s a miracle. Christianity changes people’s lives. If Jesus can change Duch, He can change anyone.” [4]

LaPel holds no anger towards Duch and has completely forgiven him.