Images of genocide victims are displayed on the walls of the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crime. (Photo: Corbis)
Phnom Penh - Pol Pot's chief jailer told Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday that children of inmates at the regime's S-21 prison were murdered to keep them from seeking revenge later in life.
Duch, the first of five senior cadres to face trial for the 1975-79 reign of terror in which 1.7 million Cambodians died, said he accepted responsibility for the children's deaths but was following orders.
"When children arrived at the center I gave the order to kill them because we were afraid those children would take revenge," the 66-year- old told the court.
"I had to implement the policy of the Communist party," said the former chief of the S-21 interrogation center where more than 14,000 men, women and children were killed.
Only a handful of inmates, some of them children, survived the prison. Most victims were tortured before they were taken outside the capital Phnom Penh and clubbed to death in the Cheoung Ek "Killing Fields."
During Monday's hearing, the Cambodian prosecutor asked Duch who ordered guards to kill babies by smashing them against trees.
"I did not order that crime, but I believe my comrades did that," said Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav.
With no death penalty in Cambodia, Duch faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted by the joint U.N.-Cambodian tribunal on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and homicide.
He is expected to be a key witness in the future trials of those also deemed "most responsible" by the tribunal for one of the darkest chapters in the 20th century.
The other four - "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, the regime's ex- president Khieu Samphan, and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister, and his wife - have denied knowledge of any atrocities.
If convicted, the five face a minimum of five years and a maximum of life in prison.
Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Jerry Norton.