When genocide starts

Minh Bui Jones

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Youk Chhang. Photograph: John Vink

My name is Youk Chhang, I was born in Tuol Kork, a suburb in Phnom Penh. My date of birth is 22 January, 1961. I’m Aquarius and in Chinese horoscope I’m an Ox.”

To many journalists, students and observers of Cambodian politics, Chhang, fifty-five, hardly needs an introduction. As head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) — the primary archive of the Khmer Rouge era — he has become an éminence grise of the Cambodian ‘genocide’, shorthand for the communist revolutionary terror that consumed the lives of an estimated 1.7 people in the late Seventies. At Choeung Ek, the killing field on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, you can hear his personal tale of war, separation, hunger, physical labour and loss on the popular audio tour. On the internet you can read his profile, from the Stanford School of Business ezine to Time magazine.

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