PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The chief Khmer Rouge torturer formally apologized Tuesday for the deaths of more than 14,000 people at S-21 prison, the first Pol Pot cadre to accept blame for crimes committed by the regime 30 years ago.
"I am responsible for the crimes committed at S-21, especially the torture and execution of the people there," Duch told a U.N.-Cambodian court where he is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
"May I be permitted to apologies to the survivors of the regime and families of the victims who had loved ones who died brutally at S-21. I would like you to forgive me," Duch told the panel of five judges as survivors of the Khmer Rouge watched from a public gallery.
Duch, a born-again Christian whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, said he would "like to express regret and my heartfelt sorrow for all the crimes committed" during the 1975-79 reign of terror in which 1.7 million people died in Cambodia.
But the 66-year-old former maths teacher said he was only following orders issued by the top Khmer Rouge leadership, and had feared for the lives of his family if he had disobeyed.
"I am solely responsible for this crime, but I am just a scapegoat. A person who played a role in the killings," he told the court on the second day of his formal trial.
Duch 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.