The former chief photographer at a torture center run by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge said Tuesday he intends to set up a museum with pictures of the leaders of the notorious communist group as his way of apologizing for the death and destruction they caused.
Ngem En, now 47, documented for the Khmer Rouge the thousands taken into Phnom Penh's S-21 prison for torture and eventual execution in the late 1970s. Haunting photos of the victims are the centerpiece of a genocide museum at the prison site, also known as Tuol Sleng.
Historians estimate that more than 1.7 million Cambodians died of execution, starvation, overwork and inadequate medical care due to Khmer Rouge policies.
Ngem En plans to set up a museum at Anlong Veng, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in northern Cambodia where he now serves as a deputy district chief. The project would be his "opportunity to apologize to all the victims who have suffered during that era," he said.
He will exhibit pictures of all Khmer Rouge leaders who ruled Cambodia from 1975-79, including Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Son Sen, he told The Associated Press.
"It was these leaders who caused destruction and misery to Cambodia."
The project would "let the next generation of Cambodians understand about Pol Pot's cruel regime," he said. Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot died in 1998, but other former leaders of the group are still alive and living freely in Cambodia.
Ngem En said he has a collection of photographs he has taken or obtained over the past few decades, and that as many as 1,000 pictures could be suitable for display.
The project, if realized, could also help the local economy, he said.
The museum would be an added attraction for tourists coming to visit Anlong Veng, where Pol Pot died and the Khmer Rouge movement finally collapsed in 1999.
The government has designated Anlong Veng, about 190 miles northwest of Phnom Penh, an official historical site. Tourist attractions include the house of Ta Mok, the former Khmer Rouge army chief who died in July last year, and the spot where Pol Pot was cremated.
While apologizing for his work as a photographer for the Khmer Rouge, Ngem En said he had no choice if he wanted to survive.
"I deeply regret it, but nobody could help anyone," he said.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group researching the Khmer Rouge's crimes, said Ngem En's readiness to apologize publicly through his project provides an example to the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders and would help national reconciliation.
He said he admires Ngem En's "frankness, courage and initiative" in undertaking a project based on his own work.
"He came to us with a bunch of photographs saying that he wanted to tell the history to the public as a Khmer Rouge person," said Youk Chhang, himself a survivor of the regime.
Ngem En said he does not know yet how much the project will cost, and called for interested partners to join in the venture.