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Friday, 2 June, 2000, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Cambodian mass grave found
Ai Siphal with remains of the victims
Ai Siphal found the grave while digging in his garden
A mass grave with the remains of several people believed to be torture victims of the Khmer Rouge has been uncovered in a Phnom Penh garden.

One of the bodies is believed to be that of an American.

The man found the decaying bones and smashed skulls while preparing an extension for his house.

US embassy official Jerry Philbrook looks at some of the remains
US embassy official Jerry Philbrook looks at some of the remains
"I decided to dig up a tree in the front yard and found the bones," said 72-year-old Ai Siphal.

"I was a little bit shocked," he said, adding that he had invited Buddhist monks to hold a ceremony over the grave to pray for the victims' souls.

The garden lies just 100 metres from the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where at least 14,000 were tortured in the interrogation centre S-21 in the late 1970s.

'Dozens more' buried

Genocide investigators and a US embassy team arrived at the house soon after the discovery was reported.

Youk Chhang, Director of the Genocide Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said the grave could contain the remains of 10 torture victims.

"The Khmer Rouge used to bury [victims] around here, until they ran out of space. There could be the remains of dozens more victims under these houses," he said.

Prison museum
The prison, now a museum, has a harrowing display of victims' photographs
"The other scenario is that perhaps the Khmer Rouge had transport problems on some days and had to make do with putting the bodies here."

Most bodies were taken to Chhoeng Ek, a 'killing fields' site 10km from Phnom Penh, where about 9,000 remains have been found. Most victims were beaten to death to save on ammunition.

An estimated 1.7 million people died from starvation, disease or execution during the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1979.

American victim

The grave contained the remains of a larger-boned Westerner, which had plastic rope tied to one arm.

Skulls in a memorial
Some skulls of Khmer Rouge victims have been placed in a memorial
US embassy investigators said it could be from Michael Scott Deeds, an American yachtsman captured in 1978 while sailing off the Gulf of Thailand. He was killed in the prison.

"We're very interested in this," said Jerry Philbrook, a US defence attache at the embassy.

Mr Philbrook said the remains would be sent to a laboratory in Hawaii for DNA testing.

Mr Deeds' brother, Karl Scott Deeds, dug up several bodies buried near the prison in 1989 but was unable to identify his brother, who was accused of being an American spy.

The former head of the prison Kang Khek lev or "Duch", now in jail awaiting trial, reportedly ordered the bodies of foreign victims to be burnt so they would never be found.

The prison is now a genocide museum containing photographs of victims taken by the Khmer Rouge.

The United Nations said last week that it was near to finalising a deal with the Cambodian Government on the conduct of genocide trials.

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See also:

25 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Cambodia's lingering trauma
06 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Law targets Khmer Rouge leaders
20 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Khmer confession tape found
07 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
Khmer Rouge chief charged with genocide
23 Mar 99 | Education
Learning about the killing fields
17 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
'Killing fields' trial talks begin
14 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Masters of the killing fields
24 Jul 98 | Cambodia
Cambodia's troubled history
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