PHNOM PENH - 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.

(Reporting by Ek Madra; Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)