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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cadres recall coup battle plan

Sem Hoeurn stands in a courtroom before giving his testimony at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
Sem Hoeurn stands in a courtroom before giving his testimony at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia during Case 002/02 against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan on Monday. ECCC

Cadres recall coup battle plan

The Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday continued its exploration of a planned coup d’etat to topple the Democratic Kampuchea regime and the eventual removal of the plot’s leaders following an order from the Khmer Rouge’s upper echelon to “purge internal enemies”.

The existence of opposing factions within the Khmer Rouge has emerged as a key element of co-accused Nuon Chea’s defence, and during a cross-examination by both defence teams, witness Sem Hoeurn said that shortly after the fall of Phnom Penh in April 1975, an insurgent force within the regime called “Khmer White” was established after the murders of soldiers and civilians at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

Members of the movement, consisting mostly of North and East Zone cadres, started engaging in “secret acts of rebellion” against the DK leadership from 1976-77.

Hoeurn delivered weapons and six trucks to a village in Kampong Cham, while his comrades also conducted secret missions at night, like transporting food rations for the impending rebellion.

The preparations, Hoeurn said, were meant to culminate in early 1977 during the Khmer White’s “ultimate plan of conducting an armed coup d’etat”.

“The first aim was to overthrow the regime. There was a plan to heat up an uprising and attack.”

According to Hoeurn, Division 310 was tasked with taking over the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s official radio station in Stung Meanchey, then seizing Pochentong airport.

“The rebellion plan was that the East Zone prepared forces at the front and the rear and that the North Zone attack and takes over Phnom Penh. Other zones would then take over the outskirts of the city,” he said.

The upheaval was, however, foiled when news of it leaked to the upper echelon and the division leaders were arrested.

Second witness and former Division 310 clerk Him Han spoke about a meeting he attended in November 1975 at the Olympic Stadium where the Khmer Rouge central committee – including Chea, fellow defendant Khieu Samphan, late Case 002 defendant Ieng Sary and regime leader Pol Pot – ordered the “purge of internal enemies”.

“At the beginning, the disappearances occurred in the division level, then the regiment, and then moved down the chain to the battalion level,” he said.

Lower-level combatants like Han were segregated into a new unit called Unit 17 and sent for refashioning at the Kampong Chhnang airport construction site.

“We could be exterminated at any moment, as our leaders were considered the worst of the ‘bad elements’.”



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