A mid his detailed testimony about chauffeuring foreign delegations around Khmer Rouge-controlled Phnom Penh in late 1975 and 1976, Sar Sarin abruptly clammed up, said he feared for his safety, and demanded assurances of lifelong protection from the United Nations and the Cambodian government before continuing to answer questions.
“I am fearful, and I am afraid my personal security would be at great risk,” said Sarin, a civil party who is retired and lives in Kampong Cham province. “Frankly speaking, the Khmer Rouge are not happy that their leaders are on trial. If they knew that this would be the end of the day, then they would never have surrendered or integrated into the Cambodian troops.”
Without mentioning specific threats, he made it clear that should his testimony be revealed, it could have consequences. In what appeared to be a reference to the 1996 murder of Cambodian physician and Killing Fields movie star Haing Ngor, who was slain in a gang shooting in the US that prompted theories of an international conspiracy carried out by his former tormentors, Sarin said that Ngor “once talked a lot about the Khmer Rouge, and you know what happened to him.”
It wasn’t clear what set off the alarm bells. Sarin spent the morning explaining his early participation in the revolution as a member of an arts and propaganda group and his move to Phnom Penh in late 1975 to work as a driver.
He said he remembered being glad when he and others had the chance to change out of their rubber sandals and drab black uniforms into dress clothes for the purpose of greeting international dignitaries.
He first voiced safety concerns after international co-prosecutor Keith Raynor began questioning him about Khieu Samphan, attacks on the Vietnamese and the execution of Lon Nol soldiers.
“When my personal safety is assured, then I will respond to your questions,” he said.
Though Sarin wrote in a letter to the court about safety concerns in 2009, Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn said the topic did not come up in briefings before his appearance. His main worry, Nonn said, was being away from his pumpkin plantation.
Internal court rules allow for various protection measures, including voice distortion, closed-circuit sessions and providing a safe house inside or outside of Cambodia. Spokesman Lars Olsen said that to date, not one witness or civil party scheduled to give testimony in Case 002 has been granted protective measures.
After Sarin requested “four people to give me protection from today until the day that I die,” the Trial Chamber called his request inappropriate and outside of its jurisdiction, then excused him and called in a reserve witness, whose testimony continues today.