Prosecution, defence and civil party lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday drilled a former Khmer Rouge soldier with questions about a notorious massacre of Lon Nol military personnel in Pursat province.
But Ung Chhat, a farmer who was assigned to guard Pursat provincial headquarters after the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, provided ambiguous answers, many of which contradicted or departed from his interviews with tribunal investigators years earlier, which had seemed to suggest that he knew more than what he testified to in court.
Judges in October added the execution site of Tuol Po Chrey, at which thousands of Lon Nol soldiers were killed after being promised positions in the new army, to the first phase of the current trial.
Based on a statement Chhat gave to the Office of Co-Investigating Judges about Tuol Po Chrey, he once had a detailed recollection of what he saw in the aftermath of the killings.
“At that site at the Tuol Po Chrey fort, I saw the dead bodies were on the ground with their heads pointing north. I saw the arms of the corpses were tied to the back, and the corpses were tied up together, in 15 to 20 by a rope. Wound marks on the heads and torsos of those corpses were clearly visible, and there was a strong smell of blood at the site,” he said in the statement, which was read in court yesterday.
But he told the court yesterday that he only saw the corpses from afar, and that he remembered the details because he heard them in a story retold by villagers who came upon the scene first.
As for the Lon Nol soldiers, Chhat said he was carrying out his role as a guard when vehicles came to pick them up and took them away.
“The Khmer Rouge would not allow the next vehicle to leave for Tuol Po Chrey unless they saw the previous one, which had transported Lon Nol soldiers to Tuol Po Chrey earlier, return. Later, I saw the vehicle which transported Lon Nol soldiers earlier return empty.”
In an exchange with a civil party lawyer, he vehemently denied receiving orders to kill anyone at Tuol Po Chrey.
International Co-Prosecutor Keith Raynor played video of a documentary about the crime site made by journalist Thet Sambath. In one of the interviews, a man describes seeing the Khmer Rouge cutting off heads and placing two of them on a spike to warn anyone from entering the area.
Raynor played another segment of the video later in the day after it emerged that Chhat may have appeared in the same film and told Sambath a story placing him closer to the action.
But when Raynor played him the footage in question, Chhat insisted he was not the man who gave the interview.
The court continues hearing witness testimony on Thursday.