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Evacuation was the master plan

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Former sugar palm harvester Nou Mao testified at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday that even as “just an ordinary person”, he was aware of a master plan to empty Cambodia’s cities well ahead of the 1975 fall of Phnom Penh.

While his characterisation of himself as “ordinary” may be debateable – he was a village- and commune-level cadre in the revolution’s earlier days – Mao asserted that Khmer Rouge leaders had planned to evacuate cities as early as 1973, contrary to past arguments by the defence, who have characterised the 1975 emptying of Phnom Penh as a snap decision made to ease a food shortage.

“Sometimes [military commander Ta Mok] asked me to attend military meetings, and he would then talk about attacking Phnom Penh, and that immediately after liberating Phnom Penh, all the population had to be evacuated,” Mao said, describing a two-month education session in 1973. “And he, at times, also warned the local cadres, in particular those who challenged such evacuations.

“They were of the opinion that the city dwellers would not know much about farming, and should stay were they were,” he noted of the dissenters. “And these people . . . would then be reprimanded by Mok on several occasions.”

Ultimately, the dissenters were more than reprimanded, however.

While co-accused Khieu Samphan supported emptying the cities, Mao said, high-level cadres Chou Chet, Hu Nim and Hou Yun all expressed scepticism at the prospect, and all eventually found their way to infamous torture centre S-21.

“Hou Yun came to hold an assembly . . . and a lot of people who were members attended that gathering, and he was talking against the evacuation of the people,” he said. “Later on, he disappeared, and I have no idea where he could have been.”

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