A former village chief and commune militiaman – who was referred to as a feared executioner by a previous witness – told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday that it had not been his decision to order executions, saying that lists of targets were handed down from the regime’s leadership.
Yean Lon, 73, the last witness to testify regarding the “January 1” dam, told the court he worked for three months on the dam site, participating in gruelling work from early morning to night and existed in “inhumane” conditions where “waste and rubbish was everywhere”.
“Even though I was their chief, I worked as hard or even harder than the people in my village,” he said.
Following his work at the dam site, Lon was recruited to the Kampong Thma commune militia – explaining he was chosen because he is uneducated and illiterate and therefore was expected to “blindly follow instructions”.
“Is the truth that in order to survive, you had to follow all the orders you received, including orders to arrest and orders to execute?” asked assistant prosecutor Dale Lysak.
“Yes, that is what happened at the time,” Lon said.
As part of the commune militia, he recalled he was given a list of names from the upper echelons and instructed to gather those people to a meeting at the commune office, where they were “tied, arrested, and taken to be killed”. Lon identified senior leaders who provided the orders – one of whom was high-ranking official Ke Pork – but did not name co-accused Nuon Chea or Khieu Samphan.
He confirmed 12 Cham Muslim families were deliberately exterminated on the basis of their ethnicity, but said “base” and “new” people were killed regardless of status once they were accused of an offence.
The defence cited the June 4 testimony of Uth Seng, who had referred to Lon as a feared “chief executioner” who carried a knife caked with dried blood.
“It is unfair to point out that I was the sole executioner,” Lon said. “I was not a murderer.”
Lon told the court he was sentenced to 10 years in prison when the regime fell in 1979, but maintained he was a generous and kind man, who fled into the forest in 1977 for refusing to kill people.
He said he secretly fed starving villagers and some of his 10-year prison sentence was commuted for his “good deeds”.
But when asked if anyone could back his version of events, Lon replied: “They all died”.