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Ex-officer tells of coup plot, being ‘tempered’

The one-time chief of a unit of disabled soldiers told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday that he, along with his men, were sent to the Kampong Chhnang airport base to be “tempered” after the upper echelon discovered their division commanders’ plot to overthrow the Democratic Kampuchea regime.

Witness Keo Leour, who continued his testimony today, said he had been forcibly made a member of the North Zone’s Division 310 at the age of 18. He continued to rise through the division’s ranks despite sustaining a leg injury during a battle around Phnom Penh in January of 1975.

“My father was called to attend a meeting, and he was told that if he didn’t allow the children to go to the battlefield, then the parents will be mistreated,” Leour said.

“We were indoctrinated to get revenge against the feudalists, capitalists, reactionary groups and liberate the poor class. We had to eliminate them.”

In mid-1977, the Democratic Kampuchea leadership uncovered a planned coup within Division 310 and the K-4 unit, which consisted of 600 disabled soldiers.

“The senior people had a discussion that they wanted the soldiers to have better living conditions . . . and in order for us to receive wages and live comfortably, we had to react and overthrow the Democratic Kampuchea regime,” Leour said.

He recalled seeing weapons being transported, and once heard Division 310 leader Ta Oun telling soldiers about their forthcoming preparations.

The plan was never realised, as news of the betrayal reached the upper leadership and six leaders from the two units were arrested and sent to the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh.

Leour was subsequently promoted to K-4 unit chief, but only had the position for two weeks before he and 400 of his soldiers were sent for “re-education” by labour in Kampong Chhnang in January 1978.

During the five months the witness spent at the airbase, he said that Southwest Zone cadres often held “tempering meetings” where they were told to “bear the situation”, which was a result of their leaders being “traitors”.

“We were told to work hard and urged and warned that if anyone didn’t work hard or made mistakes, they would be arrested and tortured. Sometimes, people were taken away during the meetings and I never saw them,” he said.

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