Former Khmer Rouge military officer Prum Sarat yesterday described confrontations with Vietnamese forces in Cambodian waters, which led to the detention of Vietnamese civilians.
Sarat, who commanded a naval vessel with 38 crew members under Case 003 suspect Meas Muth’s Division 164, said that he wasn’t aware of any Vietnamese civilians living on islands disputed between Vietnam and Cambodia. But he did see what appeared to be captured civilians while docking at one of the islands.
“I did not witness the arrest but witnessed Vietnamese sitting there . . . There were five or six of them,” he said. “Their hands were not tied up because they could use their hands to eat rice.”
He said that while his boat was too large to capture Vietnamese vessels, two smaller Khmer Rouge boats had that assignment.
“Both units were in charge of capturing Vietnamese fishermen and seizing boats,” he said. “My unit had no directive to seize boats – if we fired, we had to sink them straight away.”
According to Sarat, the territorial waters of Democratic Kampuchea were a “hot battlefield”, with both sides taking prisoners. He said that in early 1975, Vietnamese forces captured several dozen Khmer Rouge troops by cutting them off from their supply lines. These POWs were returned to Cambodia in 1977.
When asked about the shift in policy that led to Vietnam being painted as enemies, Sarat said “the upper level trained us to distinguish enemies inside and outside [Cambodia]. The outside first enemy was the yuon and the second enemy was within the ranks, those considered traitors.”
Prosecutor Vincent de Wilde consistently pressed Sarat on his personal involvement in arrests of Vietnamese at sea, but Sarat denied receiving orders to hunt Vietnamese armed forces or civilians during his naval command, saying only that soldiers and sailors were instructed to be “vigilant” and “ready to fight”.
The alleged genocide of the Vietnamese is one of the main charges in the current Case 002/02 against ex-regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.