Expert witness Ysa Osman yesterday continued to describe to the Khmer Rouge tribunal the findings of his research into alleged Khmer Rouge policies to exterminate the predominantly Muslim ethnic Cham population.
The alleged genocide of the Cham is one of the key charges against Case 002/02 defendants Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. According to Osman, the scale of the killings of Cham differed over time, and could be broken down into three distinct periods: 1973 to 1975, 1975 to 1977, and 1977 to ’78.
“In 1977, the Cham people were gathered for the purpose of purging. It was a purge that was indiscriminate; any Cham would be the target,” he said, whereas from 1975 to 1977, those targeted were those “who opposed the regime” and refused to change their names or give up their dietary restrictions, language or religion.
Osman had previously described the final stage of killings, explaining that Chams who had been evacuated from their native villages after 1975 to other zones were then instructed to return, allowing the Khmer Rouge to easily identify, round-up and exterminate them.
The evacuation was evidenced by “Telegram 15” sent on November 30, 1975, to Pol Pot, with Chea copied, according to Osman. The initial dispersal of the Cham, he added, was motivated by fear of further Cham rebellions, such as those at Koh Phal and Svay Khleang.
Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian questioned Osman about an account of a meeting between cadre Ke Pauk and Pol Pot in which Pol Pot requested an investigation into why corpses had washed up in front of his office on the Mekong River.
According to Osman, during the purges in 1977 and 1978, victims had initially been buried along the riverbanks, but “the burial site was no longer good enough, so they changed their corpse disposal” to dumping bodies in the river.
Victims were tied up in groups of 10 to 20 and strung between two boats and killed by drowning.
“The boats were driven across the river and the victims were drowned to death in the river,” he said.
Osman testified that while he had never come across a written document from the regime proving instructions to gather up and exterminate the Cham, he “met with the individuals who saw the document”.
“Why? After the Cham actually forfeited their religion and identity, and adapted themselves to live the way [the regime] wanted, and they were still killed – I have no answer.”
The question, he said, troubled him so much that “if I were to die, I would die without peace”.