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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Former Khmer Rouge secretary describes political policy

Former Khmer Rouge secretary describes political policy

Former district secretary Sao Sarun was the only person of his rank from Sector 105 to escape the Democratic Kampuchea regime without being arrested, killed or “disappeared,” prosecutors told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

Witness Sao Sarun provided compelling testimony about the implementation of Khmer Rouge leaders’ efforts to take Cambodia back to “Year Zero”, a policy that entailed communal eating, forced marriage, frequent arrests and “self-criticism” meetings.

“After the liberation [of Phnom Penh], I was asked to attend a meeting to understand the political situation,” Sao Sarun said.

“They talked about the closing of the market, and that in the future, the markets would be re-opened,” he said, adding that topics including the building of canals and dam irrigation systems, and the prospect of forced marriages, were canvassed.

Sao Sarun indicated in his testimony that in his home province of Mondulkiri, the practice of religion was not prohibited, just reduced.

He added that Buddhists had already seen all of their pagodas – and most of the houses – levelled by aerial bombardments in the early ’70s.

For ethnic animists, practice of religion was tempered as they were instructed to be “economical” about sacrificing animals, because they should concentrate their efforts on farming, the 80-year-old witness said.

When questioned on the persecution of ethnic minority groups such as Chams, Sao Sarun was light on detail, but recalled: “I heard people talking about those Vietnamese [who] were loaded into trucks and sent back to their country.”

The indictment against co-accused Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary states that in the late 1970s, Sector 105 was extensively purged.

Sao Sarun’s narrative of events leading to his promotion to sector secretary at a meeting with Pol Pot, Son Sen and Nuon Chea in late 1978 was populated with tales of executions conducted via beatings or gunshots, as well as suicides.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bridget Di Certo at



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