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Defence lawyers Anta Guisse (front left) and Victor Koppe
Defence lawyers Anta Guisse (front left) and Victor Koppe talk at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia yesterday during a hearing as Khieu Samphan (back left) watches proceedings. ECCC

Horrors recalled at KR tribunal

Hundreds of people executed with swords and dumped into pits, babies bashed against trees and prison guards feasting on victims’ gallbladders were just some of the atrocities committed at the Kraing Ta Chan security centre in Takeo, a witness told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

Resuming after a two-week break to allow co-defendant Khieu Samphan’s health to improve, hearings in Case 002/02 focused yesterday on the notorious prison camp, which forms a component of the charges levelled against former Khmer Rouge leaders Samphan and Nuon Chea.

Over four-and-a-half hours of evidence, Meas Sokha described the notorious prison compound where he spent almost three years after being incarcerated together with his entire family at age 15 in June 1976.

After learning upon arrival that his father had been “smashed” – the Khmer Rouge term for executed – for his role in trying to depose a village chief, Sokha said he, his mother and elder sister were immediately thrown into one of three buildings used to detain prisoners at the site.

Infested with insects, the room housed more than 20 prisoners, who were shackled and cuffed to a metal bar and forced to share the same toilet bucket, the court heard.

However, it was after a month, when tasked with tending cattle at the prison, that Sokha said he began to see the full extent of the facility’s horror.

On one occasion, he said more than 100 villagers from Srea Nornoung arrived only to be led – two or three at a time – to freshly dug 3-metre-deep pits because the prison was full.

“While I was tending cows and buffalos, I could see how prisoners were killed,” the 55-year-old said.

“Most of them had their throats slit rather than being beaten with bamboo stumps,” he continued, adding that a 60-centimetre sword was used.

“Two [Khmer Rouge guards] would hold the prisoner tight and another would slit the throat of the prisoner.”

Sokha said inmates would be starved for a week before being taken to the pit, while officers played music through loudspeakers and banged instruments to cover the noise of the slaughter.

He said babies were “thrown against trees” before being dropped in the pits, while scores of prisoners were brought to the prison every night.

“Killings started perhaps in the afternoon … from 2pm; killing never happened in the morning. It took place from 2pm until 5pm, and on some occasions would last until 8pm.”

Sokha also said the guards feasted on victims' internal organs, which were dried in the sun and combined with wine, a drink the cadres thought would make them brave.

He said guards used beatings, chains, axes and pliers to interrogate and torture prisoners at a shelter about 50 metres from the holding buildings.

“I was warned I better not talk about what I saw there, that prisoners were tortured and bled; that’s what they warned me, but I could see what happened,” he said.

On one occasion, he said, a prisoner was suffocated with a plastic bag after refusing to answer questions about his rank under the deposed Lon Nol regime or whether he was an American or Vietnamese spy.

At least two people a day – particularly children – would often die of disease or starvation, Sokha, who lost five of 12 family members imprisoned at the site, said.

“There was no treatment for any prisoner who became sick,” he said.

“Prisoners would get sick and would be left there without treatment until that person died.”

Returning after his stint in the hospital, Khieu Samphan was present in court for most of the day, but retired to the holding cell late in the afternoon session, complaining of dizziness.

Speaking last night, Samphan’s legal team said the former Democratic Kampuchea head of state nonetheless appeared to be healthy enough to continue attending hearings, which continue today.

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