Former Khmer Rouge regiment officer Chuon Thy spent much of his testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday painting a very different picture of the Democratic Kampuchea era than the one commonly accepted as fact.
In the Democratic Kampuchea described by Thy – who joined the revolutionary army in 1970, and worked his way up through the ranks by “learning on the job” – marriages were never forced, the evacuation of Phnom Penh was a happy occasion, and the architect of the deaths of more than a million people, Pol Pot, was “a friendly person indeed”.
Thy’s testimony continually returned to his one meeting with Pol Pot at a meeting of cadres in Kampong Chhnang in 1978.
“At that time, I was the commander of a battalion,” he said. “When I met him, he told me: ‘Comrade, you have to mobilise your forces to combat the Vietnamese invasion.’”
Thy obliged, moving his troops – who had been engaged in rice farming for the previous three years – to meet the Vietnamese in Svay Rieng.
“When we were doing all the farming, all the weapons were stored in warehouses,” he later added. “It took a long time for the soldiers to be mobilised. It was too late. By the time we were ready, the Vietnamese troops had come into Cambodia already.”
When asked to describe Pol Pot, Thy remarked that Brother No1 “had a nice smile”, and was a “very popular person, and a friendly person indeed”.
Similarly, marriage under the Khmer Rouge was a rosy institution, encouraged in education sessions as necessary to boosting Cambodia’s population.
“I was married during that period as well,” he said, noting that all marriages were consensual. “No one forced us to get married. They said that Cambodia had a big land, and we needed more people to live in that land, and we needed 20 to 30 million people in order to defend our territory, our land.”
According to Thy – who, on April 17, 1975, was stationed a stone’s throw from where the tribunal is today located – the capture of Phnom Penh truly was a “liberation”, even after the more common, darker characterisation of the city’s fall intruded on the proceedings in the form of testimony read in court by civil party lawyer Emmanuel Jacomy.
“There were crowds of people along the road, including corpses. Some people were run over, trampled. Some people used cars to leave the city, but there were just too many soldiers; the Khmer Rouge soldiers pulled the drivers out of the cars and executed them,” Jacomy read, quoting a civil party who had exited the city along the route where Thy was stationed.
When asked if this testimony jogged his memory, Thy replied, “What I saw was that people were happy.”