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Khmer Rouge court told of city’s evacuation

Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot (from left), Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son Sen and Vorn Vet are seen in this undated file photo. Photograph: DC-CAM

Senior Khmer Rouge leader Son Sen’s younger brother took the stand at the tribunal yesterday and delivered his insights into a regime governed by secrecy and information control.

Ny Kan said he was not completely certain what his brother’s role in the regime was, only attesting that he was “leading the army for a while”.

“Secrecy was so high, discipline was so firm – I had to be given tasks from other people, I had no opportunity to choose them,” the now-adviser at the Ministry of National Defence said yesterday.

Either loss of memory or loss of nerve dominated Ny Kan’s responses to prosecution questioning yesterday.

He needed to be reminded several times about an interview he gave to former BBC correspondent Philip Short for his biography Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare.

However, when asked if he felt any trepidation in his testimony, Ny Kan said: “I joined forces with the Cambodia People’s Party, so I do not feel pressure anymore. I am operating more freely now.”

The 69-year-old said he joined the revolution movement in the 1960s because he had the “necessary skills” – meaning he was literate.

As a propaganda official during the time of Democratic Kampuchea, Ny Kan said he moved around a lot and was tasked with making banners for the evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975.

He described the situation as “very chaotic”.

“There were a lot of people in Phnom Penh before it was liberated, and people had to come out of their homes and flooded the roads,” he said of city dwellers evacuating the city by foot.

The threat of aerial bombardment – the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s stated motivation for evacuating Phnom Penh – had everyone living in fear, Son Sen’s brother said.

He recounted how Khmer Rouge forces had dug a network of trenches and tunnels under six-metre-high anthills along the abandoned railway between Phnom Penh and Battambang to try and protect themselves from aerial attacks he said were the responsibility of either forces loyal to Lon Nol or American B-52 bombers.

At this time, “all the pagodas in the country” were destroyed by bombs from the B-52s and monks flocked to join the revolutionary forces, he said.

After that, there were “no more pagodas where people could go and visit as religious believers”, he added.

Throughout proceedings, a still-recovering Ieng Sary remained in the holding cells beneath the courtroom.

Doctors last week said the former Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister’s heart condition is not expected to improve.

Ny Kan’s testimony continues today.

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



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