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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer Rouge court witness coy on details

Khmer Rouge court witness coy on details

In a full day of testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, former sector secretary Sao Sarun denied any implementation of Communist Party of Kampuchea policies in his area, despite being read several graphic accounts of starvation, persecution and death by exhaustion.

The 85-year-old appeared unable, or unwilling, to recollect any damning details of the alleged criminal policies of the Khmer Rouge, at one point telling civil-party lawyers: “We did not have the right to force anybody to marry.”

Throughout the day, civil-party and defence lawyers attempted to use other people’s statements to undermine and contradict the less-than-lucid testimony of Sao Sarun.

Sao Sarun flatly denied the veracity of the statements, including scholarly articles read to him by Brother No 2 Nuon Chea’s defence counsel.

“I deny all of this. Those people are exaggerating,” he said.

“Were pregnant women entitled to receive medical treatment because of their fragile condition?” lead civil-party lawyer Elisabeth Simmoneau Fort asked the witness.

“Pregnant women were not allowed to work hard and, after delivering their babies a few months after that, they were allowed to stay home and not to work hard,” he replied.

Simmoneau Fort proceeded to read out a civil-party statement of a woman who lived in the sector in question.

In the account, the woman described being sent back to rice production one week after her child was born, feeling malnourished and regularly collapsing on the rice field embankments.

At the conclusion of her questioning, Simmoneau Fort sharply addressed the witness.

“I regret I have not been able to refresh your memory with civil-party statements from those living in Sector 105,” she said.

Even Trial Chamber judge Jean-Marc Lavergne appeared incredulous at the witness’s lack of candour when Sao Sarun said he knew nothing about the 1979 trial of Pol Pot, even though he was living with the late leader in Anlong Veng district.

In the afternoon, the district secretary and one-time sector secretary told Nuon Chea’s defence counsel that from the late 1960s until 1975, the sky in Mondulkiri was “blackened” with American bomber aircraft.

“People had to flee the province. They had to flee for their lives and run to the countryside to avoid being bombed on,” he said.

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



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