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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer Rouge worker recounts Phnom Penh's evacuation

Khmer Rouge worker recounts Phnom Penh's evacuation

Sa Siek arrived in Phnom Penh on foot as a member of a Khmer Rouge “arts unit” four days after cadres seized the city. Tens of thousands of people were being led into the countryside, she recalled, and white flags of surrender still fluttered from homes across the city.

From Prey Vang province, Siek, a slight woman now in her late 50s, told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday about her time singing cheerful pro-regime songs in an arts group before coming to Phnom Penh and joining the Ministry of Propaganda in late April of 1975.

Her unit spent one night at the Olympic Stadium before heading to the new ministry based near Wat Phnom.

She remembered that it was dark, raining and Khmer Rouge soldiers were leading thousands of people out of Phnom Penh in a mass evacuation.

She saw military commander Son Sen greet youth cadres arriving in a car. Then he greeted her unit.

“He asked how we got here, along the way, where we stayed, it was just a normal, casual conversation,” she said.

After sleeping at the stadium she headed to the Ministry of Propaganda, which she broke down into sections for news reading, telegrams, technical work, and the arts. Employees who worked at the ministry before the Khmer Rouge arrived were kept on for training purposes.

“The former technicians and operators of the radio station, they remained, they guided us,” she said. “However, other senior officials were not seen. I did not know about this because I worked in the office and did not move about places.”

In 1977, she left to work at a printing house, which was eventually folded into the new Ministry of Propaganda and Education.

Earlier in the day, the defence team for Brother Number 2 Nuon Chea once again attempted to spark a back and forth about the roles that current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hor Namhong, and the government’s Minister of Finance, Keat Chhon, played during the Khmer Rouge era.

Asking witness Suong Sikoeun, an intellectual who once made up the “nucleus” of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about the two officials, the co-counsel for Nuon Chea Jasper Pauw was cut off again and again before turning to a new topic.

Judge Nil Nonn, the Trial Chamber president, eventually grew weary of all the stops and starts.

“A lot of time has been wasted this afternoon on other issues,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Freeman at joseph.freeman@phnompenhpost.com

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