The testimony of witness Pech Choem was marked by contradictions at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, with the former district-level Khmer Rouge cadre in the afternoon reversing a number of statements he had made during the court’s morning session.
The turning point seemed to come after a line of questioning in which Nuon Chea defence counsel Victor Koppe questioned Choem’s credibility on the subject of the execution of former Lon Nol regime soldiers and officials, finally asking whether the former district secretary had himself “been involved in executions, killing of enemies, be it internal or external”.
Choem – who had previously maintained that Lon Nol soldiers had been picked out of columns of evacuating Phnom Penh residents, and killed – declined to respond on the advice of his duty counsel, and then said that
he had no personal know-ledge of such executions beyond hearsay.
“I did not witness any killing in person,” Choem said, adding that he had never spoken directly to anyone involved in the killing.
The witness also went on to recant a statement he had previously affirmed regarding names crossed out in red ink on confessions sent from the local Kraing Ta Chan security centre.
In the morning session, Choem had said that he stood by a statement in his interview with court investigators in which he had said: “If there were some names in confessions crossed by red ink, it meant that the sector level had decided that these names were to be purged.”
“From the sector they would then be sent to Kraing Ta Chan,” he expanded in court. “All would be sent to that place. No one would be spared.”
In the afternoon, however, Choem maintained that red ink indicated little more than the colour of the pen a person happened to have on hand.
“No, it did not mean that. It was in a usual setting,” he said of the red ink.
“If I used a red ink pen, anybody could also have used a red ink pen,” he added.
“A red ink pen did not mean somebody would be punished. It did not mean that way.”
Though Choem more than once denied having a role in the purges, he did have access to arrest orders and confessions that passed between the sector leadership and Kraing Ta Chan and at times used his position to see civilians released, asking “the base to take them back”.
“It was not my idea that everyone was an enemy, and we should not be so easily fooled as to believe that everyone was an enemy,” he said.