‘Your mothers and fathers have all been killed.”
Sem On, a witness before the Khmer Rouge tribunal, testified yesterday that he had heard two different variations on that phrase – used to very different ends – in 1978, on the brink of the fall of the regime that claimed roughly 1.7 million lives.
One occasion was in a large meeting in which Ta Khieu – the alias of Khmer Rouge leader Son Sen – told attendees that whatever they may have heard of the fates of the families, they were to put it out of mind and return to work.
In the same meeting, Khieu played audio of a “confession” elicited from accused traitor Ta Ouen. On said the clink of chains could be heard in the background of the recording as Oeun confessed to a “traitorous plot”, in what prosecutor Dale Lysak branded “propaganda” to justify purges of cadre.
“They wanted us to hear, to know, and warn all of us not to do what he did,” On said.
“We were told that we had no longer our parents,” he continued, adding that Khieu then ordered those gathered to work in the rice fields for the benefit of the state.
On, currently a village chief, said the next time he heard the phrase was on a presumably Vietnamese radio broadcast he tuned into after he had been sent to the battlefront near the border to manage communications.
“They made an appeal to our side that we should no longer be in the resistance, that we should lay down our arms, because our parents at the rear had all been taken away and killed, and that we should join [their] movement,” On said.
Based on hints in On’s previous statements, the defence attempted to link Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin – both of whom fled the Khmer Rouge to Vietnam – to the broadcast message.
While On didn’t confirm the link yesterday, he said he believed the Khmer speakers were broadcasting from the Vietnamese side of the border.
On also testified to killings of former Lon Nol soldiers who were hauled from their hospital beds after Phnom Penh’s fall in April 1975 and taken to the Chroy Changvar bridge. The men, some of whom had lost arms or legs in battle, were pushed over the edge into the river below.
Earlier in the day, civil party Mom Vun concluded her harrowing testimony from Friday and implored the accused Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan to make up for the pain they had inflicted.
“Two days before my marriage, five people took me away and raped me,” she said.
Afterwards she was forced to marry and Khmer Rouge cadres physically grabbed her new husband and forced him to penetrate her.
“It is a shame for me. I bear all the suffering and pain in my heart,” she said. “How could the two accused compensate [for] what I have lost, and also the loss of the Cambodian people?”