Witness Cheal Choeun’s testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday was peppered with interruptions and objections from the defence as judge Jean-Marc Lavergne attempted to question him about the massacre of Lon Nol soldiers in Battambang following the fall of Phnom Penh.
“I believe this witness is here to lend new evidence as to what exactly happened in aftermath of liberation in the Northwest Zone,” Nuon Chea defender Victor Koppe said, arguing that the material was outside the scope of the trial and could unfairly influence the Supreme Court Chamber’s upcoming ruling on appeals in the previous Case 002/01, which also dealt with the executions of Lon Nol soldiers.
“His evidence is relevant to the policy of targeting Lon Nol officers, which is within scope,” prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian countered, saying the witness would also testify on the regulation of marriage.
Nuon Chea and his co-defendant Khieu Samphan are both on trial for various crimes against humanity attributed to the regime they helped lead, with the court recently hearing testimony pertaining to charges of forced marriage.
When Lavergne began questioning Choeun about his experiences in the Northwest Zone, Koppe interrupted, claiming that Choeun was being asked questions intended for someone else, and that the witness had been “misidentified” – a fact the chamber should have been aware of.
“I need this to be on record,” Koppe said, explaining that Enemies of the People director Rob Lemkin sent an email to the court informing them Choeun had been misidentified in the book, which the judges had then circulated in a memo.
“It’s your memo, not mine,” he shot at Lavergne.
Lavergne briefly continued his questioning, but was interrupted by Guisse when testimony turned towards the massacre of Lon Nol soldiers.
“Events relating to soldiers immediately after evacuation are not within the scope of this case,” she objected.
Still, Lavergne pressed on. The witness described being told to “accompany” a group of Lon Nol soldiers to “receive and welcome” King Sihanouk following the fall of Phnom Penh in April 1975. Instead, the defeated soldiers were all massacred.
“I did not know the plan was to gather the soldiers and commit such things against them,” Choeun said, testifying that 50 soldiers were taken by truck from Battambang to the countryside where they were all shot.