Witness Sum Alat told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday that people were eager to board trucks to Tuol Po Chrey, the alleged execution site of 2,000 to 3,000 people.
Alat, a former Lon Nol soldier, said Khmer Rouge officials told the 500 or so soldiers and civilians remaining in Pursat town a week after the Khmer Rouge victory that they would be received at Tuol Po Chrey by Angkar, the Khmer Rouge name for its administration.
“We wanted to meet Angkar, because we hoped that after we reconciled with each other, we would gather our strength to rebuild the country,” Alat said. “Many, many people wanted to go, so they rushed to board the truck.”
Fifty or so people could not fit on the trucks, and some ran after, trying to climb on, and were pushed off.
“I was trying to get onto one of the trucks but I was not allowed to,” Alat said.
When the trucks did not return, Alat returned to his home village and three days later met two soldiers who had snuck away from the scene of mass killing, he said.
He learned he had been lucky not to board a truck.
“After I heard that news, I could not think of anything else. I did not even believe it,” he said.
But when he saw bulldozers heading to the area to bury the bodies, he said, he realised what the two soldiers had said was true.
Alat attributed initial optimism to “the feeling of being fed up in the war. All we wanted was peace”.
Before the trucks drove off, Khmer Rouge officials had held two meetings at the Pursat provincial hall where they “talked about reconciliation, country building, and lastly they spoke about placing trust in the reception with Angkar”, while Khmer Rouge soldiers guarded the doors, he said.
The meetings came after a week of transition, when some Lon Nol officials had kept their administrative roles, even as some Khmer Rouge soldiers fired at surrendered Lon Nol soldiers, Alat said.
Even earlier, a night just before Khmer Rouge victory, Lon Nol and Khmer Rouge soldiers met peacefully on a battlefield, he claimed.
“That evening, the two opposing sides greeted one another, and we danced later,” he said. “I did not dance, but my soldiers and my unit were both cheerful, because we knew that both sides [were] consolidated,” he said. “But by the morning, everything turned out to be completely different.”