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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Purge’s roots queried

Sin Oeng, a relative of East Zone commander Sao Phim, speaks at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh yesterday. ECCC
Sin Oeng, a relative of East Zone commander Sao Phim, speaks at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh yesterday. ECCC

Purge’s roots queried

Sin Oeng, a relative of East Zone commander and accused “traitor” Sao Phim, testified that it had been the Khmer Rouge’s central leadership that initiated the conflict with the East Zone at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

In the afternoon session, Oeng, who was also a member of Phim’s personal guard unit, testified that Phim met often with fellow accused traitor Ruos Nhim and military commander Chea Sim – who would go on to defect to Vietnam, help to overthrow the Khmer Rouge and become president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party until his death in 2015. Oeng also told the court that Phim’s daughter married Nhim’s son.

Despite Phim’s associations with alleged enemies of the regime, Oeng was unable say whether or not the men actually discussed staging a rebellion. “I did not know the content of those discussions,” Oeng said.

Defendants Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea are on trial for various crimes against humanity committed under the Khmer Rouge regime, including internal purges. The defence for Nuon Chea has argued that the purges were a reaction to the legitimate threat of a coup d’état by other high-ranking leaders like Phim and Nhim.

But when asked point blank if he had ever heard about a plan to overthrow Pol Pot, the witness said, “I never heard of that.” Chea’s defence lawyer, Victor Koppe, asked Oeng about a previous statement in which he referenced a coup, but the witness maintained that he actually hadn’t known the meaning of the word at the time, and thought it referred to general internal strife.

“I myself did not know the clear definition of ‘coup d’état’ . . . As long as there was a conflict within the government, it was considered by me a coup d’état,” he said.When asked who it was who instigated the “coup”, Oeng said “the centre went to conduct the arrests against the East”.

Prior to Oeng taking the stand, Samphan defender Anta Guisse attempted to discredit civil party 2-TCCP-1023’s testimony in which he claimed to have met and heard a speech by the former head of state.

Saying that meeting Samphan would be an “exceptional event”, Guisse repeatedly questioned why the witness had failed to mention this in his original statement. 2-TCCP-1023 simply said “they did not ask me about that”.

The civil party also reiterated claims that Samphan told a gathered crowd they would be killed if they betrayed the party. “These words were from Khieu Samphan,” he said.

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