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Samphan simply a figurehead: witness

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In his second day before the Khmer Rouge tribunal, witness Chhouk Rin continued to co-operate in answering lawyers’ questions, despite his refusal to do so the previous morning.  

Rin, a Khmer Rouge military commander from the early 1970s to the 1990s, was brought to court both days from Prey Sar prison, where he is serving life for a 1994 Khmer Rouge train ambush in which 13 were killed and several more taken hostage, including three foreign tourists who were later murdered.

No longer arguing prison had made him too ill to testify, Rin yesterday answered all questions about his experiences in the 1970s, though he frequently chided the lawyers for following lines of inquiry he found repetitive.

Rin also offered strong opinions about the two remaining accused, heaping blame on Nuon Chea, who he identified as a “senior leader”, while maintaining that Khieu Samphan had been a figurehead “leader without any power” who “should be released” by the court.

When asked about his knowledge of Samphan before 1975, Rin recalled: “We knew he was a very good person. He was a clean and not a corrupt individual. And we treated him as a role model for every Cambodian person.”

“I [would have] really liked him to be our senior leader, but we never heard he had any power to order the military,” he added, noting that he had never met Samphan and was reporting hearsay.

Although he had only seen Nuon Chea once, at a distance, Rin said he was sure Nuon Chea’s presentation on “mistakes” among party members on that occasion – a “study session” in Phnom Penh attended by 500 to 600 soldiers – had been the cause of subsequent arrests and disappearances when Rin’s group returned to Kampot province.  

Alluding to Rin’s earlier statement that all party members were told they bore responsibility for the party, Nuon Chea counsel Son Arun asked the witness whether he would consider himself responsible for the Khmer Rouge’s actions.

“You can’t shift the responsibility to the lower cadres because all had fallen victim to the policy of the party already,” Rin replied.

When Arun followed up with a similar question, however, Rin added: “I indeed am responsible for a small unit.”

At this point the court sustained an objection from the prosecution that Arun’s questions might cause Rin to incriminate himself.

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