On the outskirts of Phnom Penh yesterday, as a one-time leader of the Khmer Rouge continued to distance himself from the mass bloodshed of the regime’s 1975-79 rule, a former lowly cadre was taking full responsibility for the life he took.
Former Khmer Rouge soldier Houn Kin, 64, who joined the revolution in 1970, said that he accepts his guilt in the slaying of a fellow Cambodian he knew only as Thoun, who was brought to him for execution after being implicated as an intelligence agent of then-Prime Minister Lon Nol in Kampong Thom province.
“I was ordered to take Thoun, who was implicated as a Lon Nol spy. I don’t know why I was ordered to kill him. I just obeyed the order, otherwise I cannot save myself,” said Houn Kin, who for the first time attended an evidence hearing against one of the three Khmer Rouge defendants.
Nearly 40 years later, Houn Kin spends most of his days living in a Buddhist pagoda in his native Kampong Thom’s Kampong Svay district, an immersion in his Buddhist faith that he freely admits is an attempt at atonement.
“Now, even the chickens or other animals I dare not to slaughter. I pray to the Buddha and joined the pagoda to clean up my guilt,” he said.
Houn Kin was one of three militiamen stationed by the Khmer Rouge at Darei Slap commune in Kampong Thom province; his direct superior was Bun Sam-ban, chief of the cooperative.
Dressed in a layman’s uniform from his pagoda, Houn Kin spoke softly yesterday as he recalled the people he witnessed escorted to the village only to disappear a few days after.
“I saw many people who were brought to be killed, and I did not know where they came from,” he said. “I’m feeling regret for the history – Cambodians killing each other. They should not have taken them to kill. They should have educated them to make them good, not killed them. I know the order [to smash] the people is not good, but if I don’t do it, then I will have the same fate like them.”
Like several hundred participants attending from various provinces to see the evidence hearings of defendants Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, Kin said he was disappointed that his former bosses have failed to take responsibility for the crimes committed under their command.
Speaking at Monday’s hearing, “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea defiantly said the accusations against him are “not correct and not right”, defending the actions of the Khmer Rouge as a necessary response to outside threats.
The performance stood in stark contrast to Houn Kin’s humble contrition.
“I devote everything for the Buddha now. I don’t want to do anything, just try to live calmly,” he said.