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Civil party Sar Sarin testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. ECCC

‘Study sessions’ recalled

Taking the stand at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, civil party Sar Sarin gave an inside look at the regime’s infamous “study sessions”, where cadres learned the regime’s ideology.

Sarin, who served as a driver for defendant Khieu Samphan and other Khmer Rouge leaders when foreign dignitaries visited Cambodia, recounted lectures in which both Samphan and fellow defendant Nuon Chea told followers what they should eat and how they should marry. He also described a regime pre-occupied with carrying out internal purges and ridding the country of enemies.

“They talked about the history of resistance of the Communist Party of Kampuchea,” Sarin said, describing Samphan as an active man who “walked very fast to meet guests”.

“Within the party ranks, there were those who were traitors,” Sarin said, recounting what he’d been told in the sessions. “So those people had to be smashed and cleansed.”

The regime was worried about American and Russian spies, Vietnamese and so-called traitors from the Lon Nol regime, he said, noting that the sessions were held in front of posters urging party members to smash their enemies.

Recalling a study session in which then-head of state Samphan discussed the regime’s policy of forced marriage, Sarin stressed that the party was in charge of organising collective weddings, choosing partners and pushing for procreation – an apparent contradiction of defence teams’ position that marriage was not a matter of national policy.

“We had to transform the country into an advanced and developed country. Our party needed to increase the population from 10 to 20 million during those 15 years. To achieve this, we needed to organise collective weddings,” Sarin said.

Despite constant food shortages, people in the sessions were instructed to eat collectively in their work units, and to consume three meals a day of rice, fish sauce and soup. The country’s leadership justified the shortages and hunger as a consequence of war, Sarin said.

“I was hungry all the time because of insufficient food, but Khieu Samphan gave us an answer in his speech . . . that each unit had to be autonomous and independent in planting vegetables,” Sarin said, adding that party leaders instructed him not to tell the foreign guests he drove, such as delegates from Burma, China and Yugoslavia, about the shortages.

Prior to becoming a driver, Sarin was put in charge of guarding over 100 captured Lon Nol soldiers who were later executed. “Chiefs were taken away first. They were put on horse carts . . . They were taken during the night,” he said.

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