In a series of testy exchanges yesterday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, international co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian repeatedly reminded a key witness that he was under oath after his testimony contradicted numerous previous statements he had made.
The witness, who was identified only as 2-TCW-850 because he is involved in ongoing investigations at the tribunal, was the secretary of Baray district in Kampong Thom during the Khmer Rouge’s rule.
Among his numerous denials, the witness claimed he had not seen any disappearances or killings in Baray district. That prompted Koumjian to cite a quote attributed to the witness in Behind the Killing Fields, a book by former Post journalist Thet Sambath.
“‘Thousands in the district were eventually executed as spies’,” Koumjian said, reading from the book, before telling the witness: “You are required to tell the truth and could be punished if you perjure yourself.”
The exchange was one of many between the prosecution and the witness in the ongoing trial of the two surviving Khmer Rouge leaders: Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. The prosecution is seeking to establish a direct connection between the two defendants and mass executions.
After 2-TCW-850 denied attending meetings run by Nuon Chea in Phnom Penh, Koumjian played an audio clip from a 2008 interview in which the witness told investigators from the Documentation Center of Cambodia that he and other regional leaders had taken part in annual meetings in the capital chaired by Nuon Chea.
“Do you recognise your own voice?” Koumjian asked.
“Yes, I do,” he replied, adding that his memory was not as good as before.
When the witness was asked whether fear was driving his change of testimony, he again said he was unable to recall everything. And when asked whether he felt guilty, he told the court that he had nothing to hide.
The repeated denials saw a frustrated Koumjian ask: “What about the disappearances of your colleagues and the deaths of people that you knew? Are those the kinds of things you’d forget?”
The witness also rejected testimony given previously by Ban Siek, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, in which Siek had told the court that 2-TCW-850 knew about Baray’s security centre and the mass executions that had taken place there.
At the end of yesterday’s session, an unnamed civil party told the court about her forced marriage during the Khmer Rouge regime: how, after the disappearance of her first husband, she was forced into an “arranged family” under threat of unspecified action that would be taken against her. Others who refused to be forcibly married, she said, disappeared and never came back.
Her testimony is to continue today.