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‘Undesirable’ describes KR era

Aek Hoeun was an “undesirable” during the Khmer Rouge regime, he told the tribunal yesterday, his image projected via satellite from his home in Battambang province.

The 78-year-old has Vietnamese and Cambodian roots – his mother was a Khmer Krom from the southern border of Vietnam – and because of this, he bore witness to the execution of the majority of his family, alongside the mass execution of many Vietnamese-Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge.

“None of them survived,” Hoeun explained, including those with mixed origin like his own. “The entire family would be executed, including the children or the unborn child.”

The persecution of the Vietnamese and officials of the fallen Lon Nol regime is among charges against defendants Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea in Case 002/02.

Hoeun, however, was protected by his cousin Ta Chim (or Pech Chim), former Tram Kak district chief, who hid him in the district office. During the regime, Hoeun was tasked with unloading 100-kilo bags of rice off trucks from China. It was from this vantage point that he became privy to the behaviour of the Khmer Rouge cadres.

He explained how the regime first welcomed the Khmer Krom from Vietnam – after they had fled there during Lon Nol’s massacres of Vietnamese in 1972 – but changed their course in 1976. Those with Vietnamese origins were then arrested in their communes, herded into a long trailer and brought to the foot of the Cardamom Mountains for slaughter. Some were told they would merely be re-educated and so they went willingly, he said.

Hoeun also said that teachers and Lon Nol officials were targeted and eliminated after the fall of the capital in 1975; personal histories and political tendencies, he said, were drawn out of evacuees through a propaganda campaign.

“There was no trial, there was no court. If you were arrested and sent [to Prey Lang forest], that would be the end of it”.

He remembered seeing lists of names of those arrested and sent to Sector 13, which encompassed Tram Kak, where they would be encircled with blue for re-education and red for execution. When the lists returned, the cadres recycled the pages (some of which are now used as evidence in court) to roll tobacco.

When Hoeun failed for language to rationalise the persecution of “undesirables” like him, he fell back on a communist expression:

“I was crushed by the wheel of history,” he repeated, over and over again.

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