The lone survivor of the execution of a Vietnamese family recounted his experiences at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday as parties continued to probe the treatment of the ethnic minority under the Democratic Kampuchea regime.
Civil party Choeng Yang Chat testified about events in Kampong Chhnang province where his family, who were ethnically Vietnamese, fled to after hearing that anyone who stayed in his home village would be killed.
However, his and some 1,000 other families of Khmer and Vietnamese descent were again forcibly relocated by cadres to Tal village, where the 13-year-old was put to work clearing land.
“No one ever thought” they would all be killed, he explained, in response to questions from civil party co-lawyer, Lima Nguyen. “If we had, we would have run off into the forest, even to be eaten by a tiger. But we simply didn’t anticipate it.”
Chat recalled the morning, about a month after their arrival, when eight cadres wearing black arrived at his family home wielding shotguns, grenades and an axe, and tied up his parents and siblings one-by-one with a cattle rope. They were then marched to a pit in the forest, where he watched as each member was shot and tossed in before he himself was finally ordered to kneel.
“They used an axe to hit my neck three times. They presumed I was dead, so they untied me…and left,” he said. “Inside the pit, I could only see four of my family because bodies were stacked on top of one another.”
After regaining consciousness, he managed to climb out of the pit and walked for several days before arriving at a floating village where he was taken in by a Vietnamese family.
He was later smuggled onto a boat with the family, made his way to Phnom Penh and boarded a ferry of ethnic-Vietnamese to the border to be exchanged for salt and rice in what he described as a barter with Hanoi authorities.
However, Nuon Chea defender Victor Koppe cast doubt on this description of the transaction. Instead, he claimed that “to suggest that lives were saved because there was a need for rice and salt has no basis in the political context of August 1975”, when he deemed relations between Cambodia and Vietnam “cordial”.
Chat was unable to confirm for parties whether the execution and transfer of families like his was part of a deliberate policy targeting Vietnamese by the regime.
When asked what he thought cadres motives were in murdering his family at that time, he told Nguyen, “frankly speaking, I did not think of anything. I was just reborn. I just walked day and night.”