Conflicting accounts of conditions at the Trapeang Thma dam worksite from a former mobile work unit “commander” testifying anonymously were heard at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, as evidence hearings for Case 002/02 resumed after several weeks of adjournment.
The witness was identified only as “2-TCW-918”, a decision made by the judges due to confidentiality issues relating to cases 003 and 004 in a closed deliberation before the trial chamber decided to continue publicly later in the morning.
The witness testified that Ta Val, the dam worksite’s notorious overseer, had given him orders directly, but he yesterday recanted prior statements he made to the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) that linked Ta Val to the party centre’s chain of command.
“I cannot recall whether I mentioned anything about the centre or the central committee, however I made my own conclusion that Ta Val and Ta Hang were likely to receive instructions from the upper echelon,” he said.
The witness’s DC-Cam testimony also described a visit to the dam by defendant Khieu Samphan and the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk. However, upon cross-examination by prosecutor Dale Lysak, the witness altered his account.
“Ta Val . . . told us the person was Khieu Samphan, but at that time I did not recognise Khieu Samphan,” he said, adding that “[Samphan] is small build, different than the person I saw at that time, who was large build”.
“Khieu Samphan nowadays is not so tall,” he said.
As for Sihanouk, the witness said the visit took place in Banteay Meanchey’s Preah Netr Preah district, and that for the occasion only healthy and “beautiful” workers were made visible.
The witness continued to contradict his prior statements up until adjournment, with Lysak confronting him with previous testimony and other evidence about working conditions, food rations and treatment of “lazy” or “sick” labourers.
On all items, the witness claimed to forget, or presented a rosier picture of conditions in which workers could “relax” and only worked during the day.
The witness also recounted an episode in which cargo trucks collected “students and intellectuals to a meeting to discuss the formation of a university”, and insinuated that he and Ta Val had stopped intellectuals in his unit from going in order to prevent their execution.
Meanwhile, Khieu Samphan announced the withdrawal of Arthur Vercken as his lawyer in a translated letter to the chief of defence support released yesterday. Vercken reportedly notified his client “several weeks” prior of his withdrawal for “a number of personal reasons”.
The letter also notes Vercken’s return to France on November 18 following the Paris terrorist attacks and confirmation of his withdrawal to Samphan on November 20.
Despite Vercken offering to remain until the completion of Case 002/01 appeal hearings, Samphan wrote that national co-lawyer Kong Sam Onn and international co-lawyer Anta Guisse will be his only defenders for the remainder of case 002/01 and 002/02 proceedings.