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Witness recounts Khmer Rouge purge in 1978

On a single day in November, 1978, 140 Khmer Rouge cadres from Mondulkiri province were sent to Phnom Penh’s notorious S-21 prison, witness Sao Sarun told the court yesterday.

Prosecutors were attempting to elucidate testimony from the former district secretary about the massive purges from the area in the late 1970s before the Vietnamese swept the regime out of power.

Sao Sarun told the court he communicated directly with Case 002 co-accused Brother No 2 Nuon Chea and Pol Pot about the arrest and detention of cadres in the area, and visited the leaders in Phnom Penh on a number of occasions.

“We discussed the issue concerning managing the forces and the masses, and had to raise awareness about people about how they could have self-sufficiency and advise forces how to strengthen the defence of border areas,” Sao Sarun said, adding that on one occasion, he discussed “economic matters” with Khieu Samphan.

The 80-year-old’s testimony was adjourned midway through the day due to his ill-health, and another witness, former child soldier Khoem Ngoin, took the stand.

“I joined the [Khmer Rouge revolution] army with other friends. I didn’t understand much, I simply went along with others,” said Khoem Ngoin, who joined the revolution when he was 15.

He spoke of being “terrified” about deserting the movement, fearing that retribution would be meted out against his family.

“My mother could not leave the co-operative to visit me, and I could not visit her,” Khoem Ngoin said. “At that time, religious practice was not allowed. We were not allowed to practise any religious ceremonies. Even currency was abolished.”

Khoem Ngoin went on to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which was led by Ieng Sary at the time.

There, his task was to accompany foreign delegations, including those from China.

“With guests, we were not allowed to talk to guests about politics and wherever we went we could not simply move around freely,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bridget Di Certo at



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