It was for the crime of cutting rubber plants with an “upper class” or “feudalist” technique that Phon Thol found himself arrested, interrogated and imprisoned at Au Kanseng security centre, the Khmer Rouge tribunal heard yesterday.
Thol and his pregnant wife were carted off in 1977 for “re-education” at the detention centre, which was brought under the microscope yesterday as the court began the security centre phase of the current Case 002/02 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
Bearing witness to the atrocities at the Ratanakkiri province security centre, Thol told of killings, torture and fierce suspicion of alleged KGB or CIA spies.
He told the court a woman had her back sliced open and her gall bladder removed. According to his testimony, the organ was strung up in the kitchen – a gruesome “omen” for the other prisoners. Some died of dysentery or diarrhoea; another was shot for fleeing the compound.
“My hands were tied and my [feet] were shackled, but I was not tortured,” Thol said. “Other detainees were beaten and electrocuted . . . They used pliers to torture them until they became unconscious.”
Through cracks in bamboo walls where he lay shackled, he saw a large group of ethnic Jarai people brought to the centre and taken away. Later, while he had been entrusted to guard a jackfruit plantation, he stumbled upon the rim of a mass grave.
“I suspected that Jarai minority people had perhaps been killed at that place.”
When questioned by civil party lawyers, Thol said he did not know whether the security guards acted according to their own rules, or if directions trickled down from Khmer Rouge’s upper echelon.
The centre is one of three that will be examined by the court in the current case, with evidence of internal purges at Phnom Kraol in Mondulkiri province and S-21 in Phnom Penh to be addressed in the upcoming hearings.
Prior to Thol taking the stand, civil party Uch Sunlay continued his testimony from Tuesday’s session, delving into the details of the murder of his Vietnamese wife and their children.
Rhetorically, he asked the court room: “Why [did the Khmer Rouge] have a policy to kill even the babies and the infants? Is it that you [wanted to] become immortal?”
The trial continues today.