Following a one-week hiatus to give the defence time to prepare for additional witnesses, proceedings resumed yesterday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal with vivid accounts by civil parties on the persecution of the predominantly Muslim Cham ethnic minority.
Him Man, who began describing his experiences last week, testified on the quelling of the 1975 Cham rebellion on the island of Koh Phal by the Khmer Rouge, who coerced an arrested Imam to “speak on the loudspeaker to instruct all the Cham . . . to surrender and that they should not resist”.
“This was the reason behind the Cham’s defeat,” he continued, adding that thereafter the island gained the epithet “Koh Pesh”, or “Island of Ashes”.
Prior to the midday recess, Man delivered a statement relating his ongoing pain.
“I have lost all of my relatives and sometimes I think it is better for me to die rather than to live. Sometimes I think that I become psychotic . . . I do not have any hope in my life,” he said, struggling to maintain composure.
In the afternoon, No Sates, a Cham woman, began her civil party testimony, recounting detention, roundups and purges of Eastern Zone cadres.
After 1975, Sates and the Cham in her village were evacuated, her father “disappeared” and she was detained along with “about 300” other women in a warehouse for a month, during which time they were interrogated.
“Those that said they were Cham were taken away, there were only about 30 of us left behind who said we were Khmer,” she said, saying she was awoken at night with a torch held to her face and questioned about her ethnicity by cadres.
The surviving 30 were then made to eat pork soup, forcing survivors to choose between betraying their faith and proving their assumed identities.
“Only our group of 30 women was instructed to eat the soup; there were soldiers watching us,” Sates said.
Seventeen years old in 1975, Sates recounted the start of the Cham uprising in Svay Khleang, when “Qurans were collected and burned”.
Along with other imposed restrictions on Cham, the uprising’s trigger was that “all hakims [elders] were gathered and sent away. Intellectuals and professors were arrested, and for this reason there was rebellion in Svay Khleang.”
Later, Sates was assigned to work along the riverbanks and witnessed floating corpses, “even children who were tied up”.
“The corpses did not flow with the current, they flowed in circles . . . as if the souls of the dead did not want to go away” she added.