A Khmer Rouge tribunal witness yesterday recalled working as a guard and messenger at Takeo province’s Kraing Ta Chan security centre after being forced to join the communist movement’s military as a 15-year-old.
Resuming after a two and a half day break for parties to read new evidence, the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea heard evidence from rice farmer Van Soeun, also known as Suon.
The 56-year-old began with his conscription into the Leay Bor commune militia in late 1974, four years after communist fighters overran the area.
“Initially, I was requested to carry the wounded [from the Khmer Rouge’s war against the Lon Nol regime]; after that, they arrested me to join the force. I then escaped and later was re-arrested and brought back into the force,” he said.
Elevated to the Tram Kak district military in 1975, Soeun said his six-man unit was dispatched to the Damrei Romiel mountains to capture enemies, defined as people who escaped from nearby communes, CIA agents and a “traitor” called Prum San.
But before making any arrests, the unit was transferred to Kraing Ta Chan security centre, where Soeun became a messenger.
At the time, the prison was headed by six Communist Party of Kampuchea members, led by prison chief Ta Ann, who together handled executions and took turns interrogating prisoners, Soeun said.
He testified that Tram Kak district officials “Big Duch” and “Ta Py” visited intermittently.
In earlier hearings, members of Soeun’s unit, including former tribunal witness and cadre Srei Than, known as “small Duch”, have been accused of brutal crimes. Than has denied rape and murder allegations.
Soeun maintained his team only guarded outside the compound and supervised prisoners working beyond the fence. He said it wasn’t involved in killings or interrogations.
“I myself was not involved in the task, because it was said that I was too young,” he responded when asked about killings.
In Soeun’s statement to tribunal investigators, read to the court, he acknowledged most prisoners died of illness or execution.
As a messenger, Soeun said he took sealed letters written by Ta Ann and typed by “small Duch” to Tram Kak district chief Ta San’s messenger.
Punishment for opening them was execution, he said.