Khmer Rouge tribunal witness and former cadre Phann Chhen yesterday maintained he was “admired” for his compassion as lawyers challenged contradictions in his evidence.
Appearing for a second day, Phann again reiterated he had no authority at Kraing Ta Chan Security Centre – where thousands died – after it became a prison in 1973, despite being identified as its first chief by civil party Soy Sen.
Chhen insisted he was a commune chief working to reduce poverty and promote education and said he once risked his life by releasing 40 prisoners arrested for stealing coconuts.
He said he was transferred to Kampong Speu in 1974 to help settle refugees and ex-prisoners, some of them former Lon Nol soldiers.
“I went there to build the villages and communes for people,” he said, adding the local dam is named after him.
“Those who survived the period and remain at the place, they know me very well and they admire and congratulate what I did at that time.”
However, international prosecutor Dale Lysak challenged this, citing a statement by the former Tram Kak district secretary saying Chhen had left Kraing Ta Chan for a posting at another security centre.
Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne also pushed Chhen on his story, questioning his connection to Kraing Ta Chan upon returning to Tram Kak district in 1975.
Chhen admitted visiting friends Ta Ann and Py, who ran the compound, for a “chit chat” at the gates, but said he didn’t know people were killed.
The witness also claimed to have adopted a Vietnamese girl who fled persecution by Lon Nol soldiers, and to have spared a couple having an affair from punishment by marrying them.
Chhen became evasive when quizzed over his previous statements to investigators, including one about an execution site for Kraing Ta Chan prisoners near the foot of a mountain where prison boss Py was shot when Vietnamese troops captured the area in 1979. The trial against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan resumes March 3.