A Khmer Rouge tribunal witness yesterday denied allegations he was the first chief of Kraing Ta Chan Security Centre, where thousands of prisoners were tortured and killed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.
Giving evidence at the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, witness Phann Chhen, 83, attempted to distance himself from the prison in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district, testifying that he was only the chief of Kus commune, where the compound was located, and had been transferred to another province in 1974.
Confronted by international prosecutor Dale Lysak with testimony from a former district secretary and former inmate Soy Sen, which identify him as the camp’s chief, as well as Chhen’s own earlier statements to tribunal investigators in which he acknowledged being chief of the site, Chhen responded: “The statements you read out are mostly untrue”.
He continued: “The district committee never received any report from me on the Kraing Ta Chan prison, I actually left in 1973 when they transformed it into a prison, so for that reason, how could I make a report to [the district secretary] after that period”?
Chhen said that he had no authority over Kraing Ta Chan after it was converted from a meeting and education centre to a prison in 1973, and only visited to supply food.
However, during his testimony earlier this month, civil party Soy Sen, who spent more than five years at Kraing Ta Chan as a teenager, identified Chhen as his interrogator and alleged he had asked him to change his testimony to conceal his role.
Responding, Chhen said he had saved Soy Sen’s life and that he was “too young to know anything at the time”.
“When I saw him, I [took] pity on him, so I asked him to come to tend the cows and water buffaloes, and for that reason he survived.”
Chhen was also forced to address his own statements to tribunal investigators, read by Lysak, in which he admitted being present “to listen” as two cadres interrogated prisoners, using measures that ranged from “pleading, coaxing and trickery” to beating them with a whip.
“I was asked by [the interrogators] to visit them, and I saw what happened briefly,” he responded, saying it happened when he had returned to visit Kraing Ta Chan after being away.
The trial continues today.