Almost 38 years after allegedly seeing Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea as they toured her worksite, Chou Koemlan yesterday got the chance to address the former Khmer Rouge leaders, under whose regime she lost a nephew, three children and her husband.
Appearing as a civil party in Case 002/02, Koemlan told the Khmer Rouge tribunal about her brush with the men, whom she accused of ruining the country.
She said in 1977 the pair – together with high-ranking Khmer Rouge official Ta Mok – visited a canal that her work unit was digging in Tram Kok district’s Cham Bok village.
“While I was standing I smiled at them, but I was still working hard at the time to unearth the soil,” she said.
She added she had recognised Samphan from a photo published in newspaper when he held the position of people’s representative with the previous Sihanouk government, and her work unit chief had pointed out Chea.
Heralded by the Khmer Rouge leaders as one of the “model districts” of their radical Marxist revolution, Tram Kok became a nightmare of executions, sickness, starvation and death, the court heard.
Koemlan said her husband was executed when the Khmer Rouge discovered he had been a military medic under the former Lon Nol regime.
She said her newborn and second youngest died of lack of food, her oldest son was executed for trying to eat a potato, and her brother was shot for attempting to flee to Vietnam.
Koemlan said that her nephew, a monk, was “disemboweled” by a woman he married under the regime because his father was a high-ranking soldier under Lon Nol.
Prior to Koemlan’s testimony, Samphan and Chea were lambasted by Cambodian author Um Sophany, another civil party in the case who also lived in Tram Kok during the regime.
“What kinds of hearts do these two criminals have?” she asked. “I saw dead bodies that died in a pool of blood and the stench filled the air, and [I thought] we were already in hell.”
Chea’s international defence lawyer Victor Koppe questioned Sophany’s credibility, suggesting she had mischaracterised the wedding to her fiance as a “forced marriage” in a 2013 interview with the Post.
Hearings are to continue today.
Elsewhere at the court, pre-trial chamber international judge Rowan Downing is leaving the tribunal to take up a position in Geneva. Rowan most recently offered a much-anticipated dissenting opinion on a decision to dismiss a defence motion to disqualify the current trial chamber judges.
He has been replaced by judge Steven Bwana.