Prison guards were told to be “gentle but firm” with inmates by Kraing Ta Chan security office chief Ta Ann, who once reported to superiors that 15,000 “enemies” had been executed at the compound, the Khmer Rouge trial heard yesterday.
Resuming testimony for a second day, witness Van Soeun again sought to distance himself from brutal acts committed at the site in Takeo province, where he worked as a guard and messenger for more than three years.
He said chief Ta Ann was in charge and often advised his subordinates on how to treat prisoners.
“We had to be gentle, but at the same time we had to be firm,” he said.
Soeun downplayed his knowledge of atrocities and the role of his six-man security guard unit, at times contradicting his own testimony and backtracking on previous statements.
Early in the hearing, he recalled seeing interrogations “three to four times”, testifying: “There was torture during the interrogation . . . there were clubs, rattan whips and bamboo clubs . . . in addition, and most importantly, they would suffocate those prisoners with plastic bags during the interrogation process.”
However, he later denied witnessing interrogations at all. Soeun also disputed evidence by previous tribunal witnesses and former Kraing Ta Chan inmates Meas Sokha and Soy Sen, calling the latter’s allegation that members of Soeun’s squad killed children and raped women a lie.
Under the regime, “light offenders” from Tram Kak district would be taken to Ang Roka, another prison, and eventually released, the witness recalled
The court heard that, as well as thieves, the category of light offenders included rape victims.
“Serious offenders”, including political prisoners and unmarried men and women who had sex, went to Kraing Ta Chan.
Soeun said prisoners were “liquidated” after letters from Tram Kak district arrived, while victims were buried in the compound.
Pushed on the killings, Soeun said: “Before the execution took place, we were assigned to guard outside and we were warned not to allow any prisoners to escape.”
One Kraing Ta Chan document, read to the court, stated that mothers and young children could be imprisoned together and executed along with widows.
Another, signed by Ta Ann, stated 15,000 enemies had been eliminated.
Asked why prisoners were subjected to cruelty, Soeun said: “I don’t know the reason why nor did I know their plan for doing so.”
He added he “felt pain”, because four uncles and an aunt died at the site before he arrived.
Before finishing, judges heard a request by Victor Koppe, a lawyer for Nuon Chea, to postpone the next two witnesses to allow more time to read recently submitted evidence from Case 004. Judges will rule on the request when the trial of former regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan resumes today.