The defence for Nuon Chea at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday pressed former cadre Sem Hoeurn from the North Zone’s Division 310 for details of his division leaders’ alleged plot to overthrow the Democratic Kampuche regime.
A key aspect of the team’s defence is proving the existence of competing factions within the Khmer Rouge that opposed its central committee – of which Chea and co-accused Khieu Samphan were members – and defender Victor Koppe questioned witness Hoeurn, 63, on the role he played in the brewing upheaval.
After the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, Hoeurn said he was assigned to the North Zone’s Division 310 headed by Ta Oeun.
In 1977 he, along with around 500 division members, was made privy of the leaders’ planned armed rebellion against the regime.
“Oeun told me to transport weapons and five trucks to Kampong Cham and hide them for an attack within the East Zone,” Hoeurn said, adding that there was also another plot to seize Pochentong airport.
The coup was, however, foiled after information about it leaked and leaders including Oeun were arrested.
Hoeurn and several Division 310 members were briefly detained in Phnom Penh before being sent for “refashioning” in mid-1977 at the Kampong Chhnang airport base.
In Phnom Penh, where he was imprisoned near a security office, Hoeurn overheard the daily torture of other prisoners.
“I would hear the sounds of beatings every morning and the sounds of crying children. I didn’t dare to approach.”
The witness also recalled that he saw Khieu Samphan and the late Case 002 defendant Ieng Sary at a distance as they travelled by convoy in the capital.
Despite having joined the revolution when he was around 16 years old, Hoeurn said he was later disillusioned with the movement after he witnessed the Khmer Rouge’s mistreatment of soldiers and civilians.
“It was like living in a prison without walls,” he said. “It was totally contradictory to what they promised . . . and we didn’t enjoy many of our freedoms.”
Hoeurn’s questioning by the defence will continue today.