In 1977, 50 Khmer Rouge cadres gathered in Phnom Penh to address betrayal within the party, former cadre Pech Chim told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday. The meeting launched a massive wave of internal purges.
Chim recalled how Pol Pot stood in a classroom and scratched three objectives onto a chalkboard: “To control the situation . . ...... [second] accomplish this goal, and the third was not to be too proud of ourselves.”
Unbeknownst to most at the time, senior cadre were already being purged from within.
“Did he tell you that while you were at this meeting Koy Thuon [former secretary of the North Zone] was under arrest and being tortured and interrogated at S-21?” asked prosecutor Dale Lysak.
“As usual, they did not tell anybody,” said Chim.
Addressing the trial chamber’s president directly, Chim said that such “internal problems are at the root of the current trials that are unfolding”, echoing a line of defence argued by Nuon Chea’s defence counsel.
Prior to the fateful meeting in Phnom Penh, Chim had been secretary of Tram Kak, a model district in the regime, where he passed confessions from detainees at Kraing Ta Chan prison to the upper sector for assessment. He described being educated by Nuon Chea on how to identify the enemy – namely people involved in “serious political matters” or affiliated with Lon Nol’s overthrown government.
The prosecution yesterday passed the witness three confessions from July 1977, which had been marked with red X’s to indicate who should be eliminated. At the top of one of these pages, a handwritten note read: “Smash them all”.
“I recognise that [the handwriting] belongs to [Kraing Ta Chan prison chief Ta] An,” Chim told the court, when pressed with the reminder of earlier testimony.
The defence clarified Chim acted as a messenger while a senior official made the assessments; however Chim acknowledged he “had the authority to request people to be released from the sector”.
After working as Tram Kak secretary for six months, Chim said he was transferred to a rubber plantation in the central zone under secretary Ke Pok. He relayed that Pok consistently removed his deputies from the plantation – a symptom of internal purges.
In the final minutes of the afternoon, the prosecution presented Chim with a list of 173 names of S-21 prisoners who were executed, including nine from the plantation. Chim said he did not recognise any of the victims.