Lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday launched into evidentiary hearings surrounding Kampong Chhnang province’s Kampong Tralach Leu district, the site of numerous executions of former Lon Nol soldiers.
The prosecution has long sought to establish there was an overarching policy to execute former regime officials, and though Kampong Tralach Leu itself was deemed to be outside the scope of the current case, teams went back and forth nonetheless over witness Lev Lam’s direct knowledge of the alleged killing of Lon Nol soldiers forced to move there from Kampong Chhnang town and Phnom Penh.
Despite the fact that Lam was a Khmer Rouge “militiaman” in a Kampong Tralach Leu district village at the time, his duties were hardly martial in nature, he said, noting that he “did not do much” except farming.
As such, he did not participate directly in the killings, which he said took place shortly after the evacuees’ arrival in the village. He did, however, overhear the local leadership’s plan to cull the “enemies” and “capitalists” within the evacuees.
“They were smashed,” Lam said, adding that he learned one such “enemy” was to be his uncle, a former Lon Nol soldier. “My uncle came to meet me at my house and I told him to flee, but he said he refused to flee and three days later he was taken away and killed.”
Lam also unwittingly led a group of 20 – including small children – to the slaughter, he said.
“I thought they were being relocated to another village, but instead they were being taken to that spot, and the district military was already there,” he said of a group he led out of town.
“Pits were already dug beforehand. Executioners told people to sit at the pits and listen to the announcement of Angkar,” he added.
Though he didn’t watch the killings himself, he said, he heard of them soon after, and he saw the evidence years later, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
“While I walked my dog, I saw a pit that was dug as people were looking for gold. It was in the vicinity” of the execution site, Lam said. “And I saw skeletal remains scattered everywhere there.”
Though figures of deaths in Kampong Tralach Leu are unclear, a site visit described in Case 002’s indictment found that “many people were buried in this area”.
However, defence teams took issue with Lam’s mostly hearsay-based evidence, with Nuon Chea defence counsel Victor Koppe pressing Lam repeatedly on the sources of his knowledge, finally asking Lam to admit that “this complete testimony [is] a figment of your imagination”.
Prosecutor Dale Lysak objected to the line of questioning, saying that it was one thing for Koppe to question the lack of eyewitness testimony, but “if he’s contesting the fact that there were executions that occurred, then I have a very large problem with that”.