Nuon Chea’s defence lawyer, Michiel Pestman, stirred things up at the end of court proceedings yesterday when questioning former child soldier Khoem Ngorn about statements he once made alleging Prime Minister Hun Sen had attended meetings in the 1970s with high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials, including Pol Pot.
Former Khmer Rouge ministry of foreign affairs worker Khoem Ngorn, who was nearing the end of a testimony full of “I don’t knows” and habitual giggling, didn’t seem to – or was reluctant to – grasp the question.
The court had also been informed that he was suffering from a cold.
“Because I am illiterate, somebody may have written this for me. I don’t know,” he said.
The statement in question came from a 2004 interview with a representative from the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
“Did you ever witness a meeting that Hun Sen attended?” Pestman continued.
“If you talk about the 1970s, I was this height,” Khoem Ngorn said, indicating that he was a much shorter man. “Are you afraid to testify about Hun Sen’s involvement in meetings that took place in the Khmer Rouge period?”
Judge Nil Nonn had heard enough: “The witness does not have to answer that question. The witness has already said he does not know.”
After a further back-and-forth between judge and lawyer, it became clear an answer wasn’t forthcoming.
Pestman said to Nil Nonn, “You are preventing us from exercising our client’s right to cross-examine this witness, [to] ask important questions.”
Earlier in the morning, former district secretary Sao Sarun was back on the stand.
He recalled details from a national party meeting in Phnom Penh in September, 1978.
He said Pol Pot declared that, because victory over all enemies had been achieved, people could start returning to the cities, markets could be reopened, and money printed.
This was only a few months before the Vietnamese stormed across the border and shattered the Khmer Rouge’s grip on power.
He also remembered attending a later meeting in 1978, to which he travelled with his brother-in-law, a military commander named Ta Sophea.
His brother-in-law did not come back and, according to a prisoner log cited by the prosecution, ended up in S-21 prison.
“But he disappeared since then; we never saw him again,” Sao Sarun said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Freeman at [email protected]