A former courier who delivered messages between Nuon Chea and Ruos Nhim testified yesterday that alleged traitor Nhim was “forced” to confess and never actually betrayed the regime.
The witness, only identified as 2-TCW-920, said he was a “trusted” cadre who ran messages from Nhim in Battambang to Chea in Phnom Penh as early as 1960. He said that even then, Chea was of a higher rank than Nhim.
The defence has argued that regional leaders like Nhim had been planning a coup against the central government, and that internal purges – among the crimes for which Chea and co-defendant Khieu Samphan are being tried – were a response to such legitimate threats. Yesterday’s witness spoke of internal purges, and seemed to indicate that they were all justified, up until Nhim himself was accused and executed.
He testified that other Northwest Zone leaders, Hoeun and Chham, were also accused of treason and removed, noting that “if they were found out as traitors, they would be arrested. However, there was no arbitrary arrest”.
The witness added that he did not know whether or not Nhim was involved in those disappearances, and when asked about Nhim’s arrest, appeared to change his tune. “It was said that Ruos Nhim joined hands with the yuon [Vietnamese],” he testified, later claiming that “they mistreated him and forced him to confess; I do not believe that he betrayed” the regime.
The witness also testified that as a commune chief, he had to “give an account of . . . the existence of enemies in the village”.
When asked if members of the ousted Lon Nol regime were targeted for execution – as others have testified – he maintained that “as long as they could get along with us, they could live peacefully”.
He repeated this answer when asked what happened to people who did not accept the Khmer Rouge’s leadership.
In the afternoon, witness Nuon Trech resumed his testimony from Monday, saying his division leader Oeun was arrested for alleged betrayals, and he himself was almost sent to S-21 by association.
“The division was accused of being a treacherous division,” he said, explaining that he was taken to an office in charge of deciding whether or not prisoners were sent to S-21. Instead, he was sent to a forced labour camp in Kampong Chhnang.
“They said that our commanders were traitors . . . and for that reason we had to refashion ourselves.”