Witness Sao Van, a commune official during the Khmer Rouge regime who attended meetings presided over by the Southwest Zone’s Sector 13 chief Ta Saom, denied the existence of policies to harm Lon Nol officials and other allegedly targeted groups yesterday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Van had been commune chief in Takeo province’s Sector 13 before the Khmer Rouge “liberation” on April 17, 1975. Later that year, he was transferred to become commune chief in Kandal province’s Sector 25. Between 1975 and 1976, Van testified to attending two meetings, one at Phnom Trael mountain in 1975 and one in Takeo town.
The witness, who had previously testified before the Supreme Court Chamber in July of last year in Case 002/01 appeal hearings, offered a slightly different account of the meeting at Phnom Trael, specifically as to whether it was Southwest Zone chief Ta Mok or Sector 13 chief Ta Saom who had given instructions to not harm Lon Nol soldiers below the rank of colonel.
Repeating nearly verbatim his testimony from July, Van said instructions were given not to harm Lon Nol soldiers because “their relatives live among us and fought for the liberation cause”. However, yesterday he said the instructions came from Ta Saom, and not Ta Mok, as he had last year.
Asked to clarify, Van instead recalled a 1973 meeting with Ta Mok at which he was told that cadres below the zone level “did not have the authority to kill anyone”.
Questioning by both trial chamber judges and the prosecution hardly clarified the matter. Responding to prosecutor Dale Lysak, Van said “it was not my intention to make different statements”.
“I stand by my previous statements . . . I am getting old,” he said, adding, “Honestly, I am delighted to be here and testify before this chamber.”
Ultimately, Van stated he was unfamiliar with the Lon Nol military’s structure and was not in a position to answer the prosecution’s questions.
However, Van also testified that his older brother Sao Chrun had been a low-level Lon Nol official who was taken away for re-education at Office 24, although Van said he secretly visited the centre chief asking him to be lenient with Chrun, who survived the regime.
Throughout the day, Van recalled statements from Khmer Rouge officials saying that the New People – evacuees from cities – should be treated with humility, a far cry from the conditions described by many evacuees.
He also maintained that in 1976, Vietnamese people were “invited” to return to their country, and that officials had admonished cadres that the Vietnamese’s “lives should never be touched or harmed”.
The alleged genocide of the Vietnamese is a central charge in the current Case 002/02 against ex-regime heads Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.