A conspiracy theory that Vietnamese communist soldiers could have planted additional skulls and bones at the Choeung Ek killing field was floated at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, only to be quickly derided by both the prosecution and an expert witness.
In a hypothetical quickly denounced as “absurd” by the prosecution, Nuon Chea’s defence lawyer Victor Koppe put a question to expert Voeun Vuthy, who conducted a forensic study on skulls at the site.
Could Vuthy’s stu-dy, Koppe asked, rule out the possibility that Vietnamese troops – who had killed and buried Lon Nol soldiers prior to 1975 and were later involved in excavating mass graves of Khmer Rouge victims in the 1980s – have added the Lon Nol human remains to those found at Choeung Ek.
Vuthy responded that his “analysis was based on the formula, not just a fantasy”. “I myself did not take those crania from the graves, but we conducted our analysis to avoid being lied [to] or cheated.” Koppe also probed the expert as to why his analysis only yielded 6,426 skulls at the site, when previous estimates had suggested more than 7,500.
“Some remains fell down into the mass grave and some others were eaten by cattle,” Vuthy said. He said remains were initially unearthed by “indigent” villagers hunting for hammock strings, clothes or even gold – a practice that was halted by authorities, who began conducting more orderly exhumations.
He explained that after the bones were first excavated in the early 1980s, they remained on the ground for one or two years, and were then placed in an open-air wooden stupa for three or four years, leaving them exposed to the elements and vulnerable to deterioration.
“Probably that is the result that led to the decreased number of bones,” he said. Vuthy stressed he only analysed skulls, and that there were higher numbers of other remains, such as bones from victims’ upper right arms, that could indicate more victims.
His team also distinguished between bones of Khmer Rouge victims and those from the former Chinese graveyard, as bones from the mass graves were discoloured by mud and blood. Different marks on the skull could be used to determine how people met their deaths.
“On each cranium, there are at least two markings, and the maximum number is nine. That is the result of torture.”