A former Khmer Rouge regiment commander testified yesterday that his soldiers did cross the Vietnamese border at times, but maintained the manoeuvres were only meant to force Vietnamese soldiers to retreat from Cambodian territory.
Ieng Phan, who is currently a two-star general in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, was stationed in Takeo province with Regiment 12.
“In late 1977, the Vietnamese troops were penetrating into Takeo province very far from the border,” Phan said.
When asked if Cambodian forces ever entered Vietnamese territory, Phan said yes. However, he clarified that these excursions – which he referred to as the “art of war” – were only meant to “contain” Vietnamese forces.
“We had to hit them from behind. The main purpose was not to liberate Kampuchea Krom but to make them retreat,” he said.
Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea are on trial for various crimes against humanity, including internal purges that targeted alleged Vietnamese agents and former Lon Nol soldiers.
The defence for Chea has argued that the purges were in response to a legitimate military threat from an aggressive neighbour with designs on controlling Cambodian communism. The prosecution, however, in its questioning of witnesses, has sought to determine whether Cambodia was in fact the aggressor.
Prosecutor Joseph Andrew Boyle read from a Vietnamese report yesterday stating that Phan’s regiment “committed many crimes against the local people”, including murdering civilians and razing homes.
“I do not think that our regiment went to attack Vietnamese residents,” Phan said.
“We never reached the residential area on the Vietnamese side,” he added later.
Chea defender Victor Koppe has long argued these reports are Vietnamese propaganda, a claim he repeated yesterday.
Phan also testified yesterday on the widespread fear of being associated with the Lon Nol regime. “I was afraid, even though I was a commander,” said Phan, who had uncles who had served in Lon Nol’s army.
When asked what happened to former Lon Nol officers, however, Phan maintained they were not harmed, despite his earlier testimony, saying they were only “reassigned to raise poultry”.
“Your testimony is that you were scared and they were scared and everyone was scared because they might be assigned to raise poultry, is that correct?” Boyle asked incredulously.
But Phan would only reply, “We were concerned if our relatives were former Lon Nol soldiers.”