Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘I will not take responsibility’: Ta An



‘I will not take responsibility’: Ta An

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Accused mass murderer Ta An, also known as Ao An, walks through his property in Battambang’s Kamrieng district on Thursday last week. Heng Chivoan

‘I will not take responsibility’: Ta An

From his small home in rural Kamrieng district last week, accused mass murderer Ta An reflected on past “mistakes” but said none of them included his role in Pol Pot’s infamous Khmer Rouge regime.

Anticipating visitors, the now-frail 83-year-old, who was charged earlier this year with premeditated homicide and crimes against humanity, brandished a crumpled letter.

“Information for journalists and others. You are not allowed to be here, and I respectfully ask that you leave immediately. I will not make any comments or answer any questions”, it read, before listing the contact details of his three lawyers.

But after handing over the letter, Ta An – whose real, albeit lesser-known, name is Ao An – proceeded to talk in detail about his past, professing innocence for atrocities he is accused of committing during the four-year rule of the agrarian regime, which oversaw the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.

“I will not take any responsibility,” he said. “I admit that I made mistakes during the [civil] war. But after the war, I was not the one who killed people, so I cannot be responsible for that.”

While An admitted to killing people during the war against Lon Nol that preceded Pol Pot’s authoritarian rule, he said that such “mistakes in wartime are unavoidable”.

“Killing existed during the war, it is inevitable, but I did not kill anyone after the war,” he maintained.

In March, An, who now enjoys a quiet retirement in his remote hometown, was charged unilaterally by Mark Harmon, then-international co-investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, in the face of strong government opposition.

The charges of premeditated homicide and crimes against humanity – including, among others, extermination, imprisonment and persecution on political and religious grounds – cover alleged atrocities committed during the regime at the Kok Pring execution site, Tuol Beng security centre and Wat Au Trakuon security centre.

In 1977, An and his Southwest cadre seized power of the Central Zone, with An becoming its deputy secretary, according to a prosecution document detailing the allegations, which was leaked to New Zealand’s parliament in 2011.

“The purged cadre from the Central Zone either ‘disappeared’ and were never seen again, or were arrested and taken to S-21 or other prisons, where they were subsequently executed,” it says. “The families of the purged cadre were often arrested and killed as well.”

According to the document, “following the arrival of Ta An and the Southwest cadre in the Central Zone, there was a dramatic increase in the number of arrests, killings and disappearances, and a worsening of general living conditions, amongst the general population”.

At Wat Au Trakuon security centre, it says, as many as 32,690 people were killed. The “heaviest period of killing” followed Ta An’s purge of the Central Zone.

“The prisoners detained in the Wat were subject to inhumane conditions before being taken to the adjoining plantation area for execution,” the document says.

Similarly, at Kok Pring, where about 1,000 people were killed, “after the Southwest cadre arrived, an ‘intense purge’ of local cadre occurred, disappearances began, work requirements became harsher, and ‘people were told to identify other people with bad tendencies’”.

But despite the accusations, Ta An said he was merely a victim of circumstance and a defender of then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who had been deposed by Lon Nol.

From exile in China after his ouster, Sihanouk had outwardly aligned himself with the Khmer Rouge – though he would spend much of its reign under house arrest – and had issued a call over the radio for Cambodians to join the Khmer Rouge and take up arms against Lon Nol.

“What Cambodian could escape the Khmer Rouge regime? How was I supposed to do anything other than what the situation required me to do?” An asked.

“A regime fell, I became a Khmer Rouge official, but the root cause of this was His Excellency Lon Nol, who set up a coup and a giant demonstration. If I am accused of being a Khmer Rouge official, how about the King? Was he Khmer Rouge?”

Ta An said he had no choice but to join the communist rebels. “They gathered people for the demonstrations; a person who refused to join would lose his house. What man at my age could escape from that event?” he said. “Everything I have done is for the King.”

Like Meas Muth, the Khmer Rouge navy chief and Case 003 suspect who said in an interview earlier this year that he had found forgiveness through religion, Ta An said he believes only Buddha can judge him.

“This life depends on karma, but in the next life, I don’t want to experience such a thing [as I have in this one]. I served the King, and as result I became a victim. I am so resentful,” he said.

Ta An added that he was concerned he would not be given a fair trial.

“I have killed no one, so what can I do? People come and investigate. It will be alright if the investigation is fair, but what will it be if the investigation is not fair?”

MOST VIEWED

  • Phnom Penh unveils rules for post-lockdown transition

    The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration issued a set of detailed guidelines for the seven days to May 12 after the capital emerges from lockdown at the onset of May 6. In the 14-page document signed by municipal governor Khuong Sreng released on the evening of May 5, the

  • SBI LY HOUR Bank Launches Cross Border Money Transfer Service between Cambodia and Vietnam on RippleNet, utilizing DLT

    SBI LY HOUR Bank Plc and Hanoi-based Tien Phong Commercial Joint Stock Bank (TPBank) on Friday launched the first Cambodia-Vietnam money transfer service in real currency via RippleNet, provided by SBI Ripple Asia Co Ltd to provide safe, fast and convenient services. SBI LY HOUR

  • Gov’t issues guidelines as lockdown nears end

    The government has issued a five-page set of instructions to be enforced when the three-week lockdown of Phnom Penh and adjacent Takmao town in Kandal province ends on May 6. According to an announcement signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 4, the instructions cover a

  • Cambodia ready to exit LDC status

    Cambodia is well-prepared to minimise economic risks when it graduates from its Least Developed Countries status, according to a senior official at the Ministry of Commerce on May 7. Four LDCs – Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal – met at a virtual workshop last week to explore potential

  • Tottenham Hotspur to wear ISF Cambodia logo on jerseys in match against Sheffield United

    Last year, the Indochina Starfish Foundation (ISF) – an NGO providing education to underprivileged children in Cambodia – made global headlines with its “socially distanced” football initiative. This year, a world-class football club – Tottenham Hotspur FC – will wear special edition jerseys to show their support for ISF

  • Nine US franchises eye Cambodia debut

    Nine famous US franchising companies are looking for business opportunities and expansion into Cambodia to build a footstep for a strong foundation in Southeast Asia. The US embassy in Phnom Penh, in partnership with the US Foreign Commercial Service and with support from the American