Life under the Khmer Rouge regime was one of perpetual fear, former child soldier Pean Khean testified at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
His testimony was delayed in early May due to his poor health and presiding judge Nil Nonn complimented him on his “fresh” appearance before he was questioned in an extended session by prosecutors, civil parties and the defence teams.
Pean Khean described a “very quiet” Phnom Penh after April 17, 1975, and said he heard no “gunfire or people screaming” when he arrived by motorbike that evening.
After this point, the Ratanakkiri minority ethnic villager said he needed “permission” to travel around the city and that the constant disappearances of people “terrified” him.
“When Pang disappeared, I was even more terrified, but I did not understand the situation very well,” he said, additionally testifying that he lived in fear after his superior Koy Thuon, alias Touch, was arrested.
“Normally, if a head of a unit was arrested, his subordinate would be implicated as a bad element,” Pean Khean said. “My concern was that I would be accused of being a traitor and I would be implicated by the arrest of my superior. I was afraid because of that.”
However, prosecutors, civil parties and defence teams alike struggled to elucidate consistent testimony from Pean Khean.
His memory seemed particularly clouded about his role or responsibilities at Wat Svay Meas – a cooperative where people were sent to be “tempered”.
Initially, Pean Khean denied any knowledge of people from Wat Svay Meas who were under his supervision before being sent to the notorious Phnom Penh interrogation centre S-21.
After being reminded of the situation at Wat Svay Meas through additional witness testimony, Pean Khean recalled that there were many people who “disappeared” from the cooperative.
Defence counsel for Nuon Chea said they intended to impeach the witness, while ex-president Khieu Samphan’s lawyers highlighted that the witness’s implication of their client was based on hearsay and not eyewitness accounts.
Court opens again on Monday.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bridget Di Certo at [email protected]