Prosecutors at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday questioned a former Khmer Rouge medic and relative of former East Zone secretary Sao Phim in an effort to debunk the defence’s argument that the secretary plotted against Pol Pot.
The defence for Nuon Chea has long argued that the Khmer Rouge, far from being a monolithic institution, was riven by factions and faced legitimate internal threats.
Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, however, pressed the witness – identified by the pseudonym 2-TCW-1065 – as to whether he had any inkling of a potential coup plotted by his relative, who was deemed a “traitor” by the regime.
“In all of your conversations with Sao Phim, did he ever indicate that he had hostility towards Pol Pot, or that he had plans to overthrow or kill Pol Pot?” he asked. “I never heard such statements from him,” the witness responded.
“You were an East Zone soldier, you were his relative, did he ever try to recruit you?” Koumjian continued. But the witness maintained he had never spoken with his relative about a plot against the Khmer Rouge leadership.
Taking the stand for the second day, 2-TCW-1065 reiterated his belief that Pol Pot was a traitor because he killed his own people, and defended his decision to seek help from Vietnam to liberate the country. “The entire population would have been killed. We had to fight back to liberate people,” he said.
In May 1978, the Democratic Kampuchea began arresting soldiers, cadres and civilians in the Eastern Zone, where the witness worked as a medic.
The witness fled to the jungle where he was eventually approached by Vietnamese soldiers who solicited his help to overthrow Pol Pot. The witness said he met Heng Samkai, the brother of current National Assembly President Heng Samrin and a prominent East Zone cadre, in the jungle after he fled.
“I met Heng Samkai in the forest for a brief moment. There were a few of us in the forest who had only a red cooking pot,” the witness said. “We were heading nowhere at the time.”
In December 1978, the witness was among the Khmer Rouge defectors who formally joined the Vietnamese to create the National Salvation Front with the aim of defeating Pol Pot. He did not return to Cambodia until 1979, after the Vietnamese invasion, and was put in charge of organising Khmer Rouge cadres for re-education.
Questioned by the defence for Nuon Chea about his dealings with Samkai and other East Zone cadres, the witness said they were among the hundreds of people who attended the December 1978 meeting that formed the Salvation Front.