After the fall of Phnom Penh, some Cambodians who had taken refuge in the French Embassy made urgent marriages of convenience, Sydney Schanberg told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
The Khmer Rouge had demanded that all Cambodians leave the embassy and join their fellow nationals in the countryside. Marrying a foreigner was a chance to escape, the American journalist told the court.
When the soldiers found out that Jean Dyrac, the lead Embassy official, was conducting marriages, “they told him that if he didn’t stop – this is what he said – that his staff would be punished”.
The Khmer Rouge then came in to remove the remaining Cambodians, and one Cambodian woman asked Schanberg to take her baby.
“I said ‘I don’t know if I’ll be able to do it’,” Schanberg said. “At that point, a French woman said, ‘I’ll do it, and I know all these people in relief organisations, and I’ll make sure he finds a family.’”
The wife, weeping, handed over the baby and was ushered out.
Such accounts from Schanberg’s testimony apparently prompted Nuon Chea to ask to give his explanation for the evacuation.
Lying down and speaking to the court from his holding cell, his hands folded on his belly and dark glasses over his eyes, Nuon Chea told the court that the Khmer Rouge Standing Committee had evacuated the city because of the fear of an American bombing, a Vietnamese invasion and inadequate food supplies.
“Each zone was instructed to give instructions to the cooperatives to have good, positive relations to the evacuees,” he added. “Some areas could do it, but some areas could not, despite detailed instructions.”
Nuon Chea’s lawyer Victor Koppe followed up his client’s statement by asking Schanberg whether dislocations caused by the American bombings and the Lon Nol army might have been responsible for some of the suffering Schanberg attributed to the Khmer Rouge.
Conspicuously vexed, Schanberg replied: “There was enough rice before the Khmer Rouge began to chew up and occupy large portions of the country.”
Koppe noted that Schanberg had been criticised for “too much an American view . . . some might call it an imperialist view”.
“Well, I can tell you that I interviewed lots and lots of refugees,” Schanberg replied, “and they did not talk about the bombings as something that drove them out of their houses.”
Schanberg’s testimony concludes today with more questions from the defence.