Sixty-year-old Ieng Phan joined the Khmer Rouge army in 1970 and has remained a soldier to this day.
In the 1990s, he was one of many Khmer Rouge soldiers allowed to remain in their profession if they transferred their allegiances to the new government, he told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
Phan rapidly ascended through the Khmer Rouge army from a platoon commander in 1971 who soon led a battalion, then a regiment, and by 1976, a brigade of more than 4,000 men in Takeo province, he said.
But despite his high rank, Phan said he knew little about events beyond his immediate scope of activity.
When asked what happened to Lon Nol soldiers, civilians and Khmer Rouge cadres suspected of disloyalty, Phan repeatedly told the court he knew only that they had been “sent to the rear” of the army.
Even commanders such as himself were afraid to ask questions and to speak to the “New People” evacuated from Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge takeover, he said.
“Everyone was fearful. It doesn’t matter whether they are new people or base people,” he said. “And we soldiers would be questioned a lot if we were seen talking to people who were New People.”
Despite the atmosphere of fear, Phan said he saw no one killed. In sharp contrast to many witnesses, Phan maintained that the army forbade the mistreatment of Lon Nol soldiers and, while closing on Phnom Penh before April 1975, told soldiers to minimise civilian casualties.
Later, civil party lawyers requested that next week, the court limit the extent of the questions for the civil parties scheduled to appear and focus on the parties’ statements of suffering to protect their psychological states.
Both the prosecution and defence teams vigorously objected to this. Khieu Samphan’s defence counsel Arthur Vercken said: “I am shocked by the principle of having people come, who rightly or wrongly present themselves as victims, without them being questioned.”