A former monk who was compelled to swap his robes for a rifle during the communist revolution told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday that he had come to “hate” the regime he had so faithfully served.
Witness Chin Saroeun, 57, went on to testify on internal intrigue later fuelling purges of high-level cadre – a key topic in the current Case 002/02 against former regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
Saroeun said he was disrobed by Angkar – the omnipresent organisation that fostered “constant fear” – and later sent to Mondulkiri in the regime’s East Zone, bordering Vietnam.
Saroeun said key leaders were purged in 1977 because a part-Jarai man known as Svay – nephew to Sector 105 deputy chief Kham Phorn – was suspected of harbouring a dozen Vietnamese soldiers in the forest.
“The 12 Vietnamese soldiers came in secretly,” he said.
“[Sector chief] Horm realised that Svay concealed the Vietnamese forces . . . so he arranged a plan to arrest Svay.
“There were problems be-tween Horm and Kham Phorn at the time, and I did not know the extent of that conflict.”
According to his superiors, both sector chiefs were sent to Phnom Penh, where they died; “Kham Phorn killed Horm with a [metal] bar, and later he committed suicide”.
But co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian asked the witness whether the dozen were, in fact, not Vietnamese, but rather from ethnic minorities, such as Jarai or Phnong, that straddle both Cambodia and Vietnam.
Koumjian questioned the witness about anti-Hanoi refugees from Vietnam fleeing into Cambodia and the group FULRO, comprised of ethnic hill tribes fighting for independence.
“At the time that my commander told us, he said they were Youn [a derogatory term for the Vietnamese] and later on [he] said they were part of the FULRO unit, so we were not to cause any harm to them,” Saroeun said.
The witness added there was a policy to “assimilate” tribal women by marrying them to Khmer Rouge soldiers, but in practice, his division wed Cambodian women.
A large part of Saroeun’s hatred for the Khmer Rouge regime stemmed from his love of Buddhism, which he was forced to sacrifice.
“I was very regretful, because when I entered the monkhood, I did not ever think of leaving,” he said. “The situation at the time required us to defrock, so we had to follow . . . I still loved Buddhism very much.”