A witness testified before the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday that the people of Cambodia were limited to a ration of one can of rice per day under the regime, even in areas where there was a surplus of food.
The witness, who was identified only as 2-TCW-971 because of his involvement in ongoing investigations, testified via videolink from Battambang.
“I was assigned to Battambang to check and verify the situation, whether people were starved and had no rice to eat,” the witness said, explaining that he once encountered a warehouse full of rice in Thma Koul district, where people were underfed.
“I invited villagers and people in the mobile unit to get the rice . . . The warehouse was used to store rice, and rice was for people to eat,” he said. The witness claimed he distributed rice to the villagers but was soon transferred, and did not know if his actions made any impact on the systematic nature of the peoples’ starvation.
The witness also testified to the regime’s seemingly contradictory food policy, claiming that overworking labourers and denying them food “violated the directive” from the party centre but also noting that there was a national policy limiting each person to one can of rice per day. He said this ration was consistent across various villages he visited, regardless of the rice available.
The witness’s direct superior was a man named Chhay, who answered to high-ranking party leader Ta Mok. The court is hearing testimony regarding the personal accountability of top-level Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea for crimes against humanity committed during the regime.
Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian offered an explanation for the surplus rice storage, asking the witness if he ever heard about rice being exported to other countries even while the people of Cambodia were starving.
However, Chea’s defence lawyer, Victor Koppe, objected to Koumjian presenting this theory in the form of a question. “This is making an argument in a totally pathetic way, I must say,” Koppe said.
The objection was overruled, and the witness said he had never heard about rice exports. The historians Evan Gottesman and Ben Kiernan both found that the regime exported rice.
Earlier in the day, the prosecution sought the inclusion of two more witnesses, with Koppe objecting to the short notice, and once again calling for Heng Samrin, a former Khmer Rouge commander and the current president of the National Assembly, to testify. “According to the Supreme Court ruling, not calling Heng Samrin was erroneous and unreasonable,” he said.
Samrin has long been thought to have been excluded for political reasons, and Koppe’s request went unanswered yesterday. The prosecution’s request was denied.