The Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday heard about both the persecution of ethnic Vietnamese under the Democratic Kampuchea regime and the beginnings of that regime’s fall at the hands of Vietnamese invaders in 1978.
While witness Sin Chhem had trouble recalling details and often qualified her responses with “my memory is poor”, she maintained there had been a Khmer Rouge policy to kill those of Vietnamese heritage based on a matrilineal definition of ethnicity.
Following a commune committee meeting in her Svay Rieng province village, Savoun, a security guard for the committee who “participated in the killing”, told Chhem “that those [children] who [were] fed by the breast-feeding of the [Vietnamese] mothers would not be kept alive, they must be killed; only the [Khmer] fathers were kept alive”.
“I know only that those families were killed,” Chhem said.
She later clarified for the defense that she did not witness the killings first hand.
“Yes, I never saw the killings, but I saw the remain[s] of the dead bodies, and I was told that they were killed the night before, and in that pit there was the wife, the husband and the two children,” she said, referring to a family she knew personally.
Chhem also testified to hearing about deportations of ethnic Vietnamese to Vietnam, but did not know whether they were actually sent.
Later in the day, Chhem recalled when in 1977 the Vietnamese army arrived to her village. “Some people were injured from the shrapnel” from shelling, she said.
“When I heard the shelling, I would take my children to another village,” adding that “my nephew who was hit with shrapnel, which pierced his lung, was treated by another Vietnamese group coming in the other direction … Actually, he was sent to Vietnam for surgery.”
When the Vietnamese entered the town, “they actually made cakes for us”, Chhem said.
“Even though the Vietnamese came to our village, they did not commit any acts [of violence] against us; the acts were committed by Khmer against Khmer,” she said.
She later added, “they [Vietnamese soldiers] did not mistreat us at all.”
However, when the Khmer Rouge later briefly re-occupied the village, “people were arrested and killed”.