Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Witness, lawyers spar over death toll at site

Witness, lawyers spar over death toll at site

Witness, lawyers spar over death toll at site

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Prosecution and defence teams continued to wrangle over the issue of the Tuol Po Chrey execution site during the testimony of former Khmer Rouge platoon leader Lim Sat at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

Sat was assigned to guard the road between the Pursat Provincial Hall, where the soldiers and policemen of the then-defunct Lon Nol regime were gathered, and the killing field at Tuol Po Chrey, where those same soldiers and policemen were executed by the Khmer Rouge, who felt their presence in the new regime might foment rebellion.

According to a portion of Sat’s statement to the court’s investigating judges read aloud in court yesterday, the former soldiers were told “that all people who had held a rank had to go study first, and afterwards, under Angkar, they would wear the same rank . . . These people were cheated.

“I was told that the police and soldiers were gathered to attend the meeting, because they were afraid that these police and soldiers would revolt against the Khmer Rouge,” Sat went on to say when asked about the real reason for the round-up.

At one point in the proceedings, the prosecution played a clip from the short film One Day at Po Chrey, in which former Khmer Rouge soldiers described how the victims were told that they were going to meet Prince Sihanouk, and talk about the execution itself.

“Soldiers from the zone and units 18 and 19, about a thousand men, formed a cordon,” one said. “We were told that if any  enemies escaped from the ‘smashing unit’, our ‘preventative unit’ must take measures or the plan would fail.”

During questioning from the prosecution, Sat also commented on the scale of the mass purge, during which he said he heard shots ringing out over the radio they used to communicate with the soldiers at the site.

“There were about 10 to 15 trucks. I can’t say. Perhaps about 2,000 people,” he testified, later revising his figure upward to nearly 3,000 killed, minus one escapee.  Wednesday’s witness described trucks making multiple trips to pick up victims.

The Nuon Chea defence, however, took issue with the figure, or at least Sat’s ability to calculate it, launching into a line of questioning about discrepancies in the year of Sat’s birth on two of his three statements to court investigators, as well as the age he had given before the court yesterday morning.

After being grilled repeatedly, Sat conceded that, at school “I was only taught the Buddhist dharma, not arithmetic or computing”.

When asked again about the number of victims taken to Tuol Po Chrey, he replied: “It could have been 20 or 30 people on each car. I did not actually pay close attention because it was my job to protect the place.

“As I said, I did not do the counting,” he added.

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