A bodyguard for Prime Minister Hun Sen told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday about his role in the armed resistance against the Khmer Rouge in late 1978, on the eve of Vietnam launching an invasion and toppling Pol Pot’s regime.
Van Mat, born in 1953, testified Wednesday that he had overheard northern zone secretary Ke Pauk order a group of commune and district chiefs from the East Zone to kill all traitors during a purge in 1978, an event that he said convinced him to flee from the regime.
“In principle, all of the East Zone, including the old and base people, had to be purged, as they were accused of having a Khmer body and Vietnamese mind,” he said of Ke Pauk’s message, allegedly delivered during a two-hour meeting in Kompong Thom province.
Despite being called by the prosecution to testify about the Khmer Rouge’s alleged genocide of the Cham Muslim community—of which he is a member—Mr. Mat said that the order to purge traitors had nothing to do with ethnicity.
“Nothing was discussed about the Cham, as Cham people were already being transported out of the zone, and they discussed only cadres from the east at the time,” he said, explaining that the main groups targeted were those believed to be collaborating with the U.S. or Vietnam.
Upon returning to his home in Kroch Chhmar district in what is now Tbong Khmum province after the meeting, Mr. Mat described how 500 people—almost all ethnic Cham—were rounded up to be sent to Kompong Thom province.
It was while they were boarding boats that night that Mr. Mat said he decided to escape, jumping into the Mekong under the cover of darkness and floating downstream before eventually rejoining his mobile unit and convincing others of the need to take up armed resistance against the Khmer Rouge.
Banding together with members of other mobile units in the district, Mr. Vat said the group eventually joined with the National Salvation Front and fought under Kun Kim—a current deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. He spoke of an attack in late 1978 against Khmer Rouge soldiers in Kroch Chhmar district in which the group used rifles discarded by fleeing East Zone soldiers a year earlier, successfully sinking some transport boats.
“Our plan was to disrupt them and prevent them from killing more people,” he said. “We knew that if we did not retaliate we would be dead anyway.”
Victor Koppe, defense counsel for Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s second in command, used the opportunity to ask about the role of Mr. Hun Sen in the fighting in 1978.
“I was fighting in Krouch Chhmar, and perhaps he may have fought the battle in Phnom Penh, we didn’t combine forces,” Mr. Mat said.