An alleged former chief of Takeo province’s Tram Kak district under the Khmer Rouge on Tuesday admitted that he signed an order “to sweep clean” women and children during the Pol Pot era but claimed he was simply carrying out orders of his superiors.
Neang Ouch, who went by the alias “Ta San” and was a brother-in-law of former Southwest Zone commander Ta Mok, told the Khmer Rouge tribunal that the cryptic term meant “to execute,” but maintained he was merely an assistant to the district committee and that all decisions were made by sector secretary “Ta Ron.”
“Before I carried out any task, I had to seek approval from Ta Ron first. All decisions that were made were the decisions of Ta Ron and what I did was to merely write the decisions made by Ta Ron,” said Mr. Ouch after admitting that he had penned the order.
The witness, who on Monday was warned by prosecutors of the penalties for perjury after repeatedly denying being the ex-chief of the regime’s “model district”—despite being presented with a wealth of evidence to the contrary—claimed his life would have been at risk if he had refused to carry out the orders of his superiors, who included former regional commander Sam Bith, also known as “Ta Bith.”
“[Ta Ron] ordered me to write like this, so I wrote based on his dictation but I did not do anything like ‘sweep’ them or ‘clean’ them at my own discretion. If I’d refused Ta Ron or Ta Bith I would have been in danger,” said Mr. Ouch, adding that it was his job to then instruct the district militia to “implement the order.”
Mr. Ouch said that despite only being a district assistant, he traveled to an emptied Phnom Penh for annual “study sessions,” including one 1977 meeting headed by Pol Pot’s deputy Nuon Chea—one of the defendants in the second phase of Case 002 alongside former head of state Khieu Samphan —although he claimed to remember little of the discussions.
“I can recall some that is on the building of a peasant class and about the class struggle and [how] to get rid of the capitalist class from within ourselves, this was the content of the study sessions that I can recall,” said the witness. When asked by Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne to give more details, Mr. Ouch replied that he suffers from memory loss.
On the issue of forced marriage, Mr. Ouch said that commune officials would seek the authorization of the district and sector when pairing up couples and he never encountered anyone refusing the regime’s choices. He claimed the newlyweds “got along well with each other.”
Contradicting testimony earlier in the hearing that he only became aware of the district’s Kraing Ta Chan security center after the fall of the regime, Mr. Ouch eventually admitted he received reports from the prison, but claimed he never received prisoner or execution lists from the center.
Mr. Ouch’s testimony continues Wednesday.