A former cook accused of being a traitor was nearly clubbed to death by Khmer Rouge officials during a purge of East Zone civilians and cadres, but survived and took shelter in a cave, the Khmer Rouge tribunal heard on Thursday.
The witness, identified only as 2-TCW-913 due to his involvement in ongoing investigations, said he was shuffled around different farming cooperatives because he was originally from the East Zone, an area along the border with Vietnam that included the current provinces of Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and parts of Kompong Cham and Kratie.
“They said…those who were from the East had a Vietnamese head and a Khmer body,” the witness said.
Eventually, he was transferred along with 50 others to a hard-labor camp in what is now Preah Sihanouk province, he said.
Exhausted and underfed, the workers decided to arrest the camp’s chief and present him to officials at a nearby military barracks, accusing him of starving the group. But the plan backfired, and the workers were tied up and tortured for two weeks, the witness said.
One night, officials told the workers they would be sent by train to Phnom Penh, where their cases would be resolved. The workers were split into smaller groups and led away.
“By 7 o’clock in the morning, we found out those who were taken away were killed,” the witness said.
When it was his turn, he was walked about 500 meters and beaten with clubs. “I was hit by a few clubs on my head, but somehow I survived,” he recalled.
Another survivor untied him, and together they put mud on their wounds and drank their own urine to stay alive, he said. They returned to the labor camp in search of their clothes, but found it abandoned—with the exception of some rice and cooking equipment.
He told the court that he cooked the rice, and holed up in a cave for a month, before finally finding his way back to his home village.
Before the East Zone purges, the witness had been a monk, he said, but was defrocked by authorities and sent to Phnom Penh to cook for hundreds of participants of study sessions led by Khieu Samphan, one of the Khmer Rouge leaders currently on trial at the tribunal alongside Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s second-in-command.
Recounting the regime’s paranoia in 1976, the witness said his supervisors scrutinized his food for fear he would poison it.
“I, in fact, tested the food before I gave it to the person who would cater the service, that is, to serve those guests,” the witness said. “If it was poisonous, it would mean that I would die first.”