Author Shines Light on Pre-KR Regime Massacres

Author and historian Stephen Heder took the stand for his first full day of testimony at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday and told the court how Khmer Rouge forces had evacuated towns and massacred victims across the country prior to the fall of Phnom Penh.

Mr. Heder told the court of his own personal experiences in Oudong the year before the entire country fell to the Khmer Rouge, and affirmed that Lon Nol forces were ousted in an attack there, only to regain control shortly thereafter.

“[The attack] was over a 24- to 36-hour period and my recollection is that the Khmer Rouge were in control for a day or so,” he said.

“[M]y vague recollection is that there was talk of the execution of military personnel and civil servants,” he continued, adding that he also bore witness to the aftermath of the execution of Buddhist nuns at the site. “Then there was specific mention of the nuns and I was taken to see the bodies of the nuns,” Mr. Heder said.

He also told the court that between 1971 and the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975 he conducted interviews about the “partial occupation by Khmer Rouge forces of Kompong Cham provincial town,” in which people were forced to evacuate their homes.

“I was told people were evacuated again to the west and some people were killed on the spot before being evacuated to the west and before the Khmer Republic marine forces came up river and reasserted control. It was 1973, if I remember correctly.”

The widespread evacuations of cities as the Khmer Rouge tightened their grip on the country “were a long-standing plan to ‘dry up the people from the enemy,’” Mr. Heder said. “This phrase was mentioned to me by many people over many years,” he added.

Prior to Mr. Heder’s testimony, Nuon Chea’s international defense lawyer, Victor Koppe, opened proceedings by telling the Trial Chamber that he had “an urgent request based on what we believe is extraordinary new information,” obtained near the end of Tuesday’s hearing.

Following a closed-door session that lasted about 10 minutes, it transpired that the legal team had received an email from Rob Lemkin, who co-directed the documentary film “Enemies of the People,” in which Nuon Chea speaks about the regime.

The email allegedly says that Mr. Lemkin has “amassed a wealth of evidence” that the massacre of Lon Nol soldiers and officials at Tuol Po Chrey in the days after the fall of Phnom Penh was ordered by a cadre called Ruos Nhim, not the central command of the party.

To that end, Mr. Koppe asked the court to delay Mr. Heder’s testimony, admit the email as evidence, summons Mr. Lemkin as a witness and order an investigation into the claims.

“This application is dishonest at worst and disingenuous at best,” Senior Assistant Prosecutor Keith Raynor said in response.

The Nuon Chea team plans to make a written application on the subject today.

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