Coup Plans Prompted Khmer Rouge Purges, Witness Says

A mid-level official who distributed supplies to the front lines of Pol Pot’s fight against Vietnam told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday that a foiled plan to overthrow the regime prompted leadership purges in the Northwest Zone.

During hearings related to the regime’s internal purges at the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, the witness, identified as 2-TCW-1037 because of his involvement in ongoing investigations, said he became aware of a planned coup d’etat only after the plans were leaked.

A witness named only as 2-TCW-1037 testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday in Phnom Penh. (ECCC)
A witness named only as 2-TCW-1037 testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday in Phnom Penh. (ECCC)

Claims the regime’s hierarchy was undermined by scheming internal factions are a central focus of Nuon Chea’s defense team, which argues that senior leaders were not responsible for many of the crimes committed during the regime.

Monday’s witness, a deputy chief of the Northwest Zone’s logistics and economics department, said he was unsure when exactly he became aware of the coup plot.

Now in his 60s, the witness said on one occasion he was ordered to prepare boats that would be used by zone leadership to make trips along the Tonle Sap river.

“That was the only time I saw” Sao Phim and Ruos Nhim, he said of the allegedly traitorous leaders of the Northwest and East Zones. “After that Sao Phim disappeared and a while later I heard Ta Nimh was arrested.”

He also recalled a conversation with a soldier sent from the Southwest Zone to “supervise” the Northwest Zone, in which he was told that Ruos Nhim’s messenger had spoken of plans to topple Pol Pot.

“I only learned about them later on,” he said. “They told me that the division had a plan for counterattacks, but their plans were not materialized yet. They had not had a clear structure or network to materialize the plan yet and when their plan was found out they were purged.”

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