o bai tap, Siem Reap province – Through the bars on his prison window in Anlong Veng’s O Keng Kong prison, Krom Khuon could see soldiers come for an ill-fated prisoner and his family.
“Sometimes I would see a car full of soldiers come,” the 61-year-old former rebel soldier said Friday. “They would take the whole family into the forest in a truck. Then the soldiers would come back without the family.”
The process was the same for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Khmer Rouge-dependent families since 1993, say soldiers who live in this displaced defectors’ camp.
A local genocide researcher said Monday he estimates the number of dead at no more than 3,000.
However, former Khmer Rouge soldiers claim the number of people there runs into the tens of thousands.
“If you don’t believe me that Ta Mok’s men killed a lot of people, go 2 km east of the prison,” says Im Rach, 39, a defected rebel soldier. “There are many bones there.”
Krom Khuon and Im Rach—both imprisoned for three years until late March on charges of being government spies—alleged that the corpses and skeletons of 100,000 people lie decomposing in a killing field 2 km east of O Keng Kong in the Koy Forest. It is 6 km east of Anlong Veng village.
The name of the killing field is “Tuol Kruol” or “Gravel Hill.”
Hem Ho, a defector from the feared bodyguard unit of rebel chief of staff Ta Mok, said from his bed last week in Siem Reap Military Hospital that 100,000 may be a conservative figure.
“It’s possible that it’s more than that,” he said. “Ta Mok dictated that any wrong-doer must be finished off. Anybody thought to be on the government side must be killed.”
Yim San, who identified himself as commander of rebel division 980, said “a lot” of people had been executed, but he could not specify a number.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which specializes in compiling evidence of atrocities committed during the 1975-1978 Democratic Kampuchea regime, said the numbers reported by defectors are too high.
The figure of 100,000 is inconsistent with the Khmer Rouge’s pattern of killing, the genocide researcher explained, adding that it is physically impossible for the Anlong Veng rebels to kill that many people by hand in a four to five year period at one location.
Based on its 1997 investigation into 129 Democratic Kampuchea-era killing fields, the Documentation Center estimates that the pits contained the bodies of 250,711 people who were executed or died from other causes.
One military analyst in Phnom Penh said that while the population of Oddar Meanchey is low compared to other provinces, the figure of 100,000 is not inconceivable.
“If it were to be correct, it would mean that people would have been brought in from areas other than Anlong Veng because the provincial [population] numbers were not and are not that high,” one military analyst said.
RCAF has estimated that anywhere from 32,000 to 50,000 people lived in the Anlong Veng area at the time of the March uprising.
Youk Chhang said it was only in unusual circumstances that the Khmer Rouge would have transported a prisoner a long distance.
“They had special prisons for special prisoners,” he said, citing the interrogation center Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh as an example. “Otherwise they just killed the person at the village level.”
Defectors at O Bai Tap said that, since 1993, soldiers loyal to the hard-line Khmer Rouge’s top leadership regularly would come to O Keng Kong prison and take a prisoner and his family away, not to be seen to again It was routine for a family to move into the prison with their incarcerated kin, they said.
Youk Chhang said the Khmer Rouge historically kill the family of a perceived enemy “to make sure that whoever was connected to the enemy was smashed.” This minimized incidents of revenge.
The family’s one-way trip into the thick forests of Anlong Veng was the punishment if one of its members was accused of breaking the Khmer Rouge’s strict internal codes or of being an agent of the government.
“They already had graves dug for us,” Im Rach said Friday. “But fortunately we were liberated first.”
An estimated 1,000 defecting troops rose up in late March in Anlong Veng against Ta Mok and freed the prisoners, defectors said. Anlong Veng has been the Khmer Rouge’s center for military operations for the last eight years.
But the men allegedly responsible for the Anlong Veng killing field have fled with Ta Mok, defectors roundly said.
Ta Mok is believed to be with an undetermined amount of men fighting government troops in the Dangrek Mountains on the Thai-Cambodian border.
Yim San alleged the post-Democratic Kampuchea rebels with blood on their hands are men known as Ta Nguon, Ta Non and Ta Tem.
Ta Nguon, who is also known as Khem Nguon, and Ta Non are deputies of Ta Mok, Yim San said. Ta Tem is the commander of rebel division 785.
Division 785 still has an estimated 70 soldiers at-large in the area of Kompong Chhnang province and are believed responsible for the massacre of 22 villagers there last month, the military analyst said.
The man in charge of O Keng Kong’s administration and allegedly responsible for ordering the deliberate executions of the prisoners and their families at Tuol Kruol is called “Mean.”
Mean, who has lost his right leg apparently to a land mine, has been known as the rebel’s interior minister for the last three years, the defectors said. The military analyst identified Mean as the commander of regiment 97, inside of rebel division 920, part of which is still loyal to Ta Mok.
Mean controlled about 15 to 20 prison guards, all of whom are still with Ta Mok, the defectors said.
The former Anlong Veng prison boss and his henchman know they cannot defect because they would be killed out of revenge by the civilians and rank-and-file soldiers, Im Rach said.
Hem Ho disagreed, explaining that Cambodians are able to forgive deeds done in the past. He said the men responsible for internal Anlong Veng security will not switch to the government side out of loyalty for Ta Mok.
“They have been with Ta Mok for a long time,” he said, explaining that it is widely believed that the rebel chief of staff has backwoods paths through the jungle to Laos as a last-ditch escape route. “They had to go with him.”