Defense Queries Becker’s Account of 1978 Visit

During questioning by Nuon Chea’s defense counsel at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Tuesday, American journalist Elizabeth Becker defended her account of a 1978 trip to Democratic Kampuchea, including the murder of an academic she was traveling with.

The author of the book “When The War Was Over” rejected a suggestion by Victor Koppe, international defense lawyer for Pol Pot’s former lieutenant, that the shooting of Marxist scholar Malcolm Caldwell could have been carried out by a rogue Khmer Rouge faction acting on the instructions of Vietnam.

“If I were the Vietnamese and I had those cadre who could infiltrate Phnom Penh, I would not go after us, there are far better targets, it doesn’t make sense…. That’s a huge stretch,” Ms. Becker said.

Ms. Becker, who began her testimony on Monday, was questioned at length over articles penned by Richard Dudman, a journalist who joined her on a carefully orchestrated trip to Cambodia just prior to the Vietnamese invasion, in which he gave a far more positive account of life inside the country.

The defense counsel quoted an article published soon after Mr. Dudman returned from Cambodia in which he wrote that conditions “may well have improved for many workers…perhaps the majority of the population.”

Ms. Becker rejected Mr. Dudman’s claims, pointing out that he had never previously lived in Cambodia, and so had nothing to compare his observations with.

“The major disagreement between Richard Dudman and I was that he did not know Cambodia before. So when he made these statements about improved housing and better clothing, he’s comparing it to nothing,” she said.

When Mr. Koppe said that it was not necessary to have lived in Cambodia to recognize well-nourished children—which Mr. Dudman claimed he had seen—Ms. Becker responded that she had taken photos of “very thin” children and their trip was too tightly controlled to determine whether the population was receiving enough food.

Ms. Becker was also dismissive when Mr. Koppe asked for her opinion on a “split” between the communist party’s central leadership and a Vietnamese-backed faction led by Ruos Nhim and Sao Phim, a theme central to the defense’s case.

“It’s a purge, not a split, and it comes from the top and it is, as the evidence shows in Tuol Sleng, an attack on various regions for the center to take more power,” she said.

Ms. Becker’s testimony continues on Wednesday.

 wright@cambodiadaily.com

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