Testifying at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday, a former district secretary denied involvement in the disappearances of Cham Muslims under his watch, and claimed that all policymaking was the responsibility of the regime’s upper echelons.
Ban Siek, who became chief of Kroch Chhmar district—which is now in Tbong Khmum province—in 1977, repeatedly maintained that he had little knowledge of purges against the Cham, and claimed that decision-making authority lay at the feet of the regime’s leaders, particularly Nuon Chea, who is on trial alongside Khieu Samphan for crimes including genocide.
Questioned by assistant prosecutor Dale Lysak on allegations made by a former Cham subdistrict clerk that he was in charge of a security office and the arrests of Cham villagers, Mr. Siek—a relative by marriage of deceased former Central Zone leader Ke Pauk—denied both claims, pointing to the party center.
“I was not aware of that issue clearly…. The center army organized the purges,” Mr. Siek said.
The witness repeatedly told the court that the highest levels of the Communist Party of Kampuchea held absolute authority over security issues, and confirmed a previous statement he made in which Nuon Chea developed the policies of Democratic Kampuchea, including purges of Cham people.
“It was the plan of the upper echelons, from the senior cadre from [the] upper level. They told us that Uncle Pol Pot was on the top and he never came to conduct the training, only Nuon Chea did it. He instructed people about the workforce and other plans, so that was the responsibility of Nuon Chea at the time,” he said.
Mr. Siek said he saw decapitated bodies of Cham people floating in the Mekong River near his district’s Trea village after an attempted rebellion was suppressed, and again claimed the order came through a chain of command emanating from the party center.
“When the rebellion was about to [be] initiated, it was informed to the upper echelons. Then the order came through the chain of command to the soldiers and those people involved in the rebellion [were] accused of being CIA or KGB agents,” he said.
The witness denied that racial or religious lines were drawn, claiming that Khmer and Cham people “were in the same boat” and that members of both ethnicities faced death if accused of being a spy.
He also denied knowledge of Cham disappearances in Chamkar Loeu district—where he was deputy chief for a period—when faced with researcher Ysa Osman’s estimation that among 1,100 families in Speu village, only 100 residents survived.
“Mr. Witness, you were deputy secretary of that district. You lived there for a number of months before then. I want you to tell us if you have any information about what happened to the 1,000 missing Cham families in Chamkar Loeu district,” Mr. Lysak said.
“I do not know about that,” Mr. Siek responded.