A former guard at the Trapeang Thma Dam worksite told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday that killings accelerated and food rations were reduced once Northwest Zone cadre were purged and replaced by their Southwest Zone counterparts.
Lat Suoy, who was tasked with guarding the dam site in Banteay Meanchey province, explained how the Northwest Zone leaders were accused of being traitors and replaced en masse.
“Upon the arrival of the southwest [group], they started arresting the northwest group, as they accused them of being traitors and they limited the food supply…. For that reason, people became weak and their bodies got swollen due to insufficient food,” Mr. Suoy said.
“They were all soldiers, and if they accused us of making mistakes, they would arrest us and kill us. People who were starving stole a piece of potato and if they were caught, they would be severely mistreated,” he said, adding that the Southwest Zone cadre were the “opposite” of their predecessors at the dam.
Mr. Suoy spoke fondly of the Northwest Zone cadre at times—despite describing executions ordered by the worksite’s ruthless commander, Ta Val—saying they had a more liberal attitude toward economics than the Khmer Rouge as a whole and wanted to improve living standards. He said he believed this paved the way for the zone’s purge.
“The northwest group wanted to turn society around so people would have adequate means of living and re-establish business at the cooperative level with the bartering system or exchanges,” Mr. Suoy said. “Later on, the matter came to the awareness of the southwest group and they came to take control and arrested those northwest cadre. They accused northwest cadre of being traitors.”
Quizzed on previous statements he had made about the emergence of currency during the Pol Pot era, Mr. Suoy gave conflicting answers, initially telling Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne that notes were introduced by the incoming Southwest Zone cadre.
“For the bank notes, it was about two months before the arrival of the Vietnamese and I heard from them that these were the bank notes for our salary. For combatants, we got about 10 riel and those who were head of the unit got about 20 riel,” he said. Mr. Suoy did not say how often those sums were paid.
“By that time, the northwest group had all been arrested by the southwest and the money was organized by the latter group,” he said.
Victor Koppe, defense counsel for Nuon Chea—who is on trial with Khieu Samphan for crimes including genocide—then confronted the witness with statements in which he had claimed that Northwest Zone commander Ros Nhim introduced the currency shortly before he died. Mr. Suoy conceded he had heard this from a peer during the regime.
The Nuon Chea defense team—which argues that Ros Nhim autonomously committed crimes attributed to their client—asked the witness if he himself had carried out any killings.
“Were you yourself, like Ta Val, a vicious killer?” Mr. Koppe asked, before assistant prosecutor Dale Lysak objected.
“There’s no basis for putting this question to this witness, and again, it’s based on a ridiculous premise that Pol Pot and Nuon Chea were arresting Ta Val because he was a vicious killer. That had absolutely nothing to do with it,” Mr. Lysak said. The objection was upheld.