Convicted murderer and former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin on Tuesday told the war crimes tribunal that evacuations across the country when communist forces took power in 1975 were necessary to flush out the regime’s enemies following years of civil war.
The 60-year-old witness, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement in a 1994 train hijack, the killing 13 Cambodians and the execution of three Western hostages, spoke openly about life during the Pol Pot regime and provided testimony that contrasted with the previous day when he refused to answer questions, claiming his mind was not clear enough.
“After the whole population was evacuated from Kampot, we went to our respective units,” Chhouk Rin said. “Enemies would be among the population and would pose some risk to us. For safety reasons, they had to be evacuated,” he said.
But he insisted that while the regime ultimately killed about 1.7 million people, it had never been the intention to target civilians.
“We never treated anyone, including a baby, as an enemy,” he said. “[T]he war was not yet fully over, although at some parts, the war was over, but in Phnom Penh the war was still going on and we never treated young people or children including babies as enemies, because we had to liberate the cities and we never waste war with civilians,” Chhouk Rin said. “Indeed, we treated other opponents like other party soldiers as enemies, but never civilians.”
As he spoke, his demeanor was upbeat and animated—a far cry from his refusals early Monday to cooperate with prosecutors. Physically, he showed a marked improvement from Monday, when he had spoken softly and was slightly slumped. At times on Tuesday, he sat forward as he spoke, his hands gripping the sides of the chair.
He told the court that Nuon Chea—who along with Khieu Samphan is charged with war crimes in Case 002—issued orders for people to work the land as part of the regime’s plans to implement an agrarian revolution with productivity levels of 3 tons of rice per hectare.
“We weren’t instructed to do military training, we were instructed to do farming as soldiers—Nuon Chea is the right person to talk about this.
“The Communist Party of Kampuchea [CPK] in its statement made it very clear about how they controlled the population and among the CPK, these senior leaders were the ones behind all these plans,” he said.
“I never imagined such policies would be very dangerous like that…I had to carry my gun while doing farming. I saw young children who were also asked to find or collect some small plants to make fertilizer.”
Prior to joining the army in 1971, Chhouk Rin was a monk. Part of the Khmer Rouge strategy to bolster ranks was to have monks defrocked and ordered to fight for its cause.
“Monks would be defrocked and had to work with me as soldiers in my unit,” he said.
Defense lawyers for Nuon Chea on Tuesday sought to examine the lines of communication between Chhouk Rin and the highest-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge.
Earlier in the day, Chhouk Rin told the court that his superior, Nuon Paet—who was also imprisoned for the hijack and murders committed in 1994—“was like a hungry tiger” who would “eat” his subordinates.