Ieng Phan, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, on Monday told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) how he had joined a “liberation militia” in his native Takeo province in 1970 and swiftly rose through the ranks to become a brigade commander in the Southwest Zone.
Despite his position, Mr. Phan, 60—who says he integrated into government forces in the 1990s and today remains a soldier in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces—testified that he had absolutely no knowledge of the crimes against humanity that were occurring at security centers, labor camps and execution sites throughout the country between April 1975 and January 1979.
“I did not even know what would happen to Lon Nol soldiers who would be sent to the rear, let alone civilians and how they would be treated. I didn’t know about this. We knew only what happened at the battlefront,” said Mr. Phan.
With the first mini-trial in Case 002 focusing on the role of the two remaining war crimes defendants—Brother Number Two Nuon Chea and head of state Khieu Samphan—in crimes committed during forced migrations and the execution of Lon Nol soldiers following the fall of Phnom Penh, lawyers sought to establish Monday if Mr. Phan was aware of the regime’s policies as he commanded an increasing number of troops on the ground.
Mr. Phan said that the level of fear among members of the military was such that no one, including himself, dared to scrutinize the orders that were being handed down by the regime’s highest military leaders, who he named as Pol Pot and Son Sen—who oversaw Democratic Kampuchea’s security apparatus.
“At that time, the policy was strict and people had to mind their own business…. If you would like to talk to a few people outside of [an official] meeting, you would do that at your own risk,” he said.
Seeming to contradict the testimony of author Philip Short, who took the stand as an expert witness earlier this month and said that his research led him to believe that there was a Khmer Rouge policy to execute Lon Nol soldiers, Mr. Phan told Victor Koppe, Nuon Chea’s international defense lawyer, that the opposite message was being sent down through the ranks.
“We received telegrams from upper echelon through the chain of command that once prisoners of war were arrested, they were not to be mistreated, tortured or executed, and they had to be sent to the rear [of the battlefield],” Mr. Phan said.
During the Khmer Rouge’s final attack on Phnom Penh in April 1975, Mr. Phan said that he was in charge of a unit on the outskirts of the city that flanked the front line of Lon Nol’s army to wage an attack on Pochentong Airport on the night of April 16. His troops blew up a fuel storage facility and forced the enemy soldiers guarding the airport to surrender.
Mr. Phan said that his troops did not arrest the defeated combatants, but rather disarmed them and sent them on their way to an uncertain fate with the masses fleeing the city.