A chief medic stationed on the battlefront along the Vietnam border told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday how he turned against Pol Pot’s regime and staged an attack against its forces following internal purges in the East Zone.
The witness, identified only as 2-TCW-1065 because of his involvement in ongoing investigations, testified at the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan that in late 1977, Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese forces clashed over unclear border demarcations and remained engaged in conflict until May 1978.
During this period, Pol Pot summoned East Zone soldiers of various ranks to a meeting, according to a man who escaped the meeting with a gunshot wound and later told the witness. The meeting had been a ploy to gather cadres who were then arrested and killed, said the witness, who was the chair of Hospital 156 in Division 4 at the time.
“Pol Pot committed a coup d’etat in Kampuchea,” the witness said. “I learned about that from the person who got injured in his hand and I realized that Pol Pot committed treason.”
The witness said he then called a meeting of soldiers to decide on a response.
“Because of the intense fighting, I had to retreat—300 soldiers with me. And I arranged a plan to attack Pol Pot,” he said. “At the time, I and my soldiers did not only attack the Vietnamese troops, but also the troops of Pol Pot.”
The witness and his group sided with the Vietnamese in 1978 after discovering an unsigned letter asking them to make contact, the court was told.
“I had the discussion with the Vietnamese soldiers and I was invited to go to Vietnam and get ammunition,” he said.
He said he then cooperated with Vietnam to launch an assault against the Khmer Rouge.
“We started to attack the Khmer Rouge…. They were confused,” he testified.
During questioning by trial chamber president Nil Nonn, the witness was pressed about his relationship with East Zone leader Sao Phim, a distant relative, and in particular a conversation between the pair in 1977 in which the former medic told Sao Phim that Pol Pot was a traitor.
“There was internal armed conflict…and I thought that maybe some people were traitorous and I chit-chatted to him that it could be Pol Pot. But he said that if Pol Pot was a traitor, Pol Pot would have told him,” he said.
After escaping an attack by forces loyal to the regime’s central leadership in 1978, Sao Phim committed suicide, but not before telling people close to him to “rise up,” the witness added.
His testimony will continue today.