In her second day on the stand at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, a former regime district official who on Thursday said life under Pol Pot was “decent,” painted a darker picture, telling the court that she kept silent as people under her control regularly disappeared.
Sou Soeun, 79, the widow of Ke Pauk, who led the north and central zones during Pol Pot’s regime, was a member of the Chamkar Loeu district committee that supplied a significant portion of the workforce to toil on the notorious January 1 Dam worksite , which totaled some 30,000 to 40,000 Cambodians —by her own estimation.
On numerous occasions, Ms. Soeun said she was unable to recall information provided in a prior written statement and blamed her ailing memory when it conflicted with answers she gave Thursday.
When Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne asked about conditions for people living in her district, Ms. Soeun at first reiterated that life in her cooperative had been “decent” and “good.”
But when he asked if the trauma counselor—present at her request throughout questioning—was due to psychological damage inflicted during those years, a different picture began to emerge.
“I feel traumatized. During that period, everyone was in trauma—everyone was terrified,” she said. “I was terrified of aerial bombings, families parted from each other, parents separated from children. I was terrified because of this.”
Judge Lavergne asked if there was also fear of regime authorities, which she denied, apparently alluding to Khieu Samphan, the 84-year-old former head of state for the regime who is on trial and was present in the courtroom.
“I have no such impression, I am not afraid of the president,” she said. “I am not afraid of the president here. I was afraid of the bombings and the gunshots.”
But Judge Lavergne continued to probe, asking about her apparent deference to higher-ups when she explained how she had not been responsible for the routine disappearances of people in her district.
“And this left you completely indifferent to know that people would disappear who were under your orders?” the judge asked.
“Of course it mattered to me, but my authority was limited,” Ms. Soeun said. “I was mindful of my personal affairs, I was concerned about my life.”
Judge Lavergne asked if such behavior was “cowardice or the perfect line of conduct you were supposed to abide by.”
“I had to think of my life as an ordinary woman and I had to live among the villagers,” Ms. Soeun said.