At the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, two civil parties provided wrenching accounts of how their lives were affected by the time they and their loved ones served in prisons under the command of the accused, former secret police chairman Kaing Guek Eav, and described betrayals that they have found difficult to forget.
Chum Noeu, 60, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, was imprisoned for two years at S-24, a prison controlled by the secret police, and said she felt betrayed by the regime she had loyally served.
Ms Noeu became a revolutionary in the early 1970s, served in the Khmer Rouge military, led a unit of female soldiers, guarded a munitions warehouse and even submitted to an arranged marriage before both she and her husband were denounced as CIA agents in 1977. Her husband was subsequently taken to S-21 and killed, while she spent two years at the S-24 prison camp. There, she said, she was starved and overworked. An infant she gave birth to died of illness and malnutrition, as did almost every other baby at the facility.
During her remarks, Ms Noeu described in detail an occasion in January 1979 when she was brought before the accused, best known as Duch, on charges that she had tried to escape.
“When I met him I was very polite,” she remembered. “I called him Brother. I was not scared. I smiled at him. Before he asked me any questions, his pistol was at the ready…and he pointed the gun at me, and having noted that the safety was on, I was not afraid. He asked me how long I had been here, and I still laughed and smiled because it was my nature to have a smiley face, and I said I had been here since 1977. He was surprised to learn that I was still alive.”
Ms Noeu also claimed that once before, as she was transplanting rice seedlings near S-24, Duch had inspected her work.
“I saw him walking alone with no bodyguards, wearing a hat and a scarf,” she said. “He looked handsome, happy and careless. He did not care about the burden and suffering we had at our location.”
However, Duch vigorously disputed both alleged encounters, saying that, although he had made inspections at S-24, “I did not let those people see me,” and claiming that he would not personally have dealt with an issue as minor as a runaway prisoner.
Ms Noeu went on to testify through sobs that her family had not forgiven her for the role she had played in the regime, and that her presence in court as a civil party was her way of making amends.
“My mother was so furious when I met her. She said because of me, her husband died. And this is a great pain inflicted upon me…. And while I still have the opportunity, I lodged the complaint to be a responsible person on the part of my relatives…to prove that I am not a member of the Khmer Rouge and that I am loyal to the nation, and that I felt betrayed by that group.”
Chhin Navy, 70, a former medic whose husband, Ty Haotek, died at S-21, also told her story yesterday, but where Ms Noeu was often halting and uncertain, Ms Navy was fiery and full of piquant outbursts.
In 1976, Ms Navy’s older sister accused Mr Haotek before the local militia of being a CIA agent, a charge that still baffles her. “He only focused on the nation,” she said of her husband, a former deputy chief of civil aviation.
“Some women, because of their bad habits of gambling, their husbands divorced them. But look at me. I was loyal to my nation, I was loyal to my husband, and we served the nation together. How come my husband was taken away from me?”
Although she emphasized that her devout Buddhism had led her to forgive both her sister and Duch, she dwelt at length on the sense of betrayal she felt at the accusation made by her sister, whom she had once considered a second mother.
“One time I asked her what a communist was, but now through suffering and experience, I understand what communism is. It’s the act of jealousy, of betraying, of reporting in-laws to be executed.”