Jarai Prisoners Killed for Lack of Space, Guards

A former Khmer Rouge official in charge of recording interrogations at Au Kanseng Security Center in Ratanakkiri province took the stand at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday, telling the court how a regime official had ordered prison officials to “resolve” a lack of space at the facility by killing dozens of inmates.

The witness, whose name is being withheld by the court in order to ensure his safety, testified via video link from his home in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district, one of the last Khmer Rouge strongholds.

Having joined the communist movement in 1970 as a soldier, the witness was made a radio operator in 1975, and in 1977 he became one of two cadre stationed at Au Kanseng, working under the command of Chhaom Se, he told the Trial Chamber.

He testified that sometime during the rainy season of either 1977 or 1978, more than 100 ethnic Jarai men, women and children were sent to Au Kanseng, presenting logistical challenges, as the prison did not have enough space to house the new arrivals or guards to watch over them.

This was reported to Division 801 commander Ta Saroeun, who oversaw Au Kanseng, at a meeting attended by the witness.

“After hearing the report, he summed up the report, and said, ‘Please resolve it,’ and it was our understanding that the phrase ‘resolve it’ meant ‘kill,’” the witness said.

While stressing that he was not involved in any executions at the center, he said he later came across a freshly filled-in bomb crater that smelled terrible, leading him to believe that the division commander’s order had been carried out.

This appeared to corroborate testimony provided by two former inmates earlier this month, who spoke of the disappearance of the Jarai and subsequent discovery of a pit smelling of decomposing bodies.

The witness also explained that up to 200 prisoners, mostly Khmer Rouge soldiers but also members of a nearby rubber plantation union, had been kept at Au Kanseng for “reeducation.”

He explained that his role was to record the statements they made while they were being interrogated by Chhaom Se. Those who refused to answer questions were shocked with electricity or beaten with clubs, he said.

“[A] few prisoners said they were Vietnamese spies, although the majority said they were CIA or KGB agents,” he said.

Despite a lack of mosquito nets, clean water and food at the center, he said only about 10 people died of illness while he was there, with most of the deaths—which numbered in the hundreds—the result of executions.

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