Khmer Rouge East Zone Was ‘Ripe’ for Rebellion in 1978: Witness

A former Khmer Rouge district secretary told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Tuesday that the country’s East Zone was “ripe” for rebellion in 1978 following the defection of Heng Samrin and Chea Sim and the formation of the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea.

Testifying at the tribunal for a second day, Ban Siek, who in 1978 was installed as chief of Kroch Chhmar district—now in Tbong Khmum province—explained how factional fighting broke out with the emergence of a rebellious mobile unit linked to the Front, which eventually toppled the Khmer Rouge and established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea.

“Upon my arrival, the situation was tense since Chea Sim and Heng Samrin actually had formed the Salvation Front and I learned from brothers they had done that and we had to be vigilant with the militia force,” Mr. Siek said.

Asked by Victor Koppe, defense counsel for Nuon Chea—who is on trial alongside Khieu Samphan for crimes including genocide—whether the militia was connected to the Front, the witness said it was.

“Yes, they said that the rebellious people were the KGB and Chea Sim and Heng Samrin were accused of being KGB as well,” Mr. Siek said.

“It is my understanding that [the militia] was active. It seems that the situation was ripe for people to rebel and that they were not satisfied with the leadership of the Communist Party of Kampuchea,” he said, adding that the group was later purged.

Mr. Siek also echoed testimony of witness Sem Hoeurn, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who in June claimed that there was a separate plan to overthrow the Khmer Rouge leadership in mid-1977.

“Did you ever hear they planned to stage a coup d’etat, attack Pochentong airport, close down the radio station, send troops to Phnom Penh—have you ever heard of that?” Mr. Koppe asked Mr. Siek on Tuesday.

“I heard about them hiding ammunition under their shirts, and they went to Phnom Penh…. When they arrived in Phnom Penh, the secret leaked and they were arrested and they said it was a rebellion hatched by [Khmer Rouge Commerce Minister] Koy Toun to overthrow Pol Pot,” Mr. Siek responded.

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