KR Tribunal Hears of Vietnamese Arrests, Rotting Corpses

A former Khmer Rouge soldier told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Tuesday that he witnessed ethnic Vietnamese being marched away by local cadre in Battambang province to a nearby killing site, where he later thought he saw their decomposing bodies.

Prum Sarun, 74, is testifying in the segment of the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea that deals with alleged genocide against ethnic Vietnamese under the regime. Prosecutors are attempting to prove that the country’s leaders specifically targeted the ethnic group for suppression and killing, which the defendants deny. Although Mr. Sarun’s testimony generally supported this narrative, he gave conflicting and confusing statements throughout the day. 

He told the tribunal that he became chief of a platoon in Batambang’s Banan district shortly after the Khmer Rouge gained control of the country. Soon afterward, his superior, known as Ta Kroch, began scouring the area for ethnic Vietnamese on the orders of the regime’s upper echelons, he said.

Mr. Sarun said there were no Vietnamese people in his platoon, but that two Vietnamese men from a nearby battalion were arrested by Khmer Rouge soldiers before being marched toward the Tuol Tatrong execution site.

“They were arrested and walked westward to the killing site,” he said. “Their hands were tied to their backs.”

About two days after witnessing the arrests, Mr. Sarun said he walked past Tuol Tatrong and saw four swollen and decomposing adult corpses.

Despite initially saying he only witnessed the arrests of the two men, Mr. Sarun then said he actually saw three or four Vietnamese families being arrested.

And while he first claimed to have seen only adult corpses, he then amended his testimony to say that he had also seen the bodies of children who had been smashed against trees at the site.

“I did not witness the killing but I saw dead bodies. It was possible that the bodies had been swung against the tree trunks,” Mr. Sarun said, adding that dogs had eaten the flesh, making it difficult to ascertain the ages of the corpses.

Toward the end of the day, the witness mentioned that he had also been a soldier for the Khmer Republic — which fought a bloody civil war against the Khmer Rouge. Senior assistant prosecutor Vincent de Wilde questioned Mr. Sarun about purges against Khmer Republic soldiers in his area after the communists took power.

“There was one soldier. Perhaps it was known that he had a rank in the former regime. He was killed. He was shot to death,” Mr. Sarun said.

“At that time, his wife was weeping and did not move away from the dead husband. After that time, the wife was also shot to death,” he said, adding that later, he happened upon the decomposing corpse of his former unit chief in the Khmer Republic army.

Mr. Sarun’s testimony will conclude Wednesday.

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