A former assistant to the head of the Trapeang Thma Dam worksite during the Pol Pot regime told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday of an order stipulating that the decision to kill could only be made by the party’s leadership.
Chhit Yoeuk, who served under Ta Val—a ruthless commander witnesses say was responsible for ordering executions at the Banteay Meanchey worksite—told the court of a 1978 meeting in which mobile unit chiefs informed their subordinates they could not carry out purges.
“On the issues of arrests or killings, only in 1978 I heard of the meeting by the chiefs of the mobile unit who said that lower cadre did not have the authority to kill anyone, and only the decision to kill someone could be made by the center,” he said.
When asked by Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne if lower-level cadre held autonomy over purges prior to 1978, Mr. Yoeuk said he believed the directive could have come as a result of such a practice.
“It might be possible that those cadre made their own decisions to kill people and that’s why later on there was a directive from the center prohibiting them to kill in 1978,” he said.
Mr. Yoeuk was also questioned on his demotion from Ta Val’s assistant to collecting fertilizer at the site, and why he did not refuse to accept his new role.
“I didn’t know what mistake I made and I was reassigned to carry fertilizer…. I thought maybe someone made an accusation against me that’s why I was reassigned,” he said.
Despite regularly deflecting questions related to deaths at the site, claiming he was unaware of killings due to his low rank, Mr. Yoeuk admitted that he was afraid of losing his life.
“The fear was that I was wondering if someone made an accusation against me, if that was the case I would be in a big, risky situation that I might be arrested and sent to be killed,” he said.
“People disappeared without any reason and in fact during the regime, nobody dared ask any questions about this issue. For example if I was to be taken away, that’s the end of the story, nobody would dare to ask why I was being taken away,” he said.