Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Muth ordered the arrests and murder of thousands of ethnic Vietnamese and Thais captured at sea during the Pol Pot regime, a former soldier from his division told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday.
The witness, identified only as 2-TCW-1000 due to his role in investigations in the tribunal’s Case 003—in which Meas Muth is facing charges for crimes including genocide—offered details of atrocities he said were committed against the regime’s “hereditary enemy” off the coast of what is now Preah Sihanouk province.
The witness, who joined the communist guerrillas in 1972 and went on to become Meas Muth’s bodyguard, said soldiers from the navy commander’s Division 164 were informed at a 1976 training session of a policy to kill ethnic Vietnamese captured in the Gulf of Thailand.
“We were instructed to kill, even if it was a baby, because they are our hereditary enemies, so we must kill them. So it was the responsibility of each battalion to enforce these instructions,” the witness said.
“The trainer was the commander of each battalion who received the order from the upper level,” he said. “It was the policy of the Communist Party of Kampuchea.”
The second phase of Case 002 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan is currently focusing on charges that the regime perpetrated genocide against ethnic Vietnamese people after taking power. Meas Muth was charged in person on Monday with crimes including genocide in the government-opposed Case 003, though the group he is accused of targeting has not been disclosed.
Wednesday’s witness initially claimed to have witnessed only a few arrests during his time serving the Khmer Rouge military. Under questioning by international co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, however, the witness corroborated statements he had given previously that thousands of ethnic Vietnamese and Thais were arrested and killed between 1975 and 1979.
“Yes, that is correct…among them were Thai fisherman and ethnic Vietnamese who were traveling to Thailand. So at that time, they were arrested and killed,” he said.
The witness then reiterated claims made in a previous interview with the Documentation Center of Cambodia that orders to target Vietnamese refugees came directly from Meas Muth.
“It is true what you read: the Vietnamese ships…. There were orders from the division,” he said.
Mr. Koumjian also presented a letter, signed by “Muth,” who the witness said was the navy commander, noting that 120 Vietnamese “heads” had been arrested and shot during three days in late March 1978, although the witness claimed he had no personal knowledge of the incident.
Whether those captured by Division 164 would be killed on the spot or arrested and taken for interrogation depended on the size of the group, the witness told civil party lawyer Marie Guiraud.
“I noted that when there was a capture of each vessel, there was orders from the top that the arrested people needed to be sent on land. But if the number of arrested people were just a few people, the order was they needed to be killed on the island and only the vessel would be brought to land,” he said.
“Only when it was a larger number they would be arrested and taken to land to be interrogated on what was happening in Vietnam and Cambodia.”
The former cadre also recounted two separate instances of an ethnic Vietnamese baby being killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers: one that was thrown into the sea as it cried upon watching its mother tied up in O’chheuteal port and another on Koh Poulo Wai island who had been killed along with its parents.
“[The parents] were told to kneel down under the coconut tree and their hands were tied to their back. The 1-year-old child, when it saw the mother was bleeding…crawled to the mother and the soldier picked up the baby and smashed it against the trunk of the coconut tree,” he said.
Although he testified about arrests and killings of Thais, the witness said they fared better than the Vietnamese, explaining that he was once involved in the arrest of between 60 and 80 Thais, but was later told by a fellow cadre guarding them that they would live.
“The Vietnamese were treated differently from the Thais. The Vietnamese were considered as the hereditary enemy of Pol Pot, regardless of whether they were military or civilians,” he said.
Proceedings at the tribunal are adjourned until January 5, when the defense counsels will begin questioning the witness.