KRT Hears of Prison Horrors ‘Beyond Understanding’

The horrifying conditions inside the Kraing Ta Chan prison were once again the focus of hearings Wednesday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, with a civil party telling of brutality that was “beyond description.”

The third former inmate of the prison to present evidence in the second phase of Case 002 against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, Soy Sen described babies being smashed against trees and women being raped with rifles.

Civil party Soy Sen speaks about his experiences inside Kraing Ta Chan prison at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday. (ECCC)
Civil party Soy Sen speaks about his experiences inside Kraing Ta Chan prison at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday. (ECCC)

Mr. Sen, who was a teenage inmate in the Takeo province prison between 1974 and 1979, said he was assigned to dig pits and bury bodies of fellow prisoners.

One day, he said, “I was climbing a palm-juice tree in the afternoon and from the top I could see two children being taken away…. They usually waited for me to bring down the palm juice, but that day I heard…the sound of the cracking of children against a palm tree.”

Mr. Sen said he then witnessed the youngest child being smashed against a tree before the elder child was struck over the head with a hoe and thrown into a pit. The children were both disemboweled and their gallbladders were hung from a tree.

On another occasion, he said, he was told to “organize” a room by a prison guard who had just raped two women.

“When I went there, in fact he had just raped two women from a mobile unit, and he used a [rifle] to insert it into the vaginas of the women,” he said, adding that one of the victims is still alive today.

Mr. Sen, who still lives near some of the suspected Kraing Ta Chan killers, said conditions in the prison were “beyond description, beyond our understanding.”

The prison, which has received little exposure in comparison to Phnom Penh’s notorious Tuol Sleng Security Center, was located in Tram Kak district’s Kus commune and was initially built as a meeting and education center in 1973 before being transformed into a central cog in the Southwest Zone’s killing machine.

Wednesday’s hearing began with testimony from witness Keo Chandara, an ex-Khmer Rouge medic who claims he was locked up for 24 days at the prison. On Monday, he told the tribunal of mass murder, torture and cannibalism there.

Mr. Chandara said he helped exhume 12,000 skulls from the site in 1979 and claimed that he witnessed at least 50 people killed a day—including a woman who was doused with acid and another who was disemboweled—during his short incarceration.

Meas Sokha, the first witness in the second phase of Case 002, said he observed cannibalism at the prison, with cadre making wine infused with the gall bladders of victims in order to boost their courage for future killings.

Victor Koppe, international defense lawyer for Nuon Chea, has accused both Mr. Chandara and Mr. Sokha of lying.

Mr. Sen, who has yet to be cross-examined by the defense teams, looked visibly distressed throughout much of Wednesday’s hearing, particularly while being shown photos taken in the prison soon after the overthrow of the regime.

“I don’t want to see those pictures again because if you look at my ankles I have the scars to show,” he said.

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