A communist messenger between then-covert revolutionaries Nuon Chea and Ruos Nhim in the 1960s told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday that the latter was purged by his comrades a decade later after being accused of collaborating with the Vietnamese.
The 93-year-old witness, identified only as 2-TCW-920 due to his role in ongoing investigations, told the court via video-link from Battambang province that he was a part of the nationalist Khmer Issarak movement in the 1950s before joining the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1960s.
After joining the communists, the witness said he acted as a courier between Nuon Chea—who went on to become the regime’s second-in-command and is on trial alongside Khieu Samphan for crimes including genocide—and Ruos Nhim, who later became commander of the Northwest Zone under the Pol Pot regime.
The witness said he would travel between Battambang and Phnom Penh to deliver messages to and from Nuon Chea during a period when the communists had to work in secret in order to avoid arrest.
By the time the communists had gained control of Cambodia a decade or so later, relations had soured between Nuon Chea and Ruos Nhim, with the regime’s leadership suspecting the Northwest Zone of treachery. Eventually, forces loyal to the party center from the Southwest Zone made mass arrests in the Northwest.
“The Southwest arrested Ruos Nhim because it was said that Ruos Nhim joined hands with the Yuon,” he said, using an epithet for Vietnamese widely deemed to be derogatory.
“He was brought to a place where Ruos Nhim confessed that he betrayed Angkar,” he said.
Prosecutor Vincent de Wilde then read from the book “Behind The Killing Fields,” by Gina Chon and Thet Sambath, in which Nuon Chea admits that Ruos Nhim was killed for being a traitor after confessing under torture.
“Nuon Chea does not deny that these party members were killed in purges ordered by the leadership and…they were traitors and needed to be smashed,” he read.
Ruos Nhim, along with other zone leaders purged during the Pol Pot regime, are an important part of Nuon Chea’s defense. His lawyers claim they were powerful commanders that undermined the party center and were responsible for atrocities attributed to their client.
Despite this, the defense teams for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan did not ask the witness any questions on Tuesday.
The witness said he did not accept that his commander had betrayed the revolution.
“They mistreated him and forced him to confess. I do not believe that he betrayed,” he said.
“How could he betray Angkar?” he asked.