Radio Operator Tells of ‘Coup’ Chatter During Khmer Rouge

An officer tasked with sending radio reports from the front lines of Pol Pot’s fight against Vietnam told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday that he once overheard enemy troops calling on combatants in Cambodia to “join hands” with them to topple the regime.

Sem Om, now in his 60s, said that he and other soldiers from the North Zone’s Division 310 were relocated in 1977 from Phnom Penh to what is now Tbong Khmum province with orders to attack Vietnamese forces.

Sem Om testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (ECCC)
Sem Om testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (ECCC)

“I was in charge of [the] radio communication system at the border and I would report the situation of the front battlefield to the rear battlefield,” he said.

Mr. Om said that although he never communicated directly with Vietnamese troops, he once overheard a broadcast appealing to Cambodian forces to switch sides and join the fight against Pol Pot.

“I heard the Khmer-speaking person saying on the channel that we should join hands together to take part in a coup d’etat to topple Pol Pot,” he said.

“At that time I did not believe it and did not know about their resistance or movement,” he added. “They were Khmer, from the Vietnamese side.”

The defense team for Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s second-in-command who is on trial alongside the regime’s head of state, Khieu Samphan, has argued that rebellious internal factions disrupted its revolution. They claim that plots to overthrow the regime proved that the Khmer Rouge was not the rigid hierarchy it is widely believed to have been, and that its leaders were not responsible for crimes committed while it was in power.

However, when Nuon Chea’s lawyer Victor Koppe pressed Mr. Om on Tuesday about an alleged plot led by Division 310 commander Ta Oun to seize Phnom Penh’s then-Pochentong Airport and overthrow Pol Pot, the witness said he was not aware of the plan.

“No, I did not hear anything about that plot,” he told the Dutch lawyer.

Asked about a statement he previously made to investigators—claiming he had known that Ta Oun was “developing a treacherous plot”—Mr. Om explained that the division commander’s messenger told him about a document stating that U.S. assistance for the unit would arrive within 24 hours, but that he did not read it himself.

“It seems that I did not see the document, but I heard other people saying about the document,” he said.

Mr. Om’s testimony continues today.

[email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News