Son of Deputy Zone Leader Tells Khmer Rouge Tribunal of Purges

The son of the former deputy secretary of the Khmer Rouge’s East Zone told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Wednesday that helicopters dropped leaflets over the area in 1978 announcing that zone secretary Sao Phim had been purged for “selling his head to Vietnam.”

Meas Soeurn, the son of Sao Phim’s deputy, Seng Hong, is the second person to testify in the latest phase of the trial against Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea and head of state Khieu Samphan, which is focusing on internal purges. Mr. Soeurn detailed the extermination of cadre in the East Zone.

“The exact date was May 25, 1978. There were purges in the East Zone. All of the cadres were to be purged including Sao Phim,” said Mr. Soeurn, who was a driver for his father, among other roles under the Khmer Rouge.

“Mostly they were accused of betraying the party, and also they were accused of colluding with the Yuon,” he said, using an often-derogatory term for the Vietnamese.

Mr. Soeurn said he was informed by his unit chief, Sor, that Sao Phim—who Nuon Chea claims was a powerful leader who planned to overthrow Pol Pot—had actually ordered East Zone soldiers to refrain from fighting and planned to discuss the purges with Khmer Rouge leaders in person.

“Comrade Sor told me that Sao Phim did not want us to fight back,” Mr. Soeurn said. “He would go to Phnom Penh to solve the problems,” he said of Sao Phim’s plan, adding later that he did not understand why the zone secretary attempted to communicate with Pol Pot rather than flee to Vietnam.

Mr. Soeurn said he did not know how Sao Phim met his end but said leaflets were later dropped across the East Zone branding its former leader as a traitor.

“There were helicopters and airplanes [that] dropped leaflets in the East Zone, and in the leaflets it was said that Sao Phim was a traitor, selling his head to the Vietnam­ese,” he said. “It was said in the leaflet that Sao Phim betrayed the country.”

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