The brother-in-law of Ta Mok —the Khmer Rouge’s Southwest Zone commander—told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Thursday that he was involved in rounding up Vietnamese in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district after the regime took control of the country.
Sann Lorn, 73, who was born and raised in what was later labeled the Khmer Rouge’s “model district,” became the brother-in-law of Ta Mok—nicknamed “The Butcher”—when the commander married his sister. After briefly serving as chief of Pra Kheap village, the witness later became a district messenger under Ta Mok’s sister Yeay Khom in 1975.
The same year, Mr. Lorn told the court, he was ordered to help round up local Vietnamese over four days before dropping them at the district office. Under questioning by the prosecution, he confirmed a previous statement he gave explaining that the orders came following meetings between Ta Mok and Ta Tith—who has been charged with crimes including genocide in the tribunal’s Case 004—at the district office.
“Do you remember the assignment you received to transport the people during those four days? Was it after the meetings of Ta Mok and Ta Tith at the district office?” senior assistant prosecutor Dale Lysak asked.
“I can recall it now. I agree with that statement,” Mr. Lorn replied, later adding that he never saw the group of Vietnamese again.
Testifying in the trial’s current segment—in which Brother Number Two Nuon Chea and Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan are facing charges of genocide against ethnic Vietnamese—the former cadre appeared evasive and gave contradictory evidence.
Despite appearing to agree that he assisted in rounding up about 9,000 Vietnamese, he later said he was not aware of the number detained and sent from Tram Kak. He repeatedly claimed he could not recall, or had no knowledge of, certain events before tentatively corroborating previous statements.
This was consistent with the witness’ interview with investigators, Mr. Lysak said, highlighting that Mr. Lorn went as far to claim he had never met Ta Mok, before eventually offering information about his brother-in-law.
Asked why he was initially so reticent to open up about his experiences during the Pol Pot regime, the former messenger, who now resides in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng, said it harked back to his fear of speaking out of line at the time.
“The thing is, at the beginning, I could not recall what happened, I could not recall those events. And later on, I recalled the events [related to] me knowing Ta Mok,” he said.
“It was difficult to say anything during the Khmer Rouge regime. I was afraid of saying anything at the time. I was afraid of being accused.”