Tribunal Hears of Plot Between Sao Phim and Heng Samrin

Days before he committed suicide, Khmer Rouge leader Sao Phim told his comrade Heng Samrin, now president of the National Assembly, that Mr. Samrin should rise up if he failed to return from a trip to Phnom Penh, a witness told the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Sin Oeng, 59, a distant relative who served as Sao Phim’s personal guard, testified that the East Zone commander would host cadres at his home, including Northwest Zone leader Ros Nhim and Chea Sim, who went on to become CPP president.

In a previous interview with the Documentary Center of Cambodia, Mr. Oeng claimed to have overheard Sao Phim and Mr. Samrin discussing a rebellion against the regime in mid-1978, as Sao Phim was preparing to go to Phnom Penh to try to reason with party leaders.

“He said: ‘I’m going to Phnom Penh. If I disappear for just one week, you, Rin, go into the forest. Gather how many there are left and go into the forest to struggle,’” Mr. Oeng said in the interview.

On Thursday, the witness confirmed his statement in court and said the conversation happened about 10 days before Sao Phim killed himself near the capital. It is thought the zone leader shot himself after escaping an attack by forces loyal to the regime’s central leadership.

“He was sitting at a table. There were drinking glasses and I had to clear the table at that time, clean his desk before he left,” Mr. Oeng said.

“Soldiers were gathered up in order to go into the forest to initiate the resistance movement.”

Sao Phim is a central figure to the defense of Pol Pot’s second-in-command Nuon Chea, who is currently on trial for crimes including genocide with the regime’s head of state Khieu Samphan. His lawyers argue that Sao Phim colluded with the Vietnamese in an attempt to undermine and overthrow the regime’s leadership. Critics of the theory argue that Sao Phim’s trip to the capital to reason with the leadership illustrates his loyalty.

Mr. Samrin eventually fled to Vietnam and helped overthrow the Khmer Rouge. In January 1979, he was installed as the de facto leader of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. He has ignored requests to appear for questioning at the tribunal.

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