During a meeting with officials and militia leaders in June 1978, Pol Pot instructed his subordinates to encourage repopulation within Cambodia in order to cover the country’s land with its own people, a witness told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday.
Shortly after the meeting, Chuon Thi, a former commander in the West Zone, was transferred to Svay Rieng province to co-command 1,000 soldiers in the defense of the eastern border, he said during his second day on the stand in the trial of Pol Pot’s second-in-command Nuon Chea and former head of state Khieu Samphan.
During that time, he arranged the marriages of 15 to 20 couples, he said. “Pol Pot did mention about the arrangement of weddings… particularly since they needed the population,” Mr. Thi recalled. “He did say…such a small population…did not really cover the whole area of the country.”
Marriages were to be arranged at the request of couples or for individuals too “shy” to find spouses on their own, he said.
“If people did not like each other, they did not have to go through the process,” he said. “The upper echelon never incited us…to force people who did not like each other to get married.”
Mr. Thi said that neither forced marriages nor forced consummation were ever encouraged by Khmer Rouge leaders. Asked how the population could be quickly bolstered if couples were allowed to marry at their own pace, he did not answer.
While commanding his unit along the eastern border for about six months, Mr. Thi faced constant combat with Vietnamese troops, he said.
“The situation was really tough. The Vietnamese were attacking us, and we counterattacked, and they also used artillery to shell us,” he said.
When the border conflict became “chaotic” in late 1978, Mr. Thi said his unit knew they would be defeated.
In January of 1979, they were overtaken by Vietnamese forces and Mr. Thi went into hiding.