The Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday began a new phase of hearings in Case 002/02 focusing on security centers and internal purges, with a witness telling the court that he saw the remains of what he believed to be more than 100 murdered Jarai people at the Au Kanseng Security Center in Ratanakkiri province in 1977.
The security center, formally known as the Au Kanseng Re-education and Corrections Office, was a prison where soldiers from the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea’s Divison 801 were tortured and sometimes murdered if they fell out of favor, but a number of civilians were also detained there, including the witness, Phan Thol, now 75.
Mr. Thol told the court he was detained at the center in June 1977 after being accused by Khmer Rouge cadres of using “feudalist methods” at the rubber plantation where he worked, such as attempting to disinfect his tools with motor grease so as not to spread infections between the trees.
He spent his first month in prison chained up but was then set free and allowed to work as a guard for the center’s jackfruit plantation, he said.
Shortly after this, a group of more than 100 ethnic Jarai prisoners, including men, women and children, arrived at Au Kanseng. They were there for less than a week before they were tied up and marched away, he recalled.
“I watched them leaving through the cracks in the walls. They were tied up in lines, with nylon string, and then they were led away,” Mr. Thol said.
Later, while guarding the jackfruit plantation, he said he stumbled on a pit where he glimpsed the remains of decomposing bodies, only partially covered by dirt. The site was also littered with bloody clothing, sandals and backpacks that resembled those he had seen the Jarai wearing.
“I smelled the decomposed bodies in the grave, which was not fully covered, which led me to believe that the people had been killed,” he said.
Mr. Thol also testified that he witnessed detainees being tortured with electricity and had witnessed a number of murders, including a prisoner being shot by guards and another being hacked to death with a hoe.
Under later questioning from defendant Nuon Chea’s defense attorney Victor Koppe, Mr. Thol stressed that he had been sent to Au Kanseng on June 14, 1977, which he maintained was about a month before the Jarai prisoners arrived.
However, Mr. Koppe pointed out that the witness had described the jackfruit on the plantation as “nearly ripe,” which would be impossible in July since jackfruit ripen in February and March in Ratanakkiri.
When the former chairman of Au Kanseng, Chhaom Se, testified in an earlier stage of Case 002 in 2013, he also noted that more than 100 Jarai had briefly been sent to the center before being executed, but he pinned the date for this as late 1978.
Mr. Thol’s testimony is due to continue today.