A rice farmer who fled to Vietnam just before Pol Pot’s forces took power in 1975 described to the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Thursday the shock he and other refugees felt when they returned to live in Democratic Kampuchea, where they were abused and labeled “puppets of the Yuon.”
Speaking at the trial of former regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan as a civil party, 58-year-old Ry Pov, from Takeo province, said his family fled fighting between the Lon Nol government and the Khmer Rouge. They left, he said, because Pol Pot’s soldiers would “burn people’s houses and destroy villages.”
Returning to Cambodia the following year as part of an exchange of citizens with Vietnam, Mr. Pov said his family—and possibly as many as 1,500 others—were hoping to return to their former homes but instead faced a shocking reality.
“We had no idea that our property would be confiscated and we would be exposed to forced labor, we would suffer common eating, until we faced the real situation in Cambodia,” he said, describing how Khmer Rouge cadre restricted their movements and forced them to hand over their possessions.
Separated from his family and placed in a mobile work unit where he helped build dams and dig canals in Takeo’s Tram Kak district, Mr. Pov, then just a child, described being abused by “base people,” who he said labeled returnees from Vietnam as “contemptible enemies” and “puppets of the Yuon,” an often-derogatory term for Vietnamese people.
“The base people could curse us, could hit us. We could not move anywhere,” he said.
Mr. Pov described seeing another man from his work unit, who he believed had been tortured, dying in a 20-meter-long pit surrounded by other dead bodies near what he later found out was the notorious Kraing Ta Chan prison.
“There was blood all over the body and he was gasping for air and he asked me to inform his mother,” he said, adding that he quickly returned to his quarters fearing he would be spotted and also put to death.
Mr. Pov, who lost an uncle and his younger brother to the regime, also recounted witnessing a group of 30 Khmer Krom—ethnic Khmer from present-day southern Vietnam—being marched in the direction of Kraing Ta Chan.
“Thirty people were arrested and tied up, and they were marched [in] the opposite direction [from which] I was traveling, but I had no idea where they were sent to, or as to whether they were killed or tortured. But later I learned that Kraing Ta Chan was a killing field,” he said.
Answering questions from Suon Visal, a defense lawyer for Nuon Chea, Mr. Pov denied attending any forced marriage ceremonies—contrary, Mr. Visal suggested, to his earlier statements—but said he heard from his unit chief that they had taken place in other units.
Mr. Pov had earlier told the tribunal of his own brush with forced marriage, saying he was scheduled to take part in a group wedding ceremony, but that his participation was postponed due to illness. Vietnamese troops invaded “six or seven” days later, he added.
Hearings are scheduled to resume on Monday.