It was a simple twist of fate that kept Sum Alat alive—a quick push aside and orders to wait for the next truck.
Mr. Alat, 60, told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday that he was one of about 500 Lon Nol officials, soldiers, civil servants and students scrambling to get on a convoy of trucks that were ultimately destined for the Tuol Po Chrey execution site in Pursat province. They had been told, however, the trucks were taking them to meet the mysterious Angkar, or “organization,” which they were told was waiting to receive them as part of consolidation efforts to unite members of the former U.S.-backed regime with the Khmer Rouge.
The eagerness to depart with other members of the Lon Nol government came on the back of two meetings hosted by Northwest Zone sector commander named Ta Soth about two weeks after the April 17, 1975, fall of Phnom Penh.
“People were eager to go,” Mr. Alat remembered.
There was a swarm as 500 people tried to board the Australian-made trucks transporting them to the site of the meeting. There were only 10 to 15 trucks. Not everybody could fit.
“People were waiting on the side of the road and rushed to get on the trucks,” he said, adding that each truck carried about 50 to 60 people.
“From what I saw, each truck was fully loaded and some people tried to climb onto the trucks as well, but then they were pushed off. I got on the 7th or 8th truck, but they refused and pushed me off.
“I was told to get on the next car. I didn’t care which one, but every one I tried, they were all full.”
Once fully loaded, the trucks departed, allegedly for Tuol Po Chrey.
The Tuol Po Chrey execution site was operated intermittently from late April 1975 to approximately 1977, during which large-scale killings of Lon Nol military personnel and civilians took place, according to the indictment in the current trial, known as Case 002.
Unaware of how close he had come to getting on the truck and being delivered to almost certain death, Mr. Alat waited with about 60 other stragglers for about two hours.
“Then I returned to my native village to meet with my family,” he said.
Mr. Alat told Nuon Chea’s defense lawyer, Victor Koppe, in court Thursday that he was approached three days later by two men who quietly told him that hundreds of others had been trucked to the execution site. They also warned him to be on guard, as he could be targeted for his Lon Nol past.
“I met the two people who told me that they fled from Tuol Po Chrey,” he said. “They whispered to me briefly about that and talked about the killing there and…two weeks later, they were chased [down] and arrested for execution.”