The horrors of a pagoda-turned-killing site in Kompong Thom province during the Pol Pot era were revealed when local villagers began digging up graves in search of gold jewelry, a witness told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday.
Uth Seng, who was evacuated from Phnom Penh and sent to the January 1 Dam worksite, said the grim reality of the nearby Baray Choan Dek pagoda was exposed shortly after the fall of the regime.
“In 1979, people living in Baray Choan Dek or from elsewhere were there and dug up the dead bodies from the graves in order to find the valuable belongings,” Mr. Seng said. “At that time, people were saying that they could find gold at that place.”
The witness said he tended cattle near the pagoda during the regime and often heard loud music used to drown out the sound of killing.
“It was so loud so I could not know what was going on there, but those who went to tend cattle with me told me that if the music was played over the loudspeakers, there would be killings,” Mr. Seng said.
“I realized that the place was used to kill people because in 1979 I went to that pagoda and saw large graves in that pagoda,” he added.
Mr. Seng said he feared meeting his own death at the hands of local cadre, claiming he would see a well-known executioner—who is also due to appear as a witness at the tribunal—wandering around villages brandishing weapons coated in blood.
“At the village, we frequently met with the executioner by the name of Lun…. There were knives and swords with dry blood [carried by] him while he was on a bicycle; everyone was afraid of him,” he said.
Under questioning from Kong Sam Onn, a lawyer for Khieu Samphan—who is on trial for crimes including genocide alongside Nuon Chea—Mr. Seng said the executioner was later arrested by the Vietnamese.
“After he was released, he came to attend…a wedding in around 1985 or 1986, and during that period, he noticed that there were many 17 April people [city evacuees] residing in the village, so he was scared and I never saw him coming to the village again,” he said.