A witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday recounted to the court how he helped guard hundreds of ethnic Cham people in Kompong Cham province before they were “smashed” during the Democratic Kampuchea period.
Sen Srun, 66, who was tasked with climbing palm trees as part of a mobile unit, said he was instructed by Khmer Rouge cadre in Kang Meas district’s Peam Chikang commune to help guard Cham villagers as they were rounded up and taken to the Wat Au Trakuon security center in March or April of 1977.
“When I almost reached the main road, I saw the Cham people being arrested. I saw a woman who [had been] taking a bath with a Cham child [being] dragged to the gate of the pagoda and I was instructed to guard her,” Mr. Srun said during questioning by Assistant Prosecutor Dale Lysak.
“Cham people were being brought in gradually to the area where I was standing and I was assigned to guard those Cham people and I was warned if any Cham escaped then my life would be at risk,” he said.
Male prisoners, Mr. Srun said, were “beaten with a metal bar in order to alert them to not resist, not to rebel,” before all of those detained were taken inside Wat Au Trakuon’s temple and shackled.
“By 7 or 8 that evening, all the Cham within the commune had been arrested,” he said, estimating that the “long-sword group”—a unit of local cadre tasked with making arrests—had rounded up between 400 and 500 people, including children.
“After I got back home, the loud music was being played [from the pagoda] and I could imagine that those Cham people were killed on that night,” Mr. Srun said.
He added that on the morning after the arrests, he spoke to a friend—“Comrade Moeun”—who was a member of the pagoda’s security unit and who had also been assigned to climb palm trees.
“I asked Moeun about the young children or babies who were with the mothers and I was told that some young babies or children were smashed against the trees,” Mr. Srun said. “He told me that the Cham people, all of them, had been killed and smashed.”
During questioning by Victor Koppe, Nuon Chea’s defense counsel, Mr. Srun added that the killing was largely carried out by young cadre, who were in competition with one another.
“If they killed more, then they would be selected to be in charge of a unit, for instance. And there was a case that I heard that within an hour, one young member, who was about 20 years old, actually killed 70 people and that was the record,” he said.
Asked by Mr. Lysak if he remembered someone from the long-sword unit “saying the Cham were a different race that had to be smashed,” as he had reported to tribunal prosecutors in a 2008 interview, Mr. Srun said he did not.
“I may have forgotten something in that period,” Mr. Srun said, adding that the Cham were not the only group to be targeted by the Pol Pot regime.
“Not only Cham people were smashed. Cham people were smashed after other ‘new people’ or ‘17 April people’ or those who were linked to the former regime or the former society,” he said.
Mr. Srun’s testimony continues Tuesday.