Sao Phim, a Khmer Rouge commander who was branded a traitor and killed himself after being surrounded by forces loyal to Pol Pot, was an honest person who chose to face the regime’s leadership rather than flee the country, his former driver told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday.
Testifying via video-link from Tbong Khmum province, Norng Nim, a distant cousin of the regime’s East Zone commander, said he had traveled almost everywhere with him.
However, despite giving in-depth answers to the Documentary Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) in an interview last year, Mr. Nim claimed memory loss when questioned on a wide range of topics—a common occurrence at the court.
Asked about the circumstances of the death of Sao Phim, who shot himself in mid-1978, Mr. Nim said that “incidents happened.”
“Mr. Witness, you spoke to members of DC-Cam only a year and a half ago…. You gave many details on all kinds of events at the time. Are you afraid to speak in public or is there something else going on?” asked Victor Koppe, a lawyer for the regime’s second-in-command Nuon Chea, who is on trial for crimes including genocide with former head of state Khieu Samphan.
“I want to give you all the answers I know but, as I told you, now I cannot recall everything. I’m very forgetful now,” Mr. Nim said.
The witness regained his memory when explaining being part of an East Zone army that fought back against the party center after the purge of Sao Phim.
“We created that force in order to defend our people to avoid the killings,” he said.
The Nuon Chea defense team has claimed that Sao Phim was inciting an internal rebellion, a narrative countered by those who point out that he traveled to Phnom Penh in an attempt to reason with Pol Pot as proof of his loyalty.
Asked about the commander’s decision to face Pol Pot, Mr. Nim said his superior was sincere.
“If he had chosen to flee he could have done that but he was an honest person,” he said. “He chose to stay and face the truth.”