A former Khmer Rouge commune chief told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Monday that he had been ordered by his superiors in the Southwest Zone not to harm military officers who had served the Lon Nol regime.
The ex-official, Sao Van, was questioned about the Khmer Rouge policy for dealing with officials and soldiers from the previous regime.
“From second lieutenant to colonel should not be touched,” Mr. Van recalled being told by Sector 13 Secretary Ta Soam at a meeting convened for commune and district chiefs shortly after the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.
“He raised the point that these ranks also had their relatives living amongst us. He stressed the importance of this,” Mr. Van told the court, adding that officials were given no instructions on how to deal with civil servants or soldiers above the rank of colonel.
Mr. Van explained that the reunification of Vietnam on April 30 that year had raised fears among Khmer Rouge leaders of a possible invasion.
“We had to gather up all the people to increase rice production so that we could defend our country,” he said.
“We all had to have the broader vision that we should not distinguish between 17 April people, between old and new,” Mr. Van remembered being told—either by Southwest Zone Chief Ta Mok or Ta Soam, the sector secretary —at a meeting in 1976.
Asked about the treatment of Vietnamese after the Khmer Rouge takeover, Mr. Van said he had informed village chiefs to send any Vietnamese people to a local pagoda, from where they would be sent back to Vietnam.
“There was an instruction from the district that Vietnamese people had to be gathered up in Ang Roka pagoda, and that their lives should never be touched or harmed,” he said.
Mr. Van’s testimony is scheduled to continue today.