The Khmer Rouge tribunal heard testimony on Tuesday from a military commander involved in Pol Pot’s capture of Phnom Penh in 1975 who later commanded naval units patrolling Cambodian waters off Koh Kong province.
Meas Voeun was the deputy commander of the Division 1 military unit from early 1976 until August 1978. According to Victor Koppe, a defense lawyer for Nuon Chea, Mr. Voeun held a “similar position” to Heng Samrin, the current president of the National Assembly, when Phnom Penh was taken.
The ongoing case against Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea is currently focusing on charges of genocide of Cham and Vietnamese populations during Democratic Kampuchea.
Mr. Voeun told the court he had attended a meeting of the navy, army and air force officers after the Khmer Rouge came to power at which he saw Pol Pol and Nuon Chea.
Called as a defense witness by Mr. Koppe, Mr. Voeun was asked how Cambodia’s navy had dealt with Thai and Vietnamese interlopers in their waters.
“When a ship encroached on our territorial waters, we would deploy our ships in order to inspect what kind of ship had encroached,” he said, explaining that the unit possessed five boats: two U.S.-made swift boats and three faster Chinese vessels.
“For a fishing boat we would chase it away, but if we were fired upon we would return fire,” he said.
Mr. Voeun said his unit would sometimes aid or team up with the neighboring Division 164, which was commanded by Meas Muth, who has been charged with crimes including genocide in the tribunal’s pending Case 003. He could recall just one case of an “off-course” boat filled with Vietnamese refugees, which was handed over to Division 164.
“They were not considered enemies; they were considered ordinary people who were afraid of war, just as we had been afraid,” he said, adding that he did not know what happened to the refugees after they were handed over to Meas Muth’s division.
Under questioning by the prosecution, however, Mr. Voeun said that any Vietnamese left in Cambodia once the Khmer Rouge came to power were to be killed.
“We were instructed that the Yuon needed to be smashed,” he said, using a sometimes derogatory term for Vietnamese. “During Democratic Kampuchea, they were not allowed to live in Cambodia…. We hated the Yuon people.”
In the morning session, commune chief Sao Van concluded his testimony by recounting a radio broadcast by Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge head of state, concerning Lon Nol and other senior government and military officials ousted by Pol Pot’s regime.
“Only a group of elites were to be blamed; seven of them were to be on the list of execution,” Mr. Van said. “Ordinary soldiers, rank soldiers and civil servants,” he added, were spared.
Mr. Voeun’s testimony is due to continue today.