Witness Tells of Digging Mass Graves at Khmer Rouge Hospital

The deputy chief of Tram Kak district hospital during the Pol Pot era told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday of having to bury the bodies of up to 20 patients each day as the regime began to collapse.

Riel Son, who was made deputy chief of the hospital in Takeo province after 1975 despite having no medical experience, said the number of patients dying escalated in early 1979 when already meager food rations were cut off.

Riel Son, former deputy chief of a district hospital during the Democratic Kampuchea period, gives evidence at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday. (ECCC)
Riel Son, former deputy chief of a district hospital during the Democratic Kampuchea period, gives evidence at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday. (ECCC)

“Toward the latter [period] of the Khmer Rouge—about one or two months before the collapse of the regime—many, many patients died and every day we had to dig pits to cover those patients who died, maybe 10 to 20 pits every day,” Mr. Son said.

“Initially we were provided with 50 cans of rice for the hospital but toward the later part of the regime we were not given that rice so we had nothing to feed to the patients,” he added.

Mr. Son said he eventually stopped asking for more food or medical supplies after being chastised by district officials.

“I reported swelling, diarrhea and the lack of nutrition and that is the reason why they had this kind of illness…. The district secretary responded to me that I was attacking the cooperative with my words,” he said.

The witness added that he never raised the issue again for fear of reprisals after district chief Ta Chhay also accused him of being “bourgeois and intellectual.”

Mr. Son also testified that Vietnamese and ethnic Khmer Krom, from present-day southern Vietnam, began disappearing after commune and village chiefs were instructed by district officials to prepare lists of the minority groups.

“The targeted people were the Khmer Krom people…. They were identified as Yuon spies or KGB agents,” Mr. Son said.

“Those Vietnamese disappeared at nighttime during the time they were working in the field or canal worksite. These people were called out and then taken away,” he said, adding that he later stumbled upon skulls near “Prison 204,” toward which he once saw a group of ethnic Khmer Krom being marched.

The witness, who joined the Khmer Rouge before they took Phnom Penh in 1975, said he became disillusioned with the movement because it began resembling the Chinese Cultural Revolution, led by Mao Zedong, in its targeting of intellectuals.

“Even some illiterate people were appointed to be group chiefs or chief of villages and that was the reason I had no confidence in this so-called ‘cultural revolution,’” he said.

Mr. Son will continue testifying on Wednesday in the second phase of Case 002, which sees Pol Pot’s deputy, Nuon Chea, and his head of state, Khieu Samphan, on trial for numerous crimes including genocide.

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