Witness Tells of Foiled Attempt to Overthrow Pol Pot Regime

The Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday heard from a witness who explained how two division commanders were purged for stockpiling weapons in Phnom Penh in preparation for a planned overthrow of the regime’s leadership.

Keo Leour, who was a chief in the K4 disabled unit before being transferred to the Kompong Chhnang airfield in 1978, spoke of attending a meeting near Wat Phnom in early 1977, during which Ta Oun, a commander in the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea’s Division 310, called for a coup to topple the Pol Pot regime due to the poor living conditions of soldiers.

“I knew that Division 310 with Oun and Kim [as] commanders were about to overthrow the Khmer Rouge forces,” Mr. Leour said.

“He [Ta Oun]…emphasized the fact that soldiers should receive wages and should live comfortably and that we should be authorized to visit our parents,” he said.

Mr. Leour said he did not know if a date was ever set for the coup, but that two days later, the regime’s higher echelons caught wind of the plot and arrested the two commanders.

Soon after the arrests, he said, he was called to a meeting where a tape recording of Ta Oun’s confession from Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng prison—where more than 12,000 people are known to have been killed—was played over loudspeakers.

“When Oun and Kim were arrested from the division, they called soldiers and disabled soldiers like myself to attend a study session where the tape was played…. From what I heard on the tape, he himself [Ta Oun] confessed that he was a traitor,” he said.

Mr. Leour said that as a result of the failed coup attempt, he and other members of the K4 unit, along with Division 310 soldiers, were then sent for “tempering” in 1977 before being assigned to the Kompong Chhnang airport site.

The former unit chief, who told the tribunal that he joined the revolution after hearing King Norodom Sihanouk’s calls for an uprising against Lon Nol’s coup in 1970, described witnessing a person being tortured near Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital while based at a division office soon after the capital fell.

“I saw the person being tied and hanged on a tree branch…I witnessed 30 cases of people being tortured,” he said. “From what I heard, they were accused of being in the enemy network.”

Victor Koppe, defense counsel for Nuon Chea—who alongside Khieu Samphan is on trial for crimes including genocide in the second phase of Case 002—questioned the witness at length about his position in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy, suggesting that he was a devoted cadre.

“You have been a loyal revolutionary cadre from 1970 all the way up until 1979 and…you were never refashioned, is that correct?” Mr. Koppe asked. The witness denied the accusation, reiterating that in 1977, he underwent “refashioning” despite retaining his status as a soldier.

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