Witness Tells Tribunal of Plot to Seize Airport

A witness who claimed that he fought alongside Prime Minister Hun Sen in a Khmer Rouge division told the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Monday that the regime’s upper echelons uncovered a plot to take control of Phnom Penh’s Pochentong Airport in order to overthrow Pol Pot.

Sem Hoeurn, who heeded King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s call to join the communist forces in 1970, said he was tasked with transporting weapons to Kompong Cham province as Ta Oun, the chief of the North Zone’s Division 310, prepared to seize the airport in mid-1977.

“[Ta Oun] let me supervise …and he told us that we live in Democratic Kampuchea and we could not live in this regime, that we had to liberate ourselves from the regime, so we needed to attack and defeat this regime,” he said.

Reading a statement that he had given to the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), Mr. Hoeurn claimed his division leader had planned a “Khmer White” uprising to capture the airport and a radio station in the capital, but that the plot was thwarted while his forces awaited instructions.

“I transported weapons to Kompong Cham and I handed them over to…the committee of the sector. I didn’t know where he kept those weapons,” the witness said. “One month later, the information was leaked out and Oun was arrested.”

Mr. Hoeurn said the planned coup was meant to be executed with the help of another rebel faction from the East Zone. “It was the combined plan, and the East Zone would be engaged in the attack in its own zone and the North Zone would be responsible for its own,” he said.

After his commander was purged in 1977, Mr. Hoeurn said he was sent for “tempering” near Phnom Penh and then to a worksite at the Kompong Chhnang airport.

Asked by Victor Koppe—defense counsel for Nuon Chea, who is on trial for crimes including genocide—about his time in Division 310 before the foiled plot, the witness said he fought alongside Mr. Hun Sen, who he claimed had been his deputy commander.

Mr. Hoeurn also confirmed a statement he had given to DC-Cam in which he stated that he had been fighting alongside Mr. Hun Sen when the prime minister lost his eye to shrapnel.

“It was Samdech at that time [who was deputy commander], he was with Division 310,” he said.

“At that time, I did not know his actual background—whether he came from the north or the east zone—but I saw him in Division 310 in the North Zone. That’s all I know about him.”

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