Witness Tells Tribunal of Surviving Massacre

As appeal hearings continued on Friday against the guilty verdicts handed down to Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan in the first phase of Case 002, the son of a former Lon Nol soldier told the Khmer Rouge tribunal how he played dead among corpses massacred for their links to the U.S.-backed regime.

The Khmer Rouge’s second-in-command, Nuon Chea, and head of state, Khieu Samphan, were found guilty of crimes against hu­manity in August and sentenced to life for their responsibility in the evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975 and the purges of Lon Nol soldiers and officials at the Tuol Po Chrey site in Pursat province.

Sam Sithy testifies during appeal hearings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Friday. (ECCC)
Sam Sithy testifies during appeal hearings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Friday. (ECCC)

On Thursday, former commune chief Sao Van told the tribunal that high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials gave instructions not to harm former Lon Nol soldiers. On Fri­day, however, Sam Sithy, who was 14 in 1975, gave a starkly different ac­count of the regime’s attitude to­ward those with links to the Khmer Republic.

Mr. Sithy, a police inspector in Kompong Chhnang City and the son of a former Lon Nol soldier, told the court how his family was evacuated from P’Ay village in Kompong Chhnang province af­ter the communist forces took control of Phnom Penh.

While trekking through a moun­tainous region nearby, Mr. Sithy said they were taken to Chrek Sdach pagoda where an announcement was made calling for soldiers and officials of the former regime to register for rice before returning to work in their previous positions. Their fate was far more bleak, he said.

“They told lies to all of us that we could go back to work…. [My fath­er] registered that he was a former soldier. After, the registration and names of members of family were called and we were led southward of the pagoda and told we would find a house to live in,” said Mr. Sithy.

After walking roughly 2 km from the pagoda, the group of seven families—all of which had ties to the Khmer Republic—were split and the men were led into the forest, he said. After hearing gunshots, Mr. Sithy then said the women and children, including himself, were marched to the killing site and ordered to sit down.

“My mother was sitting in front of me and when they shot the bullet at us one bullet hit her chest so she fell to the ground and I pretended to fall onto the ground as well…and they would go around and smash the heads of young infants to make sure they were dead,” said Mr. Sithy.

As they carried out the executions, Mr. Sithy said he heard a Khmer Rouge cadre saying “you actually stepped on my chest for many years and now it is our turn to step on your chest.”

After the soldiers had finished smashing their victims, the witness said the cadre moved the bodies into a B-52 crater before walking away. After playing dead for about two hours, Mr. Sithy said he crawled from under two layers of corpses and called out to see if there was any survivors.

Mr. Sithy said he discovered his younger sister and two cousins had also survived the massacre and the group navigated its way back to the pagoda.

Both defense teams highlighted inconsistencies in the witness’ testimony, such as initially claiming he witnessed “the firing of bullets” as his father was murdered while later claiming he only heard gunshots from a distance.

“It’s our position he’s making up this story and the only way to establish this is to find details that are convincing,” said Victor Koppe, defense counsel for Nuon Chea, when warned about repetitive questioning.

Appeal hearings continue on Monday.

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