Zone Leader Built Ranks With Hostile Forces, Tribunal Hears

Former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday that East Zone leader Sao Phim was put under surveillance as suspicions grew that he was expanding his ranks with hostile forces.

During his first full day of questioning by Nuon Chea’s defense lawyer, Victor Koppe, the prison chief better known by the revolutionary alias Duch was asked how suspected traitors within the party were monitored.

Duch said high-ranking cadre would not be arrested if they were implicated in an isolated “confession” obtained under torture at S-21. He said Sao Phim was monitored for an extended period before forces loyal to the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s center targeted him, resulting in his suicide in June 1978.

Elaborating on the reasons behind the surveillance of the East Zone commander—whom the Nuon Chea defense has characterized as a powerful, autonomous leader—Duch said the regime’s upper echelons suspected him of treachery, including building links with former Khmer Republic soldiers and the regime’s arch-enemy: the Vietnamese.

Sao Phim “expanded the forces by using the former Lon Nol soldiers in the army,” he said “For example, he asked the soldiers of the East to wear the enemies’ uniforms, and he advocated his action at that time by saying that soldiers of the Khmer Rouge were poor.”

Sao Phim’s contact with the Vietnamese “was mentioned in various documents, so he was put under surveillance,” Duch said.

The atmosphere between Duch and Mr. Koppe was confrontational throughout the day, with the Dutch lawyer becoming frustrated about Duch’s lengthy—and at times convoluted—responses. For his part, the former prison chief chastised the defense counsel for interrupting him.

“I wanted to explain to you and you interrupted me, so that’s all I could say,” Duch said during a debate about whether Nuon Chea wanted him ousted as warden of S-21. “I want to tell the truth about what happened.”

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