War crimes tribunal hears of Khmer Rouge brutality

PHNOM PENH - When Keo Chandara found himself incarcerated at the notorious Kraing Ta Chan prison for a month in 1975, he saw first-hand the depths to which Khmer Rouge depravity could sink.

Testifying before a panel of judges at the U.N.-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh, the 73-year-old witness told the court Monday of the horrors that lay behind the perimeter fences of the prison.

The crime site is among those central to what is known as Case 002/02, under which former Khmer Rouge officials Nuon Chea, 88, and Khieu Samphan, 83, are accused of committing genocide.

According to an interview the witness gave to investigators before the start of the trial, he was made to drag people “who were nearly dead or died of beatings” to killing sites scattered around the prison site, located in southwest Cambodia’s Takeo province.

He then saw the victims being hit with bamboo clubs and hoes, or having their throats cut by the guards.

Chandara told the court it was not uncommon for some prisoners to be dispatched “immediately upon arrival” at the prison.

He recalled a young mother arriving with her toddler and newborn baby; the mother was bleeding from between her legs and all three were swiftly taken outside to a site near a tamarind tree.

The children were bashed against its trunk and the woman fell unconscious from shock before she, too, was killed.

“At that time, they didn’t take people through a court like this one; they simply killed people,” Chandara told prosecutors.

He testified that he saw no less than 50 people executed per day, and not only soldiers and officials from the previous Lon Nol regime.

‘The victims were also Khmer Rouge cadre themselves — I knew some of them from my village,” he said.

He said the killings were “intense” in 1975, the year the Khmer Rouge came to power, and were often drowned out by the use of loudspeakers. When the noise from them grew loud, he said, it was because “you knew many people were being killed.”

In addition, he recounted how he and other prisoners were made to sit and watch as a female prisoner was lifted up by a hook, before having her throat cut and her liver, gall bladder and heart removed.

He said the soldiers then ordered subordinates to fry the organs to eat.

Chandara said he was involved in the exhumation of pits in 1979, after the Khmer Rouge fell, and the extent of the killings appears to have surpassed the 12,000 mark at that site.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Samphan and "Brother Number 2" Chea were sentenced to life in prison in August in the trial’s first phase, accused of crimes against humanity in connection with their role in mass evacuations.

The second phase of the case focuses on charges of genocide against Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, as well as allegations of rape and forced marriage.

The regime’s four-year reign saw around 1.7 million people killed through execution, starvation and overwork.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency