City Evacuations Were ‘Political Suicide’ for Khmer Rouge
By | June 20, 2013

The decision to evacuate people from cities and towns around Cambodia was “political suicide” and meant certain death for those who were relocated, according to a witness who took the stand Wednesday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

Nou Mao, 78, joined the revolution in the regime’s Southwest Zone in 1971, prior to which he had been a farmer in Kampot province. Recounting his memories of the regime on Wednesday, he recalled Ta Mok—widely known for his ruthless brutality—who was one of the highest-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge.

“Ta Mok was more senior, so he was tasked with discussing things with monks. He lured monks to join the army. So at that time, he convened a meeting of monks to lure them to defrock. I don’t remember the year, but at that time, all the monks were defrocked and were supposed to join the army,” he said.

Later in his testimony, Mr. Mao told the court that “after 1975, there were no more monks to be defrocked because they’d been defrocked at the start of the fighting.

“This was a large campaign by the Khmer Rouge. People had no choice in being defrocked. This was the idea of Ta Mok, who was in charge of the cults section.”

In the Southwest Zone, where Mr. Mao attended study sessions, it was also Ta Mok who fully supported plans to evacuate urban centers across Cambodia. But Western Zone chief Chou Chet, who before 1975 had been Ta Mok’s deputy, was vehemently against the idea, the witness said.

“Ta Mok talked about the evacuation of people in Phnom Penh. Chou Chet said people should not be evacuated,” Mr. Mao said. “Some people didn’t agree with the evacuation—they said that city dwellers wouldn’t know about farming, and that they’d be allowed to stay wherever they wanted.

“People with opposing ideas to the evacuation would be reprimanded by Ta Mok on several occasions. He said the plan involved the whole country, not zones. Everyone had to be evacuated from cities.”

Mr. Mao testified that co-defendant Khieu Samphan was also in favor of evacuation, while his cohorts, Hu Nim and Hu Youn, were not. “So when these people [Hun Nim and Hu Youn] came to Phnom Penh, they died at Tuol Sleng prison,” he said.

Ultimately, Mr. Mao said, “the evacuation was to disconnect communication between old and new people,” he said referring to communities living in rural and urban areas.

“In practice, they evacuated the base people in Kompong Chhnang to Kompong Speu and the base people from Kompong Speu to Kompong Chhnang. People at the base also died as a consequence of the evacuation policy and the new people from Phnom Penh also died in the course of this evacuation.

“So this was actually political suicide by the Khmer Rouge themselves…. Food rations were not enough. Evacuation was meant for death, that’s what I knew.”

During the regime, Mr. Mao was stationed as a handicraft worker in a commune in Kompong Speu province. He told the court that members of his family were evacuated in a second wave of forced movement and sent to Bat­tambang and Kompong Chhnang provinces, where many died.

He also recalled having seen a group of about 100 Lon Nol soldiers taken to Kompong Speu from Phnom Penh. “Groups of them were taken away, but we thought they must have been killed,” he said, adding that he held no authority at the time, despite having been a commune councilor.

“[The Khmer Rouge] killed people indiscriminately,” he said.

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The cabinet of Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday accepted a petition from villagers from Kratie province’s Snuol district who are requesting intervention in a land dispute with a plantation owner.

Environment Minister Say Sam Al on Wednesday lauded the country’s controversial sugar industry and the jobs it has created, saying that companies operating in the sector need to be defended against the widespread criticism they have been receiving.

As the international community on Wednesday lauded the opposition CNRP’s agreement with the ruling CPP to take its seats in the National Assembly, some of the opposition’s most outspoken allies talked of treachery from a party that months ago was demanding a re-election or the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In the aftermath of the covenant struck between Prime Minister Hun Sen and CNRP President Sam Rainsy on Tuesday, the opposition was fast to frame the deal as a grudging and rare concession from an authoritarian party deeply protective of its power.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was banned from running in last year’s national election, will now be sworn in as one of the CNRP’s 55 lawmakers, with Kompong Cham province lawmaker-elect Kuoy Bunroeun standing down to become an opposition member on the new bipartisan electoral commission.

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