Another day, another live-tweeting session at the Khmer Rouge tribunals. The press room is violently air-conditioned and I am the only journalist willing to eat the “weird” Vietnamese sandwiches. Oh, yes, right, the court proceedings….
Nuon Chea has continued to beg off the dock, claiming health issues, which means that today featured one civil party and one witness. I took off after lunch – Clair Duffy was awesome enough to cover the afternoon Twitter shift.
The civil party who spoke in the morning session, a supposedly illiterate, old, and senile Ratanakiri farmer called Romam Yun delivered a startlingly eloquent account of the Khmer Rouge years, frequently using agriculture analogies to describe his experiences.
The 70-year-old Mr Yun, a member of a minority group, had moved from village to commune chief in the Khmer Rouge Northeastern zone, through some combination of coercion and initial belief in the ideology of Cambodia’s people’s revolution.
“I will not say my work with the Khmer Rouge was right or wrong, but the political line was not proper, not right,” Yun began, launching into a description of how everyone in his village was gathered to work, including the elderly and the very young.
“We were treated like pigs they could sell at any moment,” he said. “They [the Khmer Rouge] were like our parents – they were supposed to treat us well. Instead they treated us badly, they imprisoned us.”
Mr Yun recalled being summoned to a meeting and told that his “village was to be swept clean.”
Confused—his village had no grass—he asked what exactly was meant by “swept clean.”
“Sweeping cleans means getting rid of those who are not good, and leaving only the good,” he was told.
We all know what “sweeping clean” came to mean to the Khmer Rouge.
“If the village and commune were clean, there were no enemies. On the other hand, if they were not clean, there were enemies in there,” he said.
Employed as a messenger, Mr Yun said he occasionally would deliver messages to a mysterious figure in the jungle, known only as “One.” Presumably this was Saloth Sar, alias Pol Pot.
Mr Yun impressed upon the court how much was at stake when it came to “good” work under the supposed people’s revolution. “When we could not do our work properly, we were accused of being enemies,” he said.
“If we could do it, we would be spared. Otherwise, we would be killed, because we were accused of being against the revolution,” Yun said. “The village was very quiet. It was understood that if they said anything wrong, they would be accused of being against the revolution.”
What happened to the villagers who couldn’t do their jobs?
“Sometimes they were taken out into the forest. They might have been killed in the forest, because they [the Khmer Rouge leaders] were mad we could not meet the plan… They would execute people if they did anything wrong, or went against the Angkha, and then they would be subject to execution.”
Yun also described the breakdown of the village social structure: “We did not know who was who..it was confusing. People did not know their own parents and siblings. A son would beat his father.”
According to Yun, forced marriages did not seem to be common in his village, but formal marriages as we think of them became a thing of the past. “People didn’t get married,” he said. “When people loved one another, they just lived together as partners without marriage, during Pol Pot time.”
Interestingly, Yun’s Ratanakiri village, populated by minority groups with their own religious beliefs, did not seem to suffer the same violent repression Theravada Buddhism did: “No one asked us to do anything with religious affairs..communities managed our own affairs when it came to religions.”
(The fidgeting feet of saffron clad monks could be seen behind him as he said this. Monks are a fixture at the Tribunal).
Over and over in his account, this old farmer likened the Khmer Rouge years to a bad crop, a bad tree, a bad planting season.
“When I first joined the revolution, we cultivated crops, and the plants were grown very well, and yields grew some. But it was fruitless. By analogy, the policy of that [the Khmer Rouge] was very good but it did not yield any good thing for people…by analogy, the tree trunk is very good, but it bears no fruit.”
“In the present day, we have good seeds. The seeds are growing well for the next generation. But at that time, educated people were killed. So we did not have anything.”