Witness Sen Srun yesterday told the Khmer Rouge tribunal of the 1977 round-up and execution of the ethnic Cham in his village in Kampong Cham province, as well as of the macabre competition among security forces to see who could exterminate the prisoners fastest.
The predominantly Muslim Cham ethnic group maintained a distinct culture and language from Khmer Cambodians, and their alleged persecution under Democratic Kampuchea – along with that of the Vietnamese – forms the basis of the genocide charges brought in the court’s Case 002/02.
Srun, an ethnic Khmer, corroborated prior court testimony that the Cham were forced to abandon their traditions by 1976.
After the arrival of Southwest Zone cadres in 1977, a militia known as “the Long Sword Group” – which Srun was assigned to join – was tasked with making lists of all the Cham, who were then arrested.
“Every Cham person had been arrested . . . including the children,” he said.
Srun told the court that the Au Trakuon pagoda had been converted into a security centre, and recounted how patriotic music played from 7pm to 10pm at the pagoda, which was close to his home.
This is when the killing occurred, Srun was told by a friend who worked there named Mun.
Srun testified to helping escort between 400 and 500 Cham to the pagoda, where “the men were beaten at the door of the temple”.
Within the temple, he saw “people detained in shackles, in rows of 30 to 40”.
That night, after Srun went home, “the music was being played until midnight”.
The morning after, Mun related scenes of the massacre to Srun.
“All of them had been smashed and the killing lasted until 12 at night,” he said. “I was told that some young babies and children were smashed against the trees.”
Mun also told Srun how some guards “were competing to kill the most people per hour” with 70 being the record.
Srun described Mun as a close friend but also said he would otherwise fear him because he had red eyes, a feature he said was shared by many of the security complex guards, who drank wine rumoured to contain human gall bladders.
Srun also emphasised to the court that the Cham were not the only ones killed at the pagoda, recounting how his uncle had married a Vietnamese woman and fathered nine children.
Eight of them were taken along with their mother to be killed at the pagoda.