Lauren Crothers | Anadolu Agency
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Genocide charge hearings have continued at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, with a former militiaman taking the stand and testifying on the alleged execution of hundreds of Cham Muslims.
The testimony supports the claims of Cham witnesses who described the arrests, killings and persecution of Muslims by the ultra-Maoist group in Cambodia at hearings last week.
Samrit Muy — who was serving in the Khmer militia at the time of the incidents in 1977 — told the court Tuesday that he was in the kitchen of his cooperative when he saw a large group of Cham men, women and children being marched toward the village pagoda.
“Whenever they wanted to kill people, they would bring them to the pagoda and loud music would be played,” Muy said.
After the arrival of Khmer Rouge soldiers from the southwest zone, Muy said, the Cham “disappeared.”
He recalled seeing the group of Cham — young, old and babies, as well as pregnant women — marched toward the pagoda. The women were able to walk freely, but men were handcuffed and beaten, he said.
After they were taken into the pagoda, he never saw any of them again.
He told the court he believed that the music played that night was to drown out the sounds of killings.
“I saw people being walked away, but I never saw any mistreatment, personally. I didn’t see inside the pagoda,” he said.
“The music was played over loudspeakers and I knew in my head back then that people were being killed.”
“That happened until there were no Cham people left in the village,” Muy said. “While I was living and mingling with the Cham people they weren’t arrested at that time, but in 1977, all of them were arrested.
“I didn’t dare to stay close to the arrested people. I was afraid and I don’t know why innocent people were taken away and killed,” he said.
Muy said he had been living alongside Cham since the Khmer Rouge took over the country in April 1975.
“While I was living with them, they were allowed to worship and practice their religion once in a while, but regarding food I don’t know,” he told the court.
Last week, witnesses testified that Cham were forced to eat pork.
The Khmer Rouge tribunal is investigating claims of genocide as part of the second phase of a trial in which elderly ideologues Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan stand accused of a litany of serious crimes.
According to a written judicial order issued by the court earlier this month, “people who belonged to the Cham group were systematically killed and the Communist Party of Kampuchea implemented a policy to destroy, in whole or in part the Cham group as such.”
Witness It Sen told the court last week that Cham Muslims — the largest ethnic minority in Cambodia — had had their language, traditions and cultural practices, which set them apart from the dominant Khmer ethnic group, systematically targeted by the Khmer Rouge forces.
Tribunal hearings continue Wednesday.