The ECCC resumed hearings today in Case 002/02 after being adjourned for two and one-half sitting days to allow the parties to review the recent disclosures added to the case file. The short break from the courtroom routine seemed to add energy to the examination of the new witness which zipped along for the afternoon with only one restrained objection. Vann Soan, alias Suan, 56, is a rice farmer and father of eight from Tram Kok, Takeo province.
President Nil Nonn efficiently qualified Vann Soan, and read him his duties and obligations. Mr. Vann acknowledged that he had refreshed his memory by reading over his prior statements, and that these records were consistent with the information that he had provided to investigators at the time of his two interviews by the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges (OCIJ). The witness had requested and received the services of a duty counsel who was present by his side.
Co-Prosecutor, Vincent de Wilde, began his examination of the former guard at Kraing Ta Chan by finding out where and what he was doing from 1970-1974. These questions highlighted that Mr. Vann was very young during the Lon Nol war years (11-15 years old) when he lived with his parents in Tram Kok. He was only 15 in 1975 when he was conscripted into the Leay Bor commune militia. (Leay Bor commune is in District 105, Sector 13, of Tram Kok). He was forced to join. He later escaped but was arrested and returned to the force. Mr. Vann’s first duties were to evacuate those injured in intense fighting against the Lon Nol army before the fall of Phnom Penh. Later he was transferred to the district-level militia. He never belonged to a division.
After the liberation of April 17, 1975, Vann Soan was made a messenger in District 10 and, by late 1975, had been assigned to Kraing Ta Chan in Kus commune. Although still working for the district when at Kraing Ta Chan, he carried letters from the security center to the Tram Kok District Commerce Office. In 1975, Ta Chhun was head of the Tram Kok District Office. When Ta Chhun was transferred to work on a rubber plantation, sometime in 1976-1977 (Mr. Vann “was not informed” so cannot be certain of exactly when), Ta San was the “new district committee.” Others who acted as district chiefs were Yeay Khom, Ta Chhim, and Yeay Boeun.
Mr. de Wilde read from the witness’s OCIJ statement that, after Ta Chunn was moved, Ta Khon (Ta Mok’s daughter) was the district chief. When Mr. Vann had delivered a letter to her at Ang Roka, he had heard people talking about her calling a meeting and ordering 30-40 monks to defrock “not in accordance with religious instruction.” Ta Khon was the first female district chief. The witness did not know who Kheav was but had delivered letters to Ta Kith and Ta Chay at the District Office. Ta Chhim and Ta Kith were “blood brothers.” Vann Soan had met Ta San when he was chief of Tram Kok district but did not know whether Ta San had been a commune chief or not. He only knew him by the name Ta San and did not know whether Ta San and Ta Mok were related. Ta San’s residence was in Leay Bor commune; his office was in Ang Roka. Yeay Boeun was Ta San’s Tram Kok district deputy from 1978 until the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Yeay Boeun and Ta An were cousins. Mr. Vann was adamant that district chiefs did not visit Kraing Ta Chan but “believed what the chief of the security office told them.” Some cadres, for example, Ta Phy and Ta Duch, came from the District Office to work at Kraing Ta Chan, on occasion.
Before Vann Soan had been posted to Kraing Ta Chan, he had served at the foot of Damrei Romiel mountain, in Kus commune, with a unit of guards. They were to capture “enemies” whom he defined as “anyone who escaped from a cooperative or local area” and, in particular, Prum San who “had betrayed the revolution,” and “escaped into the forest.” They had no orders on what to do with enemies other than to catch them. As they did not catch any, the subject apparently was not a pressing one.
Next, Mr. Vann’s unit was reassigned to a village by Ta An. Sieng and Sim were members of Mr. Vann’s group. They were to capture CIA agents, but spooks in the village were as rare as traitors on the mountain, and they “did not see any in a few months.” When the unit was moved to Kraing Ta Chan, Vann Soan knew little about the security center, and he did not know who posted them there. He was not aware of any of the men from his unit being sent outside the prison to arrest or transfer prisoners. He posited that he was “too young to be assigned” to that sort of job. By the time he had been at the security center a fortnight, his movement was very restricted, and he claims he knew little about what went on there.
There were six in his guard unit: Little Duch, Sim, Sieng, Duch, Uok and himself. They had the same history, and had served together at the mountain and then the village. Their main task was to guard the security office day and night. During the day, Mr. Vann would also act as a messenger.
Vann Soan remembered that Yeay Nhor, her husband Khun and her children had been at Kraing Ta Chan. He thought they had been arrested in 1977. Mr. de Wilde read in from an OCIJ transcript that the witness had testified that Yeay Nhor’s was the only family released. Mr. Vann also remembered that Sen, a youngster that herded the cows, was also one of the few prisoners who managed to survive.
After the break, the Co-Prosecutor foreshadowed that he was interested in knowing more about the structure of the staff organization at Kraing Ta Chan. When Mr. Vann was at the security center, Ta An and Penh were the “leaders” and chairmen of the meetings. Ta An was head, and Penh was his deputy. Ta An was the one who gave him orders to be a messenger. There were six party members: An, Penh, Chen, Chhieng, Moeun and Chhun. Vann Soan had concluded that they were party members by “observing that one type of meeting included party members.”
All in Mr. Vann’s unit were guards outside the compound but were subordinate to the six party members in the security center. They “had to obey the orders from the superior.” If they had not, they “would have been detained in prison.” The witness cited the instance of Dam who had committed a moral offence with a lady outside of the compound and then been incarcerated.
Vann Soan did not know if Duch (from the District) was in charge of the record keeping or not. He was “too young” to be aware of what Duch’s duties were. He saw Duch in the monthly meetings but “did not dare look at his face.” Duch, the guard, was asked to do typing. Both Duchs could type.
Mr. de Wilde read in that Mr. Vann had outlined to court investigators that the letters he delivered were reports on confessions of prisoners and lists of prisoners. When asked how the witness knew this, he did not answer but simply said that he did not dare open the letters for fear that he would be killed. When Mr. de Wilde queried this, Mr. Vann maintained it was “a real threat” but did not elaborate on who had made it or how he knew it to be true.
Mr. Vann said An, Chhieng and Penh were in charge of the interrogations but that the six party members rotated the duties, taking turns doing the interrogations. He believed that the party members participated in the executions. The witness stopped short of declaring who was in charge of the executions. As he was so young, he was not involved in the executions so did not know if any of the other guards participated. He just worked at being a messenger to areas outside the prison and as a guard on the outside of the prison. Mr. Vann confirmed Mr. de Wilde’s summary that “only the leadership took care of (the interrogations and executions) while guards did practically nothing.”
Big Duch was head of District youth and would “come from time to time,” but Mr. Vann did not know the details of why Big Duch would visit. Sometime he came twice a month. During 1978, he came more frequently, sometimes for one night, sometimes for two nights.
Victor Koppe, Nuon Chea Defence Counsel, objected to this line of questions about Big Duch on the ground that it had not been established that this Duch was Big Duch. So Mr. de Wilde obliged, rephrased, and the witness testified that Big Duke was also known as Surat whilst Little Duch was just Duch.
Mr. Vann did not know what Ta Phy’s title was or what his specific duties were, but Ta Phy “was overall in charge of Kraing Ta Chan office.” Neither did he know “Khorn” or “Ruos,” or whether they had come to execute people. As far as this witness was aware, nobody came to assist the six party members in the killing.
Moeun also was a messenger. He and Vann Soan used bicycles, the only means of transportation available, to do their duty. Mr. Vann said he was not in the compound to observe whether Big Duch or Ta Phy delivered letters to Ta An when they came. Sometimes daily, sometimes every three days, Mr. Vann would take letters to the district chief’s messenger. (He did not hand them directly to the district chief himself). He took them to the Commerce Office which was near the bridge and the market, and 300-400 yards from the prison for light offence prisoners in Ang Roka. It was his only destination as a messenger.
The Co-Prosecutor read in that Mr. Vann knew that sometimes there would be two or three letters in a envelope. He testified that he looked through a window of the office and saw Duch typewriting. Duch would do the work, usually most mornings, but “it varied, not all the time and (he)could not say for certain” how often. Ta An wrote the envelopes; the witness only delivered them to Ta San. Mr. Vann cannot recognize Ta An’s handwriting now but claimed that “back then (he) could.”
Mr. de Wilde proposed that it might be good to adjourn at this juncture as he was going to take some time to show Mr. Vann some samples of Ta An’s handwriting to see if, perhaps, he could recognize it. It was also 4 P.M. and the traffic would be gathering so the President agreed. Court was adjourned until 9 A.M. on the morrow.