Khmer Rouge prized clothing over cash, court told

Khmer Rouge cadres who shunned money in their pursuit of a Marxist utopia discarded hundreds of dollars in favour of a pair of underpants when they detained a US journalist, a court heard Monday.

Journalists look at war photographer Al Rockoff (on TV screen) giving evidence to the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh on January 28, 2013. Rockoff has recalled how Khmer Rouge cadres discarded hundreds of dollars in favour of a pair of underpants when he was detained in 1975.

Veteran US photographer Al Rockoff described the 1975 incident while giving evidence at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court, which is trying former leaders of the fanatical movement.

Rockoff said that when he was briefly detained by the regime along with fellow journalists including Sydney Schanberg, a stash of greenbacks proved the lesser temptation for the cadres who searched their bags.

"One Khmer Rouge held up a big wad of hundred dollar bills in one hand and Sydney's underwear in the other. He put the money back in the blue hand bag and kept the underwear," Rockoff said.

"I guess the money had no value at that time to him," he said.

Rockoff was testifying at the trial of top former regime leaders about the Khmer Rouge's mass evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975 -- one of the largest forced migrations in modern history.

Under the regime -- which abolished money -- more than two million people were expelled from the capital at gunpoint and made to march to rural labour camps.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of the population through starvation, overwork or execution during its 1975-1979 rule.

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Writer: AFP
Position: News agency