A survey technician and a former village chief tasked to work at the notorious “January 1” dam site in Kampong Thom province told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday about the appalling working conditions at the site, which drove people to exhaustion and near death.
Pech Sokha, who testified via video link, was specifically brought from Phnom Penh by the regime along with three others to work as a surveying technician. The dam was meant to provide “agricultural irrigation for the nearby rice fields”, he said, but the dam’s projected benefits were overshadowed by the excessive labour that workers had to endure at the site.
“The overall image was that it was a happy act, but in reality, everything was horrible,” Sokha said. “The food was insufficient and the manual labour was hard . . . but no one dared to complain.” Sokha worked on the dam from its inauguration in early 1977 until a few months into 1978.
He never witnessed anyone die from starvation during his time at the site, but said he saw two people from his surveying team disappear.
“They were summoned by Angkar with a handwritten letter that they showed me and never returned. I assumed they were dead, because I never saw them again,” Sokha said.
Former Prey Sra Ngae village chief Or Ho also continued answering questions from the defence. Ho, who said he was later removed from his post due to Angkar’s “lack of trust” in him, spoke about the experiences of the 100-person unit he helped supervise.
“We were not allowed to let the workers take a rest,” Ho said. “If he or she could not really work, we asked them to work slowly.”
Workers who were unable to work due to sicknesses were transported to mobile hospitals located at the worksite and to district hospitals if their conditions worsened.
Ho said he counted himself lucky for not befalling the same fate as other leaders sacked by the Khmer Rouge. “I have no idea why they lost trust in me,” he said. “From most of those who were removed by Angkar, very few survived. But I was not sent for re-education.”
Sokha will continue his testimony today.