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Medicine ‘bourgeois’, hospital staffer recalls

While patients were dying of malnourishment, malaria and dysentery at Takeo province’s Tram Kak district hospital, the Khmer Rouge rebuffed requests for more food and medicine as too “bourgeois”, the hospital’s deputy chief told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

Witness Riel Son, posted to the hospital in late 1976 despite having no medical training, said his appeals for materials with which to make medicine were met with criticism by Tram Kak district officials who accused him of “having the imagination of a bourgeois and intellectual rather than a worker”.

The 77-year-old said a separate request for more food also prompted condemnation.

“When I report to [the district secretary] that people suffer from swelling and diarrhea because the lack of nutrition for their health . . . the district secretary responded to me that I was attacking the cooperative by my reports,” he said.

Son, who became one of eight medics at the site after being trained in anatomy, estimated 10 men and 100 women, often overworked, arrived daily as well as five to 10 children, although most came for medicine and weren’t admitted.

He said the hospital’s three successive chiefs were party members with no medical training, adding one was illiterate, while medics brewed their own traditional medicine.

During the regime’s final months, at least five people died each day when rice rations, usually about 12 kilograms for 250 patients, stopped arriving, he said.

“Many many patients died, and every day we had to dig pits to cover those patients who died, maybe 10 to 20 pits every day,” he said.

The witness, once called to Kraing Ta Chan security centre to spray DDT for mosquitoes amid a malaria outbreak, also recalled attending a conference before 1977 where the Tram Kak district committee ordered attendees, including commune chiefs, to purge enemies.

Identified for execution were Lon Nol regime civil servants and soldiers, Kampuchea Krom, who were labelled “KGB or Yuon spies” and “anyone who went around speaking against the Khmer Rouge”.

Son, who recalled once seeing defendant Khieu Samphan in Tram Kak, said his uncle “disappeared” after criticising living conditions.

The trial continues today.

In an earlier version of this story, witness Riel Son's name was incorrectly spelled as Riel Sorn.
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