A civil party yesterday told the Khmer Rouge tribunal her entire family was executed while she was away working in an effort to protect them.
Public servant for the Interior Ministry Seang Sovida, 51, was 12 years old when her father, mother, older sister, brother-in-law and younger siblings were killed in 1977 at a pagoda in Kratie’s Prek Prasap district, the chamber heard yesterday.
A few months prior to their murder, Sovida had volunteered to work on the “January 1” dam in Kampong Thom province in an effort to protect her family from mistreatment, because they were “April 17 people” evacuated by the communists from Phnom Penh in 1975.
“[I thought] if I were to work hard, far away from the village, then my family members would be safe,” Sovida, who was the youngest in her unit, said.
Sovida’s decision also followed her 16-year-old sister’s forced marriage to a neighbour, a former pilot in the Lon Nol regime.
While Sovida was away at the site – where she worked from before sunrise to 9pm or 10pm carrying earth and fetching water – a cadre discovered her brother-in-law’s old military uniform, the court heard.
Soon after, in July 1977, Sovida said her sister, then four months pregnant, and her brother-in-law were told they would be transferred to another village, prompting her mother to request permission, with her husband, to join the pair.
Loaded onto a cattle truck, the group, together with more of the family’s younger siblings, were instead stripped of their valuables and taken to Chrouy Ampil pagoda, the court heard.
“Then they detained them there, and they killed some women first,” Sovida, who broke down in tears during testimony, said, attributing the information to a relative.
“They were detained in a temple at the pagoda, and the execution lasted for three days, and during the three days, they played music over the loudspeaker to mask the execution.”
Sovida said although her father was also a former Lon Nol soldier, a group targeted under the Khmer Rouge, she suspected it was the discovery of her brother-in-law’s position that prompted the execution.
In an emotional statement of suffering, she demanded defendants, former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, “tell the truth” about their knowledge of executions during their reign and told them they were “lucky” to be detained in such comfortable conditions. “Your lives are not as miserable as what happened to us,” she said.
Following Sovida, new witness Uth Seng, also a worker at the January 1 dam, the crime site currently under examination by the chamber, recalled his superiors organising night work in order to make arrests.
He also said “lazy workers” were put in a “special unit” as deterrence. “They were whipped, so that the rest of the workers would see and not follow their example,” he said.