Witness Sot Sophal recounted executions and torture at the Trapeang Thma dam worksite yesterday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Sophal, who began testifying on Tuesday, worked at the dam site for a year as part of a “special children’s unit” numbering several thousand between the ages of 14 and 18, he estimated.
The children endured long work hours, and those failing to meet work quotas were punished by being tied up to a wooden frame, lifted and dropped. Armed with swords, “the militiamen came to poke the workers to work harder”, he said.
At times, workers would be publicly executed.
“They meant to deter us, so they brought one and then they killed him or her,” Sophal said, adding that militiamen would then address the workers, saying, “Comrades, in the future if you fail to follow, then your fate will be like that person.”
These executions, he claimed, happened before a crowd of “50 to 100 people”.
As for the method of execution, “they used the stick to beat the person to death”, he continued.
Sophal and other child workers were tasked with burying the bodies.
“Immediately after the person was killed, we were required to carry dirt to cover the corpse,” he said, adding the bodies were buried at the base of the dam, along with those of workers who had died of exhaustion.
Such executions “did not happen very often”, with Sophal only recalling two distinct events in his year at the dam, a point later clarified by judge Claudia Fenz. She also attempted to clarify how many workers died from overwork, which Sophal could only estimate as “many more than10”.
Sophal eventually ran away from the dam worksite “about two or three months before the liberation” of the country by Khmer Rouge defectors and the Vietnamese army.
“I thought to myself, ‘If I continue I would die anyway, so I would take the risk of fleeing’. So I fled into the jungle,” he said.
After walking for weeks, he came upon the scene of a mass killing.
“I heard people screaming because the excavator and tractor was actually pushing the people into the hole,” he said.
Attempts by the prosecution to elicit further details, however, were unsuccessful, as the killings were deemed to be outside of the scope of the trial.
Prior to adjournment, the chamber addressed pending submissions.
The Nuon Chea defence requested – without objection – an additional witness relating to Trapeang Thma. Meanwhile, the Khieu Samphan defence requested extra time to cross-examine expert witness Ysa Osman, as well time off to prepare for appeal hearings.
The court adjourned until Monday as no witnesses could testify today.