While nearly the whole population toiled in the countryside, Ek Hen spent most of the Khmer Rouge period sewing in Phnom Penh, she told the tribunal yesterday.
She ended up at the regime’s central textile factory in Orussey Market after her female military unit, which had just finished training when the Khmer Rouge conquered Phnom Penh, was repurposed for non-military jobs without seeing combat.
She initially had joined the combat unit to avoid the backbreaking dam work she had been assigned in a Khmer Rouge controlled area in 1974, she said. She recalled thinking: “If I die working in the women’s mobile unit, that would be better than this hard work.”
Work at the factory also was very tiring, but some days were punctuated by inspections and study sessions led by officials like Khieu Samphan, who visited the factory two to four times and once sampled her soup, she said.
“We were eating rice and he saw us eating and he would like to build rapport with the workers,” she said. “He grabbed the spoon and he tested the soup, and he said it was delicious.”
When asked how closely Samphan had inspected the factory, though, she said: “He came only to boost our morale.”
Hen said she also attended a study session at Borei Keila led by Khieu Samphan for workers from several units, and another led by Nuon Chea.
Chea spoke of the need to defend against traitors and “told us we had to stop our association with them before it’s too late”, she told the court in the morning.
But in the afternoon, she claimed it had been Samphan who spoke of traitors, and when pressed by Samphan’s defence counsel Arthur Vercken to clarify which meeting had been led by which leader, she confessed her memory might be faulty.
Four members of her unit disappeared during her time at the factory, and she did not know where they had gone but heard rumours that they had bad affiliations, she added.
She mentioned in passing that in 2003, she learned from the Documentation Centre of Cambodia that her older brother, too, had been identified as a traitor and executed at Tuol Sleng.
After Hen’s questioning ended, the court began hearing testimony from Soum Alet, who said that in 1980, after the Khmer Rouge had been toppled by the Vietnamese, he attended a national meeting in Phnom Penh aimed at compiling evidence of mass murder committed by the recently fallen regime. Alet’s testimony continues today.