When Moeurng Chandy gave birth to a daughter in prison at the Au Kanseng Security Centre in 1978, there was not a hospital or a midwife in sight.
As she testified at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, she had only the help of a male medic, who cut the umbilical cord, and other female inmates at the regime’s “re-education school”.
Chandy gave evidence immediately after her ex-husband Phon Thol – who said he had not spoken to his former wife since 1986 – vacated the witness stand.
It was the second day the court heard testimony regarding the Au Kanseng prison, located near the current provincial hospital in Ratanakkiri, which housed soldiers and civilians during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Responding to questions from prosecution lawyers, Chandy said she was tasked with cooking rice in the prison’s kitchen soon after giving birth.
“However, I did not have any breast milk to give my baby,” she said. “When you asked me this question, it triggers the pain inside me.”
“I asked for sugar cane juice to feed her, and that happened because I did hard work,” she continued. “I had to carry the wood planks from the forest.”
Describing a moment of warmth during an otherwise bleak existence, Chandy told the court how, when she was still weak from childbirth and given meagre food rations, her fellow inmates would take turns to carry her share of the wood.
“Luckily enough, the baby survived and is still living now,” she said.
Chandy also testified to having witnessed a security guard named Ta Auy murder a woman at the centre.
“That woman was smashed with the back of the hoe . . . [and] she died,” Chandy said.
“This was an actual incident I witnessed. He was so cruel and vicious.”
Rehashing topics addressed during her ex-husband’s testimony, Chandy spoke about a group of ethnic Jarai women and children she had seen arrive at the centre, only to be taken away shortly thereafter.
A few days later, she said, she found herself near a previously empty crater – caused by a B-52 bombing – some distance from the compound.
“I returned and could smell the decomposing bodies from the cracked-open soil,” she said.
Like Thol, she suspected the Jarai people had been “smashed” – the term by which the regime referred to executions – “and thrown into the pit”.
Chanthy and Thol were only reunited and managed to escape when Vietnamese troops invaded, forcing guards to evacuate the prison. The trial resumes on Monday.