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‘New people’ singled out at dam

Uth Seng sits in the witness stand and gives his testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Case 002/02 against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan
Uth Seng sits in the witness stand and gives his testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Case 002/02 against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan earlier this week. ECCC

‘New people’ singled out at dam

A former youth unit worker told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday of the demeaning treatment some so-called April 17 people had to endure under the hands of the militia while they toiled at the “January 1” dam worksite.

Witness Uth Seng was a student at Phnom Penh’s Lycée Tuol Tom Poung during the Lon Nol regime. On April 1975, after the capital fell to the Khmer Rouge, he was evacuated to live in his village at Kampong Thom’s Santuk district.

Seng was then assigned in late 1976 to be a member of a youth unit in the nearby Kampong Thma commune. He was tasked to dig the canal that later became the site of the January 1 dam – the largest slave labour irrigation project undertaken during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.

At the site, Seng said there was a clear distinction between base and new or April 17 people.

“You can recognise the difference by the clothing,” he said. “If their clothing was old and torn, they are recognised as April 17 people and if their clothes are new, then they must be base people.”

New people, Seng added, were also “targets” of undercover militiamen tasked to monitor the activities of the workers and the villagers living near the dam site.

“In each village, there were covert militiamen who eavesdropped on houses. They listened to the conversations of April 17 people.”

Once, Seng overheard a unit chief and other cadres speaking about taking some new people, who had connections to former Lon Nol soldiers at night and “putting them in a well”.

According to Seng, there was also a stark difference between how the rest of the workers and those who were deemed lazy were treated.

“They were put in a special unit and had to work harder than ordinary workers. Some were whipped . . . and their food ration was [less],” he said.

He also described a notorious militia chief assigned to Kampong Thmor commune named Lun.

“There were knives and swords with dry blood with him on his bicycle, everyone was afraid of him.”

Lun, Seng confirmed, was the alias of an upcoming witness set to testify at the tribunal.

Seng, who later became a public servant at the water resources and meteorology department in 1980, said, however, that despite the “bad sanitation” at the site and the “swelling, diarrhea and dysentery experience by workers” due to a lack of proper food, the January 1 dam was “very useful” as farmers benefitted from using it as an irrigation supply on a daily basis.

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