A former work crew overseer at the Trapaeng Thma Dam worksite yesterday told the Khmer Rouge tribunal about the regime’s practice of monitoring workers to ferret out those suspected of “opposing Angkar”.
Witness Chhum Seng described a “special unit” of Northwest Zone cadres assigned to covertly monitor workers from within the mobile work units.
“In our company there was [a cadre], but we did not know it, because he came to work like us.
But he would ask us questions about what we did during the [Lon Nol] regime”, he said.
According to Seng, this resulted in the arrest of two members of his unit, one a former Lon Nol lieutenant, the other hailing from a wealthy family; they were taken away and never seen again.
The cadres and leadership at the dam had made it clear to Seng that “if anyone disobeyed Angkar” – the term that the regime used to describe itself – “they were subject to execution”.
Seng recalled a meeting with the worksite commander, Ta Val, who gave instructions to monitor workers for “activities against Angkar”.
When asked to clarify, Seng said these activities included whispering at night, making any kind of verbal complaint, not meeting quotas and feigning illness.
This surveillance could be carried out by Ta Val personally, Seng told the court.
“One day, Ta Val disguised himself as a worker with a stick and a palm leaf hat,” he said. “If anybody was not working, he would beat them with a stick.”
Ta Val had also issued a standing order authorising work unit chiefs – Seng included – to execute “any individual who opposed the instructions of Angkar” as well as anyone deemed to be “Lon Nol soldiers, KGB agents, Yuon [Vietnamese] or CIA agents”.
Seng also discussed his relationship with Ta Val, whom he described as a feared man whose presence made people work harder.
“If Ta Val visited the worksite, you would hear the sound of spades working faster” Seng said, adding that Ta Val was a “good writer”, and “to my eyes, he was fairly educated”.
Later in the day, the defence for Nuon Chea – which has sought to prove the existence of competing factions within the Khmer Rouge – confronted Seng with testimony from previous witnesses, whom Seng purported to know, that suggested Ta Val and Northwest cadres were conspiring against the regime. Seng, however, pled ignorance.
When it came to Ta Val’s arrest, Seng admitted he felt happy.
“Everyone was happy . . . They wished him taken away.”