Khim Vat was 29 when the Khmer Rouge regime fell. She was loaded into a military truck at the Kampong Chhnang airport worksite that day, alongside pregnant women and children, and heard the sound of gunshots as the vehicle fled to the west.
During the second portion of her testimony before the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, Vat, a former member of the communist militia, recalled the chaos of the Vietnamese invasion.
“Everyone tried to board a truck,” she said. “We thought we could not survive.”
Several women gave birth in the moving lorry.
“In my opinion at the time, capitalists were the rich and powerful . . . They oppressed us, and they did not let us have any freedom,” Vat said of her decision to supported the communist movement.
However, she described a similar enslavement under the Khmer Rouge leadership, including her forced marriage to a stranger disabled on the battlefield, and her demotion out of a military capacity and into the rice fields.
“I had no choice,” she said. “I would follow Angkar.”
With the conclusion of her testimony, the line of questioning in Case 002/02 turned again to the conditions surrounding the January 1 dam.
Om Chy, a slight, 63-year-old, testified about his role as a unit chief, supervising 500 workers as they built irrigation canals linked to the dam.
Chy said his unit worked 16-hour days clothed in a single set of tattered pajamas, without access to clean water or sufficient food.
Despite his senior status, he added, everyone had to abide by the regulations set forth by the Khmer Rouge or face being detained, re-educated or tortured.
“During the regime, every worker, including myself, did not dare refuse,” Chy said.
He remembered the public arrest of a teenage boy, the disappearance of neighbours who never returned and purges of his own senior leaders.
“We lost trust with each other and had to work on a daily basis to survive,” he said.
Close to his worksite was the Baray Choan Dek pagoda, a place he resolutely asserted was where “enemies” – suspected of being foreign spies or merely “inactive” workers – would be executed.
Chy was one of the few to enter the pagoda walls and return alive.
Before the regime fell, the security centre was transferred to another village and the unit chief was invited to the pagoda for a cadre meeting.
The space, he said yesterday, still held the evidence of its recent misdeeds.
“I actually saw blood stains on the wall in the dining hall . . . pieces of clothing strewn on the ground,” he recalled.
“The bad odour [from the corpses] was still lingering in the air.”