A Khmer Rouge tribunal witness yesterday described life in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district during the Democratic Kampuchea regime, recalling the constant hunger, relentless forced labour and pervading fear of being “disappeared” by authorities.
Resuming his evidence for a second day, rice farmer Sao Hean testified about conditions in the Tram Kak work cooperative – a component of the charges in Case 002/02 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea – starting in 1975 with the disappearance of his brother, a former Lon Nol regime soldier.
“The village chief and his group came to invite him for re-education.… They did not tie him up. Only later on I learned from the neighbours that he was taken and killed at Kraing Ta Chan,” he said, later adding he learned about the district’s notorious security centre, where thousands are believed to have perished, after the regime fell in 1979.
Hean then discussed the abolition of private property in 1976, the inadequacy of food rations and the subsequent spread of sickness.
He said he was assigned to work in the rice field from 4am until around noon, adding he laboured in fear and was told to reach quotas of three to four tonnes of rice per hectare.
He described how, under the supervision of the district’s chief militiaman, people frequently disappeared, and how militiamen were tasked with monitoring people in their homes.
“No one dared complain [about] anything, we just complained among one or two people; if it was overheard by the Khmer Rouge, the person would be disappeared,” he said.
“If you broke a spoon or broke a plough . . . you would be considered an internal enemy.”
Unable to collect their own crops or leave without permission, villagers also saw their religion crushed, he testified, with Buddhist pagodas stripped of their statues and repurposed.
“We were told not to believe in any superstition,” he said, adding that some religious texts were used as cigarette paper.
As the number of men who died or disappeared grew, Hean said women were put in “widow units” to work in the field.
He also recalled the Khmer Rouge’s forced wedding ceremonies, which parents and relatives could not attend.
Following Hean’s testimony, tribunal judges adjourned the hearing, saying the next witness had lodged an application for protective measures, which would be heard in private.