Memories of malaria, forced marriages and witnessing a pregnant woman crushed to death under the weight of a boulder yesterday formed the backbone of the testimony of Khmer Rouge tribunal witness Yi Laisov, a member of a mobile unit at the notorious Trapaeng Thma Dam worksite.
Part of a female youth cooperative forced to dig 30 cubic metres of dirt per day on meagre rations of rice and fish heads, Laisov, who hails from Battambang, recalled her unit’s seemingly endless work hours at the dam site.
“We started from 6am to 11am, [took] a short break for lunch, then [worked] from 1pm to 5pm for the afternoon shift, and at night, from 6pm to 10pm,” she said.
People in her unit got diarrhoea and dysentery, and she even heard stories of fellow workers, deprived of sustenance, collapsing and dying at the work site, a place referred to as a “hot battlefield”.
Laisov herself at one point fell ill with malaria. The illness was “so serious”, she said, that she was constantly trembling and unable to walk.
After being forced to spend three weeks in a local hospital, Laisov said she fled to her mother’s home to try and recover.
“I was afraid, because I was only taking ‘rabbit pellet’ medicine and I was afraid of dying like the others,” she said.
At her mother’s, her uncle, a doctor with the Khmer Rouge, gave her a “yellow and bitter” medicine that she said cured her in three days. Later, she told the court, her uncle was arrested and executed.
Laisov also told the court about the deplorable conditions at the dam.
She recalled during one of her nightly guard shifts hearing the screams and cries of about 20 people being tied up and arrested, begging for their lives. In another incident, she remembered seeing three Khmer Rouge cadres shoving a pregnant woman into a ditch.
“They were striking [her] with a stick and then [she] fell in the pit,” she said. “Then they dropped a stone on [her] to crush [her].”
Later on, Laisov said she was forced into marriage by her village chief with a man named Rhom, a man she didn’t know prior to their union.
“I told my unit chief that I didn’t want to get married,” she told the court. “He said, ‘Please be careful, or you will be killed’.”
Her entire family was also threatened if she didn’t go through with the marriage.
Afterwards, she returned to the cooperative to harvest rice, and her new husband went back to his unit.