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Cadres recall horror at notorious airport

Chan Morn gives his testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Case 002/02
Chan Morn gives his testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Case 002/02 on Tuesday. ECCC

Cadres recall horror at notorious airport

Two former cadres told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday of the dreadful working environment at the Kampong Chhnang airport construction site – a place, they said, they were both glad to eventually leave.

Witness Chan Morn, 61, an ex-messenger for Cambodia’s air force branch Division 502, continued his testimony today about the mysterious disappearances and deaths that occurred in the airport.

Meant to be the Khmer Rouge’s “secret” military airfield, the vast airport later became known as one of the largest slave labour sites during the Democratic Kampuchea regime and the graveyard of thousands of fallen workers.

“Only the soldiers knew that the airport was being built because villagers and inhabitants did not live close to the worksite,” Morn said.

Despite its seclusion, however, the silence at the site was occasionally broken by “sounds of screaming in the night”, he added.

“I was walking by a tree but it was so dark and I could not see. I heard screams but I wasn’t sure if it was people or animals. But later when I went past that location, I smelled decomposed bodies.”

Soon after, Morn said he learned that several older workers and some unit chiefs had disappeared from the site.

Morn’s experience remained mostly without incident, and he maintained good relations with Division 502 commander Sou Met and deputy commander Ta Lvey.

During a goods delivery mission, however, he was accused by the eastern zone’s office chief of transporting 30 sacks of rice and medicine to “enemies”.

“I said, ‘Perhaps so, because you said it.’ But it was simply a joke.”

The quip led to Morn’s arrest. He was sent to S-21 where, upon arriving, he was rescued by a former colleague and finally able to escape execution.

Second witness Keo Kin was also a former Division 502 messenger. Unlike many under Democratic Kampuchea, Kin was actually saved from the worksite by his ties to the former Lon Nol regime.

Kin was initially “close” to deputy commander Lvey until the official found out about his father’s position as a deputy village chief in the previous regime, and sent him away due to his potentially anti-revolutionary tendencies.

“I was so happy I was removed from that place because the place was so difficult.”

Kin continues his testimony today.

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