The construction of the notorious and highly secret Kampong Chhnang airport was performed mostly by soldiers undergoing “refashioning” due to their alleged ties to the Lon Nol regime, a former cadre told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
Witness Keo Kin said yesterday that he had previously been in the inner circle of Division 502 deputy commander Ta Lveyat at the beginning of the airport’s construction in early 1976. He enjoyed some luxuries at the time, including shorter working hours and more sufficient food rations.
That is, until Lvey discovered his father’s position as a deputy village chief in the previous regime and he was subsequently re-assigned to undergo some “refashioning” of his own to address his supposedly anti-revolutionary “tendency”.
Like Kin, most of the several thousand soldiers working on the site were also being refashioned due to their alleged predisposition to defect to the enemy. While the soldiers came from all over Cambodia, a majority of them were from the Eastern Zone.
“We had to work a full day with insufficient food rations. We were not allowed to wander freely . . . and we were not even allowed to take long baths at all,” Kin said.
“Our freedom was very limited when we were there. We were always under surveillance.”
The leadership held frequent “criticism meetings” regarding the troops’ work. And if the soldiers didn’t comply with the orders, he added that they were “purged” or “smashed”.
To further discipline the soldiers, another meeting would usually be called following the disappearance of the previous soldiers. During the meetings, workers were told “not to follow in the steps of the individuals who disappeared” and threatened that they too would meet the same end if they failed to obey orders.
Once Kin saw several soldiers arrested for allegedly being KGB or CIA agents and betraying the Khmer Rouge.
“I saw them being called to a meeting and they pointed their guns at them. They were in an office and the doors were closed so they can’t escape. They were tied up and put into two to three trucks that left in the direction of Phnom Penh.”
Kin, along with other soldiers, was able to escape in 1979 when Vietnamese troops started descending upon the airbase.