Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ‘Illness’, executions at KR dam

‘Illness’, executions at KR dam

Chhum Seng gives his testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Case 002/02 against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Chhum Seng gives his testimony before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Case 002/02 against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan yesterday in Phnom Penh. ECCC

‘Illness’, executions at KR dam

A former work crew overseer told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday of the regime’s intolerance for suspected shirkers and the deplorable working conditions at the Trapeang Thma Dam worksite.

Chhum Seng, who was at Trapeang Thma from mid to late 1977, had escaped during a population transfer from his town and joined a mobile work unit that was assigned to the dam.

“When I first arrived, members of my unit were assigned to carry water to make cement” he said, adding that afterwards, “each of us had to move 1 to 3 cubic metres of soil” each day.

Seng was assigned to be a “company chief”, and was put in charge of three work platoons.

“I received a report from chiefs of the platoons if workers did not accomplish quotas”, Seng said, the punishment for which was a reduction in food rations.

Seng recalled how workers “did not care about the time of day”, particularly during gruelling work “offensives”.

In addition, he said, “The food was not hygienic; there were lots of flies around.

Many people fell ill and were taken away for execution because they were accused of conscious illness.”

He later described a test administered by worksite commander Ta Val meant to winnow out those feigning illness to avoid working after dark.

Twelve workers claiming night blindness had to walk on hot embers; if they avoided them, they were faking.

“One was spared; the rest were taken away and killed” Seng said. “I was the one who flattened the earth which covered their bodies.”

Seng also described drinking murky water and medical facilities in which “the majority” of patients died.

When asked about the chain of command, the witness’ relationship to Ta Val and instructions to monitor workers, the defence objected and was overruled – not for the first time – on the grounds the questioning exceeded the scope of the trial.

The ensuing debate between counsels and judges ultimately led Khieu Samphan defender Arthur Vercken to exclaim, “If you understand what’s going on in this trial then you’re lucky”.

Seng resumed, explaining that according to Ta Val, the regime had instructed everyone to “monitor” each other, and to “seek out who was a former soldier, intellectual or civil servant in the Lon Nol regime”.

Seng could not say how people were killed, only that “when Angkar summoned people to education study sessions, they were executed for sure”.

The same fate, Seng recalled, befell Ta Val and other Northwest Zone cadres once Southwest Zone cadres arrived.

MOST VIEWED

  • Stock photo agencies cash in on Khmer Rouge tragedy
    Stock-photo companies selling images from S-21 raises ethics concerns

    A woman with short-cropped hair stares directly into the camera, her head cocked slightly to the side. On her lap is a sleeping infant just barely in the frame. The woman was the wife of a Khmer Rouge officer who fell out of favour, and

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the