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.