Testimony in Case 02/002 continued yesterday, focussing on atrocities at the Trapeang Thma dam worksite, where an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Cambodians were forced into labour to rapidly create the largest irrigation systems built during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Classified as an “April 17 person”, or Phnom Penh evacuee, during the regime, civil party Son Sophan said yesterday morning that he experienced discrimination and lesser food provisions while working on the dam – merely a “thin layer of gruel” instead of rice – based on his status as a presumed anti-revolutionary urbanite.
Being a “new person” was used to justify arrests, Sophan said, explaining his parents’ disappeared when the regime discovered his father was part of the former Lon Nol regime’s military.
“I became so desperate,” he said in his final statement, his voice giving way to anguish.
“I did not have any hope left in my life . . . I did not have anyone to hang on to, and I am still in the same condition”.
Court proceedings paused to allow Sophan to regain his composure with the help of a counsellor.
“It happened to me and it happened to every Cambodian living under the regime,” he concluded.
Mam Soeurm, who took the stand in the afternoon, described an atmosphere of constant scrutiny at Trapeang Thma, with “spies” observing work performance and taking personal histories, as well as “criticism meetings” where public shaming was used to encourage labourers to work faster.
During meetings presided over by senior cadre, Soeurm said thin workers were hidden to obscure how the inadequate food supply had caused mass wasting.
“I was thin and swollen [with] disease, and was told to stand behind the fat workers,” Soeurm said.
“Hygiene was problematic,” he added, saying workers died due to dysentery as a result of open defecation and the lack of a medical unit at the worksite.
Like Sophan, Soeurm also recalled the unexplained disappearance of three “April 17” people from his unit, followed by rampant purges of senior cadre, who were replaced by leadership from the Northwest Zone.
“I heard a purge would be conducted from the top to the bottom . . . I realised it was not a good situation at all,” said Soeurm.
He told the court that he fled the worksite soon after the disappearance of his unit chief, Ta Val.
Records from S-21 prison confirm Ta Val was admitted in June 1977.
“We were afraid that when our leader was arrested,” Soeurm said, “we would be next.”