As the Khmer Rouge tribunal resumed yesterday, a former mobile unit member was the first to testify about the Trapeang Thma dam’s bloody past and how the forced labour he endured at the worksite continues to haunt him today.
Civil party Sen Sophon was a rice farmer in a Kandal province cooperative when he was transferred in mid-1977 to join a mobile unit at the Northwest Zone’s Trapeang Thma dam worksite – the third and final worksite to be examined in the current Case 002/02 against senior leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea.
The dam, which was built by thousands of workers, is alleged to have been a site of extensive abuses.
“We started work at 4am in the morning . . . and if we didn’t wake up, we would be whipped,” he said.
“I had to carry three cubic metres of earth every day, and if I didn’t complete the quota, I wouldn’t be allowed to eat, and [would] have to continue working until 10pm. Only then I could eat.”
The 16-hour work days, Sophon added, were made more unbearable by a recurring food shortage and a total lack of sanitation, proper living conditions and medical attention for sick workers.
“I had to force myself to wake up every day, even if I didn’t have the energy to work because if I refused to go, I would be accused of being an enemy and I would be taken away and killed.”
Sophon was at the dam site for two months before he was transferred to another worksite.
Before leaving, however, Sophon witnessed the transfer of supervision of the dam’s from Northwest Zone leaders to Southwest Zone ones, specifically to Case 004 suspect Im Chaem.
“They were crueller than the others, and when they replaced the Northwest cadres, more people died.”
Sophon will continue his testimony today.
Testimony began during the afternoon proceedings yesterday after the morning was spent deliberating the Office of the Co-Prosecutors’ Friday disclosure of new evidence on the dam site relating to the Case 004 investigations.
The Trial Chamber ruled that it will cancel next week’s hearings to give parties time to review the documents.