Im Chaem denies involvement in crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime
More than 500 families affected by the Trapeang Thma dam, a brutal Khmer Rouge worksite where thousands were forced into slave labor, wrote to Khmer Rouge tribunal investigators yesterday to request a more thorough examination of the court’s troubled Case 004.
Three of the victims also submitted applications to be civil parties and seek reparations in the case, their lawyers said in a statement.
Trapeang Thma was investigated as a crime scene in the court’s major case against four senior regime leaders, which went to trial this week. But it is also apparently connected to Case 004, which has stalled in the face of government opposition. Prime Minister Hun Sen has said repeatedly that the case will not happen.
Two of the suspects in Case 004, former Preah Netr Preah district chief Im Chaem and former Northwest Zone deputy secretary Ta Tith, are believed to have had some authority over the dam site.
In yesterday’s letter, the 550 families asked for an opportunity to be interviewed as witnesses “to provide full information on Case 004,” and say they would like to become civil parties or complainants in the case. They also ask judges to investigate Case 004 “independently, free of interference from politicians and outsiders.”
“We have recently felt such sorrow and painful suffering: We heard the court was aiming to dismiss Case 004–related to the Trapeang Thma dam, which is where the victims used to work as well as hundreds of thousands of people were killed,” they wrote.
At least 15,000 slave laborers were forced to build the dam, working between eight and 13 hours a day in filthy conditions with minimal rest. The project was spurred by the Pol Pot regime’s determination to increase rice production at any cost, according to the indictment in Case 002.
“Many were killed by being beaten and thrown into the reservoir basin,” the indictment says of the worksite. “Others would be made to dig their own graves and then clubbed to death. Witnesses report pregnant women being beaten, killed and thrown into the reservoir basin, as the [Communist Party] cadre would say that ‘the dam would hold firmly only if pregnant women were killed and placed at the sluice gate.'”
Victims of the dam labor interviewed yesterday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal described brutal work quotas and rampant starvation at the Trapeang Thma worksite.
“Sometimes we worked from 7 am to 5 pm with an hour break, when we were given porridge,” explained Chhit Yoeurk, 64. “But often we were forced to start working at 7 in the morning until 9:30 or 10 pm without rest. Then they treated us with rice, not porridge.”
“Life there was a living hell on earth,” added Mun Muth, 54. “We were forced to work day and night. We were not fit even to be called animals.”
Im Chaem was installed as Preah Netr Preah district chief during Ta Mok’s massive purge of the Northwest in mid-1977. She controlled an area into which thousands of people had been forcibly transferred to labor on other irrigation projects, living in constant danger of arrest and execution. She has also been accused of sending laborers from her district to work on the Trapeang Thma dam in neighboring Phnom Srok district.
She denied those charges yesterday in a telephone interview from her home in Oddar Meanchey.
“I didn’t send people to construct the dam, and I wasn’t involved with other crimes during that regime,” she said. “If I had committed a crime, I would be coming out to take responsibility.”
She said she arrived in the Northwest after the dam was complete, and sent people there only to cultivate rice in the irrigated area.
“Leaders at the village, commune and district level had no power to object to orders released by superiors, or they would face serious penalties,” she said. “Of course, there was killing stemming from individual hate. People just attacked people, then put blame on upper leaders.”
Im Chaem went on to dismiss speculation that she was a suspect in Case 004, saying she was certain “it was just a rumor.”
“The government already said the tribunal should stop with Case 002,” she said. “I’m happy because I feel protected by the government. Especially Prime Minister Hun Sen is protecting my life.”
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