Evils of Dam Boss Remain at Center of Tribunal Testimony

A former company chief at Trapeang Thma Dam worksite testified for a second day at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday, shedding further light on the murderous command of dam boss Ta Val, who he said gave deputies carte blanche to kill their subordinates and would stalk the worksite in disguise.

Chhum Seng, a former Lon Nol soldier who commanded some 100 workers under the Khmer Rouge, drew scrutiny from the defense, which probed contradictions in testimony including his ignorance of an alleged rebellion plot that his colleagues have claimed intimate knowledge of.

Expanding on Monday’s testimony, Mr. Seng reiterated the autonomy of Ta Val and his responsibility for the atrocities at the site—in what was then the Northwestern Zone—where he implemented a command structure that encouraged murder by his subordinates.

“A person who did not follow orders, they had to be taken for execution. That was the absolute order of Ta Val,” he said. “This was bestowed on us. Chiefs had the right to kill their subordinates. In my case, I never killed anyone.”

Asked whether he had heard the names of either Nuon Chea or Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge leaders on trial in the second phase of Case 002, Mr. Seng said: “I only knew Ta Val, other than that I did not know anything else.”

Victor Koppe, defense counsel for Nuon Chea, asked the witness to clarify exactly how frightening Ta Val was—the first in a line of questions meant to draw out inconsistencies in Mr. Seng’s testimony.

“All the workers were afraid of Ta Val,” Mr. Seng said. “Ta Val disguised himself as a worker with a palm leaf hat and went to the dam site and if he saw people were not working, he would beat them.”

“The picture you painted of Ta Val is very explicit, so when he was called for a study session, you must have been happy?” Mr. Koppe asked, referring to when the dam boss was ousted by cadre from the Southwestern Zone.

An objection from the co-prosecutors—the first among many during Mr. Koppe’s questioning —was upheld.

Mr. Koppe then focused on the witness’ close relationship to his commander and read statements by two witnesses known to Mr. Cheng, which told of a rebellion being led by Ta Val and his deputies before they all were taken away.

“It seemed both persons whose statements I read know the situation well at the dam, and about [a rebellion] to stir up half the Northwestern Zone, does that sound familiar?” Mr. Koppe asked.

“I did not know about that,” Mr. Seng replied.

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