A former company chief at the Trapeang Thma Dam worksite told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday how underperforming workers were punished by starvation and were put to a test, such as walking through fire, if it was suspected that they were faking illnesses.
At the dam site, Chhum Seng worked under the brutal commander Ta Val, who he described as “a mean man who everyone was afraid of.”
Mr. Seng said he answered directly to the commander, describing conditions under his leadership similar to those delivered earlier in the day by Ta Val’s assistant, Chhit Yoeuk, continued from last week.
Born in 1954 in Battambang, Mr. Seng is now a rice farmer and lives with his wife and three children in Banteay Meanchey province, the site of the construction project in what was then the Northwestern Zone.
Mr. Seng said workers were required to meet a quota of hauling 3 cubic meters of soil per day, were deprived of sleep, and subsisted on a diet of mostly gruel and dirty pond water.
“Sometimes, they starved those who did not meet the quota, which was one form of punishment,” he said, adding that even those who did meet targets often fell sick due to poor water quality.
“At the time, there were many sick people,” he said. “Some people were sent to the hospital.”
When asked whether patients who went to the hospital returned, he said: “There were only a few. The majority died.”
Mr. Seng said that generally, the Northwestern cadre were generally more “tolerant” than the Southwestern cadre who came to to “educate” them, a characteristic that Mr. Seng—a Lon Nol soldier up until 1974—credited for his survival before he joined a Khmer Rouge mobile unit.
However, while Mr. Yoeuk, Ta Val’s assistant, told the court last week that he only became aware in 1978 that unsanctioned executions were being carried out, Mr. Seng said company leaders could have anyone killed by filing a report to Ta Val accusing the person of having served under Lon Nol.
Asked whether killings were also done on site, or at Bridge 1, where his company worked, Mr. Seng recalled one event in which a number of people claimed to have lost their eyesight.
“There were 12 workers who got sick, not my unit, and Ta Val had a plan to burn stuff and make fire and make the 12 individuals to walk on the fire,” he said. “Eleven people were taken away and killed.”
Victor Koppe, the defense counsel for Nuon Chea, had several objections shot down throughout the day’s proceedings, and was told that testimony detailing crimes was in the interest of the trial.
When Mr. Koppe suggested the witness did not see the murders, however, Mr. Seng answered.
“I did not see the actual killing, whether they were shot or beaten to death,” he said. “But I was the one who flattened the earth where they were buried.”
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