Witness Describes Forced Labor at Kompong Thom Dam Site

A woman who spent several months doing forced labor at the January 1 dam worksite in Kompong Thom province took the stand at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday, describing a punishing workload of heavy labor, even for the sick and injured.

Taking the stand Thursday on the last day of proceedings before a summer recess, Kang Uth, a rice farmer born in 1951 in Kompong Thom, described four or five months she spent hauling heavy baskets of dirt at the dam site in 1977. She said the workforce was made up mostly of young men and women in their 20s, many of whom were Cham Muslims brought there from Kompong Cham.

Her unit comprised more than 10 people and was sent to the January 1 dam construction site, about 5 km away from her home village in Balangk commune, as part of an effort to keep the massive project on schedule.

She said laborers were forced to work from 4 a.m. until midnight, with their first meal of the day coming at 11 a.m., and were not allowed to stop even when sick or injured. The drinking water was often dirty, and at night workers were tormented by bed bugs.

“I had to endure these working conditions, even though I was exhausted at the time and was injured,” Ms. Uth said under questioning from senior assistant prosecutor Vincent de Wilde.

Asked why she and other workers did not speak up, she said no one dared risk the consequences.

“I had to adhere to my instructions, or I would be refashioned or disciplined,” she said.

She said she had seen many prisoners brought by ox-cart to Wat Baray Choan Dek in her home village, which had been turned into a security center. Most of those brought in did not leave, she said.

“Some people were killed, some were released…but those who were transferred there were killed,” she said, adding that a foul smell hung in the air outside the pagoda, even after the regime fell.

“I saw four or five bodies, but I cannot tell you the number of dead bodies in the pits. They were very large.”

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