Ex-Cadre Tells Tribunal of Suicides at Airport

A witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday told of people committing suicide at the Kompong Chhnang airport construction site, including a woman who threw herself under a moving truck.

Kheun Vat, who joined the communist guerrillas in 1970 and is the last witness to give evidence in Case 002/02 about the airport site, said she heard stories about other workers who took their own lives after she was transferred there in 1977.

Kheun Vat testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday. (ECCC)
Kheun Vat testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday. (ECCC)

“I heard about a rock-transportation-vehicle driver who said that a youth worker actually ran into the truck and that he couldn’t brake on time and killed the person,” she said. “I was rather afraid to hear that.”

“There was another person…who jumped up off the vehicle and killed himself,” she said.

Ms. Vat, a low-ranking cadre whose husband was killed by the regime on suspicion of having ties to the Vietnamese, spoke of numerous disappearances at the worksite and admitted that she feared for her own life.

“There was a messenger, who was close to my husband from the same unit, who wrote a letter secretly to me…and that’s how I learned about his arrest,” she said.

“What he said in the letter was to advise me not to make any more inquiries about my husband because he was taken away.”

Asked by senior assistant prosecutor Travis Farr if people had been free to leave the airport site, Ms. Vat replied that workers had to stay “vigilant” at all times or face unknown consequences.

“If any worker was liberal and didn’t adhere to the instructions, that person would be removed. Upon hearing that, I was rather concerned and had to be very vigilant,” she said.

“It was my thought that if I was not vigilant enough, and if anyone knew about it or my superiors knew about it, they would report the matter to upper echelons [and] I would be in a risky situation.”

During the morning session, witness Mam Soeum, who was testifying in relation to the Trapeang Thma Dam worksite in Banteay Meanchey province, said there were so many forced marriages— often held in darkness—at the site that newlyweds sometimes struggled to identify their spouses after the ceremony.

“Some of them got confused with their spouses because there were so many men and women who were married at the time,” Mr. Soeum said. “After the ceremony was completed, some of them could not find their wives, and before they got married, most of them did not know one another at all.”

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