Khmer Rouge militiamen would conduct public executions at the Trapaing Thma Dam worksite and then force workers to bury the bodies in order to teach them the consequences of avoiding hard work, a witness told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday.
Born in 1964, Sot Sophal was placed in a children’s unit at the dam site—which is now in Banteay Meanchey province—during the Pol Pot regime. On two occasions, Mr. Sophal said, local militia called between 50 and 100 people to watch them beat a fellow worker to death with sticks.
“I didn’t actually know where these militiamen were positioned, but they brought these people in…. They brought one and then they killed him or her…. It was meant to deter all of us,” he said.
“After he was killed…they warned other workers that everyone had to continue to work hard otherwise our fate would eventually be like the person who was just killed,” he added.
Once the person had been beaten to death, the witness said, workers were then forced to bury the body at the base of the dam.
“Many people actually carried the dirt to cover the corpse…. I did not do it alone, but I did it together with other workers,” he said.
Mr. Sophal said that while working in the children’s unit, he was monitored by women and children armed with swords and other weapons, and that every two or three days, workers would be arrested and disappear.
Victor Koppe, defense counsel for Nuon Chea—who is on trial for crimes including genocide alongside Khieu Samphan—highlighted discrepancies between Mr. Sophal’s testimony and statements he made in a previous written record of interview (WRI), in which he claimed he witnessed hundreds of people killed and buried at the dam site.
The witness disputed the WRI, claiming he witnessed the mass killings after leaving the dam.
“I cannot answer your question…because I said precisely that I saw only two people who were killed at the construction worksite, but I saw hundreds of other people were killed in other places, in the plantations and other places, and some were screaming for help,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, the Trial Chamber upheld an objection to senior assistant prosecutor Travis Farr’s questioning of the witness’ claim that he heard people screaming as an excavator pushed them into a pit at a separate site.