Ek Hen was only a teenager when she was drafted into a Khmer Rouge women’s combatant unit and made to carry bucketfulls of soil for the construction of dams. She later worked as a seamstress in a Phnom Penh factory linked to Pol Pot’s powerful Office 870.
Testifying at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday, Ms. Hen told the court that while at the factory, she saw her boss, a man called Khao, taken away.
“We were sewing clothes. I saw a vehicle come and Khao was called into the vehicle and left and never returned,” she said.
“Later on, other people disappeared, but we didn’t know for sure where they were sent to or what happened to them. We only saw up to that point.”
Ms. Hen said she never understood the reason behind the arrests.
But she did recall meeting co-defendant Khieu Samphan, who “tried to build a rapport with workers” by grabbing a spoon and tasting the soup they were eating.
In late 1976, she was summoned to attend a “large-scale” study session by Khieu Samphan, the regime’s head of state.
“We sat down and listened to his instructions. He talked about struggle, about work and we listened to his speech,” Ms. Hen said, adding that they were urged to work hard and fulfill their quota.
“People at that time who were rice farming were producing 3 tons per hectare, and factory workers had to strive for a similar output in our work,” she said.
In the afternoon, Khieu Samphan’s defense lawyer, Arthur Vercken, sought to challenge Ms. Hen on statements she made to investigators in 2008, when she claimed that she attended two study sessions: one by Nuon Chea, in which workers were encouraged to farm “to help the country,” and a second by Khieu Samphan, during which traitors were discussed.
“During the first session, traitors or treason was not discussed, it was only discussed in the second session,” Ms. Hen told the court.
A reserve witness, Sum Alat, was called before the end of proceedings and it was established that he was one of five people tasked with preserving evidence of killings during the regime.