Wife of Suspected Traitor Tells Tribunal of Wedding, Suffering

The 1976 forced marriage of a Khmer Rouge official in Kratie province was celebrated with the slaughter of animals and cutting of cake—a stark contrast to the austere mass ceremonies that would follow.

Testifying at the Khmer Rouge tribunal via video link, civil party Heng Lai Heang, now in her 60s, said the nuptials she initially refused—but finally agreed to out of concern for her safety—were enjoyed by friends and family alike.

Heng Lai Heang testifies via video link at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh on Monday. (ECCC)
Heng Lai Heang testifies via video link at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh on Monday. (ECCC)

“After we had made the commitment, the ceremony ended and there was a party,” she said. “They slaughtered cows and pigs…. Cakes would be distributed to the villagers.”

Ms. Lai Heang, who joined the “revolutionary movement” in 1971 before becoming a Khmer Rouge commune official in Kratie’s Chet Borei district until 1976, testified that two months after giving birth to their only child in 1978, her husband received a letter summoning him to a “study session.”

When he failed to return, Ms. Lai Heang approached a young boy who had worked alongside her husband at the Ministry of Public Works. The boy said her husband had been sentenced to death.

“I did not know that my husband was sentenced to death because we were told that he was sent to study, but we did not see him return,” Ms. Lai Heang said, adding that she also learned that her husband had been accused of colluding with the Vietnamese.

“I find it difficult to describe what happened,” she said.

As was often the case when family members were accused of treachery, Ms. Lai Heang said officials quickly became suspicious of her.

“They withdrew confidence from us. I no longer held any position. Everything that we contributed earlier…to the revolution and liberating the country, those contributions were now lost,” she said.

Ms. Lai Heang said she was relocated to a worksite in Snuol district reserved for women whose husbands were accused of being traitors.

“They were put in one place and they were disconnected from others,” she said of her fellow laborers. “They were not allowed to talk to any other people, although the other people may be people we were familiar with.”

The group of more than 30 women at the worksite was made to toil day and night, Ms. Lai Heang said, adding that her infant child became “emaciated” and later died from malaria.

“There were many conditions,” she said. “One was that we were not allowed to go out anywhere. And regarding the eating, our food was also limited.”

Ms. Lai Heang concluded her testimony with an impassioned plea: “I hope your honors would find me justice—that is, justice for me and justice for my family members who lost their lives during the regime.”


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