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Tribunal Witnesses Describe Tortuous Conditions at Khmer Rouge Air Field

Sem Hoeurn is one of a number of witnesses to testify on the Kampong Chhnang airport construction site. (Courtesy of ECCC)

The UN-backed trial for two former Khmer Rouge leaders continued on Wednesday, with testimony from two witnesses over a secretive airport that was constructed in Kampong Chhnang province.

One witness, Sem Hoeurn, a former soldier and prisoner of the regime, described the presence of hundreds of Chinese engineers who aided in the construction of the air field, and he recounted the torture and deaths of many workers.

He had been banished to work on the project after he was accused of involvement in an internal plot to overthrow the regime.

Sem Hoeurn is one of a number of witnesses to describe the secretive regime from the inside, as the second and final phase of a trial for two senior leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, continues.

“I would like to report that all people and I were brought there to do hard work at this airport site,” Sem Hoeurn told the court. “Laborers at Kompong Chhnang’s airport worked day and night. It was a place to be tortured and to be ordered to work hard.”

Those workers were soldiers who had marks against them, he said.

A second witness, Him Horn, told the court that the airport was a dangerous place to work. There was little to eat. Khmer Rouge soldiers from the Southwestern Zone were in charge. And many women laborers from the North Zone went missing in 1976.

Some people were killed by equipment used to break up stones, he said. “People were killed by shards of stone that hit them. It happened almost every day.” Many of those who were injured disappeared afterwards, he said. “The injured were brought to the hospital in Kampong Chhnang. I don’t know what happened to them.”

If there was no ambulance to pick up an injured person, they were left where they were, “left alone like animals,” he said. “Nobody dared to look at the injured people.”