Trapeang Thma Dam Worksite

Posted Mon, 04/07/2014 - 14:15 / Updated Tue, 02/03/2015 - 15:50
Democratic Kampuchea Zone
Democratic Kampuchea District
Democratic Kampuchea Sector
Current Day District
Current Day Province
Alleged Crimes

Location and Establishment of Trapeang Thma Dam
323. The Trapeang Thma Dam worksite was located at Trapeang Thma Kandal Village and Paoy Char Village, Paoy Char Subdistrict, Phnom Srok District in the current Banteay Meanchey Province (formerly part of Battambang Province). Using the CPK’s system of identifying administrative boundaries, Trapeang Thma was located in Sector 5 of the Northwest Zone. The main part of the dam was located approximately 50 kilometres north east of the town of Sisophon.

324. It is not clear as to the precise date that construction commenced. Witness testimony varies, some stating that construction commenced in early 1976, others that it commenced between late 1976 and early 1977, whilst other witnesses state that the dam was constructed entirely in 1977. Nevertheless, almost all evidence supports that the completion of the dam had largely taken place by the end of 1977, or at the latest by May 1978. It was officially described by the CPK in October 1977 as the result of a nation-wide labour offensive to fulfill the CPK’s 1977 economic plan, pursuant to a policy according to which the workers had “sacrificed everything for maximum rice production”.

325. An inauguration ceremony was held at the dam in December 1977 which was attended by various senior level CPK cadres. It was presided over by Pol Pot accompanied by a Chinese delegation as reported in the Chinese press. Heng Rin alias Mei alias Neou Rin, Sector Secretary, and Cheal from the Sector Committee, were the other CPK cadres from the Sector 5 Committee attending this ceremony.

326. Upon completion, the size of the dam was approximately 10 metres wide at the top, 18 metres wide at the base and between three to five metres high. The water contained by the dam extended approximately 10km in length by seven km in width.


Structure and Personnel
327. The construction of Trapeang Thma was organised and controlled by CPK cadres who divided and supervised the workers into working units, assigned unit tasks and individual tasks, issued working plans, appointed unit leaders, and collected biographies of people working at the site. There were unit chairmen, company chairmen and platoon chairmen within the reporting structure.

328. The unit chiefs had to report on progress of constrution on a regular basis to receive their orders from their superiors and to set the working plans for the coming days. Val, Pheng, Thoang and Hang were those responsible to develop the work plans. Reports would be sent to “Angkar 870” to report on progress, such as one copied to “Uncle [sic], Uncle Nuon, Brother Van, Brother Vorn, Office, Documentation” reporting on a visit of Yugoslavian journalists to the dam.

329. Overall responsibility for construction of Trapeang Thma was that of Val alias Aok Haun, a Sector 5 CPK cadre of the Northwest Zone who would frequently visit the worksite to inspect progress. Val was the Chief of the Sector 5 Mobile Work Unit and as stated by witness testimony, it was him “who adopted the plan to choose the forces from the district to go to build the Trapeang Thma Dam”.

330. Assisting Val in the supervision was Hat, Phnom Srok District Committee, with whom Val would liaise and communicate. Val was arrested and transferred to S-21 in June 1977 as well as Hat in September 1977 after accusations of being traitors, prior to the completion of the dam.

331. The Secretary of Sector 5 of the Northwest Zone was Man Chun alias Hoeng. He was arrested in September 1977 and replaced by Heng Rin alias Mei alias Noeov Rin until his arrest on 16 November 1978, which was followed by his execution on 15 December 1978.

332. Others supervising the construction of the dam were Muol Sambat alias Ta Nhim alias Ruos Nheum alias Moul Un, Secretary of the Northwest Zone Committee who visited the dam construction site several times before its completion and Cheal, a member of the Sector 5 Committee, both of whom would later be arrested in 1978 and 1977 respectively.

333. The construction site was visited several times by CPK leaders. There is evidence that Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan visited Trapeang Thma at various points during its construction. One witness refers to Ieng Sary visiting Trapeang Thma with Pol Pot. However, the witness’ knowledge of this is only by way of hearsay and he did not personally see the Charged Person at the worksite.

Working and Living Conditions 
334. Thousands of people were made to participate in the construction of Trapeang Thma. One former worker estimates the figure at approximately 15,000 whilst another states “it was the entire Sector 5, combined with people in the cooperatives”. Other witnesses talk of “thousands” or of “tens of thousands” of workers participating in the construction of the dam. The Chinese press report on the visit of a Chinese delegation puts the figure at 20,000 workers and similarly a CPK Telegram (reporting on a visit to the dam by Yugoslavian journalists) also puts the figure at 20,000.

335. The people working at Trapeang Thma came from the villages of the districts of Sector 5 of the Northwest Zone, including Thma Puok District, Phnom Srok District, Serei Saophan District and Preah Net Preah District. The workers also included “new people” who had been moved from Phnom Penh and from Siem Reap.

336. Workers comprised men, women and children; and were organised into work units. The working units each comprised approximately 10 people forming part of larger platoons, companies and battalions, comprising 30, 100 and 300 people respectively. The “mobile units” contained “middle aged people”. Certain units were of mixed sex; in others, the workers were organised by sex but there were no differences in the assigned tasks. Workers in the mobile units were required to build the dam, dig canals, build irrigation systems, grow and transplant rice. The “children’s units” comprised 13 to 17 year olds. The children in the children’s units were separated from their families and made to live together with their unit members. Furthermore, there were “Special Case Units” where those considered to be avoiding work or of having an “ideological disease” were placed for observation and reeducation. The “Special Case Unit” had the highest work quotas and those whom it was considered could not be reeducated in the Unit would disappear and never be seen again.

337. The dam was built almost exclusively by manual labour, with quotas from 1 cubic metre up to 3.5 cubic metres of earth to dig per day per worker. Some machinery appears to have been used, but only for secondary tasks, such as tractors to assist in leveling the ground.

338. Although it may have varied in different working units, working hours at Trapeang Thma were approximately 7am to 11am and then from 1pm until 5pm. Some witnesses also refer to working hours during the nightime, from about 7pm until 10pm or later especially when quotas had not been met. Some units started work earlier in the morning with one witness stating that they started at dawn. No rest or breaks were allowed before the assigned task was completed. Workers who completed their quotas would then be given extra quotas to complete. Although some witnesses state that there was no punishment inflicted for those who could not meet their quotas, it is more likely that workers were punished, either physically or with the reduction of food rations. Other workers who did not meet their quotas would be sent to reeducation or refashioning meetings or to the “Special Case Unit”.

339. Workers were not allowed to stop and rest during working hours. Most of the witnesses say they were forbidden to talk with each other. Short breaks to drink or urinate were allowed, but monitors and spies at the site would note and report every “lazy” worker, thus people did not dare to ask for breaks. Leave days were conceded only when children’s parents were sick.

340. Workers had to live close to the site in communal halls, some sleeping up to 600 people. They were not provided with sleeping mats, blankets, pillows or hammocks, which they had to make by themselves from rice sacks and were often required to sleep on the ground. Men and women who were not married had to live separately.

341. Although a small number of witnesses state that there was enough to eat, food was generally insufficient. Some witnesses state they “drank water to fill ourselves” or “walked around looking for leaves to eat in place of food”. Occasionally dried fish or meat were provided; nonetheless, even when this food was provided it was insufficient for the workers. Water for the workers came from nearby muddy ponds. No one dared complain about the food rations for fear of being killed. Workers at the dam died of starvation and of exhaustion directly at the work place while carrying the earth.

342. Hygiene was totally lacking. The muddy water that was taken from the ponds was not boiled. These appalling unhygienic conditions caused many of the workers to become ill with dysentery, cholera, malaria, etc. Food rations for sick people were reduced. There were untrained medics who had no knowledge and who had been chosen at random. They walked around the site providing sick persons with the same herbal medicine, which resembled rabbit droppings. Children would be recruited to be sent to the social affairs department for two weeks to return to Trapeang Thma as medics for their respective units. Given these conditions, many people died due to illness with some family lines almost dying out entirely.

343. “New people” were subjected to harsher working conditions, such as larger working quotas or unjustified punishments. CPK soldiers and cadres would collect biographies of workers at the site in order to identify those to be later arrested or killed.

344. Some witnesses give evidence of witnessing or participating in marriage ceremonies at Trapeang Thma, often with scores of couples being married in mass ceremonies. One witness states that the couples were forced to marry, and others that marriages would have to be approved by unit chairmen, and workers would be killed for failing to seek permission.

345. The evidence of the majority of the witnesses, with two exceptions, also strongly supports that there was no schooling for the children.

346. Some workers, especially “new people”, would be arrested by CPK cadres for “reeducation meetings” and subsequently disappear and never be seen again. Informants would be placed amongst the units to enquire about biographies and backgrounds of the workers and identify individuals for arrest, even those who were nonetheless meeting work quotas. They would be accused of “being American CIA agent” or linked to “Yuon”. These workers would be tied and escorted by soldiers or militia to the execution place.

347. Workers who did not meet work quotas were considered to have ideological problems and would be labeled as traitors and transferred to the “Special Case Unit” where quotas were higher (between 3 and 3.5 cubic metres of soil). Any worker failing to meet these quotas would be taken away at night and killed.

348. No witnesses report of any security centre being located at the working site. Witnesses do attest to people being taken for execution on a nightly basis in groups ranging from two or three up to 15 to 20 people at once. None of the arrestees were ever seen returning. One witness states that these disappearances were the direct consequence of “orders from the upper echelon”. Unit chairmen were to be informed before any arrests could be made.

349. Many were killed by being beaten and thrown into the reservoir basin. Others would be made to dig their own graves and then clubbed to death. Witnesses report of pregnant women being beaten, killed and thrown into the reservoir basin, as the CPK cadre would say that “the dam would hold firmly only if pregnant women were killed and placed at the sluice gate”. The “Bridge 1” or “sluice gate 1” was a common execution location. The bodies would then be dumped at the bottom.