KHMER ROUGE MEMBERS
Khmer Rouge soldiers dressed in black pajamas and tire-sole sandals and had red-checked scarves around their necks. Their motto was "a hoe in one hand and a gun in the other." A popular slogan went, "To keep you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss."
Many members of the Khmer Rouge were poor peasants who joined the group when they were in their teens or younger. Many had never been out of their villages or seen a motor vehicle. Ordinary Cambodians joined the Khmer Rouge for nationalist and patriotic reasons or out of anger at the Vietnamese and American bombing.
Khmer Rouge members were loyal and disciplined. They obeyed strict rules such as no talking, sleeping, sitting, or smiling on the job because they knew if they broke the rules their punishment could be death. One man who worked as a guard in a prison told Newsweek, “When the commander came into my room, I was so afraid I didn’t dare look at him in the face. If you did something wrong, they wouldn’t just kill you. They’d kill four of five your friends and relatives too.”
Philosophy of the Khmer Rouge
The Khmer Rouge wanted to create an agrarian paradise through an ultra-Maoist revolution that was “pure and hard.” Pol Pot was greatly influenced by Maoist campaigns like the Great Leap Forward (an effort to industrialize China on a village level) and the Cultural Revolution (an effort to create a better society by reeducated the population and sending people to the countryside to "learn from the peasants"). But the Khmer Rouge wanted to outdo the Chinese and create a society that was purer than anything the Chinese could have imaged and they wanted to do it quicker than anyone thought possible.
The Khmer Rouge fused forms of Buddhism, Khmer myth and European Marxist ideology to create an ideology that almost literally turned people into robots. The goal of the Khmer Rouge was to turn Cambodia into a giant utopian agricultural commune. People that didn't have a place in their scheme—intellectuals, business people and even monks—were to be eliminated.
One of the more telling statements that Pol Pot ever made in regards to the Khmer Rouge revolution was his assessment of right and wrong. “If you possess strength, the you are right,” he said. “If you lack strength then you are wrong.” The strength behind the Khmer Rouge was teenagers and young people in their 20s who inspired, like the Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution, to dismantle Cambodian society and liberate everyone from the past by starting over from scratch to create a new society.
As time wnet on the Khmer Rouge became increasingly paranoid. Things that went wrong were blamed on the CIA, foreign spies and saboteurs and ultimately perceived traitors within the Khmer Rouge. One of the primary purposes of Khmer Rouge torture was to extract confessions from people were accused of being foreign spies but were not..
Speech on the Philosophy of the Khmer Rouge at a Khmer Rouge Meeting
Denise Affon wrote: “One morning, some days after our arrival on the island of Tukveal, we are summoned to the pagoda on the mainland. Everybody must celebrate the victory and liberation of the country by the courageous yautheas! So off we go with our packed lunch in a mess tin made of palm leaves, called asmok. We get back into the canoes to cross back over the river. Thinking we’re returning home, the children seem quite happy...as for myself, I am hoping in secret; after all, there have been rumours going around that Angkar will send the population back home. The pagoda fills up rapidly, as refugee’s stream in from all sides. The ‘audience’ obediently sits right down on the floor and waits patiently for Angkar’s arrival. At last they appear...and in the form of a group of three or four men, dressed in black pyjamas, with those unmistakable red and white sandals. One of them, who appears to be the leader, begins a long speech in praise of the yautheas pakdevat, the soldiers of the revolution, and recalls the history of Cambodia from the reign of King Sihanouk up to the victory of the Khmer Rouge: [Source: Excerpt from To the End of Hell by Denise Affon, Reportage Press, www.hmd.org.uk, Holocaust Memorial Day ==]
“Comrades, before our victory we asked those of you who were foreigners to leave the capital and our compatriots to join the Liberation Front. Why didn’t you do it? You know from now on you are prisoners, Angkar’s prisoners; in principle we should shoot you, but there are so many of you and the ammunition is too expensive...So Angkar is going to make a selection to eliminate the bad elements by work and hardship. Angkar needs a new people, pure and hard-working. Everybody will become kamakors(peasants) and kaksekors(workers).There’ll be no more schools, no more books; your university will be the forest and the paddy fields; you’ll learn your diplomas with your tears and the sweat of your brow. Your money, that of the imperialist Lon Nol, isn’t worth anything any more, it’ll be replaced by Angkar’s new money. In any case you won’t have any; you’ll live by the fruit of your labours, by barter and by what Angkar gives to you. ==
“Listen, Comrades! Abandon any hope of going back to your homes in Phnom Penh! Your city has become a vast storehouse. There are no more embassies, no more Americans, no more French...the country no longer needs foreign aid! From now on western medicine will be replaced by herbs...We’ve no further need for fuel oils, as the machines will run on charcoal. The French, when they left our country, left their cars, and we thank them! But we’ll use our legs and we’ll salvage the motors for agricultural machinery or for canoes, while the tyres will be good for making sandals...” ==
I think of our beautiful car that Seng has entrusted to Mr Thien, believing that it would be looked after safely, all the while proving of invaluable service to Angkar...The speech continues. I ask myself if I’m not in the middle of a terrible nightmare–in the cause of progress, Cambodia is going backwards! I begin to despair, but my husband, inveterate optimist as ever, always so confident in the regime, begins to reassure me:‘Angkar’s right. This way we can create a strong and pure nation,’and he murmurs in my ear:‘We must to sou.’At the end of the first harangue, another man starts speaking: ‘Angkar will need a workforce, especially factory workers in Phnom Penh, as it is going to reopen the weaving factories, the factories for batteries, fishing nets and also for condensed milk, like Sokilait...’I wake up when I hear the name because I was the executive secretary at Sokilait. The Khmer Rouge soldier continues:‘Right now you must tell us exactly who you are, and the exact truth about your past, and your skills. Don’t hide anything from Angkar, who has to make a choice.’ ==
“Everyone then receives a questionnaire to fill out, on which you must state your surname, first name, profession under the old regime and the number of people in your family. Most Cambodians understand the tactic, which is to single out soldiers, teachers or doctors–in a word all the intellectuals–who are considered traitors. Everyone declares they are peasants, street vendors, collies, street sweepers or bicycle–rickshaw drivers...Everyone, or nearly everyone, with the exception of Seng, who above all believes that one mustn’t lie to Angkar, and who gives precise information on his whole family: I’m French. I work at the French Embassy. He is a self-employed businessman, who has done a lot of work for military officials. In short, he proudly confesses all that should have been concealed. ==
“Once all the papers have been gathered in, Angkar declares the meeting over. Now we’re allowed to eat the contents of our mess tins in a suddenly relaxed and celebratory atmosphere. Each of us can already imagine returning to Phnom Penh and we rejoice, even if it means working there as a labourer. For a fleeting moment, I imagine myself back working at Sokilait. I’ll tell Angkar that I know the factory and that I once worked there; it’s a little daydream that helps me forget our appalling situation for a few minutes.”
Van Rith---Khmer Rouge Leader—in the 1950s
Van Rith, a Khmer Rouge leader, “was an avid reader starting from around age 17 or 18, when he was a student at Lycee Sisowath, devouring both newspapers and books, including the works of Tes Savut, a returnee from France, while participating in demonstrations against oppression of all kinds, having been impressed by the anti-colonialism of Prince Yutevong and Sok Bun Sav, and such men's foundation of various associations. Among the demonstration leaders were Ieng Sary, Son Sen and Iem Ret. The assassination of Iev Koeus shocked him deeply, making him realize how things really were, stoking his nationalism and his attraction to democracy and liberalism, as espoused in Iev Keous' song about democracy being like a torrent of water flowing down from a mountain, i.e., unstoppable. He was deeply influenced by the nationalist sentiments of the era, including the official nationalism taught in the schools, which stressed the avariciousness of the Thai and Vietnamese. Meanwhile, he listened to the radio, including VOA, eventually buying his own radio to do so in 1956.[Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia]
Rith was imprisoned in Posat in July 1952, after he participated in the demonstrations that year. Following the demonstrations, he and other participants had fled to Kampung Chhnang, where Rith had an uncle who worked for the cadastral service and was a member of the Democrat Party. Rith was in particular trouble because he had criticized the fact that Monique had won a beauty contest in which she was the only contestant, and Sihanouk was angry at him personally, especially since Sihanouk also heard the students had been gossiping about the fact that the King did dancing cheek to cheek with Monique, critical gossip that was deemed lese majesty. Rith was turned in by followers of Lon Nol's Neang Kun Hing party, being arrested on 10 July 1952.
Under police interrogation, he admitted talking about the beauty contest and the dancing. He was taken to Kampung Chhnang and tried by the court there, sentenced to five years, with three years reduction because he was a minor, although five or six others tried for the same offense got the full five years. He was transferred to Phnom Penh, where Democratic Party lawyers intervened on his behalf, while has parents went to get help from Chuon Nat because one of those convicted as his student, and Rith was released. Chuon Nat explained to Rith that he himself had almost been imprisoned in connection with the liberal arts affair, admonishing him to pay attention to his studies and not get involved in the opposition. He was involved with the Democratic Party during the 1955 elections, and was aggrieved by the repression of it in connection with the electoral campaign. Although it lost, it did not cease activities, instead creating various organizations and movements – in which Rith participated as a student -- to support policies of peace, independence and neutrality.
Van Rith---Khmer Rouge Leader—in the 1960s
Rith continued to follow things into the 1960s, including Sihanouk's "invitation" to the 34 to form a government, to which Ieng Sary responded with a petition vowing loyalty to Sihanouk's policies of peace, independence and neutrality, declaring that there was no need to form any government other than that appointed by the Prince. By this time, Rith had become a reserve 2nd lieutenant in the army, serving under Um Savut, who used him to spy on the progressives, attending meetings and reporting back. He joined the Sangkum and was also a member of the Red Cross. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia]
After being arrested, Tou Samut was detained at Um Savut's Banteay Sloek, to which Rith was attached, after which he was transferred to another location, where he was killed. Rith presumed this was on Lon Nol's orders. Um Savut warned Rith that he needed to be careful. Later, Rith worked for the Ministry of Finance, but also had a friend teaching at Kampucheabot, with whom he had political discussions and who was a lawyer for a political prisoner, who complained of being dunked in water during interrogation, as a result of which he had made false confessions.
In 1968, Rith was imprisoned for the second time. He was severely beaten and tortured with mock drowning during interrogation and convinced that – like others – he would never be released. One prisoner detained before him had jumped out of window to kill himself. Many others were tortured even more severely, including the wives of prisoners who refused to confess, with one of these women later becoming a military cadre in Sector 33. Rith insisted that Khmer Rouge torture was no different from – indeed a continuation of – Sangkum-era torture, with techniques such as immersion in water and use of plastic bags being adopted from Sangkum-era practices.
Van Rith---Khmer Rouge Leader—in the 1970s
Democrat Party ideas stuck with him right through to 1970, reemerging after the coup, amidst the several social and political contradictions that boiled up after the coup. Thus, Rith was an intellectual who joined the revolution from the city, doing so in the context of the turmoil and recriminations after Sihanouk was disposed. Both he and his wife feared imprisonment and were responding to Sihanouk's earlier appeal. Prominent intellectuals like Chuon Cheuan were fleeing, and so Rith did, too, in 1971. He asked around about the route out, talking especially to other old friends from Democrat Party days. He considered himself a patriot, like the others who were fleeing. He finally made to the liberated zones in May 1972. Upon arrival, he was not greatly trusted, being considered a johny-come-lately intellectual, with a bad class background. He began as a Front cadre, who had entered the liberated zones because he had lots of friends there. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia]
Meanwhile, his own parents had fled the liberated zones to come to Phnom Penh, in part because they had displayed a photograph of him in his 2nd lieutenant's uniform, but also because all his relatives were teachers and so many people in his village were civil servants, so the Vietnamese accused the whole village of being Lon Nol and killed almost everybody.
Sector 25 bordered on Viet Nam and was economically very well-endowed. During the first Indochina War, much of it had been occupied by the Viet Minh with a view to exploiting it for its richness in fish, as well as for strategic reasons: to prevent the French navy from attacking down the Tonle Bassak. Rith had seen all this as a child. After the 1970 coup, the Vietnamese again came in everywhere, presenting themselves first as the Sihanouk Front army, and then the Khieu Samphan army, as Khieu Samphan had a good name in what was his old constituency. They were all over this sector and much of the Southwest in 1970-1971, organizing the army in the Southwest. In Rith's sector, the Vietnamese set up a sector army committee comprising Seng Pum, a Vietnamese; Huot Se, who was a neutral figure but had previously served in the Vietnamese army; and Sok But Chamraoen, who had not previously been involved in the struggle, who had been a real hooligan. But Chamraoen had come down from Phnom Penh in 1970 and ingratiated himself to the Vietnamese, who appointed him committee member in charge of economy, which primarily meant the fishing grounds, so that they could get whatever fish they needed from him. But Chamraoen had a fridge full of booze and lots of women.and lots of women. Rith recalled having seen photographs distributed by Sihanouk, showing Non Suon in the pre-1954 period dressed in Vietnamese garb, and Rith believed that Suon had been completely under Vietnamese direction.
Khmer Rouge Cadre After the Khmer Rouge Came to Power
In his research on the history of Khmer Rouge cadre at S-21, Ie Meng Try noted that all Khmer Rouge cadre were thoroughly trained in political affairs and strategy at military units in Ta Khmao, Boeng Tum Pun, and Prey Sar. Prak
After April 1975, Rith visited Viet Nam as part of a Commerce Ministry delegation, at a time when Viet Nam was provided some rice as aid. Rith went down the Mekong to Viet Nam, meeting Teu Kam there. Teu Kam also came to Phnom Penh as part of an official delegation which – among other things – wanted to recover the gold secretly hidden in Phnom Penh by Vietnamese Communist operatives before 1970. It was hidden in Tuol Svay Prey. Teu Kam had once become a Buddhist monk in Phnom Penh as part of his attempt to become as Khmer as possible. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia]
After 1975, Rith took some of his forces from Sector 25 with him to Phnom Penh, especially those who had worked in the transport corps, to work under him at state warehouses. He claimed all of them survived, as none of them were ill-treated, such that to this day, they consider Rith as being their father, grateful that he never raised his hand or his voice to them. The parents, who know how bad things were with other cadre, thank Rith for keeping their children alive. According to Rith, Meah Mut fought his from the Southwest into Phnom Penh, being put in charge of the Prey Sar prison, where a warehouse that was on an old FANK base was bombed by the US following the Mayaguez incident. Rith said that Mut was at this time a member of the General Staff, in charge of the Navy.
Rith described his work as purely technical, relying on his commercial expertise, stressing that he had never held ministerial rank and that in the CPK system, no one ever worked on their own. The Party enveloped everything, but through a system of fiefdoms, with usurper kinglets (sdech kranh) ruling over each Zone and over Phnom Penh: Mok in the Southwest, Pheum in the East, Koy Thuon in the North, Nheum in the Northwest, Si in the West, each overseeing the economy, politics and executions, "enjoying total delegated authority" (mean seut tâmleak teang âh). He claimed that he only learned from his recently readings the composition of the CPK Central Committee and its Standing Committee.
Life of a Nice Khmer Rouge Cadre
Som Bunthorn of Searching for the Truth magazine wrote: “There were some cadres that had good relations with villagers. For instance, Poch, a former district chief of Democratic Kampuchea, helped release many accused people from prison and provided adequate food for villagers. Poch has four siblings. His hometown is located in Monorom sub-district, Thpong district, Kompong Speu province. In 1965, Poch was ordained as a monk in Taing Khmao pagoda to study Buddhist morality and literature. Two years later, Poch left the Buddhist monkhood and his father arranged him to marry a woman living in the same village. [Source: Som Bunthorn, Documentation Center of Cambodia Magazine : Searching for the Truth , September, 2008 ~]
In 1971, after hearing the call from Prince Sihanouk to enter the Marqui forest and join the struggle to liberate the country from Lon Nol regime, Poch and many other villagers volunteered to serve the National United Fr ont army. At first Poch was assigned to supervise farmers in Veal Pon sub-district unit . In 1974, Poch was moved to another unit in Kantaok sub-district, Kandal Steung district, Kandal province. There, Poch was required to educate people coming from the cities about revolutionary policy and to coordinate food production for the population of Veal Pon sub- district by buying corn, rice and fish from villagers living next to the river and organizing the villagers to do the farming. Poch recalled that one day when the Khmer Rouge forces and the Lon Nol solders were fighting with each other, a little girl and a lady named Mom looking for their relatives at northern Ang Snuol sub-district were captured by the Kandal Steung district liberated army. Because they used to live in enemy (Lon Nol) area they were accused of being hidden enemies burrowing from the base area. Because Poch had known both of them and realized they would be subject to cruel torture, he went and vouched for them. ~
After its victory in 1975, Angkar [the Khmer Rouge] appointed Poch deputy chief of Sa-ang district where he was responsible for supervising farmers. Meanwhile, because his wife had passed away, Angkar arranged Poch to marry a new wife named Sol who came from Kandal Steung district and they had a baby. Seven months la ter, Angkar sent Poch to Taing Kok district, Region 42 of the Central Zone. Although Angkar required Poch to note down the names of 17 April people who stole potatoes and rice, or who came to work irregularly, Poch never reported their names to the regional rank or central rank cadres. Because all of them had been evacuated from different places he was no t able to distinguish their background clearly and was afraid of accusing innocent people. ~
As a consequence, Poch’s position was downgraded to deputy chief. Then he was assigned to control the farmers. Surprisingly, in just a short period of time Poch’s unit produced hundreds of thousands of tons of rice for the whole sub-district. Poch was not strict; he usually advised lower-ranking cadres that “the higher-ranking cadres only order us to investigate those who have acted against Angkar, not to punish people for their small mistakes.” The day after Poch learned that Krel sub-district militias had arrested female and male youth while they were stealing rice and chickens, he called the Khmer Rouge militias and cooperative chiefs together and told th em, “When you are hungry, you can eat, yet when they were famished and stole something to eat, you arrested and threatened them, next time please do not do that.” Later, Poch held a meeting and told the villagers, “You are 17 April people, but that does not mean you always have to make mistakes. To avoid making them, just try not to say anything related to Angkar.” ~
Nice Khmer Rouge Cadre at Work
Som Bunthorn of Searching for the Truth magazine wrote: “In 1977, Poch was sent to Baray district, wh ere he took charge of canal construction at Kom Peuy village, Chang Daung sub-district. Over ten thousand people were working at the construction site. Because the workers were able to complete their work in conformity with the regional and zone plan, every ten days Poch allowed all villagers to visit their houses. Once when Poch was working at the construction site, his deputy held a meeting and said, “Those who break the ploughs, farming tools, carts, and those who do not go to work are Angkar’s enemies.” This speech scared all the people. After hearing about it, Poch met with the approximately 600 villagers in the sub-district and explained to them that “the lack of potatoes and rice is because we are poor; the plough breaks because it hits rocks and wood inside the earth; we are not guilty.” He added that “any of you can grow plants such as corns, potatoes, vegetables or raise animals in your own house so that you can eat when you are hungry.” The villagers appreciated his words. For this reason, they all tried to work hard and produced a surplus. Many villagers loved Poch, but some cadres did not like him, so they reported all Poch’s action to the higher-ranking cadres. However, Poch completed all his work in accordance to Angkar’s plan so he was not charged. [Source: Som Bunthorn, Documentation Center of Cambodia Magazine : Searching for the Truth , September , 2008 ~]
Once Poch discovered that some people in his group were former teachers. He gathered them together and trained them about the Angkar’s policies, and then he permitted them to go back. Poch reported a few guilty people’s names to his supervisors, but no matter how big villagers’ mistakes, Poch never report ed them to his supervisors. For example, when Poch discovered those who had stolen rice, potatoes and Angkar’s equipment, and made palm juice secretly, he only warned, “Do not do that again; you can drink palm juice but not too much, so in case the regional cadres find out we can tell them that we drank it for curing diseases.” Another time, Poch saw about ten villagers in O Suosdey village, Baray sub-district praying for their relatives who had passed away. He did not blame them but instead stopped his motorbike and told them, “You all know about the situation now, be careful with incense; if Angkar notices the smo ke all of you will be accused.” He added, “You can pray for the dead body, but you need to close the door, and as soon as you finish, bring your relatives’ bodies to bury.” ~
In meetings, Poch always suggested that the upper ranking cadres should not accuse male and female adults because of what they said. Every year Angkar called for districts, and regional chiefs to have a meeting in Phnom Penh presided over by Noun Chea. The meeting was about why the cooperatives were created and committee’s principles. In the meeting, Noun Chea said, “Leadership is just like separating twisted fibers. We can not use the scissor or the knife to break them; if we do so it will cause more trouble.” Poch used this opportunity to express his idea that “the practices in each region and zone are different from Angkar’s principle, if we often charge and kill the villagers, it may affect their relatives who are not guilty.” ~
In 1978, Poch ordered a messenger to distribute rice to people who were didn’t have food. Later, regional cadres visited and asked him, “Why did not you dismiss the old cadres?” Poch responded, “All the cadres have managed the villagers well and never acted against Angkar; if you don’t believe me, you can ask my deputy and other lower ranking cadres.” Because Poch did not pull out the cadres in accordance to Angkar’s orders, higher ranking officials came to remove Denh and hi s deputy named Chhorn from Baray district, telling them that “the two of you will be sent to a new region, supervised by Oeun.” ~
Hun Sen in the Khmer Rouge
Hun Sen, the current prime minister of Cambodia, was a brigade commander in the Khmer Rouge before he defected to Vietnam. He joined the Khmer Rouge at the age if 17 and rose to the level of division commander and managed to stay of trouble in the purges. He participated in the assault of Phnom Penh and lost his left eye while with the Khmer Rouge (he now has a glass eye) and was wounded five times. The level of his involvement with the Khmer Rouge is not clear. One politician who worked with him in the 1980s told the New Yorker, Hun Sen was in charge of discipline and revolutionary morale” and added “officers based their discipline on having people eliminated.”
Hun Sen came to power with the Khmer Rouge and served as a Battalion Commander in the Eastern Region of Democratic Kampuchea (the state name during the Khmer rouge government). In 1975, his battalion oversaw a brutal crackdown against the Muslim Cham minority group, although Hun Sen claims to have been recovering in hospital at the time. In 1977 during internal purges of the Khmer Rouge regime, Hun Sen and his battalion cadres fled to Vietnam. [Source: Charlie Campbell, Time magazine, February 13, 2014]
Hun Sen defected to the Vietnamese side in 1977, possibly to escape purges, which earned him names "traitor," "quisling," and lackey," and "one-eyed Hun Sen” among his former Khmer Rouge comrades. . Thorough scrutiny of his record with he Khmer Rouge has not tuned up any involvement in genocide.
Hun Sen became one of the leaders of the rebel army and government that the Vietnamese government sponsored when they prepared to invade Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge regime was overthrown, Hun Sen was appointed Foreign Minister of the Vietnamese-installed People's Republic of Kampuchea/State of Cambodia (PRK/SOC) in 1979 and in 1985 he was elected Chairman of the Council of Ministers and Prime Minister, after the death of Chairman Chan Sy until 1990, [Source: Wikipedia]
Researchers have said there is no evidence linking Hun Sen to the Khmer Rouge atrocities despite his past alliance with the now-defunct communist movement, making it unlikely for him to be indicted by the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal.
Female Khmer Rouge Comrade
Sokha was born in 1959. Her parents sent her away to live in the care of her grandmother in Po En village, Kaong Kang sub-district, Ponnea Krek district, Kampong Cham province. Then, her grandmother enrolled her in a school to study Khmer literature and culture. When she reached the third grade, her education was interrupted by a strike in 1965. Her ambition at the beginning was to become a doctor, since she thought that this knowledge would be indispensable for her and her family in times of sickness. Her second wish was to become a tailor. Sadly, she obtained none of her wishes.
Consequently, Sokha began to study Islamic traditions and customs. In 1972, she decided to join Khmer Rouge revolution. She was a sociable and capable person in her village. She recalled her past, “Upon entering the period of coup d'état of the Revolutionary National United Front, villagers, like elderly Kin, thought that I was a the most educated adolescence in Khmer language. So they appointed me as a chief of the children unit.” Not only Sokha, the villagers, old and young in the village were happy to serve the revolution. Sokha stated that, “There were some campaigns, carried out by a Khmer Rouge cadre (Elder Salatt). He persuaded all people to join the revolution through district, sub-district and village chiefs. For instance, fifty children of my village enlisted in the revolution, and I became their leader. No one forced us; they just launched a simple campaign as it was normally done, and we believed that it was good, so we joined.” Life in the Revolution
Female Khmer Rouge Comrade at Work
Describing Sun Sokha’s work, Bunsou Sour of the Documentation Center of Cambodia wrote: After being a chief of child unit in the art sector, Sokha was chosen as a chief of an elderly unit. As a leader, she had to attend a meeting everyday. The meeting always presented about faults, and the tasks of criticism and self-criticism. Sokha was an adviser. Those who made too many mistakes would face a hard time. Sokha expressed that if they did not change after four or five mistakes, they would be called up to be reeducated. "The word ‘reeducation’ was very serious," she exclaimed. [Source: Bunsou Sour, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/\]
“As a Khmer Rouge cadre, Sokha understood this word as clearly as others. "Reeducation, I thought, was a measure taken against those who continued to make the same faults for four or five times, he or she would be taken away to unknown destinations—imprisoned or what- you could not guess. This word meant a lot. Probably, they were not reeducated. They were killed. The internal regulation stated one could only make five moral mistakes," said Sokha. She meant that those who had made five moral mistakes and still did not improve would be punished in the form of imprisonment, or perhaps, execution. Sokha narrated her daily tasks, "They set a formal regulation. The morality of living consisted of fifteen points. They wrote like that. After work, we met in a meeting to assess the progress of the jobs. Comrades who failed to achieve their tasks had to present their reasons. As a chief, I had to write a summary of the meeting's discussion. Say, for example, this comrade has done this much today and spoke in a polite way, so he or she was given a score. Furthermore, the meeting set new tasks for everyone—harvesting rice or other tasks informed to me to tell them. We did only that much everyday and nothing else." /\
“Sokha mentioned, "In the morning the Khmer Rouge tolled the bell to wake everyone up. People had to be very punctual, unlike today. Their regulations were strictly enforced. After everyone was in line the old were told to sing a song entitled 'Wake up every slave.'" Sokha may never forget the national song of Democratic Kampuchea, because she monitored the woman sector every single day. "Wake up, servants, impoverished people! We are enraged and unable to express our feelings so that our chests almost burst open. This time we won't be afraid of death. The old regime will soon be overthrown, servants please stand up! Tomorrow we'll be under a new regime, in which we do everything for ourselves. This struggle is the last. Together we'll join with the world." /\
“Talking about the policies of the Khmer Rouge, Sokha seemed to think that everything was good, except for two shortcomings—slaughtering people and forcing Muslim-Khmers to eat pork. In avoiding this anti-religious act, Sokha and her family requested permission from Angkar to cook food at home, by saying that her husband, who was an ammunition carrier, was having some colleagues coming to their home. Her pretext worked very well. Later, after the Vietnamese invaded two or three times, the Khmer Rouge began to ban Muslim-Khmers from cooking privately. They had to eat with the army and cooperatives. Sokha disapproved of this order, "Never, never had it been like that. Their reason was the same—for the revolutionary front. No one dared to talk about religion. They banned worshipping, ordered us to eat pork and cut our hair. No pagoda. Monks were forcibly excommunicated."
Regarding the slaughtering of people, Sokha asserted that one day when she was transplanting rice at Svay Chreah sub-district, Snuol district, Kratie province, she saw a Khmer Rouge cadre undress a women and cut off her two breasts to fry for food. This cadre was called Ski, a chief of youth unit. (He is alive, however his address is unknown). Sokha was frightened with the sight and began to worry about her mother. Her mother, called Mat Chao, suffered a heart attack, and could not undergo heavy work. Due to her absenteeism, the Khmer Rouge arrested her right at her home. Sokha worried that her mother's life was in danger. Luckily, Sokha's husband caught them up with his ox cart and took her back home, since he was quite a prominent figure in the village.
Khmer Rouge Midwife
Ung Vuth is a former Khmer Rouge midwife. She lives in Ta Reap, a village in Cheang Torng Subdistrict, Tram Kak District, Takeo Province. (During the Democratic Kampuchea regime, Takeo province was in the Southeast Zone, which was controlled by Ta Mok. There were mass killings in this area.) She was the third child of a middle-class family. As a 16 year old with a fifth-grade education (under the old educational system), she began working as a nurse in about 1962, and worked in different hospitals for 25 years. First, Ung Vuth worked at Ketomealea Hospital in Phnom Penh for three years, where she was responsible for nursing and delivering babies. After perfecting her skills, she was transferred to the Chinese Hospital for another 7 years. She told us that she did not take any exam to study nursing. She was chosen by Doctor Chuon Choeun, called Ta Pen, who, along with Khieu Samphan, Hou Nim, and Hou Yun, used to have a good relationship with her father. “My father was at Chuon Choeun’s side and his friends are now very old. Khieu Samphan at that time was single and used to stay at my house [O Russey] for a few nights in a rusty iron bed, until Phnom Penh was liberated by the Khmer Rouge,” said Ung Vuth. [Source: Sophal Ly, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org ]
Due to the chaotic situation in 1970, one month before the coup, she left Phnom Penh along with Chuon Choeun and approximately 60 other hospital staff members. They fled into the jungle on national road number 3 towards Ua Ral Stream, Kampong Speu Province (Region 13) according to their pre-designed plan. She added, “We left the city without regret, for we were convinced. Chuon Choeun told us that if we wanted freedom, we must go to work in country hospitals...The so-called Sihanouk was now in the forest and wanted people to live under an atmosphere free from oppression.”
Upon her arrival at Ua Ral Stream, she saw Ta Mok, Khieu Samphan, Hou Nim, and Hou Yun. Ta Mok and Khieu Samphan used to encourage hospital staff to struggle for people’s freedom. At Ua Ral she worked in surgery for about a month, and after that there was a meeting to relocate nurses to various provinces. She was appointed to work in Pheak Hospital (Hospital 22). During 1973-1974, Region 13, which did not have enough hospital staff members, asked Chuon Choeun to let her work there. At the Region 13 hospital, Ung Vuth was ordered to ensure the survival of all mothers. “They demanded that the mothers of babies be kept safe. A midwife responsible for any death during the delivery of a baby would be imprisoned,” said Ung Vuth. She noted that she resisted this order, stating that, “I cannot ensure the survival of the patients if the hospital uses rabbit-dung tablets as medicine, because I am accustomed to using modern medicine, such as serums.
“In response, the organization fulfilled our request so that we could teach people from various communes about nursing and patient care.” Ung Vuth was the chief midwife at the Region 13 hospital, where her duties included delivering babies in all of the region’s villages and subdistricts. She also taught new staff from many regions in Takeo Province, but the teaching involved only clinical practices, not theoretical approaches. Ung Vuth was a hard-working nurse, who tried her best to please the chiefs of villages, subdistricts and districts. She was always admired by subdistrict and district chiefs for her excellent work and for not having had any deaths during childbirths. She said, “The chiefs admired me and said that I was a diligent and prolific nurse.” However, she was usually criticized for wearing long-sleeve shirts (in the revolutionary forces short sleeves were preferred).
Ung Vuth described her conditions at Sanlong Mountain. Most of those arrested were base people. Entire divisions and mobile units were accused of being members of traitorous networks and brought there to be imprisoned. Even worse, at Sanlong there was another jail, which was mainly utilized to detain people with purported serious violations. Five to seven days after their arrival, prisoners in this jail would be executed. Large pits had been dug beforehand around each cell. Ung Vuth stated that later, “I heard only two words: Yoy! Help!, then silence. In the morning everyone observed the sight, but no one dared to say anything.” She continued, “Sanlong’s inmates were sent to break rocks. April 17 women were ordered to excavate a cubic meter of soil a day. This was agonizing work for them, because they were starving and could barely take a breath. They would eat anything within their sight. Of eggplant leaves, only stems remained, the other parts were eaten with salt. Baby-frogs were skewered with a piece of stick, then put on a tiny fire. If they were seen grilling frogs or eating leaves, they would be forced to eat raw frogs or be punished by forcing masses of leaves into their mouths.”
At the beginning she was directed to grow crops, after that to cure inmates’ illnesses without being allowed to go outside, and finally she was sent to harvest and thresh rice. She stressed that, “I hadn’t known how to thresh rice with sticks. Instead, I threshed using my hands. A Khmer Rouge shouted at me that if I did not do it properly, he would hit me with his pair of sticks.” She told us proudly that, “I strongly confronted them. I had determined that before I died, I must knock those people to the ground with my shoulder pole if they dared to hit me, for my relatives had died. I could truly have done so.” Later, the Khmer Rouge carried out numerous experiments against her with an attempt to find her weak points to entangle her in crimes. She added that, “The KR sent me to embroider a hundred scarf margins per day in various units, then they told me to sew 100 elastic trousers for the youth per day... I did all that work on time and the result was also guaranteed... I had to finish it, if not the KR would punish me... Being unable to find my weaknesses, they sent me back to hospital.”
Brothers Join the Khmer Rouge
When asked his brother [Kheoung Chann], former Khmer Rouge member Chann Simm said: “First, he studied and then worked as a farmer until 1972-73, when he was a soldier in the army. He joined before me. Later, he was sick, but he couldn't refuse to join the army group, for many people already joined the group. The reason was that they, both boys and girls, were lobbied to join the army. No one could escape so I also joined after them in year 1973....They'd have forced him if he resisted. We had no choice, we had to go. They said it's the obligation. Some married people could work in the village, but those who were single had to go.” My brother “was 18-19 years old. When he was sick, they allowed him to stay in the village while other people couldn't stay. They didn't strictly control him. After that, again he had to join any unit he met while traveling but I can't remember which unit. There were many....There were many units. I couldn't remember the first unit he joined before he became sick. But after his recovery, he joined division-12. [Source: Chann Sim, Interviewed with his brother Chann Him, Prek Por village,Tek Vil sub-district, Sa-ang district, Kandal province, January, 17 2004, Interviewed by: Pang Pivoine, Sim Sopheak and Ra Chhayrann++]
“My brother was persuaded to join the Khmer Rouge movement before me. In 1973, the Khmer Rouge said, “soon, you have to join the movement,” so I decided to go with them. First, I was put in a barber unit. I trained many KR cadres for six months to be barbers. Later, they had many barbers, so they sent me to work in another field. Usually, Khmer Rouge cadres were promoted from the village to the commune, then the commune to the district, then the district to the region. But I was appointed to work at the region level because they needed tailors. After I completed my teaching sessions, I was sent to be a tailor with a team of soldiers. Soon after, the KR divided my region into two divisions. At first, I worked at Division 24, but later after they divided my region I was sent to work at Division 11.” ++
“Because the Lon Nol soldiers were seriously attacking my division, I decided to work with the free division [he escaped the KR and went over to Lon Nol]. Later, I came back home and I wanted to work with my previous division. But I was arrested because I had worked for Lon Nol. I was starving, and only had watery porridge and sometimes, corn, to eat. I was to fit to that situation, so I escaped from there to another place. When I reached the other place, I was arrested again and accused of being a Lon Nol soldier. So I escaped again. Later on, I joined Division 12. The Khmer Rouge checked me for weapons to make sure that I wasn’t be a spy of Lon Nol’s. But they found nothing, so the believed me. They allowed me to work normally. From that day, I followed the Khmer Rouge guidelines when I worked.” ++
“After Phnom Penh was liberated, I met my brother [Chann Sim]. We worked as barbers together. My brother got into trouble because he criticized a person in his unit. I met my brother again at Boeung Trabeuk High School while I was planting vegetables. He told me that he was accused of having links to the Vietnamese. But he didn’t. So now, the Angkar had assigned him to work in the economic cell. Later, the Angkar held a big rally at Olympic Stadium. There, I met one of his friends named Nam. I asked him about my brother. He said that my brother was sent out to another unit. I thought that he would be killed. Because I used to have a bad background [escaping from my unit], I tried to work very hard. But I could not be promoted to a higher level; I remained a combatant. And more than this, my brother was sent to S-21. So, it was hard for me to be promoted.” ++
Would you please tell us about your experience before you joined the revolution and after? “I joined the revolution because the society was in turmoil. During that time, they called Cambodia a democratic society. At that time, the soldiers were divided into different blocks (Northern Zone, Eastern Zone) that often had conflicts. They also had conflicts with the Vietnamese. My brother Sim told me that if I decided to join, I should be sure about which block I wanted to join. For example, we would vote in Khieu Samphan, but Pol Pot would be chosen instead. This was because of internal issues. So, in order to survive, you couldn’t take revenge; you had to keep your feelings inside.”
What was your life like before the Khmer Rouge? “Before, I heard that the KR movement had been established in 1967 or 1968. They arrested the teachers. I was studying at that time. They published leaflets to recruit us to their movement. But I wasn’t really interested in this. It was very safe during the Sihanouk regime. We could go anywhere, even at midnight. We could to the theater to see the dance and opera. We could ride our bicycles Prek Ambil [this was 9 kilometers from his village]. I was so happy during that time. But in 1968, most of the teachers joined the Khmer Rouge. Khieu Samphan argued that he didn’t want the people doing farming; they had to send all the people to guard at the borders. Later on, I moved to Phnom Penh until there were riots at the Vietnamese Embassy. Since the day the government stopped allowing the people to speak Chinese or Vietnamese – only Khmer could be used – I decided to go back home.” ++
“When I arrived home, the Vietnamese had taken over my village; they were fighting together with the KR. But I still worked as a barber in my village....The Lon Nol soldiers bombed our village from airplanes. After 1975, the Khmer Rouge announced that the people who left Phnom Penh were not our enemies. So, we were to collect all our rice, our gold, and all our other property and give them to Angkar. I felt concerned after the rally at the Olympic Stadium. I felt that the situation was unstable. I felt that Angkar said a lot of things to bring the people there over to its side. They gave people cakes to eat so they would like them, But I felt that they actually had another plan to kill the people there. ++
Could you please tell us about your brother’s life? “He told me that I was accused of having links to the Vietnamese, but I didn’t know anything about that. I told him that I would serve as a photographer because I knew how to take photos. A couple of days later, I heard that he had trouble while he was guarding. Later, he was sent to work at the economic cell. But when I went to the rally at the Olympic Stadium, I asked his friend Nam, who told me that my brother was taken away....His attitude was not different from mine, but he was a bit aggressive. Because he was so aggressive with the Khmer Rouge, he was taken away. He was the sort of person who would tell you if you were doing something wrong or right. He criticized Angkar for not giving the people enough to eat; they did not have the strength to work. That got him into trouble.” ++
Khmer Rouge Medical Practitioner
“My name is Ban Sarun My husband is Bueng Liep. At first, I stayed here. I was 7 years old. I studied at Kvit Thom school and then at Oda junior high school. I finished high school in 1972. Then the fighting broke out. I went to study at Toul Svay Prey in Phnom Penh near the Sisowath School. The school’s name was 18 March. Between 1973 and 1974, I studied medicine. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took control and I went to Prey Koy and Roka Kaung in Kampong Cham province. I was unable to return to my village because of the fighting. I met my family in Prey Koy and Roka Kaung. After that, I went to work in a women’s mobile unit. I also carried dirt to the rice fields. Some people in the Khmer Rouge asked about my family. They wanted to find out whether my family was connected to the CIA or KGB. After that, I returned to my village. Later, I moved to Tangien forest. In 1979, I returned to my village. I joined the revolution to help my country. During the regime, if someone didn’t join, they were punished or sent to prison...When I was young, I was forced to work hard and live in the forest. I had no rice to eat, no freedom...I was hurt because I joined the revolution for my country, but I didn’t know anything. My family members disappeared.”
When did you finish high school? “Between 1973 and 1974. When the fighting began, I had an interim certificate, but had not graduated....When I finished school I took an exam so that I could study medicine in Phnom Penh. After 1975 I left Phnom Penh. I didn’t return to my village; instead, I went Prek Koy for the revolution.” Before you left home, what was the situation in your village? “There was fighting in Kampong Cham province, and bombing. So I ran to study in Phnom Penh....Some people who lived in Kampong Cham province joined me, but some of them were killed.” In Phnom Penh “I studied and also worked in Prek Liap near the city. I worked very hard....I studied only a few months and then people were disrupted.[Source: Ban Sarin (man), Ban Sarun (sister of Ban Sarin), Ban Sarom (sister of Ban Sarin) Angrong Village, Kvit Thom subdistrict, Prey Chor district, Kampong Cham province, Interviewed by Pivoine Pang February 20, 2004]
How were they disrupted? “By the bombs. Then I was evacuated along the road to Rka Koung and Prek Koy. I worked in a woman’s mobile unit....Prek Koy is the name of a commune in Prek Koy subdistrict, Kang Meash district, Kampong Cham province. I was unable to go to my village because I was so scared.... Someone told me not to go there because if I went, I would die. Also, I was a student and I knew that my brother was still alive. Someone in the Khmer Rouge asked me about my brother. Because they suspected him and because I was a student, I nearly died.”
What did you do at Prek Koy village? “I worked in the women’s mobile unit. I carried earth to the rice fields.” Pivoine: Did you work as a spy for your unit? “No. I was a student. I only carried dirt. I had the photograph of my brother who was in prison. For this reason, the Khmer Rouge suspected me and wanted to send me away to kill me. But then the Khmer Rouge collapsed.” Before “I went to visit my mother in my village. After I was in the village for 10 or 20 days, someone arrested my brother and sister. The Khmer Rouge made them carry earth. They also interrogated my brother and sister [Ban Sarin and Ban Savath; the latter disappeared in the forest]. I survived the regime...
The Khmer Rouge cut my hair and my fingernails, and made me wear black clothing...I also worked very hard...I worked carrying dirt until the regime collapsed....They didn’t allow me to see my family during this time...I worked in the mobile unit at Prey Kok village.... And I was a student. I transplanted rice and taught children. The work was very hard. My brother disappeared. I still wonder what happened. Why did I have so much work during the revolution? They took my brother away to kill him.
Later “I transplanted rice, worked as a farmer. I was also a medical worker.... When I saw someone who was sick, there was no one to treat them properly. The Khmer Rouge kept drugs in bottles to treat people. And they didn’t follow proper medical practices. If I had told them that, they would have killed me....I felt sorry for many people who will ill. The Khmer Rouge took them to the mobile units. And I saw the young children who had been bitten by mosquitoes and treated them.
Travails of a Khmer Rouge Family
Interview with Ban Sarom (sister of Ban Sarun)” I worked in a mobile unit. In 1976, [my brother] was arrested. He told me “Go to work. Don’t be lazy. Be careful, or someone will take you to be killed.” When my brother was arrested, I asked the governor, “Where is my brother?” They said that my brother had betrayed the revolution” Who was the governor? “My brother, but after he was arrested, someone else became the governor. There were three types of governors: political, military, and [???]. My brother was a political governor. They punished me. [Source: Ban Sarin (man), Ban Sarun (sister of Ban Sarin), Ban Sarom (sister of Ban Sarin) Angrong Village, Kvit Thom subdistrict, Prey Chor district, Kampong Cham province, Interviewed by Pivoine Pang February 20, 2004]
Interview with Ban Sarun, younger sister of Ban Sarin: Loving our nation, I went out of Phnom Penh in 1975 and I took photographs. When I came I saw my brother was coming to visit me and there I met my nephew and nieces. That woman [Wynne] said that I looked happy because I met two of my relatives. When I arrived they were cutting their nails, wearing shoes, wearing black clothes, with scarves. When I graduated, I said that I did not know anything, but they said that I was a high-class student.
We did it because we did not want Vietnam to invade our country. Our border was really good. At that time we fought for the country and did not have any salary. Can you think of that? The reality was that we lived in the jungle during 1967-1968. Oh my God it was terrible and those who were caught were sent to Prey Sa prison. My elder sister called Ban Savath was caught in Kampong Cham Province. My elder sister called Ban Saroeun was beaten in order to answer the questions they asked during 1968-1969. And for me I could not study. In 1969-1970, I studied Bac 1, then Premier Bac 1 and Terminier and then to Phnom Penh. I hid with my eldest sibling and worked in agriculture at Prek Leap to plant water lilies.
My brother who was imprisoned. He was older than me. However, we studied in the same grade and knew about each other well. My younger sister did not know much and the other two were my elder siblings. First, he studied in primary school in Kha-vit Thom School. We walked through Kanh-Charaing to study and then we went to secondary school. It was in our grade 9, 8 or 7. We did the exam in Kuntheak Bopha. In Kuntheak Bopha School Ban Sarin was already pass the secondary school and I took the exam after him. After passing the secondary school for many years in 1966. 3 years later he was in his Bac I and it was in 1968-1969. And I was one year after him and that was in 1969-1970. When he took the exam to the university in Kampong Cham province in 1968, 1969, and 1970 and that time I was only in Bac I. People will know the school I attended because it belongs to Sihanouk.
In 1968-1969 Ban Sarinwent to study in Kampong Cham university and then it was almost time for the liberation. We studied for our country and when we went to the Kampong Cham factory, my elder sister did not have enough money. My mother was a farmer and sold our farm in order to support the children's education. Two of my elder sisters worked in the factory and when one was caught, there was another sister who had a husband who worked as a farmer at Prek Leap. My elder sister who was caught was still single and Ban Sarin went to work in Kampong Cham factory because studied in Kampong Cham university. After he worked at the factory, he went to the jungle. It was called Kong jungle, in front of the lycee (Keakrouk Kosal University, a teacher’s college). My brother was there during 1968, 1969, and 1970. When there was a demonstration, he went to the jungle in 1971; that was my brother Ban Sarin.
Why did he go to the jungle? The first reason was that he was caught and was really scared. They tried to find him via his connections. Then they caught my elder sister in Kampong Cham factory and then she was imprisoned. The second reason was that, while studying there was an activity trying to fight for the country. Hou Nim, Hou Yun, Tiv Aol, especially Tiv Aol , were studying there. He could not stand it there and then went to the jungle. During that time, it was terrible. They tried to catch us and I thought that I left my parents. And I studied in Kuntheak Bopha and had not gone to any province. Then I tried to find another way to ask about my parents from the villagers. I found out that my parents were not at home. Sometimes they tried to catch the children and then they asked whether it was aKhmer Rouge house or whether we worked as Lon Nol soldiers.
When did you go to the jungle? “From 1971 to 1972...He did not let our parents know, but the villagers knew that he was not here because they were trying to catch him. They caught my elder sister and sent her to Prey Sa prison. Everyone was so scared because they beat them until breaking their ribs. Then we began to become stronger in order to fight back.” What did he say when he come back? “He only said- Don't worry, we have liberated the country for this success. He did not know that he caught people in 1975, they reorganized the country and started to have salary. In 1976, they caught a lot of people and accused them of being KGB. They took villagers to prisons and some were killed terribly. This person was lucky that he was imprisoned and got his biography left, but for others we did not know where they died.
When Lon Nol dropped the bombs, were there a lot of problems in your village? After the Khmer Rouge liberated your village, were you happy? “Yes. I was happy. The villagers, too. But then I thought there was another problem. When the dropped the bombs, I was in Phnom Penh.’‘Lon Nol killed people and destroyed their homes. After the liberation, the people were happy, but in 1976, the people saw that some people were taken to be killed. I don’t know who. When they took them, they also took cadre to be killed. I don’t know what the Khmer Rouge were thinking....In the Lon Nol regime, we ran to the maquis [forest], but the Khmer Rouge sent people out to be killed. We made the revolution and liberated people. But the Khmer Rouge sent people to be killed. They cut down my siblings and they accused my brother of betraying the revolution. They sent him to prison.
Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism of Cambodia, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014