KHMER ROUGE TAKES OVER CAMBODIA
In 1972 the Vietnamese left Cambodia. By this time the Khmer Rouge had grown into a formidable fighting force while the Cambodian army had grown weak. Over time the Khmer Rouge became more aggressive and harder to ignore. In 1974, it advanced out of its jungle camps and took over dozens of provincial villages. By 1975, it possessed 70,000 soldiers, was well armed with weapons supplied by the Chinese and Vietnamese and fought in an allegiance with royalist forces of Prince Sihanouk.
In March 1970 Cambodia's legislature, the National Assembly, deposed Sihanouk while he was abroad. The conservative forces behind the coup were pro-Western and anti-Vietnamese. General Lon Nol, the country's prime minister, assumed power and sent his poorly equipped army to fight the North Vietnamese Communist forces encamped in border areas. Lon Nol hoped that U.S. aid would allow him to defeat his enemies, but American support was always geared to events in Vietnam. In April U.S. and South Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, searching for North Vietnamese, who moved deeper into Cambodia. Over the next year, North Vietnamese troops destroyed the offensive capacity of Lon Nol's army. [Source: Tourism of Cambodia]
In October 1970 Lon Nol inaugurated the Khmer Republic. Sihanouk, who had sought asylum in China, was condemned to death despite his absence. By that time, Chinese and North Vietnamese leaders had persuaded the prince to establish a government in exile, allied with North Vietnam and dominated by the CPK, whom Sihanouk referred to as the Khmer Rouge (French for "Red Khmers").
The United States continued bombing Cambodia until the Congress of the United States halted the campaign in 1973. By that time, Lon Nol's forces were fighting not only the Vietnamese but also the Khmer Rouge. The general lost control over most of the Cambodian countryside, which had been devastated by U.S. bombing. The fighting severely damaged the nation's infrastructure and caused high numbers of casualties. Hundreds of thousands of refugees flooded into the cities.
Despite massive United States aid to the newly proclaimed Khmer Republic and the bombing of North Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge installations and troop concentrations in the countryside, the Phnom Penh regime rapidly lost most of the country's territory to the communists. In January 1975 communist forces laid siege to Phnom Penh, and in succeeding months they tightened the noose around the capital. On April 1, 1975, President Lon Nol left the country and the the Khmer Republic collapsed. Sixteen days later Khmer Rouge troops entered and occupied Phnom Penh. Three weeks later, North Vietnamese forces achieved victory in South Vietnam.[Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]
On April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rouge “liberated” Phnom Penh. On this day, one survivor wrote, Cambodia fell into the tragedy of genocide, a tragedy we ought to fear and be shocked by. From that day until 7 January 1979, the country of Cambodia was under the rule of a certain regime called the Democratic Kampuchea regime. This regime implemented many insane policies of genocide and of execution of innocent Khmer people (including workers, farmers, traders, civil officers, policemen, and all kinds of soldiers), of immigrants and many other ethnic minorities. In the history of the world, nearly 2 million were killed miserably, without justice, and without mercy. [Source: Vichea Sopheak Tieng,Documentation Center of Cambodia d.dccam.org/Survivors/1 ]
Fighting Against the Khmer Rouge
One survivor reported: “My name is Mardi Seng. I was born in Cambodia in 1965. My father, Im Kao, was a junior high school teacher even though he only finished the ninth grade. My mother, Chen Id Seng, was a tailor. They were the proud parents of four sons and a daughter. I am the oldest child. In late 1968, the war in Vietnam began to s pill into Cambodia. Americans bombed the Cambodia - Vietnam border. The once unknown communist insurgent group, the Khmer Rouge, gained support and took control over many remote villages. Early in1970, Cambodia was pulled into the conflict; in April of th at year General Lon Nol succeeded Prince Sihanouk in an American supported coup d'etat. [Source: www.hmd.org.uk, Holocaust Memorial Day <>]
“My father was drafted by Lon Nol's army. He spent many months at the battlefront; he came home about three to five weeks during a year. Sometimes my mother would take us to visit my father along the front. On the first visit, my si blings and I were so excited about seeing the weapons - artillery, rocket launchers, bazookas and M - 16's. But that night, the excitement turned into terror and fear as the Khmer Rouge bomb arded the camp with rockets and artillery. My mother comforted us in a misty earthy trench while my father left to command his company. Beginning in May 1974, my father, his company and three other companies were put under siege by the Khmer Rouge for 11 months. During that period, they lived in trenches which spread over one square mile. They were bombarded day and night and could not walk on the level ground. One day in late March 1975, the Khmer Rouge army left the stranded Lon Nol army to assist th eir comrades in capturing the capital city, Phnom Penh. Four days later my father was reunited with us in Phnom Penh. He was wounded. He could not see with his left eye. But thank God, my father was alive. <>
“On April 17, 1975, two weeks after my family was reunited, the Khmer Rouge toppled the Lon Nol regime. On that same bright, warm, glorious and victorious day, a new era began: not of peace and tranquility, nor of hope and prosperity, but of suffering, torture, hunger, diseases, work camps, reeducation, and systematic killing. <>
Dany Long reported: “My grandfather often talks about the events that passed in 1970-1975. It was probably 1974 during that time. My mother was pregnant and I was probably six or seven months old. They seized my mother and imprisoned her in a kiln for steaming tobacco (in this kiln it was so hot and unendurable). At this time, they accused my mother and our family of selling their farm products to merchants outside of the village, without their permission. My grandfather told me that between 1973-74, along the base areas and the countryside, there was extreme anarchic chaos. Many people living in the rural areas were forced to demonstrate and challenge the regime of the Khmer Republic. Their people only had knives, axes, and wooden rods to fight with the Lon Nol soldiers who had guns in each hand. Therefore, the Lon Nol soldiers shot many of the people who joined in the demonstration, especially in Kompong Cham province. My grandfather also said that during that time the people and the families that did not join in the demonstration were admonished and criticized and the crowd of demonstrators just marched on. If we did not join the demonstration and we ran away, the demonstrators would ax and kill us. [Source: Dany Long, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors ]
Captured by the Khmer Rouge
Chhim Sam Ol, a 45 year-old farmer living in Ta Cho Village, Sarikakeo Commune, Sva Em District, Kandal Province, was a Khmer Rouge prisoner in the Eastern Zone in 1974 and 1975. He told Vannak Huy of the Documentation Center of Cambodia: “After the 1970 coup ousting King Sihanouk from his post, I was selected to join a militia unit [Kang Svay Tran] in order to increase village security. One night in the early 1974, the liberation army of the Khmer Rouge assaulted my village, and captured thirty villagers and me for serving the old regime [the Khmer Republic, led by Field Marshal Lon Nol]. At about 10 p.m., a few guerrillas called me, ‘contemptible Ol, come down here!’ Sensing serious trouble, I decided not to come. So I stayed still in my house. When I did so, they used their bayonets to stab me from beneath my house Then they shot at me three times. Because they roared fiercely and I was afraid I might get hit by some of the bullets, I surrendered, raising my hands and walking slowly down the stairs. As I reached the ground, they immediately took my watch, tied me up and walked me away. [Source: Vannak Huy, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/18 /\]
“As they were leading me and the other villagers to the edge of the village, Lon Nol soldiers shelled from the Chroy Changva area with their six-cannoned artillery. The Khmer Rouge then ran away, leaving us behind. Panic stricken, we cut the ropes binding us and ran to hide in pits that had been made by previous bombings. After the bombardment was over, the Khmer Rouge soldiers returned, pointed their guns at us and called us to stand up. They tied us up once again and led us to a river, where they began to strip-search us for money. They said, ‘Any money or belongings must be confiscated. They will be returned to you when you are re-educated.’ After searching, they continued their march along the river. As we were walking, planes from Phnom Penh attacked again. But they strafed at the Khmer Rouge only. A few minutes later, the planes disappeared.The Khmer Rouge then brought us to a reeducation camp in Prek Rey, Lvea Em District. I was detained there for two weeks. When they escorted us, I was not afraid. But when they shackled us, I began to fear, shedding tears.” /\
Early Khmer Rouge Atrocities
One of the earliest accounts of life under the Khmer Rouge was written in 1973 by a school administrator, Ith Sarin, who had joined the movement after becoming disillusioned with Lon Nol and the Khmer Republic, then rose to the status of candidate member of the KCP, but left the party and returned to Phnom Penh after nine months in the underground. His work, Regrets for the Khmer Soul (in Khmer, Sranaoh Pralung Khmer), it revealed the secrecy with which the Khmer Rouge concealed the existence of the communist party, which they referred to by the sinister term Angkar Loeu (High Organization), or simply, Angkar. The KCP Central Committee was referred to as the Kena Mocchhim (or Committee Machine, mocchhim being derived from the Western term, "machine"). [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987*]
Territories under Angkar control were well organized. Ith Sarin described a five-level hierarchy of Angkar-controlled bodies reaching from the six areas, or phumphaek, into which the country was divided down to the hamlet, or phum level. The Angkar imposed a grim regime in which hatred for Lon Nol, the Americans, and, at times, the North Vietnamese "allies" was assiduously cultivated. Expressions of support for Sihanouk were firmly discouraged and people were encouraged to spy on each other. Discipline was unremittingly harsh. Ith Sarin concluded from his experience that the great majority of the people did not like the Angkar and the collective way of life it imposed, that they despaired that Sihanouk would ever return to power, and that they would support the Khmer Republic if it carried out genuine reforms. Oddly, Lon Nol's security forces banned the book for a time on the grounds that it was "pro-communist." Although this was not true, it did provide a foretaste of what the entire Cambodian population would endure after April 1975. *
Disturbing stories of Khmer Rouge atrocities began to surface as the communists prepared to deal the coup de grace to the Khmer Republic. In March 1974, they captured the old capital city of Odongk north of Phnom Penh, destroyed it, dispersed its 20,000 inhabitants into the countryside, and executed the teachers and civil servants. The same year, they brutally murdered sixty people, including women and children, in a small village called Sar Sarsdam in Siemreab Province. A similar incident was reported at Ang Snuol, a town west of the capital. Other instances of what one observer, Donald Kirk, described as a "sweeping, almost cosmic policy" of indiscriminate terror, were recounted by refugees who fled to Phnom Penh or across the Thai border. Kirk contrasted this behavior with the Viet Cong's use of "a modicum of care and precision" in applying terror in South Vietnam (for instance, assassination of landlords or of South Vietnamese officials). Atrocity stories, however, were considered to be anticommunist propaganda by many, if not most, Western journalists and other observers; nevertheless, Phnom Penh's population swelled to as many as 2.5 million people as terrified refugees sought to escape not only the United States bombing and the ground fighting, but the harshness of life under the Angkar. *
Battle for Phnom Penh
The Khmer Rouge initiated their dry-season offensive to capture the beleaguered Cambodian capital on January 1, 1975. Their troops controlled the banks of the Mekong River, and they were able to rig ingenious mines to sink convoys bringing relief supplies of food, fuel, and ammunition to the slowly starving city. After the river was effectively blocked in early February, the United States began airlifts of supplies. This was extremely risky because of Khmer Rouge rockets. The communists also fired rockets and shells into the city, causing many civilian deaths. Doomed units of republican soldiers dug in around the capital; many of them had run out of ammunition, and they were overrun as the Khmer Rouge advanced. American observers, who generally had little esteem for FANK officer corps, were impressed by the determination of the Khmer enlisted men to fight to the end. [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987*]
On April 1, 1975, President Lon Nol resigned and left the country. His exit was prompted by fear of certain death if he fell into Khmer Rouge hands. The communists had included him among "seven traitors" who were marked for execution. (The others were non-communist, nationalist leaders Sirik Matak, Son Ngoc Thanh, In Tam, Prime Minister Long Boret, Cheng Heng, who became head of state after Sihanouk's ouster, and Sosthene Fernandez, the FANK commander in chief). Saukham Khoy became acting president of a government that had less than three weeks to live. Last-minute efforts on the part of the United States to arrange a peace agreement involving Sihanouk ended in failure. On April 12, United States embassy personnel were evacuated by helicopter. The ambassador, John Gunther Dean, invited high officials of the Khmer Republic to join them. But Sirik Matak, Long Boret, Lon Non (Lon Nol's brother), and most members of Lon Nol's cabinet declined. They chose to share the fate of their people. All were executed soon after Khmer Rouge units entered Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. *
Khmer Rouge Advances on Phnom Penh
According to Khmer Rouge leader Van Rith: “Before the attack on Phnom Penh, a battlefield committee was formed to coordinate everything. Previously, the zone and the sectors had functioned separately, and the sector forces were jealous of the zone forces, which fought better and were more prestigious. To transcend this, a Special Zone South of Phnom Penh Battlefield Committee was formed with Von Vet as Chairman, Non Suon as Vice-Chairman, division secretaries Nat and Sok as members, with Rith as a member in charge of the Office. They worked out a clear-cut strategy to cut off supplies to Phnom Penh so it could be liberated, the capture of Kah Peam Reang being the key, so it was a main objective for 1 January 1975. Troops from river districts who knew how to swim were used for this attack. The permanent cutting of the river was achieved with mines supplied from the Special Zone headquarters north of Phnom Penh. With the East Zone in control of the east bank of the Mekong and the Special Zone in control of the west, the mines were deployed across the river to block it completely. The East and Special Zones then cooperated in the attack on Neak Leuang, which was commanded by a former governor of Svay Rieng with whom Rith had studied at Lycee Sisowath. [Source: Interview with Van Rith in Khpop commune, S'ang district, Kandal province, February 20, 2003 by Youk Chhang, Documentation Center of Cambodia ++]
“East and Special Zone troops then moved upriver to attack Phnom Penh, the Special Zone units capturing 155mm and 105mm howitzers on the way. They wanted to use these to shell Phnom Penh, but orders came down from above not to do this, so that the people would not be killed. On the other hand, the policy vis-a-vis enemy-held cities and towns was to dry them out economically by blocking all communications routes, the people in the liberated zones being mobilized to physically cut the roads. This was part of the people's war of a liberation army that lacked supplies and especially heavy weapons. ++
“Rith also claimed that the liberation army captured very few FANK prisoners, maintaining that as the people's army was numerically and materially weak compared to FANK, its usual tactic was to surround and besiege FANK outposts, wait until FANK contingents were hungry and tired, then attack with 105mm fire and flying mines while contacting them over the radio and telling them they would be allowed to escape if they left behind their weapons. In most battles, those FANK soldiers who were not killed simply fled. There was no policy to capture them, as there was no food with which to feed them. Sector 25 forces relied on paddy milled in Prek Lovea for its ration, and there was not any surplus to feed prisoners of war. FANK stands for “Forces Armées Nationales Khmères”, the Khmer National Armed Forces, the army of the Cambodian government. ++
“So, according to Rith, there the military operated no prisons, either at the front or in the rear, and held no prisoners, as there was nothing to feed them with. Nor were those fleeing according to specified escape routes fired upon, as FANK soldiers were considered fellow Khmer who wanted to live. As for errant cadre who had no fighting spirit and combatants who misbehaved, who broke the strict discipline both on and off the battlefield, there was a place for those removed from the ranks: Voat Kandal, where such liberals (serei) were sent to clear land and plant vegetables with a diet of rice and salt and re-education. They were then given the opportunity to volunteer to go back into combat, but if they made mistakes again, they would be returned and put to work at the Economy place, in Prek Lovea, where the rice mill was, at the pig-raising unit on Phnum Veang, or at the fishing grounds. Most of this ill-disciplined elements couldn't resist booze and women. Rith claimed none were executed, declaring those involved in fishing got fat because they had all the fish they could eat. According to him, this was the only way to run a people's army, because if combatants were ill-treated for just minor behaviour, the parents of peasant boys would not allow them to go into battle. For this reason, the same kind of re-education was applied to those who deserted in combat. ++
“Rith denied that there was any attempt to round up all former FANK and make them prisoners of war, asserting that there was complete chaos and that it would have been impossible to carry out comprehensive detention, given that FANK soldiers were fleeing in every direction, without looking back. Already, on 16 April, when the general officers fled, ordinary soldiers knew everything was over, and – anyway – there was nowhere to put them. However, there was agitation in the liberated zones to capture kinh, who were said to be sent to do wrecking. At every rally, victory over the CIA was proclaimed. Later, KGB and the Viet Nam-ists were added. This was generalized throughout the liberated zones. The result was that interrogations concentrated on this. ++
Fighting to Liberate to Phnom Penh
In the preceding months, the Khmer Rouge shelled Phnom Penh indiscriminately. In February 1975, one Khmer Rouge rocket that landed in downtown Phnom Penh killed 12 schoolchildren. One woman later told Reuter: “There were lots of rockets and they fell everywhere in the city. There was no security and we stayed at home. All the hospitals in Phnom Penh were full of wounded civilians; there was no place for many of them...On the streets there were a lot of Khmer Rouge soldiers and all their faces looked very, very stern. They were shooting into the air." A Cambodian man later told the New York Times, “Rockets fell on the city almost everyday and every night. At that time the price of food was very high. We couldn’t afford to buy Khmer rice, and so we ate only coarse-grained rice provided by United States donations.”
A survivor named Vichea Sopheak Tieng reported: “ In 1975, my family and my grandparents on my mother’s side, lived in Tuol Kork Sangkat in Phnom Penh. My mother had brothers and sisters, cousins and many aunts and uncles who also lived in Phnom Penh. At that time, most of the members of my large family were living in Phnom Penh. We were all together and it was not difficult for us to get together. Some days before April 17, 1975, when my mother was preparing to leave the house to go outside, my older brother, named Pom, pleaded for her to take him along. In the beginning, my mother would not allow him to go along, but when he cried and kept begging to go, my mother agreed to take him with her. As my mother walked outside of the house, a moment later, shelling fell near her. When she heard the shelling fall, my mother immediately covered my brother with her body, like a hen protecting her chicken, without yet considering her own safety. At that time, the shelling continued to fall and my mother’s ears became deaf. She could not hear anything at that time. Some minutes later she said that her left cheek felt abnormally cold and numb. She took her hand and felt her cheek. She felt something smooth and wet. She looked at her hand and it was covered with blood. She was terrified and her body shook. The glass from the shelling had shattered and wounded her cheek. She whispered my brother’s name, who she still huddled in her embrace, “Pom. Pom. Pom,” but there was no answer. Immediately, my mother terrified. She began to scream his name loudly, “Pom! Pom! Pom!” This time a voice answered, “Yes.” After she heard his voice reply, my mother felt instantly relieved. She was extremely happy. After she heard my brother’s voice she did not yet tend to her injured cheek. [Source: Vichea Sopheak Tieng,Documentation Center of Cambodia d.dccam.org/Survivors/1/\]
“When the sound of the shelling lessened, my mother stood up and also lifted my brother up, but unfortunately, my brother could not stand. My mother was so alarmed and frightened nothing could compare to what she was feeling at that time. She saw a puddle of blood gather near the place where she had been huddling. My brother was crouched near the floor in the puddle of blood stained pure red. My brother turned into another victim of artillery shelling. Both of his calves were torn into pieces like dried fish. Another fragment hit his stomach and made him experience the most tremendous pain while he was so small. At that time he was only seven years old. My brother’s accident made my mother hundreds of times more frightened than she was before. My mother felt so sorry for her son when she saw that her beloved son could not get up and both of his calves were torn, his face pale and livid from the shock, and blood flowed from his body. When the shelling first dropped, my mother huddled over my brother and had hoped that my brother would not be injured. Why was my brother injured? She thought that only she would be injured. /\
“When my injured brother was staying at the hospital, both my mother and father went to look after him every day until the day the Khmer Rouge soldiers evacuated the people from the city. Every night when my mother looked after my brother, she left all of her three children and I with my grandparents to help watch over us. Perhaps it is our luck from our previous life that on the evening of the 16th of April, my grandparents began to fuss and complain to my mother, “Sai, your children are very mischievous and naughty and they are difficult to look after.” After my mother heard this, compounded with the worries she had for my brother who was still resting in the hospital, my mother became very angry and told my grandparents, “This evening I will take the children to the hospital with me.” Afterwards, she told all four of us to eat dinner. After we finished dinner, my mother bathed and dressed us and then she took us to say good-bye to our grandparents. My grandparents said, “Why are you taking them? Leave them here. They are so naughty, we just have say it. Who will watch them at the hospital?” But, all four of us wanted to follow my mother to the hospital, so my grandparents could not prevent us. At the hospital there were thousands of injured people, both young and old. I could only hear the sound of people crying night and day. There was not one moment of silence. On any day, there were injured people carried into the hospital and dying. I stayed at the hospital for one night. /\
Fighting Two Days Before the Khmer Rouge Entered Phnom Penh
The survivor Samnom Sarot, aka Sarot Marilin, reported; “My family lived in Chbar Ampeou, and our house located 150m north of Chbar Ampeou pagoda. A strange occurrence came to life at about 2 p.m. on April 15, 1975. I noticed people living in Veal Sbauv and Prek Eng sub-districts traveled in a hurry, carrying their valuable belongings in sorrowful faces. Amidst the people, there seen some heavily armed Lon Nol soldiers walking past our house. I then questioned a woman, "Where have you come from, aunt?" She replied in shock and sadness, "From Veal Sbauv…they have arrived!" "They have arrived?" I wondered and thought deeply for the answer. [Source: Sarot Marilin, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/19 =]
“As I walked back through the fence, I saw my mother, my mother's older sister, my brother-in-law and my grand mother discussing. My mother cried out at me, "Son, go and put our valuable things into the luggage!" I was puzzled to hear the words. My mother continued discussing with my brother-in-law, a first lieutenant of the general staff of the Army, about what we should do. Perhaps, I was the only one who still had many things to fetch, because my siblings had already packed up their belongings without bothering to understand the situation. My brother-in-law told me, "Take your clothes off and wear soldiers’ ones, since they will provide camouflage under the cover of the night." I complied and rushed up stairs to do it. =
“At 4 p.m. the situation worsened. The crowds of people moving up from Veal Sbauv and Prek Eng increased in size. Suddenly, I remembered a dream I had had a couple of nights before of Phnom Penh residents in tattered clothes, carrying their personal properties, heading out of the city; and then, of another image of these people returning to their homes. At about 5 p.m., a middle aged lady fleeing from Takeo informed my mother, "In liberated regions, life is harsh; people are ordered to work day and night. Young children are sent to collect cow dung in the rice fields. We don’t have enough food to eat. They'll kill us once they've found out we are government staff, rich people or soldiers. Therefore, don't tell them the truth if they happen to ask you! Keep your secret…tell them you're workers or tricycle riders to be safe. " Then she left. Immediately, my mother related this advice to the whole family and told them to pretend to be deaf and dumb. My grandmother uttered a saying, "We have houses and roads, but no one lives in and walks on. People fight to get a single rice grain sticking to a dog's tail…Grandchildren; you must grow sesame and kapok trees. When it's time to run, run to the `Northeast to have peace." We all understood what she had mentioned—Planting kapok means do not answer when you are asked, and growing sesame refers to stupidity. =
“Having sipped boiled rice, we helped each other to carry our possessions into a fortified fortress of my father. The sunset. Darkness moved in, but electricity was out. At about six thirty or forty, shells rained down on Chbar Ampoeu village from soldiers of the government side. Those shells came from fortresses at Phsar Kbal Thnal, building blocks and the old stadium. Many of them fell near my house, exploded like popcorn. The fighting between Lon Nol soldiers and Khmer Rouge soldiers intensified. It began at Chbar Ampeou market. =
“In front of and around my house, the fighting got fiercer using M-79 guns. Their shells fell on every side of my house. I was lying in a hammock, while my brother-in-law was preparing himself, in case some Khmer Rouge soldiers open the attack. I thought that the Khmer Rouge could spot my brother-in-law and me quite easily, since the government's aircraft had dropped bombs, lighting up the battlefield, right over my house. A B-40 rocket flew over the fortress and hit a bamboo bush behind my house making a deafening sound. I was not yet afraid at all. At about 10 p.m. another rocket struck the roof of a first lieutenant's house, south of mine, engulfing it in flames. We then dashed down to extinguish the fire without being aware of danger. Another bomb brightening the sky was dropped at about 1:15 a.m. Then the sky was bright like day, enabling a Khmer Rouge soldier to release an M-79 shell toward my brother-in-law. However, it dropped in front of the fortress. I forced myself to get off the hammock to lie on the ground, while my brother-in-law was carrying a gun and waving about to deceive the enemies. =
Fighting One Day Before the Khmer Rouge Entered Phnom Penh
Survivor Sophal Leng Stagg reported: On the night of April 16, 1975 we were awakened by the terrible sounds of bombs and guns, close at hand. The explosions were so near that our house shook with each burst. To the mind of a terrified nine-year-old girl, it seemed that the gunfire was aimed directly at me. My parents led us to a shelter underneath the house and there, in total darkness, my mother clutched my sister Chan and me to her body and comforted us with her warmth and love. Although she must have been frightened as we were, her first thought was for the safety of her children. Needless to say none of us slept that night. [Source:Sophal Leng Stagg, Hear Me Now: Tragedy in Cambodia, http://www.edwebproject.org/sideshow/stories/ , www.hmd.org.uk
The survivor Samnom Sarot, aka Sarot Marilin, reported; “At 4 a.m. of April 16, 1975, my brother-in-law asked everyone to leave the fortress. Each of us carried a pack of belongings, and together, we ran through the rain of M-79 shells toward our big house just ahead. In the house, we used tables and chairs as a shield to protect ourselves from flying bullets, and then we lied down. Some of us slept…while I lied against my backpack. At 5: 30 a.m., an M-79 shell, probably fired by the Khmer Rouge toward me, collided with a house's column, which I was sleeping close by, unleashing sparks of fire. It emitted a thunderous sound, “Bang!” together with our fearful screams. When it was over, my mother asked, "Anyone hurt?" The first person found to have been hit was my brother. His forehead was punched in by a small piece of debris. He was bleeding heavily; his face was soaked with blood. My mother carefully used a medical scissors to pull it out and bandaged the wound. Then came my granny's report of injury on her right hip. Simultaneously, I raised my own two bleeding points on the elbow to show my mother. It bled quite heavily that my army clothes were wet. The two fragments of the shell had stuck in my bone. My mother had no idea what to do. Everyone began to worry about my injury. Without warning, my mother let out a yell, "They have arrived!" Then my sister snatched the stars worn on her husband's chest off and his shirt away, while my brother was slipping his gun under the table. In no time, two Khmer Rouge soldiers entered and shot at my brother-in-law two times, killing him immediately.[Source: Sarot Marilin, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/19 =]
“I was horrified and raised both hands up, for one of them was pointing his AK-47 at me, while my injury continued to bleed. The soldier shouted at me, "Are you an American commando?" Stunned, I answered, "No! I'm a student." At the same time, I caught a frail sound of my mother "run son, run…" Having recovered from shock, I pushed away the lethal barrel and sprinted outside. Seeing me escaping, everyone ran after. Surprisingly, the soldiers did not chase us. With so many bullets crisscrossing through the air, my injured brother and two younger siblings ran in separate ways to the north on a road toward Tuol Teng together with many of our neighbors. While I, granny, my two older sisters (one with her sister's six-year-old child), my big aunt, and my mother dashed down a road in front of our house. As we ran for about eighty meters, I encountered two frail Khmer Rouge soldiers, in black clothes, armed with Ak-47s, smoking cigarettes, sitting on a bench. Upon spotting me, they were so surprised that their cigarettes fell from their mouths. They quickly seized their guns and pointed to me. One of them shouted, "Do not fire! Move on." I had escaped from death for the second time. Running for a few steps, I gazed around and saw a Khmer Rouge soldier pointing his gun at my mother. He cried at her, "You want your life or your baggage?" My mother knelt down and begged for mercy, and at the same time, she urged me continue to run. Leaving my mother, the soldier broke into my house's fence. =
We made our journey to a lightly wooded area, crossed a channel, and finally arrived at Sampong pagoda…Thousands of people from all places were walking about hurriedly on roads. Some were dragging corpses of their loved ones, looking for an appropriate place for burial. My family sat under a building inside the pagoda. I was surrounded by monks, so that the Khmer Rogue could not see. Once in a while, the Khmer Rouge voiced out, "Are there any Lon Nol soldiers here?" Silence, no answer. At about 9 a.m., the government's aircraft were still flying around, back and forth. Occasionally, a DK shell blasted with a thundering sound. We continued our journey across a river toward Kdei Takoy pagoda. A short distance away from the pagoda, we came upon five to six Khmer Rouge soldiers, sitting in a snack shop along the road. They were armed with an M-30 machinegun, three AK-47s, and some medical staff. A tall, white soldier with gentle face came up and asked, "Comrade, are you injured?" I replied, "Yes, I am." Then he invited me to go in, cleaned my wound, and injected me with a bottle of drug to stop bleeding. =
We moved on. My sister wept until she had no more tears to shed; she was now in a state of confusion. When we arrived in front of Brachumvong pagoda, Khmer Rouge saw me and chased me. Perhaps he was thinking that I was a soldier. I ran through a very dense crowd in order to escape from him. When I arrived Chraoy Ampil pagoda, a generous woman pulled me into her house, so I was totally disappeared. I had escaped from death for the third time. At about 1:20 a.m., I reunited with my family. Many fresh and swollen corpses of both soldiers and ordinary people littered the national road we were travelling on. Some people had had their bellies torn open and were simply left to die. The Khmer Rouge soldiers walked in two lines on each side of the road toward Phnom Penh. In the sky, many aircraft were flying busily, as if they were welcoming the arrival of the Khmer Rouge. However, Lon Nol soldiers were still bombarding the Khmer Rouge. =
“In the night of April 16, we took refuge under a house of Taprum villagers. We had nothing to eat. The next morning, the Khmer Rouge controlled Phnom Penh. Every Phnom Penh dweller was driven out. Later, Angkar allowed people to look for food. My family, except granny, older sister and me, went back home to fetch five or six sacks of clothes, rice and salt. In Taprum village, we witnessed countless tragic events. Some suffocated themselves to death. Some locked themselves in a car and drove into the river. Others cried and smashed themselves against objects to death, since they had lost all their family members. Many were seriously injured and died slowly, for there was no medical assistance. Another group of people were tied up and escorted to unknown places, while others were shot instantly for complaining about Angkar. Some families committed suicide by locking themselves in a sealed car or jumping into the river. =
“Angkar publicly urged governmental staff and students (university and lower) to enlist as the people who were to greet Sihanouk's homecoming or to work according to their expertise. Some tricycle riders told Angkar they had been lieutenant colonels, but my family stayed quiet. One day we saw the upper-brothers (Angkar) in jeeps driven across the village. My mother recognized one of them as one of her classmates (A person she had known well). She told us, "He is Saloth Sar." Days after, we met Chhuon Chhoeun. She told us, "This guy used to encourage me to participate in his revolution in the forest." =
Cambodian CIA Agent During the Khmer Rouge Take Over of Phnom Penh
Sophearith Chuong reported: According to the confession of Tiv Mei, alias Santapheap, age 35, from Takeo Village, Sangkat Kor, Prey Chor District, Kampong Cham Province, Tiv Mei was a factory worker in a sugar factory in Kampong Tram, Kampong Speu Province. Later on he worked as a CIA agent under the influence of Sobo Mel, who was also a worker in the sugar factory in Kampong Tram. ... Tiv Mei and other groups of CIA agents joined together to develop activities to investigate the activities of the Khmer Rouge in order to inform the Ministry of National Police and the CIA in the Khmer Republic. Tiv Mei carried out personal CIA activities since 1971 until 17 April 1975, but the Khmer Rouge had not yet captured him before12-15 April 1975, after Field Marshal Lon Nol left Cambodia for the United States. The situation in Phnom Penh was still quiet and still, but North of Pochentong, the Khmer Rouge kept pushing forward even stronger than before. [Source: Sophearith Chuong, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org ]
On 16 April 1975, Tiv Mei went to receive news in Ta Khmao and he discovered that south of Ta Khmao, the Khmer Rouge was waging a strong attack. On the eastern side of Chba Ampeou Markeet the Khmer Rouge also waged a strong attack, setting on fire the houses of the people. They also shot many bullets of shelling into the streets. At that time, Tiv Mei removed himself from Chba Ampeou and returned to Phnom Penh. The traffic in the city of Phnom Penh that usually ceased at 7:00 in the evening could no longer be prevented. Even at night the people were fleeing into the city. A throng of people traveled along the side of the roads. No one knew that on 17 April 1975 the Khmer Rouge would liberate the city of Phnom Penh.
On the morning of 17 April 1975, there was news that the armies were no longer fighting each other, because they had agreed to cease fighting. Everywhere on the 17th of April, white flags were raised as a signal they would stop fighting. Those who had fled into the city of Phnom Penh, quickly left the city again. Around 9:00 in the morning, the Revolutionary Army entered Phnom Penh through the road near Chba Ampeou Market. At that time, some people were scared and some were joyful, because they heard people say, “Let’s watch them clean out the corrupt officials, because these people are the Khmer Rouge. They hate the corrupt officials. They are clean and pure people and since the beginning they have never got along well with the corrupt officials.”
Victory for the Khmer Rouge
Sayana Ser reported: “April 17, 1975, was the day in which the Khmer Rouge liberation army gained victory over the Lon Nol Army. The Khmer Rouge army successfully captured the city of Phnom Penh and broadcast their victory throughout the country of Cambodia. The Lon Nol army dropped their weapons and ceased fighting. Throughout the cities and provinces they asked to surrender and defect. After hearing the broadcast on the Khmer Rouge radio, they captured the entire city of Phnom Penh and the war ended at that this time. On this same day, the country became stable. [Source: Sayana Ser, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/34]
Mid-April is the beginning of the Cambodian new year, the year's most festive celebration. For many Cambodians, the fall of Phnom Penh promised both a new year and a new era of peace. The people of Phnom Penh and of other cities waited in anticipation for the appearance of their new rulers. The troops who entered the capital on April 17 were mostly grim-faced youths clad in black with the checkered scarves that had become the uniform of the movement. Their unsmiling demeanor quickly dispelled popular enthusiasm. People began to realize that, in the eyes of the victors, the war was not over; it was just beginning, and the people were the new enemy. According to Father Ponchaud, as the sense of consternation and dread grew, it seemed that "a slab of lead had fallen on the city." [Source: Library of Congress, December 1987]
Sampeou Ros reported: “The day that was filled with hope and had the deepest meaning for the millions of people in Cambodia was 17 April 1975. 17 April 1975 was the day that the patriots were able to stand up against and drive out the U.S. imperialists, the invaders, and the lackeys out of Kampuchea and were able to liberate the entire country out of the yoke of colonialism and present Kampuchea back to its people. My father was a person who had helped with the Angkar Revolution. He gave the movement force in the forests food and medicine. He was a supporter of Sihanouk, because he wanted to drive out the U.S. imperialists who invaded the country. On the morning of 17 April 1975, people throughout the country had many reasons to be indescribably happy because they understood that from this day forward the country would achieve extensive peace and the war that shed so much Cambodian blood would end. More outstanding than this I was able to observe the unusually bright and cheerful faces of my neighbors that were more joyous than normal. White flags were planted along the front of some houses. And along others, people were standing and conversing about this and that in revelry, but we could not yet understand what was being said. In my family, everything was normal, except for my father. My father’s face was beaming with joy. [Source: Sampeou Ros, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org ]
Samondara Vuthi Ros reported: “Many neighbors were very happy and a cheerful howl of laughter was heard, because they thought that the war had ended. At about 9:30 A.M., while sitting on the steps of my house, I heard the gunfire and saw the smoke of the guns. Suddenly, I rushed in and asked my father: “What’s the noise? “ He replied, “The sound of explosions, my son. But there’s no problem. It is our side who has fired. Our country is peaceful. There is no more war, and prosperity is coming.” Still I wondered, if so, why were there still explosions? .....During the conversation, my brother had brought the radio out and turned it on just as an announcement began in a soft and slow voice (I didn’t recognized the announcer, as I was so young). The announcement focused on the victory of the liberation of Phnom Penh and all places throughout the country. It stated that the victory stemmed from the reconciliation between Khmer and Khmer. My father smiled, but the three soldiers didn’t. In the meantime, there was an announcement interrupting the first in a strong voice: “This triumph has not resulted from negotiation or reconciliation, but is the result of the struggle between gun point and gun point.” After hearing this announcement, the look on my father’s face changed. My mother, my brother and my sister all looked at my father in doubt and fear, and my father seemed to be on the verge of despair. \ [Source: Samondara Vuthi Ros, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org\]
Chhayrann Ra reported: “April 17, 1975 is a day in which millions of Cambodian people had reason to celebrate and congratulate the victory of the Liberation Army over the Lon Nol government and the failure of the U.S. imperialists. But this celebration and time of joy for the victory of the Liberation Army, transformed into a day that brought much pain and suffering for the Cambodian people throughout the country....During that time, [my aunt] was only twelve years old. At that time, when the Liberation Army entered Phnom Penh, she and her older brother joined together and went to help welcome and congratulate the soldiers. They were elated, believing the country had achieved peace and they would no longer hear the explosion of bullets and shrapnel. But while they stood there staring at the soldiers among the crowds of people, one soldier dressed in black jumped from the tank and the other soldiers took their guns and pointed them at everyone standing there. They yelled at the people standing, watching them: “Everyone, leave the city immediately, because the Americans have a plan to drop bombs on the city! Therefore, brothers and sisters leave the city! You don’t have to take many things with you because you are only leaving for three days.” [Source: Chhayrann Ra, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/25 ]
Survivor Sophal Leng Stagg reported: “Early the next morning, Papa went out to inquire about the circumstances of the battle. We huddled tog ether in one room hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. When he returned, we could tell from the worried expression on his face and the change in his demeanor that the news was foreboding. He told us that the Khmer Rouge was everywhere, marching up and down the highways waving their flags and celebrating their victory at the conquest of the capital city. Although he was clearly concerned for our welfare, my own reaction was to hope that this new development would at least put an end to the warfare and killing. Maybe by now, I thought, Cambodia would once again be at peace and my family could return to our treasured customs. I soon learned that the people I loved the most would begin to experience the worst horrors imaginable. We knew our lives wo uld be changed forever. [Source: Sophal Leng Stagg, Hear Me Now: Tragedy in Cambodia, http://www.edwebproject.org/sideshow/stories/ , www.hmd.org.uk
Victory for the Khmer Rouge Outside Phnom Penh
Sayana Ser reported: “On the other hand, in Pailin, on the 17th, 18th, and 19th of April, no Khmer Rouge armies entered the city. People only saw armies stationed in Pailin province marching with vehicles carrying small and large armies, tanks, and weapons large and small. Refugees traveled on the road to O’Lac near the border of Cambodia and Thailand. When the army in Pailin completely departed on the 20th of April, the Khmer Rouge army entered. After people saw the Khmer Rouge marching in, the people, both men and women, young and old, went out to welcome them. They had feelings of happiness and strong congratulations. They yelled, “Bravo, to the Father King! Bravo to the Father King! Bravo to Peace! Bravo to the Liberation Army!” Along the streets, the national road, and the path downtown, there were men and women traveling with white cloths tied to their wrists. On their motorcycles and cars they tied banners pleading for peace and surrender. [Source: Sayana Ser, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/34^^]
“Within the three or four days, the people had many reasons to be happy. Everyone’s faces were beaming because they thought they had gained a certain peace, there was no more war, and they could once again reunite with their children, relatives and friends. One ought to feel pity for the people of Cambodia at this time, because their happiness was like a short dream that was shattered beyond what anyone could expect. After the three days of joy and merriment, the Khmer Rouge Liberation Army, dressed in black, rode in their motorcycles and announced on their microphones commanding all the Cambodian people to abandon their homes, villages, and districts and to relocate in regions far away. But deceptively, they asked the people to leave their villages for only three days so that Angkar could re-organize their villages and districts. They aid that after everything was prepared and organized, then all brothers and sisters could return once more. ^^
“After they heard this announcement, the faces of the Cambodian quickly demonstrated their disappointment. Tears once again began to fall because they were forced to abandon their property, their homes, and their villages. Some cried because they had to separate from their family, their children, their parents, their grandparents, and their husbands and wives who lived far away and were unable to meet. Instead, they had to flee further away from each other. Not only this, but the Khmer Rouge also gradually began to use mischievous methods of execution and murder. They announced for young and old women to cut off their long hair and keep their hair short. If they saw anyone with long hair, they would shave it off. ^^
One Cambodian, living in Paris at the time of the Khmer Rouge takeover, later told Reuter, "At the beginning of the 17th of April at noon in Paris, I was very happy when I heard the Khmer Rouge had liberated the country from the Lon Nol regime. But in the afternoon we learned that the Khmer Rouge had started to move people out and it was a great shock. I think for the first time I cried. I cried because all hope we put on the Khmer Rouge leadership disappeared."
Survivor Chhayrann Ra reported:“April 17, 1975 is an historical day of victory for the Cambodian army over the U.S. imperialists and the Lon Nol lackeys. Every Cambodian person had reason to be happy and joyful, because each person understood that the war had ended, they had achieved independence, positive and abundant peace, and they had escaped the yoke of foreign oppression. But we should feel great remorse, because the happiness and hope of the people transformed into pain and suffering and devastation as families were separated from each other. The soldiers dressed in black shirts and pants created turmoil and chaos throughout the country, by forcing the people to flee from one region to the next, and from one place to another. Hundreds of thousands of people from the city of Phnom Penh were ordered and threatened by the Khmer Rouge soldiers out of their homes and relocated in rural areas far away. They even killed innocent people. Each of these deeds has never before been encountered in the history of Cambodia. [Source: Chhayrann Ra, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/25 ]
"Liberation" of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge
The Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975—a couple weeks before the North Vietnamese seized Saigon—ousting the U.S.-supported Lon Nol government. Pol Pot became the leader of Cambodia. The victorious Khmer Rouge soldiers that moved into Phnom Penh were mostly silent and had dour expressions. Many were teenagers that were so skinny they looked incapable of carrying their own AK-47s. Exhausted from years of hardship and violence, many of the residents of Phnom Penh initially welcomed the Khmer Rouge. One Cambodia woman told Reuters, "My father thought communism was very good. There would be no corruption in government and people could live equally.” A year late he was dead.
Survivor Vichea Sopheak Tieng reported: “In the morning, it was the 17th of April 1975, the day in which the people were being evacuated from the city of Phnom Penh. That morning, the sound of guns could be heard throughout the city of Phnom Penh. There was total confusion and chaos and people running all over the place and in every street. ...When the Khmer Rouge soldiers captured Phnom Penh... it was also like they captured the entire country. This was the day the Khmer Rouge began to evacuate the people from every province and city and forced them all to live in the rural areas and countryside. [Source: Vichea Sopheak Tieng,Documentation Center of Cambodia d.dccam.org/Survivors/1 ]
Ky Lim reported: “On April 17, 1975, the entire country of Cambodia, under the dreamlike rule of Lon Nol, was in the process of losing the war to the Khmer Rouge or the Khmer Liberation Army. It was also the day of victory for the Khmer Rouge who had worked hard and struggled for a long time to conquer the city of Phnom Penh from the Lon Nol Republic.This was the day in which the people throughout the country of Cambodia awaited the victory of a group of Khmer that had been struggling. This group was called the Khmer Liberation Army. On this day, since morning, along the roads and homes, there was silence. Only the sound of rumbling bombs could be heard. The sound of guns could be heard near and far, firing randomly every minute. [Source: Ky Lim, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/35 ]
German cameraman Christoph Maria Frohder took rare footage of the final days of the Phnom Penh before the arrival of the Khmer Rouge.
Joyously Welcoming the Khmer Rouge to Phnom Penh
Mony Visal Khouy reported: “April 17, 1975 is the day of victory over the U.S. imperialists. The Khmer Liberation Army, “or the Khmer Rouge army,” was able to eliminate the pain and suffering of the Cambodian people during a war that lasted five years, since 1970-1975. April 17, 1975 gave the people of Cambodia much hope, motivation, and happiness knowing that their country had achieved peace and prosperity. It became a peaceful country after people united from their separation from parents, families, and relatives during the war. My mother and father, as well as the rest of the people in the city of Phnom Penh, came out to congratulate and welcome the Khmer Liberation Army that entered and filled the entire city of Phnom Penh. They felt joyful and happy. My father, like other people in the city of Phnom Penh, raised a white flag, screaming, “Bravo to victory and peace!” with a beaming face filled with hope for the future. But it was not too long after people had become excited and joyful about this peace, that the Khmer Liberation Army, or the Khmer Rouge, began ordering people out of their homes. [Source: Mony Visal Khouy, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/12 ]
Nean Yin reported: “I remember that around 5:00am on 17 April 1975, my family of seven had prepared our belongings from our house near Beoung Tompon, because we were scared of the shelling of the Liberation Army. We went to rest at the house of my sister’s older brother near O Russey Market. Along the road I saw many families making the journey from their villages to enter the city. Near Beoung Salang I saw many homes catch on fire from the shelling. Probably around 10:00am, the people who lived in my uncle’s house were like neighbors. Everyone was happy. Only my uncle’s face bore a sorrowful expression, as if he was thinking of something. At this time I asked my father, “Why are people so happy today, Father?” He answered, “My son! The war in our country has ended and the large and small guns will no longer sound as they did before.” After lunch ended around 12:00, my cousin, named Yee Sovanna, and I pulled our bicycles out of the house and rode them in front of Monivong Street. Along the street and homes, I saw many people bear expressions of happiness and merriment. The people stood on both sides of the road in order to congratulate the Liberation Army. I continued my journey and crossed in front of the Vimean Tep Theater. On top of each tank there were people dressed in black, wearing a Mao-styled cap, a red and white checkered scarf wrapped around their necks and rubber tire shoes. Some had their pants rolled up, their bodies covered with mud and dirt. Some wrapped their scarves around their caps. They had bullet magazines wrapped around their waists. Their hands held rifles aimed at the crowds of people lined on either side of the street, preparing to shoot at any moment. The people atop the tanks were mostly youths probably about my age. [Source: Nean Yin, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/33 [Source: Nean Yin, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/33 ] ]
“At that time I was about 15 years old. I turned my bicycle to follow the tanks. Many other children also taggiing behind, exhilarated and cheerful. Later, I heard the Khmer Liberation Army shout the following proverb: “Bravo! The Revolutionary Army has liberated [the country]! Bravo! The war is over! Down with the Lon Nol traitors!” My voice and the voices of the people along the streets and houses screamed in congratulations, almost everywhere along Sisowath Street. I continued to ride my bicycle until I reached Wat Mahamontrey. I saw the Lon Nol soldiers fleeing from the temples and from the Olympic Stadium. Some were shirtless, waving guns with white cloth tied to their barrels. They took the guns and placed them in the middle of the road near the stoplights. On my bicycle, I overtook the tank, creeping along the wall of the Olympic Stadium and toward the Olympic water tank. At that time I saw about ten people dressed in black standing at the side of the road. One stood out as the leader of the group because on the left side of his waist was a short pistol. I turned around to face the circle intersection. There were four or five civilians standing there facing the Liberation Army. I walked closer and heard a civilian ask the people in black, “Sir, do you give me permission to see my wife and children near the Old Market?” The people replied, “It is not possible. It is not possible because we have not yet cleaned out the traitors inside.” At that time, I had the urge to return and meet my mother and father again. I escorted my bicycle and turned to find the road to the temple. Suddenly, the Liberation Army raised their AK-47s, shot them above my head and screamed, “Go back! You cannot go forward! The only road you must take is the road to Stung Meanchey.” ^^
Khmer Rouge Enters Phnom Penh
Survivor Huy Sophorn reported:“My father’s house was located behind the Chinese Hospital in Sangkat #6, Phnom Penh. In the early morning of 17 April 1975, my father woke up from his bed as usual. Suddenly, he saw something very unusual and out of the ordinary that he had never seen before. At that time, he saw a group of people dressed in black shirts and pants, with a scarf wrapped around their necks, wearing rubber tire shoes, carrying all kinds of guns close to their bodies, and wearing a Chinese cap on their heads, walking along the street in large groups. Many of them were not yet fully-grown. They had solid and brutal faces that one ought to fear. These people were Khmer Rouge soldiers. My father began to panic. He could not believe the Khmer Rouge had entered Phnom Penh. All the people were shocked and terrified. They peeked outside of their doors and windows in fear. At 7:00 in the morning on the same day, the Cambodian people along each house thought that the Lon Nol army had lost the war to the Khmer Rouge, therefore they felt they needed to raise the white flag, in order to admit defeat, afraid their people would harm them. With the soldiers who were standing guard far away, the Khmer Rouge communicated with them through a radio transmitter, so they could take control and oversee the activities of each citizen. [Source: Sophorn Huy, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org ]
Samondara Vuthi Ros reported: “ A moment later, I saw three armed men in black, with their pants rolled up, standing in front of a residence of a military officer of the Khmer Rupublic. Then they fired three times at the front gate of the residence, shouting, “This house belongs to puppets of Americans, who betray the nation and the people! Where are you all? Come out to meet us for a moment!” After hearing and witnessing the acts of the Khmer Rouge, I felt somewhat cold, because I had never seen people fire guns and use such rubbish words before. I rushed into our house, locked the gate door and approached my father, who was busy repairing a car on the side of the house. I asked him: “From which side do the soldiers come. Why are they so vicious?” He replied quickly: “Oh dear, don’t speak so loudly. They are Liberation soldiers of the King [Sihanouk]. They are very good. Don’t worry. They will not do any harm to us. They will just search for those who have betrayed them.” [Source: Samondara Vuthi Ros, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org \/ ]
At that moment, the three soldiers walked towards our house and shouted: “Open the door! Let us enter!” Then my father rushed and opened the gate door quickly and invited them to sit in front of the house. One of the three asked my father: “Uncle, don’t you turn on your radio?” My father replied: “No. Because I’m repairing my car.” Then my father asked my brother to bring out a radio. A man in black said: “Are you a Lol Nol soldier?” My father replied, “No. I work in the Ministry of Land Survey”. The man continued: What is the Ministry of Land Survey?” They glanced sharply at my father from head to toe. “Please drink some iced water,” said my father. “The Ministry of Land Survey is one section in charge of examining land, houses for standard construction. Honestly, my family actively joined the movement for national liberation although I have never carried weapons and struggled in the jungle like you. However, I have contributed money, food, and medicines every month for our forces in the jungle.” At the moment my father spoke, the oldest of the three men glanced at my father and quickly asked him, “Has our side ever issued any letter of confirmation for you?” My father replied, “Yes. I had one, but now it has disappeared. The last time they came to check my house, my wife tried to hide it, and now she cannot remember exactly where she hid it. But no matter what happens, if they consider us as men of merit, they will not forget us. Especially since I want nothing but to see our country in peace and prosperity.” \/
A moment later, the three soldiers in black stood up while two of them took the guns and walked out. The other one walked up to the car that my father was repairing, twisted the cover of car’s radiator, and said: “Your family as well as some other people will be asked to leave home, and we don’t know when they will be allowed to return. What I am saying is true. Please remember my words. What has been said about the people leaving for two or three days is not true.” The three soldiers then left my home without further words. After walking about 50 meters, the youngest soldier fired his handgun into the air four or five times, shouting, “You must all be out of your houses by tomorrow!” Merriment turned to despair. My neighbors, who had been cheering, now became quiet. That part of the sky northwest of Phnom Penh was full of sparks. In the house, my mother was on the brink of tears as she packed clothes, plates, dishes, pots, and food into sacks in preparation for leaving the following day. \/
My mother was half Chinese. Despite having been a civil servant of the Khmer Republic, my father served the Khmer Serei as an agent of “Sihanoukism”, in charge of supplying food, money and medicines to its forces in the jungle. As a result of his activities, after the liberation, he and my mother were killed by the Khmer Rouge. My brother and sister died of starvation. \/
Khmer Rouge Soldiers During the Liberation of Phnom Penh
Sophearith Chuong reported “ Mr. Ke Munthit was still a child when the Khmer Rouge had entered the city of Phnom Penh. Mr. Ke Munthit still remembers how startled he was when he saw many young soldiers, like him, dressed in black. In a disorderly fashion, they celebrated along the streets of Phnom Penh. They ran barefoot with a red scarf tied to their heads. The young soldiers yelled, “Bravo to the revolution and down with the U.S. imperialists!” They shot their guns in the air and made the people scatter. There was one person who whispered to him, “The Khmer Rouge.” This made him, who was only twelve years old, suddenly aware and no longer ignorant. He understood that the arrival of these communists was the end of Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic, but he and other people did not know about the terror the leader of the country of Cambodia had in store for them. Ke Munthit’s brothers and sisters were living with their grandparents for one week. Their parents left to guard their house in the city of Phnom Penh, because they wanted to escape from the bullets and rockets being fired by the Khmer Rouge. Two Khmer Rouge soldiers confronted each other outside of a temple, when the Khmer Rouge leaders transformed the city of Phnom Penh into a region controlled by armies. After they confronted each other, they finally decided to order the people outside of the city. The Khmer Rouge told the people that they absolutely had to leave because the Americans had a plan to drop bombs on the city.[Source: Sophearith Chuong, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org <>]
Ky Lim reported: I could hear the sound of Chinese GMC cars driving up and down, each car filled with soldiers. I could not distinguish what side the soldiers belonged to, because sometimes I saw them dressed in black and sometimes I saw them dressed in camouflage. They were all mixed together. Once in a while a civilian motorcycle could be seen driving into the city in haste. It was uncertain where it was going. Everyone’s faces revealed signs of worry because of the events that were passing within the country. We did not know what would happen the next day. [Source: Ky Lim, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/35<>]
“When I reached home after lunch, each house became even more silent. I could only see army cars and soldiers walking along the roads. The soldiers were dressed in black with a white scarf wrapped around their necks. Some rolled up their pants. Everyone watching from inside their homes thought they were probably the Liberation Army, the army of the White Scarf! A little while later, probably around 1:00 in the afternoon, I saw cars and cars of soldiers in black with a white scarf wrapped around their necks, carrying a white flag, yelling, “Victory!” At this time the people in their homes gathered outside and helped in yelling congratulations and victory to the Liberation Army. Some people even ran to find white cloth to tie on to the end of sticks so they could wave it in the air in congratulations with the others. My neighbors and my family in the house gathered and talked, “We should help congratulate with the others and welcome them. From now on, our country will be at peace.” Each person was happy because they believed their country had achieved peace and stability and would no longer suffer from shooting and shelling like today. So many people were injured and killed by the shelling and many did not dare walk outside. <>
“The chaos and the shooting suddenly ceased. When the army cars past by other cars stopped driving along the roads. Once again it became completely silent. It became even more silent and once in a while I could see two or three soldiers walking along the road inspecting each house. These soldiers were young. They wore Chinese caps, rolled up their sleeves and pants, wore rubber tire shoes, carried a gun, had one or two bullets tied to their waists, and carried a bag of rice on their back. When I saw these soldiers my older sibling said to me, “I feel sorry for them. They are all so young and they have come to serve as liberation soldiers. They do not know what it is like to be exhausted and hungry. We do not know where they come from.” We were talking, when suddenly a cyclo driver drove past our house carrying some injured people. My older sibling saw this and went out to tell them, “If they are hit by a shell, you should take them to the Soviet Hospital.” I observed the events of that day with mixed feelings of worry and fear, because I have never witnessed anything like this before. There were people freshly injured, there were soldiers carrying rifles that ought to be feared, and along the roads it was completely quiet. What will it be like tomorrow? Everyone’s faces showed signs of uneasiness and worry. We simply looked blankly at each other. We were not certain what we should say or do. We could only wait and see what would happen. <>
“A moment later, two soldiers walked in front of my house. At that time, my older cousin was washing his Peta car. The soldier walked over and asked, “Who is the owner of this Peta?” My older cousin replied, “Yes, I am the owner.” The soldier then ordered my older cousin to give him the car keys. Then he said, “I would like to ask to drive the car for work. In a little while I will bring it back.” My older cousin was a person who was very hard. He was a military police. He replied, “No! I will not give it to you! Why is it so easy for you to borrow someone else’s car?” The soldier then raised his voice and said, “Are you going to give it to me or not? Comrade, in a little while you will not have a car, a motorcycle, or even a house! They are all the property of Angkar.” When he heard this, my cousin’s father-in-law dragged his hands away. He was afraid there would be problems so he handed the car keys to the soldier and let him drive away. When the soldier drove away, he drove away so quickly black smoke appeared. My cousin said, “He probably doesn’t even know how to drive.” He felt incredible remorse for his car <>.
Looking for Lon Nol Soldiers During the Liberation of Phnom Penh
Chhayrann Ra reported: “A moment later, two soldiers dressed in black, with weapons in their hands, arrived at their house and screamed at them to quickly get out of the house. Afterwards, they forced them to leave the house immediately without taking many things with them. My father had already prepared a bag of things. In this bag, were clothes and a few valuables. My aunt said that while they were travelling along the road, she saw many people, each person carrying a bag of clothes on their shoulders. Some placed their goods on bicycles, others placed them in carts, and others put their things in the car. Along this same road, she saw many soldiers dressed in black dragging any Lon Nol soldier they could pick out of the crowd. These soldiers were shirtless and had only their pants on. The three or four soldiers dressed in black carried guns pointed at the backs of the Lon Nol soldiers. Later on, she saw many people who died along National Road #2, but she didn’t know how these people died. She felt extremely terrified, because she had never encountered anything like this before. [Source: Chhayrann Ra, Documentation Center of Cambodia, d.dccam.org/Survivors/25><]
“While they were walking, a group of soldiers dressed in black, walked next to her. They yelled and asked her, “Do you have any relatives serving as officials in the Lon Nol government? If you do, we will allow them to return home.” When my aunt heard this, she saw a group of people come forward looking for these soldiers, declaring they had served as officials during the Lon Nol government. After they had gathered many people, they led them away and disappeared towards the west. But it was not certain where they were taking them. At this time, when they saw the soldiers leading the people away, my aunt and my father was very scared. They had a feeling that they were taking these people away to be killed somewhere. On the other hand, she was afraid they would find out about her family, because her father and grandfather were soldiers during the Lon Nol period. ><
Foreigners During the Liberation of Phnom Penh
Foreigner were rounded up and interned in the French Embassy. After three weeks of tense negotiations the foreigners were allowed to leave, and were taken by truck to Thailand.Among them were New York Times journalist Sidney Schanberg, his friend and interpreter, the Cambodian Dith Pran, journalist Jon Swain and photographer Al Rockoff. These men were the subject of the 1984 film The Killing Fields . Al Rockoff was played by John Malkovich.
After the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, Schanberg, Pran, Swain and Rockoff were arrested and thrown into an armored personnel carrier by angry Khmer Rouge soldiers. Recalling the event, Schanberg wrote, "As we get into our car and start to leave the compound, some heavily armed Khmer Rouge soldiers charge through the main gate. They wave us out of our car, put guns to our heads and stomachs and order us to put our hands on our heads...They take everything—our car, cameras , typewriters, radio, knapsacks—and push us into an armored personal carrier."
"Suddenly, after a 40 minute ride, the vehicles stops and the rear door clangs open. We are ordered through the door, we see two Khmer Rouge soldiers, their rifles on their hips pointing directly at us...We are thinking the same thing—they're going to do it here and roll us down the bank into the river...we climb out, like zombies.”
Dith Pran had refused to leave even though he was ordered to do so by the Khmer Rouge soldiers. "Pran resumes is pleas, searching out a soldier who looks like an officer." Schanberg wrote, "For a solid hour he keeps appealing, cajoling, begging for our lives. The officer sends a courier on a motor-bike to some headquarters in the center of the city. We wait, still frozen but trying to hope, as Pran continues talking. Finally, the courier returns, more talk—and then miraculously the rifles are lowered."
Rockoff later told Reuters, "They were very firm. I sensed something was about to happen when one of them put up his pistol, and held it to my right temple, and one of the others standing behind me moved away. I figured he doesn't want to get splattered."
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