EVACUATION OF SMALL CITIES AND TOWNS AFTER THE KHMER ROUGE TAKE OVER OF CAMBODIA
The Khmer Rouge also emptied other towns and cities. Sophal Ly reported: “Honestly, on the day they evacuated the Cambodian people, I was only one year old. My parent’s stories helped me to understand that at that time, Banteay Meanchey Province was still a part of Battambang Province. Their people invaded through three entries: Siem Riep Province, O Chrouv, and Battambang. All of their armies united and gathered in Svay Sisophon. At that time, it was Cambodian New Year. After New Year’s, the people in Svay Sisophon District continued to celebrate another holiday in order to seek “Peace.” At that time, a large group of people dressed in black had joined in the festivities of dancing and singing, but people had not yet taken notice. Two days later, the Khmer Rouge invaded the entire area of Svay Sisophon. When they entered, the Khmer Rouge immediately announced for all the leaders of large armies, high-ranking officers, and soldiers to come and meet in Banteay Sop in Banteay Meanchey Market and to drop their weapons in this place. The Khmer Rouge transported all of these weapons but it was not certain where these weapons were being taken. [Source: Sophal Ly, Documentation Center of Cambodia, dccam.org/Survivors]
“A week later, around 9:00 to 10:00 at night, one jeep drove across Svay Sisophon District, with a microphone and yelled, “All the people must join in a meeting in order to find a solution.” My father said they screamed as if they had anger. “The puppets! The imperialists! And the people of Lon Nol!” They screamed and announced for the people to come and meet in the Sisophon Primary School. The next day, all the people came to meet as they were ordered in the announcement. The people waited from 6:00 in the morning until 12:00 at noon for the meeting to begin. Peugot taxi cars drove in. In the car there were only two people, the driver and a cadre. On top of the car there was also a microphone. All the people clapped their hands in congratulations to welcome this car. But the expression on the face of this cadre remained solid as he spoke shortly, “Angkar has ordered for all brothers and sisters to leave the city and to go live in the rural areas in order to farm and plant crops.” Having said this, he drove his car away. The next day, an army dressed in black stood at guard. Their expressions were to be feared. They held weapons in every hand, guarding the roads and forcing the people to leave the city for three days. The leaders and high-ranking officers would maintain their positions. They told them to come and meet in order to receive the King. They said that they would only leave for a short period. At that time the people were not able to think far ahead into the future, because they believed Cambodia had achieved “Peace.” They did not gather and bring many things with them. They only brought things to use temporarily.”
“When the people were evacuated, the Khmer Rouge allowed them to leave through three openings, the same entries used when the Khmer Rouge first united and gathered in Svay Sisophon. Some people returned to their native village. My father made the journey along the road to Siem Riep. Along the roads were crowds of people pushing and shoving against each other. Mixed with the cries and screams of children, were the cries of people looking for their relatives that they had lost in the crowd. Some traveled along the road to Battambang and some went to O Chrauv. My father told me that they evacuated since 12:00 in the afternoon during the dry season. The atmosphere was hot and scorching and there was no water along the road. People traveled with sweat streaming down their bodies. Some had packages, some had carts, motorcycles, and bicycles so they could carry as many things as possible. My parents only had one bicycle. My father loaded the things we needed to use like mosquito nets, a rug, rice, dishes and pots, and seasoning. They gave our clothes to our relatives who had carts. My mother, who was three months pregnant, held on to my older sister’s hand who was three years and she carried me in her arms.
“The journey was very difficult. We walked the entire way. Some had to die or faint because they were not used to walking. My father told me that he saw one fat man who walked until he lost his breath and died. There were even sick people who could not walk and were placed on a cart by their relatives and pushed along. As soon as we crossed the line of guarding soldiers, we were not allowed to enter or return again. If we dared to enter, they would kill us. My parents kept travelling on the road to Siem Riep with others without a destination or any idea where they were going until they reached a village about 7 kilometers from Svay Sisophon. This village was called Thmei Village. But when we reached this place, the villagers did not accept or welcome us. They acted as if they despised us and as if they did not want us to stay. They hated the people from the provinces. My mother and father rested here for only one or two days before they continued their journey forward again to Sala Krao. They reached one village called Kork Threah Village and were able to stay there. Here, there were people who knew my mother’s uncle named Lai Peng Leng. He worked as the district governor of Sisophon. The villager welcomed them. They even gave them a rice granary to live in and to serve as a temporary house. My mother said the villagers here were very kind. They were not like the villagers in Thmei Village. When we got there in the beginning the cadres distributed rice to us so we could work with the cooperative in the fields. Later on they even built a mess hall where everyone ate together.
Khmer Rouge Arrive in Siem Reap
The resident of Siem Reap were ordered out of their homes and forced to march northward into the jungle to clear land, build huts and herd animals. Many perished on the journey there. Othesr were killed for foraging yams. The survivor Sum Rithy reported: “The Khmer Rouge entered Siem Reap’s provincial capital on the night of April 18, 1975, and immediately forbid people to leave their town. On the morning of April 19, this “black shirt” force called ordinary citizens, soldiers, teachers and government officials for a meeting at the provincial hall, where they would receive assignments from Angkar. The following day, Angkar called upon people to leave the town for three or four days. Armed Khmer Rouge soldiers ordered them to pack their belongings and leave. My parents-in-law, brother- and sister-in-law, and my wife and I left our house on a cart loaded with some of our possessions. The roads were flooded, with some people carrying their belongings on their shoulders or heads, and others pulling carts. All of them wore sad, frightened expressions. [Source: Sum Rithy, Documentation Center of Cambodia, dccam.org/Archives/Protographs/Sum_Rithy ==]
“The black shirted soldiers were everywhere on the roads, looking like crows. Houses were emptied and silenced, leaving tables and chairs scattered untidily. Reaching a junction near Sala Dambaung, I saw a soldier with a gun at his waist approaching my family. He asked about our jobs. I told him that I was a motorbike mechanic, and my father-in-law said he was a worker. The soldier then told us to go west Kra-lanh district. A little outside the town of Siem Reap, we stopped to rest with a woman who had been separated from her husband and children. She told me that the Khmer Rouge chased her out of the hospital even when she was sick, and other patients who were unable to move were put in a truck and driven away. ==
My brother-in-law and I took turns pulling the cart. After walking for about 1 kilometer, we met another woman with a small package on her head and her two children. The woman burst into tears when one of her children asked for his father. She told her child that Angkar had taken him to be reeducated. Feeling compassionate towards the two little kids, I put them in the cart so they would not have to walk. Because it was getting hotter and we were hungry, we decided to take a short break for lunch at Toek Vil village. Along the way, we met several black shirted soldiers on motorbikes who asked about our former jobs. I gave them the same response. At about 5 p.m. we arrived at Kha-nat village. While we were resting under a big tamarind tree, two Khmer Rouge soldiers appeared, asking me to repair a broken motorbike. After I fixed it, they told me not to leave because Angkar was preparing shelters for people. Two days passed before we were allowed to move our possessions and go to a house. ==
“A week later, a Khmer Rouge cadre named Sal came to rule Kha-nat village. He called people to come for a meeting and hear Angkar’s plan. The plan was that people needed permission from the official authority in order to travel; otherwise, they would be responsible for the consequences. In the morning, about 50 families were assigned to move south of Kha-nat village. They took a cart path near Kok Khmaoch. Building shelters was quite difficult because we had to barter clothes, tobacco, and other materials with the base people for bamboo leaves, sugar palm leaves, wooden columns, and other construction materials to build our huts. Day by day, there was less and less food. Not long after that, Angkar declared that it would collect people’s possessions and turn them into community property, and they would create a cooperative dining hall. Angkar appointed all the base people to watch over the 17 April people. It also assigned people to cultivate rice, build levees, dig channels, clear forests, uproot tree trunks and plant yams. Angkar directed us to work for a yield of 3 tons of rice per hectare. Nevertheless, every meal was only watery porridge which sometimes was mixed with corn, yam, or manioc. One day when I was on my way to chop wood at Baray, I saw many corpses lying in trenches. I thought they had probably been teachers, soldiers, and other government officials who were taken from Phnom Penh to be reeducated in Siem Reap.
Evacuation of the City of Ta Khmao
Sokhym Em reported: “On the morning of 17 April 1975, all the people in the city of Ta Khmao were exhilarated to hear that the Liberation Army of King Sihanouk had achieved victory over the Republic government and had great hope that Cambodian society had a king to support them again. The country was certain to be prosperous and happy and would no longer be at war. But following this period of happiness that did not last for even a few minutes, they heard word that all the people must prepare their things because they must temporarily evacuate to the rural areas for three days. They were afraid the Americans would bomb the city. Since there were so many inhabitants within the city it would be difficult to ensure their safety. It was also not necessary to bring many of their belongings since it could only make their journey more difficult. After three days they will each return to their homes. At that time, my mother was extremely worried. She was very troubled and distressed. My father was not at home with her, because he had been visiting his parents for three days. My mother was very angry with my father. She told me, “Your father always tries to save himself. He never thinks about all his children at home. And even an old father at home who is ill and cannot get up from the rug.” My mother could not do anything but sit there and cry and be angry with my father. She told my sister and brother who were about four or five years older than I to help her prepare our things and put them in a sack, because she was not able to get hold of a cart at the Ta Khmao market like our neighbors. Therefore, she didn’t know how she could bring her father with us. [Source: Sokhym Em, Documentation Center of Cambodia ]
“At 10:00 in the morning each of our neighbors who had houses behind the insane asylum in Ta Khmao, left gradually with their children and took different roads to their native districts. But these people were not able to fulfill their plans. They traveled according to the orders of the Khmer Rouge and did not dare to challenge them, because they saw the examples clearly with their eyes. They usually shot and killed anyone who challenged their commands. Around 9:00 in the morning, my mother had still not decided whether or not she would leave with our neighbors. She was still waiting for my father who could arrive on time and may have an idea about how we could take her father with us. But as she waited and waited, she did not see the shadow of my father return to his family. At that time, a soldier carrying a gun came and threatened us to leave immediately. Our neighbors were already leaving gradually. My mother did not dare argue with them. She only answered, “I will be leaving soon.” At that time, my mother walked and looked for her father with tears flowing from her eyes. She told him, “Father, they are forcing us to leave the house for the country for three days. Three days afterwards they will allow us to return again. I’m not able to take you with me, because I must take care of six of your grandchildren.” My grandfather answered, “Don’t think about your father. I am already old. Do whatever you can to take the young children with you first. I can endure three days. Just keep some water and some cakes and food near me so that I can reach them easily by myself.” When my mother heard my grandfather say this, my mother began to cry even more strongly because she felt pity for his words and she felt very sorry for him. But what could she do if this was the situation she was dealt? How could she decide? If she stayed and was not willing to leave, the lives of her six young children would be shot and killed. Finally, my mother had to force herself to take leave of her father in tears. Nothing could compare to the extent of her affliction. She had to leave her old father who was ill and who was unable to move, lying on the rug and alone in the house.
“As we traveled along the road, my mother carried my younger sister who was only one year old, she carried packages on her head, and her thoughts wandered to my father wondering how things were going for him. My two older brothers and sisters walked behind my mother and helped to carry pots, pans, and rice. I couldn’t help with anything because I was still very small. I couldn’t even walk forward. At that time I told my mother I was very sleepy, but honestly I was tired from the journey. I was so small, I couldn’t possibly know how it is like to be tired. When I became sleepy, my older sister carried me and put me on her shoulders so that I could sleep and regain my energy. My family traveled with a throng of people, pushing and crowding each other so much, it was almost impossible to walk. We kept walking without a clear objective, only according to the commands of the Khmer Rouge.
“In one day my family and I had reached Kandal Market. Along the road, things fell all over the place. Glass fell and scattered all over the road. Some houses closed their doors and others had their doors open, but had bullet marks showing on the outside. Cars and motorcycles were abandoned along the roads. No one noticed or cared for them like before. Each person simply struggled to walk and move forward. While we were traveling along the road of Kandal Market, we saw one man who died on his knees. He had his belongings tied to two ends of a pole and placed on his soldier. But there was no sign of blood or gunshots. We did not know how this man died. We only walked pass his corpse without asking anyone about him.
“After we passed Kandal Market, my family forked into a large road and continued our journey on the Russian Federation Street until we reached Pochentong. We wanted to go to our native district. Along the road it smelled rancid from the blood and putrid from the corpses that lay bloated on the floor. Some of the corpses were of normal citizens while others were of Lon Nol soldiers dressed in military uniforms. According to my mother’s narration, I understood that along this national road, many people were killed because Lon Nol soldiers guarded this area heavily since it was an international airport and they were afraid the Liberation Army would attack. But in the end, they still lost. The soldiers ran in order to save their own lives. Some soldiers were captured by the Khmer Rouge and immediately shot and killed. That afternoon, under the scorching sun, my family traveled with thousands of other families to Baek Chan Village. Everyone was dripping with sweat, and was so exhausted and weak, it was almost impossible for them to keep moving forward. The voices of children screaming and crying from hunger intermingled with the sound of the wagons creaking and croaking. Some women had just given birth while others were still pregnant, and still others were in the process of giving birth. Travelers brought blankets to help cover the women while they finished giving birth. When the Khmer Rouge witnessed such suffering they gave the people permission to stop, rest, and cook their rice. But before we could even digest our meal, the soldiers ordered the people to continue their journey again. My family traveled along National Road #3 toward Pratah Lang Village and we rested there at night.
“That night, my mother met one of our neighbors who use to live in the same village, who told her that that day around 12:00 in the afternoon she gathered her belongings from her house behind the hospital in Ta Khmao. She was able to enter our house and she saw my grandfather lying sick in the house alone. She asked my grandfather where his children and grandchildren had gone. And he answered that his children and grandchildren had abandoned him and had kept him there alone. Our neighbor told my mother that she was not able to talk for very long because at that time she saw the Khmer Rouge walking towards her so she tried to escape to Pochentong Street until she reached Pratah Lang Village. As soon as my mother heard her neighbor tell her this, my mother just kept crying from night until morning. She was not able to fall asleep. She kept thinking about the destiny of my grandfather. She didn’t know what would happen if the Khmer Rouge saw her father lying down and unable to get up. What would they do to him? Twenty-five years later until now my mother never found out if her father died from starvation or if the Khmer Rouge shot and killed him in the house. My mother always cried whenever she remembered her father. Within her lifetime, she will never be able to forget. The terrible, barbaric, and inhumane acts of the Khmer Rouge, separated an old father and forced him to remain miserably in a small hut in a village filled with corpses and destruction from flying bullets. This can be compared to an uninhabited and silent forest that is filled with terrible and inhumane things. In the end my mother’s father was forced to suffer and die like an animal.”
Evacuation of Rural Villages After the Khmer Rouge Take Over of Cambodia
Dany Long reported: On the event of 17 April 1975 I was only nine months old. But according to my grandfather, 17 April 1975, was the day in which the Liberation Army gained victory over the Lon Nol army. At that time people throughout the country, especially the people in the rural areas and countryside had many reason to be happy and joyous, believing our country had gained peace and the Royalist regime and King Sihanouk would return to lead the country. According to my grandfather, the people in the countryside were very satisfied with King Sihanouk and loved and respected him tremendously. However, after victory was achieved only a few hours earlier, this state of happiness and joy was slowly deteriorated, when they forced the people to flee from the city, the provinces, and from the crowds of people that gathered. Deceptively, they said that they were clearing out all the Lon Nol soldiers. [Source: Dany Long, Documentation Center of Cambodia///]
“My family was living in Dey Dos Village, Peam Koh Snar Sub-district, Stung Trong District, Kampong Cham Province. They were not yet evacuated immediately. I don’t remember or know exactly, but some days later they forced everyone in my village to flee to the forests near the base of the mountain and the fields, where it was easier to clear the forests for more planting. When they evacuated us my family did not take anything with them outside of two or three outfits. When they evacuated us, everyone in my family separated. I lived with my grandmother and I only saw my mother at night. And when I entered school, I usually remembered that on the 17th of April, they would let us rest for one day so that we would remember this was the day we achieved victory over the Americans. This was also the day in which the Khmer Rouge entered and gained power and forced the people of Cambodia to suffer and nearly 2 million people to die.///
“My father said that on 17 April 1975, probably around 8:00 in the morning, he was evaluating the land and he told the workers to prepare their equipment so they could dig for gems. A month before 17 April 1975, my father was planning to buy a plot of land called Orchard Rae Soen Peouv that was 10 cubic meters large and was 2 kilometers north of Pailin, Battambang Province. Around 8:30, a Khmer Rouge soldier dressed in black with a green Chinese cap, a red and white checkered scarf wrapped around his neck, carrying an AK-47 and belts of bullets wrapped around his body, walked towards my father. At that time my father was not really paying attention. Suddenly this Khmer Rouge soldier walked behind my father and tapped him on the shoulder and told him, “Uncle, you have to leave Pailin for three days first. You don’t have to take any belongings with you because three days afterwards, Angkar will give your parents and uncles and aunts permission to return to their native villages.” After the Khmer Rouge soldier finished speaking, a large group of Khmer Rouge soldiers jumped from a GMC car. They made an announcement on their microphone throughout the orchard Rae Soen Peouv. At this time my father was not able to ask those people why [they had to leave], because everything seemed so formidable. My father told the ten workers, “We will rest from digging for a period. Now we will return home.” When my father rode his motorcycle along the road he saw the cars of the Khmer Rouge and tanks crowding the entire national road. On 17 April 1975, the Khmer Rouge announced, “If brothers and sisters are able to buy land in the city of Pailin, you can remain for now.” At this time, my parents were able to buy a field of corn. The corn stalks were about 30 or 40 meters tall and the field had a width of more than two hectares south of Pailin. The field cost 300,000 riels. In the days that followed, the Khmer Rouge walked and asked for rice and food from the people almost everyday. My father gave them rice once or twice a day, each time 20-30 bags of rice and food from the 18th to the 28th of April 1975.///
“On the 29th of April around 9:00 the Khmer Rouge evacuated all the people in Pailin. According to my father my family also left on this day. Personally, I remember that when we were on the road my family had a Honda motorcycle and we used a wagon that was used for carrying dirt, to carry our belongings. My fourth older sister, my second youngest sister, my youngest sister, and I rode on top of the wagon. My father led the motorcycle that was dragging the wagon and my mother and my four older sisters pushed the wagon from behind. While we were making the journey along the road, I saw many people in a state of disorder. Some carried their belongings on their heads and some carried their child on one arm and their things on the other. Some children, their parents carried on their backs or cradled in their arms. I remembered my mother saying, “Children, do not go anywhere far away. Beware, you might get lost. It will be too difficult to find you because there are too many people.” I saw soldiers dressed in black, wearing green hats, and carrying rifles, walking past people who were making their unplanned journey. At that time I remember most vividly when my uncle fought with my mother. I didn’t know what they were fighting each other about. Last year I asked my mother about this. My mother said my uncle was angry with her. He asked for the car to put his belongings. At that time my mother was so angry she removed all the things from my uncle’s car. She threw away some of the things then after we continued the journey for half a kilometer she realized that the old pillow that she had thrown away had gold in it. She told my grandfather to go find it and when he gave it to my mother, she was extremely happy. ///
While we made the journey, many people died from sickness. Some who were pregnant gave birth along the road. Others were shot and killed by the Khmer Rouge soldiers, because these people complained that they had not brought anything with them and wanted to return to get their things and then follow later. In one blink of an eye the Khmer Rouge shot these people and they all fell dead. According to my father, along both sides of the road, probably about ten to twenty meters, there were at least three to five people dead. From night until morning there were more than one hundred people dead. At that time I was seven years old. Of all the things that happened, I only remember this much about 17 April 1975. But of the activities that followed 17 April 1975, I have many memories. ///
Village That Rebelled Against the Khmer Rouge
Osman Ysa reported: Svay Klang is my native village and is situated in Kroch Chhmar District, Kampong Cham Province. In 1973, there were 1,200 families living there. But, it is unfortunate that starting from 1973 this village endured terrible destruction, because of the policies of one group that invaded, controlled and affected the peace of the villagers. At that time all the villagers knew them as the “National Liberation Front.” Afterwards, they were known as “the Khmer Rouge.” In order to serve the policies of this group, hundreds of villagers were forced to suffer and die. Hundreds of homes were abandoned. At the two large temples, only their foundations remained and on phtah ga in the front. One sourav school was abandoned completely. [Source: Osman Ysa, Documentation Center of Cambodia ++]
“In 1986, one event shocked me. It was while I was digging dirt to build a new temple. I saw many bones of the dead buried in the dirt. There was not one person who knew this place served as a burial ground. Suddenly I remembered the words of my mother and father who use to tell me that they didn’t know where my grandmother, my grandfather, or my aunts and uncles died, when the village was evacuated. I wondered if these bones were the bones of my grandfather, my grandmother, or my aunts and uncles, or if they were the bones of someone else. Not one person could tell me, but I only thought to myself, the persons who died and left their bones here during the evacuation could not be anyone outside of my village. The act of endurance and the act of challenging the Khmer Rouge in Svay Klang Village are historical events that every villager in Svay Klang has either remembered or has heard about. The villagers always tell me about these events. I know that this is not the only place where bones of the dead are buried. They are probably buried everywhere through out the entire village of Svay Klang. It is filled with the graves of people who suffered and were shot and killed by the Khmer Rouge soldiers. ++
Concerning the reason why there was a rebellion in Svay Klang Village, I am not able to remember or understand clearly what happened. I have only heard my parents and my fellow villagers speak and tell me that, “On 8 October 1975, at 6:00 in the evening, the Khmer Rouge started an activity to seize the people. They had already captured two people. At this time the people were caught in a state of disorder and confusion and had begun to rise up to challenge them. The protestors killed two Khmer Rouge soldiers and picked up one of their tables. On the table were listed the names of eighty-five villagers who were supposed to be seized that night. This was not the first time they had planned to capture people. Since 1973 until October 1975, 95 villagers were seized and never seen again. Just before the day of the rebellion, the Khmer Rouge took the Koran to be burned, they forced the villagers to close the temples and the schools and they forced women to cut their hair short. This was an effort to abolish absolutely the religion of Islam.”
Evacuation of Rebellious Rural Village
Osman Ysa reported: April 17, 1975 is the day the Khmer Rouge captured the city of Phnom Penh and began to force the people to leave the city for the countryside. But in Svay Klang Village, on that day, the activities were different from other areas. Not until 10 October 1975, were there activities to evacuate the people from the village. This process of evacuation was pushed forward when the rebellion exploded but was unsuccessful. Here, many educated Cham people understood that the reason why the Chams were evacuated from Cambodia was due to the rebellion that occurred in Svay Klang Village and in neighboring villages like Koh Pall Village. I have met many villagers who escaped death. Some tell me that they were evacuated all the way to Kampong Thom. Some were even sent all the way to Preah Vihear. And others told me that they were forced to live in a diseased area in Dambeh District, Kampong Cham. At that moment, I think about my family who were transported on a boat with four or five other families from my village and taken to Kratie Province. There was only one car to transport all of us to the forested region. When we reached one silent and forested area, I remember they called it “Prey A-Pao”, I saw there were about ten small thatched huts. [Source: Osman Ysa, Documentation Center of Cambodia /\/]
“When the car stopped, soldiers dressed in black commanded everyone in the car to get out and live in the huts set in the middle of the forest. It seemed as if we were a group of people they were simply abandoning. We only waited for the day in which we would die. Around the huts, I saw the graves of fresh corpses. At this time, I did not yet have very clear memories because I was only four years old. But what I remember most clearly was how extremely worried the older people, including my parents, were. But at that time I was very small and I was not able to understand anything. Honestly, everyone was thinking about their own destiny when they saw the graves of the dead. We thought that the people that died and were buried in these graves were probably people who had lived in these huts before us. We knew that it would not be long before they would kill us because we were defeated. And our corpses would also be buried here. Therefore we already saw what was to be destined. A little while later everyone began to feel a little better, because after we stayed there for about half a month, they sent us to other villages. In one village, they added on 2 Cham families. My family walked to a distant village, perhaps 7km away. This village I remember as Kamboa Village. We lived there for a short period until we discovered that the people who lived in this village were also evacuees from Phnom Penh. /\/\
In Kamboa Village my father was sent to a fishery called Peam Tey near the border of Kratie. My two older brothers were placed in a mobile work brigade. My mother had to work in the fields day and night. I had to go cut down kuntreang khet plants and carry cow dung. My younger sister who was not even one year old was kept with the old grandmothers in the mess halls. At that time, it was the very first time in my life when I was completely separated from my family. Before that I had never been far from them. This was also a time that helped me to understand how much I loved my parents. When we rested once in a while I ran to check on my younger sister. When she cried and was hungry for breast milk, I saw the grandmothers feed her rice porridge soup as a substitute for my mother’s breast milk. Sometimes there was not even rice porridge soup. I felt very sorry for my younger sister. At that time I knew that I lost all of my protection and security, because I love and trust my parents more than anything, and they were both separated from me. I always waited for my mother to return from work. I always stared at the fields that she walked towards in the morning. But I only saw groups of small children like myself quickly carrying shovels back and forth. Every silent night when heavy rains fell, I secretly watched my mother cry. She felt my head and told me that, “When it rains heavily, at this time your brother is in the mobile work brigade raising the dam in the rain. Your father is risking an accident in the waves, with the rain and winds blowing in the middle of the lake.” In the end, my youngest sister died because she lacked her mother’s breast milk. My second older brother died from internal bleeding from overstraining and exhaustive work. /\/\
Family Members Separated by the Khmer Rouge
Meng Try Ear reported: “April 17, 1975 is the day the Khmer Rouge regime began and gained victory over nearly 2 million people. More than this, it was the day the Khmer Rouge began to deceive the people of Cambodia, like my family, and told them to leave their homes and go to the rural areas for three days in order to avoid the bombing of the Americans. After they achieved victory over the republic that was led by Field Marshal Lon Nol on 17 April 1975, the Khmer Rouge announced on the microphone for the people who lived in the city to leave Phnom Penh within 24 hours. The announcement they made along the houses intermingled with the blasting sound of gunshots. On this day, my family gathered our clothes, our belongings, and many bags of rice so that we could leave the house and head for Koh Thom District in Kandal Province, which is my father’s native district. [Source: Meng Try Ear, Documentation Center of Cambodia~ ]
“There were many members in my family. I was the youngest child. I was only about ten months old. In the family there were my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, and my parents. We gathered and prepared all kinds of things so that we could quickly evacuate and avoid any terrible events that could occur. We were afraid of them — the “Khmer Rouge.” However, we could not escape. Problems still arose because we had to take longer in our evacuation. My grandfather was not willing to leave the house. He said that he was already too old. He wanted to stay home because he was afraid he would lose all of his belongings in the house. We all sat down so we could explain and convince him to follow us. But my grandfather continued to retain his position. The time we took in leaving forced us to encounter events that ought to make one shudder. At that time, three young Khmer Rouge soldiers entered our house and asked us why we had not yet left our house. We were all so terrified our faces became pale. The young soldiers looked like they had never entered the city before. Their skin was black and they had bullets and guns wrapped around their bodies. Because of continuous threats from the Khmer Rouge, my grandfather finally agreed to leave the house and journey to Koh Thom District, Kandal Province.~
“It was only about 60 kilometers from Phnom Penh to Koh Thom District, but it took us a long time to get there, because the roads were crowded with people, young and old, men and women. The sound of old people crying was like the sound of young children crying. No matter what, we had to continue our journey according to the command of the Party. Along the journey, my family encountered many difficulties because there were many of us. It was also hard because my grandparents were very old. But more than this, my parents had to take turns holding me among the throng of people and amidst the scorching heat. My parents were afraid because my body was beginning to heat up. They were so scared they decided to speed up the journey and asked others to help us reach Koh Thom District first, so they could find a way to care and find medicine for me. My parents told their brothers and sisters and grandparents they had to travel to Koh Thom District first and that they should meet us there. We would arrive their first and wait for them. ~
As my parents waited for their family to arrive after they reached Koh Thom District, they became hopeless and were filled with worry and concern. The separation of my family began at this time. After that day, my grandparents and uncles and aunts decided not to continue their journey to Koh Thom District, because the journey was too difficult. There were too many people, my grandparents were too old, and they had too many things to carry. They also thought that they only needed to leave for three days. Therefore, they didn’t need to travel very far. It would make it too difficult to return to Phnom Penh. Because they thought this way, they decided to stay in another village around Tuk Vil in Svay Choor Village for a short while, so they could relieve their exhaustion and make it easier for them to return to Phnom Penh. This temporary rest of my aunts and uncles and grandparents in Koh Kael, Tuk Vil slowly turned into more than three years. ~
Within this period the members of my family were also separated from each other. This separation filled us with worry and continuous doubt whether our relatives were unaware of what had developed. We wondered what kind of problems they encountered. What kind of peace or suffering did they have to endure? No one could answer the above questions. For three years, my mother and father lived under a state of desperation and apprehension. It is fortunate that the answers were provided while we were separated. ~
“The long period of waiting and hopelessness ended after the victory on 7 January 1979 and as my grandparents began their journey from Tuk Vil to Koh Thom District. The expected arrival of my aunts and uncles and grandparents ended when they and my parents met each other as they were destined and as planned. But this anxious and worrisome wait covered a period of more than three years. More than this, two of my uncles died and were unable to return and reunite with us in the way we had parted from each other. No matter what, this time of reunification was the answer each one of us had been waiting for. All of us were happy and filled with great joy when we met each other once more. But we did not laugh with pleasure. Instead we cried like children who had lost many hours of life. We talked and asked each other about many different reasons. Sometimes tears flowed. Sometimes we could hardly believe this day had arrived and that we would have a day in which we could meet and sit and eat and talk in this way. Honestly, the separation that my family and the family of others had to endure that lasted for over three years, developed through the trick of the Khmer Rouge who promised we would only have to leave for three days. ~
More Family Members Separated by the Khmer Rouge
Bun Sou Sour wrote: “My family originally came from Reap Village, Reap Sub-district, Kandal Stung District, Kandal Province. But after the Lon Nol government began dropping bombs in 1970, my family forced ourselves to flee to Phnom Penh and start up a little business in the Daem Takuh Market in order to support our livelihood. For approximately five years, until 1975, we continued to live in fear from the bombing. The 17th of April is a day of attack and a day of surrender for the Khmer Rouge and the army of the government. My mother’s father-in-law who is my grandfather, was willing to take the risk to make the journey and cross many dangers in order to bring my mother to his house. He understood that it was safer there because it was a stone house that might prevent accidents from gunfire. As soon as she crossed and reached the Russian Hospital, she saw many people crowding the streets. At that time, my mother did not yet know who these people were. On the same day, when she reached my grandfather’s house in front of the water tank near the Olympic Stadium, a large gun battle ensued. She saw many helicopters flying and settling in the clearing of the Olympic Stadium. The sound of large and small guns answered each other. About two hours later, the people dressed in black, who were recognized as the Khmer Rouge, entered my grandfather’s house. They commanded everyone in the house to leave the house. If they did not leave, they would be shot and killed. Fearing the Khmer Rouge would shoot and kill our entire family, we forced ourselves to leave our home and only took with us the clothes on our backs. The Khmer Rouge told us they would allow us to return to our homes after three days so that they could clean up the enemies in the city. [Source: Bun Sou Sour, Documentation Center of Cambodia ^]
“As we walked along the 18 March Road, my mother saw many people walking and crowding the streets. She did not yet know who these people were. The people dressed in black ordered those who had motorcycles to give them up. They said they were going to use it for their work. The journey continued and countless painful scenes could be witnessed along the road. Some people had to give birth without a mid-wife to help them and after they gave birth, they continued their journey without any energy. Seven hours later, at 10:00 at night, my mother reached Koh Thom District. As soon as they got there all the evacuated citizens prepared to cook along the houses of the villagers. Afterwards, the Khmer Rouge worked until morning preparing a table of the biographies of each person in order to make it easier for them to divide and send people to different parts throughout the district. At that time, my mother’s family, like the thousands of other people who were evacuated from the city of Phnom Penh, were separated from each other without knowing where their husband, their parents and children would be driven.~
“The Khmer Rouge sent people like soldiers, civil servants, police, etc., to different places. After they finished dividing people, my father and my mother who was six months pregnant with me, were ordered by the Khmer Rouge to live in Chheu Khmao Village, Chheu Khmao Sub-District, Koh Thom District, Kandal Province. After living there for three months, my mother gave birth to me. One month after giving birth to me the Khmer Rouge sent my family to another place. They told us that there was not yet enough food for the people here. At that time, my father acquired a sickness and was not able to do anything. Therefore, the burden fell on my mother’s shoulders and she forced herself to prepare everything. Most of the things she carried in one end of the pole and on the other end of the pole she carried me. In a wearied tone, my mother said, “Your face was scorched by the sun and your skin was peeling. I carried you many kilometers for three days and three nights until we reached the place the Khmer Rouge had assigned us to go. All of our relatives were separated from each other. As we traveled to Preah Vihear Province, when he saw how exhausted and tired we were, there was one Khmer Rouge cadre named Sou who tried to convince me to name you Sou. This is his name. He understood that a person with this name would not die easily.” ~
“Every time we talk about the 17th of April, I usually remember the day my family was separated from each other. I still have never seen the faces of my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. If there was no 17 April 1975, my family would not have lost so many members. If I count all of my grandparents and aunts and uncles on my mother’s and father’s side, the Khmer Rouge probably killed almost fifty people. They killed family after family accusing them of being capitalists. One question I always have with me is: “Why did the Khmer Rouge take my grandparents, my uncles and aunts and all of my relatives to be killed? What wrong did they commit? And who is the source of these unjust acts?” ~
Yet More Family Members Separated by the Khmer Rouge
Vannak Sok reported: “If you glanced at the situation at that time, there were thousands of people wandering into the village. According to what I was able to observe at that time, many more people were walking from the west to the east. While people were travelling, some carried their belongings on their heads, some carried their things in their arms and their backs and others had a Peta car, a motorcycle, or a cart to push the elderly. In the afternoon, some people stopped to rest underneath the tree and cook rice. Some asked the villagers for a place to cook. Others just kept moving forward. At that time, there was one girl about six-years-old, standing there alone, without anyone asking her what was wrong. She was probably separated from her mother and father because when she cried she kept screaming for her mother. I did not see anyone come to get her. This girl kept walking without knowing where she was going. At that moment, the villagers also saw a new, black car. They didn't know where the owners had gone. I only heard the villagers say that the car belonged to a movie star. Some said the car belonged to a high-ranking official. They saw four people walking past the stream to the island. Afterwards they took a boat across to the far bank and disappeared into Lvea Em District. [Source: Vannak Sok, Documentation Center of Cambodia^^ ]
“Among the hundreds of people, I saw my uncle, named Ma Kum Hean, coming from Phnom Penh. He was a professor in the Reas Niyum period. He brought his wife and all of his children with him. He stayed at my parent's house for s short while, before he would leave to find his native district. At that time, the soldiers dressed in black had evacuated everyone outside of the city for three days. If anyone was stubborn or was unwilling to leave they would be shot and killed. My uncle was very scared. Another group of people were forced to leave quickly even though they had not yet united with their families and were therefore separated from each other. Some were separated from their husbands and some were separated from their beloved children. No matter how much everyone cried and pleaded with them, it did not matter. Therefore, in tears, each family had to force themselves to leave their homes. They could not imagine that a city that was once filled with people could be evacuated entirely by the soldiers dressed in black. The city that was once filled with people became silent. These are the words my uncle told me. ^^
“On the other hand, in my village, the people dressed in black were not as brutal as my uncle had described them. When they saw older people, they called them "nhorm." (this is a word of respect used as a substitute for mother or father.) "Please, nhorm, quickly leave to find your native village. Angkar will not harm you." They only told the people who had recently arrived from Phnom Penh, "Angkar only want you to leave the city for three days so that they can clean up the city. When Angkar has finished re-organizing it, brothers and sisters can return and live there. Our Angkar will only kill the enemies. If they see the Lon Nol soldiers they will kill them immediately. They will not keep them." ^^
“In the evening, around 5:00 on the 17th of April, the people who were evacuated from Phnom Penh, remained silent during their journey. I could only see smoke from the fire. Along the road no one spoke to each other about anything. Perhaps they were tired from their travels. Around 8:00 at night, none of the villagers or the people who had just arrived from the city asked each other about anything. It was completely quiet. I only saw the groups of soldiers dressed in black walking to and fro and a dog howling. That night, I believe most of the people were not able to fall asleep. Everyone was thinking about the problems that they might face the next day. ^^
“April 17, 1975 is the most horrific day for the people throughout Cambodia. Every person recognizes this day as a day that forced families and relatives to endure much pain and suffering. There is nothing that can be compared. Some died, some were separated from their husbands and children and their parents. Almost all of my mother's family died. ^^
Text Sources: Documentation Center of Cambodia, 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.
Last updated May 2014