I was born and raised in Tuol Kork in 1952 and my father Mok Lean was one of the first psychiatrists in Cambodia before the civil war.
I was the eldest of three children and my sisters’ names were Mok Sin Hong and Mok Sin Ou. Being the eldest, I became the main caretaker of my sisters.
When Khmer Rouge soldiers captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, my father sent my sisters and I to stay temporarily in Calmette hospital with our aunt who was working as a doctor there. Eventually my sisters, my aunt and I were forced to relocate to a village in Pursat province.
In Pursat province, my aunt persuaded Sin Hong to marry a Khmer Rouge soldier. Though my sister didn’t want to marry him and neither did I, I was very sickly and weak and such people were often targets for execution as they were of no use to the regime.
After Sin Hong was married, she and her family were sent to live in another village near the Tonle Sap Lake. Several months later, Sin Hong and her mother-in-law returned home to live with us.
Sin Hong was pregnant and her husband was not with her. He was under arrest on suspicion of being a Vietnamese.
Two days later while Sin Hong was watering vegetables behind her house at dusk, three armed militias wearing red krama around their necks arrived at the door and told everyone in the house to pack quickly to be moved to the re-education center.
We all left promptly packed and travelled to various communities, ultimately ending up in Kbal Chhoeu Puk village.
When we arrived at Kbal Chhoeu Puk village, the militias put Sin Hong and her mother-in-law in a detention center. I was freed and while I begged the Khmer Rouge cadre to let my sister go, the cadre refused.
One day, I was sent to work in a village that was next to Sya where my sister was working. I couldn’t recognise Sing Hong.
She was severely under-weight and unwell. Deeply distressed, I wept and hugged my sister. On another occasion, I was working near my sister’s unit, but we did not meet.
She wrote a letter to me on waste cement paper with a burned tree branch saying that she would deliver her baby soon and that she needed nutritious food to eat. The letter revived my spirits.
I began to grow vegetables at my house to prepare for her arrival. She never came and I never saw her again.
I heard from another prisoner who was in detention with my sister that due to severe hunger, Sin Hong drank palm juice without permission from the Khmer Rouge cadres and they punished her by cutting her throat with the branch of a palm tree. The punishment was carried out in front of all the prisoners as a warning.
My other sister, Sin Ou, was forced to do hard labour to build a dam. Starving and malnourished, Sin Ou had also begun showing signs of delirium. When she saw an empty plate, she would often pretend to eat from it.
Because she could not withstand the harsh working conditions, one day Sin Ou fell to the ground and lost consciousness at the dam site. Seeing this, I carried Sin Ou home.
But I couldn’t help my sister. When night came, Sin Ou regained consciousness and began to talk to me, still delirious from hunger. Sin Ou seemed to know she was going to die because she talked about fond memories of home.
I held on to my frail sister and we fell asleep together.
At dawn I tried to wake her, but she had passed away.
I was the only one who survived the Khmer Rouge period. Sin Hong was executed and Sin Ou died of starvation. My father, my two step brothers (Mok Bandith and Mok Rithiya) and one step-sister (Mok Sin Heng) all disappeared.
To this day I am filled with regret and guilt when I think of Sin Hong’s marriage to the Khmer Rouge cadre. I feel that Sin Hong exposed herself to danger in order to protect us.
My sister was very healthy and energetic. She would not have died if she had not married that Khmer Rouge cadre. But she did it to save my life.
I will never forget my other sister, Sin Ou, who died in my arms.
I can’t forget the trauma of that period. I don’t want to see any palm trees because they remind me of how the Khmer Rouge cadres used a branch of this tree to kill my sister, and when I think of Sin Ou, I cannot believe that the daughter of one of the most famous psychiatrists in the country died so horribly.
I want justice at the Khmer Rouge tribunal for my sisters and to heal the psychological wounds in my heart.
I will hold the memory of my late sisters in my heart until the day I die.
Mok Sin Heang