I have heard a lot from survivors who told me about the hardships they experienced and the suffering they endured during the Khmer Rouge regime. I understand their feelings, as I know the Khmer Rouge regime was one of the most brutal in the world and claimed millions of lives. I always viewed former Khmer Rouge soldiers as being bad.
Last week, I met a former Khmer Rouge cadre for the first time, and from what he told me, Khmer Rouge cadres also suffered. Did everyone suffer under the Khmer Rouge regime? The 68-year-old Kan Phorn told me about his life as a former Khmer Rouge cadre at village level.
Kan Phorn, who was one of the committee members in a village in the Chumkiri district of Kampot province, was in charge of an economic unit and was responsible for collecting and finding food for the whole village every day.
It is widely known that many people experienced starvation during the Khmer Rouge era. Some villagers survived under Kan Phorn’s leadership, but some died.
Although most survivors talk about starvation under the Khmer Rouge regime, Kan Phorn said he had worked very hard to ensure his villagers had enough to eat, even though it was not much.
Sitting across from me on a bench, he said: “Whenever there was a shortage of food reported by the villagers, I would make a request to the communal office for extra food such as corn and rice.”
Kan Phorn agreed, however, that the life of the people was very fragile, especially those who were educated, such as teachers, doctors or soldiers.
Despite his position as a village committee member, Kan Phorn experienced brutality and hardship and led a similar life full of fear, sorrow and compassion, like those of ordinary villagers. He risked his life to save his villagers from harm.
He did a lot of physical work in the field, carrying soil on his shoulders. The work was so hard that he dislocated his shoulder, and the scar remains today.
In summary, it can be concluded that not only did Kan Phorn, who had an official title on the village council, experience similar hardships and brutality to ordinary people, but he was also able to help and protect many of his villagers from harm – evidence that who were the oppressors and who were the victims during the Khmer Rouge period is a complex issue.