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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ...and the embassy veteran who never left

...and the embassy veteran who never left

K HUY Muy, 54, has worked for every Australian ambassador since 1957, interrupted

by a 16-year forced gap during the Khmer Rouge and successive regimes.

In 1975, it was Muy who was given the keys to the Australian Embassy when its expatriate

staff fled Cambodia in the face of the Khmer Rouge advance on Phnom Penh.

He stayed there alone for three months, before the city fell to the rebels and he,

like millions of others, was forced out into the countryside.

He returned to work for Australia when diplomatic relations were resumed between

Canberra and Phnom Penh in 1991, and is now driver to Ambassador Tony Kevin.

Muy first got a job at the embassy in 1957, working as a messenger, receptionist

and driver.

He still recalls the day in early 1975 when he was told the embassy was to be evacuated,

in the face of the seemingly inevitable fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge.

It was about three months before the actual fall when two embassy officials called

together the Khmer staff to tell them of the withdrawal.

They promised, says Muy, that "if the situation in Cambodia calms down, we will

come back."

The embassy's furnititure was gathered together and stored in its chancellery (now

the house of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen) and Muy drove the Australian staff to

the airport.

"They gave all the car keys and the office keys to me and asked me to look after

the properties properly, and said they would send salary to me through the French

embassy.

"I didn't feel frightened because I had heard an anouncement that King Sihanouk

would be the head of the Khmer liberation front. I thought that when Sihanouk came,

the Australian Embassy would come back. If anyone had ever known the King, they knew

that the King wouldn't do bad things to the Khmer people so we didn't have to be

scared."

Muy says that for the next three months he stayed at the embassy alone - other Khmer

staff dropped by once in a while - and it was only a week before the city's fall

that his family joined him there.

"In that three months I got no salary at all. I just used my savings. But I

didn't worry because I still believed the embassy would come back."

"On April 17 [when Phnom Penh fell]", Muy says, "five Khmer Rouge

soldiers in black clothes and with guns rang the doorbell. They told me to leave

the embassy to escape American air bomb attacks."

For the next three years, eight months and 20 days, Muy endured the hardships of

the Khmer Rouge rule, and further risked his life to try to hear any news of Australia.

Evacuated with his family to Kompong Cham, and later to Kompong Thom, he remembers

eavesdropping on Voice of America radio broadcasts some local Khmer Rouge cadre used

to listen to nightly.

"I was curious to know about the situation in Cambodia. I wanted to know whether

Australia had relations with the Khmer Rouge, then they could open the embassy again.

"I had brought along with me an Australian badge in case I met any foreign journalists,

then I could show it to them as proof that I had worked for the Australian Embassy.

I thought there must be some foreigners who would come."

But none came, and Muy soon learned that trying to find out about the outside world

was a dangerous business.

His neighbor was killed, apparently after being noticed listening to a radio. But

Muy continued to try to listen to the radio. "I wasn't scared any more because

I thought sooner or later I would be killed."

At times, he was questioned about his background. He lied and said he had been a

driver for a Chinese firm, because he knew the Chinese were helping the Khmer Rouge.

He spent three months in jail in 1977 after his children stole rice, and "thought

I would rather die than live suffering from brutality and hunger." Three of

his five children died during Pol Pot times.

In 1979, three days after Vietnamese liberation troops took over Kompong Thom, Muy

and his family walked back to Kompong Cham. It took 19 days.

They stayed there a year, before Muy heard that Phnom Penh was open again. He set

off on a bicycle for a 10-hour ride to the capital.

But on the outskirts of Phnom Penh he found Vietnamese troops, who would not allow

him enter. He was sent back to Kompong Cham.

A year later, in 1981, he was allowed back to Phnom Penh and got a job as a driver

with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

His wife divorced him and left with his children to the Site 2 border refugee camp,

and he later remarried and had four more children.

He remembers those times, and those during the later State of Cambodia regime, as

difficult and sometimes dangerous ones.

Cambodia remained isolated from the rest of the world and, though he tried to talk

to any foreigners he saw, he had to be careful. "If they [the government] saw

us speaking with foreigners, they would accuse you of being CIA and put you in jail."

It was not till 1990 that Muy heard talk about the return of the Australian Embassy.

An Australian NGO worker in Phnom Penh told him "the embassy is going to open

very soon. When they open, they will ask you to work for them."

Before the embassy opened, an Australian delegation came to Phnom Penh. Muy remembers

meeting them at a hotel and being given $800, which they said was from their own

pockets, and a letter from one of his former ambassadors, Noel Deschamps.

In 1991, the embassy reopened and Muy was hired by new ambassador John Holloway.

"I was so excited because I got a job as I had wished."

Muy speaks well of Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans, and of all the

ambassadors he has worked under. One of his prized possessions is a citation from

Australia's Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Muy says his job is much like it was before, though security around Cambodia is worse

now.

He fondly remembers driving diplomats through the night to Kep or Kampot for weekend

holidays a few decades ago, but cannot do that now.

But Muy is happy to be back in the driver's seat and has resisted other job offers

because, he says, "Australia is my old boss."

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