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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Evacuation of Phnom Penh: 3 days that became 3 years

Evacuation of Phnom Penh: 3 days that became 3 years

evacuation.jpg
evacuation.jpg

In Cambodia, during the rice planting season and during the Khmer New Year celebration,

it is usually scorching hot. However during the rice season this year, the weather

has transformed from one very hot to cooler with heavy showers.

17 April 1975: The Khmer Rouge enter Phnom Penh and the evacuation begins. The promised 'three days' became three years.

Even though the weather has changed, my memories about the events that passed during

this rice season in the decade of 1970, have not altered with the weather. The rice

season continues to clearly remind me of the events that developed on April 17, 1975,

because they are the most horrible and dark events. This was the day of birth for

the Democratic Kampuchea regime - the day the Khmer Rouge regime began and gained

victory over nearly two million people.

It was the day the Khmer Rouge began to deceive the people of Phnom Penh, like my

family, and told them to leave their homes and go to the rural areas for three days

"to avoid the bombing of the Americans".

After they achieved victory over the republic that was led by Field Marshal Lon Nol

on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge announced over loudspeakers for the people who

lived in the city to leave Phnom Penh within 24 hours. The announcement they made

along the streets 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.

There were 13 members in my family group. I was the youngest child, merely 20 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.

My grandfather was not willing to leave the house. He said he was already too old

and 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.

At that time, three young Khmer Rouge soldiers entered our house and asked us why

we had not yet left. 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.

It was about 60 kilometers from Phnom Penh to Koh Thom District and it took us a

long time to get there, because the roads were crowded with people, young and old,

men and women. 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 amid 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.

As my parents waited for their family to arrive 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.

They decided to stay in another village around Teuk Vil commune of Sa-ang District

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 Teuk 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? For three years, my mother

and father lived in 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 over the KR on

January 7, 1979 and as my grandparents began their journey from Teuk 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.

The Khmer Rouge killed almost two million Cambodian people, including my relatives.

It is time now for senior Khmer Rouge leaders to stand trial and confess their crimes.

* Meng-Try Ea is an author of Victims and perpetrators? and a forthcoming book, The

Chain of Terror. He works at the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

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