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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer Rouge reflect with regret

Khmer Rouge reflect with regret

PAILIN - 25 years after their greatest victory, former Khmer Rouge cadres look back

on the past with regret and frustration. Some speak of lost opportunities, some lament

the youthful ignorance that brought them into the movement.

Others vent their anger at leaders who, they say, forgot all about their subordinates

after the 30-year-long struggle was over.

In her small wooden house on the outskirts of Pailin, 40-year-old Sam Nuon recalls

what became almost half a lifetime of carrying arms and food supplies to KR troops

at the front lines. Born in Banteay Srey district near Siem Reap, she joined the

guerrillas in 1973 - not because she believed in their communist ideology, but because

her father had taken a new wife, that the then 13-year-old Nuon didn't get along

with.

Nuon remembers distributing food and clothes to newly evacuated people from the towns

after the KR takeover in April 1975. Other than that, she says she was put to work

in the rice fields like everyone else. In 1978, her husband of only two years was

arrested. Nuon never saw him again.

When the Vietnamese chased Pol Pot and his henchmen into the jungle, Nuon joined

the KR military and spent most of the next two decades in the female supply battalions

that carried arms and ammunition to the front-line fighters.

"It was dangerous all the time. We had to look out for shelling and ambushes.

All we could do was to rely on our good luck and fate," remembers Nuon.

But today, she feels that all her efforts earned her nothing but misery.

"After all those years of struggling, we got nothing. It has been more than

three years since Pailin defected, but we still have to cope on our own. Now that

there is peace, our leaders have forgotten about us - their own comrades. I regret

the past, but I cannot complain about it or change it," says Nuon.

Living at a tiny farm a few hundred meters from Nuon's small plot of land, 43-year-old

Bun Kim Heng could have been one of Nuon's fellow supply cadres who operated in the

area along the Northwestern part of the Thai border.

Heng joined the KR in 1971 as a young teenager because she wanted to study medicine.

During the KR regime, she continued her studies in Phnom Penh and worked at a military

hospital in Kampong Cham. But in 1977 when her oldest brother and three cousins -

all political officers in the Eastern Zone - were purged and killed, Heng was sent

to a work camp.

As the Vietnamese tanks rolled across the border in 1979, Heng was evacuated and

crossed the Mekong River along with everyone else in the camp. At one point she found

herself on the Western river bank while her mother was calling out to her from the

Eastern side.

"But I did not go with my mother. I stayed with the KR, because I was afraid

to go over to the Vietnamese," explains Heng.

Today, she works for the Pailin Department of Social Affairs, while her husband has

been dismissed from his heavy artillery unit. Earlier the family received 500 baht

a month from the KR army, but now things are tight.

"There has been no prosperity. If this country hadn't turned out like this,

I would have had a good education," says Heng, who hopes to get a chance to

study English and French.

In Sopheap speaks both English and French fluently. From 1979 to 1993, he spent most

of his time abroad as a counselor to the KR embassy in China and ambassador to Egypt.

Since his defection in June 1998, Sopheap has withdrawn from political life, spending

his days tilling the soil around his modest house and analyzing the memories of a

long life in the near-top echelons of the KR.

"I still want to do something for the country, but I don't know what or how,"

he says.

Clearly a man of intellect and true commitment, Sopheap deeply regrets the atrocious

failure of the Democratic Kampuchea regime.

"Not only the KR, but also many other people had great expectations after the

fall of the Lon Nol regime. But we failed to build something new. It was a terrible

loss of opportunity," Sopheap says.

The feelings of regret quietly stayed with him in the years after the fall of the

KR regime. And although he does not distance himself completely from every decision

that Pol Pot ever made, Sopheap also points out that he sometimes disagreed with

the KR leadership.

"I followed my own thinking, but I didn't express my ideas, because I had no

power, no army. I did not believe in the continuation of the war, and when UNTAC

failed to create peace, I felt that I couldn't foresee any solution," he says.

So why did he stay with the movement so long?

"I had a choice to go and live abroad in 1993. But to join who? To do what?

I came back in solidarity with those who were still fighting."

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