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Sharing oral history of a national tragedy

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The Documentation Centre of Cambodia is today holding the first of two conferences set to address the topic of genocide. From the announcement: “Both conferences will be attended by different groups of Cham Muslim women and religious leaders, Buddhist monks, priests, members of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom minority, the Vietnamese minority, and hill tribe community members.”

Along with ethnic Khmers, these minority groups suffered greatly under the regime. Between 100,000 and 400,000 Cham Muslims and approximately 300,000 Vietnamese died during this period. During today’s afternoon session, Farina So, DC-Cam’s oral history project leader, will lead a dialogue in which participants will share their experiences during the regime.

At a meeting of Khmer Kampuchea Krom survivors in Pursat province, Svay Daun Keo commune primary school teacher Khon Savin recalled the painful memory of living in Rumlech commune during the Khmer Rouge regime. Despite the event taking place more than two decades ago, Khon Savin , now in her early 40s, solemnly described the events when she met Andrew Cayley, ECCC international co-prosecutor, at the meeting.

The most salient memory for Khon Savin is the death of her father, Suy Hong. Khon Savin and her family were evacuated to Rumlech commune when the Khmer Rouge came to power in mid-1975. Less than one year after the evacuation, her mother, who was Khmer Krom, became pregnant and increasingly weak. The Khmer Rouge viewed her mother as sickly and thus a target for execution. Khon Savin was about 6 years old at the time and remembers that the Khmer Rouge wanted to get rid of all the Khmer Krom because they were alleged to have “Vietnamese brains”. One day, her mother was very ill and hospitalised. Khon Savin was told that her mother was injected with water and died immediately in the hospital.

Khon Savin’s father was accused of eating human flesh and was sent to be killed in 1977. At that time, he was 30 years old and a tailor by trade. He was full Khmer with no Khmer Krom blood ties, but his wife’s parents were Khmer Krom. Under the regime, her father was tasked to dig graves, among other duties. One day he was ordered to bury the dead with several other men. More exhausted than usual that day, he was unable to dig the pits deep enough to bury the corpses completely. Wild dogs and other animals came to eat the dead flesh. The Khmer Rouge, however, accused her father of eating the corpses. He was escorted by two Khmer Rouge cadres with machetes at day time to be killed. Seeing her father escorted away, Khon Savin walked behind her father. Her uncle, who was a Khmer Rouge, was also there at the time. Her father pleaded with his brother to let his daughter survive. His brother promised to do his utmost to keep his niece safe.

Khon Savin remembers that one day she wanted to go along with a group of people called to grow corn. She knew that the group of people were being sent to be killed and did not let his niece go. During the regime, an order from above to relocate to another location or grow crops in another location usually meant the person would be killed.

Her family name comes from her uncle’s name, Khon, because of his role in keeping her alive. She even calls her uncle “father” because she feels he saved her life and raised her.

As painful as this memory is, Khon Savin has never forgotten this experience. It remains fresh in her mind. In particular, she recalls with clarity the death of her father. “Although I was young at that time, I feel that I can remember most of what happened, including the suffering.”
__________________________
Farina So is an oral history project leader at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia.

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