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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Taking the Family to War and Back

Taking the Family to War and Back

BATTAMBANG - Tap Saroeun went with his family to north-west Cambodia one and a half

years ago; not because of any political reasons but just to give, or so he thought,

his family a better life.

He fell for the Khmer Rouge propaganda he heard in his village. He was a willing

recruit. So were his wife and baby. Yet the 32 year old ex-farmer did not receive

any of the salary or proper food the KR promised him.

He quickly became disillusioned with the repetitive walking from his village in Prang,

in the Mong Russey district, to Sdok Pravet to collect ammunition and weapons.

He said he had to cross rivers and climb hills and tackle jungle to reach his destination.

Along with his wife, Phun Kheun, he was forced to go to nearby villages to ask for

food. He longed to return to the simple life he once had.

Saroeun could not estimate how many kilometers there were between his village and

the ammunition stock pile but he said it was a day away on foot.

When the rainy season began in full force last month his company of 50 men "went

to live on a hill in Sdok Pravet to protect themselves from the floods," he

said.

The men were sub-divided into smaller units. His unit was composed of 12 people,

five of whom had their families with them.

Saroeun said he often thought of escape but could not since the "security was

very tight." He told nobody of his plans either for fear the information would

leak to Sem, his commanding officer."He would have killed us without hesitation,"

Saroeun said.

While out in the jungle he contracted a tropical disease. There was no medicine for

his illness. He felt desperate to escape and seized his opportunity one night while

he was out with the other members of the group.

Saroeun deliberately trailed behind the others until he felt far enough from them

to make a run for it. Phun gladly followed her husband even though it was heavy going

with their two-year-old son in tow.

According to the escapees', others deserted also but they soon lost contact with

each other. He said he was the first to abscond. Fifteen days later and after much

traveling and hiding, Tap and his family surrendered themselves and have since been

held by the Malaysian Battalion in Battambang.

Carmen Burger, the International Red Cross's (ICRC) Chief of the Sub-Delegation in

Battambang, monitors the fate of Khmer Rouge guerrillas who surrender to government

forces.

Her task is to ensure that the detainees are treated according to the Geneva Convention.

Burger, of course, is a neutral party and could just as well check, any CAF (Cambodian

Armed Forces) if detained by the Khmer Rouge.

She simply said, "We are not interested in fair trials-we are only interested

in the human rights of the detained."

For example she went on,"We get in touch with the (individual's) family. Then

we try to get the authorities to let him see his family."

When Burger was asked what options ICRC could employ if someone detained went missing

she replied, "The authorities would be held responsible."

She said this meant inquiries would be made and "in the case of violation's

(of the Geneva Convention) we make general statements to the public."

Burger believes that such statements can affect world opinion and that is their greatest

power.

Tap and his family, want, interestingly enough, a similar life in the future as he

is considering "joining the national army." His fickleness is probably

motivated by an empty stomach.

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