ONCE the old woman who now lies groaning on the floor of her home was the wife of resistance hero against the French Dap Chhuon.
She was reputed to have magical powers as a sorceress – powers that she claims helped protect her while soldiers loyal to King Norodom Sihanouk tried to gun her husband down in a rice paddy.
She survived civil war as a widow after her husband was killed in 1959, managed to remarry and have more children, but lost one daughter under the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
Now Chan Oudomsak, more commonly known as Domsak, lies on a simple mat. At the age of 83, her tumultuous life is drawing painfully to a close, says her daughter Kherng Bronorm.
Even her magical powers appear to have deserted her as she moans softly, a medical drip attached to one of her arms while the other looks painfully swollen.
“She became ill just before Khmer New Year in April,” says her daughter, who was the product of her mother’s later (and third) marriage.
“She’s had high blood pressure for a long time, but now her body is all swollen and she’s partly paralysed. She can’t talk very often but she does understand when we talk to her. Sometimes she can manage a word or two, and she can use signs to show what she needs.”
It’s a far cry from the glory days of the 1950s, when Dap Chhuon became a powerful warlord fighting to overthrow French colonialism.
History sees him as either a terrific guerrilla leader or a brutal thug who terrorised the province after King Norodom Sihanouk made him governor of Siem Reap in 1954. With a loyal following of troops behind him, he allegedly used force to quell anti-government rallies.
But during the late 1950s, Dap Chhuon – otherwise known as Chhuon Mehoul Pech and other aliases – became disenchanted with Sihanouk’s warmth to Communist China. He was suspected of being involved in a coup plot against the king, who allegedly ordered his assassination. That fateful day in late 1959 remains seared in the collective family memory, says Kherng Bronorm.
“When Dab Chhuon was arrested, he was wearing a normal sarong because it was a Sunday, his day off, and he was not in uniform,” recalls the dutiful daughter.
“He was in his rice paddy at Srea Noy when he yelled that he’d been shot. He handed his pistol over to my mum, telling her to kill him outright, but she was too frightened to shoot him. Domsak called out loudly to the soldiers please to stop shooting, but they kept firing.
“However, they couldn’t kill her or Dap Chhuon then because she had magical spells protecting her.
“My mother was then taken away by truck and held for a few days before she was released. By then, her husband had disappeared,” says Kherng Bronorm.
Now that life is slipping away from Domsak, her daughter is appealing for sponsors who may have admired her husband and his resistance against French colonists to help ease her last few moments.