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Chhouk Ra - a born fighter

Chhouk Ra - a born fighter

THE boy looked relaxed and comfortable, almost aloof, squatting among the

battle-hardened guerrillas who defected with Colonel Chhouk Rin from Phnom

Vour.

He claimed he was 18 but looked much younger. He had been a soldier

since he was 15.

Curious, laughing ex-Khmer Rouge soldiers, all dressed

alike in brand new Royal army fatigues, quickly surrounded the boy. They seemed

keen to know what he might have to say in his first interview with a Western

journalist.

The self-appointed interpreter was no less than the

regimental sergeant-at-arms, in charge of training the men both while they were

guerrillas and now as legitimate soldiers.

The interview progressed

little further than asking the boy what weapon he regularly carried ('Akka,' he

said - an AK47), when another defector joined the crowd.

Chhouk Rin stood

on the outside of the circle, arms folded, smiling at the boy.

The

sergeant-at-arms said: This boy is the colonel's son. His name is Ra." The

deference shown by the other men to Ra - and his own self-assuredness - was

suddenly more understandable.

The only and eldest of Rin's five children,

he was raised on Phnom Vour. He learnt to shoot his AK-47 at monkeys in the

forest.

Since joining the KR as a fully fledged guerrilla, he had been on

three raids with his father.

The first was at Kompong Trach district, he

said, where a raiding party of 50 fighters went looking for food and

medicine.

"I was not scared or nervous," he said. "I felt

normal.

"It was no trouble. We were to just go there and shoot at

government positions. It was hit and run; very quick, very heavy, then run

away," he said.

Government soldiers shot back at the raiders but the

attack was successful. "We took medicine and ammunition. We ran into the

villagers' houses and took possessions, then we ran away."

His father was

very happy, he said, and "I was very proud... like a man."

The interview

continued over lunch. When a soldier started pouring a glass of beer for Ra, he

barked out an order "No". Like his father, Ra neither smokes nor drinks

alcohol.

While soldiers of lower status or rank acted accordingly toward

their seniors, Ra seemed - though almost shy - very much the equal of everyone,

except his father.

Ra was asked whether anyone was killed on the Kompong

Trach raid.

"Two people killed," he said.

By him? Ra did not smile or seem to show any emotion but, wiping some dust

from the toe of his new boots with the tip of his forefinger, said:

"Yes."

Did he feel sad for those people? "I had to shoot because they

were my enemy," he said. "If I didn't shoot them they would kill me."

His

second raid was at Kep town - "We didn't shoot anyone" - and the third, his most

successful, at Kong Tung. There, a band of guerrillas prevented a "high-ranking

government official" from visiting the town, which they held for some time

before withdrawing. And of his father's most well known raid, on the Kampot

train carrying three foreign tourists? "I didn't go on the train ambush," he

said, with just a hint of disappointment. "I was sick."

He pronounced

himself happy to have defected from Phnom Vour with his family, and to join the

Royal Cambodian Armed Forces to continue to learn to be a soldier.

His

father, meanwhile, reckons he needs a bit more experience.

"He's not so

good at fighting, because I let him study," Rin said. "Now, if I have money I

will let him study again."

But his son would, like him, always be a

soldier "because if the father is a soldier, the sons also have to join the

military."

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