THE boy looked relaxed and comfortable, almost aloof, squatting among the
battle-hardened guerrillas who defected with Colonel Chhouk Rin from Phnom
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
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.
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
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
"I was not scared or nervous," he said. "I felt
"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."
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
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
"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:
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."
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."
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.
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