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Chong Kneas: From Both Sides of the Gun

Chong Kneas: From Both Sides of the Gun

Thy was out fishing when the two Khmer Rouge (KR) soldiers came to his house in the

floating village of Kompong Phlok and spoke to his wife. She thought they were State

of Cambodia (SOC) soldiers when they asked to see her husband and she said he was


"They responded 'quickly go and find him. We cannot wait. We are soldiers. We

are not here to wait for anybody' then they looked at us from top to bottom and shouted

'go upstairs' and leveled their guns at us," she said.

When Thy arrived back they told him to get in his boat and take them west along the

Tonle Sap.

"I guided two soldiers to the end of the village where other Khmer Rouge soldiers

were waiting," he said.

The other soldiers boarded and told him and six other Cambodian fishermen whose boats

they had hijacked to keep going west.

Thy said they all had large guns and he was terrified. After a short distance one

boat broke down. The soldiers abandoned it, but insisted the owner get into another

boat and come along.

They reached the outskirts of Chong Kneas about 7 p.m. and as they motored into the

village two boats separated from the group, but Thy and the other three boatmen were

directed to the "video hall".

"Arriving at the village they told everybody they were Khmer Rouge, everyone

was very surprised," said Thy.

"They ordered me to drive the boat far deeper into the fishing village, we stopped

at the video parlor, but the engine was still operating. They went up to the video

parlor and after shooting the Vietnamese, they got on board and ordered me to drive


"I did not hear anything, I was hiding in the boat...I don't know what happened

to the other houseboats because the Khmer Rouge soldiers split into groups."

Inside the video hall, villagers were gathered, as was their evening custom, to chat

about the day's fishing, share a few drinks and watch a film or two. For the past

month the talk had centered around the Khmer Rouge who had been camped near the village

of Kompong Phlok, only 16 kilometers away. Tuan was spending a typical Wednesday

night out with his nephew watching a video when the KR launched their attack.

The inhabitants of this small floating ethnic Vietnamese fishing village were terrified.

During the previous month, the men had endured numerous sleepless nights expecting

guerrillas from the radical Maoist faction would attack, but they hadn't. U.N. naval

observers based in Siem Reap had stepped up river patrols desperately trying to increase

their presence and ward off the attack which they too expected and the tactic seemed

to have worked.

But then suddenly out of the darkness came the sound of gunfire. Within seconds gunmen

boarded the floating video hall and began firing into the crowd.

"Don't go anywhere," shouted an attacker. In the ensuing chaos, people

screamed and more than 20 jumped overboard, but Tuan dived under a table. He lay

there, playing dead as the attackers continued to fire at those who couldn't escape.

Then they left.

Tuan kept still and two minutes later the gunmen returned and began to fire again

at the wounded who had started to groan or move. When they thought everyone was dead

they began to ransack the boat taking a video recorder, some cassettes and jewelry

from the bodies of the dead and anything else valuable they could find. Tuan heard

someone order them to hurry because they feared the SOC soldiers would try to cut

off their escape route.

They left a second time, but Tuan remained motionless under the table, terrified

they would return and find him. For 15 minutes he listened to the firing in the village.

When it stopped he crawled out over the dead bodies that littered the floor. Someone

else got up. It was his 16 year old nephew. Like Tuan he had played dead. The two

were the only survivors on board the boat. They surveyed the dead and lifted several

bodies that were half in the water back onto the boat and laid them out next to the

others. Then they jumped into the Tonle Sap and swam home, only to find Tuan's 12-year-old

daughter had been wounded by a stray bullet.

Tuan picked up his daughter and took her by boat to the mainland where he was able

to transport her to hospital along with the other wounded victims. He is adamant

the attackers were Khmer Rouge insisting that only they would come back and shoot

the wounded and dying.

Thy said the soldiers came out of the video hall with stolen goods-a video recorder

and a lot of jewelry. He was then ordered to head back towards Kompong Phlok.

"One boat was chasing after us at a distance of about two kilometers behind,

while I was driving there was shooting from behind, but I don't know who it was,

whether it was ours (SOC police) or the Khmer Rouge," he said. The soldiers

disembarked just outside his village and went into the jungle ordering Thy to go

back to his house.

The next day Thy was interviewed by U.N. and SOC police.

He says he had no way to warn the Vietnamese and wishes he could have told them.

They were friends he said and they had lived together in harmony before this. He

now lives in fear that someone from the Vietnamese camp will identify him, assuming

he is Khmer Rouge andwill try to kill him.

"If they (Vietnamese) had not come to help us (in 1979) we may not have survived

the suffering, so we just made friends with them, but at this point I don't know

what to say. We feel sorry for them," Thy said.

"I did not know where I was going at the time. If I had I wouldn't have let

them die. I don't know what to tell them. If I say something I'll be accused of collaborating

with the Khmer Rouge."

"UNTAC told us not to be worried, but we are still afraid, we'd be happy if

somebody came to protect us," he added.

"Before UNTAC arrived each family in the village had a gun and we guarded our

village every night. Now UNTAC has collected them from us."

Tuan was born in Kbal Taol as were his parents. In 1973 they fled the Khmer Rouge

and went to southern Vietnam. They returned in 1981 and have been living in Chong

Kneas ever since.

For the next three days the villagers were deep in mourning burying their dead or

tending the wounded in a local Siem Reap hospital. Those who could began to pack

up their boats and flee-some taking the bodies of their deceased family members;

others left after burying their loved ones. Five days later, all but six families

had fled to Kbal Taol in Battambang province where they claimed there were more SOC

troops to protect them.

By the end of the week the new arrivals had also fled Kbal Taol fearing an attack

on that village.

Now more than 400 ethnic Vietnamese families have joined the village community at

Kompong Luong.

Some said they were going on to Phnom Penh and one family was headed back to Vietnam.

But for many, Vietnam was not an option-they were born in Cambodia as were their

parents and grandparents. As third generation Cambodians this is their home.

"Tuan" and "Thy" asked that their real names not be used.


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