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Comment: My life under Ieng Sary: Crying against the shame & horror

Comment: My life under Ieng Sary: Crying against the shame & horror

IN 1967 I married Sikoeun, a Cambodian student in Paris. With him, I shared an ideal: that of a better world. Together,

we joined the resistance against the American war on the side of Sihanouk (1970-1975).

My two daughters were born in Beijing, Naren and Sokha.

Sikoeun left alone for the resistance in 1974.

After the fall of Phnom Penh on April 17, l975, I rejoined him in Phnom Penh.

We were part of a unit named B1, which was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Ieng Sary. We stayed until January

7, l979, when the Vietnamese entered Phnom Penh.

At the time I was expecting a child. Naren, Sokha and myself were thrown into an abominable war, in headlong flight,

with its procession of unspeakable horror, where death was common, where each day and night was a nightmare, where

each step was one deeper into hell and horror.

My son, the brother of Naren and Sokha, was a victim of war. Deprived of food and basic care, he perished, alone,

far from the world and far from humanity.

All of this, I recounted in Beyond the Horizon: Five Years with the Khmer Rouge which was published in 1984.

Since then, all three of us, Naren, Sokha and I, cannot, do not want and are actually afraid to forget what Ieng

Sary and his henchmen made us suffer, and the death which he imposed on my son.

We can not forget that the same Ieng Sary transformed their father, my husband, into a man without decent thoughts

or feelings, empty of everything.

And so, when Ieng Sary reappeared some years later, while proclaiming that he was as white as snow, as soft as

a sheep, that he didn't harm a fly, when some leaders in this world erase the crimes against humanity for which

he is guilty, and when they unroll under his feet a red carpet and bow and scrape before him, when a criminal whose

only equal is the Nazi fascists of Hitler's Germany, is white-washed, one can't help but rise up, to revolt, to

yell at the shame, the horror, the ignominy.

Ieng Sary. I know him well.

SIKOEUN was one of his close employees in 1971, when Ieng Sary arrived in Beijing. When I was with my little girls,

and my son was born much later, I was alone, because Sikoeun was at the side of Ieng Sary.

I had more than one brush with this person who demanded in return severe self-criticism and an expression to him

of immense gratitude.

I had time to observe his maneuvers - in Beijing first, then in Phnom Penh (1975-1979), then at Base P-100, in

Thailand. I finally left in 1980.

Ieng Sary is a person worried about hiding his game. Few people can testify to his personality, and with reason:

he ordered the deaths of so many.

In Beijing, Ieng Sary became attached to studying the rule of communism. He kept himself well-informed and acquired

information from the communist governments in China, Vietnam, North Korea, Albania, and Romania notably. He prepared

the installation, after the war, of a communist regime which would succeed better than the others.

What inspired him most, however, was the prison No.1 in Beijing. In this prison a system of strong ideological

re-education was practiced, a system which transformed the people's worst enemies into ardent communists.

In Cambodia, he would do better than Prison No.1, he said. "This would be better; this would be all over the

country and in all sectors of society."

Ieng Sary organized his system of ideological re-education.

In Beijing, he organized highly patriotic and nationalistic seminars for the Khmer community. The participants

- skeptical and suspicious observers - became unconditional supporters of the Khmer patriotic cause.

From seminar to seminar, they were transformed into ultra-nationalists and ultra-patriots. Slogans were hung everywhere,

patriotic songs resonated from morning to night. It was good form to "militarize" oneself for the patriotic

cause, to demonstrate a spirit of sacrifice higher than the armed combatants. Extreme behavior developed.

Ieng Sary thus fanaticized the Khmers in Beijing, then organized ideological re-education seminars for the Khmers

living abroad who came in numbers to follow his teaching, then afterward to be responsible for spreading the word

in Paris and elsewhere.

Some French observers noted at the time important psychological transformations among the participants of Ieng

Sary's seminars. "They left like tourists," they used to say, "[but when] they came back, they were

hard, more self-actualized, as if under the influence of a cult."

1973-1974. The situation in Southeast Asia changed. Victory was near. Ieng Sary's propaganda spread and amplified,

like a spark in a field of hay. Many Khmers became ultra-patriots, radicalized by the idea of self-sacrifice.

Ieng Sary carried out his systematic work strictly, which consisted of indoctrination, conditioning, infiltration,

fanaticization of people's minds. He was like the grand master of a cult.

Phnom Penh fell on April 17, l975.

Ieng Sary was in charge of foreign affairs (in line with his activities on the international scene since 1971)

and continued the indoctrination of minds. With Pol Pot, he went hand in hand. Ieng Sary directed the purges when

Pol Pot was accused of genocide.

There is good reason why the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or B1, was nicknamed "the ante-chamber of death".

In the beginning of 1976 the first wave of purges took place. They struck at the former cadres of the northern

zone, in great numbers and from key posts in B1. The victims - men, women, children, babies and pregnant women

- were taken in B1 cars with B1 drivers. Ieng Sary convened the first large meetings and personally encouraged

the massive denunciations of these so-called traitors.

Many other waves of purges arose from B1. There was the elimination of eminent personalities such as Sien An (posted

at B1) and successively, the cadres from regions in the northeast, the west, the northwest, the east, and the center.

The waves of purges always followed the same scenario.

The unsuspecting victims arrived at B1, in groups often, triumphant, because Ieng Sary had promised them an ambassadorial

post or another prestigious post and a banquet in their honor. But before that, they had to attend an information

meeting. By using the word "meeting" one should have understood one had to attend at least a session

of criticism and self-criticism, of confession and of biographical analysis.

I remember having come across looks of terror. I remember having caught a glimpse of people cowered, liquefied.

And each time, a few days later, Ieng Sary personally denounced them as traitors, as coup plotters, then he organized

denunciation meetings.

There passed through this ante-chamber of death, this fiefdom of Ieng Sary, many Khmer diplomats from abroad.

There also passed many intellectuals, and not among the least brilliant who, seduced by the beautiful ideological

speeches of Ieng Sary, had abandoned all: wives, children, good degrees, high positions, and had sold beautiful

apartments, houses, cars to the benefit of the Khmer Rouge government in order to serve it.

Ieng Sary was always fearful of coups d'état in the making. The denunciations often turned into collective

hysteria, young women accusing their husbands and children accusing their parents, all without proof.

For Ieng Sary, the characteristics of traitors was that every son or daughter of a worker was a revisionist and

a member of the KGB. Everyone who had smoked American cigarettes or had praised the quality of life in the United

States was an enemy and a CIA agent. Every person who longed for a café-crème on the Boulevard Saint-Michel

in Paris or a cheese sandwich belongs to the French secret services. All those with Chinese blood were of the same

persuasion as the Chinese of Beijing, or of Taiwan.

Except Ieng Sary, who himself was trained by the Viet Cong, all those who had any contact with the Vietnamese,

or commented in favor of the Vietnamese, or even those who spoke with too much hatred toward the Vietnamese were

at once accused of being among the Vietnamese network.

But to be a traitor, according to Ieng Sary, went much further. According to him, we all had an enemy in ourselves.

And to fight the enemy we had to think about his lessons from the morning when you opened your eyes till night.

Then, he advanced the concept of "property-personality" which forbade even the slightest personal opinion,

the slightest personal feeling.

The system of conditioning and indoctrination under Ieng Sary was methodical. Firstly to weaken individuals. For

this, he suppressed personal life. No more family: children were separated from parents - and it needs to be said,

many times, he had children hospitalized and killed to apply pressure on the parents. No more couples either. Husbands

and wives were separated and gathered only to procreate, while Ieng Sary's agents kept files for each woman, together

with her menstrual calendar. No social life, cultural or leisure. Food was frugal: two very light meals of herbs

a day. Nights were shortened to a few hours and were being further cut by doing sentry duty. No medicine, no caring.

And back-breaking work from morning till the middle of the night in a group which continually surveyed each other.

There were large propaganda meetings of daily criticism and self-criticism sessions made easy, too easy, by the

fact that people were forced to live together.

In these conditions and in this rhythm, individuals became robots, nothing more.

October-November 1978: Ieng Sary organized a new seminar. He introduced himself while crying loudly: "All

purges which have taken place until now were mistakes. There were no traitors, they were good cadres... The eliminations

were ordered by a traitor who is among us." He went on: "I ask you to denounce him... Those who won't

find his name or will tell another name will be accused of wanting to hide this traitor and because of this, will

have the same fate reserved for traitors. The same for those who don't wish to give the name."

The folly of paranoia was at its peak.

The Vietnamese cut short this purge, but during the exodus other purges took place, orchestrated notably by Ieng

Sary's daughters. Some young men and women were coldly destroyed.

During his reign, Ieng Sary took hundreds of children from their parents and families. In the beginning, he made

them child-soldiers and child-doctors. Later, 1977 to 1978, he wanted to make child-cadres. And all this was logical.

He was so paranoid that he saw a traitor in every cadre, and to assure the loyalty of these cadre, it was necessary

to condition them early from their childhood. This is why he brought children to B1. Some said their parents were

not informed of their destinations, that Ieng Sary had promised a good career and a beautiful place to live in

Phnom Penh. Some, so young, did not even know the name of their village, nor the name of their parents.

When the war broke out, these children were left to their own devices. Some attempted to save themselves. Many

were killed in the bombardments or were shot dead. There were many who drowned in a river located southwest of

Sisophon. Those who succeeded in avoiding the machine-gunfire perished either by sickness or by hunger and exhaustion.

Ieng Sary made no gesture whatsoever for them nor for their parents.

Ieng Sary was one of those responsible for the Khmer Rouge genocide. And that is not all. He was a master liar,

able to distort both the facts and common sense values.

The Office of Information and Propoganda which he directed in his ministry in Phnom Penh was neither more nor less

an office of disinformation. When he wanted peasants to undertake the construction of dykes, he said: "They

are launching an assault on a building site." All information emitted by his office was of this type.

It was strictly forbidden to read foreign newspapers and to listen to foreign radio. "They only tell lies,"

he said. It was as well, at the end of December and the beginning of January 1979, when the Vietnamese occupied

most of Cambodia except Phnom Penh, Ieng Sary said all was going very well.

To be a good father, for Ieng Sary, was to abandon wives and children, to leave them without care, neither money

nor possessions of any sort, nor guardians. Above all not to fulfill one's family responsibilities. All of those

children who had this example, how could they feel the least sentiment of pride vis-a-vis their father?

To be a good son or daughter, that was to criticize one's parents and to give them orders.

Ieng Sary said that he didn't do anything. Why wait so long to say it? Others, and I must keep from citing their

names, who had nothing to do with the genocide, quickly preferred exile and the difficulties in living there. While

Ieng Sary enriched himself.

Since 1980, Ieng Sary has become the last wheel of the chariot of power. For years, since 1980, from dry season

to dry season, the Khmer Rouge desperately searched for ways to gain a military solution. Their isolation is widespread.

But Ieng Sary is very thirsty for power. There will not be a military solution, but because he is sufficiently

powerful and personally wealthy, he decides to leave his base and announce he wants to retake power. By doing this,

he becomes number one within his Khmer Rouge. And the last ignominious straw: Phnom Penh and the King give him


Ieng Sary has a major responsibility in massacre and genocide. He is a liar; he is corrupt.

Ieng Sary used to say the Vietnamese were like crocodiles. But it is Ieng Sary's tears that are those of a crocodile.

And to the journalists who went to Malai he gave his hand - as in the fairy tale, all the better to catch you with.

For him we prepare the red carpet and forget the abominable crimes. All shame is gone. Some say in the name of

peace. What kind of peace for Cambodia? A Khmer Rouge peace? A peace in the blood of genocide? A peace in a lie?

A peace in shame?

And now? To the members of the National Assembly and to political leaders: How can you let such an ignominy be


To the leadership in Phnom Penh: Are you going to welcome these criminals, liars and corrupt people?

To all Cambodians: Haven't you paid enough of your blood, of your flesh, of your next-of-kin, your children, your

parents to accept such a macabre script?

To public opinion, Khmer and international: Are you going to rest with your arms crossed in front you? Are you

going to let this happen? Is it necessary to be a direct victim in order for you to react? What will people say

of you, you who did not want a tribunal for crimes against humanity and who, moreover, are erasing an act of genocide?

(Laurence Picq lives in France with her two daughters. Her husband Suong Sikoeun is still in Phnom Malai - where

Picq gave birth to her son Beng in 1979, who died soon after - and is still an aide to Ieng Sary.)


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