In Cambodia, during the rice planting season and during the Khmer New Year celebration,
it is usually scorching hot. However during the rice season this year, the weather
has transformed from one very hot to cooler with heavy showers.
17 April 1975: The Khmer Rouge enter Phnom Penh and the evacuation begins. The promised 'three days' became three years.
Even though the weather has changed, my memories about the events that passed during
this rice season in the decade of 1970, have not altered with the weather. The rice
season continues to clearly remind me of the events that developed on April 17, 1975,
because they are the most horrible and dark events. This was the day of birth for
the Democratic Kampuchea regime - the day the Khmer Rouge regime began and gained
victory over nearly two million people.
It was the day the Khmer Rouge began to deceive the people of Phnom Penh, like my
family, and told them to leave their homes and go to the rural areas for three days
"to avoid the bombing of the Americans".
After they achieved victory over the republic that was led by Field Marshal Lon Nol
on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge announced over loudspeakers for the people who
lived in the city to leave Phnom Penh within 24 hours. The announcement they made
along the streets intermingled with the blasting sound of gunshots. On this day,
my family gathered our clothes, our belongings, and many bags of rice so that we
could leave the house and head for Koh Thom District in Kandal Province, which is
my father's native district.
There were 13 members in my family group. I was the youngest child, merely 20 months
old. In the family there were my grandparents, my uncles and aunts, and my parents.
We gathered and prepared all kinds of things so that we could quickly evacuate and
avoid any terrible events that could occur.
My grandfather was not willing to leave the house. He said he was already too old
and he wanted to stay home because he was afraid he would lose all of his belongings
in the house. We all sat down so we could explain and convince him to follow us.
At that time, three young Khmer Rouge soldiers entered our house and asked us why
we had not yet left. We were all so terrified our faces became pale. The young soldiers
looked like they had never entered the city before. Their skin was black and they
had bullets and guns wrapped around their bodies. Because of continuous threats from
the Khmer Rouge, my grandfather finally agreed to leave the house.
It was about 60 kilometers from Phnom Penh to Koh Thom District and it took us a
long time to get there, because the roads were crowded with people, young and old,
men and women. Along the journey, my family encountered many difficulties because
there were many of us. It was also hard because my grandparents were very old. But
more than this, my parents had to take turns holding me among the throng of people
and amid the scorching heat. My parents were afraid because my body was beginning
to heat up. They were so scared they decided to speed up the journey and asked others
to help us reach Koh Thom District first, so they could find a way to care and find
medicine for me.
As my parents waited for their family to arrive they became hopeless and were filled
with worry and concern. The separation of my family began at this time. After that
day, my grandparents and uncles and aunts decided not to continue their journey to
Koh Thom District, because the journey was too difficult.
They decided to stay in another village around Teuk Vil commune of Sa-ang District
for a short while, so they could relieve their exhaustion and make it easier for
them to return to Phnom Penh. This temporary rest of my aunts and uncles and grandparents
in Teuk Vil slowly turned into more than three years.
Within this period the members of my family were also separated from each other.
This separation filled us with worry and continuous doubt whether our relatives were
unaware of what had developed. We wondered what kind of problems they encountered.
What kind of peace or suffering did they have to endure? For three years, my mother
and father lived in a state of desperation and apprehension. It is fortunate that
the answers were provided while we were separated.
The long period of waiting and hopelessness ended after the victory over the KR on
January 7, 1979 and as my grandparents began their journey from Teuk Vil to Koh Thom
District. The expected arrival of my aunts and uncles and grandparents ended when
they and my parents met each other as they were destined and as planned. But this
anxious and worrisome wait covered a period of more than three years. More than this,
two of my uncles died and were unable to return and reunite with us in the way we
had parted from each other. No matter what, this time of reunification was the answer
each one of us had been waiting for.
The Khmer Rouge killed almost two million Cambodian people, including my relatives.
It is time now for senior Khmer Rouge leaders to stand trial and confess their crimes.
* Meng-Try Ea is an author of Victims and perpetrators? and a forthcoming book, The
Chain of Terror. He works at the Documentation Center of Cambodia.