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"The first time I ever heard of Pol Pot"

"The first time I ever heard of Pol Pot"

L IBERATION day in 1979 came for me when a squadron of Vietnamese tanks came

rumbling up the road along Route 6 in central Kompong Thom province.

They

clanked to a halt outside my commune in Stung district and I joined the

villagers running towards the soldiers who, waving and smiling, emerged from

them.

The soldiers opened the ammunition lockers of the outside of a

tank, and pulled out rations of rice and pork for us.

We were very happy

because we hadn't eaten pork for more than three years. I can't describe how

delicious it tasted.

The sight of the tanks and the Vietnamese soldiers

wearing their distinctive pith helmets made me realize that the Khmer Rouge

regime was finished. Until that moment, for nearly four years, I had never been

sure just who ruled my country.

Those tanks ended my ordeal in the years

of the Killing Fields. This year I am 26 and I have been trying to remember all

that I can about those times.

I was young and did not begin to really

comprehend the true nature of the Khmer Rouge regime until 1977 when our

family's big wooden house was confiscated by Angkar and we were relocated to a

second house where an entire family had been executed for killing a calf for

food.

Soon after being moved, our family was split up. My Dad was

assigned to a so-called "mobile work unit", along with my brother-in-law, and my

Mum to a communal women's group to sew clothes. An elder brother and I were put

to work in a special children's unit and ordered to collect cattle dung to make

fertilizer for rice planting.

Early each morning before sunrise we were

lined up for roll call and awaited orders from our team leader. He always

carried a whip and I was as scared as him as much as a tiger.

We were

often flogged for minor offenses. When punished, I never cried but saluted him

by placing my hands together, a gesture of respect, and repeated: "I will not do

it again."

My group worked in the paddy fields without a break from 6am

until 12 noon. My stomach cried for food before the lunch bell was rung. There

was always a stampede toward the communal kitchens for our lunch - a small bowl

of watery rice porridge.

The rations were meager, so to make up I went

back to the paddy fields to catch land crabs and collect morning glory weed, to

boil.

At night my friends and I went into the fields, searching for field

mice, frogs or anything else edible.

We were kept in the "children's

center" and not allowed to go home to see our parents. I remember one day when,

missing my parents, I decided to run back home. I tried to hide myself by

walking among the adults when they finished their work for the day. But I was

spotted by a friend of my team leader and he shouted: "Ah Seang is running

home."

I ran off the track and hid in some bushes before returning to my

work unit. Later on, when I next met my Mum, she said my team leader had come to

the house to search for me. She warned me not to run away from my unit again, or

I would die. I cried and Mum did too.

Later, some time in 1978, I was

sent very far away from the village where my parents lived. I was with my elder

brother. I was not a dung collector anymore. My work was to build dikes in paddy

fields. We were always wet. We had no roof to sleep under, but slept on hay

piles.

After one month, my brother became ill with diarrhea and, when his

illness became so serious that he could not rise in the mornings, the Khmer

Rouge sent him to a traditional medicine clinic. That was where he died. I never

knew what happened to his body.

We were too young to attend political

meetings but the adults and old people were frequently made to go to nighttime

lectures by Khmer Rouge cadre.

The "new people" - those who had been

brought there from the cities - were treated much more severely than the "old

people", or local villagers. I remember seeing "new people" have their arms tied

behind them and be marched away from the paddy fields. They were never seen

again. I never saw people executed in front of me.

I clearly remember my

friend Cong, who was beaten unconscious for stealing rice. It was at nighttime,

and I never once opened my eyes to watch him being tortured. I never saw Cong

again, and was told he was taken away by Angkar.

After rice planting

season was over, we were assigned to catch field mice from the paddy fields, to

protect the crop. We had to catch 10 mice a day and cut off their tails to

present to the team leader. There was one benefit. I ate mice

everyday.

It was late in 1978 that we were allowed to leave the fields

and return home. I was thrilled, and walked and ran back to my village, hoping

to meet my family again.

It was not a happy reunion because Mum had lost

a son, my brother. She cried and cried. Later she bathed me and said to me she

had thought she would never see me again. I cried too.

I heard later that

my brother-in-law had also been taken away by Angkar for stealing

rice.

Sometime over the next few days, I heard some local people saying

that the Pol Pot regime was finishing and would soon be gone. That was the first

time I had ever heard the name Pol Pot.

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