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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.