Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Following the Pied Piper of O'Smach

Following the Pied Piper of O'Smach

Following the Pied Piper of O'Smach

PHNOM POV - They are a mixed lot at this border hilltop base - soldiers who fled Phnom Penh after the coup last July, students who have abandoned their studies. Even a Khmer-American who left his family and business in the United States.

They all say they have come to this Funcinpec resistance camp because of one man - Nhek Bun Chhay. He may be accused of many things, but failure to inspire loyalty is not one of them.

Mean Phen stands behind the general, looking at him, his arms crossed. He is wearing brand new camouflage fatigues like all of Nhek Bun Chhay's boys, but this not Phen's world. He is more used to the asphalt roads of his home town of Lowell, Massachusetts.

"I emigrated to the United States in 1980. Since then I have been living there with my five children and my wife," he says.

But in August when he heard about Bun Chhay's miraculous escape from Phnom Penh and his trek north to the border, Phen could not control his joy - Phen and Bun Chhay were playmates in their days at primary school in Thmar Puok.

"When I heard the news of the coup d'état I was worried," recalls Phen. But Bun Chay was safe and had a proposition for him.

"Bun Chhay called my friends in Boston from the hospital he was in after he ran away from Hun Sen. He told them that he wanted me to come and work with him."

Mean Phen agreed. He left his wife to take care of the five kids and his video business and arrived in Bangkok at the end of November.

"Bun Chhay came to pick me up at the airport in Bangkok. I hadn't seen him for a long time. I was very happy and hugged him," says Phen smiling as he recalled the story.

When asked why he had decided to join the fight, Phen says "I like democracy and I fight because Hun Sen made a coup d'état."

"The States is very good for the people. But now I want to fight here. I call my family twice a month.They miss me but I tell them I am OK and not to worry, I live with my friends."

To any question about the future of Bun Chhay and the armed struggle against Hun Sen, Phen has a simple response: "I stay with him, I stand by him. I like him."

But not everyone at the camp is as happy with their position. Som Vuthy has mixed feelings on his experience with Bun Chhay.

Vuthy was a student at the Institut de Technologie du Cambodge, in charge of a student association affiliated with Funcinpec. After the fighting in Phnom Penh, he started to feel threatened.

"Members of the CPP party were following me. They asked my family where I was. I was not safe, so as soon as I knew Bun Chhay was alive I decided to leave Phnom Penh," he says.

He traveled to Poipet and crossed into Thailand. He stayed first with Khmer Nation Party members and eventually was put in contact with Bun Chhay and met him in Prasat, Thailand.

"When I arrived there were already four students with him," says Vuthy. "Now they are twenty living in the base and linking their fate to Bun Chhay's."

"When I met him the first time, I was very happy. I left Phnom Penh to see him, thinking he could help me."

Now he says life is difficult. "We have no water." Vuthy and his friends are used by the soldiers to build wooden shelters among bushes near the camp.

When asked what life with the military is like, Vuthy confesses that he doesn't want to be a soldier and that he wants to go back. But he quickly: "It is according to Nhek Bun Chhay, I go where he sends me."

MOST VIEWED

  • Proof giants walked among us humans?

    For years a debate has waged about whether certain bas relief carvings at the 12th-century To Prohm Temple, one of the most popular attractions at the Angkor Wat Temple Complex in Siem Reap province, depicted dinosaurs or some rather less exotic and more contemporary animal,

  • Japan bank buys major stake in ANZ Royal Bank

    Japan's largest bank acquired more than half of ANZ’s shares in Cambodia on Thursday, according to a statement from Kith Meng’s Royal Group. Japan's JTrust Bank, announced that they had acquired a 55% of stake in ANZ Royal Bank. According to a Royal Group

  • Long way to go before Cambodia gets a ‘smart city’

    Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang will struggle to attain smart city status without adopting far reaching master plans, according to officials tasked with implementing the program. The brainchild of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the smart city program seeks to link up

  • China-Cambodia tourism forum held

    The Cambodian tourism sector must be prepared to welcome a growing number of Chinese tourists, as they lead the globe in the number of outbound travellers and were responsible for the most visitors to the Kingdom last year, the country’s tourism minister said on