The tower across the Mekong from Kampong Cham from which Lon Nol
soldiers fired on Hun Sen's bunker 30m away.
ON the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge takeover, Cambodia's sole memorial
commemorating Khmer Rouge military actions during the lead-up to that victory has
been relegated to the ignominious status of a livestock pen.
Located on a dusty dirt track on the east side of the Mekong opposite the town of
Kampong Cham, a wooden structure built over the bunker where Prime Minister Hun Sen
sustained crippling shrapnel wounds to his left eye is now dedicated to confining
cows rather than commemorating the sacrifices of the revolution.
According to Kun Seng and other residents who live nearby the memorial, the original
structure was built in 1985 by the then-village chief to protect and preserve the
old KR bunker in which Hun Sen and other KR cadres took shelter in during their advance
on the Lon Nol stronghold of Kampong Cham.
A year later, residents were amazed to see Hun Sen and Bun Rany lead a convoy of
vehicles to the memorial site.
"We were surprised because [Hun Sen and Bun Rany} were wearing old clothes and
riding a motorcycle, just like common people," Seng said. "Only when we
saw the vehicles coming behind them did we know it really was Hun Sen."
According to Seng, the Prime Minister expressed his appreciation at the construction
of the memorial, but insisted that the old bunker site be devoted to more practical
"Hun Sen asked that the bunker be covered over, and that this structure be turned
into a rest-station for travellers along this road," resident Oy Son explained.
"Later a floor was put in, some furniture and awnings to keep out the sun."
While Hun Sen was apparently circumspect about his activities in the area prior to
his eye wound, residents still have vivid memories of the time.
"In 1975 this area [on the east side of the Mekong] was a terrible battlefield
... there were no houses, just Khmer Rouge fighting with Lon Nol soldiers,"
explained long-time Kampong Cham resident Oy Son. "This area along the river
was the defense perimeter to keep the KR away from the riverbank."
According to residents, Hun Sen's bunker would have been subject to withering fire
from the nearby French-colonial customs tower, located only 20 meters south of the
"There was a unit of Lon Nol soldiers in the tower, and another unit one kilometer
north, protecting the river bank," Seng explained. "All around here there
were bunkers used by the Khmer Rouge as they pushed closer to the river."
Details about the circumstances behind Hun Sen's actions as a KR cadre during the
siege of Kampong Cham and his resulting eye wound are disappointingly scant in Hun
Sen's official biography, "Hun Sen, Strongman of Cambodia" by Harish C
and Julie B Mehta.
The incident is summarized in one brief sentence, compared to four sentences devoted
to the reaction of his then-wife-to-be Bun Rany to the news of the injury.
Nevertheless, residents living around the memorial are not short of supposition regarding
what befell Hun Sen on April 16, 1975.
"I think it must have been a M-79 grenade launcher that did it," explained
Oy Son. "It was probably fired by one of the Lon Nol soldiers in the tower."
Not necessarily, says Seng.
"This area was under intense bombardment from many sources during that time,"
the former resident of Kampong Cham town at the time of the KR takeover explained.
"Along with the firing by the Lon Nol soldiers stationed on this side of the
river, there was also artillery barrages from shore batteries across the river as
well as firing by gunboats on the river."
A wooden structure built over the bunker where Hun Sen lost his eye to enemy fire is the only memorial commemorating Khmer Rouge military activities, but now it is a cowpen.
Indeed, while Hun Sen's bunker is now long gone, the bullet holes and craters in
the thick stone walls of the former colonial customs tower bears mute testimony to
the ferocity of the firefight leading up to the Khmer Rouge takeover of Kampong Cham
on April 17.
A worryingly large unexploded missile embedded in the side of the tower that faced
Hun Sen's now-vanished bunker suggests that he and his comrades gave as good as they
got prior to that fateful shrapnel burst.
"CMAC has taken away a lot of the old UXO around here, but there are still hundreds
of empty shell cases lying around," Seng said. "Children regularly find
them and sell them to scrap metal merchants."
Residents are vague about the precise circumstances behind the transformation of
the former rest-house/memorial into an animal pen.
"Somebody took away the furniture and then the screens disappeared," Son
said with a shrug. "Then people started putting animals there."
The prospect of a possible return to the site by Hun Sen on the 25th anniversary
of his injury is considered a remote one by nearby residents.
"I don't know what Hun Sen would think if he came here again and saw that his
memorial was now a cow shed," mused Seng. "He hasn't been back here for
a very long time."