According to Bill Bainbridge, in his recent article "The young: Cambodia's unknown
people" (PPPost, May 23, 2003), Dr Leakhena Nou, Dean of the College of Humanities
at the University of Cambodia, stated that, "Cambodia shouldn't be fixated on
the past, but to negate it completely would be irresponsible of policymakers or academics."
Dr Nou emphasized the need for empirical studies to tease out the effects of the
Khmer Rouge period on the young.
I agree with her and but I wish to go further that empirical studies alone are not
enough. The Cambodian government needs to develop a formal [and also non-formal]
school curriculum and textbook on Cambodia's genocide history for at least high school
I have a strong belief that the Khmer Rouge are the cause of a negative aspect in
Cambodia. Accordingly, the solution to the Cambodia's present problems will be to
put an end to the Khmer Rouge issue by not only prosecuting its former leaders but
also providing an accurate and detailed education to Cambodia's young people in schools
and for the public.
In the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime, youths were the pillar of its movement. They (aged
between 10 and 17) were perceived as the future and the driving force behind the
country's success. With this ideological belief, the KR leaders put them into every
sector. They were cadres, messengers, soldiers, hospital staff, factory workers,
prison guards, interrogators, torturers and executioners. In forcing them to do their
jobs willingly and productively, the KR used every conceivable method to brainwash
them to despise their enemies, to kill and to take violence as a part of their everyday
life. Other youths who were not in the KR's ranks lived with violence and have been
Now these youths, the KR's youths and ordinary youths, are the parents of today's
youths who are responsible for most social troubles.
From 1979 to the early 1990s, a bloody and devastating civil war occurred, between
the KR and the new government - the Peoples' Republic of Kampuchea. The war laid
millions of landmines which are still affecting Cambodian innocents today and prevent
a large area of the country from being exploited for economic development.
I was born on November 10th 1980 in a remote village named Kampong Kdei, Siem Reap
Although the Khmer Rouge (KR) leadership was overthrown in 1979, news of on-going
KR attacks always scared me and the other villagers. My mother always told me to
have dinner and go to bed early on days when we received such news.
There were frequent attacks on the village, but for the most part, KR soldiers did
not reach the village center. Sometimes, during these attacks, people in many houses
would hit crockery and other objects in order to make loud noises, hoping to scare
the KR away. I heard these sounds, as well. I asked my mother what was going on,
she said people were trying to tell the KR that everybody was ready to fight them.
During the attacks, my neighborhood always stayed together. Some of the older men
with military experience could tell us which explosions were caused by defensive
fire directed out of the village against KR targets, and which came from KR ordinance
fired into the village.
Women sometimes prayed to the Buddha to help protect us from being discovered by
the KR, should they reach the village center.
I never saw a KR soldier. People told me during my childhood that they all dressed
in black clothes. This was somehow appropriate, because the KR was a symbol of fear
to us, an evil force that was hungry to take the livers of young people. And in truth,
Khmer Rouge soldiers did sometimes practice cannibalism. Thus it did not take much
imagination for us to perceive the KR women as some kind of canine beasts who ate
human flesh. Their eyes were said to be red because they devoured such food.
Sometimes landmines destroyed cars, and there were many reports of people being robbed,
or stopped by a group of KR. Sometimes we learned that the KR had broken through
some villages' defense lines, and upon entering the village, they robbed, raped,
looted and/or killed people.
As time passed the KR attacks seemed to get worse in my village until, in the late
1980s, my parents decided to move to Siem Reap provincial town to seek a more peaceful
place to live, even though they had no idea yet how they would support the family
in that town.
However other families chose to stay in our former village. Sadly, in the early 1990s
the KR reached the provincial town, where they killed many people and robbed many
houses. From then on their attacks decreased in intensity until finally the United
Nations peacekeeping forces arrived in 1992.
These kinds of descriptions are what most Cambodian children of my age group heard
of when they were young. Of course some of them experienced even worse than I did
- having their loved ones killed in fighting or witnessed a killing themselves. At
school, we were taught to despise Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, and their supporters,
and to thank our Vietnamese liberators.
DC-Cam sometimes receives letters from Cambodian high school students, informing
us that the number killed during the KR regime was 3 million, rather than the estimate
of 1.7m that DC-Cam researchers and scholars assert. Why? Because that is one of
the few things their school textbooks tell them, even though there is no scientific
justification for that "fact".
We must remember the KR history, talk about it, and analyze it in meticulous detail.
We must provide scientific education to our children about it. The KR issue was a
social disaster for the entire human race.
- Eng Kok-Thay - Co-Editor-in-Chief, Searching for the Truth, DC-CAM