PAILIN - 25 years after their greatest victory, former Khmer Rouge cadres look back
on the past with regret and frustration. Some speak of lost opportunities, some lament
the youthful ignorance that brought them into the movement.
Others vent their anger at leaders who, they say, forgot all about their subordinates
after the 30-year-long struggle was over.
In her small wooden house on the outskirts of Pailin, 40-year-old Sam Nuon recalls
what became almost half a lifetime of carrying arms and food supplies to KR troops
at the front lines. Born in Banteay Srey district near Siem Reap, she joined the
guerrillas in 1973 - not because she believed in their communist ideology, but because
her father had taken a new wife, that the then 13-year-old Nuon didn't get along
Nuon remembers distributing food and clothes to newly evacuated people from the towns
after the KR takeover in April 1975. Other than that, she says she was put to work
in the rice fields like everyone else. In 1978, her husband of only two years was
arrested. Nuon never saw him again.
When the Vietnamese chased Pol Pot and his henchmen into the jungle, Nuon joined
the KR military and spent most of the next two decades in the female supply battalions
that carried arms and ammunition to the front-line fighters.
"It was dangerous all the time. We had to look out for shelling and ambushes.
All we could do was to rely on our good luck and fate," remembers Nuon.
But today, she feels that all her efforts earned her nothing but misery.
"After all those years of struggling, we got nothing. It has been more than
three years since Pailin defected, but we still have to cope on our own. Now that
there is peace, our leaders have forgotten about us - their own comrades. I regret
the past, but I cannot complain about it or change it," says Nuon.
Living at a tiny farm a few hundred meters from Nuon's small plot of land, 43-year-old
Bun Kim Heng could have been one of Nuon's fellow supply cadres who operated in the
area along the Northwestern part of the Thai border.
Heng joined the KR in 1971 as a young teenager because she wanted to study medicine.
During the KR regime, she continued her studies in Phnom Penh and worked at a military
hospital in Kampong Cham. But in 1977 when her oldest brother and three cousins -
all political officers in the Eastern Zone - were purged and killed, Heng was sent
to a work camp.
As the Vietnamese tanks rolled across the border in 1979, Heng was evacuated and
crossed the Mekong River along with everyone else in the camp. At one point she found
herself on the Western river bank while her mother was calling out to her from the
"But I did not go with my mother. I stayed with the KR, because I was afraid
to go over to the Vietnamese," explains Heng.
Today, she works for the Pailin Department of Social Affairs, while her husband has
been dismissed from his heavy artillery unit. Earlier the family received 500 baht
a month from the KR army, but now things are tight.
"There has been no prosperity. If this country hadn't turned out like this,
I would have had a good education," says Heng, who hopes to get a chance to
study English and French.
In Sopheap speaks both English and French fluently. From 1979 to 1993, he spent most
of his time abroad as a counselor to the KR embassy in China and ambassador to Egypt.
Since his defection in June 1998, Sopheap has withdrawn from political life, spending
his days tilling the soil around his modest house and analyzing the memories of a
long life in the near-top echelons of the KR.
"I still want to do something for the country, but I don't know what or how,"
Clearly a man of intellect and true commitment, Sopheap deeply regrets the atrocious
failure of the Democratic Kampuchea regime.
"Not only the KR, but also many other people had great expectations after the
fall of the Lon Nol regime. But we failed to build something new. It was a terrible
loss of opportunity," Sopheap says.
The feelings of regret quietly stayed with him in the years after the fall of the
KR regime. And although he does not distance himself completely from every decision
that Pol Pot ever made, Sopheap also points out that he sometimes disagreed with
the KR leadership.
"I followed my own thinking, but I didn't express my ideas, because I had no
power, no army. I did not believe in the continuation of the war, and when UNTAC
failed to create peace, I felt that I couldn't foresee any solution," he says.
So why did he stay with the movement so long?
"I had a choice to go and live abroad in 1993. But to join who? To do what?
I came back in solidarity with those who were still fighting."