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KRT witness tells of Vietnamese wife’s fate

Prak Deun gives his testimony on the treatment of ethnic Vietnamese by the Khmer Rouge in front of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia yesterday on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Prak Doeun gives his testimony on the treatment of ethnic Vietnamese by the Khmer Rouge in front of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia yesterday on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. ECCC

KRT witness tells of Vietnamese wife’s fate

Civil party Prak Doeun described the segregation, deportation and at times murder of ethnic Vietnamese – including his own wife and children – at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

In 1966, Doeun, an 18-year-old Khmer, married Bou Samban, a Cambodian woman of Vietnamese mixed descent from the same Boribor district village. Together, they had five daughters, and a son who was born after 1975.

Before the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975 “there was no discrimination at all,” Doeun said.

Following evacuation, Doeun was transferred to Ta Mov Island where he was reunited with his family after a year, in late 1976.

On the island, there were seven other mixed-marriage families, Doeun continued, and cadres were “aware of who was Vietnamese” because other villagers “exchanged information about us for food”.

However, following an announcement that Vietnamese could be sent to Vietnam, Samban refused to go – “to live or to die she would stay with me”, Doeun said, claiming to later witness deportations.

“I saw they rounded up people and put them into a covered boat along the river . . . There were about 20 to 30 people,” he said.

At this point, after watching a Buddha statue be dismantled, Doeun told his wife, “I think we might be in a difficult situation living in Cambodia.”

Soon after, Doeun witnessed soldiers beat a woman for speaking Vietnamese, and then heard a radio announcement seeking Vietnamese who “infiltrated” Cambodia.

Sometime in 1977, the remaining mixed families were led by soldiers, an 18-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy, on a 10 kilometre march, and then were sorted.

“When we reached the place where they wanted to kill us, they divided us into groups” by ethnicity, Doeun said, adding that they were told they would be working the fields, and that the children went with their mothers.

His wife, mother-in-law and 1-year-old son died that night.

“The next day, the unit chief said those people had been smashed and that the young children were thrown into the air and pierced with a bayonet,” he said, later testifying that the unit chief, “Comrade Heum . . . tried to console me the next morning that my wife and child had been killed. The comrade blamed me, [asking] why did I marry the Vietnamese wife.”

Doeun was later remarried after the regime's fall. While three of his daughters from his first marriage died in work units, two managed to survive as Doeun “secretly” sent dry fish and beans to them, and had them change their Vietnamese names.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Doeun was a victim of forced marriage. In fact, he attended a forced marriage ceremony, but was not himself married.

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