Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Massacre of the innocents

Massacre of the innocents

Massacre of the innocents


Ngieng Thy Chim weeps for her dead daughter

CHNOK TROU, Kampong Chhnang - All was quiet in this floating village at 2:30am on

April 19. Nurse Mak Thy Mai had rowed home after delivering a late-night baby and

crawled into bed with her husband and young son. Perhaps she had just fallen asleep

when the B-40s hit.

"Kill yuon [Vietnamese], kill yuon!" shouted the attackers as they bombarded

the ethnic Vietnamese village with rocket and AK-47 fire for nearly an hour of bloodletting.

Twenty-three people were killed, including 13 Vietnamese; 8 people seriously wounded;

and 33 houses burned, police and human rights workers said.

In a stark sign that Pol Pot's death and the fall of Anlong Veng have not dimmed

the Khmer Rouge's capacity for violence, local officials and witnesses blamed a nearby

KR division - Unit 785, which has close links to hardline leaders - for the carnage.

KR radio claimed responsibility the next day.

Mak Thy Mai's husband, Le Yeung Chay, said he was asleep in bed with his family when

shrapnel ripped through the mosquito net and hit his 5-year-old son in the hip. Chay

and his wife picked up the child and tried to hide in a hole, but were soon found

by two KR soldiers.

"He asked me, 'Are you yuon or Khmer?' and I replied, 'I am Khmer, bong [brother].'

And he shouted back at me with his gun pointed and said, 'No, no, you don't speak

Khmer clearly! You are lying to me, you are yuon.'"

They trained the guns on his wife. Mak Thy Mai begged for her life, but as Chay watched

helplessly she was shot and killed on the spot. He clasped his hands in a desperate

sampeah, pleading in turn for mercy.

"I begged them, 'Don't kill me bong, you have already killed my wife, don't

kill me,' and I saw the round, red flame appear in front of me and I fell down,"

he said. The Khmer Rouge had shot his imploring hands at point-blank range.

The soldiers fired one shot more into his prone body. As he was falling into unconsciousness,

he heard one say to the other: "You see, I am a good shot."


Watched helplessley as his wife Mak Thy Mai was

murdered while begging for her life. He was later

shot and left for dead.

The 40-50 attackers - who waded through the shallows to strafe their targets - were

finally driven away by the arrival of a boatload of navy soldiers. The soldiers and

the rebels exchanged fire but no one was hurt, according to Naval Regiment 15 commander

Col Kol Sithan. He said his men recovered some of the villagers' property and two

KR caps dropped by the fleeing rebels, whom he confirmed as KR Unit 785.

For the ethnic Vietnamese living in the area, April 19 was a savage reminder of Khmer

Rouge violence in the leadup to 1993 elections. In the most notorious case, 33 people

were massacred in Chong Kneas village. Chnouk Trou itself was attacked three times.

Yet the villagers had dared to hope that they were now safe, given the disintegration

of the guerrilla movement.

"We were aware that the Khmer Rouge wanted to destroy the Vietnamese along the

Tonle Sap, but... we thought that they had gone to Anlong Veng to defect. So that's

why we were careless," admitted a police supervisor, who asked not to be named.

"It was peaceful before the attack. We never expected anything would happen

like this," said the deputy head of the local Vietnamese association, Trung

Yung Khan, 51. He believes the attack was politically motivated.

"I heard the Khmer Rouge shout... 'You are stubborn, a-yuon [contemptible Vietnamese],...

you had run away in the past and now you come back, your heads are stubborn, I destroy

your stubborn heads. We will keep coming back [to kill you] until the election day.'"

The raiders may have had help from inside. Some wore camoflage of KR uniforms, but

others were masked, unarmed and in civilian clothes. Human rights workers reported

that some villagers recognized masked attackers' voices. Police reported that the

attackers grabbed all the village's ICOM radios, perhaps indicating a familiarity

with their location.


Patrolling the calm

Witnesses reports varied as to whether the gunmen, or just the masked attackers in

civilian clothes, looted property.

Local officials speculated that the attack could have been a show of Khmer Rouge

strength in light of recent mass defections.

Chnok Trou deputy police chief Mey Ra said the attack differed from earlier raids,

which were primarily robberies. "The attack this time was different than before,"

he said. "It was very cruel."

Kol Sithan emphasized that Unit 785 is not a rogue guerrilla unit but has close ties

to the party leadership, as it is commanded by Ta Mok's son-in-law, Than.

"This unit is directly under orders from Ta Mok. Every fortnight, about ten

local Khmer Rouge had been sent to the upper base for a meeting."

Villagers reported hearing the raiders refer to their boss as "Than". Village

police said his name was Um Chanthar.

Prum Din, commander of the Special Unit in charge of the perimeter of Phnom Penh,

confirmed that Than's unit were the culprits.

"The [top KR] machinery is losing. But the [lower] KR force is still active

to show that they are still strong," he said. Yet he expressed no concern about

ongoing KR activity, saying: "It is a very small problem."

Villagers whose worlds have been destroyed would not - cannot - agree. One young

man sobbed as he described watching his pregnant wife and 7-year-old daughter shot

to death.


Khmer Rouge waded through the water and in a 45-minute

bloodletting, killed 22 people. A 23rd victim later died.

"The world... is responsible, preventing our Vietnamese brothers from the killing

of Pol Pot, but now we have been killed. I plead for the world to be aware of this

heartless killing," 28-year-old Dang Ying You said in broken Khmer, pointing

to his bloodstained shirt.

"Last night my son did not sleep. He called out for his mum and his sister all

the time," Ying You said through his tears. "Then he dragged me out to

seek them in the village."

Although he says his home is a bitter souvenir of his former life, Ying You said

he will remain in the village, near the graves of his family.

Others also vowed that the Khmer Rouge will not succeed in driving them away from

their homes - despite the fact they are so terrified of another attack that they

are currently sleeping in small rowboats in the middle of the lake.

"This is my homeland, because my parents and grandparents were born here, so

I have to stay here," said Vietnamese association deputy Khan. "If I go

somewhere else... maybe it will happen there too."

One human rights worker said the attack was part of a Khmer Rouge plan to "destroy"

resident Vietnamese. "This is a huge threat for the lives of the ethnic Vietnamese

who are living in Cambodia," the rights worker said.

Navy commander Sithan said it was difficult to combat the rebels because of local

KR sympathizers.

"We are trying to research to find the Khmer Rouge in the area, but most of

the time we fail," he admitted. "The Khmer Rouge are aware of our operations"

because they are informed by locals, he said.

Bitter and bereaved survivors of the massacre say they cannot understand the hatred

against them.

"My daughter was very good, she helped thousands of Khmer people, but now Khmer

people kill my daughter. I can't express my pain," said Ngieng Thy Chim, head

of the Vietnamese association and mother of the murdered nurse Mak Thy Mai.

"Last night she helped someone have a baby," she said, noting that Mai

lowered her fee because the mother was poor. "Helping one person to have a baby

is like making merit at a Bon Katin ceremony two times... but now she dies."

With the death of her daughter, her only descendant is her 5-year-old grandson, who

is critically wounded in Kampong Chhnang hospital. She is keeping a bedside vigil,

she said as she cried uncontrollably. "If he dies also, my family will be finished.

If he also dies, I will take poison to go and be with my daughter in the next life."


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