Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Massacre survivors' terror remains despite arrests

Massacre survivors' terror remains despite arrests

Massacre survivors' terror remains despite arrests

TRAUMATIZED survivors of the April 19 slaughter of 23 people in a Kampong Chhnang

fishing village are still too afraid to return to their homes. Mental health experts

have been dispatched to help them cope with the horrible experience of witnessing

a mass murder in their community.

"It is a brutality we don't usually see," said a rights worker of the attack

on Chnok Trou village. "What these people did was savage. Children were whacked

against the ground. It appears they went after them with knives and bayonets. There

were several children whose throats they tried to cut... That is just how cruel and

ugly this was. It wasn't just that they shot people, they inflicted cruel injuries."

After the 2:30am attack - in which the raiders waded to floating houses, shouting,

"Kill yuon (Vietnamese)!" and "We will keep coming back until

elections!" before butchering inhabitants and stealing their possessions - many

ethnic Vietnamese villagers fled their homes in terror.

One week later, some were still sleeping in small rowboats in the middle of the lake.

Another 250 women and children fled to the Vietnamese pagoda of Quan Am on the outskirts

of Phnom Penh, leaving their men behind to guard the houses.

"I was scared, so I came here... when Chnok Trou becomes peaceful, then I'll

go back," said Pham Thy Sao, 65. Although she didn't know anyone who had been

hurt or killed in the attack, she said the horror of the incident compelled her to

flee.

Widespread trauma is to be expected after such an event, according to Willem van

de Put, director of the Transcultural Psycho-Social Organisation. The mental-health

NGO is sending a team to Chnok Trou to try and organize group sessions educating

survivors on the effects of post-traumatic stress and help them discuss their feelings.

Yet he is worried that the villagers may be too afraid to accept help. "The

risk here is that people get threats all the time up to the elections - I'm afraid

the groups might be seen as political, and that people will be too scared to attend

a group meeting."

Adding to the horror of the people of Chnok Trou is the possibility that the killings

were facilitated by people they knew. Villagers reported after the attack that some

bandits wore masks and had familiar voices, and provincial police say they have arrested

Khmer Rouge moles who had been living incognito in the village.

"The suspects are Khmer Rouge underground, who were sent to disguise themselves

as civilians," Kampong Chhnang police chief Col Kang Sakhon said of four men

arrested a week after the attack. Sakhon said the men had been living as common villagers

"for some time".

He said that police found villagers' stolen possessions when they arrested the four

and that they had confessed to being members of Khmer Rouge Div 785, which had been

widely blamed by officials for the massacre. "We are building a case to prosecute

them at the court," he said.

Rights workers, who are still investigating the case, said the reason behind the

slaughter is unclear: it could have been a KR raid, but it might have been xenophobia.

They have found leaflets left in the village reading: "Vietnamese belong in

Vietnam, Cambodian soil belongs to Cambodians."

UN rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg has strongly condemned the massacre and voiced

concerns that it could signal a return to racially motivated violence during an election

year.

"The attack appears to have been primarily directed against Vietnamese villagers,"

Hammarberg said in a May 4 statement. "I am particularly concerned that the

attack took place in the pre-election period when ethnically and racially inflammatory

language is once again being used by some politicians and political parties."

During the 1993 election period, at least 139 ethnic Vietnamese were killed, mostly

by the KR.

Certainly the villagers of Chnok Trou are worried and confused, and cannot say what

the future will bring. "I don't know when I can go back," said one elderly

woman staying at the pagoda.

Behind her, a painting on the wall depicted a Vietnamese deity killing people.

"It is to give people in this life a lesson," said pagoda chief Ho Yeung

Vac. "If you kill or beat someone in this life, in the next life you will be

killed or beaten. So don't do a bad thing."

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