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
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
"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."