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Memories live strong for Khmer Rouge survivors

Memories live strong for Khmer Rouge survivors

Kampong Chhnang provice
Sitting on a wooden bed underneath a modest stilted house in Traipang Por village, Kampong Chhnang province, 70-year-old Sou Yoon laughs as she says she has been waiting for Case 002 for more than 30 years.

Thought to be one of a handful of survivors of a Khmer Rouge prison located in Boribor district’s Samdech Muny pagoda, Sou Yoon saw her husband, four children and six other relatives killed at the centre. An estimated 32,000 died at the site, according to handwritten KR documents cited by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, with around 100 grave pits in the area.

The pagoda lies around two minutes from Sou Yoon’s home and 25 kilometres away from Kampong Chhnang airfield – a crime site investigated as part of the second case at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which kicked off this week.

Sou Yoon, like other former victims and prisoners of the Khmer Rouge regime in Kampong Chhnang, says she wants to see justice done at the tribunal in Phnom Penh – where former KR leaders Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith are now on trial.

“I am happy as I know that the Khmer Rouge leaders now are being tried. I have been waiting for this day in order to find justice for myself, my husband, my children and my relatives,” she told The Post on Wednesday.

Now a frail old woman, living with surrogate relatives, she vividly remembers her ordeal under the Khmer Rouge.

She was arrested in early 1977 while hunting for crabs in a rice field in order to feed her children and was sent to the prison along with her children – then aged between eight and 12 –and “hundreds” of others.

“All my children died because of starvation and illness at the temple,” she said, adding that she was kept shackled to the floor except when permitted to clean out dirty bed pans of other prisoners.
She survived her two-year ordeal only because she fell unconscious.

“The Khmer Rouge soldiers thought that I was dead and brought me to throw into a grave in the village, along with 100 dead people. I managed to climb out of the grave and crawled to stay in the forests nearby,” she said.

Having successfully rebuilt her life, the now elderly woman said she just wants to hear the KR leaders to tell the truth at the trial, which she has been watching on television.

“I want the court to strongly prosecute them in accordance with the law and their crimes,” she said.

Many others in the community, some also living with memories of Samdach Muny, are also observing the trial.

Bun Song, 66, acts as a layman at Samdech Teuk pagoda, the name by which the former prison is now known. Surrounded by his grandchildren and his wife at his home, which lies down the road from the pagoda, he described the horrific scenes seen under the Khmer Rouge.  He lived in a village near the pagoda and was the first person to enter it in 1979 after the Khmer Rouge fled the area, leaving behind thousands of dead bodies.  He built a stupa at the site to house their remains.

“My family saw about 16 relatives die during the Khmer Rouge time, most of them through starvation and illness. I am also waiting to see their trial on the television and other news media. I hope that the justice and the truth will be found soon,” he said.

While Bun Song has returned to the pagoda, others in the village say they cannot bear to set foot at the site.

Motioning in the direction of the former prison, 65-year-old Chhy Yorn said the building unearths terrifying memories of her two-month imprisonment, during which she saw most of her family die. Five of her relatives were buried at the killing fields around the pagoda and, in total, five of her children died during the regime.

“I hated the Khmer Rouge so much. The regime was very cruel to its people and the country,” she said.

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