Phnom Penh Post reporter Bou Saroeun writes an open letter
to the surviving leadership of the Khmer Rouge
DEAR Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary: The people harmed by your rule between
1975 and 1979 need to know why you behaved as you did during your years in power.
Their anger will only be lessened if you honestly reveal the mysteries of the DK
I was 11 years old when you came to power and I still remember the day well. My grandmother
had brought me to Phnom Penh as a treat for Khmer New Year. I had wanted to see Cambodia's
capital despite my parents telling me there was fighting in the area.
But when we arrived we found the fighting was worse than expected. My grandparents
stocked up on food and medicine and packed clothes in case we needed to make a quick
I soon wanted to go back to my village but we could not travel. My grandfather dug
a bunker behind the house and we hid in it on the morning of April 17.
Later I was allowed to watch the young KR fighters enter the city; they carried B-40
rocket launchers and AK-47s. People hung white flags from their windows and even
a helicopter flying across the city had a white flag.
On April 18 my holiday ended. Everyone in the city was forced to leave. As we walked
from Phnom Penh I could smell the dead bodies and charred flesh. Some time in May
I arrived at my home village and returned to school but the subjects had changed.
There were now lessons on political thought.
I remember the teacher snatching a pair of ear-rings from my Aunt, who was in my
class, and throwing them out the window saying: "Our Angkar hates capitalism."
I was not in school for long. The KR started fighting against Vietnamese so I was
in the midst of a war again.
A KR commander, who had no ears, and was carrying a pistol and an AK- 47, passed
through our village and asked me to join his troops saying "It's fun" so
I went with them.
A few hours later a group of Vietnamese soldiers appeared and a fire-fight broke
I was very scared and started crying but a KR soldier shut my mouth and put my head
in the ground. I was lucky: the KR won the encounter and I was not hurt.
After that the fighting near my village became more intense so the KR evacuated us.
We left on foot and as we traveled through the countryside we saw many children dead
from disease and starvation. There were dead bodies everywhere - lying on the ground,
floating in the water, and in numerous stinking, shallow graves.
Once we were passing a canal and my parents asked me go and get some water. I was
pleased: the water was clear and I drank deeply and washed myself. Just as I finished
I looked up and saw three bodies, tied hand and foot, floating in the water.
All the parents tried to find food for their children and went without so we could
eat. We children were always crying for food, not realizing how difficult it was
for them to find anything to eat. I remember watching them cry and their exhaustion
from lack of food. Our parents became beggars as we traveled but locals often refused
to help, calling us Kbal Yuon Kloun Khmer (Vietnamese head, Khmer body).
After the evacuation I was separated from my parents. I was sent to a Kong Koma (youth
group) where I was tied up and beaten.
If you don't know what your regime did to Cambodia's children, let me tell you.
I was accused of stealing a coconut. I had picked it up off the ground and was giving
it to an elderly man who was ill. For this I was stripped and tied to a tree branch
on an ant's nest in the sun.
I cried for help but no-one dared to help me. They released me after the sun set.
I could not eat porridge and I had contracted a serious and painful fever. The next
day they forced me to go to the rice field to help the adults to transplant rice.
I could not walk and I fell asleep on the dike but I was kicked into the water by
the head of the youth group. You can imagine how I felt. I remember one tearful woman
who tried to help me but she was so scared.
My friend was treated more harsh-ly. He was permanently crippled after the head of
the youth group placed a stick across his waist and then had people jump on it.
We were hungry, we needed food to fill our stomachs. So we were forced to steal bananas,
mangoes and anything else that was edible. We didn't know the meaning of "thief",
we just took the food for survival. Do you know how hungry we were, Mr Ieng Sary
and Mr Khieu Samphan and Mr Noun Chea? Do you know how it feels to be so hungry that
you'll pick out and eat undigested corn from human feces? The children of 1975 Cambodia
all know what that hunger is like.
Why did we have to live like this? Who are the top leaders? Who is the mysterious
"Angkar" responsible for this, we asked ourselves.
Two sentences that I will remember forever, are Touk Min Chom Nenh Dork Chenh kor
Min Kat (Keeping you is no benefit, losing you is no loss) and Sam At Kmang (Cleanse
the enemy). In my mind the KR used these words to kill the people.
We were children. Did you think that we were the enemy, or the CIA?
Are you responsible for violence and brutality which happened to the children?
To keep this knowledge in your head must be hard to endure in your heart. You should
speak out before you die.
If you die without explaining why you behaved in this way there will still be a mystery
and no resolution for your victims. Khmers will still mistrust Khmers.
Now we have already lost two key men - Pol Pot and Son Sen.
You must think of the generations that come after you. Your own progeny will be condemned
for your actions if you do not explain why you did what you did.
Mr Khieu Samphan, I heard that you are a good man, not corrupt and an intellectual,
so you must stand up and tell us why more than one million Khmers died.
I shed a tear when I hear the foreigners comment that Khmers like killing Khmers.
I recently attended a seminar overseas and when I introduced myself as a Cambodian
the first reaction was invariably "Oh, Pol Pot". People kept asking me
again and again about Pol Pot and why did Khmers kill their own people.
In the public forums recently held on the Khmer Rouge trial and national reconciliation
there has been a call for justice and truth.
You can help these people.
Mr Khieu Samphan and Mr Nuon Chea, you said "Sorry" at the press conference
after you defected. It is not enough. What you did to the people must be explained
more fully. We need to know why you killed your own people, people who spoke the
same language and were from the same nation.
Mr Khieu Samphan, one of your former student colleagues said that you were the tool
of the powerful and you were used because you were popular with the people. If this
is so I hope you will tell us who these people were and what they ordered you to
I also beg of the United Nations that you provide good security for any trial so
that he can stand up in confidence before the court and answer why these people died.
Please, please tell us what happened and why so many people died before you pass