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Slaughter of Vietnamese in Phum Taches Was Cold and Calculated

Slaughter of Vietnamese in Phum Taches Was Cold and Calculated

PHUM TACHES - It did not take long for 24 Khmer Rouge guerrillas to complete their

business in this village in Kompong Chhnang province the evening of Dec. 27, according

to local residents.

They slipped ashore around 9 p.m. at this settlement on the banks of the Tonle Sap

River. An hour later when they fled back across the river, 14 people were dead and

another 14 wounded.

The death toll was the highest yet in Cambodia's recent spate of racially motivated

violence. But a visit by the Phnom Penh Post to Phum Taches revealed more than dry

statistics:

  • The widow of Chan Ti Hi, an ethnic Vietnamese fisherman, was so lost in grief

    that she could not tell a reporter her name as she watched her husband's coffin being

    settled into the ground.

  • An older woman cried so hard during the funeral procession for Chan that she

    leaned on a visitor, completely oblivious that he was a stranger, so overcome was

    she by the deaths that had come to her village. She leaned on the visitor's arm,

    clinging to his sleeve until a neighbor came and gently moved her away.

  • Laying on the muddy and slippery river bank where the attack occurred were several

    blood-stained straw mats from the huts that had been blasted and scorched by the

    B-40 rocket attack. Small wads of flesh and knots of tissue were spreading grease

    stains on the stained mats as they lay out in the hot sun.

Three days after the Khmer Rouge came to this village, the dead were still being

buried in Phum Taches-a straggling collection of thatch houses with about 9,000 inhabitants.

The following day one of the wounded, an ethnic Vietnamese man, died of his injuries,

bringing the death toll to 15.

A dozen sweating pallbearers carried the caskets of the deceased down the dusty parched

streets of the village. Small girls sat at the head of each coffin, lighting incense

and ceremonial prayer papers to assist the good fortune of the departed.

This village is about 40 percent ethnic Vietnamese, mostly fishermen who are equally

as poor as their Khmer neighbors with whom many have intermarried and led a quiet

village existence for more than a decade now. There were some second-generation Vietnamese-Cambodians

among the mourners, young men and women who have known no other home than Phum Taches.

But that quiet village life came to an end the night of Dec. 27, when the Khmer Rouge

came hunting ethnic Vietnamese.

"They went around the village with their flashlights to look inside the houses

and find the Vietnamese," said one villager.

Then, their targets located, the guerrillas backed off and formed fire teams of three

or four men each, opening fire on the houses with B-40 rocket-propelled grenades,

according to witnesses.

Two homes were attacked this way-rockets blasting the families as they slept or cowered

in their homes. When the wounded and the unharmed spilled out into the streets and

ran for the riverbank, the Khmer Rouge opened up with their AK-47s. The bodies sank

into the river or lay on the muddy bank.

The dead and wounded, indeed the entire village, were unarmed and never had any chance

to defend themselves against the guerrillas. The nearest police station is about

5 kilometers to the west, on Highway 5.

The Khmer Rouge were apparently after only ethnic Vietnamese, but two Khmer men were

caught in the fire. While their Vietnamese neighbors were being buried in the village

graveyard, the two Khmer were cremated in a Buddhist ceremony at a nearby wat.

Women and children were also killed in the brutal surprise attack, an attack the

Khmer Rouge hierarchy eventually denied responsibility for. In a press release issued

on Dec. 31 the Khmer Rouge inferred that other political factions-whose intent was

to frame the Khmer Rouge-were responsible for the massacre.

Local villagers and police officials did not agree.

"I am certain they were Khmer Rouge," said one villager. "I saw them

and I saw the insignia on their hats."

"The Khmer Rouge want to kill all the Vietnamese people and the ones they cannot

kill they want to go outside of the country of Cambodia," said another villager.

In their wake, the Khmer Rouge left not only dead and wounded bodies, but they also

left handwritten leaflets addressed to UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi, warning the U.N.

Secretary-General's Special Representative against cooperating with "youn [referring

to Vietnamese people] killing of Khmer people."

The several dozen leaflets were gathered up by the State of Cambodia police and turned

over to UNTAC's Civilian Police after the Khmer Rouge guerrillas had fled Phum Taches.

But as the bodies were being carried out to the graveyard on a little hillock-where

a tangle of brambles was cropped back to allow the burials in the sandy soil-villagers

said that the first time they ever saw anyone from UNTAC in their village was the

day after the attack.

"UNTAC stays on the streets and the highways. They don't know the situation

in the villages," complained one villager.

In the shade offered by a blue plastic tarp set up in front of a house-the house

where the NADK killed nine people from the same family-a grandmother sat on the doorstep

near the last two coffins awaiting burial.

"I was very scared," she said, her face etched with a frown. "I lay

very still when the Khmer Rouge came into our house to check for wounded." She

paused and looked slowly around her. "I lay very still. I played dead."

The four surviving members of her family looked alternately indifferent or angry

with visitors and their neighbors.

But then the men began to tell their own stories.

"I am very scared," a Vietnamese fisherman said. "If the government

says I have to go to Vietnam-even though I have never lived there-then okay, I will

go."

"I am scared," said another villager. "And I worry that they-whoever

they were-will come back."

His neighbors were more adamant about who "they" were.

"The Khmer Rouge came to kill people in our village, and they killed them,"

said one man. "I know them, I have seen them before, and they are going to come

back."

Capt. Srey Ra, chief of the Orung police station, agreed that the Khmer Rouge will

come back to Phum Taches.

"The Khmer Rouge say they want to kill the Vietnamese to prove to UNTAC that

the Vietnamese are a problem in Cambodia and that the Vietnamese soldiers are here,"

he said. "And there are no other villages with Vietnamese people in them around

here."

Srey estimated that the Khmer Rouge have anywhere from 20 to 100 guerrillas at any

given time in the district he oversees which includes Phum Taches.

"The Khmer Rouge want things to be the same as they were in 1975 through 1979-they

want to kill the people again." said Srey. "The Khmer Rouge now is just

like the Khmer Rouge before. They are disciplined and ready to fight, and ready to

kill the people."

One man in Phum Taches put it this way: "The Khmer Rouge, they kill people like

small animals. They kill people like they are chickens."

- Kann Kall contributed to this report.

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