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A spy left out in the cold

A spy left out in the cold

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spy.jpg

KR soldiers walk along the quay in front of the Royal Palace.

Every night for a month before the fall of Phnom Penh, Sos Samann strapped two pistols

to his waist, disguised himself as a student and set out for the capital.

At 15, the Kandal province native was the youngest of a dozen Khmer Rouge spies sent

to monitor the movements of Lon Nol's troops and weaponry inside the city.

"The lives of more than 10,000 [KR] soldiers depended on my group," said

Samann, now 45, who once again lives in his home village in Kandal province.

Remembering those times during a recent interview with the Post, Samann spoke carefully,

his demeanor changing from boyish pride when recalling his spy days to a controlled

anger when discussing the outcomes of the brutal regime's powergrab.

He joined the resistance as a boy soldier in 1973. In Samann's village alone, 124

other people signed up, both to protest repression from the Lon Nol government and

to show support for King Norodom Sihanouk.

Fighting with the 703rd Division's 117th Regiment in Tomnob Toul Krasang, Kandal

province, Samann proved himself a brave and cunning soldier.

Despite his age - he was known as pov, a common nickname for the youngest of a family

or group - Samann was recruited as the leader of a 12-member intelligence-gathering

unit in early 1975. He commanded men twice his age.

Beginning in March, his group left division headquarters at 8 p.m. every night, walking

for an hour before they reached a bank of reeds and stealthily crept by the town

of Takhmao, about 5 km from Phnom Penh.

At a safe house on the Phnom Penh side of Prek Hau (canal), the spies changed from

their black KR uniforms into civilian clothes, Samann donning the blue shorts and

white shirt of a student.

The house was owned by the wife of Lon Nol's battalion 12 deputy chief, known only

as "Rith", who was linked to the enemy through his uncle, "Natt",

the KR commander of division 703.

The 12 undercover revolutionaries rode bicycles to an office at Kbal Thnal near the

Monivong Bridge. There, the KR had set up the Kang Asasmak, or Volunteer Legionnaire,

as a cover organization, with members ostensibly working as cyclo drivers while they

observed the government's activities in the city.

Samann would sit in the office, listening to the observations of the cyclo drivers,

and carefully write down the number and location of Lon Nol's soldiers, tanks and

artillery in his notebook.

After a few hours, the spies would cycle back to Prek Hau, change into their KR uniforms

and return to division headquarters by midnight, where Samann would report the group's

findings to Natt.

Every second day, Natt attended a senior meeting at a large KR base in Tomnob Kobsrov,

about 10 kms north of Phnom Penh, sharing the inside information with other leaders.

"At the Tomnob Kobsrov headquarters nobody except the commanders was allowed

to get in, even me," Samann said.

His adventurous assignment came to a bloody end on the night of April 16, 1975, as

word spread that the KR was about to launch a final push for the capital.

The 12 spies had returned to the safe house, changed back into their black KR uniforms

and were minutes into their walk back to base, when they were ambushed by Lon Nol

soldiers.

Bodies fell all around Samann.

"I was shot in the right leg as well but I hid in the reeds," he recalled.

"At that time, I thought that if I hadn't been attacked by Lon Nol soldiers

and had reported to Natt [that everything was ok], more than 10,000 Khmer Rouge soldiers

might have been killed." The troops would have walked into an ambush without

warning, Samann said.

Samann was eventually rescued by a female Khmer Rouge unit. He was the only one of

his group to survive the attack.

He was recovering in a hospital on April 17 as the KR took Phnom Penh.

By 1975, there were nine military divisions throughout Cambodia, each with their

own spy unit, according to Samann. But after Phnom Penh fell, there were 12 divisions

with no spy groups attached.

While most former spies were given high-ranking positions, Samann was put to work

planting vegetables because his parents were accused of conspiring with the Vietnamese

side. They were killed in 1978.

Samann is bitter about his treatment during the KR regime.

"I struggled to have Samdech Sihanouk control the country but it turned to Pol

Pot and he killed so many people, even my parents," he said.

"If the regime remained today, I would take revenge on it, but now only the

[KR] trial can deal out revenge to the cruel regime," he said, adding that he

watches television news to keep abreast of the latest on the tribunal.

Samann married Karin Nob in 1979 and they now have two daughters and three sons.

Thirty years later, the man who helped, in a small way, to bring down Phnom Penh

has returned to his village and lives a quiet life. He retired as village chief in

2003 after serving the position for more than 20 years.

"Among the 125 villagers who served as Khmer Liberation solders, I am the only

one who is still alive," he said.

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