Teng Ly at her home in Kampot
Teng Ly doesn't know exactly when she was born but imagines she is "about the
same age as King Sihanouk." An illiterate truffle farmer who has lived in Kampot
province all her life, Ly appears an unlikely candidate for the position of high-level
negotiator between the Khmer Rouge and the government. Yet throughout the 1990s it
was Ly who stepped in at crucial moments to mediate between the warring factions
because "all soldiers are just boys really and I wanted them to go home to their
villages and stop killing each other." When Khmer Rouge troops ambushed a Sihanoukville-bound
train in July 1994 and took three Western backpackers hostage it was Ly who trekked
through the jungle for days-"I was young and strong then" she says with
a cackle of laughter-to ask Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin to let them go. The
three-Australian David Wilson, Briton Mark Slater and French man Jean-Michel Braquet
-were executed in Phnom Voar in September or October of 1994. Khmer Rouge commanders
Nuon Paet and Sam Bit were later convicted for the attack, as was Chhouk Rin."I
very much regret what happened," Ly says. "Every time I go to the pagoda
I pray for the dead hostages." Ly's face is as gnarled as tree bark and the
years have twisted her spine into a perfect right angle, but her memory is still
sharp. "I am very happy to talk to you as no one has ever asked me about my
experiences," she said as she settled herself into a comfortable nook in the
roots of a giant tamarind tree on her farm near Phnom Voar mountain and told the
Post's Cat Barton and Vong Sokheng her story.
How did you start negotiating between the government and the Khmer Rouge?
I have lived here for my whole life, my family has always lived here by the mountain,
farming. I used to work in the forests where the Khmer Rouge lived. I collect truffles.
I used to trade some of them with the Khmer Rouge. When I used to work in the forest
the Khmer Rouge used to help me, they would cut down some trees to help me find my
truffles and they would help me sell them. At the time, no one could get into the
Khmer Rouge controlled areas but as I had lived here all my life, I could. I knew
many of the Khmer Rouge soldiers and they trusted me-they don't trust anyone, they
think people are all spies, but they trusted me.
What happened when the Khmer Rouge captured three Western hostages?
When they attacked the train and the three backpackers went missing, the government
came to see me and asked me to go and check on them and find out if they were still
alive. The government soldiers were trying to get the backpackers out of the Khmer
Rouge area-they asked me to help and said if I could save them then they would look
after me. I tried very hard but the situation moved too fast and in the end I couldn't
The first place they were held was in the area controlled by the Khmer Rouge commander
Chhouk Rin. I went to meet him-he had the three backpackers there. The backpackers
asked me to buy them bananas and sweets. I went home and got the things they wanted
and then I went back but they had gone. Chhouk Rin told me that [Khmer Rouge commander]
Noun Paet had taken the three backpackers away to the area that he controlled. I
followed them to Nuon Paet's area to give them the bananas and sweets they wanted.
What happened when you met them again?
It was night when I got there and I couldn't come home immediately so I stayed there.
I looked for the Australian hostage, he explained who he was-but in mime as we don't
speak the same language-and I told him that I would come back in three days. The
three backpackers were happy to hear this-they asked me to buy them flip flops, blankets
and medicine. The Australian gave me a photograph of him. Later, in 2002 Chhouk Rin
came and asked me to take the photographs I had from the backpacker to the court.
The parents of the Australian hostage had come to Cambodia. I showed them the photograph
he had given me. They recognized him and then they really began to cry.
Did you see the backpackers again in Nuon Paet's area?
When I went back again to see them after three days, the three guys had disappeared.
I was told that Sam Bit had come to take them away to his area. By then, the situation
was very tense, very serious. I couldn't go to Sam Bit's area. I couldn't go back
to give the backpackers what they wanted me to get for them, and then the government
started to attack the area, they started to bomb Sam Bit's area.
Were the hostages well looked after when they were with Chhouk Rin?
When they lived with Chhouk Rin and Ta Paet they had the freedom to walk around and
hide from the bombs. They were very stupid- if they were Cambodian they would have
run away then.
Why did you help with the defections?
I want peace. I am an old woman and I don't need anything more. I just want peace
for my country and for my grandchildren. I like to go to the pagoda, I want to do
some good deeds for my country. I saw how hard it was for my people, the people in
my village, because of the Khmer Rouge. They could not farm their rice fields -they
could start to farm, but they would always have to abandon the rice when the fighting
How did you try to create peace?
When they were fighting each other, killing each other, I used to try and stop it.
When I saw the Khmer Rouge, I would say 'Go! The government troops are in the area'
and when I saw the government troops I would say 'Go! The Khmer Rouge is in the area'
and so I would manage to keep them away from each other. I just wanted to stop them
killing each other. And this made all the soldiers think of me like a grandmother.
What was Chhouk Rin like?
When I first met Chhouk Rin I was in the forest trying to farm. His daughter was
with him then and she cried as she wanted to leave the jungle and come with me. So
I took her with me-I got her into government territory. She was eight years old then,
and actually today she is getting married.
Did the Khmer Rouge want to defect?
The Khmer Rouge wanted to defect to the government but they were scared-they thought
they would not be safe, but I promised them they would be ok.
What do you think of the Khmer Rouge Trial in Phnom Penh which has arrested five
Khmer Rouge leaders - Duch, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith and Khieu
I have heard of the names but I don't know who they are. Who is Nuon Chea? Do you
mean Nuon Paet? I don't know. I am an uneducated person, but maybe this was my good
luck. I survived.