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Wounded officer tells of battlefield atrocities

Wounded officer tells of battlefield atrocities

WHEN Sarouen Sok suffered shrapnel wounds to the spine and head from a Khmer

Rouge rocket earlier this month, he said he had to walk bleeding the 25 km back

to Battambang city. All the military trucks were being used by his commanders to

haul the motorcycles, furniture and other prized war booty to safety from

advancing guerrilla forces.

"The government only takes care of the people

they can use. But the people they cannot use, they just throw away, like me," a

bitter Sarouen told the Post. He asked that his real name not be published.

Sarouen is a junior Marine officer based at Prek Kdam, on the Tonle Sap and has

been serving for six years.

He confessed to taking part in the torture

and beheadings of Thais associated with the Khmer Rouge and said the practice

was widespread on both sides. Sarouen even admitted to participating in the

killing of a superior officer during an interview.

"When I was wounded

they [fellow offficers] gave me taxi fare to Phnom Penh and just threw me away,"

he said. "They flew me by plane to Battambang to go fight, but when I was

wounded, I walked for two days from the battlefield. No medicine, no trucks, no

ambulance. I had to pay for my own medical treatment."

Sarouen, like a

score of other soldiers interviewed in Battambang since the Khmer Rouge routed

government forces in a late-April offensive, also spoke bitterly of corrupt and

incompetent officers, poor military coordination, mass desertions by demoralized

soldiers, and angry soldiers who turned and killed their own commanders when

they had had enough.

Sarouen said: "I don't want to fight with other

Khmers, but I cannot avoid it. It is my duty. It is not only me who feels this

way, we all do. The person who forced us was Ranariddh and Hun Sen.

"It

is true that our officers are all corrupt. Even before we went to the

battlefield, the government supplied noodles and whisky, but it never arrived to

us regular troops. You know why we lost Pailin? Because the [high ranking]

officers just wanted to stay behind and take the piece of land, the villas. So

the soldiers had no more feeling or morale to fight. We just left and let the

Khmer Rouge do whatever they wanted," Sarouen said. "Also, there was no

cooperation with other units fighting. Other units that were supposed to attack

with us just left. They said they just didn't want to fight. So at that time,

the Khmer Rouge just attacked because they know we are not cooperating among

ourselves."

Sarouen said he participated in the killing of his own

commanding officer.

"During the fighting, we had no more ability to

continue fighting because the other units we were working with had already run

away, but our Colonel kept pushing us, demanding that we fight. So we killed

him," he said, adding: "We have so many colonels in our army, it would take us

five days to kill them all."

Sarouen acknowledged that both sides

executed prisoners as a matter of policy, and said he participated in the

torture and beheading of three on 27 April, three days before he was

wounded.

"Both sides do it - if we catch them, we kill them. Cutting

their heads off is just a way to set an example. If we catch a Khmer Rouge we

cut their head off and send it back to them. I cut three heads off of Thai

people. I did it personally because I was the commander. I am happy to do that,"

he said. Sarouen claimed that the three were Thai soldiers working with the

Khmer Rouge and spoke no Khmer.

He said: "When I cut the heads off the

Thais, it took from 9:00 in the morning until 12:00 noon. I tied their hands

behind their backs around a coconut tree. They were alive. After harsh

interrogation, they still could not speak even one word of Khmer.

"To

show them that we were angry with them, we took a long time to kill them. We

used an old rusty hacksaw to cut their heads off slowly. This was on April 27

near Boueng Ampil. I am happy to cut the heads off of Thais, but for the Khmer

Rouge I am not happy to, because they are also Khmer. But the Colonel ordered me

to kill them, so I try to execute them only by shooting."

Government

soldiers displayed the head of what they said was an executed Khmer Rouge

prisoner in late April in Battambang city. The head, severed by an ax while the

prisoner was still alive, was put on the wall of the 5th military region

operations command center for public viewing. Numerous reports in Battambang are

circulating of Khmer Rouge units summarily executing captured government

soldiers, and placing heads and other body parts on stakes in captured

villages.

On Route 5 near Sisophon, dejected villagers said they no

longer knew where to turn for protection. They said that Sisophon to the north

and Batambang to the south were both under threat and no longer a sanctuary to

flee to. "We have nowhere to go to. We are scared of the Khmer Rouge. We are

scared of the government soldiers", said one market vendor, her mouth pursed

with anger and near tears.

A detachment of government soldiers,

ironically sent to provide security that morning, had looted her stall and

robbed her. A blown up bridge a few meters away spoke of a recent Khmer Rouge

attack. "They both [government and KR] hurt the people. Where can we go.

Everybody steps on us."

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