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 He asked that his real name not be published.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.
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
Sarouen said he participated in the killing of his own
"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
"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.
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."
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
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."