Refugee Narratives: Ten Stories of Cambodian Refugees

Entry 1 (Edited Transcription)

Events and Situations in Cambodia in the period of the Communist Regime
Short details of Cambodian History

Since ancient times, Cambodia has been a great kingdom in South-East Asia. Her citizens are well-educated in Indo-Chinese culture, and its holy city stands in the heart of the great forest north of Phnom Penh.

The Golden Age of Cambodian history began in the 8th century. Thousands of great temples and castles were built by the skillful architect, Suryavaraman II, who oversaw the construction of the great Angkor Wat temple in the 12th century. It took 100 years to build the temple and people were forced to work on its construction from everywhere in the country. More than 8 million people were gathered to work [on it], and the great temple was finished a hundred years later. However, it is sad to say that the construction cost the lives of 6 million people. These people were used to lift big stones and carry big trees. The people were treated like slaves and were given no good food. That’s why, when the temple was finished, its completion signaled the end of the great nation too. Enemies came from all around to destroy the nation, religion, and culture. Cambodian power fell on that date.

The Pol Pot Regime is comparable to King Suryavaraman II, in that the population of Cambodia in 1975 was 8 million and the Communist Regime cost the lives of 4 million people during their 3 year, 8 month, and 21 days of leadership. 

[Page 2] Reasons why the Communists came into power:

Cambodia is one of the least-developed countries in South-East Asia. Ninety percent of her citizens get no modern education except for [an education in the] old customs and Buddha's law. No one thinks to modernize the country. People are poor, selfish, and cruel with each other. In the past 100 years, there have been three colonies that came to conquer the country. In 1885, it was the French Army. In 1914, it was the Japanese, and then the French Army came back. In 1975, it was the Vietnamese Army.

We haven't had peace for life. People have become tired of wars and foreigners trying to force their way in to try and gain interest from the people. In 1954, the International Conference at Geneva, the U.S.A., U.S.S.R., France, and England decided to give independence to Cambodia. We lived in this made-up peace for 24 years. The living situation of the poor didn't change and the government system couldn’t help. At last a "coup d'├ętat" broke out and the defense minister, Marshal Lon Nol, overthrew Prince Norodom Sihanouk from power and declared Cambodia to be the Khmer Republic. At that very moment, the Vietnamese forces began to back N. Sihanouk, and the war went on for 5 years. During the war, Pol Pot, who was formerly a private teacher, with his secret relationship with China, formed the Communist Party.

The important leaders of the Communist Party are as follows:

  1. Pol Pot (his real name is Salot-Sar), general secretary of the C.R.K. of the Khmer Rouge
  2. Khiev Samphan, president of the C.R.K.
  3. Leng Sary, foreign affairs

[Page 3] There are other leaders, but these three are the most powerful. At first, the C.R.K. united with N. Sihanouk to go against the Republic Regime. After they won, no one knew that the country would be seized by the Communist Regime. Pol Pot and his party got power into their hands, and they tried to modernize the country according to the Red purpose of Mao Tse Tong's doctrine.

The following systems were represented by them. 

Points of political view:

  1. Political system:

Once Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge gained power in their hands, people in the cities, especially people in Phnom Penh, were pushed back to live in the great plain about 300 km west of P. Penh in Battambang province, Pursat province, Siem Reap province, and Prey Veng province. Even in this new location, people loved the Communist Regime at first because they said that they would help the poor and banish the selfish millionaires.

Of course they didn't do what they had promised. They gathered people to live in groups and forced them to work, have lunch, and wear the same clothes together. The leader of each group tried to get jewelry and other valuable things from each person.

This is how Pol Pot wanted to modernize his country!!?!

2. Economic System:

Factories had to close their doors because the specialists were not a part of the great plan, and Pol Pot used his soldiers as replacements in the factories. That's why production [Page 4] slowed down to such a low point that they couldn’t provide the people with materials. 

Rice production had reached the amount of 600 million tons that was used to feed the people in Cambodia. It dropped to 200 million tons in 1970, but Pol Pot's people only received 100 million tons or less and the remaining amount was shipped to China in order to pay for the weapons and ammunition that were bought during the war.

3. Educational System:

Neither adults nor children have any teaching or schooling in their studies. They are taught hard work by strength and receive experience in real life. It isn't knowledge that can modernize the country, but strength.

4. Health Services System:

Medicines are made by a traditional formula. Modern medicines are not allowed to be used. There is not enough food for the people. Each person is allowed to have 200 grams of rice per day, but if they are ill or sick then the amount of rice they get must be cut. Well-educated doctors and nurses were not used. Young and ignorant people were chosen to work instead.

Pagodas and public apartments were changed into hospitals by P. Pot's Regime. Pagodas are the places where people go to worship Buddha and where people bent down their heads for God. Now, P. Pot has changed these places to be places of bloodshed. 

5. Social Welfare System:

No one in Cambodia has a job other than working in open [Page 5] construction. There is a great dam on every great lake that was built by people's own strength. There was no machinery to help. People united in groups to work for life.

6. Military System:

Pol Pot has a strong army because he feeds them well. All people are forced by cruel methods to support the army. Educated people, Republic Regime soldiers, official workers, wealthy men, etc., were put to death. The Communist Party hated educated people. Some were killed by being buried alive, some by the hammer and nail, and some by bamboo. Soldiers of the Republic Regime were gathered to do different work than that of the ordinary people. They were used as cows to pull the carts and to work where there was great danger. Former officers were put to death group by group. There was one proverb of the Khmer Rouge that said: "Better get one than the four bad." There were so many sorrows and so much sadness in people's minds.


The end of Pol Pot's Regime just lightened the might of the Communists. The arrival of the Vietnamese looked friendly at first, but before long the treatment became worse. New constraints were added. Thousands of people ran for their lives. Now they see the truth of who is good for them and who is bad for them.

-- [S. K.]

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