Refugee Narratives: Ten Stories of Cambodian Refugees

Entry 2 (Edited Transcription)

Life during Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia 

On April 17th, 1975 at 9:30 a.m. Pol Pot’s military forces attacked Phnom Penh City. At first, the citizens all over the city seemed to be joyful at the arrival of a new regime, which was a ‘communist one.’ Why? because they had been tired of the previous regime of Lon Nol, which was full of corruption and bribery. Unfortunately, in the afternoon on this day, they were deeply depressed at Pol Pot’s announcement that all citizens must leave the city so that it would be absolutely empty in 3 days. In order to evacuate people out of Phnom Penh, Pol Pot’s regime used two kinds of policies:

Pol Pot’s troops tried to deceive the people at their own homes by telling them that the American bombing planes would come to attack the Phnom Penh area soon. Frightened by this news, people tried to keep themselves away from Phnom Penh. Additionally, Pol Pot’s guerilla troops killed the people who resisted the authorities by leaving their wealthy houses. [Page 7] People poured out of the city very quietly because of fear of the guerilla army’s cruelty. For about seven days, more than 2 million people had scattered in all directions from Phnom Penh to their native villages where the collectivitism of the communist regime had already been created. 

Lon Nol’s money had to be eliminated at once, so people who took only the money from Phnom Penh would surely meet problems, and some would be so disappointed that they killed themselves. Citizens had to live with their relatives who had learned the communist theories before in their villages; those who had learned the communist theories were called “new people.” All these new people had to learn from the villages everything that was revolutionary, such as how to speak revolutionary language, how to work, how to behave, and more… 

A great many numbers of soldier officers and most ministers fell for one trick at the very first arrival of Pol Pot’s military forces. Pol Pot’s military forces announced that they could stay and go on working with the new government in collaboration. But instead, they were all murdered cruelly. [Page 8] People were taken into a big room, and then there would be a sudden violent explosion of bombs. If some people were still alive, the military forces might finish their lives by shooting them. 

To develop his economy, Pol Pot depended only on agriculture. He had planned an agrarian reform, which turned small parcels of land into big ones with an appropriate system of drainage and irrigation on the farms. So the construction of barrages dams and trenches had to be completed. To succeed in this plan, Pol Pot forced people from 7 years old until 70 years old--male and female--to command their utmost strength from their mind and body to work in common. 

During the work day, new people were controlled closely by guerrillas. People who showed their resistance against the orders they received would be shot dead on the spot. This was a terrible warning to the others. And, sometimes, when new people were working on the construction of a barrage or trenches, the Khmer Rouge police, who carried with guns, abruptly captured one or two of the workers and brought them to the bushes nearby. A little time after this happened, [Page 9] there were terrible cries for help to escape being murdered. Everybody who kept working did not know what was the cause of these events, and they had to pretend not to be aware of this cry and went on behaving the same way as before anything had happened. If there was anyone who was interested in responding to this cry, they had to be reported to the police, and their name was written in the black book. 

People worried about their death all the time. They thought that they would be murdered any day. It was hopeless to live. People were treated like animals, and they could do nothing except wait for an order. At night time, new people kept quiet and did not talk about the cruelty of communist regime, otherwise they might be reported to the police. 

Pol Pot’s murderers seemed to joyfully compete with each other to see who could obtain the greatest number of kills in the massacres. 

Pol Pot’s men ruthlessly searched for former soldiers and former intellectuals. If a man or a woman was found to have these qualities, he was captured by night and taken away to be killed in cold-blood. After that, they left the corpses on the land. The victim’s family had to [keep the death a] [Page 10] secret, otherwise the same thing might happen to them. Traveling was absolutely limited. People could only travel within their own village. Those who came and went from one village to another without permission might be punished cruelly if the police were notified. They would be accused of being a part of the C.I.A., a group that took bad information from one place to another. 

The diet for people was so low that people went on dying group by group. The diet decreased gradually in the second half of the year: 

This irregular diet caused starvation and diseases. There were so many people who died of starvation, of diarrhea, of dysentery, and of beriberi at the end of each year. However, people who managed to keep some food in a secret place in their home--once they were found out--were accused of theft and would be cruelly punished. 

Pol Pot kept up-to-date medicines away from [Page 11] people who needed them to conserve them for his regime’s use only. They deceived people by trying to interest people in home-made medicines, which had no efficacy at all. Pol Pot seemed not to be interested in clothing. Pol Pot took only a little bit of care about this matter: one person was given one shirt or one trouser per year. 

Pol Pot was very interested in grouping old people as well as young men and young ladies. Each group had an appropriate chief who had been a guerrilla before. Many groups made a section, many sections made a company, etc. . . . These groups were very mobile; they had to change their working place when a supreme order was put out. Pol Pot’s regime managed to seize tightly all groups of workers under their control. Pol Pot cut back all their liberties gradually until they were nonexistent. Pol Pot always laughed at the skinny workers who had been rich men or [well-taken care of] people before. Pol Pot supposed that these people used to trade on their ignorance during the liberalist regime. So they must take revenge on them. [Pol Pot’s followers] were all sadists. How outrageous they were!

Pol Pot usually gave speeches filled with menace to the workers when they gathered after finishing every day’s work. [Page 12]

All kinds of leaders were among Pol Pots’ followers. Neither election nor vote might come from the people. Pol Pot designated his followers as leaders of each group section or village. The government [strictly maintained] the centralized powers of Administration. Every decision had to come down from a high authority. Pol Pot’s regime also used a particular exchange of leadership. They moved the leaders from region A to region B, and established in region A the leadership that came from region B in order to increase the massacres in both regions. When the new leaders began to supervise, they always said that the last ones were very cruel and that they had to be dismissed and punished seriously, but, in fact, the last ones would have another position in the other region. And they announced that all kinds of murder must be stopped without a delay. These statements might console the people’s discontent, and they might become careless about hiding their former qualities. This was one of the policies used to find people suitable to murder. So still there were massacres. 

Pol Pot always researched [Page 13] new methods of massacre. What was the fastest way of killing people:

mutilating a baby, striking hammer blows on the head, slashing with a cold steel and cutting out bile, [or] cutting open the victim while they were alive with an axe to his back and cutting out his bile sack.

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We could see several large piles of human bones somewhere in the country. 

The report of the cruelty of Pol Pot’s regime is an endless one. 

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30th January 1980
[A. C.] 
[A. C.’s signature]

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