Refugee Narratives: Ten Stories of Cambodian Refugees

Entry 7 (Edited Transcription)

A story from a poor boy who’s alive 

Cambodia was a good country under Prince Sihanouk, but it had a few problems, too. There was no fighting, and everyone was happy. 

In 1970, Sihanouk was deposed by the anti-communist group led by Marshal Lon Nol. This was the beginning of the country's problems according to us, for Sihanouk was a popular leader. Pressure rose as nationalists loyal to Sihanouk, along with the communist underground movement, the Khmer Rouge, continued to oppose the new government. Growing threats from the Vietnamese forces along the Cambodia border caused tensions to rise even higher. 

In 1972-73, fighting broke out between the Lon Nol government and students. Several students were killed. As a student, I was hurt by the Police force during the manifestation of the economic crisis. My younger brother died, too. I was very down!

In 1975, the Cambodian new year was on April 13th, and the people were happy with the celebration of the New Year. They forgot everything, and the Khmer Rouge took over the country. On the morning of April 17th, 1975, at 9 a.m., the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh. Many people were overjoyed because they thought that peace arrived. “That's the end of the corruption, the war,” people said. But that afternoon, the hell started like volcanic upheaval. The Khmer Rouge were trying to push the people out of the cities. “The power is on the point of a gun … !” people said. [Page 30] In front of my house, 5 soldiers armed with black cloth stood and shouted loudly, “Go out! Hurry up! The USAF will be bombing us now!” Hardly anyone left during that time. “Bang! Bang!” Two ends of their weapons broke through my door. Frightened, we quickly took off from the house without food or garments to wear. We walked along the road and suddenly we saw one Chinese man declare that he didn't want to leave his house. With anger, the guerrillas hauled him by his collar, pistol in hand.  They shot him down terribly before a crowd of people. Many people were bottled up along the street, pressing to find a way out. For the first time, we slept on the ground in the road when the night came. 

After that we were in Koki, a village located about 20 miles from the city. It was near the Mekong River. We started to get hungry and had to find something to eat. At last, we got fruit … .  It was difficult to get one can of rice for every three people, but we struggled and strived until we got some.

Seven months later, they told us to go to another place, to take on a new life. They said, “You must contrive how to produce the rice. If you can eat it, you can have it”.

It was 200 miles from Phnom Penh. My family walked through the forest, along the horizon plain, across the river, the mountain. … Our strength tired as we continued this difficult and miserable trip. After 10 months, in the middle of a thick forest, we found a village called Kolad situated in the East of the country near the Vietnamese border. There it had only forest men who were [Page 31] ignorant. They didn’t know civilization. Their wild faces looked just like the lions. The Barbarous Pol Pot rather liked them, so he formed his army troops from them. In the spring, January 1976, they first pushed us to construct the barrage fielding. In the morning, at 4 a.m., many unhappy people got out of their homes and went to the field.  Only children remained to work in the village. The adults worked hard until night and would come back home at 10 p.m.

One day, in the morning when I woke up, two guardsmen of the devil called us into their office. In front of us, a great thief stood and shouted, “Down on your knees!” Then he kicked me, and I fell down on my head. “You! Imperialist! You soldier hound!”  After he made us in K.O., I thought that we were finished … !. 

Guns pointed behind our backs, they took us away to the thick forest. In my mind I wondered, “What did I do wrong? Why does Khmer kill Khmer?” 

In the concentration camp (prison), I saw many thin people begin to die. Their wrists and feet were bound … ! They were all students, professors, officers, engineers, doctors, soldiers, and policemen who died every day. During that time, the killing began, and they heard many cries of suffering and the painfulness of hell. Before our turn to die, they made us work, always guarded by a gun. Their plan was to have us cut down eight big trees in a day to be ready. It's no time to lie. My life looked like a dock in the middle of the sea. 

[Page 32] When it was time to eat, we got lunch like the fox with water of porridge mixed with salt, and someone would find some small animal, like a grass-hopper, lizard, or snake for eating. 

Sometimes a victim who was too hungry went to search for the flesh of their friend in a new tomb.

That was the most unfitting ugliness. 

On January 7, 1979,  the wraith Pol Pot was overthrown from the country.  We started to see the light of life again.

But I thought that the Vietnamese were the same communists. The starvation continued through all of the country. That was why we tried to escape from death in search of life and freedom. We traveled across the country from the Eastern to the Western border. For 9 months, we walked in misery. We arrived in the camp Khmer Serei on June 12th, 1979. We had never had enough to eat. We had a lot of hope when we saw the committee of P.O.N.U. We were happy. In summary, the regime of the wraith Pol Pot was a false regime. He was taken to a secret meeting to sign with Peking’s team to kill all Kampuchean people and put the Chinese people in charge in 1980. This secret was found out by troops of Heng Samrin when the Vietnamese entered Phnom Phen. 

Finally, I want to thank you a lot for keeping us alive. I don't know how to thank [you, except with] the souvenir picture from Cambodia and me.

I wish you a long life with prosperity, happiness, and may God [Page 33] protect you and keep you in good health forever. See you again.  I remain with the best wishes and kindest regards.

Yours sincerely,  [P.T.N.]

Student in high school Lycee Descartes, Phnom Penh                         
   22 y. old                                            Cambodia

(excuse me for my writing)
May God go with you                           Thank you  [signature]
God bless you
Make it a good trip for you
and bring you happiness! 

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