Unfinished Stories: From Genocide to Hope

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Printed and published in Phnom Penh, Cambodia By IPML Services First edition, 2019 All photographs, text and other materials Š Mick Yates unless otherwise noted. Unfinished Stories From Genocide to Hope is the sole copyright of Mick Yates. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying or any other way including the internet) without prior written consent of Mick Yates. Design and layout by Victoria Yates Printing by IPML, #315, street lum, Sangkat Tik Tla, Khan Sen Sok, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Enquiries about distribution should be directed to Mick Yates ISBN 978-9924-9368-0-0 mickyatesphotography.com www.victoriayates.co

This book is dedicated to our friends and colleagues in Cambodia, who suffered so much, yet who make such a positive difference in today’s society. Ingrid and Mick Yates, 2019


FOREWORD The Kingdom of Cambodia has experienced several different historical periods, with moments of both prosperity and real pain. In particular, the short but very dark period of Democratic Kampuchea left the country’s infrastructure destroyed, and around 2 million people dead. Since that time, successive Governments, Cambodians in all parts of society, and our international friends have worked hard to rebuild the Country and its institutions. Yet, even as we have been rebuilding the country, we have a responsibility to remember what happened, to deal with those atrocious acts against humanity, as a lesson for the future. That is why the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport has a national curriculum to integrate this painful history into teaching at school, so that young people can learn from past mistakes, never to be repeated. Education at all levels is fundamental to a prosperous, successful and innovative society which benefits all citizens. In that spirit, this book notes that, despite personal hardships in those dark days, consequent and sustained contributions made to education are a story of real hope for the future.

Dr. Hang Chuon Naron Minister Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport



These are the personal, untold stories of people that suffered appalling tragedy during the Khmer Rouge Genocide. Yet it is also a story of hope, as the same survivors dedicated their lives to education in order to make a positive change in society. The Genocide started in 1975. No one is sure of the exact number of deaths, but it was between 1.7 and 2.2 million people. It was stopped when the Vietnamese took over Cambodia in 1979. However, parts of the country remained under Khmer Rouge control until Pol Pot died, in 1998. Only then could Reconciliation properly start. Mick and Ingrid Yates first visited Cambodia with their young family in 1994. That year, several tourists were kidnapped by the Khmer Rouge, and murdered. On a sunny day at Angkor Wat, the Yates family heard the distant rumble of shellfire. The juxtaposition of the guns with growing tourism prompted the family’s desire to better understand Cambodia. It led them on a journey that developed into a deep love for the country, its culture and its people. When Reconciliation started, Ingrid researched how best to go about supporting reconstruction and decided to approach Save the Children. In Cambodia, that was largely the responsibility of the Norwegian Save the Children (Redd Barna). In 1999, Mick and Ingrid founded a primary school project in the Khmer Rouge Reconciliation Areas. This was in collaboration with Save the Children and the Cambodian Ministry of Education and including working with ex-Khmer Rouge. Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth, at that time both with Save the Children, were survivors of the Genocide. They were responsible for managing the Reconciliation Area project. They became the couple’s friends, and both still work in education today.


The Khmer Rouge had executed Sarath’s father, and as a teenager, like everyone else, he was forced to work in a camp separated from his mother, Am Yon. One of the stories in the book is about when, after weeks of deliberation, Sarath ran away from the camp overnight, through the jungle, to see if she was still alive. Scared, evading mines, wolves and soldiers, he was finally united with her. The true-life stories of those awful times, from Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth, have never been published before. They are printed as they were told, and without comment. Mick’s photography of the aftermath of Genocide is combined with intensely personal quotes from these stories. This book starts with a short history of Cambodia, for readers not familiar with what happened and to give context for the stories. There is also a timeline. The book ends with a brief summary of the educational programs led by Sarath and Simeth. This has always been, and remains a family effort. Ingrid and Mick’s six children all know Cambodia well. Without Ingrid’s passion and love, the education program would never have started, and without her, the inspiration to follow with a book would not exist. As co-editor, Victoria Yates conceptualised, designed and created the book. The artistic credit is hers. Photography, unless otherwise noted, is by Mick Yates. In preparing the content, any errors are Mick’s alone.




Cambodia History

12 13

Keo Sarath & Beng Simeth Mick Yates

17 21 25 29 33 37 39 43 47 55 61 65 71 75

Unfinished Stories Father – Keo Sarath Mother – Keo Sarath Life Became a Nightmare – Beng Simeth Living with a Khmer Rouge Family – Keo Sarath Khmer Rouge School – Keo Sarath Salt is More Expensive Than Gold – Beng Simeth Life of New People – Keo Sarath I Almost Died Three Times – Beng Simeth Akeo’s Mother Passes Away – Keo Sarath Mango Fruits and Flowers – Keo Sarath A Medic in the Army – Beng Simeth Gas Station – Keo Sarath The Seventh Person – Beng Simeth Reunited – Beng Simeth


Dedicated to Education


Cambodia Timeline




Photo Index

April 17, 1975. That was the day that childhood stopped in Cambodia. It was the day that the Khmer Rouge entered the capital, Phnom Penh.


People cheered, yet they were unsure. They wanted rid of the corrupt, incompetent and US-supported Lon Nol regime. And yet they were already afraid of the Chinese-backed communists. They were right to be concerned, as in the next four years the Khmer Rouge committed Genocide on a vicious and unparalleled scale. Map of Cambodian Provinces.
















1950S – 1970S: INDEPENDENCE Prince Sihanouk had led independence from France in 1953, and the country became a constitutional monarchy (The Kingdom of Cambodia). He abdicated the throne in 1955 to become an elected head of state. Yet real independence was hard to keep. David Chandler noted that opinions on Sihanouk varied – from leading a golden age to unwittingly setting the agenda for ‘lackadaisical chaos’ in the Khmer Republic and the consequent horrors of the Khmer Rouge years (Chandler, 1983: 190). In the early 1960s, Phnom Penh was something of a stylish capital in South East Asia, although a turning point came when Sihanouk broke away from US military aid in 1963 in an attempt to keep his country neutral. Still, believing that communist victory in the region was inevitable, in 1964 he allowed China to ship military supplies to the Vietnamese via the port of Sihanoukville. In 1966 Sihanouk agreed with Chinese Premier Zhou En-Lai to allow the Viet Cong to stage guerilla attacks against South Vietnam from Cambodian territory.


During most of that period, the French-educated Cambodian communists, led by Saloth Sar (later, Pol Pot) were camped in Vietnamese territory. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sihanouk was under severe pressure to build more normalised relationships with the USA, and in 1967 Jaqueline Kennedy visited the country. But Cambodia did not have the strength to expel the Vietnamese. From March 1969, the US secretly started carpet bombing eastern Cambodia (Operation Menu) in an effort to dislodge the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. This was authorised by President Richard Nixon. The bombing killed thousands of innocents and fermented ever more domestic turmoil. Bombing continued until halted by Congress in August 1973 and estimates of the death toll range from 30,000 to 500,000. Jacqueline Kennedy, Sisowath Kossamak and Norodom Sihanouk. 1967. IMAGE/ U.S. EMBASSY, PHNOM PENH.


The tonnage of bombs dropped on Cambodia has been estimated as more than that dropped by the Allies in WWII, making Cambodia probably the most bombed country in history. (Kiernan & Owen, 2006). There is little doubt that the US bombing added impetus and legitimacy to the Khmer Rouge’s takeover of the country. In early 1970, a relatively small number of communist insurgents occupied as much as a fifth of Cambodia. (Chandler, 1983: 202). In 1970, Sihanouk miscalculated, when during his annual holiday visit to Europe in March, he was overthrown in a coup led by Prime Minister Lon Nol. The Khmer Republic was declared. In response, Sihanouk led a government in exile in China, and took nominal leadership over resistance forces allied to North Vietnam – largely the same communists his armies were fighting before the coup. This gave President Richard Nixon an opportunity. He made public a full-scale US ‘military incursion’ into Cambodia on April 30, 1970 (until the end of June). The consequent protests led to the deaths of four unarmed students at Kent State University, shot by members of the Ohio National Guard. One was a bystander. National anti-war demonstrations ensued. Lon Nol was recognized and supported by the US, although his regime became ever more unpopular and corrupt. His army massacred thousands of unarmed Vietnamese civilians, adding to the tragedy and forcing Vietnamese to flee the country He conducted two unsuccessful offensives against Vietnam, and after a stroke in 1971 increasingly lost control of events. The combination of the acts and corruption of the Lon Nol Government and the US bombing drove the population towards the communist forces. The Khmer Rouge became larger and bolder – and well organised. The overall effect on the country’s infrastructure was devastating. Lon Nol left the country in 1975, just before the Khmer Rouge came to power.

An aerial view of bomb craters in Kandal Province. IMAGE / DATE UNKNOWN. WIKIPEDIA, CREATIVE COMMONS. 3

1975-1979: THE KHMER ROUGE Within 24 hours of taking Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge emptied the refugeeswollen streets. They called the country Democratic Kampuchea, and declared Year Zero, attempting to take Cambodia back to a self-sufficient, agrarian society, a plan loosely based on the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It was one of the most vicious attempts at transforming a society in history. Anyone with an education was suspected of being against the revolution. Anyone wearing glasses was suspect, as was anyone speaking a foreign language. Doctors and teachers were special targets. People were afraid to tell others of their background. They destroyed photographs and personal documents to stay anonymous.

1975. Khmer Rouge enter Phnom Penh. IMAGE / ROLAND NEVEU / RNBK.INFO.



Phnom Penh became an empty city. 1975. IMAGE/ COURTESY OF DOCUMENTATION CENTER OF CAMBODIA ARCHIVES. The people from the cities were dubbed the ‘New People,’ and forced to work in the countryside under appalling conditions. There was no shortage of rice – it was just never properly distributed to the starving population. Families were separated, and everyone had to labour for the regime. The country was re-mapped into compass-point zones, to mark the new era, and to take away people’s connection with their memories and homes. The personal stories that follow include some of those tragic and horrifying events. 5

Eventually the paranoia of the regime turned on itself, as economic plans failed. Rather than the leadership changing course, members of the Khmer Rouge fell from grace and were killed. The Chao Ponhea Yat High School, named after a royal ancestor of King Sihanouk, was converted in the spring of 1976 into a prison and interrogation center. It became the infamous Tuol Sleng (S-21). Meas Vanna, the wife of Keo Sarath, attended this school as a child. Of 12,273 inmates of the prison – recent work by United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials suggest this could be 15,101 victims – fifteen are believed to have survived, although not all have come forward. They lived because they had some ‘useful skill,’ like painting or technical repairs. At its height, May 27th, 1978, meticulous records show that 582 inmates died in a single day (Hawk, 1986). No one knows for sure how many people died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Estimates vary between 1.7 – 2.2 million dead.


Mass graves from the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DCCam) mapping project suggest that 1.39 million victims were buried, presumably from executions. Including other deaths from starvation, work and disease, 2.2 million is the most likely death toll, a quarter of an estimated population of 8.4 million (Sharp, 2008).


What is known for sure is that the Country’s infrastructure and educated population were destroyed. People were buried in unmarked mass graves in the ‘Killing Fields.’ The Khmer Rouge used blunt instruments and tools to kill, and some people were buried alive. Babies were dashed against trees. The Khmer Rouge did not want to waste bullets. The most well-known Killing Field is Choeung Ek, outside Phnom Penh, where over around 9,000 people were buried. Prisoners and bodies from Toul Sleng were brought here. It is estimated that there are over three hundred mass grave sites across the country with around 20,000 grave pits containing from six to 70,000 bodies (DC-Cam/Yale Genocide Centre). Location of Killing Fields and Graves, 2007. MAP/ COURTESY OF DOCUMENTATION CENTER OF CAMBODIA ARCHIVES.


1994. Tuol Sleng (S 21), Phnom Penh.

1979-1989: VIETNAM To end the incessant fighting with the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in December 1978, and quickly controlled the country. They entered Phnom Penh on 7th January 1979. This date is today considered Victory over Genocide Day. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea was established, with a government loyal to Vietnam. Heng Samrin was President, and Hun Sen, who had defected from the Khmer Rouge in 1977, was later named Prime Minister. Hun Sen is in that position today. The Vietnamese were not to withdraw for a decade. 1994, Choeung Ek, the Killing Fields.

Pol Pot, Brother Number One, fled to the northern border near Thailand. Prince Sihanouk, who had been held under house arrest in Cambodia, survived the Khmer Rouge (although many of his family did not). He sided with them in opposition to the Vietnamese-backed government. Thai Generals also supported the Khmer Rouge in their resistance against the Government, and did business with them into the 1990s. In March 1981, Sihanouk started the FUNCINPEC party (National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful and Cooperative Cambodia). With mediation from Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, FUNCINPEC, KPNLF (Khmer People’s National Liberation Front) and the Khmer Rouge agreed to form a Coalition Government in exile. From June 1982, the United Nations gave Cambodia’s UN seat to this Sihanouk-fronted group. In 1988, the Vietnamese announced their withdrawal, leaving a power vacuum. Sihanouk helped broker the Paris Peace Plan in 1991, although it was not until 1993 that free elections happened, supervised by UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia). This led to Co-Prime Ministers, Hun Sen, leader of the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party) and Prince Ranariddh, a son of Sihanouk, who was Secretary General of the opposition FUNCINPEC party. This co-leadership did not last.


1990’S: POLITICS Despite this internationally recognised electoral process, continued fighting between the Government and the Khmer Rouge held back internal reconstruction, foreign investment and tourism. Many areas of the country remained under Khmer Rouge control. One of the world’s largest collections of mine fields caused death and fear. The fighting between the two sides meant that shelling could sometimes be heard at historic Angkor Wat, just north of Siem Reap.

Pol Pot had his long-time lieutenant Son Sen murdered in July 1997 as part of his struggle for control against Ta Mok. Son Sen was responsible for internal security during the Khmer Rouge years (including Tuol Sleng). The murder led to yet more conflict in the Khmer Rouge, and to Pol Pot’s eventual trial at their hands. He later died (from a suspected heart attack) before he could be brought to international justice. On Pol Pot’s death, Hun Sen’s government moved to reconcile the country. In April 1998, the Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng, close to the Thai border, and the neighbouring areas finally came under Government control. This was the last area of the country to do so in an agreement which kept many Khmer Rouge leaders in place, but now loyal to the national government. Democratic elections allowed the CPP to form an effective government.



In 1997, supporters of Sam Rainsy (leader of an opposition party), were killed in a grenade attack on a peaceful demonstration in Phnom Penh. Later that year Hun Sen overthrew Ranariddh after fighting between his party and FUNCINPEC.

In March 1999, Ta Mok, the last Khmer Rouge warlord (he was also known as ‘the butcher’) was arrested at the Anlong Veng market. He died in custody in 2006, shortly before judges were sworn in for the ECCC (the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia), created by the UN and the government of Cambodia.


To date only five Khmer Rouge Leaders have been prosecuted, including Kang Kek Lew (Comrade Duch), who ran Tuol Sleng. Only three have been sentenced before dying. PHNOM PENH



Khmer Rouge activity, 1989-90. 9

1994. Ta Prohm, at Angkor. 10

2000’S: RECONCILIATION For decades, the average Cambodian had been hard pressed to figure out who was on their side, and who was against them. Right there is the tragedy of Cambodia. And it showed in the numbers. In 1998, life expectancy in Cambodia was fifty-six, and literacy was estimated at sixty-five percent – although some estimates in certain areas went down to thirty-five percent. Infant mortality was 86 per 1000 births (compared to a global average of 56.6 that year), and GDP per capita was only US$290 (1997). The population was about 11.4 million, seventy-eight percent of which was rural. School enrolment for children under seven years old was sixty-five percent, lower in many northern districts. It is against this background of war, upheaval and genocide that the unfinished stories of friends who survived those terrible times are being told for the first time.




Keo Sarath was born in 1960, in Ratanak Kiri, a Province in northeast Cambodia. His early schooling was in the military area of Kirirom, where his father was a soldier-engineer. He was a bright student. In 1970, he and his mother Am Yon moved to Phnom Penh, to try to escape the war between the Lon Nol Government and the Khmer Rouge. When Phnom Penh fell, he and his mother were moved to camps in Battambang, in the northwest. Many of the stories in this book are from that time. After the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, in 1979, Sarath vowed to become a teacher. This picture is one of the few he has left from his early years, taken in about 1981. He became a teacher trainer, and then joined Redd Barna (Save the Children) in 1992, as Education Specialist, which is where he met Mick and Ingrid Yates. From 2018, he joined the Ministry of Education, responsible for educational implementation across the country. Sarath is married to Vanna, and has two children, Rattanak and Mary.

IMAGE/ KEO SARATH Beng Simeth was born in 1958, in Battambang Province. His family was of modest means, and at age six he worked all day making cigarettes for the family market stall. A smart student, he learnt English and read Chinese books whilst at secondary school. Like Sarath, in 1975 he was sent to a camp near Tonle Sap River and separated from his family. After the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge, he took a six-month course and started work at a hospital that later sent him on missions as a military field nurse in the Cambodian-Vietnamese military. He had to leave behind his children, two and three years old, in 1986. Several of his stories are from those times, showing that hardship did not stop after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge. During that time, he almost died three times. He joined Save the Children in 1992, as Project Assistant. From 2002, he joined the World Bank, in charge of education programs, a job he holds today. Simeth is married to Sareap Ouk and has three children, Phal, Narin and Vong.



MICK YATES Mick Yates has been a photographer all of his life. Ingrid and Mick have been fortunate in living and working all over the world. They now reside in the United Kingdom. They have six children, born in five countries on three continents – and now nine grandchildren. In 1999, the family founded a program building primary school education capability in the Khmer Rouge Reconciliation Areas of Cambodia. After forty years in international business, Mick’s current photographic practice is documentary storytelling. Life is always in motion, and every moment creates a sense of place or personality. His photography is informed by a view that we are more the same than we are different - respect for all yet differences reveal unique stories. Details matter. He has visited and photographed on every continent except Antarctica, with special affection for Asia Pacific, and Cambodia in particular. In the words of Hiroji Kubota, ‘I think everybody has a great drama to talk about. Everybody.’ This book arose out of Mick’s studying for an MA in Photography at Falmouth University. He expresses sincere thanks to the tutors and staff who encouraged his efforts to explore new photographic avenues. Alongside the personal stories that follow, Mick’s photographs are of places in Cambodia that are associated with the horrors of the Genocide. Some are landscapes, and some are traces. The photographs are allegorical rather than indexical, inviting the viewer to stop and ponder how things so terrible could occur in places that are so beautiful; often, in places that were and are sublime.








My Father’s name was Chao Dy. He was born in Preak Ampil village, Preak Ampil commune, Ksach Kandal District, Kandal Province. It is located along the Mekong River, close to Phnom Penh. His Father was Ta Kchao and his Mother Yay Saing. My Mother told me that Ta Kchao was a famous businessman in the Preak Amil and Preak Loung areas. He was a trader, trading and transporting fruit crops such as sugar cane and other vegetables from Cambodia to Vietnam by boat.

Father was not as passionate about business as his father was, even though his father forced him to study and do business with him. In his spare time, Father liked to associate with neighbours of his own age. So, one day (and in secret) he and his cousin left home and joined the French Army, as so-called Red Foot Soldiers. At that time, there were two groups of soldiers, Red and Black Foot. Soldiers of the Red Foot fought on the frontline battlefields, while the Black Foot defended villages and towns.

His older brother was Ta Hub, whose wife was Yay Hun. She worked in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, looking after Royal children such as Prince Pang, Princess Bopha Devi, and Prince Daradepo.

The family only found out what Father was doing when he came back from fighting at Dien Bien Phu, in Vietnam, in 1954. He had been sent by the government to support the French in their fight against Vietnamese Independence.

Before 1960, when my Mother (Am Yon) visited my Father, she also visited the Royal Palace with Yay Hun. She met some of the King’s children, and she remembers the beautiful palaces, with gold colours almost everywhere.

When he returned, my Father told Mother about his experiences. Each soldier had received a rice plate with a hole to tie with a string to his waist. This was unusual for Father at that time, because he had never seen a rice plate like that. The food was mostly dog ​​meat, which my Father thought was strange because Khmer people do not eat dog. Dogs were pets and taken care of.

My Mother also visited the Royal elephant yard. It was forbidden to get too close to the largest elephant, because he could get angry. For the other elephants, she could get closer and was allowed to feed them with sugar cane. She also went to see the Royal cows, where she met the people that looked after all of the animals. They told her that, when elephants wept with tears and waved their legs, the country would have a war. Not long after, she remembered the workers’ words, as things came true. Father met my Mother when she was about twenty-one years old, in 1952. My Father was a soldier in Rattanak Kiri Province. He and his team frequently bought food in Kratie market and transported it back to the military base for the other soldiers. My Mother was a grocery seller, which is how they met. 17

My Father was with his cousin and another soldier, but that other soldier did not know either French or Khmer. The three had their ankles chained together to a machine gun for the battle. After Dien Bien Phu, Father’s cousin went to the Sala Dek Technical School. After his training, he became a painter in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, working on the Silver Pagoda. Father was trained as an engineer, and he worked in the army to construct national roads to the remote provinces, such as Kratie, Ratanak Kiri, Mondulkiri. They also built the Royal palaces in those provinces.

My Mother and Father married in Kratie, around 1957, and they lived in Rattanak Kiri. After three years, Mother became pregnant with her first child - me. Before I was born, Father sent my Mother to his home village of Preak Ampil where there he had many relatives. My Mother remembered that her parent’s in-law and relatives were very kind, and they did not allow her to do any work, even housework. In 1964, my Father’s troop was sent to construct a national road and a Royal palace in the Kirirom Mountain area. His parents did not want my Father to bring Mother and me to Kirirom mountain area. They said that soldiers were moving all the time, which always caused trouble for children and women. Still, we went. At Kirirom Mountain there were no civilians, only soldierengineers. The factories produced guns and sporting materials. To allow children to access schooling, the soldiers built a six-room school wooden building, with a zinc roof. In 1968, age eight, I enrolled in grade 12 (equivalent to grade 1 today). I remember that all of the teachers were young, and that they came from lowland areas. When I finished grade 12, my teacher sent me to study grade 10 instead of grade 11 (equivalent to grade 3 today). At that time, I did not understand why my teacher separated me from other classmates. I was so disappointed and cried, as I missed my friends. They were all still together as a group, except me.

take me with him to Phnom Penh when he was planning to visit his family. We went by taxi, an American Plymouth. I remember, because there was only one taxi in Kirirom at that time. I was so excited about my first visit to the capital city. A year later, in 1970, Father sent my Mother, Sister and me to the safety of Phnom Penh. The war had started between the Khmer Rouge and the Lon Nol Government. For a few months before we moved to Phnom Penh, I had noticed Father was not home every night. When he came back in the morning he was covered in mud and dust from fighting. In 1971, the Khmer Rouge took over Kirirom Mountain. Some soldiers were killed, and some ran away down National Road 4. Forty-eight soldiers including my Father were arrested by the Lon Nol Government. They were put in Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh, because they could not hold Kirirom against the Khmer Rouge. But they were later released. In 1975, Father was in a military camp in Kampong Speu Province. About two weeks before the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, he came by helicopter to see us. I never saw him again. We have heard this year from people in that area that soldiers of the camp were executed by the Khmer Rouge just after Phnom Penh fell. We believe my Father was amongst them.

I remember that, when I was at home, Mother asked me to collect leaves from the trees around the house nearly every day. She asked me to count the leaves. Sometimes she explained the names of the trees, how they grow, and what type of fruits they had. She also explained which animals liked to eat them. The most memorable was the wild rambutan tree behind my house. There were so many monkeys and birds, and I think that, at that time, my house was a natural zoo. All of this was important later, when I learnt how to survive on the land during Khmer Rouge times. One day, possibly in 1969, my teacher asked Mother if he could 18


My Father was an Engineer in the Army, before he was executed.

The three had their ankles chained together to a machine gun for the battle.

Soldiers of the camp were executed by the Khmer Rouge just after Phnom Penh fell.



MOTHER KEO SARATH My Mother’s name is Am Yon. She is eighty-eight years old as I write this, in 2019. She was born in Prey Romet Village, Pok Trach commune, Romeas Hek District, Svay Rieng Province. This is in the south of Cambodia, near the border with Vietnam. When she was a child, she did not attend school, because at that time in the countryside education was not seen as interesting, either by children themselves or by their parents. Parents wanted their children to help with work on their lands. My Mother told me that sometimes when a teacher came to the village searching for children, she and the other children ran into the banana fields, where they hid. Only when the teacher had left could the children get out of the fields. She did attend a literacy class, in the military camp at the Kirirom mountain area, in Kampong Speu Province, after marrying my Father. The government had instructed the commanders to organise such classes, so all family members could attend. From that time, she could read, but still found it difficult to write. Unfortunately, today, she has forgotten that, too. My Mother’s Father’s name was Am Sum and her Mother’s name was Morm Sao. Am Sum, my Grandfather, was appointed as Governor of Romeas Hek District, Svay Rieng Province when he was about fifty years old. This was when the Japanese occupied Cambodia and the French withdrew – from March to October 1945. Mother told me that the French soldiers had fled into the forest, throwing away their weapons. Their horses died whilst there, along the river of Kampong Dak Por. The Japanese were not in that area for long, and the French 21

returned. There was then rebellion against the French by the Khmer Issarak (the name for a loose coalition of antiGovernment forces). The Khmer Issarak had hunted Mother’s family and other officials, especially her Father. People hid in the forest to escape. Conflict was so often in Mother’s life. Grandfather and his family had moved to live in Kampong Trach District, Svay Rieng Province. The Government built a big wooden house for them within the military camp. Grandfather’s relatives from their previous village came, too, as their house had been set on fire, and the fruit trees were cut down by the Khmer Issarak. However, when living at Kampong Trach, they were all safe from attack. Grandmother Sao passed away when she was forty years old. She was a farmer, and organised many of the people in the village to grow rice and other food. She looked after the workers almost as her own children, and she also supported their wedding ceremonies according to Khmer tradition. Grandfather Sum and Grandmother Sao had eight children – seven boys and one girl, my Mother. The eldest was Am Ngaem, and he became the forest ranger in Romeas Heak District. When the French returned after Japan left Cambodia, the Khmer Issarak arrested Am Ngaem. They killed him by throwing him into the well and dropping stones on him. This happened at the mountain of Chourng Madeng, in Prey Norkor. Today, this is Ho Chi Minh City, in Vietnam. The second child was Am Ngoem. He was a farmer and had cattle. His personal passion, though, was horse racing, and in the Province he became quite famous.

The third child was Am Ngem. Sadly, he died of illness in his teenage years, during the Khmer Issarak time. The fourth child was Am Yem, who became a soldier. He was killed in Kratie Province during the war between the Lon Nol Government and the Khmer Rouge. Child number five was Am Phon, still living today in Svay Rieng Province. And child number six was Am Yon, my Mother, who today lives in Phnom Penh. The seventh child was Am Ly. He worked for Kamsab shipping agency in Phnom Penh from 1970 to 1975. I lived with him and his family for a while, from 1973 to 1975. My Mother hoped that I would be trained and pushed to learn. Am Ly was a friend of Khieu Samphan, one of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Khieu Samphan served as Prime Minister in 1976, and officially succeeded Pol Pot as leader of the Khmer Rouge from 1985 until 1998. In 2014 he received a life sentence for war crimes and is still alive.

I also pretended to be illiterate.


When the Khmer Rouge took over the country, my Mother told me do not tell others about our family background.


The eighth child was Am Tes. He was a government soldier from 1972, and he changed his name to Thach Dorn. After the Khmer Rouge years, he worked as a commander of a Khmer refugee camp in Thailand. He was killed whilst riding his motorcycle between camps in 1982 or 1983.

2018. Am Yon, Phnom Penh.

While I was living with Am Ly, I remember hearing him listening to the Beijing Radio broadcast in Khmer every evening with his friends and neighbours. I have no information about him and his family after 1975.




My Mother told me do not tell others about our family background. I also pretended to be illiterate.

They killed him by throwing him into the well and dropping stones on him. MONG CHEN HILL @ PRO KEAB -2


When I was in secondary school, I learned English as a foreign language in regular school and also at the pagoda (a private school). Every evening at home, I read English out loud for an hour as I enjoyed the study. I then continued with maths homework. I got a reward from the Provincial Governor when I graduated grade 6 (equal to grade 7 today). My Father wanted me to study medicine in the USA, which is why I studied English. In 1973, my eldest brother failed grade 2 (current grade 10) partly due to disagreements with Father and Mother. He had been the best student in the diploma exam in the previous year. Sadly, family violence obstructed our learning. In 1974, he asked for money from my Father to pay for the Bac II exam - the first time we had heard of such corruption - otherwise he would have failed it. My second eldest brother passed his exams. He was told by his teacher that if he failed, all of the students in the Province would fail. He continued his studies in Phnom Penh, but I do not know what happened to him. I worked every evening when getting back from school, from 5:10 pm until 6:40 pm. We then had dinner, and I started homework around 7 pm. Like all other children, I worked during the whole vacation period, as discipline at home was strong. Every once in a while, Father gave me money to buy snacks, fruits or noodles. Occasionally we went to the Chinese cinema. I remember once running happily home in the rain.


During Lon Nol times, there were often young people demonstrating on the streets, against corruption, but they destroyed people’s property, and schools were closed. Battle areas between the Government and the Khmer Rouge expanded, and the Khmer Rouge were winning everywhere. People actually hid Khmer Rouge soldiers from Government soldiers, as they really hated the Government and the corruption. Big artillery guns were used in our home village, just threehundred metres from our house, and people could not sleep for months. In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge won the war, and entered Phnom Penh. They told us to prepare to leave home for three days. We did not know what to pack or where to go. So, we just packed a little food and a few clothes. We left home and were ordered to walk along the stream by National Road Number 5. After five kilometres, we were asked to move into a village alongside the Tonle Sap river. We did not have a place to stay and sleep, so we just laid down on the small pathway. We got lost and we were scared that the end of the three days would never come. It never came. In 1975, my third brother died as we didn’t have medicine or food. He was injured by a fish and got an infection. There was no school, no money, no hospital, no pagoda, or anything else.



In 1975, my third brother died as we didn’t have medicine or food. He was injured by a fish and got an infection.

LIVING WITH A KHMER ROUGE FAMILY KEO SARATH In early May 1975, my family was moved to a new village in Bati District, Takeo Province, south of Phnom Penh, after travelling out of the city for more than a month. At that time, we had five people in our family: my two sisters, a younger brother, my Mother, Am Yon, and me. We had no information about my father.

From time to time, the Khmer Rouge tightened up by not allowing New People to eat any breakfast with the Old People. Uncle Chorn and Aunty Oeun told us to stop having even the left-over rice from the day before. Mother told me that we must stop. If we did not follow their rules, our family would all be killed at Wat Kor Koh.

I had never experienced such a terrible situation. When my family was expelled from our home, we were sent to live in the countryside with a Khmer Rouge family called Chorn Oeun. Chorn was the name of the husband and Oeun the name of his wife. It was the way that the Khmer Rouge called families. We called them Uncle Chorn and Auntie Oeun. They had two children, one girl and one boy.

Wat Kor Koh (the Pagoda) was the place that the Khmer Rouge used as a prison, to lecture and to kill. Whenever the Khmer Rouge said that they would take someone to Wat Kor Koh, it meant that you would be executed. Sometimes Old People tried to threaten New People simply by using those words.

All Khmer Rouge families lived in such villages. They called themselves ‘Old People,’ and the city dwellers were called ‘New People.’ In the first week we were mainly free, although the Khmer Rouge were searching for information about all New People, including my family. This was the training period for everyone to be taught about the Khmer Rouge Organisation (Angkar) and the Revolution. Every night, all New People were forced to meet with the Khmer Rouge leadership in various places in different villages. For our village, there were about thirty new families who were settled. Every afternoon, before dinner, a young Khmer Rouge cadre walked from home to home to order New People to attend the meeting. So, after dinner, all adults headed to be instructed. Everyday life had gradually begun to change. In the first month we had breakfast with the Khmer Rouge family. We usually had dried fish, fish sauce and salt. Luckily, we also had palm sugar with leftover rice.


Yet, I was always so hungry. I just stared at the rice copper pot on the kitchen stove with a desperate feeling. One day, without telling my Mother. I walked up to Aunty Oeun and whispered to her to please give me a piece of rice with salt. She did not reply. But I was desperate, and I put my hand into the copper pot and took some rice. I stepped out of the kitchen and knew that she was not happy with me. Another day, exhausted and hungry, mid-morning I decided to walk up to their house again. I went to the kitchen to find that the pot was still half full of rice. I took a piece and added palm sugar on top. It was so delicious; I had never tasted anything like this before, rice with palm sugar. It is difficult to explain, but even though this event was over forty years ago, I remember it vividly. Despite all of our difficulties, I felt happy that I had found something new. However, about two weeks later, Aunty Oeun told my Mother to stop me stealing rice and palm sugar. It was over. After hearing this news, I asked my Mother when we might return to Phnom Penh.

KIRIROM -51 If I could not do this, I would die, and my bones would be left in the nearby fields.


The Khmer Rouge cadre looked at her and told her harshly that they were all children of Angkar, and they could kill them anytime.

My Mother replied that she did not know what will happen in our Country. She said we must be very careful and try to follow instruction from the Old People. We must please them in order to be allowed to survive. If we wanted to live, we must be very careful.

From that time onwards, Mother did take me to the evening meeting. The Khmer Rouge cadre who led the meeting was wearing a black uniform and a red scarf, and he smoked tobacco sitting on a bamboo bed near a small cottage. All the participants sat on the sand floor, with many children around, listening to him.

If I could not do this, I would die, and my bones would be left in the nearby fields.

Before the meeting began, I was enjoying playing with the other kids, and my body and clothes got covered with sand. Later at night, as the meeting went on, some of the children slept, and small babies were lying down in their mothers’ laps. My Mother held my brother on her lap, and my two sisters wanted to go home. She spoke to them quite loudly. The Khmer Rouge cadre looked at her and told her harshly that they were all children of Angkar, and they could kill them anytime.

From that time, I always remembered Mother’s words - struggle and work hard. One evening, about seven o’clock, the sky was very dark, with only a little light from the fire stoves of the cottages in the village. The voices of people floated from the regular meeting place, and my Mother was preparing to go to the meeting, too. My sister and I asked Mother if we could also go with her, this time. I thought that maybe the meeting would be fun, especially as I felt afraid of ghosts when I stayed at our home. But Mother did not want me to follow her. She said that the meeting will end at about midnight, as always. She also told me to remember that, if someone asks about our family background, I must tell them what she had told me to say, and to also say that I did not know more than that. Mother insisted that I was very careful. Mother’s words were spoken with passion and strength. I felt scared and uncomfortable, as I began to realise that I was not free, and that my Mother could not help me as she had done before. I could also see that the life of the New People was not like that of the Old People. They had the authority, and we had to do everything that they ordered. When my Mother was not with me, my neighbours sometimes asked about my father and my family background. I replied exactly as Mother had taught me. When my Mother came back home, I reported what had happened, and she smiled.

Mother whispered to me about taking them away. I did not know when the meeting was over. When I woke up, it was very late and the sky was dark with the light of the stars, glittering. My Mother’s face was in the shadows. She had woken me up, and I followed her home. One afternoon, heavy rain fell, with thunderstorms and lightning. Mother took me and ran to the pagoda. I ran after her without knowing why, through the pagoda gate, towards behind the temple. Then I saw hundreds of tall coconut trees. I realised that she had brought me there to pick up the coconuts that had dropped because of the storm. While picking up coconuts, Mother also reminded me again that the Khmer Rouge was searching for police, doctors, teachers, and student’s families. I must not tell them about our family’s history. No matter what they ask, I had to tell lies. Whilst I understood what she said, I was conflicted. Before Khmer New Year, I had received an important lesson. That lesson had been about honesty.


KHMER ROUGE SCHOOL KEO SARATH One evening, while I was with my Mother, Ming Oeun, the wife of the house owner, told us that her husband had said that I must go to work, and can go to school with the other children, otherwise I was doing nothing at home. I had heard what was said. However, my Mother repeated it to me in front of Ming Oeun, to prove that she was following instructions. That night, I thought that I would really be going back to school and I felt very happy. In the morning, a girl came to my house, looking strong and brave and followed by four or five other children. I had never seen these children before, but I guessed that they were an established children’s group. They look very proud and confident. One boy said to me ‘Let’s go to work.’ I just followed them without saying a word. I always walked behind them, and when they stopped, I stopped. When they walked, I walked. I had no idea what they were planning to do. Eventually we arrived at another house. A boy in the group went into the house, grabbed a bamboo basket, handed it to me and said ‘Comrade, take it for collecting cow shit.’ The group of children collected cow shit and put it into a large pit in Thmey Pagoda, not too far from where I lived. This task was totally demotivational for me, yet the other children seemed to be happy and joyful. When they saw the cow shit across the fields, they ran to it and excitedly picked it up. I just followed them; I got less cow shit than the other children. At about 10 am, all of children stopped collecting. They said that it was time for school. We travelled quite a long way from the village, across the rice fields, to reach a hill with a small cottage made of bamboo and palm leaves. All of the children sat on palm mats, and there was a blackboard hung on the wall.


When all the children were seated, one of the big girls stood up and acted as the teacher. She was a Khmer Rouge children’s group leader. She acted like a soldier towards the others, and she seemed to be applying her experience from supporting the fighting on the battlefield. She spoke strictly, like a military commander. Before starting the lesson, a boy boss stood up and asked a question. ‘Who has collected the most cow shit this morning?’ Most of the children responded with some excitement, explaining what they had each done. But I could not do it, so I kept silent. Another boy said to the class: ‘We all have to work to serve Angkar, be committed to Angkar, and to report our parents’ stories to Angkar.’ Afterwards, that same boy called each child at a time to write consonants on the blackboard. But no one could write correctly. Then, the girl that was the children’s group leader picked up some dry clay, writing more letters on the blackboard. She could not do all of the letters, and she stopped. I think that she just couldn’t remember. Then I got excited and wanted to complete all of the letters. Abruptly, she pointed at me, and told me to stand up and read the letters on the blackboard. I stood up and read them all. All of the children looked at me with surprise. I sat down and reflected on why these children were very proud and happy, yet they could not read. I also felt worried, as I then remembered what my Mother had told me: do not tell others about our family background and history. So, from then on, I also pretended to be illiterate, just like all the other children failing to read. After a few weeks, I got used to the situation. But inside I was still struggling to understand what was going on, and I was so confused about it all.


We all have to work to serve Angkar, be committed to Angkar, and to report our parents’ stories to Angkar. KIRIROM -38


During the Khmer Rouge time, we worked thirteen to fifteen hours every day in the rice fields, with no weekends or holidays. During the rainy season, which lasted about three months, we got only one spoon of rice porridge for lunch and one spoon for dinner. We were skin and bones. I could only just stand up in the rice fields and tried hard not to fall down. I could not do anything. We were pushed to leave camp to work at 2 am, even though many of the Khmer Rouge continued to sleep. They were all in the camp for lunch or dinner, and they ate all of the rice. They remained fat. Corruption was a nightmare. During the rainy season, all of the young people were given clear targets for their work. For example, ten people had to dig ten metres of canal as a team; single-handedly, we had each to build a ten-metre rice field path; we had to pull forty bunches of green rice plant per person, and so on. My team was able to complete all of these tasks and meet the targets. In fact, I managed to pull the one hundred and twenty bunches of green rice plants by lunch time. I also travelled seven kilometres on a flooded path to Tonle Sap river, to pick up corn from fields that had been flooded, and which had been left without any thought of helping people. I picked the corn because I knew that the young people were hungry. No one had asked me to do it. Twice every year I stole salt from our camp to give to my Mother. I took it to her in our home village, when I had permission to leave the camp. I also picked up vegetables when I was responsible for cooking in the camp. People in the village grew vegetables or other plants. But they did not eat them publicly. Instead, they stole them to eat whilst they hid from the Khmer Rouge. My Mother used the salt to barter and get things she needed for survival. I cared for my Mother with all my heart.


We were skin and bones. I could only just stand up in the rice fields and tried hard not to fall down. I could not do anything.

At the time, I assumed that no one did the same as me. But after the Khmer Rouge regime ended, I saw a Soviet movie ‘Salt is more expensive than Gold’ that was projected in public.


It reminded me of what had happened.



In 1975, my Mother told me that the Khmer Rouge planned to send New People elsewhere in the country, so we needed to leave our house, I said to her that we would not have enough food or shelter. But Mother replied that the Khmer Rouge would provide us with land to build a new cottage and told me not to worry.

people really understood the situation.

We had built a small cottage in the jungle, near the pagoda called Wat Kor Koh.

Before we set out, the chief of the village told my Mother that he was sorry for the young children. They were all probably going to die when travelling so far.

It was my first experience of building a cottage. Mother showed me how to cut small trees and palm leaves. Then I practiced whilst asking questions about what I needed to do. Eventually a small cottage was built. It helped me feel more confident, and it also showed me that my Mother had experience that I did not know about. She was, and still is an outstanding lady. Our house was completed before the others, as many families did not have the necessary skills. They lived under blankets and on mattresses. One night there was heavy rain, and they had no shelter. It was so sad to hear children crying and older people shouting and getting upset. A few days later my Mother asked me to collect sweet potatoes from nearby farms, to plant behind the cottage. Together we planted two rows, and then I continued to work on my own to plant more. It was the first time that I understood how potatoes grew. Often, I kept thinking how smart my Mother was. My Mother often went to visit our old village to ask the family we had been temporarily staying with for some plants to plant. One day, an old man, the village chief for our new village, came to my house and told my Mother to collect rice from the central storage place.

After just two months living in our new home, potatoes and other plants were growing quickly. But now we were told to move to another Province, Battambang, in the far north.

When my Mother heard this, she went around the village finding more food, and she bartered a sarong to get a hen. That night, all of the New People were led out of their houses. While waiting for a truck by National Road 3, my Mother hid all of the family photos, house certificate and other papers in a nearby oxcart. She said that, before we get on the truck to travel north, the Khmer Rouge will check us. If the Khmer Rouge could see the photos of our family, we would have been killed by them. At around 9 am, a Chinese-built truck with Khmer Rouge soldiers arrived. They told everyone to leave their belongings behind, and they said that we would get what we needed when we arrived. Almost all of the families left everything behind. But not my family. We took our hen, some bowls, and other things. Mother stood her ground. On the way to Battambang, when the convoy stopped, my youngest sister, who was seven years old, went into the forest. She never came back.

When we had settled in, Mother told me about the severe difficulties she had experienced during the war. I realised then why Mother had told me not to tell the truth to the Khmer Rouge. Few 40

MONG CHEN HILL @ PRO KEAB -3 The village chief was sorry for the young children; he said that they were all probably going to die. KIRIROM -10

If the Khmer Rouge could see the photos of our family, we would have been killed by them.


I ALMOST DIED THREE TIMES BENG SIMETH The first time that I was almost killed was in 1975. I was sent far away from my family to live in a youth camp. I was selected because I was a student, and I was together with others who were civil servants or soldiers. The village chief thought that the Khmer Rouge District Governor had ordered this without knowing any reason. He also thought that we would all be killed. Instead, the group survived in the youth camp, as the Khmer Rouge considered us to be committed to them. Relatives of those Khmer Rouge, however, were later killed by another group of Khmer Rouge, during the purges. This was the first time that I was supposed to be dead but somehow, I survived. The second time that I was supposed to be killed was in 1977. I was considered a ‘business person’ and Chinese people were sent to the prison at the District Governor’s house. I sat at the fence of the house and waited to be killed. I felt scared, but yet I was not afraid of death, as it could be better than being alive. Late in the evening, the Governor came and asked me ‘Are you the one sent from the youth camp?’ I told him I was. He ordered me to pack rice and food for work the next day. This was by the Sangkae river in Battambang Province. A team of eight people collected rice from small warehouses to put into one big bag. We ate like kings for a whole month. People in the commune prepared around fifteen types of food for our dinner every day, and we had people serving us food which we were not at all used to. We had a letter with the Governor’s stamp. So, instead of being dead, I was very much alive and gained weight.


Once during that time, I carried a bag of rice with a big piece of dried fish to my home. My Mother cut a small piece of the fish and grilled it for the family lunch. My Father came from work and put the cooked fish into his mouth without saying anything. My Mother got very upset. I wondered why he behaved like that, so badly, towards the family. After the Khmer Rouge time, when I remembered what had happened, I felt really sad, and cried. My Father’s life was only for his children. He was sent in 1977 to near the Tonle Sap river. We had no information about his whereabouts or what he was doing. We thought that he had been killed by the Khmer Rouge, but dared not ask anyone. I learned about him much later, in the 1980s. He had died in a hospital near Tonle Sap. He had asked to be given food, but he was too weak. We went to where we thought this might have happened, and found a place with many bones kept in a big box. The third time that I almost died was in 1979, at the time that Vietnam invaded Cambodia, and stopped the Khmer Rouge. I had serious diarrhoea and bleeding, and I was left untreated because there was no medicine. I also had no food. The Khmer Rouge were chased away to the mountain areas by the Vietnamese soldiers. I managed to escape and get to an area controlled by the Vietnamese. I caught some fish and cooked rice to eat, which allowed me to survive. Somehow, I got to be a cook for almost six months as the warehouse keeper liked me, for reasons that I didn’t understand. Just thinking about the poor treatment that I got from the Khmer Rouge makes me almost stop breathing, even today.


I had serious diarrhoea and bleeding, and I was left untreated because there was no medicine. I also had no food. CHEOUNG EK -10


It was possibly in 1977, I do not know for sure, but it was a windy month for spring, and it was rainy. I felt so desperate to see my Mother, to find out how she was being treated, because people died every day. I was a member of a group with about thirty children in it. No one had yet died in our group. It was the adults, known as the ‘elder groups,’ who had had an epidemic, mostly leading to swelling and diarrhoea. At first, I felt scared and horrified when I saw or heard about someone who had died. But later, it seemed familiar, and I was not so scared, because it happened so often. Still I felt insecure, no matter what was going on, worrying that it could be me that died. Every morning, different groups of people went out in various directions in the rice fields, as ordered by the Khmer Rouge. Some of them found it almost impossible to work. I looked at them, and thought that they could not survive long, because they could not walk properly. After a few days, I heard that they lay dead in their hammocks. At that time, I felt quite strong and not too tired, even after working hard in the rice fields. Maybe it was because of this, but the Khmer Rouge leader put me to work with a special teenager group, most of us aged thirteen to fifteen. We were the most active and most energetic team. The normal groups were allowed only to work in the rice fields. But our team was working to construct canals - working from morning till night, continuing until midnight. One evening, I decided to run away to my Mother’s village (named Toul Chresh), thinking about how difficult a time she was having there. The people in the villages, like my Mother, were meant to support the battlefields. Other groups that the Khmer Rouge had assigned to work far away did not have the detailed direction that we had. We were considered to be on the frontline battlefield. My plan was to spend about a week seeing my Mother. Gradually, I summoned up the courage, always thinking about the road, worried about wandering alone, walking through the woods.


Then one evening, waiting until midnight, I decided to make the attempt. As I went deep into the jungle, I tried to run as fast as I could to get away from the place that I was living. When I got deeper into the woods, I walked more normally. About halfway, I had to work hard to keep track of where I was, because there are only a few trails and paths for pedestrians that were mostly out of sight. It was hard to remember the way, and especially hard to remember in the dark. Wolf howls gave me the idea that the Khmer Rouge were talking. When a wolf sounded closer, I tried to get nearer to the trees, and move quickly from one to another. As I walked, I thought that if I met a wolf, I would climb a tree. I spent almost the whole night in the jungle, until I got to a field which I remembered was close to my Mother’s village. I had gathered things there, with my Mother, for our thatch-roofed hut. Not far away I knew there were mass graves. Most of the ‘New People,’ from the towns, had died, mainly due to illness and hunger. I did not have any fear of becoming a ghost, but I was always afraid to be in the dark. In the morning, I approached my village. It was strange and hard to recognise, because originally many huts, about twenty, were built in two rows of ten huts. Now there were only three left, along with our hut. Looking from a distance, I saw my Mother in her hut. As I walked in, my Mother was sitting next to the fire, a small copper rice pot nearby. When Mother saw me, she said, ‘You came here, to do what?’ I said to her that ‘No one would get me, I just missed you.’ She also said ‘Beware! You will be killed, if they know.’ I kept silent and she continued to talk, ‘Let’s eat this wild rice, which I had cooked to take to the field.’ I ate it plain, without salt. She told me that Akhoach had died a few week ago. He was my youngest brother and was about three years old. My Mother said that he was so thin before he died. She placed his body in the rice field next to our village. She showed a little blanket and the cloths that she used to cover him in, when he was alive. I kept silent and could not say anything. But later I became more emotional about it all.


She described the situation in the village. It was very authoritarian, and the village was not the same any more. Most people had died. She asked if I was afraid to go back to my camp, towards the frontline. But she also said that she would ask permission from the village chief for me to leave without being harmed. Members of his family liked her, and both he and wife were very nice to the villagers. Sometimes she gave them fish, crabs, snails, and frogs. His name was Ta Hom. As the Khmer Rouge village chief, he ruled the entire village, yet only one of his family was Khmer Rouge, or ‘Old People.’ The rest were the New People who had been transferred from other Provinces to create a new village in the jungle of Koas Krala District, Battambang Province. When I was eating the wild rice, my Mother went to the village chief to tell him about me. A few moments later, she came back and said that tomorrow I could go back to the frontline. She also said that they would give me lunch for that day only. Then I followed her to the fields. Whilst walking, she described the difficult lives of the other families. People were forced to move dead bodies from the village, to bury them in the fields near the village. But one day they were caught by the Khmer Rouge, as they were discovered eating a dead body. They were killed. Ten families lived near my Mother. Everyone died. I do not remember their detailed stories, but I do still feel deep sadness about their deaths.


Two medical doctor’s families were killed by the Khmer Rouge, because when their babies died, they ate them. Back from the fields, my Mother called me to the communal kitchen to take some food. I was nervous and worried, about what I would be asked by the village chief. But no one spoke to me. I saw that most people in the kitchen talked a lot with my Mother, and it seemed that they liked her. The next morning, before leaving, my Mother told me that Akeo’s Mother had died a few weeks ago, and left behind two young daughters. Akeo was another teenager member of our group. Back at our team, no one asked me whether I had visited my village. Only Akeo, who was my close friend, was curious. I was silent and did not respond to him, because of what I knew. Such situations made me very nervous because the Khmer Rouge could take me away from the group and kill me. I decided not to tell Akeo that his Mother had passed away, as I was afraid that he would report me to the Khmer Rouge. If this happened, it is unlikely that I would survive, and because I still had a relationship with family members, they would suffer too. Sometime later, I did decide to tell him. ‘I heard that your Mother passed away.’ He just looked at me and walked away, hopelessly.


I looked at them, and thought that they could not survive long, because they could not walk properly.


As I walked, I thought that if I met a wolf, I would climb a tree.

Ten families lived near my Mother. Everyone died.



People were forced to move dead bodies from the village, to bury them in the fields near the village.

Two medical doctor’s families were killed by the Khmer Rouge, because when their babies died, they ate them.




I decided not to tell Akeo that his Mother had passed away. I was afraid he would report me to the Khmer Rouge.



The lives of the people were a tale from hell. Most people try not to remember their horrible experiences. People died because of starvation, and I thought that one day it would be my turn. Hunger came almost every second, and it meant that I could not sleep. I often worried about what was happening to my Mother. And my sister was working in a young children’s mobile group, in another camp. I tried to tell myself that my Mother and sister were fine, no matter what was happening to them.The Khmer Rouge always broke apart families to live separately, and never gave us an opportunity to stay together. We were always classified by age and gender, to live and work as a group. The Khmer Rouge also used spies to detect anyone who was still emotionally involved with their family members. It was very hard to cope, as I thought that I and other Cambodians would live like this forever. However, because there was no better option, I tried to work to please the Khmer Rouge. After a while the difficulties had become more routine for me. In the last three or four months before the Vietnamese troops came to my area, more terrible things were happening. The Khmer Rouge, who had moved from other provinces, started to kill the Khmer Rouge who originally had run the area where I lived. Almost every day, I saw people being taken to be killed. One day, I accidentally saw the village chief, Hom, who controlled my Mother’s village, and his wife and children, being tied up and carried away on an oxcart. I was shocked. What was happening in my village, where was my Mother? One afternoon, four or five Khmer Rouge with machine guns arrested one person in my group, when he was sleeping in the hammock beside me. I was scared. They dragged him out of his hammock and screamed loudly ‘You are the enemy!’ I waited nervously, quietly in my hammock. But after a few minutes, the chief of my group called us to go to work in the rice field, as normal.


Such happenings made me and my friends very tense. From that time on, we did not dare to look at the faces of the chiefs of our group, because we knew that these were the men who gave information to the Khmer Rouge. We had to change the way we communicated, by whispering in different ways, so that we were not noticed. We whispered when we walked from our shelter to the work site. When we arrived at the site, we did not talk, we just worked hard. I remember a time that we had planned to escape into the forest, because we knew that soon the Khmer Rouge would kill us all. We had hope that if we ran into the jungle we would survive. But we also knew that we would not find anything to eat, and so we would still die eventually. About a week later, the Khmer Rouge said that they would send my group to dig a pond in the jungle, in the Kor Char area. They told us not to bring any equipment, such as hoes, knives or axes. We were told that there was enough equipment in the jungle. When we heard that, we were terrified, thinking that we would all be killed. Early next morning, a Khmer Rouge soldier took us from the shelter. They led us to a jungle camp, far from anyone or anywhere else that we knew. Upon arrival, a Khmer Rouge soldier took us to get equipment for digging the ponds. We put this in a hut made from small trees. Then they took us to an area quite a distance from the camp, where the pond was to be dug. This took place for about five or six days. We were sceptical, because the tools used for digging the pond, the knives and axes, were all stained with blood. It made us more fearful that the Khmer Rouge would kill all of us when the pond excavation had been completed. About three days later, all of the Khmer Rouge team had left the camp. We wondered why they were not there, but we still worked on the pond as we did not know what was happening and were afraid.



Then they took us to an area quite a distance from the camp, where the pond was to be dug.

One evening when we were going from the pond site to our shelter, we saw a lot of people travelling in groups - walking, running and going through the places where we had been staying. We were wondered why no Khmer Rouge accompanied them, even though we thought that these people were being led to their death like previous groups. That night more and more people came from different directions. But I did not care about them, as I was so tired. Early in the morning I met some of the old men who came from our village. They told us that the Khmer Rouge had run away, and that we could go back to our home provinces and towns. Our group felt so happy but also so very anxious, as we did not know if this was true or not. The Khmer Rouge would kill us if they thought we were running away. So we did not dare to leave, and once more we went to dig the pond that day. Next day, we still did not see any Khmer Rouge. So, late afternoon when we came back to the shelter, we knew for sure that the Khmer Rouge had left. This time we did follow other people travelling. It was chaos. My team split up in different directions. I did not know where to go, so I just followed some of them with no sense of direction.

People attacked, chased and tried to kill any Khmer Rouge that had not fled. They were so angry about murdered parents and loved ones, and they wanted revenge. I did see Vietnamese troops trying to stop people from attacking and killing the Khmer Rouge, instead capturing them and putting them in camps. Often, I encountered mass graves in the jungle, near the villages. There were many mango trees with flowers and fruits around these graves. Because of the hardship and suffering, the smell of dead bodies in the ponds was not really bad. It did not stop us picking the mangoes. Once I accidentally fell into a pond. But instead of looking at the bodies, I focused on the fruit on the branches. From that time, whenever I see mango flowers and fruit, bodies and mass graves appear in my mind. The picture will stick with me until I die.

I tried to understand what people were talking about, to learn the truth. Most people said that they would go back to their provinces. They were seeking people who were from the same provinces and towns, so that they could travel more safely in a group.


Because of the hardship and suffering, the smell of dead bodies in the ponds was not really bad. MONG CHEN HILL @ PRO KEAB -5


January 7, 1979 was the day that the Khmer Rouge were defeated by the Vietnamese. I and the other young people in the camp were moved by the Khmer Rouge toward mountainous areas in the north part of region 5. One evening, in April 1979, we were informed that, at midnight we would be guided to escape from the Khmer Rouge. People could not sleep, and at midnight we all ran. We reached Maung Russey District and were told that half of the people were killed the previous night by Khmer Rouge soldiers. I walked almost fifty kilometres to my hometown, Battambang city. When I reached home, my Mother and sisters cried as they thought I was dead. I had a chance to enter a nursing school to take a six-month course, to become a nurse. At the final exam, one female student stole my exam paper to copy (on hygiene). My teacher thought I was the cheat and gave me a zero mark on the paper. Because I failed one subject, I was grouped with some others to work in country districts and not in the town. So, I should have worked in Battambang hospital, but instead I was sent back to Maung Russey District hospital. This was the place that my future wife and I met. Ironically, she was a cousin of the female student that stole my exam paper. This is destiny. We got married later, in 1982. Once in 1986, Khmer Rouge guerillas approached our camp at Phnum Khgan mountain. The battle lasted for about half an hour until the leader of our soldiers ran up to top of the mountain and fired an artillery cannon at the Khmer Rouge. When the battle started, he had been receiving a quinine drip which required thirty minutes to complete. But due to the fighting, he asked me to stop the quinine drip after twenty-five minutes and he took over leading the battle.


Khmer Rouge soldiers planted landmines after they left. The following day, a soldier and two Sena Chuns (a civilian that performed duties for the military but who did not get a Government salary) walked along the border. Around two hours later, one of the Sena Chuns ran back to our camp and asked me to rescue the soldier as he had stepped on a landmine, and one foot had been blown off. So, I, another Sena Chun and a soldier left the camp to rescue the wounded soldier. In single file, the soldier walked in front, I walked in the middle and the other person walked at the back. Only one-hundred metres from the camp, the first soldier stepped on another landmine. Due to the strength of blast, he was thrown forward three metres. We knew that there must be other landmines all around our feet, so I and the other Sena Chun stood still and could not move. If we moved, we could have stepped on another landmine, but if we did not move, then the wounded soldier would die through hemorrhage. What should we do? I decided that we must help the soldier whether we stepped or did not step on landmines. I asked the Sena Chun for advice on how we should do this. He told me that the landmine needed a weight of three kilograms on it in order to explode, so he would try to gently tap on the ground with less force than that. If there was no sound from the mine, then he would step on the place that he had tapped. I then had to walk in his footsteps.

However, the first soldier injured by the landmine was four kilometres from the camp, and he could not get proper treatment, and lost a lot of blood. Eventually he was brought back to our camp for proper help, and then sent to the bigger camp. Sadly, though, the hospital could not help him, and he died. Half a month later, Khmer Rouge soldiers came at night to the camp and threw lots of notes with messages on, urging us to fight against the Vietnamese. Soldiers and Sena Chuns collected the notes. One soldier tried to reach a note that was far from the path. He had to dig so that he would have space to step one foot at a time to reach the note. Unfortunately, he stepped on a landmine and it blew up, amputating his foot and facturing his other leg. He was losing blood and was in severe pain. I put a tourniquet on and give him glucose. But, yet again, the hospital could not help him, so he died.

We did this until we reached the soldier, and I helped him by tying a tourniquet above his injury. The Sena Chun fired his gun as a sign that we were in trouble and needed help. Suddenly, another Sena Chun who was not afraid of landmines ran to us and took the injured soldier back to the camp. I ran also, by following his steps. I redid the tourniquet above his lost foot and put him on a glucose drip. Later, he was sent to a bigger camp for an operation, and he survived. 62


Khmer Rouge soldiers planted landmines after they left.

GAS STATION KEO SARATH It seemed that everyone was on the road - small groups, big groups with boys, girls, old and young, some carrying things and others not. In every possible direction - crossing rice fields, canals, and main roads. I was travelling alone, out of the forest. Some of the other members of my Khmer Rouge youth group travelled with me. A few were planning to try to find their families, and some travelled with us because they knew that their parents were already dead. I did not really know where to go, and I was not expecting to see my Mother and my sister. The situation was very confusing. Determined not to go just anywhere, I wanted to find a place to live in the area. I thought that I would find a place where there were many palm trees, so that I could make juice. There was a big pond that could be used for watering vegetables, and there was a large rice field nearby. For a while, I was sheltering in a cottage alongside the road in Prey Svay village, Maung Russey district, Battambang Province. I stayed there for three days, without knowing where else to go. On the last day, at around 3 pm, a group of families came near the cottage. We talked, and they said they had lived in the same village as my Mother, at Wat Maung Russey. She was searching for me. They told me that I must go straightaway, to find her. Immediately I prepared a small bag with rice, a spoon and a plate, and started walking along National Road 5 to the Maung Russey Pagoda. I met my Mother and sister at around 6 pm that same evening. That night was the first time that I had eaten together with my mother and my sister in a family situation for years. 65

Whilst eating, we talked about going to Phnom Penh. I said to my Mother that most of the people were going back to their homelands. But my Mother said that we would not do that. Our relatives were probably all killed by the Khmer Rouge. Instead, we should make our way to Phnom Penh. In Phnom Penh we could start a business. My Mother was very strong in her point of view. Very early morning, I and some other people went to find rice that the Khmer Rouge had left in the villages. We were also looking for wheels to make a cart to transport our things. I made a small cart, which I pulled, and my Mother pushed. My sister followed closely behind us. We took National Road 5. towards Phnom Penh. We only travelled at night, so in the daytime we rested. Like everyone else, we looked for rice and vegetable in villages that we passed through. There were mass graves and dead bodies everywhere. Life was very hard. At night time, we huddled close together, and we chatted. But I was not interested in much, really only thinking about where I could find rice and cassava the next morning. Most of the older people talked a lot. During the Khmer Rouge times, this group had stayed very quiet – but now they had lots of things that they wanted to share, about what had happened and how we could all now best survive. We travelled only short distances every day, because of exhaustion, and we kept looking for food. I often went alone into villages far away from the National Highway, looking for fruits, especially mangoes because of the season. I also collected paddy from the stocks of the villages we passed. But most of the food was burnt by the Khmer Rouge before they 66

had fled into the forest. We travelled about a month from Maung Russey and reached Pursat provincial town. When we arrived there, we found a gas station, opposite the railway station, to stay at. My Mother said that it would be easy to get information there about any passing trucks that might be travelling to Phnom Penh. She thought that it would take too long to travel by foot to Phnom Penh, and we might not make it. Mother talked a lot with both Khmer and Vietnamese soldiers at the town’s railway station, to find out whether there would be a way to get a lift. We stayed at the gas station for one month. One afternoon, my Mother told me that she had been talking to soldiers in the train station, and that there would be some trucks to Phnom Penh the next day. I gathered everything together, including the big, bloody knife that the Khmer Rouge had given me, to cut trees and dig the pond. I knew that this knife had been used by the Khmer Rouge to kill people, but I still needed to use it. In the early morning, about 5 am, there were several military trucks parked on the road near our gas station. Many people wanted to board, but the Cambodian soldiers who worked with the Vietnamese stopped them. But my family was allowed to board. Later, my Mother told me that she had given them a small gold coin, although I do not know how she had managed to hide this from the Khmer Rouge. The truck was full of wooden boxes, which we sat on top of, in the sunshine. The truck stopped only once on the way to Phnom Penh, to have lunch. The Vietnamese driver approached us as we were sitting on the ground having something to eat. He spoke to us in Vietnamese, perhaps asking if we had rice, but I wasn’t sure. An old man who had


come with us responded that we had rice and thanked him. The driver smiled and walked away. Then the truck arrived in Phnom Penh, reaching the road marker kilometre number 6, on the outskirts. We reached a roundabout near old stadium, where I used to bike and visit my uncle’s house. I did not know what the other people in the truck were thinking of, but for me, even though we were in Phnom Penh and I was excited, everything still seemed hopeless. I could only think of my family members who had been separated from each other, and who had died.



We stayed a month at the gas station, looking for food in the forest, trying not to step on landmines. Most of the food was burnt by the Khmer Rouge before they had fled into the forest.



Despite all of the landmine explosions, only soldiers had been injured, and no Sena Chun. This made the Vietnamese suspicious. One morning a large group of Vietnamese ordered all Sena Chuns to stand in line. They started to search every place where we had been sleeping. Eventually, they found a very small note with a drawing of a few locations that said home, office, and pagoda. The note was drawn by a man who had previously worked as a policeman at Maung Russey District Police Station. Later we found out that he simply missed home, so he tore a piece of paper from a book to draw. But the Vietnamese considered that he had drawn the camp in a map to be sent to the Khmer Rouge. The policeman was tied up, his two arms behind his back, and his eyes were covered with cloth. He was taken away. We found out that another big group of Vietnamese soldiers was at the bottom of the mountain. They had been watching to see if any of us tried to escape. The policeman was threatened with physical punishment if he said ‘no’ to any of the questions that the soldiers asked him. If he said ‘yes’ then he would not get punished. So, he said ‘yes’ every time, even if it was not true. For example, when asked ‘have you put a lot of guns in this spot?’ he answered yes. But the soldier said that his answer was not true, as ‘wasn’t it true that the guns were not in that spot but at this other spot.’ He said ‘yes.’ One of many questions asked was which others were in his team. Each name offered by the policeman was then arrested, who used the same interrogation process. Six people in all were arrested and questioned. One was beaten until he died because he said ‘no’ to all questions.


The sixth person said that I was the seventh. There was an investigation by the Ministry of the Interior’s Provincial Office because of the deaths from interrogation. But the investigation found nothing new and could not help. Five people were sent to Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh, for three years, although I was not included. One soldier (acting like a civilian) was sent from Maung Russey District to work alongside me day and night. I did not know that he was an investigator, although I was a bit suspicious of him as his skin was so black and dried. His blood pressure was much lower than normal, yet he worked at full strength all day. In my experience, this could all have been caused by having malaria for a long time. Still, I did not worry and just worked, ate and told Chinese stories every night to all of the Sena Chun, including him.

I only found out the full story around eight years later, from a soldier that I met in a supermarket in Phnom Penh. His Commander (Vireak Sena Tauch) offered his life to the Vietnamese soldiers in return for them not arresting and interrogating me. He told them that he could not believe that I was his enemy, as I had helped lots of soldiers injured by landmines, as well as other Sena Chuns. He requested that the Vietnamese conduct a month-long investigation on me. The Vietnamese agreed.

One morning, he said ‘Bang – please come with me.’ I asked him ‘Go to where and for what?’ He replied ‘Bang, you will know when we get there.’ We had to walk about twenty kilometres to the big camp. As we walked, he told me why he had been sent and what he was doing in the last month. He had to report everything I did or said to his bosses every midnight, so he had been sneaking out. In the end, everyone agreed that I was not their enemy. When we arrived at the camp there was a party with lots of food. There was a roasted pig, wine and cigarettes imported from Thailand. The Commander who had stood up for me hugged me and said, ‘you are our friend (Samakmith) and not our enemy, and please enjoy the party.’ We talked a lot with each other.




Six people in all were arrested and questioned. One was beaten until he died because he said ‘no’ to all questions.

REUNITED BENG SIMETH After the Vietnamese had defeated the Khmer Rouge, our camp was on top of a mountain called Phnum Chakrey. This is directly to the west of Phnum Malay, located in Thailand where the Khmer Rouge were living. The soldiers stationed on Chakrey mountain were specialised in large artillery. Both the Khmer Rouge stationed on Malay mountain and the Government soldiers on Chakrey mountain used to fire at each other. They were mostly trained by China. My duties were nursing, and at that time, I took care of three small camps. One was where I was stationed. The second one was at Barang Thleak, two kilometres away. The third one was three kilometres from my camp, located along the border. I had to walk every other day to one of the other camps. Along the path, landmines had been placed by the Khmer Rouge. There were two Sena Chuns who travelled with me every day. One walked in front of me and the other walked behind me, always looking out for landmines and Khmer Rouge. Each of us got one smoked fish to last a month. The group got around one kilogram of fermented fish, as even the pigs would not eat dried fish. We also got some salt and a pack of monosodium glutamate. It was not enough to eat. Vegetables such as papaya were planted by the soldiers and they shared them with us. I put as much food in my bag as I could, and my wife sent some more to me during my time at the camp. I shared with the team. One spoon of dried pork could make a big bowl of soup. Only one food, dried beef, was not shared. One day, I got a letter from my wife telling me that our daughter was sick and was in Battambang hospital. I asked permission to go to visit them, and it was agreed.


I also had to transfer a group of Sena Chuns who were sick to a hospital on the way, around fifty kilometres away. Two Sena Chuns, who were not sick, accompanied me on the trip. We left at around 5 am and reached the first hospital at 6 pm. A thirteen hour trip, walking non-stop. One sick Sena Chun got cramp in his leg and he fell into three-metre-tall grass. I gave him water and massaged his leg until his cramp disappeared. I got fever during the walk although I took some French preventive medicine. When we reached the hospital, a colleague set up a drip for me. In early morning, I was feeling OK and asked my colleague how many ampoules of quinine were used. He said two. Actually, the right treatment is only one ampoule, but my colleague said that because I needed to walk another fifty kilometres the next day, he needed to make sure that I would not get fever again. I saw lots of patients who had been injured and asked what had happened. My colleague told me that over the last several days, military trucks had brought many patients to Namsap for hospitalisation. Just a few kilometres from the camp, a truck hit a landmine, and people were thrown high into the air. Many were dead and the others injured. One of the injured patients had a broken backbone, from which he would surely die as there was no specialised treatment available for him.

to a village, I heard the sound of a baby crying as people were working in the rice fields. I cried, as I missed my children a lot. When we reached Ampil Doeun, we bought chicken to make soup, and we had lunch. It was the first time in six months that we had had a real meal. My hair was half way down my back as it had not been cut. My beard was also very long. We left the village and continue to walk to Bavel District, which we reached around 5 pm. I hired a moto taxi to go home, which was another fifty kilometres away. I reached home around 7 pm. When I saw my wife, I could not say a word. I just cried. Fortunately, our daughter had recovered after receiving treatment at the hospital. Two weeks later, I fell into a coma because of malaria. I was taken to hospital for ten days and I got a quinine drip every day. I eventually woke up. I did not go back to the camp as the mission was almost ended.

Together with two other Sena Chuns, I left the hospital very early before sunrise. We reached Namsap at 6:30 pm, having stopped only fifteen minutes for lunch. My feet were swollen and after lunch I could hardly stand due to the pain. But I had to walk, anyway. We stayed in Namsap for a night and left the next morning on another twenty-five-kilometre walk. Along the way, and close


One of the injured patients had a broken backbone, from which he would surely die as there was no specialised treatment available for him. KIRIROM -61



Sarath in 2018 leading a teachers’ workshop. Sangkum Thmei, Preah Vihear Province.

Ingrid and Mick Yates first met Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Both men had dedicated their lives to education and, when they met, both were with Save the Children (Redd Barna – Norway). They still work in education today. At that time, Gunnar Andersen was the Director of Redd Barna’s Cambodian activities. They all got together with the Provincial Education Office (PEO) in the context of helping to rebuild schooling in the Khmer Rouge Reconciliation Areas. Ung Sereidy was the PEO’s head of primary education. Before 1970, country classrooms were built around the pagodas. Through 1975 to 1979 the education system was essentially dismantled, except for basic and ideological training which served the Khmer Rouge’ purposes. After 1979, with the liberation of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese, the people in northern areas such as Anlong Veng had hoped that they would live in peace. Unfortunately, when the Khmer Rouge lost the war against Vietnam, their forces retreated to the jungle areas such as Pailin and Anlong Veng. Thus, from 1979 to 1998 the Anlong Veng area and others continued to be a battlefield between the Khmer Rouge and various Cambodian Governments. There was some social infrastructure, but it was underdeveloped. In 1998, when Pol Pot died, it became clear that something could finally be done. Hun Sen’s government set in train the national reconciliation process. His Excellency Im Sethy, Minister of Education, Youth and Sport (MOEYS) was a powerful and positive force behind the Governments’ Educational program across the country, and Mick and Ingrid got to know him well. He died in 2017. Sarath in 2000, distributing Save the Children’s free educational magazine, Mom and Map. 81

A collaborative plan was created to develop primary school capability in the Reconciliation Areas.

THE SITUATION Most of the people lived in cottages in the forest, although the District government was helping to prepare more settled town and market areas. Because of the lack of proper sanitation and hygiene facilities, the people in the country communities were still affected by malaria, diarrhoea and other diseases. Transportation and communication were also poor. The distance from one village to another varied between five to fifteen kilometres, so even local distances were a problem. The road between Siem Reap to Anlong Veng is one hundred and twenty kilometres. Yet, even in the dry season the trip in 2000 took five hours over mainly dirt roads. There were still mine fields alongside many kilometres of the road. In Anlong Veng, there was a primary school curriculum being developed, where Ta Mok had earlier built a school. At Sen Sam, in 2000, a small village near Trapeang Prasat, thirtyfour kilometres from Anlong Veng, a twelve-year-old girl gave a rather rote description of how to cut and set sharp sticks to wound the enemy, and how to plant simple land mines. There was no sense of right or wrong in her description – it was just as things were. The parents and children had built makeshift grass-roofed huts to serve as classrooms. Prior to Reconciliation, three teachers worked with each class; one teacher taught numeracy and literacy, another had trained the children on how to produce bamboo traps and mines, and a third had trained children on Khmer Rouge ideology.

2000. The road to Anlong Veng


Across the Reconciliation Areas, some teachers had basic competencies but were keen to learn and become role models. Others were volunteers, with no training. And some had more formal training as they had re-joined family from other parts of the country. Few education staff (teachers and support) were familiar with pedagogical principles, policies and administration procedures necessary for full development. Whilst the existing skills of the teachers needed to be respected, systematic and formal training was a core strategy for the project. Equally, whilst the children had lost a lot of their childhood, they had survived, and they clearly wanted to learn. Their survival skills also needed to be respectfully recognised as another critical development strategy. The Government’s educational programs in the area were just being established. The proficiency of the local institutions was immature. There was also limited Government funding for new building and teacher training. The schools which were operational served only up to grade 4. Children lacked learning materials, such as writing books, pens, pencils, reading materials etc. There was also a lack of basic teaching aids, materials and equipment for teachers. There were no library facilities in the village schools. Not all children in the Reconciliation Areas had access to primary school; and there were many children (about fifty percent were eight to fourteen years old) who had only learnt grade 1.


Sickness and landmines prevented children from regularly coming to class, and family poverty limited long-term support to children in education.  Parents needed their children to help on the farm to earn income instead of going to school. On the other hand, all local communities, the ex-Khmer Rouge leadership and all of the teachers were committed to develop education. The Halo Trust, the Cambodian Mine Action Committee (CMAC) and the Provincial Authorities were in the process of clearing the landmines. The Provincial Education Office (PEO) had staff who were able to implement in-service teacher training, given some technical support from Save the Children. CARERE (Cambodian Resettlement and Reintegration initiative, a UNDP program) was started in 1991, to provide immediate post-crisis reconstruction and livelihood support to rural communities. In 2000, in the Anlong Veng area, they were developing new programs. Other NGOs were working on social and health projects.


2000. Sen Sam School, Trapeang Prasat.








It was managed by Norwegian Save the Children (Redd Barna) working collaboratively with the Siem Reap PEO and the District Education supervisors.


The Cambodian Ministry of Sports, Education & Youth (MOEYS) supplied reference materials for teachers and children, such as textbooks, teacher manuals etc.


Project areas. 2000.

The initial pilot education program covered four Districts – Anlong Veng, Trapeang Prasat, Varin and Angkor Chum. The total population was about 108,000 people, with 22,149 children under five, and 39,684 aged six to fifteen. Only 13,563 children actually attended school.

The overall aim was to prepare children in the Reconciliation Areas to re-join the mainstream of national education and thus society. Another aim was to establish the Rights of the Child – via empowering children to have the ability to practice these rights. Parental participation in school activities was essential to the program. In year one, many of the most important efforts focused around Trapeang Prasat District and the surrounding villages. There was a small medical clinic, a new school and a new District Office building, although with hardly any furniture. The District Governor was the previous Khmer Rouge Brigadier, Cheat Chum. He was a big supporter of the education program and became a trusted colleague.


A combination of standard five-room-schools and two-roommini-schools were constructed, with library facilities. The mini schools were located so as to enable children that lived long distances from the main schools to still attend – in other words, the plan was to take the schools to the children. It was a concerted, collaborative effort. Ung Sereidy and Vouch Phalla of the PEO, working with Sarath and Simeth and many others of Save the Children, worked with teachers and parents to lead the program to success. Careful records were kept of progress. Firstly, child enrolment in schools in the four districts went from thirty-nine percent to eighty-nine percent, between 1999 and 2004. Secondly, grade promotion, which is an indication of successful completion of a year’s schooling, went from fifty-three percent to eighty-three percent. And, thirdly, school drop-out rates more than halved. Records were kept going forward, and the results showed both improvement and sustainability.

2000. Cheat Chum, District Governor, and Gunnar Andersen, Save the Children (Redd Barna). Trapeang Prasat.


PROVINCIAL EXPANSION Based on these excellent pilot results, the Japanese Social Development Fund (JSDF) granted $1.6 Million over two years, from 2001-2003, administered by the World Bank and executed by Save the Children/the PEO. This was for an adjacent Province (Preah Vihear), to promote access of the children to basic education, especially girls, within Im Sethy’s framework of ‘Education for All.’ The grant noted that it: “… reflected both the experience and capacity of Save the Children Norway to implement education programs for vulnerable children in Cambodia, and the participation of local communities.” This affected a further 82,900 children, with the building of twenty-three new primary schools, twenty-five minischools, and the associated educational infrastructure. Similar rises in enrolment (fifty-six percent to ninety-one percent) and promotion rates (fifty-seven percent to eightythree percent) were achieved. In turn, this led to a further $1.8 Million from the JSDF over the next two years, 2003-2004. It was granted in record time and was unusual in being a second grant. This covered two more Provinces. In 2018, in the Trapeang Prasat District, the Government completed a major extension with a three-story school at Sen Sam. The school still uses the five room building constructed as part of the initial program in 2001, for training and library facilities. Hun Sen is said to have personally agreed to call the school the Hun Sen Yates Family Primary School.


2001. Sen Sam School. Trapeang Prasat. 2018. Sen Sam School. Trapeang Prasat.


INDIVIDUAL STORIES Individual stories bring the entire project alive. In 2000, one of the teachers at Sen Sam was a young man called Keo Sarouern. Mick took a photograph of the class as he was teaching. Today, Saroeurn is the Head of the school, another example of a lifelong dedication to education.

2000. Keo Saroeurn at Sen Sam School. Trapeang Prasat.

2018. Keo Saroeurn at Sen Sam School. Trapeang Prasat 89

2018. Chheng Den at Sen Sam School. Trapeang Prasat.

On a visit in 2018, whilst Sarath, Simeth and Mick were meeting Saroeurn at the school, they also met many of the parents once more. This included Chheng Den. She told them that her son (Chinket Metta) had started his schooling in the original grass-roofed school. He then went to the five-room school built in 2000, and worked his way succesfully through the system. Metta is now studying for a PhD in Japan, in law. Metta’s older brother, Chinket Tola has just received a public officers scholarship, and, at the time of writing, will also go to Japan in autumn 2019, to take a Masters in economics. Metta and Tola started studying together when they were both in grade 4 in the building constructed in 2001. It is hard to think of a better example of the power of personal commitment, and of education.

2000. Chinket Metta, Second from right, back row, at Sen Sam School. Trapeang Prasat.


2019. Chinket Metta, far left, next to his wife, Sreang Sim. Chinket Tola, far right, next to his wife, Heng Kanha. Their father, Chin Ket, and mother, Chheng Den are in the centre. IMAGE / COURTESY OF CHINKET METTA 92

At the beginning, it was noted that this book is a small attempt to do justice to the dedicated work and leadership of Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth. This also includes countless, selfless others such as Im Sethy, Ung Sereidy, Vouch Phalla and Keo Saroeurn. In writing this book, Mick apologises for omitting the names of so many central to this history, and trusts that you know who you are. There are many more stories that could be told, both of lives (and tragedy) during the Khmer Rouge years, and educational activities (and successes) since then. Whilst this book contains many horrible stories of the past, its intention is also to demonstrate the power of the human spirit, the importance of education and real social progress. Above all, it hopefully offers a glimpse of the future.

2018. Ung Sereidy, Vouch Phalla, Beng Simeth & Keo Sarath. Siem Reap. 93



770 to 835 802 to 1431 15th C to 19th C 1863 1941 1941 1945 1945 1946 1949 to 1953 1953 1955 1965 1965 1967 1969 1969 1970 1970 March, 1970 1970 1970 1970 May 4, 1970 1970 1971


King Jayaraman II, founder of the Khmer Empire. The Khmer (Angkor) Empire. Middle Period. Cambodia becomes a protectorate of France. Prince Norodom Sihanouk becomes king. Japanese troops enter Cambodia, leaving Vichy French administration in place. Japan takes control of Cambodia from France, and then exits. Khmer Issarak form, a loose association of anti-colonialist groups. France re-establishes protectorate. Saloth Sâr (later Pol Pot) educated in Paris and founded ‘Cercle Marxiste.’ Cambodia wins independence, the Kingdom of Cambodia is declared. Sihanouk abdicates, to become prime minister. Sihanouk breaks off relations with the US over the Vietnam War. He allows North Vietnamese guerrillas to set up supply bases in the country. Secret bombing of Cambodia authorised by President Lyndon B. Johnson. As part of Sihanouk’s attempt to re-normalise US relations, Jacqueline Kennedy visits Cambodia on a personal trip. US begins secret bombing on Cambodian soil against North Vietnamese. Sihanouk re-establishes diplomatic relations with US; orders attacks on Vietnamese Communists in the country. Khmer Rouge a minor group. Violent demonstrations in Phnom Penh against Vietnamese incursions. Prime Minister Lon Nol leads coup against Sihanouk; US immediately recognises the new Government. The Khmer Republic is declared. Sihanouk, in exile in China, supports guerrillas, including the Khmer Rouge. Announces national united front against Lon Nol government Both South Vietnamese and North Vietnamese armies attack Cambodia. US continue bombing in support of South Vietnamese operations in Cambodia; Nixon announces US forces enter the country to disrupt North Vietnamese and Viet Cong bases. Kent State Shootings during protest against US in Cambodia. Four students killed by National Guard. Nationwide protests in US. Congress stops combat forces and advisors in Laos and Cambodia. Cambodia suffers major losses in Operation Chenla II.

1971 1972 1973 1973 1973 1973 1973 1974 1975 April 17, 1975 April 30, 1975 1976 1977 1977 1978 1978 1979 1981 1985 1989 1991 1993

1994 1996 1997 1997

By year end, about thirty percent of the Cambodian population has been displaced. Nixon orders the ‘Christmas Bombing’ of North Vietnamese cities. Paris Peace Agreement for Vietnam cease-fire; does not include Cambodia. Khmer Rouge become independent of the North Vietnamese and step up attacks; forced movement of village populations. US resumes bombing in Cambodia; ended by Congress in August. Sihanouk says he will negotiate with the US but various attempts from all sides fail. Henry Kissinger receives Nobel Peace Prize. Co-winner North Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho refuses to accept the prize as peace not achieved. US continues to provide aid. Aid for severely malnourished civilian population was inconsistently distributed by Cambodian government. US airlift of supplies into besieged Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge occupy Phnom Penh and declare ‘Year Zero.’ Evacuation of Phnom Penh begins. End of Vietnam War with fall of Saigon. Khieu Samphan is Head of State; the country is re-named Democratic Kampuchea. Fighting breaks out with Vietnam. Pol Pot emerges as ‘Brother Number One’ and aligns openly with China. Major purges within the Khmer Rouge organisation. Responding to Khmer Rouge attacks, Vietnamese forces invade. Vietnam quickly take Phnom Penh. Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge flee to northern border area. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea is declared. The pro-Vietnam Kampuchean People’s Revolutionary Party wins general elections. The international community does not recognise the new government. The government-in-exile, including the Khmer Rouge and Sihanouk, retains UN seat. Hun Sen becomes prime minister. Vietnamese troops withdraw. The State of Cambodia is declared. Buddhism re-established as the state religion. Peace agreement signed in Paris. The UN transitional authority (UNTAC) shares power, and Sihanouk becomes head of state. Royalist Funcinpec party wins general election, followed by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). A three-party coalition is formed, and Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh becomes prime minister with Hun Sen as deputy. Monarchy is restored with Sihanouk as king. The Kingdom of Cambodia is declared. The government-in-exile loses the UN seat. Many Khmer Rouge surrender in a government amnesty. Deputy leader of Khmer Rouge, Ieng Sary, forms a new party and is granted amnesty by Sihanouk. Pol Pot orders the killing of Son Sen, previously head of Santebal, the Khmer Rouge security structure, including Tuol Sleng. Pol Pot (Brother Number One) is put on trial by Khmer Rouge, led by Ta Mok (Brother Number Five – aka ‘the butcher’), and sentenced to life imprisonment. 96

1997 1997 1998 1998 1998 December 4, 1998 1999 2001 2002 2002 2003 2004 2004 2004 2005 2005 2006 2007 2007 2008 2008 2009 2010 2010 2010 2010 2011


Ranariddh secretly negotiates with Khmer Rouge to end conflict. Khieu Samphan accepts the overtures. After fighting between their forces, Hun Sen becomes Prime Minister and Prince Ranariddh leaves Cambodia. Ranariddh is tried in absentia and found guilty of arms smuggling but is pardoned by the King. Pol Pot dies in Anlong Veng. General election won by Hun Sen’s CPP. A coalition is formed between CPP and Funcinpec. Hun Sen becomes Prime Minister; Ranariddh President of National Assembly. Reconciliation agreement between Hun Sen Government and Khmer Rouge. Ta Mok arrested inside Thai border. Law passed to set up UN-Cambodian tribunal to bring genocide charges against Khmer Rouge. Ta Mok charged with crimes against humanity. First multi-party local elections; CPP Party wins all but 23 of 1,620 communes. Serious dispute with Thailand. Hun Sen’s CPP wins general elections but fails to gain majority. Prime Minister Hun Sen is re-elected after CPP strikes deal with Funcinpec. Cambodia enters World Trade Organisation (WTO). King Sihanouk abdicates and is succeeded by his son Norodom Sihamoni. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy goes abroad after Parliament takes away immunity from prosecution. Tribunal to try Khmer Rouge leaders agreed by UN, after funding disputes. Ta Mok dies, aged 80. UN-backed tribunal (ECCC) begins questioning Khmer Rouge suspects. Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea (Brother Number Two) arrested. Hun Sen’s CPP claims victory in parliamentary elections. Cambodia and Thailand move troops near to Preah Vihear temple after disputed listing as Cambodian UN World Heritage site. Two Cambodian and one Thai soldier die in gunfights. Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav (Duch, former head of the secret police, the Santebal) goes on trial over murder and torture at Tuol Sleng. Duch is found guilty of crimes against humanity and given 35-year sentence. Diplomatic ties with Thailand resumed. Sam Rainsy is sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail. ECCC indicted Ieng Thirith (former Khmer Rouge Minister of Social Affairs), Ieng Sary (former Foreign Minister), Khieu Samphan (former President of Presidium) and Nuon Chea on charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and murder. Ieng Thirith declared medically unfit for trial, died 2015.

2012 2012 2012 2013 2013 2013 2013 2014 2015 2016 2016 2017 2017 2017 2018 2018 2019

Duch loses appeal against conviction and has sentence increased to life. Cambodia and Thailand withdraw their troops from Preah Vihear area. King Sihanouk dies of heart attack, at age 89. Ieng Sary dies while awaiting trial. Parliament passes a bill making it illegal to deny Khmer Rouge atrocities. Sam Rainsy returns from exile. Hun Sen’s CPP claims victory in general election with 68 seats in National Assembly versus Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) 55 seats. Mass protests over contested results. Nuon Chea (‘Brother Number Two’) and Khieu Samphan jailed for life. Im Cheam (suspected forced Labour Camp leader) and Meas Muth (former Navy Commander) charged with crimes against humanity. Opposition CNRP resumes its months-long parliamentary boycott. Tribunal upholds life sentences of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. Sam Rainsy resigns as head of CNRP. Parliament amends a law to bar anyone convicted of an offence from running for office. Human rights activist Kem Sokha is appointed as the leader of CNRP. Supreme Court dissolves the CNRP. Lèse-majesté law passed, making it a criminal offence to defame the king. Hun Sen’s CPP wins all 125 seats at general election. Nuon Chea dies in prison whilst serving life sentence, aged 93.


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DEARING, Christopher & DY, Khamboly. 2014. A History of the Anlong Veng Community. Phnom Penh: Sleuk Rith Institute (SRI) / Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam).

BECKER, Elizabeth. 1986. When the War was Over. 1998 Edition. New York: Public Affairs, Perseus.

DITH, Pran. 1990. Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.

BOHLANDER, Michael. 2016. The OCIJ S-21 Prisoner List and explanation of the applied methodology. UN Assistance to Khmer Rouge Trials. Available at: https://www.eccc.gov. kh/sites/default/files/documents/courtdoc/2016-05-05%20 16%3A32/E393.1_EN.PDF (accessed 18/06/2018).

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ETCHESON, Craig. 1999. THE NANALYSIS -The Number: Quantifying Crimes Against Humanity in Cambodia. DC-Cam. Available at: http://www.d.dccam.org/Projects/Maps/Mass_ Graves_Study.htm (accessed 20/09/2018).

CASWELL, Michele. 2014. Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia. Madison: University Wisconsin. CHANDA, Nayan. 1986. Brother Enemy: The War after the War. A History of Indochina since Saigon. Bangkok: Asia Books. CHANDLER, David. 1983. A History of Cambodia. 1986 Edition. Boulder: Westview Press. CHANDLER, David. 1992. Brother Number One: Biography of Pol Pot. 1999 Edition. Boulder: Westview. CHANDLER, David. 1999. Voices from S-21. 2000 Edition. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.


EBIHARA, MORTLAND & LEDGERWOOD. 1994. Cambodian Culture since 1975. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

HINTON, Alexander L. 2005. Why did they Kill? Berkeley: University of California Press. HAWK, David. 1986. Tuol Sleng Extermination Centre. Index on Censorship, January 1986. Available at: https://journals. sagepub.com/doi/10.1080/03064228608534014 (accessed 19/06/2018). HAYS, Jeffrey. 2008. Before the Khmer Rouge: Rise of the Cambodian Left, US Bombing and the Early Stages of the Civil War. 2014 Revision. Available at: http://factsanddetails.com/ southeast-asia/Cambodia/sub5_2b/entry-2848.html#chapter-8 (accessed 04/07/2019).

ISAACS, Arnold. R. 1983. Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. KAMM, Henry. 1998. Cambodia. New York: Arcade. KIERNAN, Ben. 1996. The Pol Pot Regime. 1999 Edition. Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books. KIERNAN, Ben & OWEN, Taylor. 2006. Bombs over Cambodia. The Walrus October 2006. Available at: https://gsp.yale. edu/sites/default/files/walrus_cambodiabombing_oct06. pdf (accessed 09/09/2018).

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OSBORNE, Milton. 1994. Sihanouk. Chiang Mai: Silkworm. PONCHAUD, François. 1977. Cambodia: Year Zero. Paris: Henry Holt. SCHANBERG, Sydney. 2010. Beyond the Killing Fields. Dulles: Potomac Books.

YALE GENOCIDE STUDIES PROGRAM. Cambodian Genocide Program Interactive Geographic Database. Available at: https://gsp.yale.edu/cambodian-genocide-programinteractive-geographic-database-cgeo (accessed 08/18/2018). ZELIZER, Barbie. 1998. Remembering to Forget. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.











AM YON –1. PAGE 22



















Images taken prior to 2000 are 35mm Nikon. Images taken in the early 2000s are Nikon digital. Black and white images are Olympus infrared. Late 2000s images are Leica.






















Mick Yates has been a photographer all his life. After forty years in international business, Mick’s current photographic practice is documentary storytelling. Life is always in motion, and every moment creates a sense of place or personality. His photography is informed by a view that we are more the same than we are different - respect for all - yet differences reveal unique stories. Details matter. He currently lives with his wife, Ingrid, in the United Kingdom.


The Khmer Rouge Genocide of 1975-79 was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 to 2.2 million people – a quarter of the Cambodian population. There are remnants of that era everywhere in the landscape, yet the trauma felt by many is still often hidden from view. This book is about the personal, untold stories of Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth who suffered appallingly during that reign of terror. It is also a story of hope, of two unassuming individuals who went on to dedicate their lives to education. Sarath and Simeth’s memories of those times have never been published before. They are printed as they were told, and without comment. Mick and Ingrid Yates first visited Cambodia in 1994 with their young family. On a sunny day at Angkor Wat they heard the distant rumble of shellfire. The juxtaposition of the guns with their experience prompted a desire to better understand Cambodia. It led them on a journey that developed into a deep love for the country, its culture and its people. The book combines Mick’s photography of the aftermath of Genocide from the now silent Killing Fields with powerful and poignant narratives from Sarath and Simeth.