IS IT A TRAGEDY?
Center of Cambodia
My name is Samnom Sarot, aka Sarot Marilin, called Lin. Today, I am an
accountant of a private bank in Phnom Penh. My father is Saron Sarot. Before
April 17, 1975, he was a commander of Puok military sub-region. The Khmer Rouge
killed him in the Pol Pot regime. My mother is Um Samnom, a state nurse, alive.
I have one sibling who died of malaria in Pol Pot regime. Another one died
through his pursuit to take revenge on the Khmer Rouge for his father by joining
military. The following account is my family's story:
My family lived in Chbar Ampeou, and our house located 150m north of
Chbar Ampeou pagoda. A strange occurrence came to life at about 2 p.m. on April
15, 1975. I noticed people living in Veal Sbauv and Prek Eng sub-districts
traveled in a hurry, carrying their valuable belongings in sorrowful faces.
Amidst the people, there seen some heavily armed Lon Nol soldiers walking past
our house. I then questioned a woman, "Where have you come from, aunt?" She
replied in shock and sadness, "From Veal Sbauv…they have arrived!" "They have
arrived?" I wondered and thought deeply for the answer.
As I walked back through the fence, I saw my mother, my mother's older
sister, my brother-in-law and my grand mother discussing. My mother cried out at
me, "Son, go and put our valuable things into the luggage!" I was puzzled to
hear the words. My mother continued discussing with my brother-in-law, a first
lieutenant of the general staff of the Army, about what we should do. Perhaps, I
was the only one who still had many things to fetch, because my siblings had
already packed up their belongings without bothering to understand the
situation. My brother-in-law told
me, "Take your clothes off and wear soldiers’ ones, since they will provide
camouflage under the cover of the night." I complied and rushed up stairs to do
At 4 p.m. the situation worsened. The crowds of people moving up from
Veal Sbauv and Prek Eng increased in size. Suddenly, I remembered a dream I had
had a couple of nights before of Phnom Penh residents in tattered clothes,
carrying their personal properties, heading out of the city; and then, of
another image of these people returning to their homes.
At about 5 p.m., a middle aged lady fleeing from Takeo informed my
mother, "In liberated regions, life is harsh; people are ordered to work day and
night. Young children are sent to collect cow dung in the rice fields. We don’t
have enough food to eat. They'll kill us once they've found out we are
government staff, rich people or soldiers. Therefore, don't tell them the truth
if they happen to ask you! Keep your secret…tell them you're workers or tricycle
riders to be safe. " Then she left. Immediately, my mother related this advice
to the whole family and told them to pretend to be deaf and dumb. My grandmother
uttered a saying, "We have houses and roads, but no one lives in and walks on.
People fight to get a single rice grain sticking to a dog's tail…Grandchildren;
you must grow sesame and kapok trees. When it's time to run, run to the
Northeast to have peace." We all understood what she had mentioned—Planting
kapok means do not answer when you are asked, and growing sesame refers to
Having sipped boiled rice, we helped each other to carry our possessions
into a fortified fortress of my father. The sunset. Darkness moved in, but
electricity was out.
At about six thirty or forty, shells rained down on Chbar
Ampoeu village from soldiers of the government side. Those shells came from
fortresses at Phsar Kbal Thnal, building blocks and the old stadium. Many of them fell near my house,
exploded like popcorn. The fighting between Lon Nol soldiers and Khmer Rouge
soldiers intensified. It began at Chbar Ampeou market.
In front of and around my house, the fighting got fiercer
using M-79 guns. Their shells fell on every side of my house. I was lying in a
hammock, while my brother-in-law was preparing himself, in case some Khmer Rouge
soldiers open the attack. I thought that the Khmer Rouge could spot my
brother-in-law and me quite easily, since the government's aircraft had dropped
bombs, lighting up the battlefield, right over my house. A B-40 rocket flew over
the fortress and hit a bamboo bush behind my house making a deafening sound. I
was not yet afraid at all. At about 10 p.m. another rocket struck the roof of a
first lieutenant's house, south of mine, engulfing it in flames. We then dashed
down to extinguish the fire without being aware of danger. Another bomb
brightening the sky was dropped at about 1:15 a.m. Then the sky was bright like
day, enabling a Khmer Rouge soldier to release an M-79 shell toward my
brother-in-law. However, it dropped in front of the fortress. I forced myself to
get off the hammock to lie on the ground, while my brother-in-law was carrying a
gun and waving about to deceive the enemies.
At 4 a.m. of April 16, 1975, my brother-in-law asked
everyone to leave the fortress. Each of us carried a pack of belongings, and
together, we ran through the rain of M-79 shells toward our big house just
ahead. In the house, we used tables and chairs as a shield to protect ourselves
from flying bullets, and then we lied down. Some of us slept…while I lied
against my backpack. At 5: 30 a.m., an M-79 shell, probably fired by the Khmer
Rouge toward me, collided with a house's column, which I was sleeping close by,
unleashing sparks of fire. It emitted a thunderous sound, “Bang!” together with
our fearful screams. When it was over, my mother asked, "Anyone hurt?" The first
person found to have been hit was my brother. His forehead was punched in by a
small piece of debris. He was bleeding heavily; his face was soaked with blood.
My mother carefully used a medical scissors to pull it out and bandaged the
wound. Then came my granny's report of injury on her right hip. Simultaneously,
I raised my own two bleeding points on the elbow to show my mother. It bled
quite heavily that my army clothes were wet. The two fragments of the shell had
stuck in my bone. My mother had no idea what to do. Everyone began to worry
about my injury. Without warning, my mother let out a yell, "They have arrived!"
Then my sister snatched the stars worn on her husband's chest off and his shirt
away, while my brother was slipping his gun under the table. In no time, two
Khmer Rouge soldiers entered and shot at my brother-in-law two times, killing
I was horrified and raised both hands up, for one of them
was pointing his AK-47 at me, while my injury continued to bleed. The soldier
shouted at me, "Are you an American commando?" Stunned, I answered, "No! I'm a
student." At the same time, I caught a frail sound of my mother "run son, run…"
Having recovered from shock, I pushed away the lethal barrel and sprinted
outside. Seeing me escaping, everyone ran after. Surprisingly, the soldiers did
not chase us. With so many bullets crisscrossing through the air, my injured
brother and two younger siblings ran in separate ways to the north on a road
toward Tuol Teng together with many of our neighbors. While I, granny, my two
older sisters (one with her sister's six-year-old child), my big aunt, and my
mother dashed down a road in front of our house. As we ran for about eighty
meters, I encountered two frail Khmer Rouge soldiers, in black clothes, armed
with Ak-47s, smoking cigarettes, sitting on a bench. Upon spotting me, they were
so surprised that their cigarettes fell from their mouths. They quickly seized
their guns and pointed to me. One of them shouted, "Do not fire! Move on." I had
escaped from death for the second time. Running for a few steps, I gazed around
and saw a Khmer Rouge soldier pointing his gun at my mother. He cried at her,
"You want your life or your baggage?" My mother knelt down and begged for mercy,
and at the same time, she urged me continue to run. Leaving my mother, the
soldier broke into my house's fence.
We made our journey to a lightly wooded area, crossed a
channel, and finally arrived at Sampong pagoda…Thousands of people from all
places were walking about hurriedly on roads. Some were dragging corpses of
their loved ones, looking for an appropriate place for burial. My family sat under a building inside
the pagoda. I was surrounded by monks, so that the Khmer Rogue could not see.
Once in a while, the Khmer Rouge voiced out, "Are there any Lon Nol soldiers
here?" Silence, no answer.
At about 9 a.m., the government's aircraft were still
flying around, back and forth.
Occasionally, a DK shell blasted with a thundering sound. We continued
our journey across a river toward Kdei Takoy pagoda. A short distance away from
the pagoda, we came upon five to six Khmer Rouge soldiers, sitting in a snack
shop along the road. They were armed with an M-30 machinegun, three AK-47s, and
some medical staff. A tall, white soldier with gentle face came up and asked,
"Comrade, are you injured?" I replied, "Yes, I am." Then he invited me to go in,
cleaned my wound, and injected me with a bottle of drug to stop
We moved on. My sister wept until she had no more tears to
shed; she was now in a state of confusion. When we arrived in front of
Brachumvong pagoda, Khmer Rouge saw me and chased me. Perhaps he was thinking
that I was a soldier. I ran through a very dense crowd in order to escape from
him. When I arrived Chraoy Ampil pagoda, a generous woman pulled me into her
house, so I was totally disappeared. I had escaped from death for the third
time. At about 1:20 a.m., I reunited with my family.
Many fresh and swollen corpses of both soldiers and
ordinary people littered the national road we were travelling on. Some people
had had their bellies torn open and were simply left to die. The Khmer Rouge
soldiers walked in two lines on each side of the road toward Phnom Penh. In the
sky, many aircraft were flying busily, as if they were welcoming the arrival of
the Khmer Rouge. However, Lon Nol soldiers were still bombarding the Khmer
In the night of April 16, we took refuge under a house of
Taprum villagers. We had nothing to eat. The next morning, the Khmer Rouge
controlled Phnom Penh. Every Phnom Penh dweller was driven out. Later, Angkar
allowed people to look for food. My family, except granny, older sister and me,
went back home to fetch five or six sacks of clothes, rice and salt.
In Taprum village, we witnessed countless tragic events.
Some suffocated themselves to death. Some locked themselves in a car and drove
into the river. Others cried and smashed themselves against objects to death,
since they had lost all their family members. Many were seriously injured and
died slowly, for there was no medical assistance. Another group of people were
tied up and escorted to unknown places, while others were shot instantly for
complaining about Angkar. Some families committed suicide by locking themselves
in a sealed car or jumping into the river.
Angkar publicly urged governmental staff and students
(university and lower) to enlist as the people who were to greet Sihanouk's
homecoming or to work according to their expertise. Some tricycle riders told
Angkar they had been lieutenant colonels, but my family stayed quiet. One day we
saw the upper-brothers (Angkar) in jeeps driven across the village. My mother
recognized one of them as one of her classmates (A person she had known well).
She told us, "He is Saloth Sar." Days after, we met Chhuon Chhoeun. She told us,
"This guy used to encourage me to participate in his revolution in the
In mid-May, my family was evacuated on a boat, named Phkay
Proek, from Taprum pagoda to Meatt Krasas. From Meatt Krasas, we continued our
journey on foot. Along the road, we exchanged our clothes for food. Ten days
later, we reached Prek Luong and spent a night there. The following morning, the
Khmer Rouge ordered us to get on another boat, where we noticed a woman crying
and smashing her head against the boat for her husband, who had last night been
taken away and killed, while her children had been lost. At last, she died in
front of mournful faces of other victims and the laughter of the Khmer Rouge
started its engine and headed toward Prek Po. We waved goodbye to Phnom
Penh in sadness for the last time. In the journey, I kept on thinking, "What
terrible things will happen to us all in the times to come, as we have witnessed
only bloodshed and tears since the Khmer Rouge first arrived? What kind of
prosperity will we see in liberated regions, if we have seen only corpses and
starvation along the roads?"
I don't need to recount the anguish of April 17 People,
since we all are well aware of it. The entire Eastern Zone residents were
accused of treason, and their zone later controlled by the Southwest Zone
cadres. Both new and base people became prisoners of Angkar, working twenty-four
hours a day, killed barbarously like worthless animals. Until, one day the
revolt broke out. Samdech Chea Sim, who was at the time a leader at Ponnea Krek,
persuaded me and my older brother to escape to the forest to struggle. We
rejected. After that, my villagers were evacuated to Central Zone (Kampong
Cham). Thousands of Eastern Zone people crowded into Kampong Cham; they were
On January 1979, the liberating army arrived. We saw the
Khmer Rouge run for their lives in terror. Our liberators had come… We were
extremely pleased, but we still had to seek shelter to avoid being injured from
the fighting between the Khmer Rouge and the Army of United Front for the
National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK) in cooperation with Vietnamese
In a month or so, my family arrived at Chbar Ampeou… More
than ninety percent of our villagers did not return. Three months later, we
received horrible information from one of my father's soldier that having his
eyes had killed my father gouged out to feed to crocodiles.
I want to ask to the Khmer Rouge who are now living in
happiness, what would they feel if all of that happened to their families? Will
the souls of the victims, who were forced to die and died prematurely, rest in
I endorse all efforts to bring these people to trial, and
wholeheartedly support those who are trying to preserve the evidence and mark
the killing fields. I also am completely against those who grant pardon to these
I would like to dedicate this writing to the souls of my
father and all victims, who died under the insane leadership of the stupid,
illiterate Khmer Rouge clique.