Sum Rithy




      The Khmer Rouge entered Siem Reap’s provincial capital on the night of April 18, 1975, and immediately forbid people to leave their town. On the morning of April 19, this “black shirt” force called ordinary citizens, soldiers, teachers and government officials for a meeting at the provincial hall, where they would receive assignments from Angkar. The following day, Angkar called upon people to leave the town for three or four days.


      Armed Khmer Rouge soldiers ordered them to pack their belongings and leave. My parents-in-law, brother- and sister-in-law, and my wife and I left our house on a cart loaded with some of our possessions. The roads were flooded, with some people carrying their belongings on their shoulders or heads, and others pulling carts. All of them wore sad, frightened expressions.


      The black shirted soldiers were everywhere on the roads, looking like crows. Houses were emptied and silenced, leaving tables and chairs scattered untidily. Reaching a junction near Sala Dambaung, I saw a soldier with a gun at his waist approaching my family. He asked about our jobs. I told him that I was a motorbike mechanic, and my father-in-law said he was a worker. The soldier then told us to go west Kra-lanh district. A little outside the town of Siem Reap, we stopped to rest with a woman who had been separated from her husband and children. She told me that the Khmer Rouge chased her out of the hospital even when she was sick, and other patients who were unable to move were put in a truck and driven away.


      My brother-in-law and I took turns pulling the cart. After walking for about 1 kilometer, we met another woman with a small package on her head and her two children. The woman burst into tears when one of her children asked for his father. She told her child that Angkar had taken him to be reeducated. Feeling compassionate towards the two little kids, I put them in the cart so they would not have to walk. Because it was getting hotter and we were hungry, we decided to take a short break for lunch at Toek Vil village. Along the way, we met several black shirted soldiers on motorbikes who asked about our former jobs. I gave them the same response. At about 5 p.m. we arrived at Kha-nat village.


      While we were resting under a big tamarind tree, two Khmer Rouge soldiers appeared, asking me to repair a broken motorbike. After I fixed it, they told me not to leave because Angkar was preparing shelters for people. Two days passed before we were allowed to move our possessions and go to a house.


      A week later, a Khmer Rouge cadre named Sal came to rule Kha-nat village. He called people to come for a meeting and hear Angkar’s plan. The plan was that people needed permission from the official authority in order to travel; otherwise, they would be responsible for the consequences.


      In the morning, about 50 families were assigned to move south of Kha-nat village. They took a cart path near Kok Khmaoch. Building shelters was quite difficult because we had to barter clothes, tobacco, and other materials with the base people for bamboo leaves, sugar palm leaves, wooden columns, and other construction materials to build our huts. Day by day, there was less and less food. Not long after that, Angkar declared that it would collect people’s possessions and turn them into community property, and they would create a cooperative dining hall. Angkar appointed all the base people to watch over the 17 April people. It also assigned people to cultivate rice, build levees, dig channels, clear forests, uproot tree trunks and plant yams. Angkar directed us to work for a yield of 3 tons of rice per hectare. Nevertheless, every meal was only watery porridge which sometimes was mixed with corn, yam, or manioc.


      One day when I was on my way to chop wood at Baray, I saw many corpses lying in trenches. I thought they had probably been teachers, soldiers, and other government officials who were taken from Phnom Penh to be reeducated in Siem Reap.


      In 1976, Angkar pushed people to work even harder, yet the food rations were becoming smaller. As a result, I became absolutely exhausted, skinny and sick. However, Angkar commanded six of us to clear vines in a forest south of Angkor Wat. There I saw a huge pile of bones.


      In my village, Angkar divided labor according to age. The elderly men made ox-carts, baskets, rice mills, and ropes for tying cows and buffalos. The elderly women cut banana trees to make mats for drying rice and looked after children. The adults had to do various kind of cultivation. The youths worked in the mobile units. The children were assigned to tend buffalos, and to collect cow dung and water plants for making natural fertilizer. In addition, Angkar assigned the base people to observe the 17 April people. Anyone who did not follow Angkar would be accused of being the enemy.


      Angkar of the Super Great Leap Forward planned that the people of Kha-nat village would cultivate lowland, upland, and floating rice fields. They worked day and night, but they never had enough food, even in the harvest season. Some people had banana and papaya trees, water convolvulus, and various leaves and vegetables to mix with their watery porridge in order to temporarily sate their hunger. At night, I secretly planted yams and because of this I became sick. Later, Angkar ordered me to cut bamboo at Ralom Cheung Spien village in the northern region where the minority people lived. Then I was sent to plough in the lowland rice paddies.


      One day, a man  who had returned home without informing Angkar was beaten and tied to a running horse. After that day, we never saw him again. Another time, a pregnant woman fell on a dike. The Khmer Rouge militiamen accused her of being lazy. Then they stomped on her abdomen until she died. We (the 17 April people) discussed this and decided that if the Khmer Rouge mistreated innocent people like us again, we would fight for justice to the death.


      One night in 1977 while I was sleeping, a group of Khmer Rouge militiamen with weapons came to my hut and arrested me. They hit me with their rifles butt until I pissed. My arms were tied and handcuffed behind my back. My brother-in-law was also arrested that night. As the Khmer Rouge led me to the truck, my mother-in-law cried out loudly, “Where are taking my son to?” They responded angrily, “We arrest only those who betray Angkar.” All ten prisoners in the truck were sent to a detention center in Siem Reap. My arms swelled up, my legs were shackled, and I hurt from the wounds the Khmer Rouge had given me. I looked around and saw about 300 prisoners who were shackled, sleeping in rows.


      When morning came, five soldiers brought their notebooks to record the biographies of the new prisoners. The militiaman asked me about my previous job. I answered that I was a motorbike repairman. In detention, we had only watery porridge and soup made of banana and rambutan leaves, and a green vegetable. Two female prisoners cooked for the prisoners.


      Later the militiamen put me in a small stone cell that was large enough for only two prisoners. It held a jar and a steel helmet for containing excrement and urine. Three days later, the Khmer Rouge put another prisoner in my cell. His name was Sim, a district chief of Chikreng, who was accused of betraying the revolution. In the morning, the militiamen would take him out for interrogation. Every prison guard had keys, a stick, ax, metal pipe, hammer, a walking stick with a knife hidden inside, and electric wire twisted in bundle. At noon, they bought him back to detention, and a moment later the guard would bring a small plate of rice and bowl of soup for him. Sim would eat half and leave the other half for me. In the afternoon, he was taken out for questioning again. In the evening, the guard brought Sim back. He told me in a whisper that if Angkar asked him whether he betrayed the revolution or not, he would rather answer “yes” to avoid being hurt. But he would surely die no matter whether the answer was “yes” or “no.”


      A few days later, the guard unlocked my shackles and ordered me to fix motorbikes. He led me to a court where I saw a covered truck, three motorbikes, screwdrivers, and six Khmer Rouge soldiers. “You must repair these well; otherwise, I will take your life,” they threatened. With trembling hands, I tried to fix the bikes. At noon, the guard took me back to prison. In the afternoon, I was taken out to work again.


      One evening while I was working, a young Khmer Rouge soldier got out of an A-2 truck and asked me, “How long have you studied fixing motorbikes?” “I have had this skill since 1968,” I responded. He then asked, “Did you ever join the army?” “No, never,” I said.


      Twenty days later, Sim was taken out to killed, but before that the militiamen allowed him to wear new clothing and prepared a meal for him to eat with his wife, who was a chief of the women’s unit in Chikrek (she, too, was in detention). After that, the militiamen took him along with 100 other prisoners. Later, his wife was beaten as punishment by the prison guard. Her face, arms and legs were so swollen she could hardly walk until the day they killed her.


      I was then moved to a big cell that held 50 prisoners. In the morning, the militiamen took me out to repair a C-90 motorbike that belonged to the son of the region chief.

      I was completely desperate and thought that I could never come back home and meet my    family. I ate anything I could find, including, crickets, grasshoppers, frogs, toads, tadpoles, crabs, and wild leaves.

      One day, near Thaom Yuth pagoda, a young Khmer Rouge cadre brought me a bicycle to paint. A lot of Khmer Rouge cadres watched me. Seeing that I was doing a good job, they brought more bicycles for me to paint.


      All the working prisoners had to seek permission from the guards before doing anything, even such mundane activities as going to the toilet, picking up things to eat, or drinking. If we did something without their consent, we would be beaten until the Khmer Rouge felt content. One day, I tried to take a small portion of dry porridge from the bottom of a pot. But a guard saw me and hit my neck with an oar until my vision blurred. Another day, I picked up a jackfruit seed that a guard had thrown away. This time, he told me to kneel down and then beat me on the waist with a huge stick.


      And one day, another prisoner and I were carrying a pot of porridge that was hung from a pole when a guard named Sam pushed the other prisoner. The pole lurched forward, and I fell down. The boiling porridge, which had just been taken from the fire, burned my legs, arm, and torso. Because we had no medicine, I collected rotten banana tree trunks, soaked them in lubricant, and applied the salve on my wounds. Seven days later, my body swelled up like that of a corpse. I was miserable for the next three months until I recovered.


      If a prisoner intended to escape, the guards would beat that person to death. I once witnessed a guard beating a boy. “Why did you run?” he asked. “I miss my parents so much,” answered the boy. The guard savagely hit him on his back and said, “Your mother was killed, you son of traitor!” The boy, too, was murdered the following night.

      One day, a guard ordered me and another prisoner named Sei to repair a US covered truck at the district court. The truck had been used as a military ambulance during the Lon Nol regime. While we were mending it, Sei murmured softly, “Rith, have you ever seen the knife used for killing people?” “No, never” I answered. Sei said, “If you want to find out, have a look in back of the driver’s seat.” I peeked in and saw a rusty, saw-bladed knife covered with blood.


      Another day while I was working near the forge, a Khmer Rouge soldier named Prunh ordered a worker to temper iron and make two knives with large round handles. Prunh said, “The previous knives were kind of difficult to use. This time, you have to make it properly; otherwise, you will die.” On hearing this, I became very frightened.

      In addition to repairing motorbikes, I carried pots, distributed helmets the prisoners used as food containers, collected human waste for making fertilizer, and buried dead prisoners. Because I worked near the detention center, I saw the trucks bringing new prisoners and taking the  old ones out. On average, 200-300 new prisoners come in every day, and about the same number were taken away. Sometimes the Khmer Rouge took the prisoners out twice a day. They were beaten by the guards each time they were interrogated.


      Some prisoners died in their bad-smelling cells, and others committed suicide by biting off their tongues, suffocating themselves, plunging into deep wells, and cutting their veins. Not a single day had passed without prisoners committing suicide. Every evening, I had to go from cell to cell to ask whether there was dead person inside and how many had killed themselves. The corpses were not wrapped; their wrists and ankles were tied to a pole to be carried away. The bodies were buried in Thoama Yuth pagoda or an area to the west of the pagoda. We dug holes that could hold 5 to 10 corpses. After we buried the bodies, we asked the guard for permission to pick water convolvulus and bring it home for making soup.


      The detention center had about 60 of Khmer Rouge soldiers as guards. They would count and record the number of prisoners regularly. Those young soldiers cursed, beat and did whatever they wanted to the prisoners. Having been in prison for almost 2 years, 28 prisoners and I were released and sent to Memai Bridge, about 55 kilometers from Siem Reap province. Before leaving, the prison chief had advised me to try my best to fulfill Angkar’s assignments so that I did not return to prison. Moreover, he gave us 12 pigs. As the truck drove out of the detention center, I began to feel as if I had come back to life again. A week after I started working at the bridge, I heard that my wife, daughter and mother-in-law had been moved and were living about 4 kilometers away.


      On January 7, 1979, a Vietnamese tank came and we began walking. It took us five days to reach Siem Reap. Then I left for my home village in Battambang in order to see my family. When I arrived, my mother rushed to hug me and burst into tears. Only two of my siblings were alive. My father was killed by the Khmer Rouge. My elder brothers Da and Tha died of hunger. My youngest brother Nareth had his throat cut by the Khmer Rouge. When the first cut did not kill him, he struggled to crawl out of the grave. But the Khmer Rouge saw him and cut him again until he died. My sister-in-law became a widow with five children after the Khmer Rouge murdered her husband. They poured gasoline over my sister-in-law Ton and set her on fire, leaving her three children orphans.


        I managed to survive because I was skilled at repairing motorbikes. I would like to appeal to the Cambodian people not to be misled by communism. I would like to declare to all Cambodian compatriots that I cherish democracy. I would like to ask both the national and international courts to find justice for me as well as for the three million innocent Khmer citizens who died during the regime. Please make the Khmer Rouge tribunal a reality as soon as possible.


   (1) A photo of the former prisoners at Thom prison (Siem    

   Reap province): On the first day’s night, I and the other

   friends who lived at Khnat Village, Siem Reap Sub-district,

   Siem Reap district, Siem Reap province, were arrested,

   bounded, hit and shackled. I lost conscious and the others

   were bleeding. Then they pushed us into the truck and

   drove to the Thom prison (Siem Reap). The first shackled


person in the photo was me, and the rest was my friends at Khnat village. (I was arrested in the cold season.) (Hat and jar were used for deposing human waste)   Security guard holding an axe called Daung Cadre (still alive) and security guard holding the keys named Sam (Teap)


   (2) A photo of the former prisoners at Thom prison (Siem

   Reap province): In 1977, Khmer Rouge military arrested

   innocent people from Puok village. They were bound and

   shackled, then drove to Thom Prison at Siem Reap by cars

   and tractors. Those victims consisted of both old and young



   (3) A photo of the former prisoners at Thom prison (Siem

   Reap province): They seriously tortured me. When I was

   about to take the porridge container from the cooker, the

   prison guard called Sam pushed the porridge container

   from behind and hit me. After that my body was full of the

   porridge. It was hurt just as I was burned. I was nearly


died at that time. Later on, there were a lot of scar on my head and over my body. The security guard called Sam E (Veng)


   (4) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison, (Siem

   Reap province): I was tortured because of picking up 10

   jackfruit seed without asking permission. At that time, the

   prison guard took me far away from Thoamayuth pagoda

   and ordered me to kneel. Then they took a square wooden

   stick and hit me on my waist. It was so painful that made

   me cry. The security guard called Vann.


   (5) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom prison (Siem

   Reap province): The Khmer Rouge Communist accused this

   woman of escaping from the prison. She then were

   seriously tortured by using an axe to cut her lip into two

   parts which caused a continue bleeding. The following

   morning, they executed her. The security guard was killing


the victim lady. His name is Mon.


   (6) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap province): This was the photo of a lady who was

   brutally killed by a stick. She died miserably in the Thom

   Prison (Siem Reap province), because of two bananas. The

   security guard was killing the female victim. He called



   (7) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap Province): When the prison guard escorted prisoners

   back to the prison after coming from the interrogation

   room, those prisoners whose hands were shackled decided

   to commit suicide by jumping into a well, because they

   were hopeless of seeing only misery, hardship, torture,


starvation, and death. The security guards called Ny and Roeum.


   (8) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom prison (Siem

   Reap Province): I was carrying the corpses one another to

   bury. These were shackled skinny prisoners who were

   starved to death in the prison. They died with open eyes.

   The prison guard called Sam (Teap) ordered the prisoners

   to bury the corpse which died of starvation.


   (9) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap Province): At Thom Prison in Siem Reap province,

   when returning from interrogation room, the Khmer Rouge

   cadre changed new cloth for Sim, Chy Kreng district chief.
   They prepared a delicious meal for Sim before he was

   executed. At the same time, Sim’s wife was also arrested


and put into the prison in order to let her seeing Sim for the last time. After having meal together with his wife, Sim was escorted away to the killing field. In that evening, the prisoners did not go to work as normal.


   (10) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap province): In this small room, at the right side was

   Chy Kreng district chief (called Sim) and me. In 1977, I was

   arrested by the Khmer Rouge from Khnat village, Siem

   Reap sub-district, Siem Reap district, Siem Reap province to

   detain in Thom Prison (Siem Reap province). All prisoners  


and I slept on the ground floor. We used earth and rockas our pillow.


   (11) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom prison (Siem

   Reap Province): This was the iron hat of Lon Nol military

   which the Khmer Rouge used as meal plate for prisoners at

   Thom prison in Siem Reap. The watery porridge was mixed

   with banana trunk, Saomao Prey’s leave, and the other tree

   leaves, the rice in the porridge contained only two spoons.


This was the jar used for storing the porridge. The meal ration for each person was only one cup of porridge and a ladle of soup. There was no taste at all. (They used the fragment of rice to cook the porridge)


   (12) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap province): This is my photo at Thom prison in Siem

   Reap province. The prison guard appointed me to deliver

   the porridge every morning and evening to the prisoners

   whose legs were shackled in line. The watery porridge

   contained only banana trunk and other kinds of tree leaves.


(They used rice fragment to cook the porridge.)


   (13) Photo of the former prisoner at Thom prison (Siem

   Reap province): On the left was the Thom Prison’s chief in

   Siem Reap named Khon. The second was me and the third

   was a boy who was accused of secretly escaping from the

   prison and caught back. At that time, the prison’s chief

   ordered me tohit this boy but I didn't hit him so hard. As a


result, the prison’s chief ordered me to kneel down and hit my waist by a square of wooden stick and shouted at me that this was the way you hit him. Later on, the boy was killed.


   (14) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap province): After Sim, Chi Kreng district chief, was

   executed, his family members were also imprisoned by the

   Khmer Rouge. This is the picture of Sim's wife after

   returning from interrogating. She could not walk because of

   her knee, foot and arm were swollen. This was the brutal


activity as she was questioning. The following day, the Khmer Rouge took her and other prisoners to execute.


   (15) Photo of the former prisoner committed suicide by

   hanging in the prison at Siem Reap province during 1977.


   (16) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap province): after returning from work, the prisoners

   brought Pti (kind of leaves), Trakuon (water plant), Pralit

   (water plant), Sleuk Bass, Sao Mao Prey and chili leaves,

   with snails, crabs, frogs, fish, lizards, grasshoppers, mice

   and so on to cook. Then, the prison guard hit and kicked


those prisoners while other boilers were killed.


   (17) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap province): The savage attack of the Khmer Rouge on

   this boy was, they used one kilogram of hammer to hit on

   his knees, because he was accused of running away from

   the prison. The following day, he was killed. (Before he

   died, how suffer he was?)


   (18) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap province): The prisoners were tortured, forced, and

   threatened to work for them inhumanly. They were also

   forced to pull thefertilizer cart from the morning to the late

   evening, but they were allowed to eat only watery porridge.

   Everyone was so hungry that almost fell down. Finally,


they still executed those prisoners. There was no value on Khmer people’s life. They were forced to work but executed as the result. The Khmer Rouge killed their own people.  


   (19) Photo of the former prisoners at Thom Prison (Siem

   Reap province): In 1977, Minority people and soldiers were

   arrested from Preah Vihear Province by the Khmer Rouge.

   They were shackled and transported by truck to Thom

   Prison in Siem Reap province. (China’s Truck)


   (20) Photo of the former prisoner at Thom prison (Siem

   Reap province): In 1977, Khmer Rouge arrested soldiers

   and other innocent people from Oddar Meanchey province

   to imprison at Thom prison. Everyone’s hand was binding

   to the back, then they shackled and transported by trucks.

   (China’s Truck)


   (21) Photo of the former prisoner at Thom prison (Siem

   Reap province): This was the picture of me. I was kneeling

   down for my punishment; because I took a small amount of

   the remaining porridge from other prisoners. Immediately,

   the inside prison guard, named Sam aka Veng ordered me

   tokneel down and bend the head down. At that time, I 


was totally hopeless (by knowing that I must be died). Sam took a stick used for twirling the porridge to hit on my neck. Suddenly I could not see anything. I almost died at that time. Security guard called Sam aka Veng was hitting a prisoner called Rith.