MEMORIES ON THE DAY OF EVACUATION ON 17
frightening event that ever happened to the people of Cambodia passed
twenty-five years earlier. One
chaotic period was erased the day after Lon Nol staged a coup. The people thought that peace was
achieved. However, people had to stand against another large event. This was 17 April 1975, an
important historical event for Cambodia.
After this day, Cambodia fell into the hands of the people dressed in
black, called the Khmer Rouge. All
the Cambodian people were forcibly evacuated, by the people dressed in black,
from their cities, provinces and districts and forced to live in the rural
areas. This event has forced the
people of Cambodia to remember and never forget, especially on the holiday of
respect and remembrance. Each
17th of April stirs the feelings of the Cambodian people as if this
event had just recently passed. It
is also the same for my family.
Honestly, on the
day they evacuated the Cambodian people, I was only one year old. Therefore I am not aware of the problems
that arose at that time. However, I
am able to know and understand a little bit through my old aunts and uncles who
were able to tell me. I am
especially able to understand most clearly through my mother and father. At that time, my mother and father was
living in Svay Sisophon District for one year before the Khmer Rouge drove them
The experiences my
parents endured are long. But my
parents told me that one month before the turbulence brought by the people
dressed in black, the American radio announced that the Cambodian people had
almost gained peace, because Mr. Long Baret had quietly confronted the Khmer
Rouge people in Bangkok. However
the U.S. wanted install an international army in Cambodia in order to avoid a
massacre when the Khmer Rouge invaded the city. After hearing this announcement,
everyone had hope that we would really gain peace. They were no longer afraid or
worried. They did not think that a
month after the American radio made this announcement, the Khmer Rouge, “the
army clothed in black,” would invade.
stories helped me to understand that at that time, Banteay Meanchey Province was
still a part of Battambang Province. Their people invaded through three
entries: Siem Riep Province, O
Chrouv, and Battambang. All of
their armies united and gathered in Svay Sisophon. At that time, it was Cambodian New
Year. After New Year’s, the people
in Svay Sisophon District continued to celebrate another holiday in order to
seek “Peace.” At that time, a
large group of people dressed in black had joined in the festivities of dancing
and singing, but
people had not yet
taken notice. Two days later, the
Khmer Rouge invaded the entire area of Svay Sisophon. When they entered, the
Khmer Rouge immediately announced for all the leaders of large armies,
high-ranking officers, and soldiers to come and meet in Banteay Sop in Banteay
Meanchey Market and to drop their weapons in this place. The Khmer Rouge transported all of these
weapons but it was not certain where these weapons were being taken.
A week later, around 9:00 to 10:00 at night, one jeep drove across Svay
Sisophon District, with a microphone and yelled, “All the people must join in a
meeting in order to find a solution.” My father said they screamed as if they
had anger. “The puppets! The imperialists! And the people of Lon Nol!” They screamed and announced for the
people to come and meet in the Sisophon Primary School. The next day, all the people came to
meet as they were ordered in the announcement. The people waited from 6:00 in the
morning until 12:00 at noon for the meeting to begin. Peugot taxi cars drove in. In the car there were only two people,
the driver and a cadre. On top of
the car there was also a microphone.
All the people clapped their hands in congratulations to welcome this
car. But the expression on the face
of this cadre remained solid as he spoke shortly, “Angkar has ordered for all brothers and
sisters to leave the city and to go live in the rural areas in order to farm and
plant crops.” Having said this, he
drove his car away. The next day,
an army dressed in black stood at guard.
Their expressions were to be feared. They held weapons in every hand,
guarding the roads and forcing the people to leave the city for three days. The leaders and high-ranking officers
would maintain their positions.
They told them to come and meet in order to receive the King. They said that they would only leave for
a short period. At that time the
people were not able to think far ahead into the future, because they believed
Cambodia had achieved “Peace.” They
did not gather and bring many things with them. They only brought things to use
When the people
were evacuated, the Khmer Rouge allowed them to leave through three openings,
the same entries used when the Khmer Rouge first united and gathered in Svay
Sisophon. Some people returned to
their native village. My father
made the journey along the road to Siem Riep. Along the roads were crowds of people
pushing and shoving against each other.
Mixed with the cries and screams of children, were the cries of people
looking for their relatives that they had lost in the crowd. Some traveled along the road to
Battambang and some went to O Chrauv.
My father told me that they evacuated since 12:00 in the afternoon during
the dry season. The atmosphere was
hot and scorching and there was no water along the road. People traveled with sweat streaming
down their bodies. Some had
packages, some had carts, motorcycles, and bicycles so they could carry as many
things as possible. My parents only had one bicycle. My father loaded the things we needed to
use like mosquito nets, a rug, rice, dishes and pots, and seasoning. They gave our clothes to our relatives
who had carts. My mother, who was
three months pregnant, held on to my older sister’s hand who was three years and
she carried me in her arms.
The journey was very difficult.
We walked the entire way.
Some had to die or faint because they were not used to walking. My father told me that he saw one fat
man who walked until he lost his breath and died. There were even sick people who could
not walk and were placed on a cart by their relatives and pushed along. As soon as we crossed the line of
guarding soldiers, we were not allowed to enter or return again. If we dared to enter, they would kill
us. My parents kept travelling on
the road to Siem Riep with others without a destination or any idea where they
were going until they reached a village about 7 kilometers from Svay
Sisophon. This village was
called Thmei Village. But when we
reached this place, the villagers did not accept or welcome us. They acted as if they despised us and as
if they did not want us to stay.
They hated the people from the provinces. My mother and father rested here for
only one or two days before they continued their journey forward again to Sala
Krao. They reached one village
called Kork Threah Village and were able to stay there. Here, there were people who knew my
mother’s uncle named Lai Peng Leng.
He worked as the district governor of Sisophon. The villager welcomed them. They even gave them a rice granary to
live in and to serve as a temporary house.
My mother said the villagers here were very kind. They were not like the villagers in
Thmei Village. When we got there in
the beginning the cadres distributed rice to us so we could work with the
cooperative in the fields. Later on
they even built a mess hall where everyone ate together.
My parents, like
other people, waited for the day in which they would be allowed to return home
again. However, the period of
waiting was very long. My mother
realized that every word the Khmer Rouge uttered were lies in order to make the
Outside of my
understanding above, I have been able to learn and understand even more from the
different documents I have read and from talking with my aunts and uncles who
use to live in Phnom Penh at that time.
On the 17th of April 1975, in Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge
invaded the entire city of Phnom Penh.
Bullets flew all over the place and the sound of gunfire could be heard
everywhere. Armies dressed in black
ran back and forth and pointed their guns at the people who were travelling
along the road. They announced for
all the people to flee for three days in order to avoid the U.S. bombing. After three days, they would be
permitted to return to the city.
The people in other regions prepared their things and were ready to leave
at any moment. Some families had
cars and were able to haul many things.
Others were only able to take a few things with them. The wealthy people packed only gold,
silver, and money. They thought
that after three days they would be able to return home. However, they were disappointed, because
money only had value for three days.
Along the road there were crowds of people who traveled by car,
motorcycle, cart, and bicycle. Some
carried things on their heads and others carried their belongings in their arms.
And some were only able to travel by foot day and night in order to reach the
countryside. These are the events I
have been able to learn about through my aunt who lives nearby.
Even if a long time has passed since 17 April 1975, the mind
of every Cambodian person who has encountered this situation cannot easily
forget what has happened. They will
continue to pass on these stories to their children and grandchildren so that
everyone will be aware of the events that have passed. 17 April 1975
has led the Cambodian people who lean towards the left, to kill almost 3 million
of their own people. This, Cambodia