On 17 April 1975,
the entire country of Cambodia, under the dreamlike rule of Lon Nol, was in the
process of losing the war to the Khmer Rouge or the Khmer Liberation Army. It was also the day of victory for the
Khmer Rouge who had worked hard and struggled for a long time to conquer the
city of Phnom Penh from the Lon Nol Republic.
This was the day in which the people throughout the country of Cambodia
awaited the victory of a group of Khmer that had been struggling. This group was
called the Khmer Liberation Army.
On this day, since morning, along the roads and homes, there was
silence. Only the sound of rumbling
bombs could be heard. The sound of
guns could be heard near and far, firing randomly every minute. I could hear the sound of Chinese GMC
cars driving up and down, each car filled with soldiers. I could not distinguish what side the
soldiers belonged to, because sometimes I saw them dressed in black and
sometimes I saw them dressed in camouflage. They were all mixed together. Once in a while a civilian motorcycle
could be seen driving into the city in haste. It was uncertain where it was
going. Everyone’s faces revealed
signs of worry because of the events that were passing within the country. We did not know what would happen the
That day I was in
my cousin’s home near De Po Market because I had to escape from my house. For two or three days, there had been
heavy shelling around my house.
When I witnessed such events, I had many reasons to worry about my house
and my few belongings.
I wanted to return
home in order to bring some things with me. Later in the day, everyone was
silent. When I saw, in the silence,
that there were no army cars driving back and forth I decided to return to my
house which was near an alligator farm on Pochentong Street. When I left, I did not dare drive my
motorcycle because I was afraid it would be stolen along the road. Some days earlier, I heard that a Lon
Nol soldier seized the motorcycle of a civilian driving along the road. I rode my bicycle along the small
shops. The large streets were
usually filled with army cars driving fast and dangerously. Sometimes there were crowds of soldiers
walking in large groups and I was afraid of them. I rode my bicycle along Doung
Ham Street lining Tep Pan Street, until I reached my house.
When I reached
this area, it was so silent underneath the hot sun in the dry season. Once in a while, I heard the rumbling
sound of bombs and this made me feel even more distressed. I could hear the sound of guns,
sometimes from the distance and sometimes very nearby. Not long after, I ran up my house and
quickly gathered my things, stuffed my clothes into a French bag, and collected
half a bag of rice, dried fish, and two large tails of prah fish that my mother
had salted for me in Takeo Province.
When I finished preparing my things and while I was dragging a bag of
clothes downstairs, one bullet flew into the air and barely missed my husband’s
ears! He screamed to me, “Go, leave
immediately! You cannot stay! They
are certain to shoot and kill us!” When I heard this, I helped to quickly tie up
the bags of clothes and rice and placed it on the bike. I led the bike out and
left regretting I had to leave my home, standing there alone and silent. I felt sorry for the chickens nibbling
on the rice I had given them, unaware of the chaotic events that were
passing. I took one opportunity to
pick four or five zucchinis in front of my house and brought it with me for
cooking. I led my bicycle and ran
so that I could quickly enter the small roads. There were also trees to hide me
from the eyes of the soldiers that were shooting. I walked until I reached my cousin’s
house in De Po Market.
When I reached
home after lunch, each house became even more silent. I could only see army cars and soldiers
walking along the roads. The
soldiers were dressed in black with a white scarf wrapped around their
necks. Some rolled up their
pants. Everyone watching from
inside their homes thought they were probably the Liberation Army, the army of
the White Scarf! A little while
later, probably around 1:00 in the afternoon, I saw cars and cars of soldiers in
black with a white scarf wrapped around their necks, carrying a white flag,
yelling, “Victory!” At this time the people in their homes gathered outside and
helped in yelling congratulations and victory to the Liberation Army. Some people even ran to find white cloth
to tie on to the end of sticks so they could wave it in the air in
congratulations with the others. My
neighbors and my family in the house gathered and talked, “We should help
congratulate with the others and welcome them. From now on, our country will be at
peace.” Each person was happy
because they believed their country had achieved peace and stability and would
no longer suffer from shooting and shelling like today. So many people were
injured and killed by the shelling and many did not dare walk outside.
The chaos and the
shooting suddenly ceased. When the
army cars past by other cars stopped driving along the roads. Once again it became completely
silent. It became even more silent
and once in a while I could see two or three soldiers walking along the road
inspecting each house. These
soldiers were young. They wore
Chinese caps, rolled up their sleeves and pants, wore rubber tire shoes, carried
a gun, had one or two bullets tied to their waists, and carried a bag of rice on
their back. When I saw these
soldiers my older sibling said to me, “I feel sorry for them. They are all so
young and they have come to serve as liberation soldiers. They do not know what
it is like to be exhausted and hungry.
We do not know where they come from.” We were talking, when suddenly a cyclo
driver drove past our house carrying some injured people. My older sibling saw this and went out
to tell them, “If they are hit by a shell, you should take them to the Soviet
Hospital.” I observed the events of that day with mixed feelings of worry and
fear, because I have never witnessed anything like this before. There were people freshly injured, there
were soldiers carrying rifles that ought to be feared, and along the roads it
was completely quiet. What will it
be like tomorrow? Everyone’s faces
showed signs of uneasiness and worry.
We simply looked blankly at each other. We were not certain what we should say
or do. We could only wait and see
what would happen.
A moment later,
two soldiers walked in front of my house.
At that time, my older cousin was washing his Peta car. The soldier walked over and asked, “Who
is the owner of this Peta?” My older cousin replied, “Yes, I am the owner.” The soldier then ordered my older cousin
to give him the car keys. Then he
said, “I would like to ask to drive the car for work. In a little while I will bring it back.”
My older cousin was a person who was very hard. He was a military police. He replied, “No! I will not give it to
you! Why is it so easy for you to
borrow someone else’s car?” The soldier then raised his voice and said, “Are you
going to give it to me or not?
Comrade, in a little while you will not have a car, a motorcycle, or even
a house! They are all the property
of Angkar.” When he heard this, my cousin’s father-in-law dragged his hands
away. He was afraid there would be
problems so he handed the car keys to the soldier and let him drive away. When the soldier drove away, he drove
away so quickly black smoke appeared.
My cousin said, “He probably doesn’t even know how to drive.” He felt incredible remorse for his
in the afternoon, when my family and I gathered and sat together in the house,
two soldiers suddenly knocked on the door and commanded us to open up. When we opened the door, my older
brother asked, “Brother, what business do you have?” The soldier answered, “All brothers and
sisters in every house are requested to prepare their things and leave the city
for three days so that we can organize and prepare the city and then you can
return. Don’t take too many things
with you. You are only leaving for
three days and then you will come back.”
When we heard this, everyone was scared and worried. We did not know what
to think. We got together and
asked, “We are leaving for three days, where are we going and where will we
sleep? What will we have to
The families next
door observed each other back and forth, still afraid to leave. They wanted to
know what others would do first.
Not long after, a car filled with soldiers dressed in black, drove along
the streets, commanding all citizens to move ten kilometers away from the city
for three days so they could re-organize and prepare the city. After they made their announcement, I
saw many people leaving from the roads on the East. My cousin was not yet satisfied. He ran
and asked them, “Brother! Brother!
Where are you going?” They answered him, “They are forcing us out of our
homes for three days. No one can
stay. They will kill you right
there in front of everyone. I have seen it. Don’t stay. Leave with everyone else. Just follow everyone else.” When we heard this, my family and I
prepared to leave like everyone else.
At this time, I was completely terrified, I cried. I was so worried that I would be
separated from my parents. I
thought that perhaps they would not be able to find me, because we did not know
where we were going. I missed my
older sister who lived in Kilo 4. I
didn’t know what it was like for her family and I wondered how the little
children would fare along the journey. When I thought about how much they would
suffer, I cried the entire time. I
prepared my things and cried at the same time. When I thought about it, I wanted
to go and try to find my older sister because I was only with my husband’s
family. At that time I missed my
older sister very much. I missed my
mother and father who were in Takeo Province. I wasn’t sure if they were well or
not. At this time we were all
separated from each other. We did
not know where everyone went.
In front of the
houses, the number of people began to increase. They were walking their
children, carrying bundles of clothing. Some carried bundles on their shoulders
while other carried their goods on their heads. Some cried loudly on the streets,
because they had been separated from their parents and family. Some families had people on the cyclo
and had their children push from behind.
At that time I carried a suitcase of clothes, some important items, and
medicine. My husband led the
motorcycle with a bag of clothes placed in the front and a bag of rice in the
back. Everyone was walking out with
sad and unhappy faces and tears of remorse for the homes in which they had
peacefully lived in everyday. The
roads were filled and crowded with people.
Even if we had a motorcycle or a car, we could not drive it, because the
roads were so crowded. We could
only walk one behind the other. The
entire city that day was filled with people who had to leave their homes and go
outside of the city for three days according to the command of the Liberation
Army. Along the roads, after a
while, I could see soldiers dressed in black. There were both men and
women. They held bottles of soda in
their hands for fun. Some raised
the bottles and after they drank from it, they threw the bottle and shattered it
on the ground. When people saw the
soldiers like this everyone became increasingly afraid. They were scared of
their brutality. At this time the
city transformed into chaos as people screamed and cried. Some of the animals people brought with
them were dogs and pigs. Little children were so hot they cried. Some were thirsty and some cried because
they were hungry. On the
street, I saw soldiers dressed in black walking and piercing the pillows and
blankets and scattering the stuffing all over the place.
When I walked out
of De Po Market, I walked straight into Stung Meanchey. I followed the road
until I reached the base of the bridge where the road divided towards the Soviet
Hospital. I saw people pushing the
beds of patients who were sick and had a serum attached to them. Some were still having surgery performed
on them and were not yet properly stitched up. Blood stained the white sheets that
covered them. When I saw this I
became nervous. As I walked
along and past the Stung Meanchey Bridge, I encountered the fresh corpses of
soldier who were recently shot.
Blood flowed from their necks.
They lied on the ground wearing the uniform of the Lon Nol army. They had on khaki uniforms the color of
horse dung. Some lied there bloated
and it was not certain when they had died.
There were three soldiers placed barely apart from each other on the
road. When I passed such fresh
corpses, I was so frightened my hands became dry and cold. Since I was little until I am this big,
I have never seen anything like this.
This is the first time. On the 17th of April 1975, I have seen
everything, the most horrific scenes possible. After I walked past the corpses I saw
people who had recently died from their sickness because the Khmer Rouge had
forced them to leave the hospital.
After walking for
one evening and night was approaching, we reached a glass factory. We all agreed to rest here for only a
little while, because the glass factory was more than 10km away from the
city. Therefore we agreed to stay
there and rest for three days then return home again. That night, hundreds of families stopped
here to cook and rest. The glass
factory became like a camp for hundreds of people who had set up camp
there. Children were crying and
people were crying and screaming because they had lost their children. They had
lost each other and they didn’t know where their children were because there
were so many people. Some of the
children were sick and their cries filled the place.
At that time I
took some rice so I could cook it.
As I sat there making the fire, I felt sorry for the families who left
with nothing. They were not able to
bring anything with them.
They did not even have rice to eat.
They walked around and tried to buy rice from others but no one would
sell. The people who lived in the
villages nearby acted like they hated and despised the urban people. Even when people begged them for water
they refused to give it to them. Such scenes were too difficult to bear. This was only one night. What will
happen in the coming days? How
insufferable will it be?
After the rice was
cooked everyone gathered and ate in tears.
Our hearts were so full we could barely swallow the rice, because we were
separated from our families. I
turned around and looked behind me.
There was one Chinese family that asked to buy a scarf full of unhusked
rice. They gathered together to unhusk the rice because they did not yet know
how to beat the rice. This was
probably a rich family. When I saw
them forced to experience something so horrible, it looked unbearable.
everyone slept in silence. Once in
a whole I heard the sound of guns firing from the distance and I could not
sleep. I thought that the war was
probably not yet over. Everyone
slept in silence. Some of the children cried. They were probably hungry or sick. That night I saw soldiers dressed in
black walking around with a flashlight and inspecting all the areas. But I didn’t know what they were looking
In the morning, we
woke up and walked around looking for firewood to cook rice with. We wanted to
cook it first in case there was an emergency and we were not able to cook the
rice on time. At that time I walked
to a well so I could draw some water to cook rice with. When I reached the well, I saw a crowd
of people around the well. I
thought that they were waiting to draw out water. But when I came close I heard people
chattering loudly. Everyone was
staring into the well. When I got
there and I also stared in, I was terribly shocked. Inside the well was a human corpse who
had died there, its head floating above the water. I then ran back and told my family. Everyone shuddered. They wanted to vomit, but they could
not. Last night we had drawn water
from this same well to cook our rice.
We had even bathed in the water.
At that time, my brother-in-law said, “I wondered, when we drew water
from that well, why was it so difficult to draw the water? By the time we could get a pail of
water, we had to dip our pail in two or three times. I could not imagine there was a corpse
inside the well, that’s why it was so difficult.” When we met such a horrible situation,
we decided to walk to a village pond to draw water and cook our rice. When I walked to the pond, I saw there
were many soldiers dressed in black walking from the distance towards the
gathering where people were living.
As I drew water I wondered where so many soldiers were going. When I reached the place, I saw them
tell the people to sit around together and then they told them, “After you have
finished eating, leave this place immediately. Whatever district you are from, go to
that district.” When each person
heard this, everyone wondered and worried greatly. At that time one man asked, “But they
told us that we only had to leave the city for three days and then they would
allow us to return.” The soldier replied, “You will not enter again. Angkar has ordered everyone to leave the
city.” Afterwards, their people
separated and walked forward, carrying rifles as if they had an urgent job to
perform. After we heard the
message, everyone, including myself and the others, cooked our rice and prepared
our journey forward, with the intention to return to my native district and land
in Kirivong District, Takeo Province.
I thought that if we reached Takeo, I will meet my mother and father and
I will live with them. I will not
live in Kirivong District.
After we finished
eating our meal, we gathered together and began our journey again. At that time, I saw a line of people
walking in a row. They had on
civilian clothes. Some wore shirts and some were shirtless. Two soldiers soldier
dressed in black guarded from the front and from behind. Everyone wondered, but no one dared ask,
because they were forcing us to leave as quickly as possible. They did not let us stand there and
All the people,
including my family, were able to begin our journey from one place to
another. Whenever we rested, there
was always a soldier forcing us to get up and continue walking. They did not allow us to rest in one
place. All the people and I left
the city in this manner from 17 April 1975 until we finally reached the base of
Kirivong District after 21 days, with great difficulty and suffering. Since I was very young, I have never
encountered anything like this before.