THE TRAGEDY OF MY FAMILY
My name is Samnom
Sarot, aka Sarot Marilin, called Lin. Today, I am an accountant at a private
bank in Phnom Penh. My father was Saron Sarot. Before April 17, 1975, he was a
commander in the Puok military sub-region. He was killed during the Pol Pot
regime by the Khmer Rouge. My mother is Um Samnom, a state nurse. I have one
sibling who died of malaria during the regime. Another died trying to take
revenge on the Khmer Rouge for his father by joining the military. The following
account is my family’s story.
My family lived in
Chbar Ampeou, and our house was located 150m north of Chbar Ampeou pagoda. At
about 2 p.m. on April 15, 1975, there was a strange occurrence. I noticed that
people living in Veal Sbauv and Prek Eng subdistricts were traveling in a hurry,
carrying their valuable belongings. Their faces were sorrowful. Among the people
walking past our house were some heavily armed Lon Nol soldiers. 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 grandmother talking.
My mother cried out to me, “Son, go and put our valuable things into the
luggage!” I was puzzled to hear her words. My mother continued her discussion
with my brother-in-law, a first lieutenant on 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 upstairs to do it.
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
property, 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 bicycle riders to be safe.” Then she
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 or walks on them. 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 meant - planting kapok means do not answer when you are asked, and
growing sesame refers to stupidity.
boiled rice, we helped each other carry our possessions into a building that had
been fortified by my father. The sun set. Darkness moved in, but there was no
At about six
thirty or forty, shells rained down on Chbar Ampoeu village from government
soldiers. Those shells came from fortresses at Phsar Kbal Thnal, apartment
buildings and the old stadium. Many of them fell near my house, exploding 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 opened an attack. I thought
that the Khmer Rouge could spot me and my brother-in-law 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 it about to deceive the enemies.
At 4 a.m. on 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 laid down.
Some of us slept…while I laid against my backpack. At 5:30 a.m., an M-79 shell,
probably fired by the Khmer Rouge, hit one of the house’s columns, which I was
sleeping near, 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 to her
right hip. Simultaneously, I showed my mother that I was bleeding at two points
on my elbows. They bled quite heavily, wetting my army clothes. Two shell
fragments 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 him immediately.
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 command from 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 directions to the north on a road toward Tuol Teng together with
many of our neighbors. I, granny, my two older sisters (one with her sister’s
six-year-old child), my aunt, and my mother dashed down a road in front of our
house. During the 80-meter run, 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 them at 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 through the fence at my
We made our
journey to a lightly wooded area, crossed a channel, and finally arrived at
Sampong pagoda…Thousands of people from all different places were walking about
hurriedly on roads. Some were dragging the corpses of their loved ones, looking
for an appropriate place to bury them. 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 asked, “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 or six Khmer Rouge soldiers, sitting in a snack shop along the road. They
were armed with an M-30 machine gun, 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 an ampoule of drug to stop bleeding.
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, a 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 concealed. 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 Rouge.
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 until they died, 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.
urged government 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 bicycle riders told Angkar they had been lieutenant colonels,
but my family stayed quiet. One day we saw the upper-brothers (Angkar) in jeeps
being driven across the village. My mother recognized one of them as one of her
classmates, whom 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 forest.”
In mid-May, my
family was evacuated on a boat called 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 been taken away and
killed the night before, while her children had been lost. At last, she died in
front of mournful faces of other victims and the derisive laughter of the Khmer
The boat 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
I don’t need to
recount the anguish of April 17 people, since we all are well aware of it. All
of the Eastern Zone residents were accused of treason, and their zone was 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. One day the revolt broke out. Samdech Chea Sim, who was at
the time a leader at Ponnea Krek, tried to persuade me and my older brother to
escape to the forest to struggle. We rejected his offer. After that, my
villagers were evacuated to the Central Zone (Kampong Cham). Thousands of
Eastern Zone people crowded into Kampong Cham; they were killed continuously.
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 during the fighting between the Khmer Rouge
and the Army of the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK)
in cooperation with the Vietnamese Army.
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 soldiers that my father had been killed by having his eyes gouged out
to feed to crocodiles.
I want to ask 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 peace?
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 pardons to these evil criminals.
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.