Memories on the Day of Evacuation







Sophal Ly


The most 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 out. 


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. 


My parent’s 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 temporarily. 


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 people excited. 


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 cannot accept.








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