Memory of 17 April 1975: I Cannot Forget







Sophorn Huy


Every citizen in Cambodia cannot forget 17 April 1975 and the acts of the genocidists who shot and killed innocent people and forced people at gunpoint to flee from Phnom Penh out of their homes, destroyed their personal belongings, and made them live in the countryside far away. 


My name is Huy Sophorn and I was born in 1980.  I have never witnessed with my own eyes the events that passed during the Khmer Rouge regime and the evil acts committed against my own family as well as other families that lived in the city of Phnom Penh.  My mother and father has told me many stories about the unjust events that remain tied to their hearts after over twenty years and that they cannot forget.  My father continues to tell me these true stories. 


My father’s house was located behind the Chinese Hospital in Sangkat #6, Phnom Penh.  In the early morning of 17 April 1975, my father woke up from his bed as usual.  Suddenly, he saw something very unusual and out of the ordinary that he had never seen before.  At that time, he saw a group of people dressed in black shirts and pants, with a scarf wrapped around their necks, wearing rubber tire shoes, carrying all kinds of guns close to their bodies, and wearing a Chinese cap on their heads, walking along the street in large groups.  Many of them were not yet fully-grown.  They had solid and brutal faces that one ought to fear.  These people were Khmer Rouge soldiers.  My father began to panic.  He could not believe the Khmer Rouge had entered Phnom Penh.  All the people were shocked and terrified. They peeked outside of their doors and windows in fear. 


At 7:00 in the morning on the same day, the Cambodian people along each house thought that the Lon Nol army had lost the war to the Khmer Rouge, therefore they felt they needed to raise the white flag, in order to admit defeat, afraid their people would harm them. With the soldiers who were standing guard far away, the Khmer Rouge communicated with them through a radio transmitter, so they could take control and oversee the activities of each citizen. At 8:00 in the morning the Khmer Rouge army pointed their guns at my father’s family and ordered them to leave the house immediately.  They said, “Go! Leave quickly!  Everyone has already left!”  They walked and told other neighboring houses to leave and not take many things with them.  Approximately fifteen minutes later there was another group of soldiers that came and said, “Brothers and sisters, Angkar has ordered you to leave quickly!”  My father’s family prepared their belongings such as mosquito nets, blankets, pillows, and two or three outfits for each person. They also brought with them foodstuffs like 15 kilograms of rice, 1 five liter bottle of water, and some dried foods that they had in the house like fermented fish, dried turnip, fish sauce, salt, etc.   They prepared these things according to what the Khmer Rouge told them: “You don’t have to bring many things with you, because you are only leaving the city for three days and then you will return again.  We are [evacuating this city] in order to clean out the Lon Nol soldiers and because we are afraid the American soldiers will bomb and kill everyone in the city.”


My father pleaded with a Khmer Rouge soldier to grant him more time so that he could wait for his younger brother who had gone to pick up their father who was having eye surgery performed at Ang Duong Hospital.  But he said, “You don’t have to wait. You will soon meet them again.”  My mother and father had not yet left the house.  They were still waiting for his father to leave the hospital, so they could all be together and avoid being separated.  My father saw their neighbors preparing their things and leaving.  Some carried their belongings on their heads, some held them in their hands, some placed their goods on the bicycle, while others carried their possessions on their back. 


When my grandfather returned from the hospital, we gathered together and finished our breakfast.  A Khmer Rouge soldier drove up with a Honda CL-90 motorcycle that kept going on and off, as if he did not yet know how to drive a motorcycle.  He yelled out to his fellow soldiers: “Order them all out of the house!  Don’t let a single person stay behind!” Later on, my father’s family took the rice, a package of mosquito nets and blankets and placed a suitcase of clothes on the motorcycle.  The things that were light were placed on the bicycle.  They kept looking back at the house as if to say that they were not yet willing to abandon their homes.  After they saw that everyone in the area had already left, then they were willing to leave their homes.  When they left for about a hundred meters, my father saw a Khmer Rouge soldier tell his fellow soldiers:  “After they leave, they will not be allowed to enter again.”  When they reached Monivong Street, there were crowds of people along the streets.  My father saw a tank M-113 and many cars carrying Khmer Rouge soldiers yelling, “Long live! Bravo! Bravo!  Bravo!”  They drove into the city.  The Khmer Rouge soldiers then ordered the people to travel towards the north.  My father was also among them.  He saw many sick patients being ordered out of the hospital.  Some had no arms and no legs.  Some were pushing their ill husbands who were lying on hospital beds with serum attached to their bodies.  Husbands were pushing their wives who had just given birth, their faces dry and bitter.  Others awkwardly carried their large belongings, while some pushed carts with their old or handicapped mothers and their possessions placed on top.  Cars filled with supplies and things hanging from the roof, tagged behind.  Many people sat on top of the car with dry and bitter expressions.  Many people walked to and fro, separated from their spouses or family asking others if they knew where they were.  Some children who lost their parents, filled the streets with their cries and screams.  Those who were separated from their husband or wife waited for them along the road.   Hundreds of bullets were being shot.   On both sides of the road, people were running back and forth fanatically searching for rice along the granaries, salt, fish sauce, sugar, firewood, and water for cooking.  Both sides of the road were filled with human feces and dirty trash thrown all over the place, making it easy for disease to spread. 

Around Beoung Trabek, about 100 meters inward from the main road, my father saw many dead corpses.  The houses smelled rotten and putrid.  About 50 meters nearby, there were corpses dressed in bloody, military outfits.  The journey along the road was crowded and bustling with people pushing and shoving each other so they could cross the bridge at the head of the road.  At one time they would order people to move forward and at another time they would order people to move back.  They threatened and forced people who were making their journey across the bridge or along the road to Ta Khmao.  This was an important inspection point for the Khmer Rouge.  They seized anyone they suspected and accused them of being a Lon Nol soldier.  During that time, the Khmer Rouge walked around and inspected the faces, the legs and arms of the men who were standing and preparing to leave the inspection point and they questioned each person, “Comrade, what kind of work did you do and where did you work?  Were you a Lon Nol soldier?”  At that time, the people were scared and extremely terrified. 


My father told me that after they had passed the inspection point, at four in the evening, his older sister who was a schoolteacher began to miss and feel remorse for her house and belongings.  She walked and returned to her house.  At that time, the Khmer Rouge soldiers seized and tied both of her hands back and walked her towards a small road about 10 meters west of the main road from Chak Ang Re Leu Village.  My father heard 10 bullets explode.  A moment later, my father walked in to see if his older sister was really dead.  Such real events has made my father’s family suffer and feel great pity for his older sister who had to sacrifice her life to an act of injustice without laws or customs.  The city transformed into a silent and quiet place without any inhabitants.


Even though it has been over twenty years since my father’s family had undergone these experiences, the acts committed against my father’s family remains fresh. My family continues to remember these inhuman acts that violated their rights without their knowledge.  After listening to my father’s stories, I feel frightened by the brutal and ignorant acts committed by the Khmer Rouge towards my family and the people in Phnom Penh and throughout Cambodia.  I promise that I will join to help prevent the Khmer Rouge regime from ever returning to Cambodian soil. I would like to propose that we establish an international tribunal that is independent, just, proper, and true in order to successfully bring to trial the Khmer Rouge.  This trial will help compensate the people of Cambodia for the unjust acts committed by the Khmer Rouge within the period of three years, three months, and 8 days.  Only through these means can justice be brought to the people of Cambodia.








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