My Family under the Khmer Rouge







Samondara Vuthi Ros


The main objective of people around the whole world is to live happy and prosperous lives with their families and loved ones. Unfortunately, my family experienced suffering and bereavement so deep that I cannot put it into words. The bereavement occurred under the regime of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. At that time I was about 10. I am the youngest son in the family. I had one elder brother and one sister. My father’s name was Ruos Samondrak, a civil servant in the Ministry of Land Survey of Khmer Republic. My mother’s name was Chhim Tong, a stone seller. My brother’s name was Ruos Samondrak Rung Roeung, a student at the 18 May High School. My sister’s name was Ruos Samondrak Botumroath, a student at Bak Touk High School.

My father was one of the Sisowath relatives. My mother was half Chinese. Despite having been a civil servant of the Khmer Republic, my father served the Khmer Serei as an agent of “Sihanoukism”, in charge of supplying food, money and medicines to its forces in the jungle. As a result of his activities, after the liberation, he and my mother were killed by the Khmer Rouge. My brother and sister died of starvation.

April 17, 1975

Many neighbors were very happy and a cheerful howl of laughter was heard, because they thought that the war had ended. At about 9:30 A.M., while sitting on the steps of my house, I heard the gunfire and saw the smoke of the guns. Suddenly, I rushed in and asked my father: “What’s the noise? “ He replied, “The sound of explosions, my son. But there’s no problem. It is our side who has fired. Our country is peaceful. There is no more war, and prosperity is coming.” Still I wondered, if so, why were there still explosions? A moment later, I saw three armed men in black, with their pants rolled up, standing in front of a residence of a military officer of the Khmer Rupublic. Then they fired three times at the front gate of the residence, shouting, “This house belongs to puppets of Americans, who betray the nation and the people! Where are you all? Come out to meet us for a moment!” After hearing and witnessing the acts of the Khmer Rouge, I felt somewhat cold, because I had never seen people fire guns and use such rubbish words before. I rushed into our house, locked the gate door and approached my father, who was busy repairing a car on the side of the house. I asked him: “From which side do the soldiers come. Why are they so vicious?” He replied quickly: “Oh dear, don’t speak so loudly. They are Liberation soldiers of the King [Sihanouk]. They are very good. Don’t worry. They will not do any harm to us. They will just search for those who have betrayed them.” At that moment, the three soldiers walked towards our house and shouted: “Open the door! Let us enter!” Then my father rushed and opened the gate door quickly and invited them to sit in front of the house. One of the three asked my father: “Uncle, don’t you turn on your radio?” My father replied: “No. Because I’m repairing my car.” Then my father asked my brother to bring out a radio. A man in black said: “Are you a Lol Nol soldier?” My father replied, “No. I work in the Ministry of Land Survey”. The man continued: What is the Ministry of Land Survey?” They glanced sharply at my father from head to toe. “Please drink some iced water,” said my father. “The Ministry of Land Survey is one section in charge of examining land, houses for standard construction. Honestly, my family actively joined the movement for national liberation although I have never carried weapons and struggled in the jungle like you. However, I have contributed money, food, and medicines every month for our forces in the jungle.” At the moment my father spoke, the oldest of the three men glanced at my father and quickly asked him, “Has our side ever issued any letter of confirmation for you?” My father replied, “Yes. I had one, but now it has disappeared. The last time they came to check my house, my wife tried to hide it, and now she cannot remember exactly where she hid it. But no matter what happens, if they consider us as men of merit, they will not forget us. Especially since I want nothing but to see our country in peace and prosperity.”


During the conversation, my brother had brought the radio out and turned it on just as an announcement began in a soft and slow voice (I didn’t recognized the announcer, as I was so young). The announcement focused on the victory of the liberation of Phnom Penh and all places throughout the country. It stated that the victory stemmed from the reconciliation between Khmer and Khmer. My father smiled, but the three soldiers didn’t. In the meantime, there was an announcement interrupting the first in a strong voice: “This triumph has not resulted from negotiation or reconciliation, but is the result of the struggle between gun point and gun point.” After hearing this announcement, the look on my father’s face changed. My mother, my brother and my sister all looked at my father in doubt and fear, and my father seemed to be on the verge of despair. A moment later, the three soldiers in black stood up while two of them took the guns and walked out. The other one walked up to the car that my father was repairing, twisted the cover of car’s radiator, and said: “Your family as well as some other people will be asked to leave home, and we don’t know when they will be allowed to return. What I am saying is true. Please remember my words. What has been said about the people leaving for two or three days is not true.” The three soldiers then left my home without further words. After walking about 50 meters, the youngest soldier fired his handgun into the air four or five times, shouting, “You must all be out of your houses by tomorrow!” Merriment turned to despair. My neighbors, who had been cheering, now became quiet. That part of the sky northwest of Phnom Penh was full of sparks. In the house, my mother was on the brink of tears as she packed clothes, plates, dishes, pots, and food into sacks in preparation for leaving the following day.

Life as a Parasite of Society

My family was evacuated from Phnom Penh with a car full of sacks of clothes, plates, dishes, pots and food. Along National Road 2, hundreds of thousands of people were walking with no real direction. Some families, who had political trends and were not allowed to go to their home towns, were trying to find other ways. Some other families, whose members were policemen or government soldiers known to the Khmer Rouge, were killed along the way. Pregnant women gave birth to babies along the way.

After one week on this journey, my family decided to stay temporarily in Kiri Vong District, Ta Keo Province. I didn’t know in which village and sub-district we were staying. The village chief brought my family to live with base people. [Editor’s note: “Base people” was the term generally used by the Khmer Rouge to refer to the peasant farmers of Cambodia.]  A month later, the Khmer Rouge’s Angkar in the sub-district proposed to take our car and use it as communal property, removing the wheels, tires and inner tubes for use as sandals. My father was assigned to cut bamboo for making fishing instruments and lattice for flooring. My mother was assigned by the women’s chief of the village to transplant rice seedlings and clear forests for growing vegetables.

My brother and sister were assigned to build dams and dig canals in mobile work sites. My family members were separated from each other from dawn to dusk. At the outset, my family had never known hardship or starvation. My mother tried to pick tree fruits and vegetables for sustenance. My brother and sister had never learned how to forage for crabs or snails. But with circumstances being what they were, they tried to copy from those around them, even though there were rubbish words from some of the “base people” who said mockingly, “You are Phnom Penh dwellers. You know only how to eat, but not how to grow things.” I remember every night my father would sit alone by the light of a lamp in the leaf-roofed house with its bamboo floor, which was about two meters high. My mother slept next to us. She fondled my head with tears, saying softly, “My son, I am very, very tired. From now on you will have to take care of yourself. We will be separated, and we don’t know for sure when bereavement will take place.” After hearing these words, it seemed to me that I was very light and flying far away from my family. I thought: “If I am separated from my parents, how can I survive?”. Then I fell to sleep leaving my mother talking alone.

After living in the village for two months, my family and another ten families were moved to Wat Angkor Thum Loap. Because of the lack of food and medicine, and the forced labor, my father came down with fever. My mother’s feet swelled. My sister suffered a kind of disease characterized by a swollen belly, while my brother became emaciated. In order to cure my sister’s illness, my mother collected her odds and ends to trade for the medicine and the rice of the base people who lived in Wat Angkor Thum Loap Village. My father never let anyone know that he was enduring hardship or pains. After taking the medicines and eating the rice my mother obtained from trade, both my father and sister seemed to improve. Later, I heard the village chief, who had gathered villagers to join a meeting, say, “Angkar has directed that those living here be transferred to another place. This is just a temporary place. You won’t need to bring along with you so many things, because Angkar has already prepared everything for you. Especially, those who once served the Khmer Republic must report to Angkar. Angkar will allow you to work in your original positions and places.”

Prison without walls

My family and hundreds of others were sent by train to Battambang Province, where we were taken by tractor to Phum Tra Laok, located in Rum Duol Village, Preah Net Preah District. Along the foot of the mountains, there were about ten families of base and new people living together. The people were assigned to clear forests for growing potatoes, yam, and other vegetables. As for the base people, they were assigned to monitor the “new people” and to rear silkworms for the weaving section. [Editor’s note: “New people” was a term generally used by the Khmer Rouge to refer to people who had been transported from the towns and cities to work in the countryside.] As time went by, we realized that we had been sent to this place for punishment. My father was ordered into the jungle, where he had to walk  to the top of a mountain in search of rattan and Rum Peak (a kind of vine) for weaving baskets for moving earth. My mother was assigned to clear forests and dig out huge tree trunks. My brother and sister were sent to build dams and dig canals in a mobile front unit. As for me, I was assigned to look after cattle and cut Tun Trean Khet, a common kind of small plant, to chop and mix with cow dung for the making of compost fertilizer. From then on, my family members were separated. My father and mother were gone from home from dawn to dusk. My brother and sister were sent away to the mobile front unit. We didn’t know where it was. We were provided with a bowl of thin porridge as a daily ration. At night, we were not allowed to talk. Lamps and lanterns were not allowed to operate. Any one who broke the rules would be “sent to cut bamboo”. Those who had been sent to do such work had little chance of returning; they were ‘sent to be killed. The place we were living was as quiet as a graveyard throughout the day.

My family spent almost a year there in pain and starvation. My father came down with malaria. My mother’s illness gradually became worse. I myself had scabies covering my entire body and was emaciated. Still worse, my mother was told that my sister had died. Then my father was executed on the grounds of having been a puppet of the contemptible Lon Nol’s traitorous administration. I still remember that until he was brought away to be killed, and even though he was made to do hard work without sufficient food or rest, my father had never complained, nor told his wife how exhausted he was. He seemed aware of his impending death, and told me before he was taken away, “When I am gone, you will have to look after your mother and elders. We all face the same fate-death. It is just a matter of time, sooner or later.” He used to tell me that he was so sorry. He expressed his regret for his elder brother, an army chief for the Khmer Republic, and his youngest brother, a pilot for the Khmer Republic.                                                                      

My father expressed his regret that he didn’t believe his elder brother, who was a soldier, and his youngest brother, who was a pilot, in the Lon Nol regime.


His youngest brother died during a bombing mission at the Vihea Sour battlefield in 1974. My uncle used to say to my father, “What benefit will you gain from the Khmer Rouge when they win the war. Why do you support them?” Since then my family has endured much suffering and separation, and only I and my mother together have survived. As for my brother, we don’t know what happened to him. He disappeared. In the blink of an eye, my mother lost her husband and two of her children. That night, my mother and I were told to go to the district office for new place assignments. Yet, they told us not to bring along so many things as some people had already arranged matters for us. I and my mother were taken by ox-cart to the district office. I didn’t recognize the way we went because it was so dark. At the district office, a man told my mother: “You have to spend a night here. At dawn you will be taken”. In the morning, the district office appeared to be vacant, with no one present except my mother, myself, and three or four Khmer Rouge. A man approached my mother and said in a belligerent tone: “Go to your village! People here are very busy. They won’t have time to take you until later”. Then we left the office and returned to our homestead on foot. We walked from dawn to dusk. That night, my mother remained awake. She sat with her knees upward in the bamboo-lattice hall. When the morning came, she carried a hoe and a long-handled knife to the farm, saying to me: “My son, take my rationed porridge to eat when they deliver. I will not return until the evening”. As she had promised, in the evening she returned home. She was so sad and said nothing. She had only two or three cans of rice to cook. After cooking, she asked me to eat rice with her. While eating, she glanced at me very often. Suddenly, a village militiaman came to ask my mother to attend a meeting in the Village Office. My mother told me: “Son, sleep after eating. I will be back soon.” I spent one night waiting for my mother. I seemed to have no soul in my body. I thought my mother might have been taken to be killed. In the morning, I went to the house of the village chief to ask for information about my mother. The village chief said: “Your mother is being held at Tuol Kok Kor. If you want to meet her, you can ask people around there. They will tell you.”

Tuol Kok Kor was a hill, surrounded with small rivers, used to detain middle-age women who had broken their regulations, like my mother. They accused my mother and the other people being detained there of secretly digging potatoes, stripping rice and of having the spirit of previous regimes, especially in their relations with their husbands.

I was left to the vast field alone. A week later, I received information about her. Villagers next to my house told me that my mother still survived and she really wanted to see me. It took me half a day to walk from the village to the place where my mother was being kept. I had to swim across rivers to reach Tuol Kok Kor. There, I saw hundreds of middle-age women clearing forests, digging out tree-stumps, and carrying tree branches to burn down. There was no sound of singing. For nearly an hour, my eyes searched for my mother. Unable to find her, I felt despair and uncertainty. I cried as I ran away. Fortunately, I met a woman of about the same age as my mother, sitting under a tree along the way. She asked me: “Where are you running to, child? Who are you looking for?” I replied: “I want to find my mother”. She went on: “What’s her name? From which village?” After describing my mother to her, I learned that on the previous day, my mother had been sent to work site where they were digging canals. Returning to the field, I felt a great relief.

Escape for survival

During this period of my childhood, I did not receive the care of parents. I lived alone in a leaf-roofed cottage at the foot of some mountains. Often I would ask myself how long I would be alone, and wondered if I would live such a life forever. One day, when I was walking back from cutting Tun Trean Khet (kind of plant used to make compost) and collecting cattle dung, an aged woman, who was a “base person”, told me that she had met my mother at the dam work-site east of the mountain. But, she didn’t tell me where it was. She just instructed me to walk eastward.

After receiving this information, I left that morning, walking eastward as instructed. I spent a whole day reaching the work site, where I found hundreds of middle-aged men and women. There was a long hall being built on the top of a tall dam. In the hall, the people were taking a rest, sitting in rows along the edge of the low roof. The gap from the ground to the edge of the roof was approximately one-third of a meter. The people had to crawl to enter the hall. I spent many hours bent over, walking the length of the enormous hall in search of my mother. Suddenly, I saw a pair of feet which seemed to belong to my mother. Then I walked straight toward those feet and found myself looking into my mother’s face. She was patching some torn clothes, and when I called out, “Mum, Mum, Mum”, she looked up and her tears started flowing. She hugged me and fondled my head as she cried. That night, my mother asked a chief of the mobile unit for permission to have me stay for the whole night. I remember her painful words to me that night. “From now on it will be hard for you to find me! We will be separated with no idea when our family will be reunited.” Looking back, I know that my mother had been warning me not to stay with her. I felt doubtful and asked her why I could not stay with her. Instead of answering my question, she only cried and told me to escape from the village, to go away, and not to worry about her, because she could take care of herself. I could not think, but cried out and hugged my mother, pleading to live with her. I hugged her close that night until I fell asleep. At dawn, I heard the shrill sound of a whistle, calling the people to their work. Then my mother asked me to return home and prepare things for escape. She kissed my forehead three times and uttered softly: “From now on you have to know how to lead your life, and we don’t know when we could meet again! If you have free time, please come to visit me”. Then she walked away with tears. I stared at her with tears until she was out of my sight.

About two days after my return, I met an adolescent who was also categorized as a ‘new person’. He was assigned to a ‘front mobile unit’ constructing a dam at a place called “Tum Nup Daem Kor Bei”, located in Phnom Chunh Chaing District, Battambang Province. I asked him if there were any children working in the unit. He said there were about ten but that they didn’t allow many children to work there. I asked if I could go with him, and, one morning shortly after waking, we left.

As a child, I lived a vagrant life, like that of a plant floating in the ocean. My life was the same as the other ten children in the mobile unit “Daem Kor Bei”. I had only two shirts, a rice spoon, and a small pan left to me by my mother. I used them to receive my rationed food every afternoon and evening. All of us children were assigned to build fifty meters of dike or three cubic meters of dam each day per three children. If anyone failed to fulfill their assignment, their food ration would be reduced, or they would be punished. To live for one day in this dark era seemed like one hundred years. I always remembered my mother’s words: “You have to learn how to live without me.” I never received any information about her after she left. I always thought that she was living in the village like the others. One time, I and few friends were asking each other about our families: “When can we see our parents?” Suddenly, an adolescent about the same age as my brother told me that my mother had already been taken to be killed. Although he lived with our group, this boy had just secretly visited his parents in their village. His news brought tears to my eyes. I felt I had nothing. I wondered if I would survive or not. It is only now that I realize the aim of my mother had been for me to escape the extermination of our family. If I had failed to escape to the mobile unit, our entire family would have been killed. For fear of death, even though I had been told that my mother was killed, I dared not return to the village to learn if my mother had been killed or not. To this day, some twenty years later, no word from my mother has been had.

This story of pain and bitterness is a real story of one of the hundreds of thousands of  Khmer orphans in Cambodia, who experienced the dark era between 1975-1979. The memory of pain and separation is everlasting in my mind.

On behalf of the orphans, I strongly support any catalyst for an international tribunal to bring to justice those Khmer Rouge leaders who were involved in the Cambodian genocide between 1975-1979, in order to find real justice for innocent Cambodians who died unjust deaths during that most barbarous regime.








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