My True Life under Democratic Kampuchea







Osman Ysa


Svay Klang is my native village and is situated in Kroch Chhmar District, Kampong Cham Province.  In 1973, there were 1,200 families living there.  But, it is unfortunate that starting from 1973 this village endured terrible destruction, because of the policies of one group that invaded, controlled and affected the peace of the villagers.   At that time all the villagers knew them as the “National Liberation Front.”  Afterwards, they were known as “the Khmer Rouge.”  In order to serve the policies of this group, hundreds of villagers were forced to suffer and die.  Hundreds of homes were abandoned.  At the two large temples, only their foundations remained and on phtah ga in the front.  One sourav school was abandoned completely.

Now, when we rest or during different holidays, I return to visit my native village and I travel past the temple with the one phtah ga remaining, I usually remember the past stories of my native village.  Everyone knows that Svay Klang is a village filled with happiness and has many knowledgeable people and is so busy anyone would want to live there.

In 1986, one event shocked me.  It was while I was digging dirt to build a new temple. I saw many bones of the dead buried in the dirt.  There was not one person who knew this place served as a burial ground.  Suddenly I remembered the words of my mother and father who use to tell me that they didn’t know where my grandmother, my grandfather, or my aunts and uncles died, when the village was evacuated.  I wondered if these bones were the bones of my grandfather, my grandmother, or my aunts and uncles, or if they were the bones of someone else.  Not one person could tell me, but I only thought to myself, the persons who died and left their bones here during the evacuation could not be anyone outside of my village. The act of endurance and the act of challenging the Khmer Rouge in Svay Klang Village are historical events that every villager in Svay Klang has either remembered or has heard about.  The villagers always tell me about these events.  I know that this is not the only place where bones of the dead are buried.  They are probably buried everywhere through out the entire village of Svay Klang.  It is filled with the graves of people who suffered and were shot and killed by the Khmer Rouge soldiers.  At this time I felt profound pride that I am able to work at the Documentation Center of Cambodia as a collector of information and news about victims under Democratic Kampuchea and I am able to understand more about what has happened then even my parents or the villagers.  I know about the extent of the tragedy of the general population in Cambodia along different places.  Sometimes I am even able to meet the victims in person, who tell me their stories in tears when they recall the painful memories of when they lost their wives, husbands, children, or parents during this regime.

Concerning the reason why there was a rebellion in Svay Klang Village, I am not able to remember or understand clearly what happened.  I have only heard my parents and my fellow villagers speak and tell me that, “On 8 October 1975, at 6:00 in the evening, the Khmer Rouge started an activity to seize the people.  They had already captured two people.  At this time the people were caught in a state of disorder and confusion and had begun to rise up to challenge them.  The protestors killed two Khmer Rouge soldiers and picked up one of their tables.  On the table were listed the names of eighty-five villagers who were supposed to be seized that night.  This was not the first time they had planned to capture people.  Since 1973 until October 1975, 95 villagers were seized and never seen again.  Just before the day of the rebellion, the Khmer Rouge took the Koran to be burned, they forced the villagers to close the temples and the schools and they forced women to cut their hair short.  This was an effort to abolish absolutely the religion of Islam.”

17 April 1975 is the day the Khmer Rouge captured the city of Phnom Penh and began to force the people to leave the city for the countryside.  But in Svay Klang Village, on that day, the activities were different from other areas.  Not until 10 October 1975, were there activities to evacuate the people from the village.  This process of evacuation was pushed forward when the rebellion exploded but was unsuccessful.  Here, many educated Cham people understood that the reason why the Chams were evacuated from Cambodia was due to the rebellion that occurred in Svay Klang Village and in neighboring villages like Koh Pall Village. 

I have met many villagers who escaped death.  Some tell me that they were evacuated all the way to Kampong Thom.  Some were even sent all the way to Preah Vihear.  And others told me that they were forced to live in a diseased area in Dambeh District, Kampong Cham.  At that moment, I think about my family who were transported on a boat with four or five other families from my village and taken to Kratie Province.  There was only one car to transport all of us to the forested region.  When we reached one silent and forested area, I remember they called it “Prey A-Pao”, I saw there were about ten small thatched huts.  When the car stopped, soldiers dressed in black commanded everyone in the car to get out and live in the huts set in the middle of the forest.  It seemed as if we were a group of people they were simply abandoning.  We only waited for the day in which we would die.  Around the huts, I saw the graves of fresh corpses.  At this time, I did not yet have very clear memories because I was only four years old.  But what I remember most clearly was how extremely worried the older people, including my parents, were.  But at that time I was very small and I was not able to understand anything.  Honestly, everyone was thinking about their own destiny when they saw the graves of the dead. We thought that the people that died and were buried in these graves were probably people who had lived in these huts before us.  We knew that it would not be long before they would kill us because we were defeated. And our corpses would also be buried here.  Therefore we already saw what was to be destined.  A little while later everyone began to feel a little better, because after we stayed there for about half a month, they sent us to other villages.  In one village, they added on 2 Cham families.  My family walked to a distant village, perhaps 7km away.  This village I remember as Kamboa Village.  We lived there for a short period until we discovered that the people who lived in this village were also evacuees from Phnom Penh. 

In Kamboa Village my father was sent to a fishery called Peam Tey near the border of Kratie.  My two older brothers were placed in a mobile work brigade.  My mother had to work in the fields day and night.  I had to go cut down kuntreang khet plants and carry cow dung.  My younger sister who was not even one year old was kept with the old grandmothers in the mess halls.  At that time, it was the very first time in my life when I was completely separated from my family.  Before that I had never been far from them.  This was also a time that helped me to understand how much I loved my parents.  When we rested once in a while I ran to check on my younger sister.  When she cried and was hungry for breast milk, I saw the grandmothers feed her rice porridge soup as a substitute for my mother’s breast milk. Sometimes there was not even rice porridge soup.  I felt very sorry for my younger sister.  At that time I knew that I lost all of my protection and security, because I love and trust my parents more than anything, and they were both separated from me.  I always waited for my mother to return from work.  I always stared at the fields that she walked towards in the morning.   But I only saw groups of small children like myself quickly carrying shovels back and forth.  Every silent night when heavy rains fell, I secretly watched my mother cry.  She felt my head and told me that, “When it rains heavily, at this time your brother is in the mobile work brigade raising the dam in the rain.  Your father is risking an accident in the waves, with the rain and winds blowing in the middle of the lake.”  In the end, my youngest sister died because she lacked her mother’s breast milk.  My second older brother died from internal bleeding from overstraining and exhaustive work.  This is my true life under the Democratic Kampuchea regime.








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Ten Years of Independently earching for the Truth: 1997-2007


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