Searching for Family Members







Peou Dara Vanthan


It is very important, and can come as a shock to discover information regarding one’s lost, beloved relatives. Millions of people perished in the “Killing Fields” of Democratic Kampuchea between 1975-1979. It is now hoped that true justice will be found for these victims, one of whom was Chan Nhoung, known as Nuon. In a hoarse voice full of terror and despair, we hear Chan Nhoung on the audio-tape left behind by the Khmer Rouge in their hasty retreat from Phnom Penh. It is an appeal to all of us to continue our search for justice for Nuon and all the victims.. Nuon’s audio- taped “confession” inspired the research team of the Documentation Center of Cambodia to search for members of his family at the place he identified as his home.


Nuon was a Deputy secretary of Battalion 331, Regiment 33 of Division 703 in Democratic Kampuchea. After being accused of “treachery”, he was made to become another person-a pitiful victim among the many thousands of victims who were held at Tuol Sleng Prison, or Office S-21, now known to the public as a center of torture where the Khmer Rouge leadership sought to extract detailed “confessions” from the inmates. Although the regime had a paper constitution proclaiming the existence of a judiciary, no legal process ever intervened in the workings of S-21. Chan Nhoung was forced to confess three times over a period of months. His confessions are preserved on the audio-tape, recorded on November 11, 1977, and in two handwritten confessions dated January 20 and February 16, 1978.


Chan Nhoung was born in Koh Thom Sub-district, Koh Thom District of Kandal. The day before our arrival, Chan Nhoung’s niece, Tha, had had a vivid dream of her Uncle Nhoung. In the dream, she saw her uncle visiting her family. Witnessing such an unexpected occurrence, Srei remarked with surprise, “Mom, uncle Nhoung is bringing money for you. He said he really missed you, and in the meantime, he brought some money for you. Nhoung said he was still alive and living happily in a foreign country.”  Is it believable that someone dead for over twenty years can cause another person to dream of him, claiming his survival? To this writer, personally, “good deeds are praised”. Yes. On the morning after the dream, I arrived at Tha’s homestead and asked people around for a person named Nhoung. This question caused quite an uproar, with some people shouting and others rushing to my side with expressions of astonishment, eagerly questioning me about Nuon. An elderly woman, Soeun, Tha’s mother, pointed to Tha and exclaimed, “This woman has just narrated this morning about him, and now you come. Is it true that Nhoung is still alive?”


Chan Nhoung was a pitiful boy whose parents bereaved when he was a child of less than ten. Nuon’s aunt, an elderly woman named Bo, brought Chan Nhoung up to help with the housework. Bo has been dead for over seven years now. When he was young, Nuon and his aunt Bo often picked tamarind fruit to sell. In November, 1973, at the age of about seventeen, Nuon left Bo’s family to join the Khmer Rouge army in a Special Zone Military Unit, after having received political and military training at Wat Trabek for a period of one month. After that, Nuon never again visited his home. Chanthy, a beloved niece of Nuon who was the last to see him, recounted: “...He cried and said with despair that he had no choice because it was the end of his life. ‘Please look for the future’, he added.” Chanthy met with Nuon during his hospitalization at Po Ban Hospital, Koh Thom Sub-district, Koh Thom District, Kandal Province. Chanthy’s statements concur with Nuon’s forced confession of February 16, 1978, where he asserts that he was hospitalized at Po Ban Hospital in 1975, and that the Hospital was under the authority of Military Division 12, and  supervised by one, “Kong”. Through tears, Chanthy recalled, “The place I still remember is Po Ban Hospital, where Nhoung, in a condition of physical deterioration, said that he would never again have the chance to meet me, and therefore asked me to have a final look at his face.”


Chanty had a chance to meet Nuon again when we brought to her the audio-tape, photographs, and “confession” documents. Although Chanthy had not seen Nuon for over twenty years, when confronted with these things, her tears flowed. “Honestly” she said, “my heart is boiling. But I don’t know what to do. Everything is gone. However, I feel a relief. Her mother Srouen was also filled with emotion. “Thank you very much for your helpfulness in searching us out. Although he is dead, to hear his voice is precious to us. Without you, we would never have learned his fate.” Tes Leang, one of Nuon’s relatives, gave his impression: “I myself also want justice and truth. I want to live in a land with justice.”


This interview with Cham Nhoung’s family took place in Kbal Koh Thom Village, Koh Thom Sub-district on January 22 and 26, 2000. With great sympathy, we gave Chan Nhoung’s family a small contribution so that they could hold a Buddhist traditional ceremony and pray for the soul of Chan Nhoung. The celebration was held on Sunday, January 30, 2000. May the soul of Chan Nhoung rest in peace. Our special thanks also go to Chor, Ouch Mut, Tes Leang, Him Sroeun, Tha, Chan Thy and all villagers in Kbal Koh Thom Village, Kbal Koh Thom Sub-district, Koh Thom District, Kandal Province.








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


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