The 17th of April is the Beginning of the Separation







Bun Sou Sour


Many people understand the17th of April in different ways according to their personal tendencies.  Some understand this day as the day of victory over the Lon Nol government that was supported by the U.S.  Others understand this day as the end of the corruptive practices of the Lon Nol regime.  On the other hand, the Khmer Rouge, who worked hard on activities to help the people build their strength after many years within the Republic government, understand this day as an historical day of celebration.  In contrast, many of the Cambodian people have many reasons to doubt.  They were uncertain in their feelings what the 17th of April meant as soon as the country of Cambodia was liberated.  Some citizens, including my father, celebrated and shouted in victory along with the Cambodian liberators whom people recognized as the Khmer Rouge.  However, I understand that the 17th of April was the first day of separation for the families of the people as well as my own family.


My family originally came from Reap Village, Reap Sub-district, Kandal Stung District, Kandal Province.  But after the Lon Nol government began dropping bombs in 1970, my family forced ourselves to flee to Phnom Penh and start up a little business in the Daem Takuh Market in order to support our livelihood.  For approximately five years, until 1975, we continued to live in fear from the bombing.  In May 1975, I was exactly six months in my mother’s womb.  I have much remorse for not knowing and for not having seen the true activities that took place on 17th April 1975. But no matter what, when I reached an age in which I could understand, I often asked my mother about what happened, about the tragedy, the separation, and the countless pain and suffering of the Cambodian people and more specifically, the problems that occurred within my own family.


My mother made an effort to talk about all the problems that developed in my family.  She told me that on the 17th of April, she was six months pregnant and I was the one in her womb.  


The 17th of April is a day of attack and a day of surrender for the Khmer Rouge and the army of the government.  My mother’s father-in-law who is my grandfather, was willing to take the risk to make the journey and cross many dangers in order to bring my mother to his house.  He understood that it was safer there because it was a stone house that might prevent accidents from gunfire.  As soon as she crossed and reached the Russian Hospital, she saw many people crowding the streets.  At that time, my mother did not yet know who these people were.  On the same day, when she reached my grandfather’s house in front of the water tank near the Olympic Stadium, a large gun battle ensued.  She saw many helicopters flying and settling in the clearing of the Olympic Stadium.  The sound of large and small guns answered each other.  About two hours later, the people dressed in black, who were recognized as the Khmer Rouge, entered my grandfather’s house.  They commanded everyone in the house to leave the house. If they dit not leave, they would be shot and killed. Fearing the Khmer Rouge would shoot and kill our entire family, we forced ourselves to leave our home and only took with us the clothes on our backs.  The Khmer Rouge told us they would allow us to return to our homes after three days so that they could clean up the enemies in the city.

As we walked along the 18 March Road, my mother saw many people walking and crowding the streets.  She did not yet know who these people were.  The people dressed in black ordered those who had motorcycles to give them up.  They said they were going to use it for their work.


The journey continued and countless painful scenes could be witnessed along the road.  Some people had to give birth without a mid-wife to help them and after they gave birth, they continued their journey without any energy.  Seven hours later, at 10:00 at night, my mother reached Koh Thom District.  As soon as they got there all the evacuated citizens prepared to cook along the houses of the villagers.  Afterwards, the Khmer Rouge worked until morning preparing a table of the biographies of each person in order to make it easier for them to divide and send people to different parts throughout the district.  At that time, my mother’s family, like the thousands of other people who were evacuated from the city of Phnom Penh, were separated from each other without knowing where their husband, their parents and children would be driven.  The Khmer Rouge sent people like soldiers, civil servants, police, etc., to different places.  After they finished dividing people, my father and my mother who was six months pregnant with me, were ordered by the Khmer Rouge to live in Chheu Khmao Village, Chheu Khmao Sub-District, Koh Thom District, Kandal Province.  After living there for three months, my mother gave birth to me.  One month after giving birth to me the Khmer Rouge sent my family to another place.  They told us that there was not yet enough food for the people here.  At that time, my father acquired a sickness and was not able to do anything. Therefore, the burden fell on my mother’s shoulders and she forced herself to prepare everything.  Most of the things she carried in one end of the pole and on the other end of the pole she carried me.  In a wearied tone, my mother said, “Your face was scorched by the sun and your skin was peeling.  I carried you many kilometers for three days and three nights until we reached the place the Khmer Rouge had assigned us to go.  All of our relatives were separated from each other.  As we traveled to Preah Vihear Province, when he saw how exhausted and tired we were, there was one Khmer Rouge cadre named Sou who tried to convince me to name you Sou.  This is his name. He understood that a person with this name would not die easily.”


Every time we talk about the 17th of April, I usually remember the day my family was separated from each other.  I still have never seen the faces of my grandparents and my aunts and uncles.  If there was no 17 April 1975, my family would not have lost so many members. 


If I count all of my grandparents and aunts and uncles on my mother’s and father’s side, the Khmer Rouge probably killed almost fifty people.  They killed family after family accusing them of being capitalists.  One question I always have with me is: “Why did the Khmer Rouge take my grandparents, my uncles and aunts and all of my relatives to be killed?  What wrong did they commit?  And who is the source of these unjust acts?”


This question usually pushes me to discover the truth that no one yet knows with certainty.  In 1997, I was still studying at the university.  I decided to join and work as a member of the staff at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which is an independent institution, a non-governmental organization, and a training ground for the youth.  The office staff and the leaders are all Cambodians. As soon as I entered and worked at the Documentation Center of Cambodia I encountered a message written on the computer: “Searching for the Truth.”  At that time, I had strong hopes that I would realize the truth of my life that has passed for twenty-five years. 


But we still have not yet discovered this truth, unless there is a tribunal that has international support.


Therefore, 17 April 1975, which is the start of the separation of the people of Cambodia, including my family, remains a mystery.  The 17th of April stole the lives of 50 of my family members and relatives.  If there was no 17th of April, the day of separation and suffering for my family would also not exist.  A trial with international support should be established immediately, so that we can answer the simple and general questions of Cambodian people as well as my own.  Only an independent tribunal can ease the suffering of the Cambodian victims that are still alive.  With a trial, the 17th of April will no longer be a question for the public, national, and international opinion.








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


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