The Events that Passed on 17 April 1975







Vannak Sok


17 April 1975 is an historical day that all people throughout the country must remember.  At that time I was probably about nine years old, but I cannot remember clearly the events that passed on that day. 17 April 1975 is the day in which the soldiers dressed in black and rubber tire shoes and wearing khaki Chinese caps achieved victory over the Lon Nol soldiers. 

At that time, in Koh Praak Village, Phum Thom Sub-District, Kien Svay District, Kandal Province, the soldiers dressed in black shot the Lon Nol soldiers while they were guarding near the groves of bamboo, at the end of the village.  They ought to be pitied.  It wasn't certain whose children or husbands they were.  They had come to die in such suffering and pain.  It was also uncertain what village or sub-district they came from, because the people in the district did not know them.  None of the villagers were willing to take the Lon Nol soldiers to be buried, because they were afraid the soldiers dressed in black would misunderstand.  These soldiers walked back and forth carrying guns in each hand. They ought to be feared, but some of the villagers were not very scared.  They even came out and welcomed them with congratulations, yelling, "Bravo!  Bravo!  Bravo!"  Perhaps the villagers believed this new regime would be more prosperous and happy than the previous regimes.  No one could imagine that in the near future some thing horrible would happen. 

If you glanced at the situation at that time, there were thousands of people wandering into the village.  According to what I was able to observe at that time, many more people were walking from the west to the east.  While people were travelling, some carried their belongings on their heads, some carried their things in their arms and their backs and others had a Peta car, a motorcycle, or a cart to push the elderly.  In the afternoon, some people stopped to rest underneath the tree and cook rice.  Some asked the villagers for a place to cook.  Others just kept moving forward.  At that time, there was one girl about six-years-old, standing there alone, without anyone asking her what was wrong.  She was probably separated from her mother and father because when she cried she kept screaming for her mother.  I did not see anyone come to get her.  This girl kept walking without knowing where she was going.  At that moment, the villagers also saw a new, black car.  They didn't know where the owners had gone.  I only heard the villagers say that the car belonged to a movie star. Some said the car belonged to a high-ranking official. They saw four people walking past the stream to the island.  Afterwards they took a boat across to the far bank and disappeared into Lvea Em District. 

Among the hundreds of people, I saw my uncle, named Ma Kum Hean, coming from Phnom Penh.  He was a professor in the Reas Niyum period.  He brought his wife and all of his children with him.  He stayed at my parent's house for s short while, before he would leave to find his native district.  At that time, the soldiers dressed in black had evacuated everyone outside of the city for three days.  If anyone was stubborn or was unwilling to leave they would be shot and killed.  My uncle was very scared.  Another group of people were forced to leave quickly even though they had not yet united with their families and were therefore separated from each other.  Some were separated from their husbands and some were separated from their beloved children.  No matter how much everyone cried and pleaded with them, it did not matter. Therefore, in tears, each family had to force themselves to leave their homes.  They could not imagine that a city that was once filled with people could be evacuated entirely by the soldiers dressed in black.  The city that was once filled with people became silent.  These are the words my uncle told me.

On the other hand, in my village, the people dressed in black were not as brutal as my uncle had described them.  When they saw older people, they called them "nhorm." (this is a word of respect used as a substitute for mother or father.)  "Please, nhorm, quickly leave to find your native village.  Angkar will not harm you."  They only told the people who had recently arrived from Phnom Penh, "Angkar only want you to leave the city for three days so that they can clean up the city. When Angkar has finished re-organizing it, brothers and sisters can return and live there. Our Angkar will only kill the enemies.  If they see the Lon Nol soldiers they will kill them immediately. They will not keep them." 

In the evening, around 5:00 on the 17th of April, the people who were evacuated from Phnom Penh, remained silent during their journey.  I could only see smoke from the fire.  Along the road no one spoke to each other about anything.  Perhaps they were tired from their travels.  Around 8:00 at night, none of the villagers or the people who had just arrived from the city asked each other about anything.  It was completely quiet.  I only saw the groups of soldiers dressed in black walking to and fro and a dog howling.  That night, I believe most of the people were not able to fall asleep.  Everyone was thinking about the problems that they might face the next day.

17 April 1975 is the most horrific day for the people throughout Cambodia.  Every person recognizes this day as a day that forced families and relatives to endure much pain and suffering. There is nothing that can be compared.  Some died, some were separated from their husbands and children and their parents.  Almost all of my mother's family died.  It is because of this that I, Sok Vannak, representing all the people in Cambodia, would like to ask that a just tribunal be established so that all the people in Cambodia can be appeased and so that the souls of those who have died can also rest in peace.  If there is no trial, all the people will certainly never be satisfied, because the things that have happened are too brutal.  We must have a trial and keep this as a model for the future.








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