The KR: An Old Story to Most, But a New One to Me







Sopheak Sim


I was not born when the historical events of 17 April 1975 occurred. Because I was not to be born for another five years, I could have had very little knowledge - almost nothing, in fact - about what really happened at that time. However, through my work at the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) as computer graphics designer for DC-Cam’s Searching for the Truth magazine, and also through my parents telling me about the events of that day, I have been able to understand that 17 April 1975 was the day on which the Khmer Rouge liberated and took control of the city of Phnom Penh.


My parents told me that all the people of Cambodia were very happy that day, smiling and celebrating the victory. Unfortunately, 17 April was also a threshold, marking the point where their gladness became the greatest sadness of their lives. As I was told, at about eleven o’clock on that day, Khmer Rouge soldiers ordered people to pack up their things and leave the city within the next three days so they could build a new city. Because no one knew the real intent of the evacuation plan, they followed the Khmer Rouge’s orders with doubt and fear in their minds. Some managed to take clothes and jewelry along with them, while others had almost no time to pack. They took only clothes because the Khmer Rouge soldiers told them that there was no need for them to take more belongings, as Angkar would allow them to return home in the next three days. The streets were filled with crowds of people, many trekking, some pedaling, and others traveling by ox cart, depending on what they could afford. Sounds of sporadic gunfire were heard as people left the city.


My parents and my siblings traveled on foot through the huge mobs of people. My family members walked hand in hand so that no one would become lost or separated. To their shock, they saw the bodies of people who had died on the streets for no apparent reason. My parents said they saw three to four Khmer Rouge soldiers, all in black pajamas, with guns in hand, walk some five or six shirtless Lon Nol soldiers to an unknown destination. As my parents walked, they also saw patients who were forced out of a hospital and onto the streets.


On that day, the Khmer Rouge sought to evacuate city dwellers from the cities to the provinces and provincial residents from the provinces to far-off places in the countryside. All that happened during the Khmer Rouge period was an old story, but it is a brand new one to me. At school, almost all of my classmates were not taught the history of the Khmer Rouge at all. It would be the saddest thing, and a source of great risk, if such a regime were ever allowed to take power again. I have found no satisfying reasons as to why the Khmer Rouge - who like me are of Khmer blood-inflicted such acts of cruelty and inhumanity on their own race. I just want to know who the masterminds of the killing field regime really were.








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


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