Sep 14, 2016
By Teav Sarak Monin
The Documentation Center of Cambodia
Meas Phal, in his late seventies, carries a small scale with him whenever he goes. After some walking, he stops and relaxes at Wat Unalom pagoda, near the Royal Palace. Phal earns his living by providing service to the passers-by to use his scale in exchange for a small amount of money. I approached him to chat. In his shaky khaki shirt and black trousers, Phal said that he is a farmer in Prey Veng province and is living with his wife. They have six children, two of them are construction workers in Phnom Penh. The rest are farmers in Prey Veng. Phal added that due to poverty, his children were not able to complete school.
Phal looks healthy forthis age. In the raining season, he lives with his family in Prey Veng, farming. In the dry season, he comes to Phnom Penh with his scale to earn more income to support his family. Walking back and forth between the Royal Palace and night market, which is about one kilometer away, he could earn ten thousand to twenty thousand riels (2.5$ to 5$) a day. Wat Unalom is his resting area. In Phnom Penh, Phal does not have a proper place to stay. He stays with the ciclo (tricycle) drivers, who gather near the National Museum at night. Although his two children are working as construction workers in Phnom Penh, he rarely meets with them and does not know where they are living. When asked if his life has lots of challenges, Phal said that although he works very hard to do a living, his life now is not as hard as his was during the Khmer Rouge regime.Then, Phal told me about his life during that time.
Phal was born into a peasant family at Svay Anthor district, Prey Veng province. He had eight siblings. Due to the poverty in his family, he dropped out of school when he was in grade 8; then he helped his parents farming. He married in 1969. Phal said that the Khmer Rouge communist group entered his home village in 1970 shortly after the coup took place, which ousted Head of State Prince Norodom Sihanouk from power. When they arrived, the Khmer Rouge communist members made people work in mutual-aid teams. After the Khmer Rouge took over the country in April 1975, they assigned Phal to be the village chief and chief of Trapeang Ith cooperative, but Phal refused. The Khmer Rouge cadres got angry with Phal and intended to kill him. When asked why he refused, Phal said the village chief was supposed to be sent away, which meant death.
At the end of 1976, Phal and his family, along with other villagers, were evacuated to Pursat. On the day of evacuation, Phal and others walked from their village to Neak Leung town, where a truck was organized to pick them up. The truck carrying the evacuees stopped at Chbar Ampov where each evacuee was given a blue Krama and a meal was served. Then, all evacuees were transported to the train station where they were sent to Pursat. Phal said that everyone was happy because they thought that the new place would have enough food to eat as before they came, the Khmer Rouge cadres told them that "the new place was very rich. The soil was fertile; the sugar canes wereas big as human wrists and were grown on hundreds of hectars of land. The potatoes were so big that only the machine could dig them up. Plus, there was enough rice." Traveling from Phnom Penh to Pursat took a whole day and night and each train carriage contained thirty to forty people.
The train arrived at Pursat in the afternoon; then the Khmer Rouge cadres took those evacuees to reside in O Kriet village, Bakan district. Uponarriving in the village, Phal and others realized that the new place did not have everything as it was said to have.Phal thought that he would die there because the new place did not have everything. On the first day, all evacuees were given enough food to eat. At night, ameeting was convened in order to assign new comers in the field. Phal was assigned to a plowing team, a mobile unit in which there were ten members. His wife was assigned to work in the re-transplanting unit.
Months after arriving at O Kriet, Phal heard about the insurgency committed by the secretary of the Eastern Zone, So Phim. This insurgency sparked some chaos in the village. According to Phal, some villagers prepared some rice, livestock and packed some clothes in order to be ready to flee, but they were told by the Khmer Rouge cadres that "those who wanted to leave were required to register and that there was no need to bring their luggage along when leaving." The next evening, those who registered, and their family members, were sent to be killed. Some villagers managed to escape and flee to other villages.
Phal said that lots of people were killed at O Kriet village. He remembered a moment when he witnessed a baby was breastfeeding on its dead mother and no one cared about this. He added that he witnessed lots of corpses which were not properly buried in the field. Those people were killed because they were accused of being associated with the Vietnamese and being slow in their work.
Probably in October 1978, Phal and his family were transferred to work at Prey Khlot village. Upon arriving, Phal needed to build a house for his family. Phal recalled that Khlot villagers did not like those who were from the Eastern Zone and they did not like new comers. At this village, there was only one well and new comers were not allowed to use it. Therefore, Phal and others took a long walk to get water from the ponds and other sources. He added that food ration was very small; he could get very little rice. Food that he received in Khlot village was less than that of the previous place. Then, he was assigned to work in a rice carrying unit, while his wife was assigned to work in the roof-making unit.
A few months after living at Khlot village, one of Phal's children contracted measles. Because of improper treatment and scarcity of medicine, his child died immediately, which left Phal and the family in great sorrow.
At the end of 1978 or early 1979, the Vietnamese soldiers launched a big attack. Upon hearing this, the Khmer Rouge cadres all fled. The villagers also fled. Phal and his family returned home in order to look for their relatives.
After the Khmer Rouge cadres fled, Phal and his family returned to his home village. Along the way, Phal asked everyone he knew about his relatives. Phal and his family made several stops before getting home. He said that at night he stayed at the place where Vietnamese soldiers were present, otherwise, the Khmer Rouge soldiers would come to take them to the forest.
Phal and his family arrived in Phnom Penh and then they took a Vietnamese truck to Neak Loeung, where he then walked home on foot.
Searching for the Truth.
With the future of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal limited to a small number of
high profile leaders, and a modern Cambodian population of which some 70% of
the population was born after the worst of the Khmer Rouge genocide,
Cambodia is facing a turning point. On the one hand, Cambodians run a real
risk of losing a firm grip on understanding, memorializing and ultimately
accepting a difficult past. On the other hand, a rapidly globalizing
Cambodia must take on new challenges of sustainable growth, democratic
integrity and human rights.