Rice and My first Freedom
Today, 33 years ago; I was living under the Khmer Rouge regime, in Mouk Chhneang village, Spean Sreng commune, Phnom Srok district and Battambang province (now Banteay Meanchey). It is a remote area, about 400 Km in northwestern Cambodia. We had no idea that the National Solidarity and Salvation Front of Kampuchea (NSSFK); led by Heng Samrin, Pen Sovann and Chea Sim; with the support by the Vietnamese, was founded at that time, in Snuol district, Kratie province. I was very weak, very thin like most Cambodians and nevertheless we all were forced to work every day, from the very early morning till late night, in the rice field. It was harvesting period, but the Khmer Rouge did not allow us to eat enough rice during our meal, instead just porridge. Our so-called daily meal was too little to survive and too much to die. Except those cadres themselves, all people were suffering badly. People died everyday from execution, hunger, exhaustion and diseases.
Under this regime, we were cut off from the world. No news, except their liar propaganda. On 10 January 1979, though Phnom Penh was taken over by a new regime for three days already, we still forced to sit in the usually boring and fearful village meeting under the Khmer Rouge and listened to their propaganda. We heard rumors, that something is wrong in Phnom Penh. Some said that, the Khmer Rouge radio ceased to broadcast recently and one could hear the music from the old time. There was some hope among us. But, those cadres in front of us still praised their “Angkar”, their revolution; denounced Vietnam and the imperialist forces, USA, CIA, KGB as usual. Suddenly, those cadres disappeared from the scene. No idea what to do next, but we were somehow free to harvest paddy from the rice field and cooked some rice to eat by ourselves for the first time in three years. Since we used not to have full stomach for a long time, some people died because they ate too much. In the next few days, we were free to harvest rice, cook and eat. No village, commune chiefs or soldiers to control us. We heard mortar shells quite often and it came closer and closer. It means that there was some fighting not far from our village. But, we remained there for a while. Few days later, those retreated KR leaders came back for a short period and disappeared again.
I and my relatives decided to leave the village with the direction to the national road # 06, which is about 30 Km (with the intention to return to our home province Takeo, in the southwest of Cambodia, later on). Along the way, we met the KR troops withdraw en mass. They did not do any harm to us. May be they cared about their safety first. When we reached Krolanh district in Siem Reap province at the national road, we were surprised to meet many Vietnamese soldiers. It was very mixed feeling among us all. What next? We observed that there were also many people fleeing the KR into the new “liberated zones”. The Vietnamese were looking only for KR soldiers and they were very nice and helpful to normal people. They gave us rice to eat and medicines or shelter. We were still fearful and uncertain, but expected that nothing could be worth than living under the ruthless and brutal KR regime. Actually, we were “free”. We could find something to exchange with other and harvest rice from the field to cook and eat freely. It was chaotic, but at least we had full stomach again after more than three years, between 1975-78.
Once again, I would like to thanks to all those who came or lost their life to liberate us, both Cambodian and Vietnamese soldiers. May their soul find peaceful rest in heaven forever. When we were sent there in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge, under the mass relocation of urban people, we were together 21 persons. Only 10 survived this brutal regime in 1979, mainly children. It took more than one year, when we reached Phnom Penh in March 1980. More stories followed.