Life story

A Former Khmer Rouge Soldier Tells His Life Story of Reintegration

It was a day in late 1970 when a 19-year-old man walked out of his home where he was born and raised in the village of Prey Lvea in Takeo province with nothing but a bag containing clothes slung over his shoulder.

The dirt road he was walking on was filled with explosive craters caused by the recent battle between the Khmer Republic army led by General Lon Nol and a communist group known as the Khmer Rouge, just a slice of the war ongoing in Cambodia.

It was the very war that drove this young man, Sok Kong, to leave his home to join the Khmer Rouge guerrillas despite the lack of support from his parents, both farmers who wanted nothing more than a peaceful and peaceful life. quiet for their son.

Earlier that year, General Lon Nol staged a coup to depose Prince Sihanouk, who was touring abroad, as Cambodian head of state, and open the door to the transformation of Cambodia into a republic supported by the West.

Shortly after his ouster, the Prince of Beijing, China, called on the Cambodian people by radio to rise up against the Lon Nol government and support the Khmer Rouge. Although this meant that Sihanouk lent his name to a movement over which he had little control, many Cambodians, especially the young one who was drawn to Prince Sihanouk’s popularity, were inspired to “enter the Marquis”, a term referring to joining the Khmers. Red guerrilla.

A meeting between the government military officer and Khmer Rouge separatists in 1996. CPP

Kong turned out to be one of those people who wanted to bring back
the Prince and his Sangkum
Reastr Niyum Era.

“I joined the rebels to fight for the beloved prince and also to fight the foreign influence that brought the Khmer Republic to power,” Kong, now 71, recalled.

At this point in his life, Kong went through a complete transformation – from a high school student to an infantryman in a rebel unit stationed south of Phnom Penh. For the first time, he held and fired a gun, despite his lack of knowledge about the weapon.

“I had no military training, and from the first moment I was given a gun, I was told to use it,” he says. “Life back then was very difficult, but every day I learned new ways to survive and escape death.”

And of course, death was close to him in every battle. He and his brothers in arms knew they had to kill or be killed.

Kong said it was almost a miracle that he survived the Five Year War despite his youth being taken away from him. When the fighting ended with the victory of the Khmer Rouge in 1975, he first thought that peace and prosperity would finally return to Cambodia.

Unfortunately, he was wrong. It wasn’t long before the Khmer Rouge revealed their radical nature, first through the large-scale expulsion of residents of Phnom Penh and other urban areas. It was a deadly journey that claimed countless lives and worse, followed by three years of forced labor, starvation and genocide.

In 1979, Kong was transferred to Kamrieng district in Battambang where he and other soldiers were supposed to guard the border but were instead assigned to hard labor, like other Cambodians at that time, probably because he was neither a senior executive nor a strong absorption of their radicality. ideology.

“Although I spent my youth fighting for them, my life was not easy under the Khmer Rouge regime,” Kong said. “I don’t want to remember the difficulties I had to face at that time, so I prefer not to talk about it.”

Kong described himself as a “soldier-farmer”, someone who was in the middle but without any power or influence.

“I never met a Khmer Rouge leader, so I never had feelings for them,” he says.

For him, life with the Khmer Rouge had been the same for nearly 20 years, even when the Khmer Rouge was losing to the Vietnam-backed United Front for National Salvation and growing weaker.

By 1996, Kong, now married with children, could no longer bear to live with the Khmer Rouge, especially after losing both parents to disease and starvation. When he learns that a group of comrades in Malai, Pailin, one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, are breaking away from Pol Pot and integrating into the new Cambodian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, he sees a path to a new, better life.

Sok Kong, former commander of the Khmer Rouge and retired vice-governor of Battambang province. KT/Chor Sokunthea

“With barely enough to eat, I traveled with six to seven soldiers through the jungle for months to join the government,” Kong explains. “It was a risky trip, but I know it was the right thing to do.”

Kong and his group were welcomed with open arms by the government. Thanks to the “win-win” policy, not only his life and wealth, but also his position were guaranteed. Yet, weary from years of bloodshed, Kong wanted no place in the integrated army. Instead, he wanted a civilian position.

“Shortly after joining the government, I was transferred to Sampov Loun district in Battambang where I was appointed district governor,” he said.

Although nearly three decades have passed since the Kingdom’s civil war ended, Kong said the bloodshed and the sound of explosives still haunt him today.

“I remember as a soldier hearing the bomb fall near me while I was sleeping, and I can still hear it sometimes when I am sleeping today,” he says.

“I am absolutely fed up with the war and I don’t want any more fighting in my country. Cambodia and its people have seen more than enough violence.

Having lived through five regimes in Cambodia, Kong said the current era is the most satisfying, characterized by lasting peace and rapid development.

“I have three children and five grandchildren, and I can die peacefully because I firmly believe that the future of my grandchildren is now assured,” he adds.

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