The Killing Fields of Cambodia
Sokunthea Ly

            I was born in a generation when all the rival groups in Cambodia had already been merged together and there was only one regime  under Hun San, who today serves as the prime minister of Cambodia. Pol Pot was dead and the young generation did not know very much about this cruel dictator and the killing fields, except for the skulls on display in the Toul Sleng museum. This display itself tells the young generation the story of past horrors endured by their families in Cambodia. Last week I interviewed my uncle, who had lived under the Khmer Rouge Regime for 3 years and 8 months. He helped me to understand the worst period in the history of my native country. My uncle's name is Rene Kim.

            Uncle Rene told me that the Khmer Rouge had taken over Cambodia and isolated the country from the rest of the world for a long time. The world did not know there had been a genocide against innocent people until a flood of refugees fled to Thailand in 1979 seeking help. By that time, approximately 2.5 million Cambodians had been killed by famine, disease, and maltreatment under the dictatorship of  Pol Pot.

            According to my uncle, who was living in Phnom Penh at the time the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, many people were expelled from the cities and had to go to the countryside and work in the rice fields. The minute the Khmer Rouge reached the cities, people had to leave  immediately during the hot days of April, and many of them suffered from dehydration and died at the side of the road without any help.

            My uncle told me about his dreadful experience. He was chased out of the city with his wife and small baby along with millions of people under the guard of the Khmer Rouge troops. Along the way he saw dead bodies floating in the river, and many bodies washed up along the river bank where people had to take their baths and fill up their water bottles. He added that before he got to his final destination, the only food that he found was small fish, crabs, or frogs.

           Life under the Khmer Rouge was horrible and frightening. The first wave of people who were expelled from the city was more considerable than the second wave. The second wave were being spied upon every moment and were forced to criticize each other. This was a tactic the Khmer Rouge used to create distrust among those who opposed them.

            In order to survive under the regime, people had to keep their mouths shut and to pretend to hear and to see nothing. To eliminate the western-influenced and educated middle class, many people were brutally killed. Those people who were not selected to be killed were forced into  hard labor in the fields everyday and were fed only a small meal. As a result of overwork, starvation, and lack of nutrition and medicine, many people became sick and died.

            My uncle himself became very sick with tuberculosis, and he had no medicine. So he used some herbs and traditional medicine to stabilize his disease until he could be brought by his wife to a refugee camp in Thailand after the Pol Pot regime had been overthrown by the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1980.

            After a two-and-a-half-hour interview with Uncle Rene Kim, I felt very sad for my people who were victims and lost their loved ones under the criminal regime of  the Khmer Rouge. My uncle also lost his lovely son and four brothers and sisters-in-law. The physical effects of the tuberculosis that almost claimed his life during that period have limited his physical activities. He cannot do heavy jobs or  participate in sports, which he loved all his life. The killing fields of Cambodia will weigh heavily on his mind and mine forever.