Monday, December 05, 2005

Pon Aron: Former Provincial Court Clerk

Pivoine Beang

Aron Cheat Ponnary sent this article to the Documentation Center of Cambodia for the Khmer Rouge History Preservation Forum. She now lives in Tany sub-district, Angkor Chey district, Kampot province.

My parents loved each other very much. They both endured many obstacles before they could spend their lives together. My mother was a very beautiful performer of Basak (a kind of Cambodian play based on old tales) in the vicinity of Kap Ko market. She was an orphan from Kampot, and my father was the son of an Ouknha [a title given to rich and high ranking persons]. My father fell in love with my mother at first sight. He used to go to see her plays every day.

When she learned about the relationship between my father and mother, my father’s mother tried to find ways to separate them because she did not really like my mother. However, my father still sneaked away to see my mother.

Neak M’neang Khun, who was in charge of the theater, knew that my father loved my mother, so he decided to hold a wedding ceremony for them in accordance with Khmer tradition. None of the relatives on my father’s side attended the wedding. After they were married, my grandmother did not abandon her attempts to separate them. While my mother was pregnant with her first child, my grandmother wanted my father to marry another woman, but he refused. After I was born, my grandmother again wanted my parents to split up, yet again she failed. Eventually, my grandmother accepted my mother as her daughter-in-law because she took pity on her grandchild.

My grandmother brought my mother into the royal palace, where she became a cosmetician for the royal dancers. Then my father quit his job as a soldier and became a doctor in the royal palace. All of the members of my father’s family worked in the palace. After my father worked there for four years, my uncle invited him to be a clerk of the municipal court. Having worked in Phnom Penh for two years, he was transferred to clerk at the provincial court of Takmao district in Kandal province.

At that time, my uncle had asked me to stay with him because he had only sons. After living with him for a year, I asked for his permission to return home. My uncle’s family lived in the royal family’s style. My aunt was related to the royal family, and she was very strict.

In 1966, my father was transferred to work in Kampot, so my entire family had to move as well. Our house was located in the provincial town near Kampot market. My father owned several hectares of farmland in Ta-mar Roung. He and my uncle jointly invested money in selling the harvest. My father’s farmland had rambutan trees, coconuts, and durians. When he worked, I usually waited for him in his office. My father always wore a court uniform and he mostly worked on cases involving land and property disputes, assaults and homicides.

In 1969, I became engaged to a man, but the engagement was broken off because his mother wanted me to live in her house in Pursat and my parents did not agree.

Early in 1975, the provincial court was closed, the road was cut off, and the bombs were falling everywhere. My parents decided to take my seven younger siblings and move to Kampong Som, leaving my elder sister and me at Kampot because we were already married. My father wanted to go overseas. At Kampong Som, my mother and my younger siblings ran a tiny business, but my father became sick and stayed home all day.

On April 17, 1975, the day of liberation, my parents and younger siblings boarded a ship with the Lon Nol soldiers, preparing to head for Thailand. Just after the ship embarked, my father changed his mind and came back to find my elder sisters and me. After they reached shore, my family was evacuated to Prey Nub. Angkar assigned them to live in Smach Dek village, where we were made to cut tontrien khet [a small common plant] and dig earth. At first, my family ate at home because we had some rice left. Later, Angkar ordered us to have meals collectively. My four siblings moved in with my father, while those who were married were assigned to live in other villages.

In 1976, the Khmer Rouge took my father out to be killed. One night, a militiaman came to call my father, and said, “Prepare your things and be ready to move to a new village, Mr. Court Clerk.” My mother and my two younger brothers fixed their eyes on my father. My brothers saw a truck parked in front of the district office. The militiaman tied my father’s arms behind his back and covered his face with a piece of black cloth. My younger brothers hid themselves and cried because they could do nothing to help their father. Then he was carried away with other prisoners in a truck. While my younger brothers were on their way back home, they encountered a militiaman who asked, “Where are you going at midnight?” My brother answered, “We have just come back from finding a lost cow.” The militiaman warned my brothers not to do that again or there would be big trouble if the soldiers saw them. When my mother learned what happened to my father, she thought he would surely die because she had seen a lot of people who were sent to new villages and never returned. The base people told my mother in whispers not to wait for my father since he was dead.

After my father had gone, my mother carried on her work as usual. She kept silkworms and looked after infants in a children’s center. A month after my father’s death, my younger sister Rada went to visit my mother, but found only an empty, silent home and the broken poles that our mother had used to support gourd vines our father had planted. The villagers secretly told my younger sister that my mother and my other four siblings were being taken to a new village. Some people also said that Angkar had not beaten my father to death; they took my father by car to Pich Nil and threw him into a ravine.

When my husband and I were evacuated, we encountered many difficulties. We walked aimlessly for many miles. Angkar had ordered us to settle in Prey Sbov, Mean Chey sub-district, Chhouk district, Kampot province. Arriving there, I was glad to think that I would meet my relatives on my mother’s side. However, all the relatives pretended not to know me. What was worse, they said they never had relatives who were “17 April People” – the enemy – like me.

On April 2, 1976 we arrived at Ang Svay Pagoda in Ang Svay Vvllage, Mean Chey sub-district. Angkar had me transplant rice in a women’s unit, while my husband worked in a youth unit. The elderly women took care of my son. Because I had never done farm work before, the base women despised me, and were always watching for me to make a mistake. They scornfully said I was one of the 17 April people who used to exploit the farmers. They looked down on me for not being able to transplant rice like them. My unit chief was also a base person. I had many duties in the cooperative such as pulling out young seedlings, transplanting rice, and carrying earth. I had to finish 3 to 4 plaun [1 plaun equals 40 sheafs of rice] per day. I had to complete my tasks as assigned; otherwise, I would be blamed by the unit chief and criticized at meetings.

My husband was very gentle. He always helped me. One day when my right jaw puffed up, my husband tried very hard to search for a medicine man. Although Angkar had criticized him, my husband still secretly came to see me until I recovered. In mid-1977, Angkar assigned people to build Ma-lech Dam. In early April 1978 the dam was finished. Everyone, including me, was very happy to be allowed to come back home. My husband was ordered to prepare the fields for planting yams and corn in the vicinity of Bak Nem Mountain. My children and I awaited his return. Several months passed, but he did not come back. During this time, Angkar assigned me to collect human waste to produce natural fertilizer by mixing it with cow dung and earth from termite mounds. There were lots of water leeches in the rice paddies. I was very afraid of them, but I dared not argue with Angkar.

In July, 1978 at 6 p.m. while it was showering, my husband rode in on a buffalo cart and stopped in front of the house. My children and I were very glad to see him. I told him that just a short while before, Angkar had ordered four men to “block the water from flowing,” and that those four men had not been seen since. My husband tried to console me and told me not to speak loudly or to worry. That night Phat, the chief of the economic support unit, called my husband to go out and “block the water.” On hearing those words, I looked at my husband’s face. He had not changed his old clothes, which were completely wet. I knew for sure that those who went to block water never returned home. My husband took a spade and followed Phat, who carried an oil lantern and headed for Trapeang Kha-tum Dam.

A moment later, my husband came back to the house, kissed his children, and said that I should not wait for him. He then left with a militiaman. My husband glanced back as he walked away. That night, I dreamed of my husband coming to see his family, but his body was headless. I concluded that my husband would certainly die. I have been a widow since then.

Later, comrade Ki, who took my husband to block the water, tried to abuse me, but he failed and jumped out of my house because I cut him on his arm. When the morning came, there were a few militiamen calling out loudly for me and telling me to bring my children to the elders, so that they could take me along with them. I begged them to allow me to take my children with me. A horse cart carried us to a prison near Noreay Pagoda. They arrested me and put me and my children in a security office. There I saw comrade Ki sitting beside a man named Sak who accused me of being a spy and the wife of a CIA operative. The militiaman tied my arms behind my back and took me by horse cart to a security office in Chhouk district. There, I was untied and guarded by about ten combatants. A district cadre beat me.

A week later, Angkar sent me to a large prison at La-ang Mountain. I was shackled, but my children were not. The prisoners there were skeletal. Every night, the guards took three or four of them out. I only heard the groans of pain on the wind that had blown from far away.

On November 20, 1978, I heard faint sounds of gunfire from the boundary of Kampot province. Only 13 of us were left in the prison. Suddenly a child appeared with keys to open the gate for us. With tears of joy, I carried my children and ran out of the prison. We walked through forests and rice paddies until I met some villagers and we continued the journey together. I carried my children and walked towards Noreay Pagoda. On the way, I heard a voice of the liberating army appealing to people to return to their homes. I arrived at Prey Sbov village and decided to stay there temporarily.

One day, I went to collect rice from the barn. While I was talking to the soldiers there, I heard a voice calling from behind me. When I turned around, I was taken aback to find my former fiancé calling for me. He asked me to stay with him and promised to take good care of my children.

I can never forget the events happened to me during the Khmer Rouge regime, especially when they took my husband out to be killed, and the time when I was detained. I would like to see a tribunal that can bring justice to light, so that people of the next generation will never repeat the same thing.


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