Mass Graves

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the killing fields - mass graves exhumed in 1980 at Choeung Ek


Eyewitness Account of The Tonle Sap Lake Massacre:

"It was a chilly evening of December 22, 1977, when a group of armed Khmer Rouge cadres herded what left of my family and neighbors to an unknown destination. At the time we were at a force labor camp in Siem Reap Angkor Province in What Known as People Democratic Kampuchea or Cambodia as we know today. Our group was counted one by one by the armed men, some were more like boys my age (at the time). There were 87 of us all together and 7 of them. None of us know for sure where we were going. However, after we have experienced similar move many times previously, we didn't really care where we were heading. We all sort of got used to such relocation. It was almost a routine to us.

This time it felt a little different. They seemed to try to accommodate or go out of their way to try to please us. It was an act that we were not used to. It made us feeling uneasy about the whole plan. Why are they so nice to us this time? The last 24 relocation were miserable and the soldiers were very rough. In fact, they were so rough that a few of us have died in the process of relocation. Their acts were very suspicious, but we didn't really care. It was a nice change, a change that we were having problem swallow it whole. Perhaps their policy have changed? It was yet to be seen.

One exhausting day of walking later we stopped at a former Buddhist pagoda on the way to some place that they refused to inform us. Our escorts ordered US to stop and wait. We were more or less pleased to have a chance for a breather stop, no matter how short or how long it was. However, the place was not an ideal resting area. We have always known that it was a "processing center." It was also a place where people got punished or even executed for a minor infraction. They called it a "Work Camp", but we all knew it simply as "Death Camp. "We waited and prayed that they won't keep US here, permanently. Approximately 20 minutes later, they herded us out again. Twenty minutes may not be long, but it is an eternity when one life or future is at stake. It was a nerve racking experience. We knew that we have passed through "gate one" at last.

Two days later, we all arrived at a place call Tasource Hill. I have been here several times during my time in the Mobile Brigade. It was another labor camp. There were thousands and thousands of people working, digging a huge canal project. It was a sad site to see. I thought I was just skin and bone, but the people I saw there were in worst shape than I was. It was not long after we arrived at Tasource Hill before they put everyone, including small children, to work among other people. It was then that I finally realized our faith, so I thought. We were forced to work all day and almost all night for five agonizing days by a new batch of soldiers. Those who brought us over have long since returned. The new guards were cruel and have no mercy. Many died in front of me from heat stroke, sickness, exhaustion and starvation. But most died from beating they received from the soldiers. And many were quietly taken away in the cover of the night to almost a certain destination, death. All that time I was wondering when our turn would come. I wished it would arrive sooner so that we didn't have to suffer like those before us.

People from my group began to drop like flies in the muddy bottom of the canal. Very few even bother to take them to get a proper burial. The dead and near dead were scattered all over as far as my eyes could see. We were all too exhausted and too weak to move. Every now and then a group of people came by to collect the dead bodies. Very few morn for the dead. Even the relatives showed very little emotion because they knew that the dead would suffered no more. We were all like a bunch of living dead. I thought that it would be much easier if they just come and take us away. When are they going to end our misery? I waited and waited. It never came.

A pointed object poked at me very hard and woke me up from the muddy bottom of the canal. I slowly opened my eyes to look at the teenage soldier who continued to poke me with his seemingly over-sized AK-47 rifle. He was no older than 12, just a few years younger than I was, but much, much fatter. He was yelling angrily for me to get up from the mud. "go ahead and shoot me" I said to myself. I was ready to die. It was hopeless. I finally pushed my weak skinny body up from the mud and wearily walked into a direction where my group was being congregated. It was our time to go, at last.

I began to have mix feeling about the sudden relocation plan. Normally, we would stay in one place for weeks or even months at a time before they ship us out again. I have wished for them to take us away and now that the time has come, I was having second thought. Nonetheless, after 5 long days and nights without substantial food and rest, I was more than ready to go and where I was going was irrelevant. I just wanted to get out of this place even if it meant sudden death. By the look of others, including my family, they were all ready to go as well. After all that they have put us through especially the last 5 days, nothing could be worst and nothing would matter anymore.

They ordered us to file in a row of four. A small group of soldiers who were to escort us made up of soldiers of all ages. Some as young as 10. There were only 5 of them to escort what left of my original group of people. By then there were only 79 of us all together. During that five awful days at Tasource Hill, eight had died earlier including 6 children and two elderly men. I wondered why there were so few of them if they were going to kill all 79 of us? The oldest soldier came over in front us and spoke loudly so that everyone could hear him. He told us that we were being moved to the Great Lake (Tonle Sap lake) to catch fish for the government. He also said that there will food to eat there. Suddenly, people were talking among each other about the news. We were all very skeptic about the seeming miraculous news. However, it makes sense as most of us in this group were at one time commercial fishermen at the Great Lake. They told us just what we wanted to hear. The food, the chance to catch and eat fresh fish from the lake, and to get away from the misery of Tasource Hill. They all sounded too good to be true. I was completely fooled by the news. Well, perhaps a little doubt. And so did the rest of the people in my group. We would have to wait and see what the future would hold for us.

They took us South through a familiar muddy road toward the Great Lake which is about six or seven miles away. The last time I walked on this very same road was just last years. I was on another Mobile Brigade project. The longer we were on that road, the more relax we were. Perhaps they are telling us the truth? We seemed to head in the right direction. There were only five of them and they can't possibly killed all 79 of us Could they?

After about 3 miles of walking, They asked us to stop and wait for the rest of the group to catch up. People were very weak and the 3 miles hike took its toll. Another child have died on the way. The soldiers allowed the mother to bury her child with hesitation. It was another 20 or 30 minutes before the rest caught up.

They wanted us to move on quickly with the setting of the sun. They had first asked all the able men, both young and old, to come and gather in front of the group. The men were then told to bring all kind of tools, especially knives and axes with them. They said that the men needed to go ahead of the group to build a camp for the rest of us. The men were soon lined up in a single file with their tools in hand. I watched my brother Sarey as he walked reluctantly to join the line after saying good bye to his pregnant wife. I told him that I would take good care of Oum, my sister-in-law. The group disappeared shortly in the darken sky. That was the last time I ever saw Sarey and the rest of the men again."

Ranachith (Ronnie) Yimsut


End of Exhibit

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