Diary Reveals Secret Past of Khmer Rouge Cadre

The Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) is the guardian of several hundred diaries, mostly written covertly during the Khmer Rouge regime, when such an activity could lead to severe punishment.

The diaries help paint personal pictures of what life was like during that time. But a new diary donated to the center on Friday stands out from the rest. Its pages do not relay the writer’s suffering or fears; instead, they are filled with mostly red-ink entries extolling the virtues of the communist agrarian regime.

The diary of Chhoe­un Phorn (Lauren Crothers/Cambodia Daily)
The diary of Chhoe­un Phorn (Lauren Crothers/Cambodia Daily)

“If we want to build ourselves up to work, farmers have to have a proper philosophy,” wrote Chhoeun Phorn, who died in 2012 at the age of 96, and whose diary was only discovered a few months after his death by his daughter.

“For example, we want to be organized as a cooperative,” the entry continues. “If we don’t understand how to live as a community, there will be disputes. We don’t need to rest…if we sleep quietly, we will not have the stance to endure. And there should be no independent selves.”

The discovery of the diary, whose entries are all from 1976, came as a surprise to Chhoeun Phorn’s daughter, 58-year-old Nou Lekha. She said her father, who lived in Battambang province, worked as a veterinarian in the 1960s. When the Khmer Rouge rose to power, he was moved to Thma Koul district, where he made bamboo buckets, treated farm animals and worked the land.

Ms. Lekha knew nothing about the contents of the diary, which gives the impression that its author attended Khmer Rouge policy meetings.

“He never told us children that he had written a diary during those times,” Ms. Lekha said Monday.

“I think it is an important document for the next generation to look at, so they can see what he was writing about, what they were doing and what was happening at meetings and events during the Khmer Rouge.”

She gave it to an academic friend, Heng Mony Chenda, who contacted DC-Cam’s Farina So.

“From the diary I can tell he’s a former Khmer Rouge cadre, because he recorded these policies from meetings or documents,” Ms. So said, adding that more research needs to be done to determine exactly what Chhoeun Phorn’s role was during the Khmer Rouge regime.

“It’s unique,” she said of the diary.

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