Editor’s note: As progress toward a Khmer Rouge tribunal moves forward, The Cambodia Daily is running a series in which the people who lived through the Khmer Rouge regime share their stories. Subsequent stories will appear in future issues of The Cambodia Daily.
samlot district, Battambang province – What may be most terrible about this story is that it is not unusual. Yim Ly, a grandmother and farmer, survived the worst of the Khmer Rouge regime, but struggles today with memories of that time, when she lost most of her 14 siblings, half of her 12 children, and her husband.
Today she is well-fed and often plays with her grandchildren, who know nothing of what she saw. She spoke to visitors in the second-floor family room of her son’s house in Srey Chipeou village in Meanchey commune:
“Right now, now that we have peace, I feel very angry because I lost a lot of things in the regime.
“I never saw Pol Pot. I didn’t know any Khmer Rouge leaders. I was a farmer, living as a farmer. I didn’t know anything. When there was fighting, I would run away.
“I started seeing my husband when I was very young. Before our marriage he was a soldier with the King’s military, in the 1950s. Then he left the military to raise a family. I was forced to leave our home in Pursat and move to Duon Kao district in Pursat province.
“In early 1976 the Khmer Rouge asked me to become a farmer for them. I was growing tomatoes on a plantation. During the Khmer Rouge regime I could not own land, because all the land was owned by the team. In early 1977, I became a cook for my team. People ate in a group, not separately.
“My husband was much older than me. He was asked by the Khmer Rouge to work in a different site, a work site.
“We worked very hard. And when I had free time I did not relax. I went to the jungle to look for a special herb that has a sweet taste like sugar. I would chop it up and boil it until the water tasted sweet. Then I would feed it to my kids because they needed the calories. They needed sugar.
“My husband died of malnutrition in 1976. He was more than 50 years old. He died of malnutrition because he ate just two spoonfuls of porridge a day. He was suffering.
“I had 12 children. Six children died during the regime. In two weeks in 1976 I lost my husband and two young children, one was 5 and one was 3, a boy and a girl.
“Another three children died during that period. One was five months old. I lost my 8-year-old son because of malnutrition and fever, because I did not have the medicine to treat him.
“I knew it was a time of suffering and life was very difficult because it was a war, but I wonder, who was making the war? Who was the warmaker?
“When the country stopped fighting, my mother started to look for her children. She had 15, and she learned she only had four left, including me. We learned about the deaths in 1979.
“I heard at that time that some of my siblings died of starvation, some were killed by the Khmer Rouge, some died fighting the Khmer Rouge, because they were soldiers, too.
“In 1993 I was living in Banteay Meanchay province. I was still with the Khmer Rouge. I was living in a Khmer Rouge camp that was like the village I live in today. They had a market in the camp, but no karaoke, like this village. They had lots of food and we ate a lot.
“I was at the Thai border, but I was moving all of the time with the Khmer Rouge to escape detection. I didn’t know my son was at Refugee Site 2. There was a battle between Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese soldiers. My son was injured and he was free to go, so he went to the Site 2 camp and his leg was bad. He was 35.
“My son was a soldier at Site 2 for Son Sann (the head of the Khmer People National Liberation Front, a resistance movement that fought the Vietnamese-installed government). They called him Mr Clean.
“I found my son at the Site 2 camp and took him to the Khmer Rouge camp, where I gave him injections until his leg was better. He left and went back to Site 2, where he got sick again.
“The Red Cross and the UN transported him out of the camp to an area controlled by the Son Sann resistance. He went to the hospital. He got a lot of assistance at the hospital, but he died anyway after six months. I was with him at the hospital for six months.
“I will remember the regime for the rest of my life. Whenever I have food to eat, I think of my husband and my children who starved to death.
“This period was full of suffering.”