Former Khmer Rouge Recounts Dark Past

banan district, Battambang province – Though the stench of blood still makes Suy Vith want to vomit, he has come to terms with his past and the thousands of people his small unit of Khmer Rouge comrades executed in the mid-1970s.

In a recent candid interview at his home in Battambang prov­ince, Suy Vith, 49, a former peasant revolutionary told how he wasn’t born a killer, but his choice was simple: Kill for the regime or be killed.

There was a lot of killing in Pailin in the early days of the Khmer Rouge “liberation” in 1975, Suy Vith recounted.

“I was angry at the Khmer Rouge at the beginning, but I had no choice so I chose the Khmer Rouge movement,” he said.

At the age of 19, Suy Vith earned a place with the Khmer Rouge after they executed his parents in 1973 in Samlot district on suspicion of spying for the Lon Nol military government.

He was handed an old automatic rifle, and though he was not shown how to use it, Suy Vith still remembers clearly the truckloads of men, women and children who died after the weapon was placed in his hands.

“When I grew up I never felt that I would become a killer. But the 1975 regime made me follow this cruel way,” said Suy Vith who lives an unassuming life with his wife and four children, eking out a living as a laborer.

“I feel sorry for the people that my colleagues and I killed. But we are innocent people and not as cruel as they accuse us. We were forced to kill… and I had to choose between my life and death.”

Suy Vith made his choice one evening in April 1975.

A commander named Ta Po told Suy Vith and his unit of around a dozen youths that 35 people had been captured at Kbal Peay, in the Bor Taing Suo area of Pailin as they tried to flee into Thailand.

“We have work to do, let us prepare to accept the 35 people,” shouted comrade Uncle Po to Suy Vith and others as the 35 terrified people were unloaded from a military truck around midnight.

Suy Vith remembered that children were among the group.

Fifteen of the group were put on a truck to Phnom Russei, a hill some 10 km from Pailin town. When the truck stopped the men, women and children were unloaded.

“We just gave a signal among ourselves and then we opened fire at them altogether. I saw them all fall down in the same place,” he said. After the massacre, a second group of Khmer Rouge were sent to make sure the job was done properly. Each body was inspected to verify all were killed.

“If that group knew that some people were not killed we would have had a problem,” Suy Vith said, adding that the remaining 20 people were taken to second location by his comrades and killed in the same manner.

As the first months of the Khmer Rouge “liberation” progressed, so did the killing.

Suy Vith and his unit were re-located in late April or early May to a temporary base in Trapaing Kes on National Route 10 between Pailin and Battambang town where several units were stationed and whose duty it was to carry out the execution of people sent by truck from Pailin.

“When they were dropped from the military trucks we killed them immediately. We did not want them to stay longer because they might run away. At this place, my colleagues and I, killed at least 600, and not including those killed at other places nearby our base.

“I just turned my M-16 [rifle] on to full automatic and sprayed them…. The trees, leaves and grass were full of blood. It was completely red with blood.”

In one group alone, Suy Vith and a detachment of around 10 other communist cadre cut down a group comprised of some 200 men, women and children.

“I saw people’s faces were full of worry and I thought they know they would be killed.

“As they stood in rows, some turned their faces not to look at us. Sometimes we killed them when they were sitting down together.”

Suy Vith said the killing was overseen by comrade Uncle Morn who explained how the killing should be carried out by each unit: “One group for killing, one group for guarding and one to prevent anyone from escaping from the killing field.”

At the end of their day’s work, the execution units gathered together to eat, though Suy Vith said that sometimes he didn’t have an appetite. He was not used to all the killing and the blood—the stench of which made him want to be sick.

“After a few months of killing I could eat as well as normal. But sometimes the smell of blood still makes me want to vomit,” he said.

“If I did not follow my commander’s orders I would be killed as well. So to find a way survive I had to carry out what I was ordered to do.”

Owing to a mix of shame and fear, Suy Vith has tried to keep his identity hidden and his bloody past deeply buried.

Suy Vith left the Khmer Rouge after the ousting of the regime 26 years ago today, on Jan 7, 1979.

But even his fear of people finding out the truth about his bloody past was not enough to keep him from defiling the mass graves of his victims in search of gold, precious stones and other treasures buried with the dead.

In 1984, he led a group of 30 people back to the graves in Pailin to dig among the bones. They found some necklaces, earrings, gold, gems and diamonds among the remains. Many were still clad in their Lon Nol military uniforms.

The grave robbery was interrupted by State of Cambodia troops who warned that the area was dangerous, and so they were forced to stop their dig early. But when they returned the next day, the government troops had taken everything, Suy Vith remembered.

Suy Vith said he would testify in a long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal, but would need assurances for his protection and that he would stay out of jail.

A trial might even help Suy Vith answer his one nagging question: “Why we kill people in the forest,” he said.

Suy Vith is short on remorse, instead blaming his past actions, present condition and future events on karma.

“I go to the pagoda sometimes and I give food for my dead mother and father. I pray for good things for them, but I never pray for those I killed or ask for pardon,” he said.

“This is life. I killed people and I feel that I will be killed by people when I am reborn in my next life. This is karma.”


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