Guilt Still Haunts Khmer Rouge Killer of Secret Lovers

From the moment that former Khmer Rouge commune official Chhim Phan beat a couple ac­cused of being secret lovers to death with a hoe in 1977, his life became a living nightmare.

Today, Mr Phan is a 72-year-old grandfather with a kindly manner, but he cannot escape the image of the dead couple he publicly executed for the “morality offense” of loving each other in Banteay Mean­chey province’s Preah Netr Preah commune.

“When I hit him, I kept my eyes closed. I just heard the sound,” Mr Phan said in a soft voice, gesturing to show how he lifted the hoe to strike first the man, then the wom­an. “After I finished, I was not sure if they were dead or alive. I just moved back.”

As Mr Phan walked away from the spot, he briefly glanced at the bodies lying on the ground—it was an image that would take over his mind in the following weeks and months. “I feel really regretful, and it’s al­ways a nightmare up to the present time,” he said. “Even though I was forced to do it, I was scared at the time that I would be killed if I refused the order.”

Mr Phan was recently found by the Documentation Center of Cam­bodia (DC-Cam) in Banteay Mean­chey’s Malai district. He is one of many former Khmer Rouge officials who the organization has found in the countryside in order to document their stories.

At the Khmer Rouge tribunal last week, during the beginning of the second case against former regime leaders, Mr Phan and his wife of more than 40 years sat alongside victims in the public gallery. Though he had killed the young couple with his own hands, Mr Phan blamed the ac­cused for killings under the regime.

“They made me feel suffering and pain,” he said. “I feel that I was one of the Khmer Rouge victims be­cause they created me to be a killer.”

Mr Phan has never had the courage to find out the identities of the two lovers he beat to death, or to even visit the execution site. He also claims that he was not in­volved in any other killings during the Pol Pot regime.

He feels guilt, though.

Mr Phan said that he frequently goes to the pagoda and Bud­dhist ceremonies to pray that the spirits of the dead couple find peace and do not take revenge.

“I don’t know how much I can pay back to them,” he said. “May­be, when I die, hell will have recorded my mistake for killing them, or may­be the pair had karma…in a previous life that caused me to meet this situation.”

DC-Cam director Youk Chhang, then 14 years old and the tallest boy in his children’s unit, was among the many hundreds of people brought to watch the killing of the lovers at the so-called People’s Court where Mr Phan struck those terrible blows.

“The whole village said, ‘kill, kill, kill,’” said Mr Chhang. “I only re­member that he hit the man first, but [the man] resisted to die.”

The woman who was killed was a married woman in her twenties and an evacuee from Phnom Penh. She was being punished for falling in love with the local Khmer Rouge chief of logistics who gave her food.

Khmer Rouge district committee members, including Sam Art, who ordered Mr Phan to carry out the ex­ecutions, were called for “re-education” in 1977 and never returned, according to a DC-Cam report.

“Phan was the only commune committee member to survive the purge,” said the report, noting that Im Chaem, a suspect in the tribu­nal’s Case 004, had come from the southwest to purge the district.

Mr Phan said that unhappiness, anxiety and sleeplessness still plague him.

“I feel that the guilt has caused a nightmare in my life,” he said.


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