Phum Thom — Arun Sothea is a slight, soft-spoken man. He speaks both casually and simply when discussing the horrors of his past — as well the triumphs of his present — both of which have taken place in his childhood home of Phum Thom.
The Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign from 1975-1979 — which included mass execution, hard labor, forced relocation and widespread starvation — left Sothea, now 46, an orphan. Then a young child, Sothea remembers struggling to eat under the ultranationalist Communist regime and being beaten and later imprisoned for snatching a fish from a pond.
As the Khmer Rouge began in late 1978 to lose territory and retreat into Cambodia’s thick and humid jungle, Sothea, then nine years old, walked almost 150 miles back from his forced labor camp to Phum Thom. But when he arrived, he found nobody — the Khmer Rouge had killed all 36 of his family members.