Scholars, Survivors Describe KR Rule Top to Bottom

In the dark of a Phnom Penh cinema, an infant Loung Ung sat in her father’s lap, snacking on crickets and soymilk. When she tired of the film’s plot, he would hold the bottle and cradle her, she said Thursday.

Following the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975, Loung Ung’s family found themselves in a Pursat province village, watching as Khmer Rouge soldiers torched their possessions.

“I stood there with my fists clenched and I could not say a word,” recounted Loung Ung, the author of the 2001 memoir “First They Killed My Father.”

“My parents could not protect me. They could not take care of me. I could not protect them,” she added, on the first of a two-day public forum of scholars and survivors meeting in Phnom Penh to dissect the Khmer Rouge regime.

The forum, which is jointly sponsored by the Center for Social Development and rights organization Adhoc, is to make the Khmer Rouge era understandable to the Cambodian public, CSD Executive Director Theary Seng said.

Journalist and Pol Pot biographer Philip Short lectured the audience of Buddhist monks, students, em­bassy representatives and NGO workers on the origins and formative influences of the Khmer Rouge. He pointed out that, while regional and Western actors played a role in the communist party’s creation, it remained distinctly Cambodian.

The Khmer Rouge were “the child of Cambodia,” Short quoted Buddhist leader Yos Hut Khem­caro as saying.

An afternoon panel addressed life under the Khmer Rouge. Sur­vivor Moeung Sonn described losing two of his four children as well as 14 of his 38 relatives to the re­gime’s depredations.

Moeung Sonn recounted his duty to dispose of the dead from a Sihanoukville prison where he and his family were held. Too weak to dig for long, he often made shallow graves. “Sometimes wild dogs came to carry [the bodies] away into the village,” he said.

Daran Kravanh described how he avoided execution by playing his accordion for the soldier sent to take him away.

“The Khmer Rouge soldiers found [the accordion] interesting and asked me to teach them,” he told the forum.”

The soldier then said: “I don’t know why I am keeping you alive. Today I will take the life of another person to replace you,” Daran Kra­v­anh said. “I was very sad.”

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