thmar koul district, Battambang province – When “Angkar”—the organization—called a meeting, Ean Khon knew someone was destined to die.
If it were possible, the now 41-year-old would have skipped those meetings and kept to his routine of forced labor: Digging canals of Angkorian-proportions with nothing but a hoe and heaving baskets of dirt for the fantastic earthworks the Khmer Rouge believed would restore the once-glorious Khmer empire and its agricultural output.
Sitting in his small farmhouse in Poum Thmei village last week, Ean Khon recalled his memories of the Khmer Rouge regime 30 years after it came to power.
He said while laboring in the fields punished the body, the meetings the Khmer Rouge political cadre called so frequently punished the mind, and the result was usually fatal.
“I was very tired. I did not want to join the meetings at all. I would have preferred to dig canals, carry earth and other hard work rather than attend meetings. They were too long and people were only ever killed,” he said.
“When I was told by the militia at the cooperative to attend a meeting, I felt frightened. I knew they would only kill someone again.”
In 1976, the Khmer Rouge cadre in Poum Thmei in Bansay Treng commune called the villagers to a meeting at the village’s cooperative hall to discuss the moral indiscretion of a villager named Duch who was having an affair with his 18-year-old stepdaughter, villager Tun Roeuth, 60, said.
Duch had been warned by the Khmer Rouge militia to keep only to his wife. He didn’t, and his wife, angered by the affair, reported him to the cooperative’s chief and the commune chief, Tun Roeuth and others said.
More than 1,000 people were called to the meeting to witness “the smashing of Duch,” Tun Roeuth said, using the revolutionary-era language for execution.
For over five hours, the villagers sat under the sun in straight, upright rows, straining to hear the criticism meted out on Duch by the Khmer Rouge commune and cooperative chiefs. Though hungry, hot and scared, no one dared to turn their heads or talk.
“Then [the chiefs] asked the people: ‘Comrade brothers and sisters, do you dare to smash the enemy of the revolution?’” Tun Roeuth recounted.
“The militias raised their hands first and later the people followed. We all raised our hands together to smash him. The people shouted, ‘Pdach nha kamtich [determined to smash], pdach nha kamtich, pdach nha kamtich.’
Tun Roeuth said Duch’s wife also raised her hand and strongly condemned her husband’s moral offense, saying, “He must be smashed because he betrayed Angka.”
As the chanting continued, Duch was kicked and punched by the militias then dragged to the back of the meeting. At a spot some 70 meters from the crowd of villagers, but within earshot and sight of some, he was beaten to death with wood and bamboo poles.
Tun Roeuth said the militias were stained with blood and he believes they removed Duch’s liver and gall bladder for use in traditional medicine.
“No one wanted to raise their hands up to kill someone, but we understood we had to do it because the militias had already shouted their determination,” Tun Roeuth said.
“If I did not raise my hand to kill him, I would be accused of supporting the guilty man. I was forced to raise my hand to kill him.”
Phit Loy was also at the meeting and execution with Ean Khon and Tun Roeuth.
“Killing Duch was a warning to other people to not follow his bad act and to never be against the party’s principle. [The people] had to smash capitalists, feudalists and men who have two wives in order to make the party clean,” Phit Loy said.
Deng Lorn, 49, remembers the meeting and the decision to “smash” Duch.
“I had to live according to the society. If I did not bend with them, I would have become a suspect,” she said.
Tun Roeuth still lives in Poum Thmei and the old Khmer Rouge-era cooperative meeting hall where Duch was denounced is still there, but now used as a rice mill.
Most of the other villagers who lived in Poum Thmei during the Khmer Rouge regime have moved away, not wanting to be reminded of the forced labor, starvation and killing that took place here.
But Tun Roeuth says he will stay put and that the cooperative hall reminds him that the situation has changed and today, the symbol of Angka’s power is just a rice mill.
“If I remember, I feel too much suffering,” he said.
“I see the [building] every day, but I know it is now a rice mill and it is no longer the cooperative hall.”