Wounds From 1997 Fighting Still Hurting

Slain Funcinpec Official’s Family Fears for Security

kandal province – Hung beneath the holes in the cement wall where light fixtures used to be are framed pictures that show the accomplishments of Ho Sok, the most prominent Funcinpec Party official killed during the factional fighting with the Cambodian People’s Party that began three years ago today.

There is a portrait of Ho Sok in his government uniform as secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior. Another photo shows him standing next to King Nor­odom Sihanouk when both lived in North Korea.

These photos were thrown into the street when looters stole the light fixtures and took window panes from his home shortly after his death. But neighbors who liked Ho Sok because of his generosity saved the pictures and gave them to his parents when they returned from hiding to their home in February 1999.

“I’m very sad about my son’s death, but I don’t know what to do because it’s over,” says Iev Heang, Ho Sok’s 59-year-old mother. “Everything seems to be finished and forgotten.”

The 1997 fighting resulted in the either the death, torture or arrest of more than 200 military and security officers loyal to then-first prime minister Prince Noro­dom Ranariddh. The violence caused Asean to deny membership to Cambodia and international organizations to suspend non-humanitarian aid.

Three years later, Cambodia is a member of Asean and most of the aid has resumed. But the CPP’s Hun Sen is clearly the man in

control.  And no one has been arrested in connection with the deaths of Funcinpec police and military officials.

Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng, who is also co-Minister of Interior, said the government is continuing its investigation into the killings, but it’s hard to determine who is at fault because both sides participated in the fighting.

Though Cambodia is now at peace, Iev Heang says she still worries about her safety.

“Let people think the fighting brought peace, but I don’t think like that,” she says. “I can’t even say what I think of the country now.”

She remembers the last time she spoke to her son on the morning  fighting broke out. She saw CPP troops surrounding then-Funcinpec General Nhiek Bhun Chhay’s home and she knew her son was in danger.

“I told my son that if he had a chance, he should escape,” Iev Heang recalls. “He told me he could not leave because even if he went somewhere else, he would be killed.”

Iev Heang then left her son’s home in Phnom Penh to escape the violence. Ho Sok, who was 39 when he died, headed to Funcinpec  headquarters.

Iev Heang, her husband, their eight children, and Ho Sok’s six children fled to Kampot and hid in Phnom Voar, a Khmer Rouge stronghold, for 20 months.

“My son never told us something was wrong so we did not prepare anything,” she says. “I left my house with nothing and the things in our home was stolen.”

A few days later Ian Heang was listening to Voice of America when the broadcaster announced her son had been killed. Human rights workers said he was executed inside the Ministry of Interior.

“When I heard he died, my spirit left my body and I cried every day,” she says. “I think it’s because of my sins that my son died. I did something wrong in my past life that caused his death.”

On the day the fighting started, Ho Sok’s wife. Chea Kim, left early in the morning to go to Poipet to visit a friend. When she got to Banteay Meanchey province, she met Nhiek Bhun Chhay’s wife, who told her there was fighting in Phnom Penh, Iev Heang says.

His wife walked through the jungle to Thailand with Nhiek Bhun Chhay’s wife, crossing the border at night. From there, they went to the UN human rights office in Bangkok.

Chea Kim now lives in the US with her five children. One daughter, who is paralyzed, still lives in Cambodia with her grandparents.

His wife visited Cambodia a month ago, but she will not come back here to live until her children are finished with their studies.  “Right now, it’s better for her to be there,” Iev Heang says.

The past two years, Iev Heang has had a ceremony for her son to remember his death, but this year, she says she doesn’t have enough money. What makes her even more sad is that she was never able to have a proper funeral for her son.

“I feel pity for him because I could not take his body to make a Buddhist ceremony,” says Iev Heang as she wipes away tears. “I never got to see the body of my son.”

The statue of Pao Chin, a famous Chinese judge who symbolized justice, is still standing in Chao Sambath’s courtyard. It survived the  rockets that rained down on his home during the first days of the fighting.

The deputy director of intelligence for Funcinpec, who was killed after he was surrounded by CPP troops, had the statue built in 1995 for his children to teach them about fairness and equality.

Soon the statue and Chao Sambath’s home will belong to someone else. His wife is having repairs done so she can put the house on the market.

Chap Chivon, 38, who was married to Chao Sambath for almost 10 years, has started a new life in the US with the couple’s four children. She returned recently to Cambodia for the second time in two years to prepare her home for sale and to try to bring her remaining daughter in Cambodia to the US.

In the weeks before the violence erupted, she sensed something was wrong, but she did not know it would lead to so many deaths, including that of her husband.

“My husband did not tell me anything,” she says. “He didn’t prepare anything for his children.”

A day before the fighting broke out, she left Phnom Penh for Poipet with two of her children because she was invited by the wife of Ly Varrak, a former Funcinpec general who led troops in the factional fighting and is now first deputy governor of Phnom Penh.

When Chap Chivon heard of the fighting, she escaped to Thailand, but because she didn’t have her passport, Thai authorities threatened to arrest her.

“The Thai military intervened because they were friendly with Ly Varrak,” she says. “They let me stay.”

After living near the border for several months, she went to the UN human rights office in Bangkok, which wrote to the Thai government and asked that she and the two children with her be  given refugee status.

While in Thailand, she received a call from human rights workers asking her for identifying marks on her husband’s body. When she told them, the rights workers said her husband, who was 48, had been killed in the fighting.

As she remembers that phone call, she begins to cry and has to pause.

“I suffer and I’m in agony because my husband died like that,” Chap Chivon says. “His death was political. He died because people were fighting for territory.”

After six months in Thailand, she was reunited with her two other children. In 1998, she decided she could not return to Cambodia and instead went to the US to live in the state of Texas.

She returned for the first time in February 1999 and stayed with her brother, because her home had been confiscated by the government. She got the house back in May 1999 after she wrote a letter to Hun Sen.

Chap Chivon says she is not surprised to see CPP and Funcinpec working together again because “it must be this way,” but she also says that “something is lost in Funcinpec. It’s not like before.” She says she no longer thinks about the politics of her country because “it’s worthless to think about.”

Now she concentrates on waiting for the US government to grant her a green card so she can take her last child living in Cambodia to the US. She asked National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh for help, but he told her it was up to the US.

“The children don’t want to come back here,” she says. “They are worried that something bad will happen. Also, their father is not here anymore.”

 

 

 

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