Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Food for Thought

The People Have Spoken
After having a relatively free reign over the past five years ruling Cambodia with almost impunity to abuse the poor, the destitude, and the otherwise placid masses, the Cambodian People Party (CPP) and its ruling elits have been given a resound rebuke on July 28, when the the Cambodian people cast their ballots to elect a new government for the 5th mandate.  Given the fact that the CPP controls almost virtually all media and mechanism for the election in Cambodia, it is quite clear that the CPP has lost the battle even though it won the war. To put it in simple term, the CPP has indeed lost touch with its constituents.
Based on the outcome of this recent election, it appears that the Cambodian people have finally learn to use their votes to make politicians behave and act like public servants rather than bosses. Now, that the people have spoken, will the policians listen? Only time will tell. But we can be certain that, from now on, Cambodian political landscape will not be the same. The people have made their voices heard. Any politician or political party dares ignore them will definitely risk being ignored in the next election.

Saturday, July 27, 2013



After recovering from the initial shock of learning that my mother had been arrested by the Thai taskforce soldiers and sent to a camp located hundreds of miles away from where I lived, I wrote a long letter to my brother, Heang, in the U.S. telling him the situation we were in and asking him for advice on what to do next. I was at my wit’s end. A family of three people living separately in three different refugee camps located hundreds of miles from one another in a foreign country, which did not allow refugees to travel from one camp to another, was truly a messy situation for anyone to deal with. The stresses must have driven Heang nuts upon learning of the messy situation we were in. But no matter what difficult situation I presented to him, Heang had never blamed me or anyone else for causing him all the headaches in trying to rescue us from the quagmire. In his letters responding to my endless requests for helps throughout those four tumultuous years living in the various refugee camps, Heang never once blamed me for making irrational decision. His patience seemed to be limitless. Beside sending letter to Heang, I also sent a letter to Buntha in Khao I Dang camp telling him to stay put for the time being while waiting for Heang’s suggestion on what we should do to get out of the difficult situation we were facing.

While waiting for Heang’s response and suggestion on what to do regarding our family separation, I returned to work at the technical school for handicapped people as usual. In the meantime, I learned that the results of our high school exit exam were posted on the campus of Phnom Dangrek High School. I was not quite confident about my performance on the test. Thus, just in case I failed the exam, which would be more bad news for my stressful life to deal with, I tried to keep myself away from learning the result of my test as long as possible. I knew, sooner or later, one of my friends, who had also taken the test, would come to tell me what the result of my test was. In an attempt to give my state of mind a few more hours of solace, I took a group of my students to a clearing behind the technical school and let them sketch-draw natural scenery of the refugee camp. After they finished their sketches, my students and I returned to the classroom to finalize the drawings. Just as I arrived in front of the classroom, a friend of mine came to see me with a wan smile on his face. He delivered a piece of good news to me that I had passed the test, but he didn’t. It was an extraordinary moment for both of us, a depressed young man receiving exciting news from his defeated friend. I thanked my friend for pedaling his bicycle for about two miles to deliver the good news to me and offered him words of encouragement. I went inside the classroom and shared the good news of passing the exam with my students. Afterward, I told them to take the rest of the day off while going to examine my name on the test result’s bulletin board personally to make sure that it was really my name that was among those who passed the test.

Just as I was about to go to see my test result, Koy’s aunt, Samnam who was teaching the sixth grade classes at Phnom Dangrek High School, arrived to tell me the news of my success in passing the exam in order to lift my spirits up, for she thought that I had been receiving so much bad and depressing news lately. At that point, I was 100 percent sure that I had passed the test. But to feel the excitement personally, I decided to go to see the bulletin board where the names of all the test takers were posted and experience the thrill amongst those of my peers. It was a rather somber place at the bulletin board where the test results were posted because, needless to say, those who did not pass the test had a rather tough time accepting the outcomes. Out of the 21 people who took the test in the classroom with me, only 11, roughly 50% made it. My name, as a successful candidate, was sandwiched between three other names crossed out by red ink to indicate failures. After seeing what the test results looked like, I quietly left the area without showing any feeling of excitement or sadness.

I spent the entire month of January 1988 communicating with my brothers, Heang and Buntha, and my mother via letters. It was a rather lengthy process for me to piece together information about each of our individual life situations so that we could make as informed decision as possible to put our lives back together. Buntha told me that my mother was sent to Ta Tum camp along with Om Ok and his extended family who had been arrested by the Thai soldiers at about the same time she was arrested. Upon learning of this news, I felt a bit of relief as my mother would at least have some in-laws to depend on while being separated from us. As for Heang, his advice to me was to find a way to get us back together in one place, either in Site 2 or Ta Tum camp, and stay away from Khao I Dang. With this tentative instruction from Heang, I wrote another letter to Buntha asking him if he could find any means to get back to Site 2 since the distance between Site 2 and Khao I Dang wasn’t that far. Once we both reunited, we would figure out whether to go join our mom in Ta Tum camp or finding ways to get her back to Site 2. Buntha told me that he knew a teenage boy who could speak Thai and use his Thai language skill to travel between Khao I Dang and Site 2 with ease by riding on commuter buses. So I told Buntha to contact the boy and implore if that boy could act as a guide and help bring him to Site 2. Though the risk of Buntha getting arrested by Thai police was a possibility, I felt that it was safer for him to disguise as a Thai traveling on commuter buses because, based on what I learned, Thai police rarely stop buses to search for illegal travelers.

By February, my friend, Koy, his mother, Sunphan, and his aunt, Samnam, whose relatives lived in the state of Maryland, had been allowed to resettle in the U.S.A. As a result, I found myself living alone at this point. But, it was not for long. By mid March, Buntha had successfully sneaked back into Site 2. He brought along the boy who had helped him traveling by buses back to Site 2. I was so happy to see Buntha and profusely thanked the boy who had helped reunite us. After getting some food for both of them to eat, I asked them how they managed to travel about 50 miles in distance across Thailand. It sounded less complicated than one might have thought. Because Thais and Cambodians looked alike physically, Buntha and his traveling companion disguised themselves as Thai citizens. They sneaked out of Khao I Dang camp and walked to a bus station in the area. Afterward, they bought bus tickets and climbed on board just like any other Thai travelers. Once they reached a village near Site 2 camp, they got off the bus and walked the rest of the way.

After reuniting with Buntha, I wrote a letter to Heang asking him what we should do next regarding our mother, whether I should find ways to bring her to Site 2 or Buntha and I go there to reunite with her. Heang told me that we should not attempt to either bring Mom to Site 2 or go to Ta Tum camp as the risks for either one of us traveling between these two faraway camps were too great. His advice was that we should stay put and wait for him to work with the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok to see if it could bring us for interviews separately when our applications for resettlement in the United States were being considered. In the meantime, I contacted the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Site 2 to ask if it was possible for the Red Cross to help bring my mother to Site 2 because she was living alone in Ta Tum camp. One of the Red Cross staffs told me that ICRC provided only tracing for missing family members. It could not and would not help separated family members reunite.

To keep our lives busy, Buntha and I returned to attend Phnom Dangrek High School. Though, technically, Phnom Dangrek High School did not have classes beyond the eighth grade, a couple of classrooms were converted into a junior college of some sorts to offer courses to those students who had received high school diplomas and wished to continue their studies. Taking advantage of the offer and to keep myself educated, I joined the junior college student corps at Phnom Dangrek High School for several months during the 1988 school year. While going back to school, I asked my Spanish supervisor, Brother Kike, at the technical school for handicapped people to let me continue teaching drawing to the orphan children part time. Brother Kike agreed to my request, and I spent most of my spare times in between classes teaching perspective drawing to the orphan children.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle

99) King Norodom Sihanouk

(2nd reign 1993--2004, Capital: Phnom Penh)
After the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) helped establish a democratically elected government in Cambodia in 1993, the legislative body of the new government drafted a new constitution and, in it, declared that the removal of Prince Sihanouk and the abolition of the kingdom of Cambodia in 1970 were illegal. Thus, Cambodia, once again, became a kingdom in 1993. In that same year, Prince Sihanouk was re-crowned king, 38 years after his abdication in 1955.

Aged and in poor health, King Sihanouk played little role in politics. Since the new constitution was stipulated, the king held no governmental power except for signing decrees approving the formation of a new government or the appointment of government ministers. In a sense, the king was basically a rubber stamp. He could only reign but not rule.

Since the election and restoration of the monarchy in 1993, Cambodia remained a divided country. On one hand, the Khmer Rouge, who refused to participate in the election and eventually was outlawed by the new government, was still a serious threat to the much-needed security and stability in Cambodia. On the other hand, the new democratic government, which UNTAC created, was full of factional fighting. As soon as UNTAC turned over the power to the new government, the two ruling parties led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, King Sihanouk’s son, and Hun Sen, former premier of the previous PRK’s regime, began to jockey for dominance. Taking advantage of the fracturing situation, the Khmer Rouge began to play a wild card political game by making itself available to form alliance with either one of the ruling parties. Soon, tension within the government began to mount as both sides of the ruling parties started accusing each other of courting or planning to form alliance with the outlawed Khmer Rouge.

The conflict over the Khmer Rouge issue eventually got out of hand in July 5, 1997 when co-prime minister, Hun Sen, staged a coup d’etat to seize power. Fighting broke out on the outskirt of Phnom Penh between troops loyal to Hun Sen and those loyal to Prince Ranariddh who had just been deposed by his partner. Many people, including civilians, were killed in the violence. Prince Ranariddh and a number of his associates were able to go into exile abroad and, immediately, went on a campaign asking the international community to put pressure on Hun Sen for illegally using violent forces to take control over a democratically elected government. In response, the international community cut off or reduced economic aids to Cambodia and suspended its membership in the UN’s General Assembly.

In the aftermath of the coup, a band of soldiers led by a general named Nhek Bun Chhay began to organize a resistant movement against Hun Sen. Though small and militarily insignificant, the movement gained popularity and caught the attention of the international community, after successfully withstanding the attack from the well-armed Hun Sen’s forces. This movement eventually became a democratic thorn in the new Hun Sen’s government’s side. With the help of the international community, especially Japan and Australia, and the unpopularity of Hun Sen’s undemocratic seizure of power, a peace settlement was reached in 1998 as Cambodia prepared for a national election for a new government. Under the terms of the settlement, Hun Sen was to give pardons to all the politicians, including Prince Ranariddh, whom he accused of “breaking the laws” and allow all of them to freely participate in the national election.

Once again, the 1998’s election ushered in yet another conflict in the Cambodian struggle to adopt democracy. After the ballots were counted, Hun Sen and his party emerged as a winner but short of a two-third majority to be able to form a government as stipulated by the constitution. Thus, Hun Sen must seek to form coalition with other parties to gain the necessary votes in order to establish a new government. However, the other parties, especially the second place winner led by Prince Ranariddh, refused to join him. They instead accused Hun Sen of using unfair tactics in the election and demanded for ballots recounting. In a series of accusation, riot between supporters of Hun Sen and his opposition parties broke out in Phnom Penh. The chaos lingered for several days before polices, under order from Hun Sen, put an end to it.

To break the impasses, reconcile, and restore order to the kingdom, the quarreling parties agreed to have King Sihanouk mediated their differences. After a series of meetings and compromises, a new coalition government between the election’s first and second place winners with Hun Sen as prime minister, was formed. Thus, King Sihanouk had saved the day while the saga of the Cambodian royal chronicle was continuing to unfold.

It is worth noticing that since the election of 1998, Cambodia has been slowly but progressively moving forward. The Khmer Rouge, who was a menace to Cambodian society, started to disintegrate and, finally, ceased to exist in early 1999. For the first time after 3 decades of warfare, Cambodia begins to experience peace and tranquility. At this point, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has admitted Cambodia to become its member and, hence, opened the door for Cambodian greater economic development opportunities. As for the monarchy as an institution, there seems to be little sign of diminishing. Most Cambodians remain loyal to their king, and it appears that this 2000-year-old little kingdom will continue to exist into the next millennia.

100) King Norodom Sihamoni
(2004--…… Capital: Phnom Penh)
King Norodom Sihamoni ascended the throne on October 29, 2004, after his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, citing poor health, abdicated on October 7, 2004. The announcement of King Sihanouk’s abdication took the nation by surprise, for the Cambodian constitution, stipulated after the election of 1993, did not have provision for crowning new king before the decease of the preceding king. Thus, an amendment was rushed through the National Assembly and the Senate in order to make it legitimate for the new king to ascend the throne.

After having all the necessary legal provisions in place for the new king to ascend the throne, the nine-member Crown Council unanimously selected Prince Sihamoni to replace his father as king. Thus, the ascendancy of King Norodom Sihamoni to the Cambodian throne was one of the most peaceful and smoothest coronations in Cambodian history.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that King Norodom Sihamoni was a descendant of both Cambodian and European ancestors. His maternal grandfather was French of Italian origin. Prior to his ascendancy to the throne, King Sihamoni spent most of his life living abroad. He went to study in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and North Korea to pursue a career in ballet dancing. Later on during the 1990’s, he was appointed Cambodian ambassador to UNESCO, a position in which he held until the time he was selected to become king of Cambodia. Hence, many Cambodians, especially, those who live in the countryside know little of him. His sudden appearance on the throne was, to put it mildly, a surprise to many of them.
(The End)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

ចំណីខួរក្បាល (ប្រចាំសប្តាហ៍)

ប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ ឬ គ្រោះចង្រៃ ?
នៅក្នុងទ្រឹស្តីព្រះពុទ្ធសាសនា មានពាក្យបាលីមួយឃ្លាចែងថា៖
រូបំ អនិច្ចំ អនត្តា ដែលមានន័យថា រូប ឬ ជីវិតនៃអ្វីៗគ្រប់យ៉ាង
រមែងប្រែប្រួល និងមិនអាចស្ថិតនៅជាអមតៈបានឡើយ ។ ការ
ប្រែប្រួលនេះ គឺមិនចំពោះតែសត្វលោកដែលមានវិញ្ញាណនោះទេ
សូម្បីតែគណបក្សនយោបាយ ដែលគ្រាន់តែជារចនាសម្ព័ន្ធនោះ
ក៏ត្រូវតែទទួលរងនូវឥទ្ធិពលនៃអរិយសច្ចៈទ្រឹស្តីនេះដែរ ។ ពោល
គឺគ្មានអ្វីអាចឋិតថេរជាអមតៈបានឡើយ ។ ដោយហេតុថា វេលា
មហាជនដើម្បីពង្រីក ឬក៏ពង្រឹងអំណាចរបស់ខ្លួន យើងសូមលើក
យកគណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា ដែលជាបក្សកំពុងគ្រប់គ្រងអំណាច
នៅក្នុងប្រទេសកម្ពុជា ជាច្រើទសវត្សរ៍មកហើយនោះ មកវិភាគ ថា
តើអំណាចនៃគណបក្សនេះ អាចនឹងមានការប្រែប្រួលដែរឬទេ ។

គណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា គឺជាបក្សនយោបាយមួយ ដែលបានករ
កើតឡើងនៅថ្ងៃទី ២ ខែ ធ្នូ ឆ្នាំ ១៩៧៨ និងទទួលបានជ័យជម្នះ
គ្រប់គ្រងលើប្រទេសកម្ពុជានៅថ្ងៃទី ៧ ខែ មករា ឆ្នាំ ១៩៧៩ ។
សមាជិកស្នូលជាច្រើនរូបនៃគណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា គឺជាជន
កុម្មុយនិស្ត ដែលត្រូវបានហ្វឹកហាត់ដោយបក្សកុម្មុយនិស្ត វៀត
ណាម ។ ឯការរៀបចំរចនាសម្ព័ន្ធនិងគ្រប់គ្រងប្រទេសរបស់គណ
បក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា ក៏ត្រូវបានជ្រោមជ្រែងដោយប្រទេស វៀត
ណាមផងដែរ ។ យើងមិនដឹងថា តើនៅមានជំនាញការវៀតណាម
ប៉ុន្មាននាក់ ជួយជ្រោមជ្រែងគណបក្សប្រជាជននៅពេលបច្ចុប្បន្ន
នេះទេ ។ ប៉ុន្តែ ទោះបីមានឬគ្មាន វាជារឿងធម្មតា ព្រោះសម័យ
នេះ គេអាចជួលមនុស្សមកជួយធ្វើការងារបានដោយសេរី មិនថា
មនុស្សនោះ ជាជនជាតិវៀតណាម ឬអាមេរិកាំង ។ រដ្ឋធម្មនុញ្ញ
ខ្មែរ មិនបានហាមប្រាមប្រការនេះទេ ។ អ្វីដែលយើងចង់លើក
យកមកវិភាគនៅទីនេះ គឺថា តើគណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា ដែល
កំពុងតែក្តោបក្តាប់អំណាចនៅក្នុងប្រទេសកម្ពុជា អាចរក្សាអំណាច
របស់ខ្លួន បានយូរអង្វែងដល់ណា ។

ផ្អែកលើមេរៀនប្រវត្តិសាស្ត្រ កម្លាំងចលករ ឬចលនាដែលតែងតែ
នាំមកនូវការផ្លាស់ប្តូររបបនយោបាយ ឬរដ្ឋាភិបាល នៅក្នុងពិភព
លោកយើងនេះ គឺយុវជននិងរាស្ត្រសាមញ្ញ ដែលយើងសូមហៅ
ឲ្យខ្លីថា មហាជន ។ នៅក្នុងប្រទេសកម្ពុជាបច្ចុប្បន្ន គេសង្កេត
ឃើញថា ចលនាមហាជនទាមទាឲ្យមានការផ្លាស់ប្តូររបបគ្រប់
គ្រង ក៏ដូចជាថ្នាក់ដឹកនាំប្រទេសនៅក្នុងការបោះឆ្នោតជ្រើសរើស
សមាជិករដ្ឋសភានិងប្រមុខរដ្ឋាភិបាលអាណតិ្តនេះ ហាក់ដូចជា
មានភាពពុះកញ្ជ្រោលគួរឲ្យកត់សម្គាល់ ។​តើកត្តាអ្វីខ្លះ ដែលធ្វើ
ជន ? បើនិយាយអំពីកត្តាដែលធ្វើឲ្យមហាជនជាច្រើន មានការ
នឿយណាយនឹងគណបក្សប្រជាជននោះ គឺមានរាប់មិនអស់ទេ ។
ប៉ុន្តែ យើងសូមលើកយកកត្តាសំខាន់ៗចំនួនបីមកបង្ហាញនៅ
ក្នុងអត្ថបទនេះ ៖

១) អនុវត្តគោលការប្រជាធិបតេយ្យមិនបានពេញលេញ ឬ
យើងដឹងហើយថា ដើម្បីធ្វើកិច្ចការអ្វីមួយបានជោគជ័យ គេចាំបាច់
ត្រូវតែរៀននូវរបៀបធ្វើកិច្ចការនោះឲ្យបានចេះ ចាំ និងយល់ជាក់
លាក់ ។ ប៉ុន្តែ នៅពេលដែលប្រទេសកម្ពុជាជ្រើសរើសយកលទ្ធិ
ប្រជាធិបតេយ្យសេរីពហុបក្សមកអនុវត្ត គណៈបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា
ដែលធ្លាប់តែអនុវត្តលទ្ធិកុម្មុយនិស្តក្នុងការដឹកនាំរដ្ឋនោះ មិនបាន
បានមធ្យ័តទេ ។ អ្នកណាក៏ដឹងដែរថា កាលគណបក្សប្រជាជន
កម្ពុជា ដឹកនាំរដ្ឋតាមលទ្ធិកុម្មុយនិស្ត គេតែងតែបញ្ជូនសមាជិកបក្ស
ឲ្យទៅរៀន ឬក៏ហ្វឹកហាត់ទ្រឹស្តីកុម្មុយនិស្តយ៉ាងល្អិតល្អន់សិន មុន
នឹងប្រគល់តួនាទីអ្វីមួយឲ្យសមាជិកទាំងនោះធ្វើ ។ ប៉ុន្តែ អ្វីដែលជា
កត្តាគួរឲ្យចាប់អារម្មណ៍នាពេលបច្ចុប្បន្ននេះ គឺថា គណបក្សប្រជា
សំខាន់ៗនៃលទ្ធិប្រជាធិបតេយ្យទេ ។ ជាលទ្ធផល ថ្នាក់ដឹកនាំនៅ
គ្រប់គ្រងតាមរបៀបប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ ។

២) មិនរៀនមេរៀនថ្មី ភ្លេចមេរៀនចាស់
ការធ្វើបដិវត្តន៍ដើម្បីផ្លាស់ប្តូររបបគ្រប់គ្រងរដ្ឋ មិនថានៅក្នុងបរិបទ
កុម្មុយនិស្ត ឬប្រជាធិបតេយ្យទេ គឺមានប្រភពចេញមកពីមហាជន ។
ចំណុចនេះ អតីតជនកុម្មុនិស្តដែលកំពុងកាន់តួនាទីធំៗនៅក្នុងជូរ
គណបក្សប្រជាជនសព្វថ្ងៃ គួរតែយល់ច្បាស់ណាស់ ព្រោះវាជា
មេរៀនចាស់ដែលពួកគេធ្លាប់បានរៀន ។ ក៏ប៉ុន្តែ មេរៀនចាស់នេះ
ហាក់ដូចជាត្រូវបានគេបំភ្លេចចោលយូណាស់មកហើយ ។ បើយើង
សង្កេតមើលបញ្ហានៅក្នុងសង្គមខ្មែរសព្វថ្ងៃ អ្វីដែលជាកត្តាធ្វើឲ្យ
ដែលគ្រប់គ្រងដោយគណៈបក្សប្រជាជននោះ គឺការខ្វះដំណោះ
ស្រាយច្បាស់លាស់ត្រឹមត្រូវ នូវរាល់ទុក្ខកង្វល់របស់មហាជន មាន
ជាអាទ៍៖ ទំនាស់ដីធ្លី កង្វះការងារដែលញ៉ាំងឲ្យពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរបង្ខំចិត្ត
ធ្វើចំណាកស្រុកទៅរកការងារធ្វើនៅប្រទេសដទៃ និងកម្មករកាត់
ដេរត្រូវបាននិយោជកឲ្យប្រាក់ខែទាប ជាដើម ។ល។ ការមិនអើពើ
ឬក៏ដោះស្រាយឲ្យតែរួចពីដៃ នូវបញ្ហានានាដែលមហាជនចាត់ទុក
ថា ជាបញ្ហាអាយុជីវិតរបស់ពួកគាត់នោះ គឺមិនខុសអ្វីពីបង្ខំពួកគាត់
ឲ្យធ្វើបដិវត្តដើម្បីផ្លាស់ប្តូរថ្នាក់ដឹកនាំនោះទេ ។ សូមកុំភ្លេចថា
ឬរៀបចំរដ្ឋាភិបាល សន្លឹកឆ្នោតគឺជាអាវុធដ៏មានប្រសិទ្ធភាពបំ
ផុត សម្រាប់ផ្តួលរំលំឬប្តូរថ្នាក់ដឹកនាំណាមួយ ។

៣) ការអប់រំនិងចំណេះដឹង
រដ្ឋ ព្រោះថា គេអាចអប់រំមនុស្សឲ្យដើរតាមគោលនយោបាយ ឬ
មនោគមវិជ្ជាណាមួយ ក៏ប៉ុន្តែ គេមិនអាចបង្ខាំងមនុស្សមិនឲ្យត្រិះ
រិះពិចារណាអំពីបញ្ហាអយុត្តិធម៌នានា នៅក្នុងសង្គមបានឡើយ ។
ចំណុចនេះ យើងសូមលើកយកករណីសិស្សនិស្សិត ដែលនាំគ្នា
ទៅគាំទ្រគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិមកពិចារណា ថាតើហេតុអ្វីបាន
ជាពួកគេធ្វើដូច្នេះ ។
នៅក្នុងប្រទេសកម្ពុជា សាលារៀនស្ទើរតែទាំងអស់សុទ្ធតែមាន
ឈ្មោះសម្តេចតេជោនាយករដ្ឋមន្ត្រី ហ៊ុន សែន និងឈ្មោះថ្នាក់
ដឹកនាំកំពូលៗនៃគណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា សរសេរនៅលើ
ជញ្ជាំងឬក៏ខ្លោងទ្វារ ។ មានន័យថា សាលារៀនទាំងនោះ គឺជា
សមិទ្ធផល ឬជាអំណោយរបស់អ្នកគាំទ្រគណបក្សប្រជាជន
កម្ពុជា ។ សម្រាប់សិស្សានុសិស្សខ្មែរ ថ្នាក់ដឹកនាំ ឬក៏គណបក្ស
ប្រជាជនកម្ពុជាគឺប្រៀបដូចជាឪពុកម្តាយទីពីរអញ្ចឹង ព្រោះថាពួក
ជញ្ជាំងអាគារសិក្សារបស់ពួកគេស្ទើរតែរាល់ថ្ងៃ ។ កត្តាដែលក្រុម
សិស្សានុសិស្សទាំងនោះ ទៅគាំទ្រគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិ គឺមិន
ខុសអ្វីអំពីកូនដែលមិនដើរតាមការអប់រំរបស់ឧឪពុកម្តាយឡើយ ។
សង្គ្រោះជាតិទៅវិញ ? ចម្លើយប្រហែលជាមានច្រើនណាស់ ប៉ុន្តែ
យើងអាចសន្និដ្ឋានបានថា ចំណុចដែលសំខាន់បំផុតនោះ គឺបញ្ហា
អយុត្តិធម៌នៅក្នុងសង្គមតែម្តង ។

សរុបសេចក្តីមក គ្រោះចង្រៃដែលនឹងចូលមកយាយីអំណាចនៃ
គណបក្សប្រជាជនកម្ពុជា នៅក្នុងការបោះឆ្នោតជ្រើសរើសតំណាង
រាស្ត្រនិងប្រមុខរដ្ឋាភិបាលសម្រាប់អាណតិ្តទី ៥នេះ គឺប្រហែលជា
មិនអាចចៀសផុតទេ ។  ផ្អែកលើសន្ទុះនៃការគាំទ្ររបស់មហាជន
មកលើគណបក្សសង្គ្រោះជាតិ យើងអាចសន្និដ្ឋានបានថា អំណាច
នៃគណបក្សប្រជាជន ប្រាកដជាត្រូវថមថយនៅក្នុងអាណតិ្តទី ៥
នេះ ។ ចំណែកឯកត្តាដែលថា តើអំណាចនៃគណៈបក្សប្រជាជន
កម្ពុជានឹងត្រូវធ្លាក់ចុះដល់កម្រិតណា នោះគឺអាស្រ័យទាំងស្រុងទៅ
លើការវិនិច្ឆ័យរបស់ពលរដ្ឋខ្មែរ ដែលជាអ្នកសម្រេចនៅក្នុងការបោះ
ឆ្នោតជ្រើសរើសថ្នាក់ដឹកនាំនាអាណតិ្តទី ៥នេះ ៕


Prisoners of the Humanitarian (Cont.)
It was early September when I went to see my former literature teacher, Mr. Phon Bun Yann, who had become an assistant principal of Phnom Dangrek High School. I told Mr. Phon of my study at Khao I Dang camp and the couple of grade levels I had skipped while enrolling there. Because there were only a few months left on the 1987 school year, Mr. Phon suggested that I should attend the seventh grade instead of the eighth grade, which I had been attending while I was living in Khao I Dang camp. His rationale was that the eighth graders would be taking the exit exam for high school diploma by the end of the year and I might not be ready to take that big exam because my education had been interrupted, and that I had just gone through a very stressful situation in life. Mr. Phon’s advice was logically sound; hence, I went to attend the seventh grade for the remainder of the 1987’s school year. However, soon after I set foot in the seventh grade class at Phnom Dangrek High School, rumors started circulating among my former classmates who were in sixth grade at that point that I must be bribing school officials to be able to attend the seventh grade, which was one level ahead of them. By the end of my first week at Phnom Dangrek High School, Mr. Phon summoned me to his office and suggested that I should withdraw my enrollment and wait until the next school year to re-enroll for whatever grade level I wanted, as long as I passed the placement test. To make things less complicated, I followed Mr. Phon’s suggestion and said goodbye to education for the time being.

After unforeseen circumstances kicked me out of formal education, I returned to seek informal education again. This time, it was at an orphanage center in Ampil camp, where a talented young man named Chea Chamroeun taught high school level mathematics to a group of orphan youths, many of whom were my former classmates. Chamroeun himself was an orphan living in the center. So after introducing myself to him, I came to attend his mathematics class every evening. Before long, Chamroeun and I became close friends and we found that we had many things in common, philosophically.

Beside Chamroeun, my friend, Koy, with whom I lived, also helped me get a job as an assistant to a French volunteer arts teacher, named Veronique de Crope, who was teaching perspective drawing to handicapped and orphan children at the Ampil’s Technical School for Handicapped People, which was located across the street from the orphanage center. Thus, with a job and an informal study in place, I found myself some sense of normalcy in life again. Each day, I went to work at the technical school with Koy, who was also working there as a designer and silk screener. After work, I would go to study mathematics with Chamroeun at the orphanage center every evening.

Toward the end of 1987, education’s officials from the various camps within Site 2 organized an exit exam for those students who had finished the eighth grade. In a rather lucky break for me it was announced that those who worked in various institutions in Site 2 were eligible to take the exam, along with the students, to obtain a high school diploma. Using my work at the technical school as qualification, I went to see officials at Phnom Dangrek High School and registered my name to take the exam as a non-student candidate. Upon learning that I was also going to take the exit exam for high school diploma, Chamroeun was very excited. He himself was an eighth grade student and would be one of the participants taking that exam. So he created a special class to prepare some of us as well as himself for some of the subjects that might be asked in the test. For about one month prior to taking the test, we spent many hours studying math, physics, and chemistry.

The day of reckoning came in late December 1987. With only sporadic education and a fragile self-confidence, I went to take the test for a high school diploma. As a non-student candidate, I was not allowed to sit among the students while taking the test. Thus, separate classrooms were designated for non-student candidates to take their test. There were 21 people in my class. We were seated about four feet apart to prevent us from looking at each other’s answers. Once again, it took us two days to complete the test. By the end of the second day, I was mentally exhausted as many of the questions asked in the test were beyond my grasp. By the time the exam was over, I was ready to lie down in my hammock at home to take a well deserved rest. But life wasn’t meant to be easy for me, I guess. When I arrived home in late afternoon, Koy handed me a letter from my brother, Buntha, which the mailman had dropped off for me a couple of hours earlier. I opened the letter immediately to see if there was any good news my brother sent for me. Alas! My hope for good news was dashed as fast as I finished reading the sentence: “Mom has been arrested by the Thai taskforces, and she is now being sent to Ta Tum camp.” My heart sank. I sat down in a bamboo chair in disbelief trying to make sense out of the stressful situations I had encountered throughout these years. Koy’s mother, Sunphan, came and sat next to me trying to comfort me with words of encouragement. She told me how lucky I was to receive this bad news right after finishing the test. If this letter were to arrive one day earlier, it would spell the end of my examination efforts. She was right. The bad news did not ruin my chance to obtain a high school diploma.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle

97) Heng Samrin/Hun Sen

(1979--1991, Capital: Phnom Penh)
Heng Samrin and Hun Sen were Pol Pot’s army officers who were stationed in the eastern region of Cambodia near the Vietnamese border. During Pol Pot’s purging campaign on his communist cadre’s ranks and files, they both escaped to Vietnam and began to organize a resistant movement against his rule. With the support of the Vietnamese armed forces, they successfully toppled Pol Pot from power in 1979 and became leaders of Cambodia which they renamed the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK).

During the early years of their rule, Heng Samrin and Hun Sen faced tremendous challenges and difficulties. Politically, Cambodia was occupied and indirectly ruled by Vietnam. Socially and economically, they had to rebuild Cambodia from scratches, for Pol Pot had virtually destroyed everything. In addition, the international community, except for a few communist sympathizing countries, not only refused to help and support them but also accused them of being puppets of the Vietnamese invaders. On top of that, they were confronting with a civil war against Pol Pot’s forces and two other insurgent armies led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and former prime minister Son Sann who were launching guerrilla warfare from the Thai-Cambodian border, ostensibly to expel the Vietnamese occupying forces from Cambodia.

As Heng Samrin and Hun Sen struggled to rebuild Cambodia and rehabilitate its battered population which suffered from years of abuses by Pol Pot and his collaborators, the three insurgent armies, led by Pol Pot, Prince Sihanouk, Son Sann, and backed by China, the United States, and Thailand, began a guerrilla-war campaign against both the PRK’s and Vietnamese occupying forces. The fighting dragged on for almost a decade before all sides, weary of the bloodshed, agreed in 1988 to negotiate for a peace settlement. The negotiation went on and off for three years. Finally, in 1991, the four antagonistic forces reached an agreement to stop using bullets and settle their contest over Cambodia through ballot boxes.

The agreement, known as the Paris Agreement (named after the city in which it was signed), called for a complete withdrawal of the Vietnamese armed forces from Cambodia, the disarmament and cantonment of the four factional armies, removal of all foreign patronage from the contending Cambodian factions, and the establishment of a United Nations-supervised interim government called the Supreme National Council (SNC) headed by Prince Sihanouk and composed of 12 representatives, 6 from the incumbent government and 2 from each of the three opposition factions. The agreement also called for a UN-supervised general election which was to be held in 1993 under the auspices and control of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).

98) The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC)
(1991--1993, Capital: Phnom Penh)
The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was created as a result of the international conference on Cambodia which was convened in Paris in October 1991. Under the terms of the agreements reached at the conference in Paris, UNTAC’s mandate was to disarm the three antagonistic factions of the Cambodian armed forces, repatriate back to Cambodia the 300,000 or so Cambodian refugees from Thailand, and organize a general election in 1993 in order to establish a legitimate, internationally-recognized government in Cambodia. In other words, the international community, through UNTAC, planned to establish a democratically elected government in Cambodia--a far-reaching endeavor indeed given the fact that Cambodia had never known real democratic government for close to 2000 years.

As soon as it set foot in Cambodia, UNTAC began to work diligently to accomplish its goals. However, the operation hit obstacles right from the start because all of the antagonistic parties, especially the Khmer Rouge, jockeying for political advantages, refused to cooperate or obey the terms of the agreements. Sporadic violence broke out almost all over the country. Political killing was rampant. And Cambodia, once again, became a pariah state.

Determined to see its mission accomplished, UNTAC went ahead with its plan. It safely repatriated all the Cambodian refugees from Thailand to Cambodia, suspended the disarmament and troops cantonment process, and began to organize a national election. UNTAC’s policy seemed to be clear and simple: Whoever wanted to participate in the election to form a new government was welcome to do so. And those who did not want to participate may stay out of it.

As predicted, the Khmer Rouge boycotted the election and began a violent campaign against it. But despite the Khmer Rouge’s objection, UNTAC was able to successfully organize an election in 1993 as scheduled with the participation from all parties except for the Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately, as a new government was about to form, the incumbent government which did not win the majority of the votes refused to relinquish power and threatened a civil war if it were not allowed to retain and share the new government’s portfolios.

Facing with a dire dilemma, UNTAC subsequently brokered a compromise deal in which a unique power-sharing coalition government was established. Under the compromise, a co-minister post was established where each government ministry was headed by two ministers, one from the election’s majority winner and the other from the incumbent government. The prime minister’s post was headed by first and second premiers with the same arrangement as the ministry level.

Thus, after 3 years of nerve wracking operation, UNTAC had finally founded a two-headed democracy monster which could be found no where else in the world. The democratic government which UNTAC helped created in Cambodia, though interestingly unique, appeared to be utterly fragile and prone to collapse, for no antagonists whose interests were to outwit, destroy or deny the other’s existence could possibly work together peacefully.

For the record, UNTAC’s mission in Cambodia costed some 2 billion U.S. dollars. It was the largest and most expensive operation the United Nations had ever undertaken. Also, Cambodia was the first country to be used as a test case for the UN’s peace making and reconciliation endeavor.
(To be continued)

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Prisoners of the Humanitarian (Cont.) Khao I Dang camp’s prison was a rather unassuming structure built like a long house of indigenous American Indians. The whole structure looked more like a cage than a prison. There were four cells, two of which were used to incarcerate illegal refugees while the other two smaller ones were used to keep Thai soldiers who committed infractions. There were no walls between the partitions or around the building structure for that matter, except for barbed wire juxtaposed with bamboo poles to keep male and female inmates from commingling with one another. All the females and children under the ages of ten years old were put in one large cell while the male prisoners were put in another. At the time when I was incarcerated, there were about 50 male inmates in a cell designed to hold about 40 people. Thus, sleeping spaces were very tight. For the rest of the night when I was arrested, I sat in a corner and cried quietly, feeling sorry for myself and the misfortune I was in. Next morning, which was a Sunday, the day that inmates were allowed to have a few minutes to meet with their relatives, Saiy came to visit me and brought me a blanket. He discretely told me to feel the edge of the blanket and gave me a coded message to take precaution. Just before we parted, I asked Saiy to bring me a hammock when he came to visit me next week. Because the prison was very crowded, that hammock would give me the flexibility to sleep anywhere in my cell as long as I could find a spot to tie it. Just before I examined the edge of my blanket, a fellow inmate told me that the Thai soldier who acted as prison chief was very mean and cruel. He forbade inmates to send any letters outside. We were also not allowed to tell relatives to bring us any money. Anyone who was caught with such contraband would be punished severely. After learning of the prison’s rules and the consequences, I decided to wait until night time to inspect the edge of my blanket. Feeling it with my hands, I found several pieces of papers rolled like cigarettes imbedded in one hem of the blanket. Without untying the thread, I pushed one of the roll-around papers near the corner edge of the blanket out and found that it was a 100 baht bill of Thai currency. It appeared that my mother had altered one edge of the blanket and sewed it back loosely with the rolled 100 baht bills in it, so that I would have some money to buy food if or when I was sent out of Khao I Dang. After taking all the money out of the blanket’s edge, I faced yet another dilemma on how to hide the money in case all the inmates were searched. The only available place I had was a tiny pocket located within a larger pocket of my only pair of jean pants. So to keep my money from being discovered by the prison guard, I folded the 100 baht bills several times until they fit into that tiny pocket and hid them there. All the inmates in Khao I Dang camp prison, except for women and children, were abused daily by the lone Thai soldier who oversaw that prison. He ordered the other Thai soldiers who were being imprisoned there to conduct the daily abuses on his behalf. Each day we, refugee prisoners, were allowed to get out of our cells only once during the afternoon when the abuses in the form of push-up, grasshopper’s hopping, and many other military drills were being conducted upon us. We were sometimes made to do push-ups to the point of utter exhaustion, when many inmates fell flat on their stomachs. After the soldiers abused us to their heart’s content, the prison warden ordered us to gather at a bathing area and sprayed us with water from a hose as a means for us to take a bath. Beside the regimental abuses, there were also individual abuses of inmates. Occasionally, an inmate got beaten up for not having his pair of shoes put together properly. I remembered seeing an inmate being ordered to sing a song by the Thai soldiers almost daily; and sometimes, that poor inmate had to sing for them several times in a day. Each time he sang the song, the Thai soldiers would find flaws in his singing and ordered him to hit his head with his own knuckles five or ten times for each mistake. They sometimes ordered him to knock his head even more if the sounds of his knuckles smacking on his head were not convincing enough. It was so sickening. But what made these abuses even more disgusting was that it happened in a refugee camp under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an agency tasked with a duty to protect basic human rights for refugees. I spent a total of 21 days in Khao I Dang camp’s prison. After more inmates were being sent there, the prison became overcrowded. Thus, to make room for new comers, all the illegal refugees were sent back to the border camp. We didn’t know to which camp we would be sent; but all of us prayed that the Thai authority would not send us to camps controlled by the Khmer Rouge, where their reign of terror continued unabated. When the appointed time arrived, two transport trucks came to park in front of the prison. The Thai taskforce’s soldiers, who were charged with transporting us, came to the prison’s door with a list of names. They called us one by one to come out and get on board the trucks. After all the inmates were taken on board the trucks, the drivers took off quickly, and I was once again being transported to an unknown destination. There were some armed guards who stood at the back of each truck to prevent inmates from jumping off and escaping. We spent about three hours sitting quietly in those fast-moving trucks before they came to a stop in a refugee camp located in northeastern Thailand. Upon disembarking, we learned that the camp was called Ta Tum which was controlled by a rebel faction loyal to Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Though it wasn’t Site 2 camp, a place where most of us would want to go, everyone breathed a sigh of relief as we learned that we were not at a Khmer Rouge’s camp. Prior to being sent back to the border camp, I had made friends with a few fellow inmates who, like me, were arrested for living in Khao I Dang illegally. Hence, after our arrival at Ta Tum camp, we banded together and tried to figure out ways to return to Site 2 camp where we used to live. One of my friends, Ly Kim Sour, found an old acquaintance who worked in the intelligence services for the rebel group, who was in charge of Ta Tum camp. With the help of Kim Sour’s friend, we learned that we could be traveling back to Site 2 camp with military officials for a fee. The cost was about 50 dollars per person. None of us had that much money at hand; therefore, Kim Sour asked his friend to assure the people who were in charge of transporting us back to Site 2 to wait until we arrived in Site 2 where he would get the money to them right away. With mutual trust among these pseudo-human traffickers, Kim Sour’s request was accepted and within just one week upon our arrival at Ta Tum camp, we were on our way back to Site 2. We traveled with a mix of Thai and Cambodian rebel officials who were on a mission to Site 2 camp for meetings or whatever business they were conducting. It appeared that these officials were not engaging in human trafficking in its purest sense but rather illicitly doing us favors for mutual benefits to all—we were able to travel illegally from one place to another safely while those officials would get some money to spend, maybe for a nice dinner in Bangkok or Aranyaprathet. Upon arriving in Site 2 camp, I went to stay with a friend of mine named Koy, who was living with his mother, Sunphan, and an aunt, Samnam. Koy’s mother lent me the $50 I needed to pay for my trip from Ta Tum camp and helped me settle down to put my life back together. My first order of businesses was to send letters to both, my brothers Heang and Buntha, informing them of my whereabouts. Before long, Buntha sent me a letter, along with a human trafficker to meet me. In his letter, Buntha told me that the person who came to see me could bring me back to Khao I Dang camp to reunite with him and Mom. The memory of abuses in Khao I Dang camp’s prison was still fresh in my mine. Thus, I told the young man Buntha sent to fetch me back to Khao I Dang that I needed some time to think about going back to reunite with my brother. I wrote a short note and gave it to him to bring back to Buntha. In the meantime, I discussed my life’s situation among my close friends, and they all advised that I should stay put for the time being, waiting for suggestions from my brother, Heang, regarding what to do next to solve our separation dilemma. Several weeks later, I received a letter from Heang telling me to stay put for the time being. After learning of my ordeal in Khao I Dang camp’s prison, Heang was reluctant to have me risk another imprisonment. Hence, with a somewhat settled matter related with our family separation, I decided to return to school and seek re-enrollment. (To be continued)

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Cambodian Royal Chronicle

95) General Lon Nol (1970--1975, Capital: Phnom Penh) General Lon Nol was Prince Sihanouk’s minister of defense. After successfully removing Prince Sihanouk from power in a coup d’etat in 1970, Lon Nol set about to establish a republic on the skeleton of a roughly 2000-year old Cambodian kingdom. He renamed the country Khmer Republic and proclaimed himself as head of state. Lon Nol’s first political move was to order the North Vietnamese communist troops, who had quietly been using Cambodian northeastern territory along their border as a staging area for guerrilla warfare against the U.S.-back government of South Vietnam, to leave Cambodia’s soil within a few days. His order fell into a deaf ear, for it was neither possible, nor realistic for the battle-hardened North Vietnamese troops to obey a government which had hardly any standing army to challenge them. Responding to the North Vietnamese disregard of his order, Lon Nol then embarked on a military campaign known as Chenla I and Chenla II to drive them out. Sadly, Lon Nol’s military campaign against the North Vietnamese troops was a failure, and many of his badly-trained, poorly-equipped amateur soldiers were killed in the expedition. In the mean time, the North Vietnamese troops began to militarily train, supply, and assist the Prince Sihanouk-supported Cambodian communists known as Khmer Rouge to wage a full-scale civil war against Lon Nol. For five years, the civil war between the North Vietnamese/Sihanouk-supported Khmer Rouge led by a man named Pol Pot (a.k.a. Saloth Sar) and Lon Nol’s government spread throughout the country. As the war raged on, living condition in Cambodia began to deteriorate and worsen every day. Hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted from their homes, and they were forced to live as refugees or displaced persons on the margin of society. On the battle fronts, the fighting grew even more savage as both sides resorted to killing each other indiscriminately. With regard to government, the Lon Nol’s regime appeared to be both incapable and corrupt. The leadership was utterly weak and incompetent. Many politicians cared more about amassing wealth for themselves than tending to the suffering of the population or preserving the nation as a whole. As a result, more and more alienated people began to rally to or join the Khmer Rouge in their revolution to overthrow the decadent and corrupted Lon Nol’s government. After five years of fighting a losing battle, Lon Nol fled Cambodia in early March of 1975. He went into exile in the United States of America. One month later on 17 of April, the communist Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot took over Phnom Penh and effectively put an end to Lon Nol’s rule and his republic. 96) Pol Pot [a.k.a. Saloth Sar] (1975--1979, Capital: Phnom Penh) Pol Pot was Secretary General of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), better known as the Khmer Rouge. He was born in Prek Sbov village, Kompong Thom province--the son of a middle class farmer. During his early childhood, Pol Pot was brought up, educated, and partly raised in Phnom Penh by one of his older brothers named Lot Suong who was a staff protocol (clerk) in the royal palace. He also had a sister and a cousin who were consorts of Prince Sihanouk’s grandfather, King Sisowath Monivong. It was believed that, through the helps of some influential government officials and his siblings and cousin who had links to the royal palace, Pol Pot was able to obtain a government scholarship in 1949 to go to study in France where he met fellow Cambodian communists such as Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, and Son Sen and begin to form a communist movement. Pol Pot was an obscure politician who lived his life in secrecy. Little was known about his personal background and political activities. Presumably, he joined the left-wing, communist-oriented political movement in the late 1940’s when Cambodian resentment against the French colonial rule was at its peak. During the mid 1950’s and early 60’s, Pol Pot worked as a schoolteacher in Phnom Penh and secretly participated in an underground communist movement to bring reform to Cambodia and/or overthrow the corrupt and decadent government led by Prince Sihanouk. In 1962, Pol Pot was appointed Secretary General of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), and one year later in 1963, fearful of Prince Sihanouk’s prosecution of leftist-communist-oriented politicians, he went into hiding in the jungle in northeastern part of Cambodia where he organized and launched a successful communist revolution. Upon taking over the power in Cambodia in 1975, Pol Pot and his fellow communists embarked on a swift and radical change in an attempt to transform Cambodia into a utopian society according to their communist vision. They changed the country’s name from the Khmer Republic to Democratic Kampuchea and immediately ordered people to evacuate the cities and urban centers. Within the first few days of their rule, Pol Pot and his associates instituted the abolition of private properties, money, market, religion, and all other societal practices which they considered contradictory to the communist doctrine. In a fervent revolutionary zeal, Pol Pot had completely transformed Cambodia into a primitive agrarian society. The whole country was turned into a gigantic agricultural production camp in which people from all walks of life were forced to work without adequate foods and medicines or any regard of their health and abilities to perform the tasks. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people were starved or worked to death, and the whole endeavor became a terrible disaster. In an attempt to find scapegoats for his failure, Pol Pot unleashed a punitive purge among the ranks and files of both his communist associates and those suspected of engaging in counter-revolutionary activities. The purge lasted for a few years, and hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured, and executed ruthlessly. As the purge was intensified, many of Pol Pot’s army officers, fearful for their lives, escaped to neighboring Vietnam and began to organize a resistance to his rule. In 1979, with the help from the Vietnamese army, they invaded Cambodia and, eventually, overthrew Pol Pot from power. In a tumultuous retreat, Pol Pot and his associates along with thousands of loyal supporters were able to escape to Thailand and, with the support of the Chinese communist government, began to reorganize their forces to wage another insurgency against the rebels who had just toppled them from power. For the record, Pol Pot’s ruthless rule had led to the loss of about 1.7 million lives. Roughly, one out of every four Cambodians died as a result of his utopian communist policy. And Cambodia was left in ruin, economically and socially. Most of the surviving population was badly malnourished and left in a horrible condition. Almost every infrastructure throughout the country was destroyed or neglected. By the end of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia was brought down to its knees and in need of everything imaginable in order to survive the nightmare and ordeal it had been through. (To be continued)

Monday, July 1, 2013


Prisoner of the Humanitarian (Cont.)
During our stay in Khao I Dang camp, Om Ok and his extended family found a couple of empty houses, whose occupants had been accepted to resettle in a third country, and settled there, while my mother, Buntha, and I went to lodge with a friend named Saiy. After talking with our friends and neighbors, we quickly learned that as new comers to Khao I Dang camp, we were considered illegal residents and would frequently be rounded up by the Thai security taskforces. All illegal residents who had been rounded up would eventually be sent back to the border camps. UNHCR could not protect us and would not grant us legal statuses. What a dilemma! We went from one refugee limbo to another.

Our friends suggested that, for the time being, we should live separately, which was easy for us to find a place to hide within the house, or rather hut. Saiy, who had offered us shelter, had a hiding place for one person in his hut. He came to occupy that hut after its original owners left for a third country and discovered that hiding place by accident while he was cleaning the kitchen area. It was a large, empty water jar placed underground below the stove. Saiy pulled a piece of metal sheet, which was placed under the stove and over the mouth of the water jar to the side and showed us where the hiding place was. Saiy told us that it was common for houses in Khao I Dang camp to have hiding places as it was the only way for illegal residents to remain there and escape arrest when the Thai security guards conducted their round-up raids.

With this grim information of what life in Khao I Dang camp would be like, Buntha and I went to seek shelter with our other friends and left our mother staying with Saiy, for his house already had a place for her to hide should a raid occur. Buntha went to stay with a mutual friend, named Eang, while I was lodging with another, named Kol. All people who lived in Khao I Dang camp were required to wear name badges whenever they went about their business. Those name badges were given to them when they became legal residents. However, people didn’t always remember to wear their name badges; therefore, many of them went about the camp without wearing their name badges. Taking that lax attitude to our advantage, Buntha and I surreptitiously went to see our mother every weekend. It was the only time that we could be together while living in Khao I Dang camp.

One day, Kol brought me an old name badge belonging to someone who had left for a third country. He told me that I could use that name badge to escape one arrest, for if I were stopped by the Thai security guards to check for my legal status I could present the fake name badge to them. And if they still suspected that I was living in the camp illegally, the Thai guards would only keep the name badge and let me go home to get family documents to claim it back from their headquarters. There were no pictures on name badges; only different colors -- green and pink, to indicate when the name badges were issued. Everyone who had left for a third country was supposed to surrender his or her name badge along with other family documents to the camp’s authority. But the name badge, which Kol had obtained and given to me somehow got lost in the bureaucratic process. After possessing that fake name badge, I decided to go back to attend the secondary school in Khao I Dang camp.

It was late January 1987 when I walked into the campus of Khao I Dang secondary school, which was formally named Angkor Wat Secondary School, to register my name for enrollment. To my surprise, the school officials did not inquire whether I was a legal or illegal resident. They just added my name to the enrollment list. I told the registrar that I would like to enroll in the eighth grade, which was two grade levels above what I had learned in Site 2. Once again, I was told to take a placement test before I could officially attend the eighth grade. Thus, with some knowledge obtained through my informal training by sitting in and watching the upper classmates doing their homework in Site 2, I humbly accepted the challenge of taking a placement test. To my yet another surprise, the teacher who came to administer my placement test was a former teacher from Site 2 camp. I used to see him teach the seventh graders when I was attending the fifth grade in Site 2. After I greeted him, he acknowledged that he used to see me in Site 2. He handed me the test and left the room to let me work on it. I started with the math section solving a series of two variable equations before moving on to more challenging problems. About 15 minutes later, the teacher returned to check on my progress. He looked over my shoulder and, after seeing that I was struggling to figure out how to solve geometric problems dealing with triangles, took the test from my hand and showed me how to solve them. Afterward, he told me to go attend the eighth grade, and that was the end of my testing ordeal.

I attended the eighth grade at Angkor Wat Secondary School for six months before misfortune took me away from schooling again. During my stint at that school, I once again sought help from classmates who were willing to give me a hand. I met a number of good friends there who would help me with both academic studies and looking out for my safety. Whenever they heard rumors that Thai security guards might come to conduct searches for illegal persons in the school compound, my friends would tell me to go home and skip classes for that day. Though most of the time the rumors of round-up raids had never materialized, many of my friends admonished me to take precautions because they witnessed the searches had taken place before.

Living in a place illegally with the knowledge that one could be arrested any time put a lot of stress on my mental well being. I tried my best to instill normalcy within my life. At school, I interacted with my classmates as if I was a legal resident and tried to hide my anxiety as much as I could. Throughout the six-months period I spent in Khao I Dang camp, the school had been a place where I sought solace. I tried to persuade Buntha to attend school as well, but he was too fearful to walk about the camp because the school was located rather far away from where he lived. Hence, to comfort each other mentally, Buntha and I took one risk each week to gather at our mom’s house and had meals there as a family. We would spend the entire day with our mom talking among ourselves. Sometimes, we just sat quietly in the house to keep company with one another until evening when we went back to our separate shelters.

One Saturday evening during our weekly reunion in July, 1987, my mother asked that we all spent the night together at her house as she had never seen or heard of any Thai security round-up raid in that area since the day she came to live there. After weighing the risks, Buntha and I decided to spend the night at our mom’s house. It was a fateful decision. At about midnight, we heard the sound of a pickup truck coming to a stop in front of the house. Saiy, our host, peeked through a small hole on the door and found that there were Thai security guards jumping off the pickup truck. Instantly, he knew that a round-up raid was about to take place. Saiy tried frantically to get us into the hiding place. But there was a problem with space as the hiding place was built for only one person to hide, and there were three of us. So a quick decision was made that my mother and Buntha would squeeze into the hiding place while I stayed outside to face the inevitable arrest. After having my mother and Buntha hidden inside the empty water jar underneath the stove, Saiy told me to crawl under a bed and stay there in case the Thai security taskforces overlooked that area. I crawled under our bed and stayed there nervously waiting for the search to occur. About five minutes later, I heard a knock on the door. Saiy opened the door and three armed Thai soldiers along with two Cambodian interpreters entered the house. They asked Saiy if there were any illegal residents staying with him. In a rather vain attempt to hide me, Saiy said no. But his lie was exposed when one of the soldiers shined his flashlight on me. Another soldier pointed his M-16 rifle at me and using it to motion me to crawl out from under the bed. One of the soldiers pointed his finger at Saiy’s face in an angry gesture for telling him a lie. But, the soldiers didn’t give him a hard time despite their anger. They only took me to the pickup truck where several other illegal residents were sitting inside under the watchful eye of an armed guard. The soldiers motioned for me to climb onto the truck’s bed and sit among other arrestees while turning around to look for more victims. After making several more arrests of illegal residents, the Thai security taskforces called it a night and brought us to their headquarters to be processed for incarceration.

Among the people who were arrested along with me that night, there were a few women and children. We were taken to the Thai taskforce’s headquarters, which was located across the street from the prison near the main entrance to the camp. After having us register our names, we were ordered to walk across the street toward the prison. Several armed soldiers with their guns held at a ready-to-shoot position escorted us there to ensure that no one escaped. I should point out, at this point, that most refugees knew how indiscriminate the Thai soldiers were regarding our lives. We could be shot and killed for even the most trivial infraction. To the Thai soldiers who guarded us, a refugee’s life was as disposable as a piece of trash.

(To be Continued)