Friday, September 30, 2005

Former Khmer Rouge Recounts Dark Past

The Cambodia Daily
Thet Sambath
Friday, January 7, 2005
Banan District, Battambang province-Though the stench of blood still makesSuy Vith want to vomit, he has come to terms with his past and thethousands of people his small unit of Khmer Rouge comrades executed in themid-1970s.
In a recent candid interview at his home in Battambang province, Suy Vith,49, a former peasant revolutionary told how he wasn't born a killer, buthis choice was simple: Kill for the regime or be killed.
There was a lot of killing in Pailin in the early days of the Khmer Rouge"liberation" in 1975, Suy Vith recounted.
"I was angry at the Khmer Rouge at the beginning, but I had no choice so Ichose the Khmer Rouge movement," he said.
At the age of 19, Suy Vith earned a place with the Khmer Rouge after theyexecuted his parents in 1973 in Samlot district on suspicion of spying forthe Lon Nol military government.
He was handed an old automatic rifle, and though he was not shown how touse it, Suy Vith still remembers clearly the truckloads of men, women andchildren who died after the weapon was placed in his hands
."When I grew up I never felt that I would become a killer. But the 1975regime made me follow this cruel way," said Suy Vith who lives anunassuming life with his wife and four children, eking out a living as alaborer.
"I feel sorry for the people that my colleagues and I killed. But we areinnocent people and not as cruel as they accuse us. We were forced tokill...and I had to choose between my life and death."
Suy Vith made his choice one evening in April 1975. A commander named Ta Po told Suy Vith and his unit of around a dozen youthsthat 35 people had been captured at Kbal Peay, in the Bor Taing Suo area ofPailin, as they tried to flee into Thailand.
"We have work to do, let us prepare to accept the 35 people," shoutedComrade Uncle Po to Suy Vith and others as the 35 terrified people wereunloaded from a military truck around midnight.
Suy Vith remembered that there were children among the group. Fifteen of the group were put on a truck to Phnom Russei, a hill some 10 kmfrom Pailin town. When the truck stopped the men, women and children wereunloaded.
"We just gave a signal among ourselves and then we opened fire at themaltogether. I saw them all fall down in the same place." he said. After themassacre, a second group of Khmer Rouge were sent to make sure the job wasdone properly. Each body was inspected to verify all were killed.
"If that group knew that some people were not killed we would have had aproblem,"Suy Vith said, adding that the remaining 20 people were taken to asecond location by his comrades and killed in the same manner.
As the first months of the Khmer Rouge "liberation" progressed, so did thekilling.
Suy Vith and his unit were relocated in late April or early May to atemporary base in Trapaing Kes on National Route 10 between Pailin andBattambang town.
Several units were stationed there, and it was their duty to carry out theexecution of people sent by truck from Pailin.
"When they were dropped from the military trucks, we killed themimmediately. We did not want them to stay longer because they might runaway. At this place, my colleagues and I killed at least 600, and notincluding those killed at other places near by our base.
"I just turned my M-16 [rifle] on to full automatic and sprayed them...Thetrees, leaves and grass were full of blood. It was completely red withblood.
"In one group alone, Suy Vith and a detachment of about 10 other communistcadre cut down a group of some 200 men, women and children.
"I saw people's faces were full of worry, and I thought they know theywould be killed."As they stood in rows, some turned their faces not to look at us.Sometimes we killed them when they were sitting down together.
"Suy Vith said the killing was overseen by Comrade Uncle Morn who explainedhow the killing should be carried out by each unit: "One group for killing,one group for guarding and one to prevent anyone from escaping from thekilling field."
At the end of their day's work, the execution units gathered together toeat, though Suy Vith said that sometimes he didn't have an appetite. He wasnot used to all the killing and the blood__ the stench made him want to besick.
"After a few months of killing I could eat as well as normal. But sometimesthe smell of blood still makes me want to vomit," he said. "
If I did not follow my commander's orders I would be killed as well. So tofind a way to survive I had to carry out what I was ordered to do."Owing to a mix of shame and fear, Suy Vith has tried to keep his identityhidden and his bloody past deeply buried.
Suy Vith left the Khmer Rouge after the ousting of the regime 26 years agotoday, on Jan 7, 1979.
But even his fear of people finding out the truth about his bloody past wasnot enough to keep him from defiling the mass graves of his victims insearch of gold, precious stones and other treasures buried with the dead.
In 1984, he led a group of 30 people back to the graves in Pailin to digamong the bones. They found necklaces, earrings, gold, gems and diamondsamong the remains. Many were still clad in Lon Nol military uniforms.
The grave robbery was interrupted by State of Cambodia troops who warnedthat the area was dangerous, and so they were forced to stop their digearly. But when they returned the next day, the government troops had takeneverything, Suy Vith remembered.
Suy Vith said he would testify in a long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal butwould need assurances for his protection and that he would not be jailed.
A trial might even help Suy Vith answer his one nagging question: "Why wekill people in the forest?" he said.
Suy Vith is short on remorse, instead blaming his past actions, presentcondition and future events on karma.
"I go to the pagoda sometimes and I give food for my dead mother andfather. I pray for good things for them, but I never pray for those Ikilled or ask for pardon," he said.
"This is life. I killed people and I feel that I will be killed by peoplewhen I am reborn in my next life. This is karma."

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