Sunday, January 4, 2015

A moment of Vietnamese invasion on January 7, 1979 and its aftermath

By Khmer Wathanakam

(The Vietnamese Tanks rolled into Cambodia in 1979)
On January 7, 1979, people in my village, Phum Thmey, Srok Sangke, Ket Battambang, just went to work on rice field and build irrigation system as usual day.  Surprisingly, around 12 or 1PM, when we returned from work to the canteen for lunch, suddenly we heard a loud noise of two helicopters flying in very high speed but unusual low altitude just above a top of the trees from Phnom Penh toward Battambang City.  We even saw the people on the board of those helicopters, but we had no idea who they were.  In fact, Pol Pot and his leadership team had fled Phnom Penh in disarray, indicating that his central government had collapsed by the Vietnamese invasion.  They rushed to Battambang City on their way to Thai-Cambodia border.  But Not long enough, about 10 to 15 minutes later, the Vietnamese Mig-21 had chased them behind, a few minutes after the Mig-21 passed over our village, we heard two loud explosions from the Vietnamese jet bomber, but it missed the target apparently in an attempt to assassinate Pol Pot and his entourage.  Since then the Vietnamese jets flew every day passing over our village to bomb the Khmer Rouge hideout targets and their ammunition depots in various locations in the province.

However, the people in our village were so bewildered even if they had known that Pol Pot regime was overthrown by the Vietnamese, the local Khmer Rouge administrators still ruled our village and the nearby areas as usual.  Every day people just went to work on their fields and ate lunch and dinner as normal.  But, on January 13, we felt the reality of the regime changed when we saw a column of Vietnamese tanks and trucks slowly driven on highway 5 from Battambang toward Phnom Penh with their victory red flags on the top.  Then they briefly stopped in our village searching for the Khmer Rouge troops and their locations, but no one knew where they were.  After that the Vietnamese convoys continued their way to Phnom Penh precariously.  Indeed, on their way to Phnom Penh, the Vietnamese elite troop columns were disrupted by land mines and severely beaten down by the regrouped Khmer Rouge special forces.  Later we frequently saw the wreckage of the Vietnamese trucks and tanks along the highway 5 from Battambang to Phnom Penh.

(A typical daily works in The Khmer Rouge Regime)
Albeit the Vietnamese troops occupied Battambang City, most areas along highway 5 from Srok Sangke to Mong Reusey were still fully under the Khmer Rouge control.   Then the local Khmer Rouge tried to regroup and restructure their administration and military strategy, using their old military tactics of guerrilla warfare to cut the Vietnamese supply line from Phnom Penh to Battambang, using anti-tank mines and heat and run tactics in order to maximize the Vietnamese damages.  As the Vietnamese troops frequently moved back and forth from Phnom Penh to Battambang, the fighting was raged.  Every time the Vietnamese convoys came, they met with heavy attack from the Khmer Rouge special forces using anti-tank rocket propellers and land mines to destroy the Vietnamese convoys. By the end of January, the Vietnamese convoys ceased to move through highway 5, and the Khmer Rouge had created their safe Haven in the area and established a military front line in Phum Kampong Preash, about 10 km from Battambang City.  Now we had to live in the Khmer Rouge trap until the Khmer New Year on April 13 when we got a chance to escape to Battambang City through a trail of tears.

Every day we saw the Mig-21 flying over our village to bomb the Khmer Rouge targets in different areas in Battambang.  Unfortunately one day the Vietnamese jet had spotted a Khmer Rouge truck on highway 5 along with hundreds of people returning from work on rice fields; the jet made a u-turn as it had preyed a potential target.  Meanwhile I was just playing in front of my home with friends then we heard a loud noise of jet in the sky above our home unleashed two big bombs, and they looked like coming straight down to our house then we quickly ran down for cover in a ditch in front of my home.  suddenly, the two big explosions shook the ground  killed and wounded hundreds of innocent people who had just returned from work.  Two of my nephews were among those killed in the bombing.  Since then every time we heard the sound of airplanes, we ran for cover.  As the Vietnamese troop spearheads steadily pushed the Khmer Rouge troops back from the front line, they ordered to evacuate all people living under their control zones moving Southward along railway toward Phnom Tepadey.  At the sunset, thousands of the people in the collective farm were forced to move toward Mount Tepadey to escape theVietnamese troop advance from Battambang.  It's worse than 1975 evacuation when we had been evacuated from the city to villages; this time they evacuated us from villages to the jungle at night time without clear instruction.  We stopped on the way and built temporary shelters to live for a few weeks then we were told to move forward again and again as the gun battles raged louder behind us.

When We got closer to Mount Tepadey, the Vietnamese vanguards tried cut us in front along the railway, so we had nowhere to go.  At this time the Khmer Rouge safe haven ran out of space as the Vietnamese troops quickly captured Mount Tepadey, and the only safe places now are Tonle Sap Lake and Cardamorm Mountain in Pusat.  The Khmer Rouge had a few options left; then they forced us to turn eastward, crossing highway 5 at Phum Kor Kash toward Tonle Sap Lake.  At night time when we reached Tonle Sap lake Shore, what's next?  luckily, at this time, all Khmer Rouge leaders and their military personnel fled for their own safety, leaving thousands of people leaderless in Tonle Sap Lake, a no man land.  Now all the people had to make their own risky choices of death and life-- to follow the Khmer Rouge seems useless since they had totally abandoned us or to escape back to Battambang City might face risk of life if we were caught by the Khmer Rouge troops, we would be slaughtered mercilessly.  Nevertheless, the majority of people made up their minds to escape to Battambang City through thick swam land forest along Tonle Sap Lake shores.  Now a trail of tears started with hope and fear hung over our minds.

(A similar evacuation and journey that we had experienced in 1979)
By nightfall the people started their final dangerous journey with columns of oxcarts and thousands of people from babies carrying by their parents to old aged parents carrying by their sons and people and children walked on their own pace carrying their belongs.  We severely faced shortage of food, especially water because it was on a dry season when most lakes and streams were dried up.  We drank muddy water from shallow lakes to keep us hydrated from a hot temperature up to 100 F on April, the hottest month of the year in Cambodia.  Sometimes we saw copses scattered in decompose making terrible smell freshly killed by the Khmer Rouge.  The dead bodies had reminded us that we were in the most dangerous zone.  Frequently we heard that the Khmer Rouge just followed us behind, so everyone tried to run as fast as we could.  One of my neighbor named Pem had carried his old father on his back when the Khmer Rouge chased him, he dropped off his father on the way and ran for his own life.  He did not know how his father died of starvation or got killed by the Khmer Rouge soldiers.  Whenever he recalls this tragic story, he cries.  How can anyone forgive him with such a terrible sin on his own father even if an unintentional act and in a hopeless circumstance?

After three exhausted day journey through the swam land forest, a glimpse of hope was in everyone's mind.  About one kilometer away, we saw highway 5 in Phum Kampong Preash.  At this time my family's oxcart was on the front line, but we apparently went on a wrong way.  Fortunately, my family's oxcart  was broken down then we stopped to fix it, and many other oxcarts quickly bypassed us.  Alas, just about 100 meters away the first oxcart which had bypassed us rolled over an anti-tank mine made a very loud explosion killing four children on the cart and wounded the father while the mother survived while she was walking beside the cart.  After this tragic incident, we returned to the other way where we proceeded toward highway 5 safely.  First we had  sense of hope and released when we saw a group of Khmer soldiers came to welcome us from a long dangerous and exhausted journey, but our hope mixed with dismay when we saw all Vietnamese soldiers everywhere stationing along highway 5 to Battambang City.  We felt sad although we had just escaped from the killing field. My father, who used to joint Khmer Issarak fighting for Cambodian independence in 1953, told us that the war was not over yet since the foreign troops still occupied our country.  Our family members briefly rejoined, but two of my brothers and a sister died in the Khmer Rouge Regime.  In late 1979 two of my brothers and a sister fled to Thai-Cambodia border camp when they later resettled in the US in 1982.  My parents, my other two sisters and I return to our old ruin village,  Phum Kachrotest, to restart our new life then had been ravaged again by new war against the Vietnamese occupation until 1991 when the Paris Peace Accord was officially signed to end the protracted war.

January 7, 1979 has given us a mixed feeling of hope for surviving from the killing field and regretting for losing our country to the Vietnamese neo-colonization.  Since January 7, 1979 until today we have never felt our country had a full independence.  Because our country has still ruled by the regime installed by the Vietnamese tanks and guns since January 7, 1979.  If Vietnam honestly liberates us from the killing field, it should let us choosing our own destination by allowing free and fair election in Cambodia guaranteed by the Paris Peace Accord in 1991. But instead Vietnam has manipulated and deeply meddled in Cambodian internal affair via its proxy power, the CPP which has ruled the country by intimidation, violence means, and election fraud.  Cambodia will never ever taste a true democracy, social justice, and national independence if Hanoi has continued to hold its stake of power through its political, military, and economic networks throughout Cambodia.  A case of Oknha Tuong Sarath and his parents, the Vietnamese tycoons who hold a high title and status in Cambodian government, is a chilling reminder that Hanoi has still operated its political and economic networks in Cambodia via its pervaded people. Thus, January 7, 1979 is the day that Cambodia has lost her independence in second times after we had gained from France in 1953.  The only way that Khmer can regain true democracy and full independence from the current Vietnamese neo-colonization, all Khmer must set aside all our differences and unite in single political alliance in order to rescue our nation from a long dictatorial rule of the current Hanoi puppet regime.

Note: readers please share your personal experience at a moment of January 7, 1979 and your opinion about that day. Thanks,

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