A Journey into Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Heart of Darkness.
Above Photo: On a motorbike passing along one of the many impossibly dusty roads in Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia.
During a research trip for my novel BACK, I visited a remote ethnic village called Kosa (sometimes Kok) Peak in Ratanakiri Province, eastern Cambodia, close to the Vietnamese border.
Kosa Peak and most of Ratanakiri Province had been controlled by the Khmer Rouge long before their murderous regime took hold of Phnom Penh in 1975, and I wanted to see if any vestiges of the Khmer Rouge remained in its former heartland.
Prior to 1975, when the Khmer Rouge was perceived as just another small south-east Asian Communist group fighting a corrupt, right-wing government, their power base was in the dense jungle of Ratanakiri Province, where they collaborated with the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army against the US and its allies during the Vietnam War.
During this time the Khmer Rouge also slowly consolidated their hold over an increasingly larger area of Cambodia as government troops proved no match for them.
Although the indigenous tribes of Ratanakiri were some of the first supporters of the Khmer Rouge, that didn’t stop the terror being visited on them when the Khmer Rouge turned into a crazed, psychopathic organization, responsible for the deaths of between two and three million people across Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.
To reach Kosa Peak involved a long, hot, dusty motorbike ride on dirt roads through the Ratanakiri jungle, the vegetation on both sides stained ochre by dust.
In the rainy season these roads become impassable rivers of thick mud, cutting off much of the province.
In the time of the Khmer Rouge, the road we travelled on had been an ox cart track winding through triple canopy jungle.
Eventually we arrived at the Sesan river, where we took a small, leaking canoe equipped with a small engine, and nosed our way upriver, travelling past beautifully lit jungle and enormous stands of bamboo.
Exotic birds and butterflies flew along the bank, and startled snakes, monitor lizards and eagles took fright as our boat chugged noisily past.
Forty-five minutes later, we landed at a dusty brown gash in the river bank, which marked the boat dock for the village. It was a hive of activity as villagers bathed, washed utensils, repaired boats and gutted fish.
We later learnt that this was also the place where gravel had been collected in the time of the Khmer Rouge. Gravel collection had been the job of groups of children from the village, under strict Khmer Rouge control. Those who were lazy or who dawdled, were killed.
Back then, children were collecting gravel for use in making cement for a village dam that had been ordered to be constructed by the local Khmer Rouge leaders.
Nowadays the same river gravels are used for cleaning and scouring drinking containers and eating utensils.
Village slave labour had been used to construct a 1 kilometer long dam, to help with the insane Khmer Rouge plan of bringing greatness back to Cambodia by growing rice and enslaving the population, who were made to live as malnourished overworked peasant-slaves. This dam is what we had come to the village to see that day, as we’d been told that a substantial portion of it still remained intact, and I’ll deal with it in another post.
See the trailer for our new film, M.I.A. A Greater Evil. Set in the jungles of Laos and Vietnam, the film deals with the possible fate of US servicemen left behind after the US pulled out of the Vietnam War.
For POWs and MIAs in Laos, see:
© Peter Alan Lloyd
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