Khmer Rouge & Vietnam War Remains in Eastern Cambodia.
Above Photo: The centre of Ta Veng, Ratanakiri, Cambodia.
One one of my recent BACK-related research trips into Ratanakiri Province, eastern Cambodia, I travelled to the border area with Vietnam, looking for rapidly disappearing vestiges of the Khmer Rouge.
Before Pol Pot took over the country in 1975 and launched his reign of insane terror, the Khmer Rouge had been a small, Communist-inspired guerrilla outfit fighting the American-backed, corrupt and incompetent regime of Lon Nol in Phnom Penh.
During this time the Khmer Rouge had used Ratanakiri as their jungle base from which to plan and wage war. They’d also helped the North Vietnamese Army move supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail (known as the Sihanouk Trail in Cambodia), through eastern Cambodia and into south Vietnam, during the Vietnam War.
Our long, dusty motorbike journey on this day took us to Ta Veng, a former remote Khmer Rouge base on the Sesan River.
Searching for anything in Eastern Cambodia these days requires patience, goodwill, and lots of meetings. We met the village headman and then some of his contacts, who said they could take me to two Vietnam War/Khmer Rouge relics from the past: some Khmer Rouge fighting holes and an old wartime airstrip.
So, mob-handed, we set off in the heat of midday, walking over a wooden bridge across the O Ta Phlay river. We passed through a sugar cane plantation and stopped in a rice field next to the river, where the headman pointed to small depressions in the ground, arranged in a line, at intervals across the field.
These, he explained, were all that was left of Khmer Rouge fighting positions, dug first to fight against Lon Nol’s forces, but later used against the Vietnamese when they invaded the country in December 1978. There was almost nothing to see, just small depressions with mud in them, but they had previously been four or five feet deep.
It wasn’t much, but remembering how little remained of the Khmer Rouge, especially their military bases and defences in eastern Cambodia, I was content. I was told I was the only foreigner to have seen these and I thought I might be the last too, so I made sure I got some ‘pointing’ photos, for posterity.
After that, we plunged on again, heading towards the Sesan River, where there was a roaring trade in illegal logging going on, with protected hardwoods being sailed across the river from the supposedly protected Virachey National Park, which lay on the opposite bank.
Unfortunately, nobody in authority seemed to give a fuck about illegal logging over there.
We walked along a dusty track running parallel to the river, which represented all that was left of the airfield where US planes and helicopters (including Air America aircraft, the headman told me) had landed during the civil war. Their mission was to drop off supplies and weapons to the beleaguered US-backed Cambodian soldiers garrisoned in Ta Veng, before the Khmer Rouge took the town.
Nothing now remained of the airstrip except some uprooted security fence posts and a number of bomb craters in the bush.
The headman said the airstrip been guarded by a unit of tough commandos, but when Ta Veng fell to the Khmer Rouge, they didn’t have any planes and the airfield fell into disuse.
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