Khmer Rouge Guerrillas Emerge After 25 Years of Self-Imposed Exile

In 1979 a small group of Khmer Rouge soldiers abandoned its post and walked into Cambodia's jungle carrying nothing more than some basic supplies.  In an extraordinary tale of survival the soldiers managed to survive 25 years before returning to civilization earlier this month.

Mon Rae was only 13 when he joined the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as a child soldier in the 1970s.  Two years later he fled his post, and Cambodian society, as the Khmer Rouge's murderous communist regime crumbled and lost power.  Carrying what they could Mon Rae and a small group of other soldiers and their families made their way into the most remote parts of uninhabited jungle in northeastern Cambodia. 

Roughly 25 years later, Mon Rae, now 40, his wife Aat and their seven children, along with the other families who fled, emerged earlier this month from their long isolation.

In an exclusive interview, Mon Rae tells VOA's Khmer Service about his life on the run.

He says after their clothing wore out they used tree bark and leaves for clothes.  While walking in the jungle, they sometimes found old clothes and old shoes that they would pick up and share with each other and their children.  Sickness and hunger were common.

They ate what fruits and plants they could gather.  The only meat they ate was from animals they caught in traps.  The only medicine they had were herbal remedies brewed from roots and leaves.

According to Greg Stanton, director of the Cambodian Genocide Project and president of Genocide Watch, Mon Rae and his group weren't the only Cambodians to flee into the forests.

"The Khmer Rouge fled when the Vietnamese invaded in Christmas 1978 and took control of Cambodia," noted Mr. Stanton.  " So a lot of Khmer Rouge fled up into border areas and were in the border areas for 15 or more years in many cases.  In fact, there wasn't really peace until about 1998 when all of these groups gave up their arms and surrendered."

During the 25 years that Mon Rae and the others lived in the jungle, they avoided all contact with other humans.  As their numbers grew to more than 30 and the struggle to survive became more challenging, Mon Rae says they decided it was time to come out of the jungle.   When they emerged, they were unaware that the Khmer Rouge had fallen from power and that its leader, Pol Pot, was dead.

The former refugees, all members of the Krung ethnic minority, have settled in a small village in an undeveloped part of the Ratanakkiri province, about 400 kilometers northeast of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh.  Mon Rae says he is happy to be back in society.

He says his family is happy living in society.  One day he would like to be able to afford some of the comforts of modern life such as a car and a house.  He also wants his children to go to school to learn how to read and write.

Mon Rae says he was forced to join the Khmer Rouge as a child.  According to Greg Stanton with the Cambodian Genocide Project, the Khmer Rouge routinely engaged in forced conscription of children under the age of 15. 

"The Khmer Rouge especially used child soldiers to carry out their killing," added Mr. Stanton.  "They found that they could get children to do things they just couldn't get adults to do.  In fact, they had whole training programs in which they first got the children to torture and kill small animals and then they sort of moved up to human beings.  So actually, a lot of teenagers were used as guards and soldiers by the Khmer Rouge."

The radical communist Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.  An estimated two million Cambodians were killed or died of starvation, disease or overwork during this time.  Although the most famous Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, died in 1998, many of the leaders are still alive, but aging. 

Last year the United Nations and Cambodia announced that they had agreed to put former leaders of the Khmer Rouge on trial for genocide. 

The tribunals will not prosecute lower-level foot soldiers, like Mon Rae, who is adamant that he did not commit any atrocities.

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs