Tuesday, July 22, 2008

THE MASSACRE IN TONLE SAP

Over the last weekend, I received as my guest house, a couple from Singapore whom I had befriended many years ago, and of whom I had been in constant touch. The husband, Yahya is a retired officer of the Singpore Police Force, and had served in Cambodia during the period of the United Nations Transitional Authority (UNTAC) in 1993. The spouse, Imah on the other hand was a staff of a Malaysian company based in Singapore.

After dinner, we talked about old times, and the subject that touched me most was when Yahya started talking about Cambodia. Both of us were in Cambodia at about the same time, but with us serving in different provinces; me, the Malaysian Army contingent commander in the province of Battambang, and Yahya, the UN Police Commander in the province of Siem Reap.

Yahya then started recalling the massacre of innocent ethnic Vietnamese in the great Tonle Sap, perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge in March 1993. Coincidently, I had also recorded this heinous crime in a book that I wrote in 2004.

I would like to touch a bit regarding this incident for the benefit of my readers, many of whom may not have been aware that the brutalities perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge on the Cambodian people in the 70’s, was still prevalent up till the time, the UN peacekeeping forces was in Cambodia beginning November 1991 until early 1994.

The massacre which occurred in March 1993 in a floating village in the Tonle Sap, in the province of Siem Reap was a scene of brutal savagery that killed 34 innocent ethnic Vietnamese, at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Shooting at the heads of the victims, chopping part of the bodies, and leaving it to rot, was a typical trademark of the Khmer Rouge.

The perpetrators knew no mercy. Babies after being shot were thrown into the lake. Women and old folks were shot at close range and butchered.
The floating village which had a population of approximately 1,200 ethnic Vietnamese were mainly fisherman. The Khmer Rouge had a long standing hatred for the Vietnamese, whom they accused of having aided Heng Samrin, to oust them from power in the 1979 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.

Yahya related to me his ordeal in carrying out the investigation on the massacre. It wasn’t a sight that one would like to witness, and to be counting dead bodies, had a traumatic effect on him. The incident shook the UN fraternity in Cambodia, and arresting the perpetrators wasn’t an easy feat. In fact, I knew of no one who had been arrested for the crime committed by the Khmer Rouge. The reason is simply that there were no willing witnesses, for if there were any, they will be dead themselves.

I revisited Cambodia last in 2005. It is back to normalcy, and the sights of ill discipline soldiers roaming the streets are no more. Business is thriving. The roads in the city are once again crowded with cars, lorries, bicycles, and motorcycles, but the road discipline of its riders/drivers remains the same.

8 comments:

captazhar said...

As I recall, the incident at Tonle Sap occurred after the fallout of the Khmer Rogue from the peace process in Cambodia in 1993. There were many disruptive raids being carried out by roving bands of the KR, especially under the cover of darkness, including a raid on one of the returnee camps under our supervision, Toul Makak if I am not mistaken. I remember this assault on the camp quite vividly as it was only a couple of weeks before that I was instrumental in the redeployment of a platoon from Charlie Coy there to bolster up its defences; and earning an official reprimand from the CO in the process. Not a bad exchange, bearing in mind of the adverse effects of NOT taking a stand and believing in your hunches.

Being the only officer from the MALBATT to have travelled into the KR held areas around the Tonle Sap by assault boat and conducting the medivac of the KR commander there, I dare say that within the KR at that point of time had many of its own factions, some still answerable to their HQ at Pailin but most operating independent and acting like war lords in their own areas. Most of the KR soldiers located deep in the Tonle Sap are veterans with high discipline and morale compared with to CPAF troops stationed nearby. And anyway, most of the inhabitants of the nearby village were ethnic Khmer compared to the villages south of Siem Reap.

ArshadRaji said...

Dear captazhar,

Thanks for the comments. What I am trying to do is to 'relive' the Cambodian experience. I will be posting some other experiences, hoping to get a much wider reading audience to understand and appreciate our efforts in Cambodia. These are history, critical to our Army, but sadly, our gays are not history conscious.

maurice said...

Thank you for sharing your Cambodian experience.The Khmer Rouge successfully created the darkest Cambodian history in modern times in direct contrast to the splendor of the Khmer civilization of the Angkor Wat era.It was reported, a Western architect cried at the sight of Angkor Wat when he first visited it.When asked the reason why, his answer was he could not imagine the number of lives lost and the sufferings of the Khmer people who were inducted by force to build the Angkor Wat.Yes, history keep repeating in one form or another in the life of a nation.

Talking about the loss of lives and limbs, I read today in the local daily of the plight faced by our Orang Kurang Upaya (OKU) who are already retired from the MAF.Altogether about 1,000 of our OKUs who have lost their limbs caused by booby traps set up by the CTs in the Malaysia-Thai border.Apparently Veteran opted to purchase the cheapest artificial limbs for our OKUs which could only last for 2 years.We would like to urge Veteran, in particular Mej Jen Dato Zulkfli, the new DG of Veteran to review the policy 'beli yang murah aje' instead should consider buying top quality artificial limbs for our soldiers who have given so much for the nation.This is the least we could do for our OKUs to minimise their daily discomforts.

ArshadRaji said...

Dear Maurice,

If it is true that Veteran is supplying cheap quality 'kaki kayu' to our soldiers, I do not mind raising this to the DG of Veteran Affairs. All will agree that our soldier, especially the ones that were injured during operations ought to be treated well.

maurice said...

It was reported in today's (23 July 08) Utusan Malaysia.Apparently the purchase of artificial limbs for our OKUs is done by the cheapest quotation method.Suggest write something about our OKUs in your interesting blog.Thank you for your effort.

WaliMuar said...

Dato,

You sound too globalistic when u write about your experiences while serving with the UN Forces.It is more justified and rationale for u to concentrate on the plight of our ex officers and soldiers suffering before you go offshore. Charity shall began at home....Dato.

rajawali said...

I beg to differ the sentiments of Walimuar. Whilst Dato sharing of experiences sounds too globalistic, it does not suggest of any preference over the plight of the veterans. Base on my personal encounter and other whom I knew, Dato is a man who cares for others.

One can be ‘globalistic’ as well as ‘localistic’ concurrently, of course determine by one’s capability and intellect. Blog is like ala carte menu - pick your choice. An avenue for sharing and positive contribution, or else ….

Having expressed my thought I applaud Walimuar for his concern on the plight of ex-fellow officers…. ….

Dear Walimuar, what's your contribution to start with? I am certain Dato will raise the concern to the relevant authority.

Lets be supportive to anything that of value!

WaliMuar said...

Dear Rajawali,

I dont want to advertise or publicise my contribution to exservicemen per se but it is sufficient to tell u that I have voluntarily contributed physical and financial assistance to the Persatuan Bekas Tentera Malaysia. As a good Muslim I will not divulge the quantum of contribution as it is against the principle of a good muslim and if you are alert enough my write up has appeared in the local media several times championing the suffering of our exservicemen.