Ou Saran was the only guest speaker who shared his personal experience about his time with the Khmer Rouge movement with 15 pre-service teachers from the Institute of Regional Teacher Training-Battambang and Anlong Veng High School in December 2018. Making no attempt to hide his background as a former KR soldier, the 65-year-old of Koh Thmei village, Anlong Veng commune, Anlong Veng district, said he was always content with sharing his history. Asked if he felt ashamed of being a KR soldier, Saran did not hesitate when he said, “NO,” but to acknowledge that: “The past never goes unnoticed and mistakes were undeniably made. In a family, there might be also a good or bad child.”
As a former soldier of the KR, Saran merely told the peace tour participants that if he thought back to the time when he joined the revolution, it was beyond his ability to predict and decide the path his life would take. Everyone understood that the socio-political society was uncertain. However, being a combatant, Ou Saran fought and served the movement wholeheartedly until it was victorious.
A little while later, the peace tour participants seemed to go back to the basics; asking Saran to describe his family life. In response, Saran said he started living in this village only after the military tug-of-war in 1994 when the government forces conquered and briefly occupied Anlong Veng for a couple of days. Ta Mok, original name Chhit Choeun or Ung Choeun, the most stubborn war lord, ordered all of his forces and people to retreat to the Dangrek mountain, while commanding the destruction of all rice farms in place since 1990. He said doing so would prevent the enemy from using the food supplies. He called them “the enemy; the Vietnamese.” The government succeeded in the military maneuver as Ta Mok learned that the g
Government sent in full-fledged forces which he compared to the collapse of a dam that caused a fast flow of water. Three days later, Ta Mok fought back and the government suffered heavy casualties. Ta Mok used Guerrilla war tactics. Many tanks were destroyed. Only after this, did Ta Mok return to this village because bombers targeted schools and hospitals. So, the people were assigned to live in the jungle. The people demined, cleared the forest, and started living. Koh Thmei village was under control of the division 980. Men were kept being sent off to the frontline.
Ou Saran stressed that he was later assigned to take care of women after he sustained an injury while fighting. In Koh Thmei village, he witnessed the construction of three main roads and people building their own shelters. However, men were in charge of clearing the forest. Saran bluntly uttered that only now could he have a proper house, but still refrained from saying that it is a permanent one. When asked for further explanation on that comment, Saran pointed to the current political situation.
However, Saran highly valued the reintegration of the KR movement into the national fold. It was a big turning point that Cambodia as a whole began to enjoy peace and stability.
Regarding the peace study tour in Anlong Veng, Ou Saran appreciates that it is a correct, humble thing to do in terms of documenting the history. Documentation is vital both for remembrance and for prevention. However, there might be some hatred as well because the younger generation might be angry at the former KR members.
To Saran, education should be a mirror, reflecting back a country’s or regime’s good and bad sides. This led him to remind people of every generation to avoid taking up any bad ways. Learning from history can be a stark reminder of how a national unity should be a core principal to safeguard peace, security, and development. However, in Anlong Veng, Saran did not make a clear-cut comment that the community is within harmony and co-existence. To this, he told visiting tour participants his grave concern was much more about violence, land grabbing, and corruption. And that people’s greed would lead to a conflict. However, such societal illnesses never are eradicated. Even during the KR regime, while some ate watery porridge, others ate rice and had a better lifestyle, which showcases the establishments of the regime. Saran confessed that it is impossible for people to live in an equal manner.
A participant took to the stage and asked him what he most regretted concerning his service with the KR movement. He responded that after joining the revolution at the age of 17, he did not have any small asset that he could use to sustain his living. For most of his life, he merely to carried a pack of clothing and cooking materials and wandered from one place to another. He further underlined that right now, he has a house that was donated. However, a sense of security has yet to set in because when the participants asked him if he could live in his village permanently, Saran admitted he could not feel such a way yet.
In response to the judgement pronounced in November 2018 at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), Saran said: “I am a part of the past mistake” by reiterating that when the top leaders were found guilty, the junior felt that way.
Regarding the peace study tour, On Saran commented that it is good to aim for a better future. This goal would mean to collectively help prevent the commission of such a heinous crimes as those committed by the KR. People passed the knowledge from one to another. And sometimes, he said he could learn from visiting groups as well. It is an environment under which we can have a mutual understanding.
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