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Chan Pay’s Testimony


‘These days, I am not doing well. I get a headache, feel dizzy and have a fever each time the events of those days – especially what happened at that detention center – come to my mind. When I am alone, I often cry.’

My name is Chan Pay. I am 62 years old. I have eight children: two daughters and six sons. I am a farmer. When I am sad, my children and grandchildren bring me relief. Especially my son, Phanna, who is 26 years old, has never caused me any concern or worry. When I think about him, I feel happy and I can smile. My face shows that I am happy and the colors yellow, pink and violet represent my happiness.

I was born in a family with nine children, two boys and seven girls. I was the sixth child. We were living in Bet Trang village, Khnar commune, Bakan district, Pursat province. When I was eleven, my father suffered from black magic (1) in the brain. He behaved strangely: he sang and danced in public, played with a baton (2), and hit my mother and us children. I often escaped from this with other family members. He burned clothes and the vegetables we planted. My mother often took my siblings and me away from him. She was very distressed and lost a lot of weight. My father suffered from this illness for seven years before dying. Later, when my older sister got married, I went to live with her in Bakan district. When I was 16, I got married with a 35-year-old man named Dy Sareth, whose family was richer than mine. My father-in-law treated me badly. He didn’t like me because it had been my husband’s own decision to love and marry me. My father-in-law ordered me to work day and night. I was too young. He ordered me to prepare lot porridge (3), but I didn’t know how to do it. I made powder with 30 cans of rice. While I was stirring the powder in tears, my husband came and helped me to reduce the powder to only three cans. I tried very hard to stir the powder following the instructions of my husband. My father-in-law used me a lot and treated me badly. He ordered me to make num kruk (4), ambaos chuk tnot (5), leeng lngo (6), and to roy srov (7) until night time. He often chased me out of the house. One day I decided to run away from home.  My husband followed me by bicycle and begged me to come back. It took me a long time to decide to go back. My father-in-law still continued to treat me badly. He ordered me to do a lot of hard work. Each time I was unable to accomplish the work, he scowled at me, scolded at me and looked down on me. When that happened, I felt tense in the chest, had difficulties breathing and I felt sorry for myself.

In 1970, a coup ousted King Norodom Sihanouk from power. There was disagreement between the groups of the provincial governor and the Vietnamese groups. When they fought against each other, my husband and I were forced at gunpoint to separate from each other to join opposing sides. I was on Governor Um Pena’s side and my husband was with a Vietnamese group.

In 1971, Vietnamese soldiers, in the name of the Khmer Rouge, attacked a group of Governor Um Pena while I was taking care of the cows in the field. My brother-in-law died in that fighting. I realized at that stage that my husband had been used by them to kill people on my side. I met up with him and we both escaped from our fighting sides. The King appealed to the people to join him in the Maki Forest. My husband and I decided to follow the King. We ran across many villages: Prahal, Sdokkak, Trakohatil, Phnom Keo, Phnom Bak, Tneak Cheung Kraham in Bakan district, Pursat province. There, my husband and others were ordered to dig canals and construct underground storehouses, while I was ordered to make clothes for soldiers, transport materials to the battlefields and transport back injured soldiers. Later, they ordered my husband to transport bullets to the battlefield too. They were fighting against a group of Lon Nol (8) soldiers called the ‘Tiger Head Group’.

In 1974, I was also used as a bullet transporter. My husband and I escaped to and lived in Pursat town, where my husband worked very hard. He saved a lot of gold for me.

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge came to the village where I lived. Together with other villagers, my husband and I were arrested, tied up and deported. When we realized that we were supposed to be killed, we escaped successfully again to another commune named Preah Mlou. There we met a regional group of Khmer Rouge soldiers. They ordered people to build a canal, a bridge and dams. Near the work site was a health center managed by an old lady, Yeay Khim, and an old man, Ta Vanh. They used traditional medicine, which looked like rabbit poop, to treat any symptoms. They also injected red and yellow liquids.

In 1976, the Khmer Rouge again ordered the people there to dig a long canal extending from the health center to Kdol village. At the beginning of the year, the Khmer Rouge rang the bell calling for a meeting. It was around 7 o’clock and I didn’t see my husband in that meeting. I did not dare to ask anybody about him. I waited and waited… I saw other women’s husbands, but not mine. I asked the guard if I could go to the toilet. I actually went out to look for my husband. An old man, Ta Roeun, asked me where I was going. I asked him about my husband. He told me that they had taken him away already. They had taken him by the neck across the river to throw him in a well next to a pagoda. I cried so hard. I shouted loudly asking to be killed too, as that was what they wanted anyway. I felt extremely miserable. The next day, a Khmer Rouge officer called Pao ordered one if his subordinates – he was called Pol – to take me to marry him at 9 pm at a Chinese school in Pursat province. There, they had organized twelve couples to be married. When it was my turn, I refused and declared that I was already married. Pol brought me to a pagoda, and chained, bit and undressed me. He kissed, touched and squeezed all my private parts. He inserted my anus and vagina with bullets and beat me up until I lost consciousness. When I woke up, it was about 9 am. Pao appeared and taunted me, ‘If you had married me, it would not have been so difficult. No one would have touched or squeezed you.’ I still refused and scolded at him with very bad words. His subordinates beat me back into unconsciousness. I woke up at about 7 am the next day, and saw Pao lying next to me. I was naked. I felt dizzy and weak. I tried to get up, but I could not. I felt sorry for myself. Pao chained me again by the wrist and the ankle and then pushed my chin with his gun until I was bleeding. I wanted to fight back but I had no strength at all. From then on, Pao slept next to me every night. Every time I woke up, he was there. I told him that I didn’t accept him. He responded, ‘Even though you don’t accept me, I made you mine already.’ I behaved like a crazy dog, attempting to bite him while I was in chains. His subordinates beat me up again until I lost consciousness. My head was swollen. I was helpless and wept all the time. I just watched the sky and the stars every night.

In that so-called ‘prison’, I was chained on one side of my body (one wrist and one ankle) and I was naked. At lunch time, they left a very bad meal in a pot, which is normally used to feed pigs, for the prisoners to eat together. I could not swallow that meal. During the daytime, young guards of around 15, 16, 17 years old came ‘to play’ (9) with my private parts including breasts, buttocks and cheeks, and they beat me until I finally lost consciousness. During the nighttime, Pao came. When I woke up, I saw Pao sleeping next to me in his underwear. I frequently woke up. I had no energy. My head was tense and I was confused about what had happened to me. I didn’t know what they had done to me when I had passed out. When I regained my consciousness, I realized that I was bleeding and smelled very strongly like dead fish. They did this to me every day. Sometimes, he inserted his penis into my mouth until I regained consciousness. Every day, three to four times, they beat me until I was unconscious.

There were about 40 to 50 women in this center. One day, I witnessed a young virgin being brought in and raped until she died. I felt terribly sorry for her and I was very sad. I was imprisoned there for one month. In that period, four women were raped until they died. During this one month, Pao slept with me every day. Each time I noticed that he was sleeping next to me, I tried to bite him and scolded him, but my wrists and ankles were chained. He always said, ‘If you had married me, you would not have the difficulties you are having today.’ Still, with very bad words, I refused to accept him. He taunted me, ‘Even though you don’t accept me as husband, you are already mine.’ I was very angry. I would have bitten and eaten him if I could.

After one month, there was an old villager called Ta Roeun, who requested me from Pao because I was the only one from my village who had survived. ‘A Pao!’, he shouted. Pao said, ‘I don’t care! If you want, take her away! I already played with her! I am satisfied.’ After getting out, I slept and ate badly. I was thinking all the time about how they had tortured me and killed my relatives. Ta Roeun nourished me, took care of me and prevented me from being chased, because they thought I was the wife of a rich man. They wanted to kill me and erase my roots.

I moved to Bakan village and later lived in Lo Lok Thmey, where I was used to build canals just like other people. About ten days later, I escaped again after being followed to Wat Luong. I used to break and carry stones there. One day, my group was ordered ‘to study’. (10) We ran away again. On the way, we passed Andong village where a lot of villagers were killed. We ran on until meeting a health worker, Mr. Sok. He did me a favor by giving me an injection for my pregnancy. I delivered the baby in Sdok Kak village. The villagers suggested I’d abandon the baby to avoid suffering and dealing with starvation, but I didn’t. I already had lost my husband; I only had this baby. Ta Roeun made krasang bok (11) for me so that I had no toas (12) at all even though I had ran and escaped many times. Then there was an attack of the ‘White Khmer Party’ with Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately, Ta Roeun lost his life in the fighting.

In 1979, my child and I slept under a tree with other villagers for about ten nights. I received some food from a Vietnamese soldier. Later, a group of carts pulled by oxen, helped me to get back to Bakan district. I met up with my older sister and lived with her in Bet Trang village. The other villagers suggested again that I’d abandon my child because of the difficult situation. I didn’t and cried a lot. Living in Bet Trang, I made kantel  (13), bags and hammocks in exchange for rice. My sister paired me off with men, because she wanted me to have a husband. I cried a lot again. I didn’t want it anymore. Other families had husbands. Many men tried to become engaged with me. I decided to marry one of my cousins to avoid being looked down upon. Luckily, he really loved me and took care of me well. I had seven more children. I told him all the bad experiences I went through. He didn’t have a problem with it. I’ve never told this to other relatives, as I thought everyone already knew what happened to prisoners in that era.

These days, I am not doing so well. I get a headache, feel dizzy and have a fever each time the events of those days – especially what happened in that detention center – come to mind. When I am alone, I often cry. I want the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to build a stupa in my commune so that I can go there to pay respect to the dead.

This testimony is dedicated to my relatives who died during the Khmer Rouge era:

  • My husband Dy Reth
  • My mother Keo Sang
  • My father-in-law Ta Dy
  • My brother-in-law Nget
  • My brother-in-law Pouk
  • My younger brother Chan Chem
  • My older brother Chan Soth
  • My brother-in-law Hun
  • My grandfather Hoeun

Testifier: Chan Phay
TPO Counselor: Kim Thida
Notetaker: Kong Sambath
Phnom Penh, 18 July 2013



1 This is a severe mental health condition that has no scientific explanation. In Cambodia, it is widely believed that a person can be cursed and then suffer from a magic spirit in the brain changing his/her personality until he/she eventually dies.
2 A stick used by Cambodians to fight each other.
3 A type of Cambodian noodles.
4 A type of Cambodian cake.
5 A tool made of palm leaves used for sweeping the floor.
6 A type of roasted grains/cereals; they exist both in a black and a white variety.
7 The process during which the rice, which comes straight from the field, is separated from the grass by flinging it into the wind.
8 She is referring to the Republicans. Lon Nol was the President of the Khmer Republic which preceded the Khmer Rouge regime. He fled the country in 1975.
9 This is a toned down description of what really happened. In fact, they were touching, squeezing, beating and mauling all her private and sensitive parts, as well as the rest of her body.
10 During Khmer Rouge times, people knew that this term referred to being punished, most likely killed. The Khmer Rouge didn’t say directly that they were going to kill someone, but used other words, such as ‘to study’.
11 Krasang is a fruit, which, after being mashed, is used for making sour soup.
12 Toas stands for the poor physical state of someone who is in the postnatal period.
13 A special mattress.