Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Khmer rape victim tells her story

DEEP WOUNDS A short film which revisits the darkest era of Cambodian history shows that rape crimes by the Khmer Rouge have been largely forgotten or ignored

AP , PHNOM PENH

Clad in white with her head shaved, Tang Kim looks like any of the other Buddhist nuns praying by her side. But within, she suffers deep wounds.

She is a "killing fields" survivor searching for internal healing, having lived with the trauma of gang rape the Khmer Rouge inflicted on her nearly 30 years ago.

For the first time, her story is being told in a 30-minute documentary about rape of women by the Khmer Rouge, who prided themselves on adhering to a strict code of sexual conduct during their otherwise brutal rule from 1975 to 1979.

The film, by the genocide research group Documentation Center of Cambodia, offers another piece of evidence to a long-delayed tribunal to try surviving Khmer Rouge leaders for crimes against humanity.

The ultra-communist regime attempted to introduce radical policies, leading to the death of some 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, overwork, disease and execution.

The incidence of rape during the Khmer Rouge era was widely known, but has so far received little publicity or research, in part because survivors are reluctant to tell their stories, said Youk Chhang, director of the documentation center.

Tang Kim, 51, decided to become a nun at a pagoda in Kampong Chhnang Province in central Cambodia in January.

"I'm happy living here. At the pagoda, I hear only the sounds of chanting every day. Everyone strives to seek the truth" by praying, she says in the film.

Before entering the monastery, the peasant woman felt that only revenge against her tormentors could help ease her pain.

She recounts in the film that three days after the Khmer Rouge killed her first husband in May 1975, she and seven other women were rounded up by the regime's soldiers to be raped and then murdered near a village in Kampong Chhnang.

LIKE ANIMALS

Three of them "pulled me away like animals tearing at their prey. They raped me so violently that I was bleeding profusely," she said, adding that she also expected to be murdered.

But she said she managed to flee when the soldiers, after raping her, set about killing a pregnant woman whose abdomen they cut open to take out the fetus.

"Only if you experienced it could you know how fearful it was, knowing your death was coming," Tang Kim says.

Her story speaks of the hypocrisy of a movement which laid down a strict code of conduct for its adherents and all those it enslaved.

Angkar, the regime's faceless but terrifying ruling machine, banned romance, forced many men and women into mass marriages and tortured or killed those who engaged in unsanctioned sexual relations.

The rules could be evaded, however, by accusing women of being the regime's enemies and thus subject to rape and execution, Youk Chhang said.

He said the center has so far identified some 168 cases of rape committed against women during the murderous regime. But Tang Kiom is the first survivor to have her experiences properly documented.

"We've found a few others but they did not come forward to tell their stories because of a fear of shame," he said.

Rachana Phat, the film's director, said she had learned about the case -- but without knowing that Tang Kim was still alive -- from the center's files, began her search and, by coincidence, ran into Tang Kim last August.

She said Tang Kim confirmed the killing of seven other women. But Rachana said the woman was reluctant to talk about her own agony until she was convinced how important it would be for educating a new Cambodian generation about the extent of the Khmer Rouge's inhumanity.

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