Monday, November 16, 2009

Pin Yathay Looks Forward Justice from KRT

BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA

Pin Yathay, 65, was the first and only Cambodian witness to tell the world about the Khmer Rouge’s killing fields while the genocide was still happening from 1975-1979. During this period, Khmer Rouge leaders gained control of Cambodia and killed many people throughout the country. Pin Yathay is also the only survivor among eighteen relatives. The rest of his family died of starvation.

“I think that I am very lucky as I survived the Khmer Rouge terror regime,” he told The Southeast Asia Weekly during a personal interview in Phnom Penh. “I am now waiting to see truth and justice for my family as well as for other victims who were killed during the three years of the Khmer Rouge regime.”

In order to find justice for his relatives and the other victims who were killed, the survivor Pin Yathay said that he recently registered as a civil plaintiff in the Khmer Rouge Court. He has also prepared to submit his two books to the court, in which he wrote about witnessing the Khmer Rouge regime, its acts of genocide and other crimes.

“I think the Khmer Rouge regime was cruel toward Cambodians and that the Khmer Rouge leaders were no inexperienced in management. Instead, their heads were filled with grandiose plans for overturning the status quo and for achieving communism almost overnight. They killed nearly two million Cambodians and made the country empty,” he said.

Regarding the Khmer Rouge Trial, Pin Yathay called on the Khmer Rouge Court to speed up the prosecution of the former Khmer Rouge leaders because all of the accused are old and ill, and they may die before being tried.

“I am afraid that the former Khmer Rouge leaders will be dead before their trials. If so the court could not find justice for the victims,” he said. “I would like to appeal to the Court to work hard and speed up the prosecutions of the accused people before they die.”

Pin Yathay emphasized that when the Khmer Rouge seized power in April 1975, he was working as a Civil Engineer and Director of the Public Works Department in the Ministry of Public Works in Phnom Penh. Under the brutal new regime, his class and position as an employee of the state made him a prime target for elimination, he said.

In April 1975, Yathay and his family of eighteen, including three elderly relatives, eight adults and seven children, were forcibly driven from Phnom Penh, along with the rest of the population of over two million people, to take up new lives as unpaid agricultural workers.

Over the next two years, Cambodia became, in effect, a gigantic prison farm. Yathay’s family stuck together as they were shuttled from one communal work site to another, ending up in Pursat province in Cambodia’s mountainous, inhospitable northwest, under the care of baleful Khmer Rouge cadres.

“None of my family ever had enough to eat. All of them were overworked, and they all became extremely sick. By early 1977, most of them had died of starvation, and under miserable conditions. At the point, I was accused of being bourgeois by someone who had known me in the past,” he said.

Fearing execution, Pin Yathay decided to walk over the mountains into Thailand with his wife after arranging to leave their 6 year-old son, Nawath, in the care of another couple. By the time he reached safety, he and his wife had become separated. Two months later, she disappeared in a forest fire in Pursat province.

Describing his escape and arrival in Thailand in 1977, Yathay related being arrested and jailed by Thai soldiers. A week after his Thai arrest, he was sent to find refuge in Paris, France.

During his stay in Paris in 1977, Yathay sought help for the Cambodian people from the international community. He met with many journalists there and told them about the Khmer Rouge and what was happening in his country. He then went to other European countries, Canada, and the United States, where he spoke publicly about his country’s plight.

Yathay wrote two books related to the Khmer Rouge’s regime and its crimes while in France. The first book is titled “L’Utopie Meurttrie’re” or “Murderous Utopia” and was published at the end of 1979. The second book is called “Stay Alive, My Son” and was also published in 1979.

According to Yathay, his book “Murderous Utopia” describes Cambodian society and the Khmer Rouge through its ideology and behavior, while “Stay Alive, My Son” focuses on the characters, emotions, and individual tragedies behind his own story. He added that these two books are among the best of first-hand accounts of this horrific era.

Besides his work to rescue his country from the Khmer Rouge, Yathay began to rebuild his own life and reestablish his career, working first as a project engineer in France and then with the Asian Development Bank based in Manila before joining the French Development Agency in Paris. He also remarried and once again has three sons. He still hopes that his son Nawath may be alive, and that they will one day be reunited.

Alain Arnaudet, Director of French Cultural Center, appreciates Pin Yathay’s hard work and talent, saying that Pin Yathay is a good writer and that his book of true stories is very important for Cambodians in the context of what is going on now with the Khmer Rouge trial.

“I think that it is important to have such witness still alive and who can write so well. Yathay is a good engineer and he had been worked for many important NGOs in France and around the world,” Arnaudet told The Southeast Asia Weekly, adding that Yathay is a good example for Cambodians and remains very important since it was only thirty years ago that he wrote his book and opened the eyes of Western countries to what was going on in Cambodia.

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