She rarely smiles to men or to anyone else she walks past in her village except her own close relatives and very few friends. She takes psychiatric medication daily against PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). Now in her late 50s, Leang Korn has gone through so much that her Cambodian compatriots might not have the courage to face up to.
My day with her was a good opportunity to get closer to the truth of a woman’s life who deserves our attention Leang Korn was born as a farm girl in Kampot province in 1952 and had only 6 years of schooling. Before the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh, they already occupied her village. In 1974, her husband was however “smashed” by Angkar (a term which the Khmer Rouge liked to be called) though after an earlier false accusation of working for the CIA. In the same year, she was almost brought to the killing field. Miles from her village, she was walking but suddenly stopped and surrounded by several armed Khmer Rouge soldiers. Unfortunately, a bullet fired through her back to her chest. She ran with blood flowing profusely. The huge remaining scar is very visible on her upper centre chest. Her relatives later found her in a paddy field but she asked them to leave her there, for she thought that she would die instantly while coming to a conclusion that her life was worth nothing but fertilizer in the paddy.
After her husband was killed, she found herself a few months pregnant and decided to keep the baby. In 1977, she was again falsely accused and taken into a small room. She came face to face with a locally notorious butcher/executioner. Inside, she spotted human gall bladders hung down the ceiling, after which she was asked if she knew what they were. It’s a popular practice by the KR soldiers to kill people and remove the gall bladders, livers, heart and intestines, commonly known as mutilation of the dead and used in war years ago. Different from other forms of mutilation, the KR soldiers allegedly drank the galls they believed would bring them power and a youthful look.
The KR soldiers were so “smart”; they killed the intelligent and kept the idiots like them alive. Sensing the trick and danger, she said ‘no’ and instead said it was wild boars’ gall bladders. She was humiliated and assaulted when he asked her to take off her shirt to show the obvious scar on her chest. He was touching her but she had to listen to the order. If not, the big sharp knife on the table used to remove gall bladders would have pierced through her body like other prisoners. Luckily she was spared when they were interrupted by another Chinese-looking Cambodian girl brought into the room. She was accused of stealing sugar cane. Leang Korn was let go, but while walking away she heard the young girl weeping and eventually shrieking in pain.
The excruciating details would go on forever with no justice assured for her. I could see her pain visible on her non-smiling face. She finds it so hard to forgive and even forget. No one including me can ever understand her pain. Her husband got killed for no reason; she was tortured, humiliated, threatened and deprived of fundamental human rights, not to mention the fact that she had been gang-raped three times at different places and times by the Khmer Rouge soldiers.
In her first rape, she woke up and felt sheer pain below her waist. They tried to kill her by disfiguring her lower part of her body. She was raped the third time and severely tortured on January 6, 1979, a day before Phnom Penh was evacuated. The suffering she endured during the almost four years always brings her to tears and discrimination she received from her villagers after the war was over.
Villagers in her village haven’t learnt a single lesson from the war, and instead they fanatically believe in spirits and animalism. When their children fell sick, they turned their anger at her because it was a taboo to be a single mother/widow. She also went through an extreme dilemma. The second rape left her pregnant of a son and seven days after the birth, he died. The second birth also left her disabled and her legs paralysed. As soon as she could walk again in 1994, she made up her mind to forever leave the town and travelled to far-away places so she wouldn’t meet people she knew. The pain resumed in 2007 when she spotted a (mug-shot) picture of her beloved nephew in Tuol Sleng museum, a former torture and execution centre that saw death of more than 15,000 people.
Leang Korn applied as a civil party of Case 001 (Duch Trial) at the Khmer Rough tribunal but rejected in 2010. Can’t beatings, torture, rape, humiliation and loss of relatives make her a victim?? Does she still have room to tell anyone that her mother was used in replacement of a cow to plough through the paddy fields? Leang Korn said that she would constantly fight and struggle for her justice, and that her suffering would be alleviated in the process. I also hope that the court will see her as a potential civil party and that she deserves compensation (in whatever form) so that what all the victims including her have gone through will be fully acknowledged.
To recap it all, I have had this unanswered question for the rest of the former KR leaders who are awaiting their turn. Was the suffering of millions of Cambodians necessary? To fulfil their fanatic ideology, they killed people who shared their language, history and land. It after all boils down to a fact “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”