For the widows of Taing Srey, money doesn’t compensate for the loss nor for the pain

Just a re-posting of a piece from Cambodge Soir, on the payment of ‘compensation’ to widows of Khmer Rouge victims from a Japanese businessman who urges ‘forgiveness.’ In this case, the local village chief is taking his ‘cut.’ Posted from here.

Friday, February 16, 2007

For the widows of Taing Srey, money doesn’t compensate for the loss nor for the pain

By Chheang Bopha
Cambodge Soir
Translated from French by Luc Sâr

Haruhisa Handa, the rich Japanese businessman and an advisor to the Cambodia University, visited the province of Kompong Cham at the beginning of February, to distribute, for the third time, money in Taing Srey village, Batheay district: $100,000 out of his $3.3 million Funds for compensation and for the memory of the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide. One thousand families received, during the ceremony organized for the occasions, envelopes containing $100 each, and on which a message was written stating: “Please, forgive the Khmer Rouge. Forgiveness is your salvation.”

The families were selected according to three criteria: (1) the head of the family became a widow because of the Khmer rouge, (2) the family lost one of its members because of the Khmer Rouge, and (3) the family is poor. The village chief helped the foundation determine which families are eligible, and researchers from the Cambodia University visited the village to interview the candidate families. Even though the ceremony was conducted with great fanfare, at the end those who were selected did not actually received the full amount of $100 distributed to them. They had to give the envelope to the village chief who proceeded to split the money according to the agreement they set before hand. Those who are opposed to the money sharing, receive nothing, the widows reported. At the end, they had to hand over to the village chief a gift amounting to between 25,000 to 100,000 riels ($6 to $25). Cambodge Soir interviewed three widows in the village regarding these donations.

Yorn received 100,000 riels ($25 out of $100)

Yorn lives very poorly in her hut. She would like to get the full amount of the $100 gift to start a business, but the 100,00 riels ($25) she received will only allow her to pay off her debt. But, this money will never compensate the loss of her husband, nor for the four of her 9 children, nor the suffering she still lived with. “My husband was weak, he could not work, they buried him alive,” she said while sobbing. “If he were to die of a disease, I would not be angry, but he was cruelly killed. I cannot forget.” Yorn assures that if the killers were to stand in front of her and ask for her forgiveness, she would forgive them. But that would not erase all her sufferings. A devout Buddhist, she prefers eating small skinny fishes and keeping the little money she has to contribute for a ceremony at the pagoda, in the hope that in her next life, she will not suffer the same thing she is enduring now. “Million of riels will not bring back my husband!” she pleaded. “There is no comparison. If he were to be alive, my family would not have the difficulties we are facing now.”

Thuon did not receive anything

Under the Khmer rouge, she spent three years in jail following the arrest of her husband. When she arrived at the prison, she saw him from afar, he was visibly undergoing two or three days of torture. Believing that he was going to die, she said that her immediate reflex was to stay alive to take care of her children. When the Khmer Rouge questioned her, she “told the truth,” she confirmed that her husband was a former military police officer. Since then she lives with unbearable guilt as she is convinced that she brought her husband to his death. She was relatively spared because she cleaned clothes for the Khmer Rouge in prison. She assures that she still could not believe how during that period, human being lost all their dignities. To her, the real killers are dead, but those who gave the orders are still alive. “The higher ups should bear the blames, not the local level people,” she said. Her sister whose husband was injured by his own Khmer Rouge nephew revolted when she heard her. “If those responsible at the local level have not been so cruel, there would not be this many death! For me, I am ready to deposit my legal complaint. These are Khmer who kill Khmer,” she retorted. Thuon, while keeping a low profile, brought up the reconciliation idea. “If the government forces us to do it [the reconciliation], I will do what it asks, but in the bottom of my heart, it’s too heavy.”

Tha did not receive any donation

The day her husband was taken, she was not there. It was the neighbors who reported her husband’s arrest, he was taken under the pretext that this professor had violently prevented a child from climbing on the motorcycle belonging to a Khmer rouge. They took him for “beating Angkar’s child.” He never came back. At the time, she dreamt of revenge. Today, she just wants to forget all these sufferings. “Nothing will bring back my husband,” she said. She will not participate in the Khmer Rouge trial, she just wants to cross out all of her past and dedicate herself to a Buddhist interpretation of the events: “We must have done bad things to these people in a past life. We must put an end to it. I don’t want any more pain.” Tha goes to the pagoda to pray, “to purify her karma, as well as others’ karmas.” A spark comes back to her when she sees her children laughing when they watch a film from that [Khmer Rouge] period, and as they do not believe a single word about the story of Khmer people working hard in rice fields, beaten up, starving. “The Khmer Rouge wanted to kill us because they did not want to feed us, even though the granaries were filled. That’s my story, that’s the truth,” she insisted. And then she proceeded to tell the story of what happened to her husband, and to insist on the story that she doesn’t want her children to never forget, even though herself, she is trying hard to erase it form her memory.

If she did not receive a donation from the Japanese millionaire, most likely, it is because of her larger house which reflects a standard of living more comfortable that that of others. Her son-in-law received 25,000 riels ($6.25). “Money does not compensate the suffering, but when we are poor, it’s not too bad, it helps to buy food or to organize a small [religious] ceremony.”


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