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Former Khmer Rouge Recalls Fall of Phnom Penh

Him Huy, 54, a former Khmer Rouge soldier.
Him Huy, 54, a former Khmer Rouge soldier.

On April 17, 1975, Him Huy, an 18-year-old soldier within the Khmer Rouge revolution, found himself on Road 24, passing Kandal province’s Sa’ang district as part of a concerted attack on the capital, Phnom Penh.

“That day, all units and divisions came from every side into Phnom Penh,” Him Huy told “Hello VOA” Monday, recalling the day 36 years later. “Heavy weapons and light weapons both were used by Khmer Rouge in the attack.”

By the end of the day, the city had fallen to the revolution, and Year Zero had begun. Him Huy, who led a group of 12 soldiers into the city for the attack, would find himself assigned to a former high school the Khmer Rouge turned into a prison, S-21, or Tuol Sleng.

More than 12,000 people were tortured there and sent for execution at the nearby killing field of Cheoung Ek. Last year the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal sentenced Duch, Him Huy’s supervisor, to a commuted 19 years in prison for crimes committed at the prison.

Now 54, Him Huy said Monday he had been recruited as a young man the year before the capital fell. He had joined, he said, to overthrow the US-backed regime of Marshall Lon Nol and to put Norodom Sihanouk back on the throne.

“Back then, people loved the king,” he said.

He’d rejoiced at the fall of Phnom Penh, he said.

“We knew that there would be no more war, and that we would not be killed,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t know it had turned into a communist regime.”

The Khmer Rouge emptied the city, frightening residents by saying the US bombers were coming. “This is all that I knew,” he said.

In 1976 Him Huy was instated at the head of security guards at S-21, he said. He led arrests of “enemies” of the regime, he said, but it was Duch, or Kaing Kek Iev, who ordered their torture.

By that measure, he said, Duch deserved imprisonment of up to 40 years, with no deduction.