When the Lon Nol coup occurred on March 18, 1970, my uncle Om Ngat, and his wife, Om Ear were living in Takeo Province, Bati District in Chambak Commune. While my mother recalls the streets of Phnom Penh being very quiet that day, my aunt remembers a violent uprising in Chambak Commune in the subsequent days. In my final story about the coup, I interviewed my aunt as she recalls tensions in her village soon afterwards and how the Khmer Rouge grew in her commune as a result.
PART III: “The Uprising in Takeo”
On March 18, 1970 I was living in Takeo Province, Bati District in Chambak Commune. We owned a small shop in our house. We lived in the same house your mother grew up in, which was across the street from Wat Ansung (Ansung Pagoda). We didn’t know that there had been a coup in Phnom Penh. We didn’t hear the announcement because there weren’t many TVs or radios in our village at the time.
A few days afterwards we heard rumors from Phnom Penh that something big had happened, that the government had removed Prince Sihanouk from power. Some villagers said they later heard a message from Prince Sihanouk on the radio telling the people to rise against the enemies and go to the maquis to fight the government. At that point I knew there would be trouble because people in the village adored Prince Sihanouk. They were fiercely loyal to him and would die for him.
This is the second story in the "Three Memories of the Coup" series. This story is from a recent interview with my mother, Sakhan You, and what she remembers from that day.
part ii: "Neuv SNGat SnGeam--Stay QuiEt and Still"
March 18th, 1970 was a day that changed the course of Cambodia’s history, like the first domino that set forth a chain of unstoppable events. I was 30 years old at the time and working at Kantha Bopha Hospital as a pediatric nurse. Your father was in Takeo Province teaching at Lycee Ang Prey. He would teach there during the week and come to Phnom Penh on the weekends.
We were living near the Chinese Embassy on Mao Tse Tong Boulevard, near the Cham Mosque. The country was at a boiling point. Since the beginning of the year there were widespread protests in Phnom Penh for the Viet Cong to get out of Cambodia. It escalated in mid March when in one incident the protestors torched the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Embassy. I was increasingly afraid to be in Phnom Penh alone with five children and seven months pregnant with my sixth child. The only person I had with me was my aunt, Yey Om, and a helper.
March 18, 2014 marked 44 years since the coup by General Lon Nol to overthrow Prince Norodom Sihanouk from power. Over the next few days, I will profile three stories, firsthand accounts by three people who recalls what happened that day, and chain of events that occurred thereafter. The first is written by Mr. Chhang Song who was working on Prince Sihanouk's information team as an editorial assistant at the time of the coup. He later became Minister of Information in the Lon Nol government. Read his first hand account of the series of events that took place on March 18, 1970.
Part I: The OVERTHROW OF PRINCE NORODOM SIHANOUK
By Mr. Chhang Song, Long Beach, California, March 18, 2014.
The March 18, 1970 overthrow of Cambodia’s Head of State, Prince NORODOM SIHANOUK continues to be on my mind to this day and has kept me busy sorting out information for the past 45 years. Unlike many Cambodians who turned against the Prince, I was very close to him before his overthrow.
I was on the Prince’s information team as an editorial assistant. Upon my return from the US, he gave me an office at his official Sangkum Printing Plant and put me in charge of proofreading and editing copies of articles, statements and speeches he made. At the printing plant, we paid particular attention to his political magazines, Kambuja and Le Sangkum, which were published in French and English.
We often learn the best when we learn from others' ideas and experiences. Sharing knowledge opens doors to the world and it is how we grow as human beings. Check out my new section dedicated to writers who wish to share their knowledge and experiences on Cambodia.
The first guest writer is Socheata Vong, a development professional (and recent interviewee on the Next Generation of Leaders Series). Socheata shares her enthusiasm for Rithy Panh's film "The Missing Picture" and the excitement she felt when the film was nominated for an Oscar for the Best Foreign Film category and the disappointment she felt when it didn't win. Socheata describes the pride of a nation for the country's most prominent filmmaker.
Click here to read her piece on "Rithy Panh and the Missing Picture"
In a few hours the 86th Academy Awards will start in Los Angeles, California. Beautiful celebrities dressed in gorgeous gowns and dashing tuxedos will adorn the red carpet with their perfectly manicured hair and makeup. For the first time in history, among those celebrities is Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, whose film “The Missing Picture” is nominated for the Best Foreign Film. This is the first Academy nomination for Cambodia. The film is beautifully original and a creative masterpiece, which uses clay figures to recreate Mr. Panh’s traumatic experience during the Khmer Rouge regime. These clay figures are juxtaposed between Khmer Rouge propaganda film.
I can only imagine what Mr. Panh must be feeling right now. A sense of excitement, nervousness, fatigue and elation all come to mind. As he strolls down the red carpet among those glamorous celebrities I hope he knows that the pride of a nation will be with him. As we anxiously wait for his name to be called, for a brief instant we may forget the poverty, inequality, corruption, and political divides that plagues the nation and for a moment in time, we are united behind him cheering for our country. This is in stark contrast to Cambodia’s first Oscar nomination 30 years ago...