April 17, 1975
, I was in Phnom Penh
. All night long we
were being hit by the Khmer
Rouge's rockets and artillery shells. The next morning, from
6:00, the inhabitants of the outskirts of the city began to swarm toward
the center of the city to take refuge in their fear of the Khmer Rouge. They all screamed,
"They are coming! They are coming! We are afraid. They kill people."
about 8:00, this wave of people coming from the out-skirts of the city
stopped. Then we saw arrive these little men, dressed in black,
obviously exhausted, one unclear word, very skinny, tired, with Ho Chi Minh caps, uh, uh,
with Ho Chi Minh sandals
and wearing the caps, and obviously wondering at finding themselves
the beginning, everyone was afraid. People looked at them. And then,
since they did not look, apparently, as though they had killed anyone,
there was a general jubilation: The war had ended. And I saw tanks in
front of me, in front of the cathedral to be exact, the crew of several
M-113, these American tanks, these American troop-transport vehicles
driven by Khmers, the crew
came down and went to applaud the Khmer Rouge.
the midst of this general jubilation, the only ones who were not smiling
were the Khmer Rouges. I said to some friends, "There is not going to be
any laughter with them. There is certainly not going to be any
Toward 11:00, 10:30 to be exact, after this hour and a half of popular
rejoicing, one felt a leaden pall covering the city. The Khmer Rouges had taken position
at all the intersections and systematically controlled every one. They
made people raise their hands, searched the vehicles and the people,
looking for weapons.
Toward 11:00, we saw a pretty upsetting sight: we saw passing in front
of us wounded people, sick people, hospital beds, some of them with
serum bottles still dripping above them, on the road. The first measure
taken by the Khmer Rouge was
the evacuation of all the hospitals. And to see people on the road, some
with only one leg left, others without arms, that is a rather upsetting
that time, we could not take in anyone. Some wounded had come and asked
me to give them refuge. I did not take them in, telling them they had to
go, there was no guarantee I could offer them.
Toward noon, the rumor spread around that the Khmer Rouge had asked people to leave. It was
effective. In my neighborhood at any rate, toward 1:00, people were seen
leaving with their bundles. It was quite simple. The Khmer Rouge fired a few shots
and shouted, "Leave! Leave quickly! The Americans are going to bomb the
after having known what the bombings were like – you should be in Phnom Penh
in order to hear
the sound of the bombing. It was something terrifying, the B-52 bombing.
One could see the sky redden at the horizon. Then, one could feel the
air burst. Then, one could hear the noise – the people of Phnom Penh
had reasons to be
afraid of bombing. So one understands why the population left without,
in my neighborhood, without any violence exercised by the Khmer Rouge.
Every one took his bundle and left. These people, of course, were in a
state of shock from the victory of the Khmer Rouge, from all the rockets and artillery
shells fired upon us during the night, but also from the American
bombing. Thus, from about 1:00 until 7:00 in the evening, the majority
of the population of Phnom
left. Truly, it was a scene that's impossible to describe.
People walking, people in cars, people on bicycles. Everybody left and
for me, groups of Khmer
Rouges came to tell me to leave. I told them, "You have given
such a slap to the Americans that they won't bomb the city. Don't worry.
At any rate, I am staying." I could feel a certain rivalry among the
different groups of the Khmer
Rouge. Some groups told me to leave. Others told me to stay. One
could feel some wavering in their policy, a lack of firmness, of
direction that one could not understand.
evening, in an empty city, a small group of Khmer Rouges came to stay in
the bishop's residence – at that time all the French priests had
gathered at the bishop's residence – about ten Khmer Rouge moved in. After some coldness, we
became friendly. We even discussed all night about politics, ideology,
the next morning, they asked us to take them to the train station which
was about 100 yards away. A friend and I winked at each other and took
them to the train station, but the long way, through the city, to weigh
the situation. I noticed that the city was empty. There was practically
no one left.
Khmer Rouges with their
weapons the word is not quite clear had begun to break down the doors of
Chinese stores and thrown into the streets all objects, utensils, things
for sale. We saw a multitude of Khmer Rouges, tens of thousands of Khmer Rouges. And I, the Frenchman, was acting as
their guide in the city of Phnom
, showing them the Queen's Residence here, Long Boret
's residence there,
the Royal Palace, etc. at the request of the Khmer Rouges themselves.
Twice, we were shot at by some Lon
Nol soldiers who still held at least a couple of positions.
There were still a few nuclei of resistance. Then we went back. The
Khmer Rouge who had been
riding our cars were severely trawled by their superiors.
went back to the bishop's residence. At this time some extremely
peremptory Khmer Rouges
ordered us to leave. So at that point we went to the Embassy.
must say that at that time I did not see any dead bodies, any act of
brutality during the evacuation of Phnom Penh
. The event itself was outrageous. But I must say
that there was not many executions, at any rate none that I personally
witnessed. But with my own eyes I saw the evacuation of the sick and
wounded people who must have died the following days. Then afterwards,
we were in the French
VPA 111. SR 2921-2922.