Friday, 18 April 2008

New Zealand: Rotorua man recalls killing fields of Cambodia

IN STORE: Dara Mao at his dairy The Hub in Ngongotaha.

Stuff.co.nz
Phil Campbell - Rotorua Review Friday, 18 April 2008

The recent death of the face of the killing fields in Cambodia evoked sad memories for a Ngongotaha businessman. Dith Pram, the most famous face of the Cambodian civil war, was an award-winning photographer with the New York Times about whom the movie The Killing Fields was made. He died aged 65.

Cambodian Vanndara Mao, a Ngongotaha dairy shop owner, lost three brothers to the murderous Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime in 1977 amid one of history's worst mass genocide. He was nine when the killings began in 1970.

Three million people were killed, and 85 percent of families of a population of 10 million were affected. Among them were the Mao brothers Va, Vanny and Vanthy - three of eight children.

With a cousin, their father had shares in a sawmill. Mr Mao senior, now 80 who returned to Cambodia 10 years ago, avoided execution by travelling to districts (known by numbers) other than that to which he had been ordered, keeping ahead of Pol Pot's soldiers.

Periodically, he would discreetly return home to visit his family. Dara Mao, who has enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of New Zealand for more than 20 years, the last eight in Rotorua, refused to yield to the regime's brainwashing and listened to his father's advice.

That advice was to not even whisper in silence to fuel Pol Pot informers, as to comment adversely meant death. They infiltrated Cambodian villages but Dara's village bonded to an impenetrable code of silence  a muted resistance.

"They closed the world from us," Dara says. "There was no other world when the communists came in." Pol Pot's henchmen arrived from Vietnam, raping and pillaging. The elderly, academics, intellectuals, artists, and successful businessmen and women perished. Like Hitler's Germany?

"Yes," says Dara. "But the Germans killed other races; here we were being killed by our own people."

The inhabitants of 51 houses in the village where Dara lived formed a pact to resist the temptation to criticise the Khmer Rouge. Informers listed comments and reported them to the regime, after which slayings were carried out.

Dara's older brother was a teacher, another was killed in the bush, and the third, had been brainwashed by the regime but killed despite an ostensible allegiance.

"All of the brainwashed were treated like brothers, but in the Pol Pot (regime), because of the brainwashing, brothers could kill brothers."

Families noted that if their loved ones were taken from them and not returned within a few months, they had been killed in the disintegration of Cambodian society. The Maos lived by the Mekong River, close to the Vietnamese border, itself recovering from the ravages of the Vietnam War.

Neighbouring Vietnam, pushed into Cambodia in the late 1970s to restore some order. "We were so lucky. Had we been there another month we would have died."We didn't go anywhere; we were lucky Vietnam came in to push the Khmer Rouge out."

His memory of privation remains vivid, the opinion of Cambodia scarcely less cynical than it became during the 1970s.

"Cambodia is very, very poor, but corruption there is not helping. "If they live like that then the country will be run down  it is nothing."

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