An Alaska Woman’s Voyage Out of the Killing Fields of Cambodia (KTVA.com exclusive)
Samantha Bouasri recalls her hellish trip escaping the Khmer Rouge and arriving in an America not as welcoming as she’d imagined
CAMBODIA - The communist Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia killed many in just four years.
For the rare survivors, life has never been the same. On April 17, 1975, at just 11 years old, Samantha Bouasri, who now lives in Anchorage, began a journey to save herself and – unlike roughly two million others who set out on the same voyage – live to tell the tale.
“People came screaming through the streets,” Bouasri says, with a stern look on her face. “They yell, ‘The Americans are coming; they are coming to bomb us!’” Cambodians were frightened and upset.
A former colony, Cambodia had only become independent in 1953 when it separated from France. “We celebrated our freedom, we celebrated the help we thought the Khmer Rouge was going to give us,” says Bouasri.
Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge guerillas began to take over the country in April of 1975. With inspiration from many tribes who resided in deep portions of the jungle, the militia’s hope was to create a communist society without all the in-between steps. They looked to rid the country of Buddhism, wealth and education.
“They [said] they were cleansing the country,” Bouasri says.
In a matter of six hours, on April 17, 1975 the capital city of Phnom Penh was empty – the guerillas had cleared it. “It was nothing more than a ghost town.”
The Khmer Rouge fighters began executing civilians, starting in government buildings, then schools, and then killing the farmers selling vegetables and poultry from wooden carts on the street. The attacks became routine.
The guerrillas would take the groups of people into a field that had already been dug with big trenches that would later become graves – and memorials to all the people lost during the country’s civil war. The Khmer Rouge would line people up up, and shoot them one by one until everybody lay dead on the ground.
The trenches were built big enough to bury 500 corpses. “They would take other people from that village and have them come bury them with a thin layer of soil, but you were not allowed to watch the killing,” says Bouasri. “If you see them kill someone then they kill you. You end up in the pit too.”
Young girls were raped and tortured.
“I was never raped in Cambodia,” Bouasri says. “But if they feel like raping you, they rape you, otherwise they don’t lay a hand on you cause we[’re] disgusting. And they don’t want to produce a new seed with the newcomers. They want pureblood, pure breed, like in Hitler’s time.
“When they rape, it was just for fun.”
Men were forced to watch the Khmer Rouge cut off women’s breasts and burn their hair. The guerrillas would laugh and dare their fellow soldiers to eat various body parts of the innocent, recalls Bouasri, as she looks down at the wooden table in front of her, trying to hold back tears.