Cambodia: Muslim says Khmer Rouge threat forced her to deny Islam

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Cambodia, PHNOM PENH (AA): A Cham Muslim woman who took the stand at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Tuesday used her impact statement to describe the wide-ranging suffering inflicted upon her and other Muslims under Pol Pot’s dystopian regime. No Sates described the way her father and relatives were rounded up, taken away and murdered.

“Then it was our turn. They used the pretext that we were to be relocated when we were sent away” with the men sent first, followed by their wives and children a day later.

“I almost died during the regime, but I had the determination to live on,” Sates added. “If I were to die naturally, it would have been a happy ending. I didn’t want to be tied up and killed.”

The woman’s testimony is one of a series of stories of survival recounted over the past few weeks by Cham witnesses and civil parties as the trial against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan has moved into the genocide phase.

That phase has included testimony from a number of Cham who have described treatment against their ethnicity by the Khmer Rouge.

In Sates’ case, she and other women from her village were rounded up and interrogated as regards their ethnicity.

When the Khmer Rouge took power in April 1975, they began rolling out a policy of forcing Muslims to eat pork and cut their hair, as well as seizing and torching copies of the Quran.

On Tuesday, Sates explained that during her interrogation, she and about 30 other women denied their Cham Muslim backgrounds and insisted they were Khmer—the dominant ethnic group in Cambodia—and their lives were spared.

She also described the trauma of witnessing her siblings starve from overwork and a lack of food – workers under the Khmer Rouge were typically given a ladle of salty gruel to eat.

“I pitied my younger siblings. When they didn’t have anything to eat, they lay on the ground so weak,” she told the court.

“I had to search for veggies or leaves for them to eat. They were so skinny. Sometimes I wanted to kill myself – I didn’t want to witness such misery experienced by my siblings.”

To this day, Sates said she struggles with the memories of the regime, during which she and other women were also forced to sort through the clothes of other Cham villagers who were taken away and killed.

She recalled having come across clothes belonging to her relatives.

“Every time I recall what happened in the past, it seems that my mind is not in my body any more,” she said. “I’d like to put this question to person responsible—what was the purpose of making the revolution?”

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