Interview With Nhim Bunthoeun

Nhim Bunthoeun recalls his life in Cambodia from the 1970s-1990s.

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Born the son of a laborer in Koh Sotin Village of the Kampung Cham Province, Nhim Bunthoeun recalls how his family moved to Phnom Penh by the early 1970s. His father would load and unload fish supplies transported by helicopter between Phnom Penh and Kampong Channang, as Khmer Rouge fighters had occupied the land routes. He also experienced artillery fire near his primary school, and fled home. When the Khmer Rouge took power, his family was forcibly moved to Taing Kok commune, where they remained until the Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979. They fled to their native place when the Vietnamese invaded, before moving back to Phnom Penh a year later. In the 1980s, Nhim Bunthoeun joined the army, and after 3 years as a logistics officer, was deployed into combat at Battambang Province, but fled that very night and returned to live with his mother. He married a fellow Koh Sotin native in the 1990s and they moved back to Phnom Penh to live with his mother. He took a job as a cyclo driver1 which he continues to this day.

He was born at Koh Sotin village, Koh Sotin Commune, Koh Sotin District, Kampong Cham Province. Because of insecurity at his home village, his family moved to Phnom Penh in the early 1970s. In Phnom Penh, his father was a worker, loading and unloading goods in and out of the helicopter that transported fish from Kampong Chhnang to Phnom Penh. By 1973, land transport between Phnom Penh and Kampong Chhnang province, which is 90 km, was disconnected because the road was occupied by the Khmer Rouge communist group.

Fish was transported from Kampong Chhnang to Phnom Penh to supply the city dwellers. His mother was a house wife.

Bunthoeun started school at Sothearos Primary School in Phnom Penh. By early 1975, he was in grade 9 (from 12 to 1). Few days before Phnom Penh fell into the hand of communist soldiers, he saw several helicopters landing near his school to transport some people out of the city, while at the same time, artillery was dropped near his school as the Khmer Rouge communist fired it from AreiKsat (another small village located on another side of the river).

As artillery was continuously dropped near his school, he ran straight home. Later, he found that during the chaos, his father went to his school to look for him, but did not meet him. When he arrived home, he met his parents.

At night on April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge communist group took over the country, the Khmer Rouge soldiers forced his family to move out of the city. They travelled west on National Road 4. Later, the family and other people were transported by truck to Taing Kok commune, Kampong Thom province, approximately 200 km from Phnom Penh, where he lived until the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed in January 1979.

When the Vietnamese soldiers came, his family fled the village and travelled to his homeland, where they had not visited since the early 1970s. They lived there for a year before they moved again to Phnom Penh. In Phnom Penh, he captured a flat on the third floor. At that time, ordinary people were permitted to capture a flat on the third floor upward. Government officials were allowed to capture the house on the ground floor to the second floor.

In the early 1980s, he joined the government army on the invitation of his cousin who was the driver in the army. After joining the army, his role was to assist his cousin, transporting military supplies to the battlefield. After doing the job for approximately 3 years, he was sent to Battambang province to fight in the battlefield. Because of his terrifying in the battlefield, he fled home on that night and arrived in Phnom Penh later and lived with his single mother.

Later, he married to a woman at his home village in Koh Sotin village. After marriage, he and his wife moved to Phnom Penh and lived with his mother. His wife selling at the grocery shops and he helped his wife. Since the early 1990s, he began his job a cyclo driver and continue to do that job ever since.

Interviewer: Socheat Nhean

Interviewee: Nhim Bunthoeun

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Transcript Notes

1. Cyclo refers to Rickshaw

  1. What does Nhim Bunthoeun’s tenure in the military suggest about the pragmatic considerations he made in navigating his Cold War experience?

  2. Consider the role of constant, forced movement in shaping the Cold War experience for Nhim Bunthoeun and other Cambodian civilians.