The Khmer Rouge Tribunal’s Spokesman Is A Former ‘Tricycle Rider’

Posted by khmernews on June 26, 2007

Prior to the establishment of the hybrid Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Reach Sambath was only a reporter for Agency of French Press (AFP) and a journalism lecturer whose name was not known by many people besides some local and international journalists. However, after this tribunal has been established, his name started to be well-known by many people through various articles about the process of the trial on the former Khmer Rouge leaders, published in newspapers which have quoted his speech to put in their articles. 

After the Khmer Rouge Tribunal was instituted, both local and international journalists have always contacted him to get all information related to the process of the Khmer Rouge trial that they want since he’s the spokesman to this tribunal. Some journalists teasingly called him “ghosts’ spokesman”. It might be because of his position as a man who [spoke] in the name of the victims who died during the Pol Pot regime. However, Reach Sambath said that what he spoke was not for the victims, but the tribunal. He continued to say that at the moment the suspects of the genocidal crimes were not marked yet out since the Khmer Rouge Tribunal still had not accused anyone.

Before he became the spokesman to the multi-national tribunal for the prosecution on the former Khmer Rouge leaders, Reach Sambath used to work as a journalist and a lecturer teaching journalism at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Until his ‘success’ brings him a warm life as the one at the present, he has undergone many hardships in his childhood and teens. Reach Sambath described his history that he was born in Doun Sa, Doun Sa, Svay Rieng, Svay Rieng. His father, named Reach Leng, had been a former Doun Sa commune leader (before 1970). He was killed by he Khmer Rouge soldiers after the country was controlled by Pol Pot on April 17, 1979.

Reach Sambath’s parents’ houses and other properties were burnt down by a group who accused his father as a federal official after Samdech Norodom Sihanouk was ousted in a coup on March 18, 1970. However, when this incident happened, his father was not in the village. He went to a meeting in Svay Rieng town.

“At that time, my family brought nothing with us. We, say, were just trying to keep our lives which were almost lost,” said Reach Sambath. Because they could no longer live in their hometown, his family decided to move into Svay Rieng town.

Reach Sambath continued to say that he was only 5 years old when his family moved into Svay Rieng. “My family as well as other families faced a lot of difficulties since the war was breaking out around the country,” he said. He pointed out that when he was at grade 9, the Khmer Rouge took control Svay Rieng on April 16, [1975], and his father was captured and killed. During the Khmer Rouge regime, Reach Sambath’s family was evacuated to many places in Svay Rieng province and finally to Battambang province, where he lost all of his family’s members.

After the liberation on January 7, 1979, he returned to his hometown and lived as an orphan. In 1981, he came to live with his older cousin Peou Limmy in Phnom Penh. He said that his life with his cousin was so difficult that he often asked his cousin to live in orphanage, but that his cousin didn’t allow.

Reach Sambath said that his cousin had never given him money to spend carelessly, but that his cousin showed him the way he could find money. “It has been since that time that I respect and love my cousin who taught me how to earn money. I was studying, but I took sometimes to ride cycle, sometimes tricycle. Sometimes, I sold cigarettes and bread along people’s houses and along railway carriages too,” he said.

“Because my house was located near Chaktomuk School, I always took my cigarette ‘stall’ to sell in front of the school, but I couldn’t sell as much as those ladies who sold nearby. They sold more than I did,” he recalled his memories. He chuckled and continued, “One day I carried cigarettes on my head to sell at Tonle Bassac Theatre as they were showing Tom and Teav movie. I was selling there when people came out from the theatre. Many people gathered around to buy my cigarettes, but I couldn’t get all the money from them, so I nearly wasted all of the money I invested. Besides selling cigarettes, I woke up early at 3-4 a.m. to sell bread along people’s houses. Sometimes, dogs were chasing me, so I had to run away hastily. Since, not many people bought my bread along their houses and since I was always bitten by the dogs, I decided to sell bread in the train station. However, guards over there didn’t allow me to enter, so I entered furtively [through] the wall and went to passenger carriages since I could sell a lot over there. Unfortunately, my bread was confiscated by the guards, so I wasted a lot of money,” he described. Reach Sambath added that in 1984, he had started learning English with a teacher named Sor Malin. He is now a general in the Ministry of Interior.

In 1987, Reach Sambath passed his high school exam and won a scholarship to study Agricultural Technology in India in 1988 and returned to his country in 1992. He said that upon coming back to the country for only 7 days, he was called by the AFP to work at what he had wished to do since he was young. He said that he loved this profession so much since his feeling had been attached to it. “During the State of Kampuchea, I saw national and international journalists who were collecting information about the pull-out of the Vietnamese soldiers from Cambodia. I could see that they (the journalists) seemed to have freedom to walk to the place where ordinary people couldn’t enter. It was the thing which has attracted my interest since then. I joined the AFP (Agence France Press) from August 10, 1992 to September 1, 2004 and then on February 6, 2006, I started working for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal as a spokesman until the present,” he said.

Reach Sambath were educated in journalism field in various countries including Thailand, the US, Malaysia, and Germany. He received a Master Degree in Journalism. When asked, “What are your difficulties when journalists ask you about the trial on the senior former Khmer Rouge leaders, and whom do you consider as your teacher in the name of a spokesman who you follow?, he answered that the difficult questions were the questions which journalists asked without knowing their topic. They, say, asked question ‘A’, but wanted the answer for ‘B’, he said. “For the person whom I considered as my senior or teacher is Information Minister H.E. Khieu Kanharith, who is the spokesman to the Cambodian People’s Party and to the government. I’ve noticed that he speaks well and clear and he is a person whom I always learn from.  Besides, I also use experience of other countries’ spokesmen who are better than us. However, being a spokesman, one must read a lot, and I, for instance, must speak neutrally since the Extraordinary Chambers for the trial on the former senior Khmer Rouge leaders is a hybrid tribunal (mixed Cambodian and international judges).

This year Reach Sambath is 42 years old. His wife, Chuoy Chanthy, is an official in the Ministry of the Economic and Finance. He has three children (1 daughter); the first one is 12 years old. 

Informal Translation
-Extracted from Chivit Kamsan Magazine, vol.02, #11, May 17-June 16, 2007.


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