When the War Was Over

When the War Was Over by Elizabeth Becker Read Free Book Online

Book: When the War Was Over by Elizabeth Becker Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Becker
main north-south street. He noticed little new beyond the sight of a few makeshift white flags adorning other buildings.
    He went back inside to his desk. Standing there was a young soldier in black pajamas with a weatherbeaten face. He asked Komphot if he could direct him to the minister in charge. “I told him he was confused. There were no ministers. This was not a government building. It was a bank. He left immediately.”
    This young Khmer Rouge, the first Komphot had ever met, seemed a simple, disoriented young man and little else. Komphot sat down and finished some paperwork undisturbed by the meeting. Around 10:00 that morning the country’s Buddhist patriarch went on national radio calling for order: “The war is over, we are among brothers,” he said. “Stay quietly in your homes.”
    Shortly thereafter a top general of the defeated Khmer Republic army forces also spoke on the radio. He ordered all fighting to cease because “negotiations are in progress.”
    About noon, Komphot got up from his desk to keep a lunch engagement with his cousin In Nhel, who worked across the street at the national railway company as the director. By then Monivong Avenue had begun to resemble a parade route, at least in Komphot’s eyes. Khmer Rouge soldiers were
walking up the avenue in small units. He waited for one group of the black-pajamaed soldiers to pass before crossing the road to meet his cousin at the railway company’s canteen. They spoke of the war’s end and wondered what role Sihanouk would play in the new government. Two hours later Komphot returned to the bank. Waiting for him was an important emissary from the Khmer Rouge.
    â€œHe was clearly an intellectual,” said Komphot. “He wanted to see the bank president, who had gone home. Then he told me he wanted to confiscate all the bank notes and valuables, gold and so on. I had to explain private banks did not keep gold, only notes. Then he said the Americans were planning to bomb Phnom Penh and he had orders to take away everything of value.”
    This threat of an American attack did not bother Komphot. He didn’t believe it and told the cadre he needn’t worry. He knew the Americans, and they wouldn’t do such a thing now that they had lost. “I talked to the cadre, calling him brother, making him familiar with me, like a friend. I’m always outgoing and I felt comfortable with him. I even joked that our vault was so strong not even bombs from a B-52 could destroy it. But the cadre asked me to find the president.”
    Komphot got on the telephone and reached the president at his home. The president agreed to come back to the bank at once. But two other officials were needed to unlock the safe: the comptroller general and the cashier general. Komphot agreed to drive to their homes and bring them back to the bank. Along the way he saw what he considered predictable scenes. The Khmer Rouge were collecting all the weapons of the citizens; by war’s end civilians had begun carrying pistols for protection. He saw piles of weapons in the street, but he failed to notice what was missing—any sense of celebration. He was wrapped up in his mission. When all were assembled at the bank, the three top officers opened the safe. Komphot had to supervise the counting of the notes, about $1 million in Khmer money. He made out a receipt, it was duly signed, and the keys to the safe were given up to the Khmer Rouge. It was now evening, nearly 7:00, and the cadre asked Komphot to put the money back in the safe.
    Even though he had spent the better part of the afternoon counting notes in the quiet chambers of the bank, Komphot could feel the mood of the city change. He heard intermittent gunfire, repeated automatic rifle bursts from all directions. A clerk had whispered to him that the Khmer Rouge were ordering people to leave the city. But the radio had not broadcast an evacuation order. Komphot was

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