«Thnot, is a little village in the Oddar Meanchey province in Northwestern Cambodia, has suddenly become a strategic place – a crossroad in a jungle, where the government army and the Vietnamese troops have dug in. The remaining population in the village and the province must be viewed as experts on war. During the last 50 years, they have survived the French and Japanese, US bomb raids, Pol Pot’s terror-regime and genocide, Vietnamese occupation and Soviet made artillery.
Meak, a 15 year old guerrilla solider initiated his career in the art of killing when Vietnamese troops came to his village and forcefully recruited him along with his two brothers. After this, Meak was fed political propaganda, given nearly nothing to eat, an old AK-47, and then moved to the front line in Battambang, while his brothers ended up at another front line in western Cambodia. Five months after arriving to Battambang, Meak and his ‘forced’ recruited unit are surrounded and captured by the feared Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge soldiers do not kill Meak and the other prisoners; instead they force them to join the guerrilla. After over a year with the Khmer Rouge in the jungle of Western Cambodia, Meak and a friend are able to escape and join Prince Norodom Ranariddh’s ANS army.
Somewhere in the jungle is a burst of automatic fire, then silence again. There is no artillery fire in reply of the fired rockets – nothing at all. The guerrilla soldiers are in a good mood, the little insignificant village Thnot is another battle on the long way to the capital Phnom Penh. Meak, however, does not look happy. Perhaps he is wondering if one of his two brothers might belong to the government position in Thnot that was hit by the rockets. It is getting dark over the hill and in the jungle and with ‘ringing’ ears and wet boots, I follow Meak and the nameless shadows in the long column of guerrilla soldiers walking back west.
Behind us, smoke is slowly rising up from the jungle.»
Peter Strandberg | Cambodia | 1989-1991