My wife and I are very pleased to join with our people in Kompong Cham province’s district of Stoeung Trang to put into use the Buddhist temple in the Ubolkiri or Tuol Sambuor pagoda as well as other religious achievements. I wish to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to the achievements that have been realized in the pagoda and personally to Oknha Sim Vanna as well as other generous contributors – near and far – to help our pagoda of Ubolkiri with these achievements.
I would also seek apology from the people in the district because I have not been here for such a long time – about 29 years since the country’s liberation from the genocide. Though I did not come here in person, but as you could see these achievements – have been my contribution with the help of Okhna Sim Vanna and others in my representation.
I recall that 40 years ago (in 1967) I left this area. My home village is not far from this place along the river. In relation to Tuol Sambuor (a high ground named after a tree called Sambuor) I remember two main events. First I used to come to this place to cultivate rice with my father and my two elder brothers. We had about ten hectares of land then as rainy season rice field and some for dry season rice cultivation at the field of Tradak Pong (Nest of Leptoptilos).
I do not know why my grandparents possessed so much land in Tuol Sambuor. They gave land to five children and all of them lived along the river of Mekong. Because we had some land here and the land that was inherited from my mother’s side eroded into the Mekong River, my father then decided to come here to cultivate rice. Unfortunately, we failed in the first year of cultivation whereas in the second cultivation year we made between eight and ten tons of rice.
There used to be a tall tree and many Tradaks (ala. Leptoptilos) hung in there. But it is no longer here. An old man just now told me that it was felt down under Pol Pot’s time. I did not stay actually in the village because we had a small hut set up by the mountain. As the middle son I had the lighter task to fulfill – collect wood, cook rice, look after the buffaloes and feed them with rice stalks. My elder brothers who were grown up then had to share labors with nearby villagers so that they returned their help when we need them.
One of my unforgettable impressions was when I accompanied my father from Peam Koh Snar (my birth village) during a flood time to see our rice in Tuol Sambuor. My father got up to the boat with dead rice stumps and tears came into his eyes. It was a shock for any farmers to see that their rice – the only valuable asset they had for the year – had gone. I could recall that it was sometime between 1966 and 1967.
Second is the question of why we moved from Peam Koh Snar to Tuol Sambuor and then to Memot in the same province of Kompong Cham. I wrote two songs narrating lives of farmers and of other crop cultivators. It is true that I never return to my home village in these years but I also make it true that I never fail to keep myself a son of the farmers. I used to sit on the back of the buffaloes in this area.
But because my obligation as a leader that I have to fulfill for the country I do not have time enough to do what I want to do most – to visit the native place. I am glad that I make it today. All my lyrics have brought about my memories from my life here and reflected how deep my affection is for this place.
As far as the re-construction of the temple is concerned, my brother Hun Neng who is the governor of the province and I discussed it thoroughly how to go about doing it. The pagoda has been here for more than 200 years. Instead of going for bigger size, we have opted for the original feature completely, with the exception that the decoration could be more of a modern style. I may recalled that the Polpotists used the old temple as a pharmaceutical lab, while others throughout the country have been transformed into fertilizer mixing places, into torture camps, etc.
It is indeed grateful to see that after the liberation the pagoda has been gradually re-developed and perfected over time and as I said elsewhere it would not be possible without a good leadership of the head monk and leaders of the local authority. Indeed I have decided to retain old feature and size for three pagodas – one is Botum Kesar and two is Preah Andoung, both of which are no longer standing because they fell into the Mekong because of land erosion. The pagoda of Sambuor is the third but it would not have similar fate as the previous two because it stands some ten kilometers away from the bank.
On my flight here from Phnom Penh, I have a bird’s eye-view of more tiles or zinc roofed homes than of thatched ones. I also see lines of dirt roads that are covered with red coarse soil with trees of Akasia planted to either side. May I remind you that this place in the war time could be compared to the most insecure place in the country – perhaps like Anlong Veng. This place fell into the liberation forces before other places in the country but was the last to enjoy peace. The commune of Sambuor of Stoeung Trang district is located on the border of three provinces – Kompong Cham, Kratie and Kompong Thom.
It was in fact the central headquarter of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge in the 1960s. Then Khmer Rouge followers such as Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea, Keo Pok, Koi Thuon fled from the Government to take hiding in this area in 1970. This place experienced before elsewhere in the country the cooperative and collective system. It was at that time that it had become the liberation zone. People would remember seeing everyone in Steoung Treng, Kratie, Ratanakiri, Mundulkiri dressed in black uniform after being a liberation zone. My relatives had been shot dead in this area too in 1980 (my father in law) and in 1995 (my nephew).
We have now come to a time when we have capability to rebuild the country. We suffered in between 1975-1979 and in between 1990-1998 because of genocide, destruction and war. But we now have chance for country’s development. Our people already harvested rainy season rice and some pursue to dry season cultivation. This year though we had some attack from insects but in general we expect to have surplus because of extension of rice cultivation coverage. Rubber also makes an outstanding development because we have the figure of 26,000 hectares of household rubber plant. In Kompong Cham province, it is expected that there will be a lot of rubber/latex. From the helicopter I notice green rice on one side but endless line of rubber on the other.
We have some urgent demands to be responded to in terms of education facilities. I would urge HE Teng Lao and Oknha Sim Vanna to see to the locations that we want senior junior and high school built within access for female students in the surrounding communes and villages.
Yesterday was December 2. It was the 29th anniversary of the establishment of the United Front for National Salvation of Kampuchea (UFNSK). You should be reminded too that it was my historic meeting with Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk in France. It is absurd that some politicians have claimed themselves to be negotiation partner with Hun Sen, where it was indeed the Sihanouk-Hun Sen forum and it is impossible to twist that fact. It is known clearly already who have liberated the country, brought about a real peace, dismantled the Khmer Rouge organization, brought the former Khmer Rouge leaders to stand trial, etc. No one could distort the historic reality.
Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen on that occasion offers to build more school buildings, provided financial help for pagodas and religious buildings, to the people in his native communes./.