The search, and some successes, in finding missing kin
September 26, 2007, 3:19 am
Filed under: Khmer Rouge Issue

The search, and some successes, in finding missing kin
By Moeun Chhean Nariddh


WENTY years since the Khmer Rouge seized power, launching a vicious social revolution which forcibly split apart most Cambodian families, thousands of Khmers are still “missing”.

Each year, the lucky ones finally find out that their loved ones are alive and – with the help of international agencies – are able to contact them.

The Khmer Rouge years, followed by the Vietnamese occupation which sent nearly 300,000 people flocking to border refugee camps, led to vast numbers of Cambodians losing contact with family members.

Trying to find them – whether they stayed in Cambodia or fled – is a daunting but not impossible task.

Efforts to help search for missing people were launched in the late 1980s by the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with each running their own tracing service. They later joined forces to establish the Tracing Agency, a network of agents based at local Red Cross branches throughout Cambodia, using a central database in Bangkok.

ICRC, operating from Thai border refugee camps, managed to locate 18,600 of 22,700 missing people reported to them by family members between 1989-92.

Initially, most cases were requests from refugees looking for information about relatives within Cambodia.

After the 1991 Paris Agreements allowed refugees to be repatriated, the focus gradually changed to Cambodians looking to contact relatives who had been granted asylum in countries such as Australia, France and Canada.

But many in Cambodia still look for family members they believe are still in the Kingdom.

According to Simone Schneider, the Tracing Agency’s delegate in Cambodia, some 2,165 cases of Cambodians in Cambodia looking for relatives abroad were filed with the agency between 1992-94. Of those, 471 people (21 percent) were located.

In the same period, 1,641 requests to help find people within Cambodia were filed, of which 324 (20 percent) were found.

The agency currently receives about 56 cases a month, about 38 of them relating to Cambodians abroad.

They come from people like Danh Neang Monique, who – after all the rest of her family were killed by the Khmer Rouge – got news of her only surviving brother in April this year.

Monique, 37, who now lives in Takmao south of Phnom Penh, last saw her brother Danh Bun Soumy during the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh by the KR in April 1975.

Soumy, who had studied in France and married a French woman, responded to a KR appeal for Khmer-French people to go to the French Embassy for departure to France.

Monique and the rest of her family made their way to Preah Vihear, hoping to flee to Thailand.

Monique said 20 members of her family, including her mother, five sisters and two brothers, were killed by the KR after they were caught. Her father, a high-ranking army officer during the previous Lon Nol regime, managed to escape and remains missing to this day.

After the Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979, Monique traveled through Cambodia looking for her father and brother. She searched for evidence of them at the Toul Sleng prison but found nothing.

She finally turned to ICRC who, within 18 months, had matched the details she gave with a tracing request filed by her brother in Thailand.

Her brother is now living in France and she has written to him and hopes one day to see him in person. ICRC cannot trace their father, and she has given up hope of finding him.

Simone Schneider says over half of the people who registered with it are looking for relatives missing since 1975. Many of the rest lost contact with family members during the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979.

While many missing people are logically likely to be dead – such as many of those taken away for Rean Sotr (rehabilitation) during the Khmer Rouge period – there is always hope that some are still alive.

To try to prevent raising false hopes, and wasting time and resources, the agency recently tightened its criteria for accepting tracing requests.

Schneider said that of 900 “non-coded” requests – where firm leads were not provided – accepted since 1990, only one was solved.

Now it has been decided not to accept requests relating to people missing since before 1975, or where the information provided is no more than rumor.

For Cambodians missing abroad, hard information like a last-known address or the exact date of departure from Cambodia is needed.

Phnom Penh Post, Issue 4/25 December 15 – 28, 1995
© Michael Hayes, 2000. All rights revert to authors and artists on publication.
For permission to publish any part of this publication, contact
Michael Hayes, Editor-in-Chief – Any comments on the website to


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