On November 29, at 4:25 a.m., a bandit invaded my house. Just as he crawled and moved towards the stairs, I happened to walk down. So, we met. As I chased him, I noticed that he was a young skinny boy of about 12 or 14 years old. He wore black clothes and a white krama covered his head. He ran towards the rear side of the house, trying to escape by climbing down a small set of steps. But I caught his hand. Then, all of a sudden, he reminded me of the Khmer Rouge time. I was about his age when I stole rice from the rice fields for my pregnant sister who had been starving for months and months. The boy triggered the bad memories of how much I suffered when Khmer Rouge guards hit me with an axe, and of how desperately I wanted to live.
The guards put me in jail for weeks and I had to endure their cruel punishments. That painful memory is still with me today, and it returned most vividly last night when I caught the boy's hand. Emotionally, I released his hand allowing him to escape. Had I pushed him a bit, he would have fallen to the ground from the three-story building and would have died instantly.
I am glad that I decided not to do that. Even though I released him, I still wanted to teach him that stealing is wrong. So I alerted the neighbors. Panicking and confused, the boy dropped himself from the building and ran towards the fully lit streets where morning exercise people and a restaurant security guard were chatting. The guard chased him, holding a big stick. Suddenly, everyone who saw the incident screamed: "Arrest the boy but do not beat him." He was caught by the security guard, who later decided to let him go home. I could not go back to sleep, but I felt relieved that my bad memories probably saved the boy's life, and also taught me to forgive. I was also impressed with how those witnessing the incident responded to such an incident. If people don't take the law into their own hands, there is hope for better human rights protection.
I hope the boy has learned a lesson, and that from now on he will try to be a good person. I hope someone can convey my message to him.
Youk Chhang - Director, Documentation Center of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.