The Washington Post has learned that the photographs depicting forced labor inside Cambodia, which appeared in Friday's edition, appeared April 24, 1976, in the French magazine, Paris Match. The pictures are believed to be authentic, but the possibility can not be ruled out that they were planted for propaganda purposes by an anti-Khmer Rouge group.
Photographs believed to be the first of actual forced labor conditions in the countryside of Cambodia have reached the West.
The photographer died in an attempt to escape the country, but his film was smuggled out by a relative, said a friend who provided the pictures to The Washington Post.
The photographs, presumed to be genuine because of the way they reached The Post, constitute the first visual confirmation of stories by Cambodian refugees of the harsh conditions under which the Khmer Rouge rulers are holding the country. The pictures appear to be genuine but the possibility cannot be totally excluded that they were planted for propaganda purposes by an anti-Khmer Rouge group.
The refugees and a few Westerners who got out shortly after the April 17, 1975, fall of Phnom Pehn, the Cambodian capital, said that the new rulers had exacuated the cities almost completely and put the urban population to work at gunpoint in the fields.
The photographs, three of which accompany this story, were purportedly taken in October or November 1975 in the northwestern district of Thmar Pouk, which borders on Thailand, the goal of most of the successful Cambodian escapees.
Residents of rural villages were often shuttled to other districts and provinces to work in the fields, said the friend who brought the film to the United States and who now lives in Houston, Tex.
The Houston refugee's wife said that before her escape from Cambodia she had been forced by the Khmer Rouge to pull plows and work in the fields, "always under guard," like people in the photographs shown here. "If they were not guarded the people would run away because those were slave conditions," she said.
The refugee asked that he and his family not be identified because they fear reprisals against relatives still in Thai refugee camps near the Cambodian border. He said that Cambodians in the Thai camps are "very frightened."
They fear attacks by Khmer Rouge from across the border and that the Thai government may decide to send them back to Cambodia, where, they believe, they would be killed, he said.
The pictures were made by a Cambodian named Chan Duong, a resident of Thmar Pouk who was pressed into service as a photographer by Khmer Rouge soldiers, his cousin said.
He told the cousin, who is now in a Thai refugee camp, that the provincial military command ordered photographs made frequently to prove to their superiors in Phnom Penh that the fields were being worked.
The cousin escaped into Thailand shortly after the Khmer Rouge takeover and then decided to return to Cambodia to help his family escape. He could not find his family but contacted Chan Duong and four others who wanted to flee.
The six men were fired on by Khmer Rouge soldiers about 12 miles from the Thai-Cambodian border. There were reportedly killed, including Duong.
The cousin told the refugee now living in Houston that he grabbed Duong's camera, which contained the film, taken a few days before, and took it with him to Thailand.