On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Vietnam’s victory in its Southwestern border protection war as well as of the victory of the Vietnamese and Cambodian peoples and armed forces over the Pol Pot genocidal regime, the People’s Army Newspaper introduces a series of stories told by Vietnamese Cambodian veterans, international pundits and Cambodian youths about the relationship full of good sentiments between the two nations.

40 years has passed since the Vietnamese people and armed forces won the border war waged by the Pol Pot force and together with the Cambodian people and revolutionary forces overturned the genocidal regime in Cambodia. The Vietnamese volunteer soldiers who returned to their home country after finishing their noble international mission in Cambodia more than 30 years ago still remember the hard days when they did the noble international mission in the Land of Temples. Senior Colonel La Van Nho, former Deputy Commander and Chief of Staff of Regiment 271, Division 302, Front 479 of Vietnamese volunteer troops in Cambodia recalled his memories when he and his comrades alongside Cambodian revolutionary forces and people fought the Pol Pot forces and saved the nation from genocide.

File photo

He said, “The 10 years fighting the Pol Pot forces in Cambodia has been my most memorable period of time in my career. I spent 10 years of my youth in driving Pol Pot troops away from Vietnam’s territory and then doing the noble international mission in Cambodia, saving the Cambodians from the genocidal catastrophe of the Pol Pot clique. I will never forget the war, in which a number of my comrades laid down their lives when they were still very young.”

In early January 1979, in the wake of the stormy advance of the Vietnamese People's Army, Pol Pot's forces disintegrated into pieces while the Khmer Rouge authorities at all levels fled away. “When we raided the Pol Pot troops, on the roads, we found a group of hungry, ragged and horrified Cambodians, of whom many were very tired and fainted. Our unit had to stop to save these people before continuing to pursue the enemy,” he recalled.

Nearly 10 years fighting in the Cambodian theater, he and his comrades faced many difficulties and hardships. For troops of Front 479, the harsh weather in places where they marched across was even more terrible than fighting the Pol Pot troops. “We had to walk 50-60km through forests per day to raid the enemy. In the dry season, we could not find a drop of water in wild dipterocarp forests. Once the division had to use armored vehicles to transport water to rescue our infantry units so we could continue to maneuver,” he said.

The most haunting place for Vietnamese volunteer soldiers in Cambodia might be Melai. According to local people, Melai was a sacred forest so toxic that elephants did not dare to stay. “Many troops suffered hemorrhagic malaria, the kind of malaria that could not be cured by conventional malaria treatment; meanwhile, means of transport was not available, so a number of troops died. It was not until 1985 that we researched and found an effective treatment for the lethal disease and malaria was no longer our nightmare,” he recalled.

Then soldier La Van Nho (second from right)

According to him, Vietnamese volunteer soldiers at that time had many difficulties and ran shortages of supplies, but they always helped the Cambodian armed forces and people in the spirit of not letting a Cambodian die of hunger and diseases. He still remembers one early morning in July 1984. As a battalion commander, he received information that three Cambodians died from cholera in a remote commune of Varin district, Siem Reap province. He ordered to send military doctors and troops to the locality. Vietnamese doctors and troops took intensive care, provided effective treatment for a few days, and successfully saved 16 people, including children. They then took preventive measures to get rid of this cholera epidemic in the locality.

In return, Vietnamese volunteer soldiers were covered, supported and loved by Cambodian people. “Local people treated us like their brothers and children of their families.” They shared a cigarette or a few fruits with Vietnamese volunteer soldiers, who they believed to be sent by Buddha to save them from genocide. For the unity and close ties between the Vietnamese Volunteer Army and Cambodian people, the fight against the Pol Pot genocidal regime and army came to an end with victories, closing a painful historical period of the Cambodian people and opening a new era of independence, peace and freedom for Cambodia.

40 years ago, Cambodia was almost destroyed. However, since the dark and painful historical period of the nation closed, Cambodia has been reviving. The former Vietnamese volunteer soldier returned to Cambodia twice to visit the old battlefield. He was so happy when witnessing the peaceful life and great changes in the Angkor land. In his heart, he is always proud that he has contributed to the resurrection of the nation.

“We feel very well the sentiments of the Cambodian people for former Vietnamese volunteer soldiers. We also feel moved when remembering our dear comrades who laid down their lives in Cambodia. But we would feel relieved when thinking that the blood of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers has helped bring the bloom to the country of temples and cultivate the traditional friendship between the two countries,” he said.

(to be continued)

Written by Hoang Vu

Translated by Thu Nguyen