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Preserving Khmer Rouge Archives

Richard Richie
Yale University Library


A sketch of Khmer Rouge weapons. From the Santebal Archive of the Khmer Rouge collection at the Center for Research Libraries.

Early in 1998, the Southeast Asia Collection of Yale University Library was invited by Professor Ben Kiernan, Director of the Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University's Center for International and Area Studies, and Mr. Youk Chhang, Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, to collaborate on an urgent project to preserve and copy the records of the Khmer Rouge state police archives, or Santebal. Discovered in the Ministry of the Interior of the Royal Cambodia Government in 1996, the Santebal materials were being held temporarily at the Documentation Center. An original plan to digitize the documents was abandoned early on due to slow progress caused by an undependable power supply at the Documentation Center and outdated scanners and computers.

Preserving Secret Police Files

With the documents turning brittle and their future uncertain, project planners searched for alternative solutions. They also feared that ex-Khmer Rouge cadres might discover the secret Documentation Center location and attempt to destroy the archives to prevent future criminal investigations. Given the circumstances, they narrowed the immediate objectives to the bare essentials: to make use copies for the Documentation Center and to make preservation copies for safe keeping outside of Cambodia.

Paul Conway, head of the Preservation Department of the Yale University Library, recommended establishing a microfilm production facility at the Documentation Center as a tested and familiar preservation method. The project was presented for cooperative funding to the Southeast Asia Microform Project at CRL's annual meeting in the spring of 1998 and received support from CRL and the Echols Collection at Cornell University Library. The decision was then made to preserve the resulting microfilms at Yale University, and to make a microfilm copy of the archive available to scholars and researchers at North American universities by interlibrary loan through the Center for Research Libraries.

As Curator for the Southeast Asia Collection, I was trained to operate the World War II vintage Recordak Portable Micro-File Machine with Model E camera and the special lighting to be used at the Documentation Center. In May 1998 I traveled to Phnom Penh to set up a filming lab and train one person from the Documentation Center. The project went awry almost immediately due to overheating equipment, which was intensified by tropical temperatures and the need for a closed room. However, the combination of a portable back-up generator and an air conditioning unit resolved the big challenges and permitted microfilmers to shoot the first batch and send it to Connecticut for testing and processing.

Preserving Additional Documentation

With the Santebal Collection successfully microfilmed in 1999, other collections held by the Documentation Center that dealt with Khmer Rouge atrocities and governance were approved for filming with additional support from the SEAM membership and Cornell University. Final filming for the project was completed in January, 2005. The many collections preserved through this initiative are described below. The entire microfilm archive is now available for loan from the Center for Research Libraries. See Requesting Materials.

Santebal Collection BBKK (I Collection) and BBKKH (J Collection). Reels 1-115.

Includes biographies of members of the Khmer Rouge organization who held positions of authority from the district (srok) level upwards, including regional (damban), zone (phumipeak) and center (mocchim) officials, and all officers of the Khmer Rouge armed forces from company (kong anousena thom) level and above. Many of these biographies of demoted authorities were forced confessions written under torture in the Tuol Sleng Prison. The collection also includes confessions of Khmer Rouge victims and communications between members of the Khmer Rouge leadership.

D Collection. Reels 116-156, 214-410.

General Khmer Rouge documents including secondary literature on the Khmer Rouge regime and surviving primary documents containing records of the Khmer Rouge prison at Krang Ta Chan in Takeo Province. The collection also includes the Anlong Veng collection of post-Khmer Rouge materials as well as textbooks from the third and fourth class levels for Democratic Kampuchea primary schools.

Lon Nol Dossiers (L Collection). Reels 157-213

Intelligence documents from the Lon Nol regime relating to military events and issues dealing with Khmer Rouge prisoners of war. These communications contain lists and titles of Lon Nol's military police officers and soldiers, confessions by Khmer Rouge prisoners of war, individual communications between Lon Nol officers, reports by these officers, assignment reports, and personal files of secret agents of the Lon Nol government.

Khmer Rouge Notebooks (K Collection). Reels 1-39 (New Series)

Biographies of Khmer Rouge cadres and prisoners contained in the personal notebooks of Khmer Rouge prison guards. Collected from Tuol Sleng Prison, the notebooks include information on political training; medical training; military training; revolutionary songs, poems, and slogans; as well as personal accounts and meeting minutes from the prison.

Renakse Collection (R Collection). Reels 40-72 (New Series)

Contains petitions by Cambodians to the Peoples' Republic of Kampuchea to oust the Khmer Rouge from Cambodia's seat at the United Nations.