Sorpong Peou was the oldest of seven children, and for them, he desperately wanted an end to the civil war in Cambodia. Their father, Nam, was an apolitical civil servant in the Ministry of Interior, in the governments of King Sihanouk and his successor Lon Nol. The job brought the family to Battambang from Phnom Penh, the capital where Sorpong was born.
Battles between Khmer Rouge insurgents and government forces had raged for years outside Cambodia’s cities like Battambang, but by early 1975, these strongholds looked increasingly at risk. As a precaution, and if the family had to flee, Nam had rented a house in Bangkok, Thailand. In Battambang, the family had another, cruder form of cover, a trench dug beside their home in case artillery arced in their direction. This is exactly what happened to Sorpong’s relatives two years earlier, in 1973 in Phnom Penh. His maternal grandfather lost a lower leg, and his grandmother and youngest aunt died instantly.