Forced to wed in 'killing fields,' Cambodian couples take proper vows

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PHNOM PENH -- The first time Prum Son married her husband, in August 1977, she was not a willing bride. But she knew that refusal would mean her execution.

The five-minute ceremony was held late at night, without notice, after a day of backbreaking work digging irrigation canals, followed by a routine, hours-long indoctrination session at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

With 21 of her female friends, all in soiled work clothes, she was summoned to a bare room lit by a single lightbulb where male workers were waiting. A party official instructed her to clasp the hand of a complete stranger and promise to stay with him for life. Everyone pledged allegiance to the party. Then she was sent back to the women's quarters of her labor camp to snatch some sleep before another day of toil.

Prum kept the details of that joyless day a secret from her four children until early this year, when she finally had a chance for a traditional wedding to her husband of nearly three decades. She was 50 -- the oldest woman ever to marry in her village of Kbal Sen, near the capital Phnom Penh.

This time it was a proper Khmer ceremony with chanting monks, a silk wedding dress, traditional music, friends and family, paid for by an American Vietnam War veteran who was aghast to learn that so many Cambodians had been forced into miserable marriages...

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