KHAO I DANG, Thailand -- When the communist Khmer Rouge rolled triumphantly into Phnom Penh a decade ago, war-weary Cambodians greeted them as conquering heroes, shouting, 'Welcome. Peace. Welcome.'
But unlike in Vietnam, where a massive 10th anniversary celebration marking the fall of Saigon will be staged in late April, there will be no festivities marking the end of the Cambodian civil war.
For most Cambodians, April 17, 1975, began a national nightmare - the four-year genocidal rule of Premier Pol Pot, who is blamed for the deaths of up to 2 million of his countrymen.
'I remember it was a fine day, sunny, but now when I think about it, I'm sad> ' said Tan Rong, a Khao I Dang refugee camp medic who lost his parents and two brothers in the holocaust.
The sprawling United Nations refugee camp, one of the locations for the filming of the hit movie 'The Killing Fields,' is 20 miles from the Thai-Cambodian border and 120 miles east of Bangkok.
It is home for more than 70,000 survivors of the Khmer Rouge -- the largest concentration of Cambodians outside of Phnom Penh.
In interviews a decade after the fall of Phnom Penh, some of the refugees said they cheered the Khmer Rouge out of fear they would be punished if they did not.
Others said their shouts of joy assumed that peace rode on the shoulders of the black pajama-clad soldiers and they could finally return safely to their villages.
'Of course, no one supported them unless he was communist, but many of us thought there would be negotiations and leaders like Prince (Norodom) Sihanouk would return and everything would be good,' said My Khieu, a former government worker under the current Vietnamese-installed Heng Samrin regime.
'I was a student then. Looking back, I didn't know anything,' said My Khieu (a requested alias because her parents still live in Phnom Penh).
Sihanouk, ouqted in a 1970 coup, now leads a coalition of resistance groups battling Vietnamese forces who invaded Cambodia in December 1978. The Khmer Rouge were driven from Phnom Penh the following month, installing the pro-Hanoi regime headed by Heng Samrin.
The fall of Phnom Penh, once one of Southeast Asia's most picturesque capitals, ended a four-month siege of the city -- by war's end swollen with more than 2 million refugees.
The noose began tightening in early April with the fall of defense lines to the southest and east. Then the northern front that protected Pochentong Airport collapsed, as the U.S. Congress balked at President Ford's request for another $222 million in aid.
At 8:30 a.m. on April 17, a cease-fire was announced.
A half hour later, the triumphant Khmer Rouge, a conquering army of rural peasants, swarmed into the city from all directions, waving and firing their weapons in the air, giddy with victory.
One Khao I Dang refugee laughed as he recalled a Khmer Rouge soldier attempt to ride a motorcycle for the first time, smashing into a wall. Another refugee told how another soldier mixed a drink of milk and Pepsi-Cola.
The mood changed quickly from people dancing in the streets to one of fear when the Khmer Rouge, many of them mere children armed with automatic rifles, began driving out the city's residents at gunpoint.
Those who hesitated or resisted were killed.
'I just grabbed some clothEs and a bag of rice,' said Tan Rong. 'At first I didn't think anyone would be killed.'
'After three days on the road, I saw a Pol Pot soldier holding a bloody knife saying he just killed three people. That's when I really became scared,' added My Khieu.
The mass evacuation that even included hospital patients was the first step in a bizzare plan to 'purify' Cambodia from Western influences by returning the nation to its rural origins.
Families were separated, people were forced into hard labor and the educational, medical and rehigious systems dismantled.
Although Cambodians express gratitude to the Vietnamese for ending Pol Pot's systematic killing, they also note Vietnam's continuing occupation of their homeland.
But no one really believes the insurgents ultimately can defeat Hanoi's 160,000-man occupation force, raising doubts about the future of the U.N.-recognized coalition unless its arms supply is enhanced or Vietnam agrees to a political settlement in Cambodia.
'This appears to be a pivotal period for the guerrillas,' said one Western diplomat.
'If they prove they can regroup and seriously damage the Vietnamese, Hanoi may eventually conclude it has to seek a real political solution.'