BY BUTH REAKSMEY KONGKEA
Roughly 6,000 government officials, students and teachers have gathered at Choeung Ek Museum, a former Khmer Rouge murder facility pockmarked with mass graves, located in Dangkor district, about 15 Kilometers Southeast of Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge regime was in power from 1975 to 1979.
The 30th memorial ceremony was organized by the Phnom Penh Municipality and presided over by Chea Soth, a member of the National Assembly of Cambodia. Parliamentary member, Sim Ka, and Kep Chuktema, Governor of Phnom Penh Municipality accompanied him on this searing occasion.
About 40 students from the Royal University of Fine Arts and the National School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh re-enacted torture and execution scenes in painful recreations of atrocities inflicted by woefully misguided Khmer Rouge cadres on countless innocent victims.
The performers wore black uniforms, the standard attire of the Maoist-inspired movement. Some of them acted as executioners, swinging bamboo sticks at the heads of victims whose arms were bound behind their backs.
The performance took place just a few meters away from Choeung Ek Museum’s memorial, filled with victims' skulls and mass graves – the final resting place for around 16,000 people.
The Phnom Penh Municipality Governor said that the central objective of the event was to honor the memory of the victims, cleanse the site of any residual terrors and to wish their souls an infinitely happier rebirth.
He added that the ceremony stood as a lesson to all the planet’s nations, warning them against acceptance of cruel regimes. The ceremony also called for just punishments for all those anomalous pieces of human nature who have perpetrated genocide since.
“When Khmer Rouge leaders occupied the country, they killed millions of people and destroyed as much of our nation’s cultural heritage that they could lay their unholy hands on. Thus, we cannot forget all these things until the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders now under prosecution take responsibility for their contemptible behavior. We have to find justice for all victims who were killed during the insane times of the Khmer Rouge,” Chuktema said at the Anger Day.
The Governor pointed out that no Cambodian who had survived the terrors was able to forget those disjointed times. Recently, about two million Cambodian people requested that the Day of Anger should be included in the list of national holidays. Chuktema said that he would write a request to Samdech Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia, describing the proposal.
Keo Buntha, 45, of Stung Meachey commune, Phnom Penh, who attended the Anger Day at Choeung Ek Museum, said that he was traumatized by the sight of 21st century students re-enacting Khmer Rouge atrocities.
Buntha said during those dark days, his family lived in Takeo province. He was separated from his family and forced to stay and work hard in Baseth district, Kampong Speu province.
He emphasized that in a period lasting 3 years, eight months and twenty days, he was exploited seven days a week. Hunger was his constant companion and he was never permitted a moment’s peace. He added that Khmer Rouge thugs executed his father, two uncles and five other relatives.
“I never forget the nightmare of torture, execution and countless other obscenities too painful to mention, even after all these years,” a noticeably perturbed Buntha told The Cambodia Weekly during the memorial. “They were vicious and miserable individuals who killed their own people as if they were as numerous and as unimportant as flies.”
Sem Vanna, 24, a third year law student from the Royal University of Law and Economic Sciences who also attended the ceremony, said although he was not born during the Pol Pot regime, he was too familiar with it, having listened to the tales of family members. He concluded that no regime before or since could equal the Khmer Rouge for its brutal ignorance.
Vantha said that the actions of the Khmer Rouge leaders illustrated humanities capacity for inhumanity towards frightened and isolated children, women and men. He praised the organizers through gritted teeth, thankful for their efforts to stir the memory and thus guard against this ever happening again. He also said he looked forward to the day when all the guilty would be brought to justice.
“I think that Khmer Rouge leaders went far beyond the petty cruelties we are all sometimes capable of. The result was millions of corpses, millions of innocent lives ruined and millions of broken hearts. Their actions will not be forgotten and they shall answer for them to every citizen of Cambodia,” Vantha said. “I appeal to the Khmer Rough Tribunal to speed up the trial process and find justice for all victims.”
Vanthan Peou Dara, Deputy Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (CD-Cam), said that Anger Day is important for all peoples because it recalls the devious path to power of a genocidal regime. When such groupings grasp authority, mass murder, starvation, torture, crime and social decomposition are the order of the day.
He added that to support the ECCC trial process, the C CD-Cam has provided a total of 530 microfilms, 200 documentary films and thousands of photos and documents.