About 300 people attended a memorial ceremony in Phnom Penh on Friday, marking the 40th anniversary of the day that the communist Khmer Rouge entered the Cambodian capital, ushering in an era of terror during which roughly two million Cambodians perished.
Sam Rainsy, president of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party, presided over the ceremony at the Choeun Ek Genocide Museum, the site of the most infamous Khmer Rouge “killing field” on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, and called for justice for the victims of the five-year regime.
“I appeal to the government to encourage the Khmer Rouge tribunal to prosecute the former members of the Khmer Rouge,” he said. “Please allow the court to do this by giving it the means to fulfill its work in the soonest time possible. We want to seek the truth.”
A United Nations-Cambodian war crimes tribunal court, set up nearly 10 years ago to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of one-fifth of the population from 1975-79, has prosecuted Khmer Rouge regime cadres and handed down a few life sentences for crimes against humanity.
But it has been stymied by infighting, political interference, funding shortages and slow proceedings, having issued only three guilty verdicts.
In early March, the tribunal charged two former Khmer Rouge cadres with crimes against humanity over their alleged roles in the murderous regime.
Rainsy said the tribunal should be able to carry out its work independently without any pressure.
Survivors look back
Monks and elderly regime survivors said Buddhist prayers at a stupa filled with the skulls and bones of those killed by the regime and buried on the Choeun Ek grounds, Agence France-Presse reported.
One Cambodian woman who attended the ceremony told RFA that torture by the Khmer Rouge caused her to lose her baby.
“They tortured me until my baby was aborted,” said had Chan Kim Soung. “They killed my husband and family. I am the only who survived. I don’t want any Khmer Rouge regime to reoccur because they brutally killed people.”
Neither the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who said he defected from the movement, nor the ruling Cambodian People’s Party held a public ceremony on Friday.
When the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, it marked the end of a civil war against U.S.-backed republican army of then Cambodian President Lon Nol, but the start of a murderous regime whose members forcibly evacuated the city.
Under the leadership of socialist revolutionary Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge instituted an agrarian peasant revolution during which Cambodian were tortured, starved and executed until Vietnamese soldiers forced out the regime in 1979.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.