Cam­bo­dia marks 40 years since Ph­nom Penh evac­u­a­tion

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY SUY SE

Tear­ful sur­vivors on Fri­day marked 40 years to the day since the Kh­mer Rouge marched on Ph­nom Penh, end­ing a civil war but herald­ing a ter­ror that would kill a quar­ter of Cam­bo­di­ans and leave the cap­i­tal a ghost town.

A few hun­dred peo­ple, in­clud­ing monks and el­derly regime sur­vivors, gath­ered early Fri­day at Choe­ung Ek — the most no­to­ri­ous of the regime’s “Killing Fields” — on the cap­i­tal’s out­skirts, burning in­cense and say­ing Bud­dhist prayers at a me­mo­rial stupa hous­ing the skulls and bones of vic­tims.

The event com­mem­o­rated the April 17, 1975 tri­umph of the Kh­mer Rouge over the U.S.-backed repub­li­can army of Lon Nol and with it the start of four years of a geno­ci­dal com­mu­nist revo­lu­tion.

Ini­tially, the Kh­mer Rouge were given a cau­tious wel­come by Ph­nom Penh’s war-weary res­i­dents as they en­tered the city astride tanks, their dis­tinc­tive red-check­ered scarves flut­ter­ing be­hind them.

But soon enough cadres be­gan to evac­u­ate the city of two mil­lion peo­ple at gun­point, in one of the largest forced mi­gra­tions in re­cent his­tory.

The sick, el­derly and very young per­ished, their bod­ies lit­ter­ing the road­sides, as “bour­geois” city dwellers were marched into the coun­try­side to scratch a living from the parched soil.

By the time the tyran­ni­cal rule of Pol Pot — or “Brother Num­ber One” — was ousted four years later, an es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion Cam­bo­di­ans had been killed by ex­e­cu­tion, star­va­tion or over­work as the Kh­mer Rouge drove the coun­try back to “Year Zero” through an agrar­ian peas­ant revo­lu­tion.

Hor­ror Un­told

Only af­ter the regime was forced out by Viet­namese sol­diers in 1979 did the scale of its atroc­i­ties emerge, with the bones of thou­sands of vic­tims — in­clud­ing chil­dren — un­cov­ered at mass graves across the coun­try, in­clud­ing at Choe­ung Ek.

Many had first suf­fered at Ph­nom Penh’s no­to­ri­ous tor­ture house — Tuol Sleng, or S21 — as per­ceived enemies of the revo­lu­tion.

The for­mer school- turned­tor­ture-cham­ber has also been pre­served as a grisly tes­ta­ment to the hor­rors of the era, which ended when the Kh­mer Rouge were forced to retreat to jun­gle hide­outs.

In 2010, a U.N.-backed war crimes court sen­tenced for­mer Tuol Sleng pri­son chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, to 30 years in pri­son — later in­creased on ap­peal to life — for over­see­ing the deaths of 15,000 peo­ple.

He was the first per­son to be held accountable for the regime’s crimes.

Last Au­gust the two most se­nior sur­viv­ing Kh­mer Rouge lead­ers — Nuon Chea, 88, known as “Brother Num­ber Two,” and for­mer head of state Khieu Sam­phan, 83 — were given life sen­tences for crimes against hu­man­ity. Both have ap­pealed.

Their two-year trial fo­cused on the forced evac­u­a­tion of Cam­bo­di­ans from Ph­nom Penh into ru­ral la­bor camps as well as mur­ders at one ex­e­cu­tion site.

Cam­bo­di­ans re­main di­vided over how to move for­ward, with those clam­or­ing for jus­tice coun­tered by oth­ers urg­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion in a na­tion where both per­pe­tra­tors and vic­tims of the regime are still alive.

In March, the court charged three more for­mer Kh­mer Rouge mem­bers with crimes against hu­man­ity, ig­nor­ing warn­ings by strongman Cam­bo­dian pre­mier Hun Sen — a mid-rank­ing regime cadre be­fore he de­fected — that fur­ther pros­e­cu­tions risked reignit­ing con­flict.

Speak­ing at Fri­day’s me­mo­rial, op­po­si­tion leader Sam Rainsy re­peated a call for fur­ther tri­als, in­sist- ing only the guilty “fear the truth.”

Ph­nom Penh has re­bounded from the shell of a city left in 1979 to be­come the driv­ing force of a small but grow­ing Cam­bo­dian econ­omy that many hope will lift the na­tion out from poverty.

(Right) Cam­bo­dian peo­ple look at skulls at the Choe­ung Ek killing fields me­mo­rial in Ph­nom Penh on Fri­day.

AP/AFP

(Above) A Cam­bo­dian woman burns in­cense sticks as she prays in front of a stupa con­tain­ing hun­dreds of hu­man skulls and bones of vic­tims in Kh­mer Rouge regime, at Choe­ung Ek me­mo­rial on the out­skirts of Ph­nom Penh, Cam­bo­dia, Fri­day, April 17.

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