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History lesson in Khmer Rouge bastion

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Ton Sa Im, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Education, presents students in Anlong Veng, the final Khmer Rouge stronghold, with copies of A History of Democratic Kampuchea. Photograph: Hong Minea/Phnom Penh Post

Books detailing what happened during the Khmer Rouge era have finally reached young people living in the regime’s final stronghold, Anlong Veng.

Last Friday, the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), an NGO that focuses on historical memory and education, distributed more than 1,000 copies of the book A History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) to students of the Anlong Veng High School.

Most of the students’ parents are former Khmer Rouge supporters.

The book distribution also included the unveiling of an Anlong Veng genocide memorial, the first of its kind in the region. The monument’s engraving reads: “Learning about the history of Democratic Kampuchea is to prevent genocide.”

Promotion of awareness and education of Khmer Rouge history is considered critical by DC-CAM for reconciliation between perpetrators and victims.

“As I talked to people here, only a few of them disagreed with us. Most didn’t mind us educating their children about Khmer Rouge history,” says Dy Kamboly, the team leader of genocide education at DC-Cam and the author of A History of Democratic Kampuchea.

“We have hosted more than 20 similar events in other provinces, but we invited only students. Here, we had to invite older people so we could avoid confusion.”

Theam Song Hor, a history teacher at Anlong Veng High School, says that although the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports provides a textbook for use by his Grade 12 students, it is not as detailed as Dy Kamboly’s.

The government’s book has only one lesson about the 1975-1979 regime, Theam Song Hor says, and the ministry requires him to teach his students the material for only a few hours.

“The book from the ministry just tells the main points: how that regime happened, how many administration zones were divided, and who the permanent committees were between 1975 and 1979.

“So my students still don’t know why they called the Anlong Veng district a Khmer Rouge stronghold.”

But Theam Song Hor has not been afraid to take the discussion with his students beyond the contents of the official government textbook.

“Before we started teaching Khmer Rouge history, we were told by DC-Cam to encourage students to speak openly about the Khmer Rouge and to acknowledge the past, but never to teach them to hate their parents because of their background,” he says.

During the ceremony, Ton Sa Im, Under-Secretary of State of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, appealed to older people to tell their children about what had happened in the past, “so our younger generation will learn from our experience”.

Yim Phanna, the governor of Anlong Veng district and a former Khmer Rouge soldier, encouraged residents to participate in the process of historical education.

“Even though war has finished, and this place was reformed and developed, regret still stays with us. It insists that we not let that regime happen again,” he said.

“To prevent that regime happening again, we have to tell the past story broadly to the next generation.

Ron Noun, a 19-year-old Grade 11 student at Anlong Veng High School, said his mother had told him that she had been a Khmer Rouge solider, but she had never revealed whether she witnessed killings.

“Maybe my mother was still young during the Khmer Rouge regime, so she didn’t know much about what was happening,” Ron Noun said.

“Anyway, I will read the book to find out more.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at roth.meas@phnompenhpost.com

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