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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Aging Khmer Rouge living in denial

Aging Khmer Rouge living in denial

"History remains history that cannot be changed."

- Prime Minister Hun Sen, April 10, 2000

Submitted by the PM in response to the Post's request for a written statement with

his reflections and thoughts on the 25th anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh.

APRIL 17, 2000 marks the 25th anniversary of the day the Khmer Rouge marched into

Phnom Penh and toppled the Lon Nol regime. More importantly, it dates the beginning

of Pol Pot's three year, eight month and twenty day reign of terror, a period during

which more than 1.7 million-and perhaps many more-Cambodians lost their lives by

execution, disease or starvation.

When the KR cadre trundled into Phnom Penh a quarter of a century ago, most of the

2 million-plus, war-weary residents of the capital breathed a sigh of relief. They

were wrong to do so.

The tragedy that ensued defied the notion that so-called communists cared about the

costs it would take to develop a new society.

Pol Pot, who told American reporter Nate Thayer he had no regrets for his actions,

dealt Cambodia a near-death body blow. It's not hard for even a casual observer to

now agree that Pol Pot's DK insanity was one of the worst chapters in Cambodian history

in the last 600 years.

The country has yet to recover from Brother Number One's ill-conceived madness.

His surviving cronies still roam free. Nuon Chea lives a quiet life near Pailin,

as does Khieu Samphan. The DK's Thiounn Thoeun, the guy who may have been responsible

for giving the order to evacuate Calmette Hospital of all its infirm patients on

April 17, 1975, now shops at Lucky Market wearing a natty baseball cap and day-glo

windbreaker.

Keo Pok-a man steeped in blood- lives comfortably in Siem Reap, and blames others,

notably Pol Pot, for all that went wrong.

Others, who pulled the trigger, followed orders willingly or who participated in

sending up to a million souls to the thousands of killing fields all over the country,

still give fright to survivors who remember in detail the crimes they committed.

Many of these aging monsters live side-by-side with the relatives of their victims.

To put it simply, KR murderers and their supporters now go as they will all over

Cambodia. In the 21 years since these confused killers were deposed, not one has

been properly prosecuted and convicted for even the simplest of crimes.

Many people would like to forget what the Khmer Rouge did to Cambodia, to put it

behind them and get on with the future-an alleged tomorrow that is bright with bountiful

prospects filled with benefits for all based on the re-newed Asian, IMF re-constructed,

economic miracle.

The sad fact of life is that this country and its people are terribly scarred by

the legacy of the KR. Cambodians live in an environment where trust is a rare commodity,

where everyone knows full well that there is no real justice, where the courts only

behave at the behest of those with power and guns, and where the average citizen,

including those who fully support the boss, are afraid that the wrong move or a misplaced

word might find them cowering in fear for their lives.

Many foreigners are dying to give Cambodians a break, to let them get on with the

present and a better tomorrow.

Not so ironically, it's Cambodians who have doubts about their future, sadly because

they know well the injustices of the last three decades, and because they know well

how badly leaders have treated their own. They've seen it up front their entire lives.

And, sadly, they still don't trust each other, their neighbors, their colleagues,

and most of all their perceived "enemies".

It didn't start with Pol Pot. The legacy of injustice in this country goes back centuries

and no one can deny the role of foreign powers in the tragedy of Cambodian history.

But Pol Pot ground Cambodian's belief in a civil society into the dust. And now they

are left with "big people" who are reluctant not only to confront the immediate

past, but who also seem unable to deal with the present; who are (if one is to be

generous) so traumatized by their own experiences with the last thirty years of warfare

that many can only think of themselves, stuffing cash in their pockets, building

egregiously large villas, socking away dollars in bank accounts while so blatently

sending their spouses to shop for goodies in Singapore and KL, all the while engorging

themselves, once again, off the backs of too-willing donors and the peasants.

One would think that the lessons of Pol Pot's genocidal madness would be taken to

heart. Alas, one can only wonder if the seeds of another confused xenophobic revolution

are being sown once again.

It would be nice if the surviving KR leaders could take the lead, explain to the

world why they did what they did and accept responsibility for it. However, Pol Pot

refused to do so. And so will everyone else within the KR movement, should they ever

be brought to court. Among ex-Khmer Rouge, passing the buck for the main reason this

country is in the desperate state that it currently finds itself has been and continues

to be a well-engrained pastime.

Welcome to the Phnom Penh Post's 25th anniversary issue of "We didn't do it.

We were Nationalists. Let bygones be bygones."

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