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US meeting promotes KRT understanding

As the Khmer Rouge tribunal is watched with a close eye by many in Cambodia, a US city with one of the largest Khmer populations last week held a community meeting to discuss the proceedings.

A statement released by the district attorney's office in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, announced that several government and civil society figures had organised a gathering in Lowell – home to the second-largest Khmer population in the United States – focusing on the tribunal proceedings.

“Tonight’s discussion was an opportunity for the Cambodian community to hear what is going on with the trials in their native country and to continue to try to heal from the horrific events they or their family members may have witnessed or experienced,” Middlesex District Attorney Marian T Ryan said in a statement released after Thursday’s meeting.

In addition to Ryan, Rady Mom – the United States' first Khmer state representative – and representatives of mental health and immigration service organisations convened with members of Lowell’s approximately 106,000-person Khmer community to discuss the trials, the statement said.

Phillip Weiner, chief of the legal division in the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also attended and spoke at the event.

The fact that Cambodians living abroad are interested in the goings-on of the tribunal is significant, ECCC spokesman Neth Pheaktra said in an email yesterday.

“Like their compatriots living in Cambodia, those people [living abroad] should be informed about the developments of the ECCC’s legal proceedings . . . [and] ask questions to better understand,” Pheaktra said.

“Hav[ing] a community discussion on [Khmer Rouge] history and also the work of the ECCC is very crucial for their community. Victims can share their experiences during [Democratic Kampuchea] Regime and learn about the legal proceeding against the leaders of [Khmer Rouge] Regime.”

While agreeing with the importance of Cambodians living in the US to follow the trials, independent analyst Ou Virak said many of the people who migrated from Cambodia did so to avoid reminders of tragedy.

If more Cambodians abroad had discussions like Lowell’s community meeting, Khmer Rouge victims and their families could gain more closure, he said.

“[Cambodians] in the US are pretty much trying to forget the past,” Virak said. “I think that . . . having more in-depth conversation about this will help them move on.”

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