Government officials on Monday joined more than 2,000 members of the public at the Cheoung Ek Killing Field on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to mark the National Day of Remembrance commemorating the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Prime Minister Hun Sen used the occasion to appeal to all Cambodians to maintain peace and prevent war and a return to the horrors of the period.
Hun Sen said on Facebook that May 20 is the National Day of Remembrance to remember victims and the suffering Cambodians endured at the hands of Pol Pot’s genocidal regime from April 17, 1975 to January 7, 1979.
The purpose of the day was to remember the savagery of the ultra-Maoists and pay respects to the millions of people they killed.
“Peace has provided every opportunity for citizens to rapidly build their families, communities, society and the nation. Please all Cambodian people, join hands to maintain and protect peace forever, and join hands to prevent war and a recurrence of such a regime in Cambodia."
“Cambodian people overwhelmingly know the tragic and bitter story that people throughout the country went through in almost three decades of war.
“They understand the tears that were shed from the killing and destruction, the forced displacement and animal-like forced labour, with no rest and no medicine when sick, and the lack of food, freedom and democracy – without even the fundamental right to survive,” Hun Sen said.
Today, after Cambodia has enjoyed peace, people can live happily with their families and have jobs as per their ability and desire, and enjoy a decent livelihood, he added.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Hall, led by Pa Socheatvong, the head of the Phnom Penh Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) committee, marked the day at a commemorative event at the venue attended by more than 2,000 participants, including 207 monks.
Actors put on a performance demonstrating the brutality of the Khmer Rouge, at the end of which monks chanted and food was offered as they prayed for those killed by the genocidal regime.
After the event, Socheatvong said May 20 was the date when the Khmer Rouge leadership began the genocide of Cambodians, with massacres throughout the country.
He said the government had made efforts to prevent the recurrence of such a regime by adopting the principles of multi-party liberal democracy as stipulated in the Cambodian Constitution.
The King reigned as per the constitution with elections held through the power of the citizens to choose the nation’s leaders and prevent a dictatorship.
“The superpower and ill-intentioned people wish to create armed forces to seize power against the Constitution, which we cannot allow happening."
“They cannot imagine seizing power through their guns as the transfer of power takes place only through elections, so we all have to join hands to prevent [their actions],” he said.
Prak Maret, 67, who participated in the event, said he was a former soldier under Lon Nol, who overthrew Prince Norodom Sihanouk as prime minister in 1970 and was deposed by the Khmer Rouge.
He said he managed to survive the regime by hiding his background and posing as a farmer.
“I want to mark the suffering endured under this regime, which is unforgettable. We were afraid of being killed but we did not know where to run – there was nowhere to go and so we continued to live in fear,” he said.
Sam Srey Phkay, 18, a Grade-11 student at a Dangkor district high school in the capital, said her parents had told her of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality and so she attended the event to remember those who had suffered under it.
“I never experienced it myself but my parents have told me about it. I think it is the tragic story of the previous generation and I will remember it forever,” she said.
Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), said the National Day of Remembrance helped all Cambodians to commemorate the horrors of the period.
“When we forget the crimes committed against us, it is like we do them to ourselves again, which could cause it to happen again. What is important is that this day reminds us to remember the tragic past,” Chhang said.
Neth Pheaktra, the spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, also known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, said May 20 was first marked in 1983 as the Day of Anger.
It was later called the Day of Paying Respect to the Victims of Khmer Rouge regime and then the Day of Remembrance. From last February, it was renamed the National Day of Remembrance.