"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
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,
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."