Cambodia's Cham Muslims, an identified protected ethnic group that the Pol Pot regime
attempted to kill off as a threat to the revolution, have begun to compile evidence
of their suffering for presentation to the proposed Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal.
Fifty Cham community leaders from throughout the country met at the Documentation
Center of Cambodia on August 5 to find out how to use the center's archives, and
how to compile oral histories containing accounts of atrocities that were committed
against the group under Democratic Kampuchea between 1975 and 1979.
DC-Cam director Youk Chhang, who invited the Muslims, said the Khmer Rouge campaign
against the Cham was genocide because it was targeted against an ethnic group.
Ysa Osman, a researcher at the center, said that before 1975, there were about 700,000
Chams in Cambodia, but only around 100,000 survived Khmer Rouge rule. Muslims now
make up around 3 percent of Cambodia's 13 million population - perhaps 400,000 people.
According to the Historical Dictionary of Cambodia, the Cham Muslims are descended
in part from refugees from the coastal kingdom of Champa, which was overrun by Vietnam
in the 17th century. This was an ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdom in what is now south-central
Vietnam. By the 18th century most had converted to Islam.
Article 20 of the Democratic Kampuchea Constitution stated: "All reactionary
religions that are detrimental to Democratic Kampuchea and the Kampuchean people
are strictly forbidden."
Some of the few documented cases of resistance during the Khmer Rouge regime were
organized by Chams.
At Thursday's meeting, Sos Ponyamin, 50, the Muslim leader in Svay Klaing village,
recalled how the Khmer Rouge crushed a revolt in eastern Cambodia in 1975.
He said this happened after the KR banned residents of Svay Klaing and Koh Phal villages
in Kampong Cham province from practicing Islam.
Three sword-wielding villagers in Svay Klaing later ambushed Khmer Rouge cadres,
killing one. Others then joined the revolt, but were subdued in one night of fighting.
Sos Ponyamin took part in the brief rebellion and was jailed for a month.
Many of his compatriots didn't survive the Khmer Rouge's fury. "People were
rounded up and taken away, twenty, thirty, forty at a time, every day: they killed
them," he said.
"In our anger, we wish we could kill them [the Khmer Rouge leaders] right now
and not just seek a trial for them."
But he said Islam preaches against such revenge.