F OR the Teo Chew Temple committee in Phnom Penh, preparing their tiny temple for
the Chinese New Year celebrations had a special significance.
The committee is mainly older men whose families have lived for generations in Cambodia
so the New Year celebrations were also a commemoration of a blacker period when for
years it wasn't safe here to be Chinese.
In preparation for the celebrations committee head Eng Tuk Meng dusted off the temple's
photos which show its history of splendor, to ruin under Pol Pot.
"This photo is the temple before Pol Pot time and this one is the wooden shack
we rebuilt on the rubble after the Khmer Rouge destroyed the temple," he said.
Historians of the Khmer Rouge say the brutal revolution particularly targeted ethnic
minorities which made up around 20 percent of the population.
Legal advisors to the US-funded KR Documentation Project say there is "prima
facie evidence of genocide against certain minorities especially ethnic Chinese,
Vietnamese, Chams and Buddhist monks".
They estimate close to 500,000 Chinese, many who held high-profile economic positions
at the time, were eliminated by the KR.
However, Chinese troubles did not end after the Vietnamese toppled the KR in 1979
and began their 10-year occupation.
"Because of the war between China and Vietnam during the State of Cambodia regime
in the '80s, it was also not a good time to be Chinese in Cambodia," the Phnom
Penh-based director of the regional Chinese Asia News Times, Lay Kim Tong said.
"The authorities had a special code for identifying ethnic Chinese - the '351'
code - and it was bad if you were classified 351," he said.
"From 1979-90 the Chinese language was banned and it was not until after the
Paris Peace Accords in 1992 that the authorities allowed us to re-open Chinese schools
and temples," Tuk Meng said.
"If you were '351' you were kept under constant surveillance, especially if
you were a wealthy person, and New Year celebrations were kept very private,"
Committee members said that the Chinese community, which now numbered up to 600,000,
was rebuilding economically and culturally.
Tuk Meng said the temple's traditional orchestra had played at New Year to welcome
the many Cambodians and Chinese who flooded the temple at first light for Chinese