Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Macabre ceremony to mark annual day of rememberance

Macabre ceremony to mark annual day of rememberance

Macabre ceremony to mark annual day of rememberance

Traditional re-enactments of Khmer Rouge torture to be performed at a ceremony for the May 20 Day of Anger at Choeung Ek.

GOVERNMENT officials and Khmer Rouge victims are to gather at the Choeung Ek killing fields today to commemorate the launch, 33 years ago, of the regime's brutal policy of collectivisation. 

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema is to speak during the morning ceremony, and as part of a yearly tradition, performers will re-enact some of the methods used by cadres to execute and torture overworked prisoners.

This year's "Day of Anger" (tivea choang kamheung) is the first to overlap with proceedings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and as the trial of S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav continues this week, observers say the day of remembrance will have a deeper resonance.

"It takes at least three historical steps for Cambodia to reach a full sense of forgiveness and reconciliation," Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre for Cambodia (DC-Cam), said Tuesday.

"After January 7, 1979, Cambodia thought it was hate and anger that made her strong. In fact, it was all she had to fight the Khmer Rouge, and it was the only means she could express to the world the suffering she had been through during the Khmer Rouge time," he said.

"But now Cambodia realises that a prosecution with the support from the United Nations is needed to allow her to fully forgive the Khmer Rouge, and that she will then be ready to reconcile with her broken nation," he said.

Municipal authorities as well as some provincial authorities commemorate the day in areas where Khmer Rouge killing fields remain visible.

But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, told the Post it was not necessarily about "getting angry".

"May 20 isn't meant for vengeance. It's meant for remembering the atrocities perpetrated during the Khmer Rouge regime, a regime that massacred its own people," he said.

"We commemorate this national day so that we, the Cambodian people, will never forget the genocide committed by the Pol Pot regime, and to prevent genocide from ever happening again in our country or elsewhere in the world," he said.

Mann Chhoeun, Phnom Penh deputy governor, said Anger Day this year would have a different feel, with the materialisation of an active war crimes tribunal.   

"The Phnom Penh Municipality commemorates Anger Day every year to remember the atrocities and sufferings that occurred during the Khmer Rouge regime," he said.

"We also pay respect to the victims who died and appeal for justice. And we are starting to see that justice already, with the beginning of the ECCC's judgment of former Khmer Rouge leaders," Mann Chhoeun said.

Although the ceremony has been criticised for being a state-sponsored event, Youk Chhang said that it didn't need to be a political day.

"It is history. We cannot change, rewrite or modify it, but accept it, learn from it and move on."

Textbooks to be distributed

DC-Cam is to also begin handing out Khmer Rouge history textbooks today as part of a drive to supply more than 1,000 high schools with a text on the regime.

The US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Clint Williamson, who arrived Monday in Phnom Penh, is to attend the textbook launch at Hun Sen Ang Snoul High School. 

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