Haunting music and explosions served as the soundtrack as men and woman wearing the Khmer Rouge’s signature red-chequered krama marched across the Killing Fields carrying weapons.
A scene that has surely played out over and over in the minds of survivors was on Sunday enacted for Cambodia’s National Day of Remembrance, which was made a national holiday in February.
Held at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields, where thousands of Cambodians were slain and buried in mass graves in the late 1970s, the event drew a crowd of some 2,000 people.
The day’s proceedings struck an odd chord by juxtaposing the tragedies carried out by the Pol Pot regime, such as forced relocations, executions and the destruction of pagodas, with the achievements of the Cambodian People’s Party, whose flag was carried alongside that of the Kingdom at the end of the ceremony to replace Democratic Kampuchea’s banner.
Rhetoric by the CPP professing to be a bringer of peace has ramped up in recent months, with the July 29 election just around the corner.
Phnom Penh Governor Khuong Sreng told reporters after the event that it was crucial to prevent others from destroying the peace that Prime Minister Hun Sen had fought so hard to secure.
“In order to prevent such a regime from returning in Cambodia, I would like to appeal to all Cambodian people to keep the peace that Hun Sen has made sacrifices for since he was 18 years old,” Sreng said.
His words seemingly echoed those of Hun Sen, who has been quoted as saying an opposition victory could plunge the nation into another civil war.
Prime Minister Hun Sen took to Facebook to celebrate the anniversary.
“Peace has provided all kinds of opportunities for people in building our society, family, community and country to be more developed,” he posted. “Please brother and sister, keep and protect the peace forever.”
Kim Leap, 70, who lived in Battambong province during the Khmer Rouge era, said at Sunday’s event: “Today’s regime has brought prosperity because Hun Sen saved us. We could all have been killed during the Khmer Rouge. “We were on the edge of slaughter.”
Kong Vuthy, 56, whose parents, brother and sisters were all killed, said: “For me and my family, we are not satisfied with the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] – more people should face trial”
“[Former Khmer Rouge leaders] live comfortably . . . they have doctors, and a place to sleep comfortably and have TVs to watch – me and my family and many people are not satisfied with this.”
According to a sub-decree signed by Hun Sen and Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin on February 14, the holiday is to “respect and pray for the victims who passed away during the Democratic Kampuchea regime”.
Initially established back in 1984 as a day of hatred against the genocidal Pol Pot regime, the holiday has a political dimension.
Many have noted the expediency of pinning the tragedies on just a few members of the Khmer Rouge, pointing to the fact that Hun Sen himself was once a member of the movement.
The Day of Remembrance is nestled in the Kingdom’s packed holiday roster between the Royal Ploughing Ceremony on May 14 and International Children’s Day on June 1.