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No halt to New Year with a bullet

No halt to New Year with a bullet

ENTER the first day of the traditional Khmer New Year. People lay out fruits,

cakes and drink on tables decorated with colorful cloths. They put incense

sticks and candles on balconies to welcome Tevada or spirits coming down from

the heavens. This year Dog spirits make the descent to replace Cockerel spirits

which held sway during the old year. The cockerels will have to wait another 12

years before they can return to earth.

The official ceremony

transferring the mandate from the chicken to the dog took place at 4.30 am on

April 14.

At 4.10 am my mother gets up to light candles on the spiritual

table, ready to welcome the coming of the newTevada and to receive a blessing of

good fortune and prosperity for our house.

April's unbearable

temperatures, combined with traditional blackouts making electric fans useless,

left bedrooms feeling like ovens.

My parents temporarily abandon their

bedroom, they set up woven rugs and mosquito nets on the floor of the balcony.

"Get up son," she knocks at my window, waking me to pump water to the

roof tank which will supply us for the rest of the New Years days. Luckily the

power is on. I plug in the pump and walk upstairs. Standing on the balcony,

relaxing with the cool morning air I am still half asleep. Suddenly, I hear and

see light red sparks spearing from different angles into the sky.

Gunfire!

I hear rifles being cocked, very close. Bang! bang! bang! I

realize the noise is coming from an apartment on the other side of my bedroom

wall where a policeman and his family live.

Dad drags his woven rug down

from the open balcony, obviously he is scared of the air-bound bullets which

will eventually descend at 10 metres per second - being hit by stray shrapnel

could seriously spoil celebrations.

In the late evening of that day I

observed my neighbor, the policeman, loudly arguing with his friend on different

subjects. They were celebrating the New Year by boozing on a bottle of Black

Label.

Days prior to the celebration the Royal Government passed an order

to security units to suppress the traditional seeing in the New Year with

gunfire. Co-Premier Hun Sen, during his visit to Pailin, appealed on the

state-run TVK for a general and unconditional truce between the Royal Cambodian

Armed Forces and the National Army of Democratic Kampuchea.

He said: "The

ceasefire should be a gift for the New Year of theDog which is to arrive soon.

I'd like to also appeal to the rank-and-file KR to leave your guns, even though

your high ranking officers may disagree, come and play traditional games with

the people, with the RCAF. We open the door for you."

I sympathized with

the appeal one hundred percent.

Nevertheless, my neighbor pressed the

trigger until the chamber of his AK-47 was emptied. The governments no gunshot

order was ignored by many.

I was caught up in the question of whether

Tevada The Dog and his entourage would be safe while making their way to the

planet to assume their duty to help the people, especially in Cambodia where gun

possession is uncontrolled? Was the newTevada warned to wear a bullet-proof

jacket while traveling?

Shortly after, a patrol of Military Police showed

up. Speaking my mind I said: "Blokes it's too late. You'd better go home and

sleep."

Traditionally, Vietnamese and Chinese like to welcome their new

year with firecrackers. Khmers seem to like something heavier.

I decided

to crawl into my mosquito net, over-heated by the weather and the noisy turn of

events. My mood was one of total exhaustion. My bedsheet quickly became soaked

in perspiration. While sleeping the water tank became full, I did not ask who

had been kind enough to unplug the pump.

And fortunately, no more gunfire

was heard.

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