At least 6,000 people from the provinces who suffered during the Pol Pot regime
will have visited Phnom Penh by the end of the year to learn about the
proceedings of the Khmer Rouge Trial, said Youk Chhang, director of the
Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam).
Michelle Lee, left, at a blessing on March 31 outside the KRT's Extraordinary Chambers in Kambol, Kandal Province.
Chhang said the center has
been inviting victims of the regime to visit and familiarize themselves with the
trial process so that they would not be afraid of giving evidence if called on
to testify by the court.
He said it was very important that those invited
to Phnom Penh should spread information about the trial to their neighbors in
villages and communes so that others could also prepare to participate.
Since February 26, DC-Cam has been inviting 400 to 450 people each month
to visit Toul Sleng museum and Choeung Ek, and to meet members of the National
Assembly who passed the Khmer Rouge Trial law. The guests also meet government
and UN officials in the Khmer Rouge Trial courtroom - known as the Extraordinary
Chambers in the Courts - and the US ambassador.
Chhang said the center
invited people to visit Toul Sleng and Choeung Ek to present a broader view of
history and help them find a path to reconciliation between Khmer Rouge victims
and lower-level officers of the KR regime, many of whom were themselves victims.
The center took the visitors to meet the US ambassador because the United States
supported the participation of the people and wanted them to know that the court
could bring them justice.
"They [surviving victims] are living documents
to give information to the court," Chhang said. "Most of those victims who
participated in the visit will become the witnesses for the trial."
Phoun, 68, from Tang Krasay village, Brasat Sambo district in Kampong Thom, who
participated in a trip from March 26 to 28, said he was very happy to be a
witness for the Khmer Rouge trial.
"I would like to tell the court about
the truth of the Khmer Rouge regime," he said. "We worked too much but got
little food to eat."
Chhang said the people invited to visit Phnom Penh
were those DC-Cam interviewed nine years ago - and also their neighbors, such as
village and commune chiefs, who often told his center they would like to see the
court but could not afford travel and accommodation.
The visitors have
come from Kampong Cham, Kandal, Kampot, Takeo, Kampong Chhnang, Pursat,
Battambang, Rattanakkiri, Preah Vihear, Kampong Thom, Koh Kong, Kampong Som,
Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey.
Chhang said each group visit costs the
center between US$4,000 and $5,000 -to cover the cost of travel to Phnom Penh,
food and accommodation. USAID helped with the funding.
deputy director of the UN Khmer Rouge Trial delegation, on March 28 told 412
villagers in the courtroom, "Today, you come from villages, you come from far to
visit us, so that you can see this is where the trial will take
"When you go back to your villages, please tell your friends and
your families [that] we are here, we are serious and we want to help."
Kim Sim, 56, from O'Kavann village, Chamkar Leu district in Kampong
Cham, who also participated in the March 26-28 visit, said it was the first time
she had come to Phnom Penh to visit Toul Sleng museum and other places that
could help to remind her about the Khmer Rouge regime that killed her three
brothers and one sister.
"Yesterday, I felt dizzy and was not hungry at
all after I saw the pictures at Toul Sleng museum," she said on March 28. "It
made me remember what happened in the regime. I would like the trial to start
soon. And I am very happy to be a witness."
Sean Visoth, administrative
director of the Extraordinary Chambers, told the villagers, "Now we do not have
problems with the budget for the Khmer Rouge trial any more. [It is like the]
train that starts going and the plane that starts taking off."
least one of the visitors was dismissive of the trial process. Cheng Eam, 53,
from Chhouk district in Kampot, said the trial was worthless and the money being
spent on it would be better spent on things like building houses for people.
"Every war terrorizes and kills people," Eam said. "War kills people and
genocide kills people. One is the same as the other. Now they have a trial of
the Khmer Rouge. Why don't they have a trial of America? America made more
serious war than the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. America dropped millions of bombs
on Cambodia. Does that make you frightened or not?"
The law establishing
the Khmer Rouge Trial process confines the courts to trying only crimes
committed by individuals in Cambodia between April 17, 1975 (the day the Khmer
Rouge took power in Phnom Penh) and January 6, 1979 (their last day in power
before Phnom Penh fell to the Vietnamese Army). The court cannot try countries
or organizations that supported the Khmer Rouge regime, nor countries or
individuals for crimes committed before or after those dates.