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IN (SACRED) MEMORY: Must Politics Obstruct Honoring the Dead?

IN (SACRED) MEMORY: Must Politics Obstruct Honoring the Dead?

"To those who died, we remember; to those who survived, we hear you; to the

next generations, we must never forget." - Elie Wiesel

Lest we forget

The above mentioned quote by famed Jewish holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel serves as

a fresh reminder - not only for those who survived and experienced loss under the

Khmer Rouge regime, but also for the new generation born in the aftermath of the

tragedy - to remember, reflect, and understand.

Our remembrance must encompass a sense of reverence and contemplation for the sacredness

of life and freedom. In the face of deep mourning and unimaginable loss, we recoil

from ill-mannered blustering and crassness; these sentiments reflect disrespect for

the significance of human life.

Too dearly loved to be forgotten

With this in mind, we Khmer should do all that we can to make sure that the Khmer

Rouge Tribunal works in accordance to what is true, just, right and admirable, thus

affirming all the values of life.

We must ensure that the tribunal is not manipulated by politics to become a charade

of justice, thus perverting the memories of our loved ones - Papa Im, Maman Eat,

Auntie Eap and her husband of one-month Veng; parents of Loung Ung, Dr. Im Francois

and Reach Sambath; relatives of Chea Sophara, Roland Eng, Sok An; family of the King

Father, Hun Sen, Sam Rainsy; and 1,700,000 others - who would otherwise have died

in vain.

In this regard, we beseech once again the powers-that-be: please keep politics away

from the KRT - for the dignity of my parents, your parents, your brothers, your sisters,

our loved ones, and generally for our collective Khmer dignity.

Also, we beseech the powers-that-be: please de-commercialize the "killing fields"

of Choeung Ek. The 30-year contract with Japanese-owned JC Royal Corporation to privatize

this sacred ground is reprehensible and should be annulled. Please let the dead rest

in peace.

The memory we hold of loved ones who have passed away is sacred. The memorial we

erect in their honor is holy ground.

Easter Sunday 1997 Memorial

We, Khmer however, are in danger of ridiculing the memory of our dead, again.

On Easter Sunday morning 1997, four grenades ripped through a peaceful group of demonstrators

in front of the National Assembly, killing 20 people and wounding 100 others. The

demonstrators included garment workers, cyclo drivers, vendors, advocates of democracy,

and political activists led by Sam Rainsy, demanding independence for the judiciary.

The first memorial, a stupa, was erected on 29 March 2000, the eve of the anniversary

of the grenade attacks. Two days later, this stupa was found in a sewage-outlet on

the banks of the Tonle Sap.

The following day, Sam Rainsy supporters retrieved the stupa memorial from the river

and returned it to its original location outside the National Assembly.

On 30 April 2000, the stupa was destroyed on location, "pounded to rubble".

The stupa was rebuilt on May 16, some two weeks later, only to be taken and dumped

over the Japanese Friendship Bridge later that night at 11 p.m.

The next day, the stupa was returned and re-erected for the fourth time. In the afternoon,

it was "smashed by police who raced away with debris." Later that same

afternoon, yet another stupa was erected, this time with victims' ashes and a Buddha

statue placed inside.

On the evening of June 12, the stupa was destroyed by a bulldozer, injuring at least

three people in the chaos. The injuries prompted the involvement of then U.S. Ambassador

Kent Wiedemann and a request to the King Father.

The municipality finally awarded permission to Sam Rainsy to build a new stupa, which

was officially commemorated on 3 August 2000 and remains standing to this day.

De-politicize, de-commercialize memorials - they are holy grounds

I take pain to put into detailed chronology the efforts in establishing this stupa

because the persistence and energy of those who fought to build it reflect deep respect

and acknowledgement of the courage and sacrifices of the lives lost. Now, this stupa

is under threat of removal to Wat Botum where it will be lost in the forest of other


Remembrance is commemoration. A memorial is designed to preserve the memory of a

person, a place, an event, a moment.

The removal of this memorial to a new location will remove all traces of the event

from the sight of the grenade attacks, and thus defeat the purpose of remembrance

and a memorial. It will diminish the symbolic meaning of "honoring" those

who died in the grenade attacks.

The stupa is not a war memorial; it should not be a political issue. The deceased

were high school students, garment workers - simple ordinary citizens, not politicians

- exercising their right to demand greater justice and democracy. Yes, the peaceful

gatherers were led by Sam Rainsy, but the dead were not politicians and their memories

should not be politicized. Moreover, the place of the tragedy is sacred ground and

should be treated as such in its remembrance.

The degree to which we value and treasure life is reflected in the way we remember

our loved ones.

Whatever our political affiliation or inclination may be, we can join in the commemoration

of these precious lives for their bravery and yearning for a better society. These

are the values that all individuals and political parties - SRP, CPP, NRP or Funcinpec

- should share and desire.

Hence, let us preserve this stupa in its present sacred ground.

Let us claim back the Choueng Ek killing fields for the dignity and honor of our

loved ones who passed away.

Let us work to uphold the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to high standards of quality and integrity:

in hallowed remembrance of our parents, our siblings, our relatives and countrymen

whose presence we miss, memory we treasure, loving them always, forgetting them never.

Tribute inscribed on stupa to those who died

"To the heroic demonstrators who lost their lives on 30 March 1997 for the cause

of justice and democracy. The tragedy occurred 60 meters from this monument on the

sidewalk of the park across from the National Assembly."

  • Chet Duong Dara, medical doctor/journalist, 29
  • Hann Muny, bodyguard, 32
  • Yung Srey, female garment worker, 21
  • Yos Siem, female garment worker, 36
  • Sam Sarin, bicycle repairer, 50
  • Ros Sir, high school boy, 13
  • Sok Kheng, female student, 18
  • Yoeun Yon, high school boy, 17
  • Yung Sok Nov, female garment worker, 20
  • Chea Nang, high school teacher (passerby), 28
  • Nam Thy, motodop driver, 37
  • Chanty Pheakdey, high school girl, 13
  • Unknown others.

We honor your courage and will not forget you, for "remembrance is the only

paradise out of which we cannot be driven away" (Jean Paul Richter).

Theary C. SENG

Executive Director


The Voice of Justice column is a regular feature of the Phnom Penh Post.  Both

the column and the logo are expressions of the Center for Social Development (CSD)

which bears full responsibility for the opinions expressed.