Marking 41 years since the Khmer Rouge overtook Phnom Penh and began a brutal rule that would set the country back to “year zero,” opposition leader Sam Rainsy used an anniversary ceremony on Sunday to accuse the ruling CPP of carrying on Pol Pot’s legacy.
Speaking from abroad via video link at the event, held at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center in Phnom Penh, Mr. Rainsy said the current government was maintaining the culture of violence imposed by the Khmer Rouge, which took control of Cambodia on April 17, 1975.
“I wish to state the Pol Pot regime and the Khmer Rouge disappeared a long time ago, but the culture is still alive in our society now,” he told a crowd of opposition supporters and Buddhist monks.
“And now it is time to get rid of the culture because it is Khmer Rouge culture, and the Khmer should get a new culture with peace, and we call it the culture of dialogue,” he said.
Mr. Rainsy expounded on his comments in a post to Facebook following the event.
“[W]ith our current leaders who are former Khmer Rouge apparatchiks or military commanders, the Khmer Rouge mentality continues to prevail among Cambodia’s leaders as evidenced by the prevailing culture of violence and impunity, which stems from Pol Pot’s culture of war, elimination and dictatorship,” he wrote.
“It’s also a culture of systemic corruption in that national resources and state assets are being considered as war spoils by those who have replaced Pol Pot,” he added.
Mr. Rainsy entered exile in November to avoid a two-year prison sentence for defaming former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong during a speech, also at Choeung Ek, in which the opposition leader claimed the ruling party stalwart had helped run a Khmer Rouge prison camp.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former military commander under Pol Pot who defected and joined the Vietnamese-backed forces that overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979, often evokes the horrors of the regime during public speeches.
On numerous occasions, Mr. Hun Sen has warned that a CNRP government would see the return of many of the policies that devastated the country during the Khmer Rouge era, particularly the opposition party’s promises to recover ill-gotten land from the wealthy.
“It’s very clear there are no differences, as [the CNRP] presently consider those with property to be their enemies. Class warfare will occur and become civil war,” the prime minister warned in a letter posted to his Facebook page in October.
Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which works to educate people about the Khmer Rouge era, said on Sunday that one of the darkest periods of human history should not be used to score political points.
“I think there should be a distinction between justice and politics. There should be a distinction between politics and the suffering of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge,” Mr. Chhang said.