On April 17, 1975, the embattled government of Lon Nol surrendered to the peasant army of the Khmer Rouge, which had surrounded Phnom Penh. It was the beginning of the dark era known as Democratic Kampuchea—and for more than 1 million Cambodians, it was the end.
On Wednesday, about 100 people gathered at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum to pray and commemorate the 27th anniversary as monks chanted for the victims in a ceremony organized by the Sam Rainsy Party.
“I came to the ceremony because I remember the hard times under the Khmer Rouge,” said Prum Chev, 64, a Pursat province native who lost his 10 children to the genocidal regime. “I came to offer food to the monks to pray for all the dead, including my children.”
While the prayers could help the souls of the dead, Prum Chev said only one thing can heal the souls of the living: A trial of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders.
“If there is no trial, I cannot lift the stress from my heart,” he said. “The Khmer Rouge committed crimes against humanity. They broke international law, not just Cambodian law.” For this reason, he said, UN participation is needed to ensure a fair trial.
Eng Chhay Eang, secretary- general of the Sam Rainsy Party, said a trial is necessary to end Cambodia’s culture of impunity.
“Increasingly in Phnom Penh we have violence and kidnapping,” he said. “The criminals think, ‘If [Khmer Rouge leaders] could kill a million people and live freely, I can commit a little crime.’”
Party leader Sam Rainsy is scheduled to return from the US Friday. He was raising funds for his party and also gave a speech to the National Press Club in Washington, DC.