In a thinly veiled reference to the governing party, SRP Deputy President Kong Korm on Friday told 300 monks and party faithful gathered at the Choeung Ek killing fields in Phnom Penh that “remnants” of the Khmer Rouge regime have continued its cruelties to the present day.
Routinely the occasion for anti-CPP speeches, the annual event marking the 1975 rise of the Khmer Rouge was used last year by party leader Sam Rainsy to accuse Foreign Minister Hor Namhong of crimes under the regime, claims that drew a defamation lawsuit.
Under a tent erected next to Choeung Ek`s memorial glass stupa, which encases 8,985 human skulls unearthed from 129 mass graves, Kong Korm, also an SRP senator, recalled the Khmer Rouge evacuation of Cambodia’s cities and compared this to the numerous forced evictions occurring in land disputes in contemporary Cambodia.
“The same practice, which is continued under the influence of the former Khmer Rouge remnants, still kills and evicts people from houses everywhere,” he said.
“It still causes a lot of people to lack shelter, land, health and food,” he added. “Some people still seem not to have escaped from the dark Pol Pot regime’s acts.”
Kem Sokha, leader of the Human Right Party, which formed an alliance with the SRP in January, was also present at the ceremony but said nothing.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap on Friday dismissed the event as organized “demagoguery” meant to garner attention.
“We regard 17 April as the day that the people and the motherland became the victims and the start of the Pol Pot regime,” Cheam Yeap said, adding that it should not be a national holiday because it was a day of sadness for the country.
Cheam Yeap also said that Kong Korm failed to appreciate the changes that Cambodia experienced after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
“Pol Pot had destroyed everything to the roots,” he said. “Without 7 January, , the Sam Rainsy group would not be able to come into the country.”
“Seven January was the day of nation’s liberation from the genocidal Pol Pot regime,” he said.
The ruling CPP arose from a front formed in 1978 to topple Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, a front itself that was composed of Khmer Rouge defectors including National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
At Friday’s event, participants said they viewed Jan 7, 1979, the day the front backed by the Vietnamese army toppled Pol Pot, as the start of another misfortune.
Though conceding that Jan 7, 1979 marked the day Cambodia was freed from the Khmer Rouge, 63-year-old SRP activist Chea Heng, who lost three members of his family under Democratic Kampuchea, said he also believed that it was the day Vietnam began an occupation of Cambodia.
“Seven January was the day the Yuon occupied the country, they liberated but it was under the control of Yuon,” he said, using a derogatory term for the Vietnamese.
A 63-year-old Chan Kimsuong, holding a microphone, expressed her pain to the ceremony and called for more prosecutions of the former senior Khmer Rouge leaders.
Despite public warnings from Hun Sen this month that additional Khmer Rouge prosecutions would reignite Cambodia’s civil war, the Khmer Rouge tribunal is expected in the coming weeks to resolve a disagreement among prosecutors over whether to pursue a handful of additional suspects.
“I ask for more prosecutions-not just five [current suspects in detention,]” said Chan Kimsuong, adding that when she was four-months pregnant, Khmer Rouge soldiers beat her until she lost the baby she was carrying.
“My child and husband were killed. I am not satisfied,” she said.