Moeung Sonn says there must be a Khmer Rouge trial for a reason he thinks the government may not have fully considered: Until it is held, he says, Cambodians will remain stuck in their horrific past, unable to participate with the rest of the world in the global economy of the 21st century.
“People are talking about a door closing,” saying that justice has been delayed so long that the Khmer Rouge may never be held to account for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians, he said.
“I would like to push for action, and to urge the government, ‘Do not close this door,’” he said. He said a Khmer Rouge trial is not about vengeance, but about the country’s future.
Officials preoccupied with stonewalling or stalling a trial are not free to focus on that future, he said—at a time when growing global competitiveness demands maximum effort.
And while simple justice demands an accounting, he said, “Cambodia’s problems are economic as well. And people cannot grow until this is resolved.”
Moeung Sonn, a successful businessman who heads the Eurasie Travel agency and is president of the National Association of Tourism, suffered as deeply under the Khmer Rouge as anyone.
In one heartbreaking year, 1976, all six of his young children died. Dozens of other relatives would succumb during the nearly four years of the Khmer Rouge regime.
As an educated young man who spoke English and French, he survived only because of his skills as a mechanic, which were useful to the Khmer Rouge. Also, former colleagues who later became Khmer Rouge cadres vouched for him.
Moeung Sonn recounted his story in “Prisoner of the Khmer Rouge,” published in French in 1993 as “Prisonnier de l’Angkar.” He said he hopes some day to get it translated into English.
In 1979, Moeung Sonn escaped to the Thai border, and then to France. He was not reunited with his wife, Phally, until 1991; they have since had three more children, who are growing up in France, where he splits his time.
And while some say it is too late for a Khmer Rouge tribunal to do any good for Cambodia, he wants his country to exorcise its demons so that it can become a fully functioning member of the international community.
“It is very, very important for Cambodia that this trial be held in the eyes of the world,” he said. “These people must be tried. If they are not, there is a risk that genocide could occur again, in the future.”
He said it does not matter if the trial is conducted by international judges or by Cambodian judges—as long as it is fair. Until the matter is aired—and aired fully—before the Cambodian people, he said the country will remain trapped in its nightmarish past.