The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) wants to change the venue of its annual commemoration of the approximately 1.7 million Cambodians who died under the Khmer Rouge to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in central Phnom Penh.
The opposition usually holds the April 17 ceremony each year at the Choeung Ek “killing fields” on the outskirts of town to mark the day in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh and began their nearly four-year grip on power.
But on Thursday, the opposition sent a letter to the Ministry of Culture, which manages Tuol Sleng, asking to use the museum as a new venue for the event.
“We will hold the ceremony at the Choeung Ek museum in case they do not give us permission to have it at Tuol Sleng museum, but we prefer Tuol Sleng because it is closer,” said CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann, who is in charge of organizing the event.
Opposition lawmaker-elect Mao Monivann said the CNRP has invited 57 monks to participate. About 1,000 people are expected to join the ceremony.
Oun Toeum, cabinet chief at the Ministry of Culture, said he had not yet seen the request and would not comment.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the opposition would probably have its wish granted, so long as the event was not political.
“There’s no reason that a religious event should be banned, but they should not use a religious ceremony as a chance to attack [the government] and try to get political advantage,” he said.
During last year’s ceremony at Choeung Ek, CNRP President Sam Rainsy spoke to the gathering by telephone from self-imposed exile in France. He accused unnamed government officials of hindering the ongoing Khmer Rouge tribunal and of denying justice for the regime’s victims.
In the lead-up to last year’s parliamentary elections, CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha was also accused of making a campaign speech claiming that Vietnam fabricated the well-documented torture the Khmer Rouge committed at Tuol Sleng. Though Mr. Sokha vehemently denied making the comments and accused the government of doctoring the audio recording, the ruling CPP passed a law making illegal the denial of Khmer Rouge crimes.
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