Around 1,000 people gathered at the Choeung Ek “killing fields” on Saturday to take part in a government-organized ceremony to commemorate the day formerly known as the “Day of Hate” against the Khmer Rouge regime.
First celebrated in 1984 as a national day for people to vent their anger against Pol Pot, “American imperialists” and “Chinese expansionists,” the May 20 ceremony was toned down during the 1990s as holdout Khmer Rouge forces began their defections to the government.
On Saturday, actors dressed in the all-black uniform of Pol Pot’s revolutionary army, armed with weighty wooden poles, re-enacted scenes of torture and execution against prisoners whose arms were bound behind their backs.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said that he organized the brutal performance to remind people of Pol Pot’s regime.
“We wanted to remember our suffering. We cannot forget Pol Pot’s regime,” he said on Sunday. “We have waited 27 years. We want to see the Khmer Rouge tribunal process soon,” he added.
CPP government officials staged similar ceremonies across the country, said ruling party lawmaker Cheam Yeap, who organized a commemoration in Prey Veng province.
“The Day of Hate celebration is a party instruction. We celebrated it in every province,” said Cheam Yeap, adding that the re-enactments were staged to prevent history ever repeating itself in Cambodia.
“The country has not developed and continues to be poor because of the [Pol Pot] regime,” he said.
Sam Rainsy Party Senator Kong Korm questioned the significance of the May 20 date for the commemoration, saying that April 17, the day Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, would be a more fitting day for the popular expression of anger toward the communist regime.
Kong Korm, who was previously a member of the CPP, said that favoring May 20 over April 17 was a factional issue between former Khmer Rouge members, which included Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President and CPP Honorary President Heng Samrin.
“The Hate Day celebration is just to make clear that they were not responsible for the regime. The celebration is to make sure that only Pol Pot’s side was responsible for the genocide,” Kong Korm said.
Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge deputy regimental commander until he defected to Vietnam in June 1977. Heng Samrin defected to Vietnam in May 1978. Both of them later returned with Vietnamese support to topple Pol Pot on Jan 7, 1979.
Cheam Yeap said that Hun Sen and Heng Samrin were led in the wrong direction by Pol Pot and later fought back against the Khmer Rouge.
“Samdech Hun Sen and Heng Samrin are heroes,” he said.