Gov’t Criticizes Planned Darfur Demonstration

Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanha­rith on Wednesday said that it was wrong for a US-based group headed by actress Mia Farrow to at­tempt to in­ternationalize Cambo­dia’s genocide.

Olympic Dream for Darfur plann­ed to light a symbolic Olympic torch at Tuol Sleng genocide museum on Sunday to draw attention to the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region. The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that the event would not be allowed.

Khieu Kanharith said that the government is aware of the inter­na­tional media attention that surrounds Dream for Darfur’s world tour, which included ceremonies in Chad near the Sudanese border, Rwan­­da, Armenia, Germany and Bosnia.

“Trying to internationalize the Cambodian genocide, or making [a] name from this genocide, is not productive for Cambodian people nor the Khmer Rouge trial,” Khieu Kanharith wrote by e-mail.

China—which has close ties to the Cambodian government—is a major Sudanese trade partner and Beijing, which is hosting the 2008 Olympic Games, has been the focus of Dream for Darfur’s campaign.

Theary Seng, executive director of the Center for Social Develop­ment and co-host of Sunday’s plann­ed ceremony, declined to comment Wednesday.

Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia and the country’s leading genocide researcher, said Tuesday evening that the government should support Sunday’s event.

“The government doesn’t want to see genocide return to this country, and by allowing this event, it’s one way to prevent that,” Youk Chhang said. “I think that the government should allow the event to take place.”

Naly Pilorge, executive director of local rights group Licadho, said Wed­nesday that since the ceremony is not a threat to public order or security, the government had no legal reason to stop it.

“It’s just another sign that there’s no will to allow people to gather at any type of event, whether it’s for specific issues like labor or land, or to commemorate victims,” she said, adding that she still plans to attend Sun­day’s ceremony.

“I will show up because I do not believe there is a legal or valid reason for disallowing the event,” she said.

A diplomat for the Chinese Em­bassy, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to comment on the government’s decision to disallow Sunday’s event, saying that it was “the internal decision of the Cambodian government.”

Tuol Sleng genocide museum Director Sopeara Chey said Wed­nesday that the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts contacted him on Saturday and ordered him to cancel the Dream for Darfur’s ceremony.

“The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts told me to cancel all the programs [scheduled for Sunday] morning,” he said.

US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle reiterated US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli’s comment early this week that it would be “disappointing” if the event was cancelled.

“The event is strictly intended as a way to remember and honor all those killed during Khmer Rouge rule and to focus attention on the horrible tragedy of genocide,” he wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.

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