The SRP said Wednesday its annual commemoration of the fall of Phnom Penh to Khmer Rouge forces would go ahead today despite dithering over authorization by municipal officials and the operators of the Choeung Ek memorial.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said Wednesday that only the museum could authorize the opposition party’s planned Buddhist ceremony, but the museum director said the SRP in fact needed City Hall’s approval.
The SRP has held the Buddhist ceremony, which marks the April 17, 1975, surrender of the Khmer Republic to Khmer Rouge forces, every year for the past seven years without incident, SRP lawmaker Ho Vann said.
He said Kep Chuktema had verbally given permission for the event to go forward April 12, a claim the governor denied Wednesday.
“Before, we didn’t ask for permission, but [Choeung Ek’s private management] company refused to give permission until City Hall agreed,” Ho Vann said. “I have talked with Kep Chuktema over the telephone. Kep Chuktema said it is all right to hold the Buddhist ceremony.”
Ho Vann said the ceremony will be held today at Choeung Ek with or without municipal permission.
“Without permission, we will do it,” he said.
Kep Chuktema said by telephone on Wednesday that he had never having given permission for the ceremony, orally or otherwise, and said the private operators of the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center were responsible for activities at the site.
“There must be permission [from the museum operator],” he said. “Otherwise they will not allow them to hold the Buddhist ceremony.”
Museum General Manager Chuor Sok Ty said Wednesday he feared authorizing the SRP-led ceremony without the municipality’s consent.
“I have asked SRP officials to ask City Hall for permission,” he said, adding that visitors may enter the site but a ceremony staged by a political party required official authorization.
“If City Hall doesn’t give permission, I will not allow the Buddhist ceremony,” he added.
At the site, 129 mass graves have been identified and a tall stupa contains the skulls of 8,985 people among the 20,000 believed to have been executed and buried there.
At today’s ceremony, monks are to pray for the souls of the departed as other participants make offerings of food and clothing.
“We must remind people not to forget about the genocide. We will also appeal for the prosecution of former Khmer Rouge leaders to proceed,” SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said.