Opinion Split On Merits of Cremating KR Victims’ Bones

While government officials reiterated this week that the bones of tens of thousands of Khmer Rouge victims will not be ceremonially cremated, public opinion is still split on whether displaying the remains of atrocity victims serves a purpose in contemporary Cambodia.

The debate was ignited once again in a Feb 15 letter to King Norodom Sihanouk by Pang Suon, president of the US-based “Committee Supporting King for Cambodia,” calling for cremation of the bones to allow the souls of victims pass on to a new life.

“The evidence of the trial is enough…the government should not leave the bones of our forefathers scattered,” the group said in its letter to King Sihanouk.

Commiserating with the appeal from the overseas group, the King said he had forwarded the request to Prime Minister Hun Sen for consideration but was not hopeful of the result.

“I have also requested many times to the government, regarding the bones of our countrymen killed by the Khmer Rouge now on display at the museum, that they be kept in a proper stupa according to Buddhism, but I have had no positive reply,” the King’s reply letter stated.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thursday that the bones are being kept as proof for the forthcoming trial of the Khmer Rouge leadership.

Khieu Kanharith said that the bones at the so-called “Killing Fields” at Cheung Ek are kept in a respectful manner and religious ceremonies are conducted annually to those who died there.

“We have received such re­quests many times, but we see these bones are part of our history and every year we hold special ceremonies and pray for their souls to be free,” Khieu Kan­harith said.

Hun Sen adviser Om Yeng­tieng said Friday Hun Sen isn’t likely to order the bones moved.

“It isn’t that the prime minister opposes the King’s idea, but he also respects the general public’s opinion. And that is to keep bones in their original place so people can conduct Buddhist ceremonies for them,” he said.

However Phnom Penh resident Chhay Dalin, 31, said Friday she lost nine relatives to the Khmer Rouge regime but be­lieves the bones of those who died must be laid to rest properly.

Interviewed at her house near the once infamous Khmer Rouge S-21 Prison—which is now the self-styled Tuol Sleng genocide museum—Chhay Dalin said the bones of the dead are a testimony to impunity rather than evidence to be used against the guilty.

“Those bones should be ceremonially cremated so that their souls can go on and have another birth,” Chhay Dalin said.

“But [the Khmer Rouge] murdered thousands of people and have not been brought to justice. So [the bones] only show the weakness of the justice system, human rights and the UN,” Chhay Dalin said.

“Pol Pot was not even brought to trial….And other Khmer Rouge leaders still live freely and comfortably and have high-ranking positions with the government,” she added.

An Australian tourist who was visiting Tuol Sleng museum Friday said that Cambodian people should be given a choice in the matter. The bones of the dead are the relatives of ordinary people and they should be allowed vote on whether the bones are to be cremated or displayed for visitors, he said.

“To me the pictures in the mus­eum are more painful to see than the bones,” said the Australian, adding that the map of Cambo­dia—made of human skulls—that hangs in the museum is unnecessary.

But a guide at Tuol Sleng mu­seum requesting anonymity said Friday that if the bones are cremated future generations will not believe the Khmer Rouge atrocities ever occurred.

“If we kept only the documents, young people would not believe it. [Bones] should be kept to warn younger generations that Cambodians killed Cambodians and it should not be repeated,” the guide said.

(Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Deutche Presse-Agentur)




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