Opposition to Celebrate April 17 at Killing Fields

The opposition CNRP said Friday it will commemorate April 17, the day Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge, at Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, 17 km south of Phnom Penh.

Authorities refused to allow the CNRP to hold a Buddhist ceremony at the S-21 security center, also known as Tuol Sleng, in central Phnom Penh.

CNRP lawmaker-elect Mao Monivann said that geography dictated the decision taken by the Ministry of Cult and Religion. “The authorities have their concerns over the CNRP’s forces and followers celebrating at Tuol Sleng because it is in central Phnom Penh City,” Mr. Monivann said Friday.

Mass graves containing almost 9,000 human remains have been identified at Choeung Ek, the most heavily visited execution site of the Khmer Rouge “Killing Fields.”

Long Dimanche, spokesman for City Hall, said that commemorations at Tuol Sleng are not controlled by the city government.

“Tuol Sleng is under the control of the Ministry of Cult” and Religion, Mr. Dimanche said.

City Hall, he said, allows the CNRP to commemorate April 17 under the condition that it would not be used for political purposes. “We have put the condition that this cannot be an opportunity for the CNRP to talk about political issues or to criticize the King,” Mr. Dimanche said.

Mr. Monivann said he expects about 1,000 people to join the CNRP at the ceremony, which will start at 7:30 a.m.

Since 1975, the meaning of April 17 has changed several times.

The Khmer Rouge celebrated it as a day of victory over the Lon Nol regime, and the official birth of the Angkar government. After three years, eight months, and 20 days in power, the Khmer Rouge had killed some 1.8 million people.

After the January 1979 expulsion of the Khmer Rouge from Phnom Penh, April 17 was celebrated by the Vietnamese-backed government as a victory over U.S.-backed forces, rather than the triumph of the Khmer Rouge.

Today, it is considered a day of mourning.

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