Plans to build a Khmer Rouge “war museum” in the rebels’ former stronghold of Pailin should not be realized until a more lasting peace can be secured, some Pailin military and government officials said this week.
“If we make it at this time, it will have a bad effect on national reconciliation between the government and former Khmer Rouge troops,” said Chhun Nhib, who commands RCAF’s Division 22, which is made up of former Khmer Rouge soldiers.
If constructed as planned, the museum would display tanks and artillery once used by the Khmer Rouge. But Chhun Nhib said this might cause tension with the government, because many of those tanks were confiscated from government troops.
“When the country is really at peace and united, we will establish it,” he said.
Thousands of Khmer Rouge soldiers in the northwestern region surrounding Pailin defected to the government in 1996 after more than a decade of fighting a bloody civil war with government forces.
Chhun Nhib said the museum is not sanctioned by the government, but would be funded by a private sponsor that wishes to remain anonymous. He added that once the time is right, the museum should be built to attract tourists and to tell the real story of the Khmer Rouge.
“Vietnam has such a museum in its country to remind people of the war against the US. So we must have one, too,” he said.
Pailin cabinet chief Mai Mak said Pailin is too cash-strapped right now to expend extra funds on a museum.
“We are thinking about people’s lives right now, about roads and construction in Pailin,” he said.
But once things improve, he said the museum will be a good way to show all sides of the Khmer Rouge story.
He said it not only would display artillery, but the clothing Khmer Rouge rebels wore as well, depicted in paintings .
Some paintings might even show the final moments of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, as his body was cremated on a pile of tires near Anlong Veng in 1998, Mai Mak said.
Two government officials, one spokesman and one RCAF general, said they had not heard of plans to build the museum until they were reported in the press last week.
(Additional reporting by Kelly McEvers)