Pain, Politics on Display at Annual Khmer Rouge Memorial

Cries of pain filled the air at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center on Thursday as performers re-enacted events from the Khmer Rouge era during an annual ceremony that blends historical remembrance with pro-government politics.

Hundreds of people gathered on the grounds of the Choeung Ek killing fields in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district to mark the “Day of Anger,” a government-organized event first held in 1984 as a way to remember the trauma Cambodians faced under the Pol Pot regime.

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Performers stage mock executions at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center as part of the government-organized ‘Day of Anger,’ in a photograph posted to Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong’s Facebook page.

The dramatization included scenes of young, black-clad soldiers dragging children from their parents and slitting their throats while screams pierced the air.

Toward the end of the performance, after Salvation Front soldiers had emerged and dispersed the Khmer Rouge cadres, performers hoisted flags bearing the CPP logo alongside the national flag of Cambodia—a not-so-subtle reminder that many current government leaders were also part of the Vietnamese-backed Salvation Front that overthrew the Pol Pot regime.

The core leadership of the Salvation Front—many of them Khmer Rouge defectors—still form the nucleus of the current Cambodian government, including Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.

The event also lauded Mr. Hun Sen’s government for raising the salaries of civil servants, soldiers and garment workers; exempting motorbikes from paying road tax; lowering electricity prices for the poor; and eliminating fees for small-scale market vendors.

Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong, who said he was separated from his parents and nine siblings in April 1975, told reporters on Thursday that the ceremony was meant to remind the younger generation of Cambodia’s brutal past and prevent it from ever recurring.

“We have to remember that history and peace we achieve stems from the blood of our people,” he said. “So we should not forget it and let someone intend to destroy this peace.”

Mr. Socheatvong urged all political parties to abide by the National Election Committee’s rules to avoid any problems during the commune election campaign period, which begins on Saturday.

A lawful campaign and election would “show that our people choose democratic elections and adhere to multiparty democracy,” he said. “The people show…they do not want war, and they need wise leaders.”

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