Phnom Penh Rings In New Millennium and New ‘Peace’

San Deth, who lost his leg fighting Khmer Rouge soldiers, celebrated New Year’s eve alone at a park near the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge in Phnom Penh, where a statue of a giant gun was unveiled earlier Friday as a symbol of peace.

Since he lost his right leg, he has made a living begging for money and food. Now that the new millennium has come, all San Deth says he hopes for is living in a country at peace for the rest of his life.

“I loved weapons during the war. I polished [mine] everyday because rifles were my best friends at that time,” he said. “But now I hate those days. In order to defend myself, I shot at enemies whom I didn’t want to kill.”

The statue, made of more than 4,000 guns collected by the municipality as part of a program to decrease the number of weapons in citizens’ hands, was inaugurated on New Year’s Eve.

“The statue…will serve as a token of the royal government’s hope and Cambodian’ aspiration,” Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said at the ceremony. “We no longer need weapons. We need only peace and safety.”

Thousands of Phnom Penh citizens and visitors converged on the capital this weekend. Live music, traditional dancing and theatrical performances went on from morning to night at Wat Phnom and the park by the Japanese bridge.

Festivities cost about $100,000, said Heng Vantha, the city’s deputy chief of cabinet, who added businessmen donated money to help cover expenses.

Three thousand citizens on the New Year’s Eve marched on Monivong Boulevard from the park to the Wat Phnom to pray for peace. They held together a 1 km-long traditional cloth krama.

“I came to pray for security and peace for my family in the new millennium,” said San Vannak, who was one of more than 1,000 students who were given prizes for good grades.

The climax of festivities came at midnight, with a planned countdown to the turning of the century, fireworks and drum beats. Even though participants missed the countdown for “technical reasons,” referring a long speech by Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara, visitors said they were happy to witness the historical moment.

“I haven’t slept tonight yet because I want to have fun here,” Chuop San said early Saturday.

Police said Sunday that there were no serious crimes during the three-day festival in Phnom Penh. Traffic police reported only one fatal accident was reported by Sunday night, leaving two people killed and two others injured. (Additional reporting by Phann Ana and Yuko Maeda)


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