At his party’s annual April 17 commemoration of the 1975 fall of Phnom Penh, SRP leader Sam Rainsy accused the government of deliberately stalling the progress of the long-delayed Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“The government seems to use all kinds of pretexts to block the proceedings,” he said at the Choeung Ek killing field, where several hundred party supporters and monks had gathered to pray for the souls of the dead.
Government and court officials have both strongly denied charges that they are to blame for the court’s faltering progress.
Rainsy said April 17 was the beginning not only of a national tragedy, but also of an age of impunity in Cambodia that has yet to end.
“We want the world to help put an end to impunity in Cambodia,” he said. “You cannot just forget. You cannot bury history. You have to settle history before you can move forward.”
April 17th is itself a good example of how contentious Cambodia’s war-torn history remains.
“Why does the CPP ignore the 17th of April?” Rainsy asked at Choeung Ek, noting that throughout the 1980s, April 17th was considered a national day of celebration marking the victory of the Cambodian people over imperialism and the US-backed Lon Nol regime.
“The CPP considered the 17th of April as a victory because the CPP was part of the Khmer Rouge,” Sam Rainsy said.
“Many CPP leaders were Khmer Rouge members and officials. They consider 17 April as their achievement, and it is Pol Pot who betrayed the revolution,” he said.
“They cannot mourn,” he added. “Their position is ambiguous.”
National Assembly President and Honorary CPP President Heng Samrin said it was unfair to implicate CPP officials in the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.
“CPP officials joined the movement led by Samdech Ouv,” Heng Samrin said, using the affectionate term for retired King Norodom Sihanouk, “to liberate the nation.”
The term Khmer Rouge, he added, refers only to those members of the National United Front of Kampuchea, a coalition of forces that fought against the Lon Nol regime, who were indoctrinated, betrayed the movement and killed people.
April 17th 1975, he said, still represents a day of liberation for the Cambodian people.
“April 17 is a day of victory, when people were liberated from the oppression of US henchmen,” Heng Samrin said.
Things began to falter when Pol Pot and his clique grabbed power, he said.
“May 20th is when Pol Pot set out his policy, which killed many people,” Heng Samrin said. “The CPP mourns the victims of the Khmer Rouge on May 20th, the Day of Hatred.”
The CPP, he added, continued to fight for the liberation of the Cambodian people, which it achieved on Jan 7, 1979—a victory that he said cannot be shared by the “Khmer Rouge traitors.”
Several of the monks at Choeung Ek on Tuesday sought a higher ground beyond recrimination.
“We do not side with any political party,” said Kong Pisey, 33, a monk from Dangkao district’s Sambo Meas pagoda, adding that he had been unaware that the ceremony was an SRP event.
Ruos Sambath, 57, a monk from Tuol Samrong pagoda who served in Lon Nol’s army, said he had come for spiritual rather than political ends. “I come just to chant,” he said. “We offer food and good luck for souls who have had bad luck.”
Even if men have not yet moved beyond politics, the dead have, Ruos Sambath said as he stood barefoot beneath a tree near the bones of some of the 17,000 people bludgeoned to death at Choeung Ek, many of whom were themselves members of the Khmer Rouge.
“They should have been reborn already,” he said of the victims, whose skulls are piled high in a commemorative glass stupa.
“Their souls are not here.”