Former members of Democratic Kampuchea say that the name “Khmer Rouge” is a derogatory term concocted and perpetuated to insult them and that some political correctness is required in Cambodia parlance.
The term was used to denigrate Democratic Kampuchea and its continued use exacerbates the social distance between the residents of former Khmer Rouge areas and the rest of the country, residents of former rebel areas said recently.
“We never named ourselves Khmer Rouge,” Nuon Chea, 80, better known as Brother Number Two, said in a recent interview. “Our enemies named us Khmer Rouge. It means our very flesh is red,” he said.
Math Sarun, a resident of Pailin since 1977, said that the name conjured up stereotypes of former regime members.
“I know other people still call us Khmer Rouge, and some people wonder what Khmer Rouge faces look like,” she said. “Maybe they think we are monsters. But we are just people, only we served Pol Pot, and they served somebody else.”
“Khmers Rouges,” or Red Cambodians, was the French-language term coined by then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk to refer to leftist movements of the 1960s when he was head of state.
Ven Ra, Sam Rainsy Party chief for Pailin, said that the historical distinction could divide the nation again.
“If we are still painted as red, it will make the unified people split, and it will not be different from the new people and base people in 1975,” he said. Such divisions had in the past “brought thousands of people to their deaths,” he said.
A former soldier from Banteay Meanchey province’s Malai district who declined to be named said that she feared Khmer Rouge stigma would affect her children’s lives.
“Nobody wants to marry my daughter when they know she is the daughter of a Khmer Rouge,” she said.
Former Democratic Kampuchea teacher Long Von, who is now an official in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district, said: “We are not red, blue or white Khmer. We are the same Khmer.”
But even if the term could be purged from common parlance, it wouldn’t heal the wounds of wars, said Reach Sambath, spokesman for the much-anticipated Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“The words ‘Khmer Rouge’ we can change, but history we cannot,” he said.