Some Find Term ‘Khmer Rouge’ Derogatory

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.

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