More than 100 survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime gathered at the Choeung Ek “killing fields” with officials and monks on Monday morning, to remember those who died following the Khmer Rouge rise to power on April 17, 1975.
The three-hour Buddhist ceremony was presided over by Sam Rainsy Party leader Sam Rainsy, who noted that the government celebrated April 17 during the 1980s as a day of triumph, and questioned why officials have never made the day a national day of mourning.
Listening to the speech, Phum Than, 68, also wondered why the day has never been nationally recognized.
As he recounted how eight members of his family perished during Pol Pot’s brutal regime, he said he feared young Cambodians untouched by such events would forget what happened.
“I tell them that April 17 was the day millions of people began to suffer starvation and brutal killings,” he said.
Minh Chhuonseng, 60, said he, too, fears that young people will forget what happened. “This ceremony is to remind our people to ask why this brutal regime happened and which other countries were involved,” he said.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema agreed April 17 is a day of mourning, but said that holding a memorial on that day would disrupt the Khmer New Year holidays.
“The municipality has never held a ceremony on April 17 because we want all our people to take that day off as part of Khmer New Year,” he said. “We always hold a ceremony for respect and sorrow on May 20,” he said.
Once known as “Day of Hate,” May 20 was established during the Vietnam-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea to focus anger at the Khmer Rouge regime.
Chuor Sok Ty, general manager at Choeung Ek, also said the day of mourning should be held next month and questioned whether the SRP was politicizing the event.
“The Sam Rainsy Party should hold the memorial May 20, along with other Cambodians,” he said.