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Muslims to US Ambassador: Chams Suffered 'Enormously' Under Khmer Rouge

More than any other group under the Khmer Rouge regime, the Cambodian Cham Muslims suffered and were killed, US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli said Thursday, following a meeting with Islamic leaders who plan to file numerous suits against the regime.

Representatives from nearly 370 mosques across the country are preparing to take statements from their Cham followers, sometimes called Khmer Islam, who may have suffered under the Khmer Rouge.

Mussomeli hosted a group of imams and other Muslim leaders at his residence in Phnom Penh, saying twice as many Chams died under the regime as other groups.

"The Cham community suffered enormously," Mussomeli said. "The Khmer Rouge had no tolerance for those who believe in God or who believe that murder goes against God's law."

As many as 300,000 Chams died between 1975 and 1979, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, and many mosques were destroyed as the regime dismantled religion, currency and the education system.

The Khmer Rouge "arrested and killed seven of our aunts and uncles," Mohammad Dren, a Cham leader from Takeo province, told VOA Khmer Thursday. "I want to file suit against Pol Pot, to file suit over the killing of my relatives, who were beaten to death. [Cadre] killed my relatives because they would not eat pork. They refused to eat pork, no matter what happened. Even if they were to be killed, they still would not eat it."

Ali Usman, an imam from Kampong Cham province, said he would seek genocide charges stemming from the murder many Khmer Islam in Kampong Cham province.

The Khmer Rouge "killed all of them" in the province, he said. "It was a genocide. There were none left. Even the mosque in my village was used as a dining hall."

The Documentation Center of Cambodia will help the Muslim leaders gather information from their followers to produce the charges, allowing for a criminal suit and a civil suit, center director Youk Chhang said.

The first kind of suit would look at whether the Cambodian Muslims underwent genocide, he said.

Educating the imams was important to the center, so that they might help other Chams understand what happened.

"The important thing is explaining to them, so they will understand," he said. "They are imams, the religious leaders in the villages. And they will go down the villages, and they can tell all the Khmer Islams all over the country."

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said the tribunal would receive as many suits as possible, including those from minority groups.

The Chams comprise about 10 percent of Cambodia's population.