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Even From US, Khmer Rouge Victims Seek Justice

PHOTO SLIDESHOW, by Stephane Janin.

Some nights, Chea Marie finds herself running from the black-clad Khmer Rouge guerrillas who have come to torture her. She runs and keeps on running until she wakes up. More than 30 years after the collapse of the regime, these nightmares continue to haunt her, even though she has moved to the US.

“I look everywhere to see where I am now. Am I in Pol Pot’s time or in America?” she told VOA Khmer at a recent gathering of regime victims, in Virginia.

Chea Marie’s father was burned alive in a brick kiln. Her mother and her seven siblings were all killed under the regime. Now, like others who met last week in Arlington, Va., Chea Marie has filed suit as a civil party in upcoming Khmer Rouge trials under the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh.

Chea Marie filed her case during a gathering organized by the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia and Cambodian American for Human Rights and Democracy this weekend in Arlington, Va.

According to research by Nou Leakhena, a sociology professor at the Long Beach University, nightmares often follow victims of the Khmer Rouge, a symptom of the trauma that has eroded trust in Cambodian communities at home and abroad.

“I don’t trust others, not even my friends, and, honestly speaking, not even my own husband,” Chea Marie said. “I always think all people are bad.”

Most of the victims do not speak out about the tragedy and continue to bear their sufferings silently.

Mam Somethea, who was seven years old when the Khmer Rouge rose to power, was forced to work like an adult. He witnessed torture and killings in his area. More than 30 years later, Mam Somethea never talks about it and the Arlington gathering was his first time to speak out.

“They would accuse someone of a crime without concrete evidence and started torturing until the accused was dead in front of the whole community, to establish an example,” Mam Somethea said.

Mam Somethea, whose mother and two sisters died, has now also filed as a civil party in the tribunal.

The Applied Social Research Institute has so far received 35 complaints, including three civil party cases.

The third to file a civil party case was Neou Sarem, a staff member at Voice of America who was imprisoned in one of Khmer Rouge correction camps after she returned to Cambodia from a study in France. She also filed as a witness.

Efforts to collect more complaints are underway before a January 2010 deadline, despite some difficulties.

“They are afraid that the [Cambodian] government will do them harm,” Nou Lekhena said. “They are afraid that the government will abuse their rights and harass their relatives in Cambodia. They are afraid that they will not be allowed to go back to Cambodia.”

The Khmer Rouge tribunal is currently trying the former director of Tuol Sleng prison, Kaing Kek Eav, or Duch. The subsequent case, which involves Noun Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, is still open for complaints.