About a dozen actors wearing black pajamas, red kramas, Mao caps and carrying AK-47 assault rifles re-enacted gruesome scenes of Khmer Rouge regime violence on the grounds of Choeung Ek Genocidal Center on May 20, as part of an annual ceremony to mark Cambodia’s National Day of Remembrance.
“We were tied up, to be killed like animals, dying sadly like a beast with opened eyes, leaving the living people feeling regret, shock and traumatized,” a woman in her 40s said in a sorrowful statement before actors played out scenes of killings of civilians of all ages.
Similar ceremonies were also conducted in several other provinces, including Preah Sihanouk, Tbong Khmum, Kampong Cham, and Banteay Meanchey.
The ceremony at Choeung Ek, which also included monks chanting a Buddhist prayer for the deceased, was attended by Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Khoung Sreng and former governor Pa Socheatevong, as well as few hundreds local villagers, many of whom were old enough to remember the Khmer Rouge era.
‘All the knowledgeable people were killed.’
Among them was Soth Yim, 61, a farmer from nearby Kraing Pongro Commune, Dangkao District. He told VOA Khmer how as a teenager he had been forced to leave his village and join a mobile youth unit in Kandal Province to labor on large public works such as reservoir dams.
He said his generation’s youth had been destroyed by the regime, as had their opportunity to gain an education.
“There was no school during the Pol Pot time, no teacher, we were not taught anything. And how could we learn if all the knowledgeable people were killed? It was impossible to get an education,” Soth Yim said, referring to the widespread murder of intellectuals and teachers by the Khmer Rouge.
He said the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) government of Prime Minister Hun Sen deserved praise for ending the mass murder and abuses that marked Pol Pot’s 1975-1979 rule.
Choeung Ek Genocide Center on Phnom Penh’s southern outskirts was the site of mass killings of thousands of men, women and children who were accused of being enemies of the communist Democratic Republic of Kampuchea. They were tortured for confessions, then shot or bludgeoned to death.
A total of some 1.7 million Cambodians is estimated to have been murdered, worked or starved to death during the Pol Pot’s regime, which was backed by China but toppled in 1979 by the invading Vietnamese Army and a group of Cambodian resistance fighters.
The latter were installed by Hanoi as a brotherly communist party government, which would become the still-ruling CPP of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Choeung Ek Center and the S-21 torture center in central Phnom Penh were turned into national museums and sites of remembrance that revealed the crimes against humanity by the “genocidal Pol Pot clique”, while lauding the liberation and rebuilding of Cambodia by the Communist Party and later the CPP.
The annual commemoration was known as the “Day of Anger” until last year, when the government declared it a national holiday and renamed it the National Day of Remembrance.
Hun Sen and the CPP have continued to remind the Cambodian public that it should still be grateful for its role in ousting the Khmer Rouge and bringing peace and democracy o the country.
The CPP have been in power since 1979, holding on to power through clever politicking and intimidation during an era of multiparty democracy from 1993 to 2018, until last year when the main opposition party was banned and Cambodia reverted effectively to a one-party state.