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Minorities Gather to Discuss Tribunal Genocide Charges

Khmer Islam men pointing at photos of former Khmer Rouge leaders, in Tuol Sleng museum.
Khmer Islam men pointing at photos of former Khmer Rouge leaders, in Tuol Sleng museum.

More than 300 victims of the Khmer Rouge, many of them Cham Muslim, gathered at the Documentation Center of Cambodia on Wednesday to learn more about genocide charges for the upcoming trial of four regime leaders.

Chams suffered to a great degree under the Khmer Rouge, and their plight in part makes up the charges of genocide against the four leaders.

Those leaders, Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, will face charges they contributed to the targeted killings of Chams, Vietnamese and the Khmer Krom, the Khmer ethnic minority in today’s southern Vietnam.

Other groups represented at Wednesday’s meeting were those from the Kuoy, Phnong and Mil ethnic groups, as well as Cham and Khmer Krom. They came from as far as Banteay Meanchey province in the north and Takeo in the south.

“We want them to understand widely what genocide is,” said Vannthan Peou Dara, deputy director of the Documentation Center. A better understanding of genocidal acts of the Khmer Rouge could help prevent such acts in the future, he said.

As many as half a million Chams died under the Khmer Rouge, which is thought to have killed up to 2 million Cambodians altogether. Hundreds of Vietnamese were killed while the regime was in power, along with thousands of Khmer Krom.

Cham Muslims were especially targeted, forbidden to undertake their religious practices and forced to eat pork, among other violations.

“Our minority was forced to eat what we cannot, forced to abandoned our religion,” said Ron Sem, a 62-year-old Cham from Takeo province. “They wanted us to die quietly.”

The Chams participated in several revolts against the rule of the Khmer Rouge, which led to massacres, execution of religious leaders and the destruction of mosques and religious schools.

How the treatments of the Chams and other groups will play out in the upcoming case remains to be seen.

“We want to know what is going on with the trial,” said Thin Theam, a ethnic minority Mil from Kratie province.