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National Remembrance Day Events Cancelled Across Cambodia

FILE: A man prays at the Choeung Ek memorial during the annual "Day of Anger" where people gathered to remember those who perished during the communist Khmer Rouge regime, outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 20, 2019. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Memorial and religious services planned for the National Day of Remembrance on May 20, which commemorates the genocide by the Khmer Rouge regime, have been cancelled on account of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The National Day of Remembrance will not be observed in Cambodia this year, after the government decided to cancel all public events with crowds because of the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be no prayer ceremonies at genocide memorial sites across the country nor will the Phnom Penh local government organize the reenactment of the horrors of the genocide at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.

On Tuesday, Say Chhum, deputy chairman of the ruling Cambodian People Party, also issued a letter to the party's provincial offices ordering them to postpone any commemorative events on May 20.

“This year, we cannot celebrate because we are in the COVID-19 situation and we follow the government's policy to avoid gatherings,” said Hang Nisay, chief of projects and planning at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Instead, the genocide museum will post information and photos about the Cambodian genocide on the museum's social media page, he said, to continue engaging with people on May 20.

Ros Sophearavy, the deputy director of Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, also confirmed that the center will not hold any memorial services this year.

The National Day of Remembrance was first marked as the Day of Hatred during the Vietnamese-installed People’s Republic of Kampuchea, which removed the Khmer Rouge from large swathes of the country in 1979. In 2018, it was turned into a national holiday but, starting this year, was removed as a holiday to increase the number workdays in the year.

Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said that National Day of Remembrance was an important occasion to acknowledge the great loss seen during the Khmer Rouge-led Democratic Kampuchea.

He added the government should again declare it a holiday to allow people to commemorate the genocide, which is now part of the collective national memory.

“If we can we should [commemorate] it on a national level, because it's a national memory for all the people,” he said.

The Day of Remembrance is also part of civil party reparations projects intended to honor the victims and survivors of the genocide.

Yun Bin, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime, said May 20 and what it stood for was important for him, and was an acknowledgement of the memories he has of the genocide.

“I cannot forget that day because it is a day in Cambodian history for the people who lost their lives, nearly three million of them,” he said.