Cambodian students dressed as Khmer Rouge cadres re-enacted scenes from the genocide at the so-called killing fields to commemorate the 2 million victims butchered by the Maoist regime.
Hundreds gathered to mark Cambodia’s Day of Remembrance with prayers and performances, including volunteers performing mock executions with wooden rifles, knives and sticks.
“We performed these scenes in order to remember the genocidal Pol Pot regime and the cruelty that Cambodian people suffered,” said art teacher Chhaem Khleuong, who was playing a Khmer Rouge cadre.
A quarter of Cambodians died under Pol Pot in the mass killings or from starvation, forced labour or torture.
The commemoration, which is also known as the “Day of Anger”, is held at the Choeung Ek “killing fields”, where around 15,000 people were held and killed between 1975 and 1979.
The students pretended to slit victims’ throats or perform waterboarding.
“These views brought my feeling back to the Pol Pot era. The killing was heinous,” said Chan Ren, 62, who said she lost more than 10 relatives. “Today people attend the event to pray to the souls of those who were killed by the Khmer Rouge.”
A former Khmer Rouge cadre, Prime Minister Hun Sen, 66, fled Cambodia in 1977 and returned with the 1979 Vietnamese invasion. He was first appointed foreign minister and was named prime minister in the Vietnamese-supported government in 1985.
The strongman leader, marking the day, said: “Peace has provided every opportunity for citizens to rapidly build their families, communities, society and the nation. Please, all Cambodian people, join hands to maintain and protect peace forever and join hands to prevent war and a recurrence of such a regime in Cambodia.
“Cambodian people overwhelmingly know the tragic and bitter story that people throughout the country went through in almost three decades of war.
“They understand the tears that were shed from the killing and destruction, the forced displacement and animal-like forced labour, with no rest and no medicine when sick, and the lack of food, freedom and democracy – without even the fundamental right to survive,” Hun Sen said.
Several Khmer Rouge leaders have died before facing trial.
In November last year, the former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and so-called Brother Number Two Nuon Chea were convicted of genocide and sentenced to life in prison.
The regime’s leader Pol Pot reportedly died in 1998 in the jungles near the Thai border. “Brother Number One” allegedly received western military aid to weaken the Soviet-backed Vietnamese forces that liberated Vietnam in 1979 and occupied the country until the end of the Cold War.
The shadow of the Khmer Rouge still hangs over Cambodia. Picture credit: Flickr