Although the Khmer Rouge no longer holds power, self exiled Opposition Leader Sam Rainsy alleged that the regime’s residue pervades Cambodian society and culture. He made these claims via Skype at the Choeung Ek Genocide Center – also known as the Killing Fields – yesterday.
The leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party made the comment during a ceremony to bless the spirits of those who died under the regime, which coincided with the 41st anniversary of the Khmer Rouge occupation of Phnom Penh.
Mr. Rainsy also addressed the so-called culture of dialogue during his speech, criticizing the ruling Cambodian People’s Party for displaying behavior reminiscent of the country’s totalitarian past.
“Dialogue does not mean just to say no, or to agree with other purposes or to abandon the opinions of any party or force to accept someone’s opinion by bullying, imprisoning, chopping…This is not a culture of dialogue,” Mr. Rainsy said. He added that in order to eliminate the culture of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia’s government would have to see leadership changes during the upcoming commune and national elections in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
Korng Korm, a high-ranking opposition official and former Senate member, said the process of establishing democracy in Cambodia remains dulled by shadow of the Khmer Rouge. He cited the October beatings of opposition lawmakers, and the arrests and detention of others despite having parliamentary immunity, as part of his decision to resign from the Senate.
“What is the legislative [branch]? They want to handcuff whenever they want,” he said, referring to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. “That’s the reason why I resigned [from the Senate]. The useless immunity, the case of Mr. Um Sam An, who was arrested immediately. The legislative [branch] is ordered by executive,” he said.
CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An was arrested shortly after arriving in Siem Reap last week after seven months in exile in the United States. Hours after returning, he was arrested on the order of the Ministry of Interior and detained for allegedly displaying forged maps of Cambodia’s border with Vietnam on Facebook. Mr. Sam An was jailed in Prey Sar prison a day after his arrest on charges of incitement and discrimination.
Though the arrest was condemned by opposition party leaders and some political analysts as a violation of the Constitution and the immunity of lawmakers, the parliamentary plenary session, which is made up entirely of ruling party lawmakers, has claimed that the arrest was based on obvious crimes.
Government spokesman Sok Ey San could not be reached for comment yesterday, but previously he told Khmer Times that the opposition party’s accusations were baseless. “Obviously, the CPP has never pressured the CNRP… My point is that the CPP has never used any bad methods to attack him,” Mr. Ey San said, referring to the Mr. Rainsy who faces defamation charges in Cambodia.
Prime Minister Hun Sen also marked the anniversary of the Khmer Rouge’s occupation of Phnom Penh yesterday, writing a Facebook post about the regime’s history that indicated life was far better now.
Noting that it was 41 years since the country fell under the control of the genocidal regime, he said there were no pleasant days to celebrate Khmer New Year during the regime’s reign. It was not even possible to enjoy a family meal, he said.
“The fundamental right of citizens was taken exclusively by the regime and the transition from peace to war destroyed almost everything,” the prime minister wrote.
Opposition party members gather at the ‘Killing Fields’ yesterday to remember those who perished under the Khmer Rouge. KT/Chor Sokunthea