Friday, February 10, 2012

Too little; too late!

Anyone, who knows something about Cambodian history, would heave a sigh of relief, as United Nations backed trial of Khmer Rouge leaders finally began in Cambodia on 21st November 2011 after a long delay of 13 years since the death of the Khmer Rouge supreme leader, Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

Mock up of a Khmer Rouge outpost; Mines museum near Siem Reap

The heinous and horrifying war crimes and atrocities of this regime on the innocent people of Cambodia are unparalleled in history and would put even world war 2 war crimes committed by Nazis on innocent Jews, to a lighter shade. Approximately 1.7 million people or 25 % population of Cambodia was murdered or died of starvation, exhaustion or lack of medical care as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime in one of the worst genocides of the twentieth century.
It all began in 1975 when Chinese backed Khmer Rouge or the Communist party of Cambodia captured power in PHNOM PENH under leadership of Pol Pot. During next four years the poor people of Combodia were subjected to leave their homes, work in fields and were tortured at the slightest suspicion of being anti communist.
If we have a brief look at the Cambodian history of last sixty or seventy years, we can not record anything else but civil war. In second world war, Japan captured this country from France. After the war French returned and were defeated by the Vietnamese army in Vietnam. Cambodia declared independence around this time. In 1965 Cambodia broke all diplomatic relations with USA and allowed Vietnam to open secret bases to supply ordinance to Vietnamese soldiers fighting US. This aggravated US and American air force started bombing targets in Cambodia after 1969.
In 1970 Pro Chinese Government of Prince Sihanouk was defeated by the forces under control of general Lon Nol and he captured power. Prince Sihanouk took refuge in China and formed Khmer Rouge or Communist party to fight the forces of general Lon Nol, who continued their fight with Vietnamese forces in Cambodia as well as Khmer Rouge. American war planes continued to bomb Cambodia. In 1975, Khmer Rouge defeated Lon Nol forces and assumed power in Phnom Penh. In 1978 Vietnamese forces again entered Cambodia and defeated Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese continued their occupation for next 10 years and left only in 1989, under international pressure. In 1991 elections were held and first civilian Government came to power. During all these civil war years (1945-1979) Cambodian people continued to suffer because of battles between various forces, bombings and landmines. Out of this period, Pol Pot years could be considered as the worst. 


‘Aki Ra’ is an ordinary Cambodian citizen. He was conscripted by Khmer Rouge at the tender age of 10 as a child soldier. He says that his parents were killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers in front of him and he grew up in the Khmer Rouge army camps. He says further that “ As soon as we were conscripted, we were given AK-47 rifles with live cartridges. We considered these rifles as some kind of play things and we had to handle this dangerous weapon continuously all along our training. These rifles were of about same height as me at that age and I found it very difficult to handle these. I learned using these rifles by targeting fruits on trees and fish in the rivers. Many of my friend got killed by their own bullets or bullets from the rifles of their friends because we were not properly able to handle the rifles. Later I learned to use weapons like Rocket launchers and mortars in the same fashion. “

Child soldiers of Khmer Rouge with their AK 47 rifles

‘Aki Ra’ fought along with Khmer Rouge soldiers first and then against them with Vietnamese soldiers. Having seen with his own eyes the horrors and the anguish of ordinary innocent Cambodians, he set up an organization for de-activation of land mines. Along with this his organization also helps in rehabilitation of children disabled because of land mines. He has set up a museum of land mines near Siem Reap in Cambodia and is well worth a visit.

Mines exhibited at the Mines museum Siem Reap

Having suffered so much at the hands of the communists, Cambodians today show remarkable patience when talking about this horrific regime. Yet, while talking to them, an occasional remark of frustration and anger is always heard in any conversation. At least this was my experience during my visit to Cambodia last year. Returning again to the trial of the close confederates of Pol Pot, which began this week, all those Cambodians who lost their near and dear once, must have heaved a sigh of relief no doubt. The trial began this week of 85-year-old Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist and No. 2 leader; 80-year-old Khieu Samphan, an ex-head of state; and 86-year-old Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister. A fourth defendant, 79-year-old Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to stand trial last week because she has Alzheimer’s disease. When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, they sealed off the country to the outside world. Intellectuals, entrepreneurs and anyone considered a threat were imprisoned, tortured and often executed. The charges against the surviving inner circle of the communist movement include crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture.
Even though a ordinary Cambodian would be happy at the commencement of the trial, his true feelings are bound to be “ Too little and Too late” without any doubt.
24 November 2011

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