Cambodia marks 25th anniversary of Pol Pot's fall
( 2004-01-07 13:56) (Agencies)
With doves, balloons and promises of justice for Pol Pot's top surviving henchmen, Cambodia's ruling elite celebrated the 25th anniversary on Wednesday of the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge in 1979.
An estimated 1.7 million people died under the ultra-Maoist regime whose dream of turning the jungle-clad southeast Asian nation into an agrarian utopia descended into the four-year nightmare of the "Killing Fields."
Many of the victims -- men, women and children -- were tortured and executed. Others died of starvation, overwork or disease in the vast rural labor camps of 'Year Zero'.
After a quarter of a century, the legacy of Pol Pot's reign brought to an end by invading Vietnamese and rebel troops, is plain to see: Cambodia remains one of Asia's poorest countries, with a shattered infrastructure and poorly educated population.
For the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which evolved from the Hanoi-backed administration installed in Pol Pot's stead and which is still littered with ex-Khmer Rouge figures including Prime Minister Hun Sen, the January 7 anniversary is cause for celebration, remembrance and politics.
Drumming home its main political ticket, pro-CPP TV has been blitzing viewers with films about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and its final collapse.
For others, including many opposition parties, the day serves only as a reminder of the start of a 10-year occupation by Vietnam, their loathed and larger communist neighbor. Vietnamese troops did not pull out until 1989.
"Today is the 25th anniversary of the glorious 'January 7 Victory' that rescued the Cambodian nation and people from Pol Pot's genocidal regime," CPP president Chea Sim told a crowd of about 10,000 supporters.
After lengthy speeches befitting the CPP's communist roots, children released hundreds of doves and balloons to symbolize the peace Cambodia has slowly started to enjoy since the Vietnamese withdrawal and a huge U.N.-led reconstruction effort in the early 1990s.
No Khmer Rouge leader has ever faced credible justice for the atrocities of 'Democratic Kampuchea', as the Khmer Rouge called itself, one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.
Pol Pot died in a remote jungle hideout on the Thai border in 1998, but Chea Sim promised a long-awaited deal struck in March with the United Nations to set up a joint Cambodian-international genocide court would soon be in force.
"In the future, we will be in a position to close once and for all this dark page, through the successful enforcement of the law...to prosecute crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea," Chea Sim said.
Meanwhile, outside the fledgling democracy's parliament building, a handful of anti-government and anti-Vietnamese protesters gathered to demonstrate against the day they regard as a national humiliation.
"Down with January 7," one protester shouted before being carted off, along with three colleagues, in a beaten-up blue police truck.
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