Yesterday, the country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). The festivities were concentrated within the walls of the country’s capital and the site of the start of Year Zero, Phnom Penh. Based on conflicting reports, around 60,000 people crowded into the city’s Olympic stadium to remember the 2 million Cambodians who lost their lives during this horrible five-year genocide.
Ask anyone who has visited Tuol Sleng (otherwise known as the “S-21″ torture prison during the Khmer Rouge) in Phnom Penh what his reaction was to this museum, and I’m certain everyone will agree they were appalled by the grim reality that nearly one half of Cambodia’s population was eliminated in one of the worst genocides in the world’s history.
I paid my visit to the museum two years ago. Its history and its people (who are some of the friendliest you will ever encounter) are living testaments to the perserverence of the human spirit. I arrived in Khmer country not knowing who Pol Pot was; I left Cambodia forever changed. This country still holds one of the dearest places in my heart.
Very little has been done to punish the members of the Khmer Rouge, but five of Pol Pot’s senior officers will likely be tried this spring — if not by 2010. Cambodians, while eager to see these men pay for their hideous crimes, are just as eager to look beyond this 5-year blip in their past. These are a most resilient people, and this country is one of the most fascinating in the world.