Chamcar Bei village
As a journalist I have met some amazing people from even more amazing backgrounds. Ranging from police, administrative or civil servants, judges, politicians, world leaders, extremely creative people, killers, gangsters, murderers, social workers, ordinary people doing great work…Around the 17th/ 18th of March our Peace fellows group travelled 4 hours from Phnom Penh on a visit to the once bastion of the Khmer Rouge regime. Chamcar Bei is the village.
Rugged, surrounded by forests, it is no wonder then that the Khmer Rouge found solace in that tucked away area, protected naturally from getting hounded from any side. Today there is more civilisation and it is NO wonder. As part of our studies we were to look at, rather analyse the re-integration model. The former Khmer Rouge soldiers were integrated in the Royal Thai Army & in the villages with other Cambodians, as part of the amnesty programme.
In this Chamcar Bei village we sat among villagers who were killers & perpetuators of violence! They were once Khmer Rouge soldiers. These people were being helped by a NGO -Bridge across borders, to help the villagers to adjust, rebuild their lives & become an united Cambodia.
However the fact is there are simmering differences & anger within the people. Our mini group of 5 persons spoke & interacted with the founder of this village, Prep Chem. He is an 82 year old man who was present in 1995. This was the time when the last group of Khmer Rouge soldiers surrendered & gave up their arms in Chamcar Bei village.
Prep was present on the day the last bastion of the Khmer Rouge soldiers laid their arms. It was a forested area, not a surprise, since Chamcar Bei even after 14 years bears the forest look. He recollected that day & told us that they watched soldiers being given the amnesty & welcomed by the Thai army. From being killers, from an extremist insurgent ideology they moved into more official status to kill. Prep told us forthrightly, “Life was harsh in the times of Khmer Rouge. We toiled as labour but today we have machines & life has become easier.”
When we asked him how did the Khmer Rouge senior officers recruit the foot soldiers, Prep said their anger was NOT against these lower soldiers. “They were forced. They would have died anyways. The officers would come with the rolls of names like a muster, call out names randomly & simply order people to join them. If they did they were doomed, if they didn’t they would have been killed!”
He also added, “Earlier some joined them out of fascination for their ideology. They got attracted to all the talk of working as labourers for the country & the promises they made.”I am sure people’s expectations were raised. Because like in India, the elite, Brahmins were THE only ones who got access to education, creativity & fine arts. They good jobs & as a result were held in high esteem by the ordinary people. As a result the rural areas or hinterlands were completely IGNORED!
May be for the first time I heard & witnessed what my Communist friends had been saying. I NOWHERE condone the daths & killings or their mentality…what started as a good anti-Brahmin, anti-elitist movement turned into one of the worst genocide crimes in the world. That too NOT ancient, but as recent as 1979-1989!! Our generation was born, educated & graduated by then…
He remembers the past distinctly, like most of the others who survived the horrors of the genocide. For over 2 generations people have suffered & are still struggling to come to terms with this tragedy. However like a majority of Cambodians, Prep refuses to visit his or his country’s past. “There is no point going back to the past. It was horrible and we are glad it is over.”
We asked Prep & the other villagers who among them was a Khmer Rouge soldier or were among the high ranking officers. They simply did not hear or rather behaved NOT to hear it. Prep told us there were new forms of conflict in their village. They admitted that had only heard of the tribunal but had no clue what it was. One person however said, “There are many killers who still live amongst us. They are not Duche or others.”
This form of restorative justice or even the tribunal doesn’t seem to have gone down well with a majority of Cambodian people. People here believe spending millions of dollars for 5 accused who they have never met or interacted with is a waste, when the millions in this country are struggling to get a decent living, jobs, food and a roof over their heads. Hu Noon, a volunteer with the Red Cross told me, “We find it difficult to work in the dark. We hear the cities have power 24 hours. We would like to have some electricity.”
This speaks volumes regarding their government’s priorities. Everyone knows the PM of Cambodia was a former Khmer Rouge & Heun Sung. He was never in favour of this tribunal. In another group a high ranking Khmer Rouge lady soldier was the spokeswoman. In fact she was so dominating that she didn’t give anyone an opportunity to put their point across. She infact made it a point to tell the group that is all was well & there was no problem. Later at the time of wrap up she created a furore with murmurs of demanding money. Her logic was simple, we had taken their time & energy & they needed to be compensated. After they were given a token monetary gift, she voiced her opposition.
People feel the real perpetuators have escaped the trial while the country heads are wasting time & resources on those biggies who do not matter