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Cambodians mark 30 years since fall of Pol Pot

world Updated: Jan 07, 2009 12:35 IST

Reuters
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Thousands of Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge "Killing Fields" marked 30 years on Wednesday since the fall of Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist regime, blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people.

Up to 80,000 people packed into the capital's Olympic stadium for a rally organised by the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), descendant of the puppet government installed by Hanoi after its troops ousted Beijing-backed Pol Pot on January 7, 1979.

"We have always remembered those who sacrificed their lives to save us from genocide," ageing CPP President and former guerrilla Chea Sim told the cheering crowd.

Despite international and domestic repugnance at the Khmer Rouge and their disastrous attempt to create an agrarian utopia, a significant minority of Cambodians mourn January 7 as the start of a 10-year occupation by their hated Vietnamese neighbours.

Political opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen, a one-eyed former Khmer Rouge commander who has been in charge for the last 23 years, frequently label him a Vietnamese stooge, a charge he rebutted in typically blunt style this week.

"Whoever is against the day of victory is either Pol Pot or an animal," he told a crowd on Tuesday at the inauguration of a bridge south of Phnom Penh, a derelict ghost town in 1979 after four years under the Khmer Rouge.

Communist Vietnam also marked the anniversary, with official papers running a series of articles portraying the invasion as a mercy mission and the 10-year occupation as necessary to prevent a resurgence of the Khmer Rouge.

"Wherever our army went, it was welcomed by cheering and helpful Cambodian people," the Tin Tuc daily said.

With Cold War 'domino theory' occupying the minds of Western policy-makers, many in Washington took a very different view at the time, fearing Vietnam's march on Phnom Penh was a precursor to a wider assault on US ally in Thailand.

GUERRILLAS ON TRIAL

After fleeing into the jungle along the Thai border, the remnants of Pol Pot's black-shirted guerrilla army resisted the Vietnamese and Hun Sen until their final surrender in 1998, the same year the movement's 'Brother Number One' died.

Pol Pot's top surviving henchmen, all of them ageing and infirm, are only now being brought to justice, although ordinary Cambodians are growing increasingly frustrated at the interminable delays to a joint Cambodian-United Nations tribunal.

"The spirits of my relatives will not be calm without prosecuting those killers," said Thay Srey Khon, who lost eight relatives under the regime.

The court admitted this week that Cambodia's prosecutor was blocking a bid by her international counterpart to go after more than the five top cadres now in custody on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Human rights groups said the admission confirmed long-held suspicions Hun Sen was manipulating the court to ensure it did not dig too deep, for fear it unearthed dark secrets about some of the senior Khmer Rouge figures inside his administration.

The government has denied any such attempt.

Those in custody are 'Brother Number Two' Nuon Chea, former President Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, his wife, Ieng Thirith, and Duch, head of Phnom Penh's Tuol Sleng, or the "S-21" interrogation and torture centre.

They all face life in jail if convicted.