Cambodia–Standing next to cages that once housed political prisoners, former Khmer Rouge foot soldier Tho Lon gets a surprisingly sympathetic hearing from a clutch of students, despite his work for a regime that wiped out a quarter of Cambodia’s population.
“All my life I’ve been cheated by politicians,” he told them in Anlong Veng, a dirt poor town where Pol Pot and his henchmen are still venerated.
“My heart is pained, but I pretend not to be hurt,” he adds.
That his complaints get an airing may jar with many Cambodians in a country still piecing together the horrors of the past.
But his testimony is part of a pioneering reconciliation scheme introducing students to former fighters.
Until now, historians, officials and civil society groups helping Cambodia have struggled to decide on how to approach Anlong Veng, which lies on Cambodia’s remote northern border with Thailand.
It was here and among the surrounding Dangrek Mountains that Pol Pot and senior Khmer Rouge leaders lived on long after their murderous regime was toppled by Vietnam in 1979.
Hidden deep in the jungle they launched two decades of guerilla attacks that only ended with the region’s final defeat in 1998.
As the students listened intently, Tho Lon explained why he kept on fighting.
“We were living in the mountains,” he said. “We had lost all contact with others so we believed what we were told, that the Vietnamese would behead us (if we stopped).”
Tho Lon, 57, paid for his loyalty. He lost his sight in one eye and his right arm below the elbow in a mine blast fighting for a Marxist agrarian utopia that never materialized.
The country paid a bigger price – a grisly legacy for Cambodia’s younger generations.
Along Veng also hosts the dilapidated grave of Pol Pot, the regime’s “Brother Number One,” who died nearly two decades after the Khmer Rouge fell.
“I feel a mixture of excitement and pity,” said Sang Thong, a 25-year-old student from the town of Battambang, as classmates snapped pictures of the grave on their phones.
Some of his relatives died under Pol Pot, he explained.
“But I don’t come here to take revenge against him, I come here to learn more and understand more deeply about his regime.”
Source: China Post