- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Cambodia offers plenty of Khmer Rouge “killing fields” attractions. There is a grisly genocide museum complete with torture instruments and the sites of mass graves that draw camera-toting tourists.

But for the country’s schoolchildren, the Khmer Rouge regime remains off the curriculum, leaving students virtually clueless about how the now-defunct communist group became a killing machine in the late 1970s.

Now that knowledge gap is being partially filled through the newly released “A History of Democratic Kampuchea,” a textbook about the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 rule by Khamboly Dy, a Cambodian genocide researcher.

It’s a start in Cambodia’s painful journey to recover from the devastation of the period, said Mr. Khamboly Dy, a 26-year-old staffer at the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group collecting evidence of the Khmer Rouge atrocities.

“Nothing can compensate for the Cambodian people’s sufferings during the Khmer Rouge,” he said, adding that teaching about the regime’s history “is the best compensation for them.”

The book was released at the right time, as Cambodia is ready to put surviving Khmer Rouge leaders before an internationally backed tribunal for genocide and crimes against humanity, Mr. Khamboly Dy said.

Still, the 100-page textbook isn’t slated for general classroom use. Mr. Khamboly Dy said 3,000 copies in the Cambodian language will be given to libraries, students and teachers free of charge, and more will be printed once additional funds can be raised.

David Chandler, an American scholar and author of several books on Cambodia, said a straightforward account is long overdue because the government “seems unwilling to produce such a text, or at least does not share a sense of urgency about exposing this period of the past.”

Some former members of the Khmer Rouge continue to hold senior positions in the regime.

Most books about the Khmer Rouge era, when about 1.7 million people perished through hunger, disease and executions, have been written either by foreigners or overseas Cambodians. Few of these have been translated into the Cambodian language, and none is widely available.

Khmer Rouge history was featured briefly in a high school social study textbook in 2002 before the entire book was yanked off the curriculum because it provoked political tension between Prime Minister Hun Sen and his former ally Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The book highlighted only the victory of Mr. Hun Sen’s ruling party in the 1998 national election and failed to mention Prince Ranariddh’s defeat of Mr. Hun Sen in the 1993 polls. Despite his party’s defeat then, Mr. Hun Sen maneuvered to become a co-prime minister along with Prince Ranariddh before toppling him to grab full power through a coup in 1997.

As a result of the Ranariddh-Hun Sen rivalry, the entire modern history of Cambodia from the French colonial period to the present was expunged from schools, Mr. Khamboly Dy said.

In the new book, the author said, he had to carefully select words to explain certain events, including the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese troops.

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