Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Thursday, May 20, 2010

'Dear Leader' won't go quietly

The history of regimes such as Cambodia's Khmer Rouge is that they do not willingly yield. So there can be no real compromise with North Korea and Kim Jong Il.

May 19, 2010|Donald Kirk, Donald Kirk, based in South Korea, covered Cambodia and Vietnam in the late 1960s and early '70s for newspapers and magazines. He is the author of several books, most recently "Korea Betrayed: Kim Dae Jung and Sunshine."

PHNOM PENH — Is the regime of Kim Jong Il the cruelest the world has seen since Adolf Hitler's in Germany or Josef Stalin's in the Soviet Union? For all the world has heard about North Korea and its people's suffering, the answer is no. The dubious distinction of cruelest probably belongs to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. That regime took over Cambodia in 1975 and ruled from the once-tranquil capital of Phnom Penh until December 1978, when Vietnamese communist troops drove it out. About 2 million people are estimated to have died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, from disease, starvation, executions and torture.

The suffering under the Khmer Rouge is resonant with the plight North Koreans have endured for many more years. Today, however, Phnom Penh is bustling, alive with shops selling an incredible variety of silk, statuary, silver objects and souvenirs. Restaurants offer just about any menu. The streets are swarming with traffic as motor scooters dart in and out and larger vehicles carry people and commercial products. Motorcycles pulling what look like small, old-fashioned carriages offer taxi services. Internet cafes thrive in every marketplace. Casinos and nightclubs lure those in search of higher-priced fun, and the National Museum and Royal Palace offer lush and rich glimpses of Khmer civilization and heritage going back 2,000 years.

So what lesson is there -- for North Korea and the world -- in the transformation of Cambodia from a frightening dictatorship into a hustling if not exactly democratic society? The revelation of North Korea's role in torpedoing a South Korean navy ship in March, with the loss of 46 lives, suggests why it's necessary to transform rule in the North as urgently as it was to end the Khmer Rouge's rule in Cambodia nearly 22 years ago.

Cambodia's current system, in which Hun Sen has ruled as prime minister, with the backing of Vietnam, almost continuously for 25 years, is not at all ideal. Many of the country's 15 million people continue to suffer economically. And it's fair to assume that torture and killings go on, although not on a mass scale.

Labels: , , ,

Powered by Blogger

 Home   |   About Us   |   Submit URL or Your Company Address First Launched: 08/15/95 - Copyright © 2010 Cambodian Information Center. All rights reserved.