Past and Present Cambodia

Years of conflict, civil war and corruption has left Cambodia deeply scarred and only recently able to experience some stability. Cambodia with its shocking history, and repercussions of which continue to play out in its present state, is where our team headed to next.

Cambodia’s circumstances cannot be fully understood unless one knows the horror that existed not long ago leading to mass genocide of its own people. The Khmer Rouge was a brutal regime that gained power in the 1970s when Cambodia was struggling to stay neutral during the Vietnam War. This communist regime took over under leader Pol Pot in 1975 and set out to transform Cambodia into an agrarian utopia. All educated individuals and professionals were executed, along with ethnic minorities. Temples and all Western symbols were destroyed.   Everyone was forced to move out of the cities into rural areas where farming was to become the core means of the country. While the exact numbers are uncertain, it is estimated that over two million people perished from executions, extreme labor and starvation. It was not until four years later that the regime was overthrown by the Vietnamese, but the damage caused by the Khmer Rouge’s brutality would last decades. The 1984 film, <em>The Killing Fields,</em> depicts this horrific period in Cambodia’s history.

Cambodia now faces the aftermath of years of destruction and upheaval. The land has been raped by its own citizens struggling to survive, and its children have suffered from the increase of trafficking into the sex trade. The economy has shown growth over the last decade due to the country gradually opening up internationally to business and tourism. However, the response of the government has been to push the poor out of their homes in the cities and in order to build luxury apartments in their place.

Our first story is about the forced evictions of the residents in Phnom Penh who live in the impoverished areas. This practice is on the rise and is creating further civil unrest. Of course, development cannot take place without removing the slums, but the people who lived in the slums are being moved so far out of the city that they have few means to survive, which for some brings up memories of the not too distant past.

Here is a recent video of people standing up against the government’s orders for land evictions: http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/video.php?perm=22

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