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Cambodian who faced his past.

Throughout the 1980s and '90s the facilities offered by the Moral Re-Armament conference centre in Caux, Switzerland, proved a useful neutral meeting ground where Cambodians of different factions could find a degree of trust with one another. In 1985, for instance, two senior representatives of the Phnom Penh government attended a summer conference. Beginning in 1990 dozens of Cambodian community leaders from Australia, France and the United States visited Caux each year.

One encounter was particularly dramatic. Each evening the Cambodians were in the habit of meeting for hours to discuss how reconciliation could be brought about, not only among their own people but with the Vietnamese who had invaded and ruled their country. One evening two Vietnamese approached the Cambodians as they were meeting and expressed their apologies for the way Vietnam had treated the Khmer people over the years.

It so happened that the next day a Khmer Rouge official turned up unexpectedly for dinner. On the way to his table he met some other Cambodians who were at the conference. At dinner his hosts briefed him on the conference and mentioned the Vietnamese apologies. Tears started to roll down the official's eyes, which he tried to mop with his paper napkin. After a long silence he apologized and explained with a broken voice that a cousin living in the United States had visited him recently and shown him the picture of both his father's and mother's bodies. His parents had died during the Khmer Rouge killing-fields period, and he was finding it difficult to get over his grief. He went on to say that out of his eight brothers and sisters, six had also died because of the Khmer Rouge's brutal treatment of hard work, little food and no medicine. And his tears kept rolling down his face.

It was clear to his hosts that he could no longer keep his pain in check and that he had taken a risk in coming to Caux. They sensed that, although the official might have been a victim of circumstances, he also knew that he had been a part of the system that had destroyed his family and that his conscience was troubling him.

One of the Cambodian leaders who had greeted him when he had entered the dining room passed him a note asking whether he would be willing to meet some of his compatriots on the terrace outside the centre after dinner. While others at the conference attended a concert by a Czechoslovakian orchestra, five Cambodians--two from the United States, two from France, and one from Australia--sat with the Khmer Rouge official. They were still talking in the dark when the concert ended. On the way to refreshments one of the Cambodians confided in a friend that the official had told them he regretted very much the suffering imposed on their people under Pol Pot's regime and apologized for it.

Later that evening, as the Cambodians had their usual get-together, a row broke out between those who had met the official and a group that accused them of having personal contact with a `murderer'. One of the former said with great conviction: `We came here to find out how we could contribute to our national reconciliation, as well as to the reconciliation between our people and the Vietnamese people. Last night two Vietnamese asked for our forgiveness for the way their people had treated the Cambodians, and tonight a Khmer Rouge official also expressed his regrets for the suffering his political faction imposed on our people. I think that our two questions have been mysteriously answered. Yes, national and regional reconciliations are possible provided we today accept to trust those men who apologized to us and to forgive them. If we refuse to do it in a place like Caux, we shall never be able to do it anywhere else.'

That evening many in the delegation faced the challenge and decided to open their hearts to become creators of trust and peace.

Three months later, inspired by his `first experience of reconciliation with a brother enemy', one of the Cambodians resigned from a well-paid job in Paris to go to Cambodia and work full-time for a political party to sustain the reconciliation process going on under the UN umbrella. He had no resource other than his deep conviction that Cambodia would be rebuilt only through the personal sacrifice and commitment of each of his compatriots. He went on to assume an important political position in his country. Meanwhile the Khmer Rouge official broke all relations with his political party, resigned from his responsibilities, and became a monk for a while. He now teaches in a European university and keeps in touch with the people he met at Caux, whom he calls his `trusted friends'.
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Michael Henderson
Publication:For A Change
Article Type:Excerpt
Date:Dec 1, 1996
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