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Textbook to educate Cambodians on Khmer Rouge era
PHNOM PENH |
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia unveiled its first textbook on the "Killing Fields" genocide on Thursday to raise awareness among those too young to remember the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge era in which 1.7 million people died.
Thirty years after the fall of Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist regime, many young Cambodians know little about one of the darkest chapters in the 20th century, education officials say.
"When we tell students about the Khmer Rouge genocide, they don't believe it and think it's fiction," Deputy Education Minister Ton Sa Im told Reuters.
"But now when they see the United Nations help Cambodia put Khmer Rouge on trial, they start believing," she said of the first trial of a top Pol Pot cadre due to start on Feb. 17.
More than 500,000 copies of the text book will be distributed in the impoverished Southeast Asian country, where more than half of its 14 million people were born after the Khmer Rouge were ousted in a 1979 Vietnamese invasion.
"For the first time in Cambodia's history, the genocide will be taught in high school," said Youk Chhang, director of the U.S.-funded Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), which has documented Khmer Rouge atrocities.
The centre played a key role in bringing out the textbook, which includes chapters on other genocides such as the 800,000 people killed in the central African country of Rwanda in 1994.
Seng Nary, an 18-year-old student who only heard about the Khmer Rouge from her parents, said she knew little about the joint Cambodian-United Nations court set up in 2006 to investigate and prosecute Pol Pot's surviving henchmen.
"I saw something on television about the Khmer Rouge tribunal, but that's it," she told Reuters.
A recent survey by the Human Rights Center of the University of California, Berkeley, found 85 percent of respondents "had little or no knowledge" of the tribunal.
"On the eve of the first trial, more Cambodians should be aware of the court's work, especially as there is a strong desire for justice," director of research Phuong Pham said in the report, entitled "So We Will Never Forget".
It recommended that educational material combining historical texts and visual material from the forthcoming trials be created for use in primary and secondary schools.
Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, head of the S-21 torture centre under the Khmer Rouge, will go on trial on Tuesday for his role in the deaths of an estimated 16,000 people.
Another four senior Pol Pot cadres have been charged with crimes against humanity but their trial dates have not been set.
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