Friday, September 30, 2005

`Killing Fields' drama revisits Cambodia of 1970s to mark Khmer Rouge's ouster

By KER MUNTHIT
Associated Press Writer
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - One man is executed for stealingsalt. Another is killed for dishonoring the "revolutionary" codeof conduct banning romance, and the militia chief who carried outthe killing then rapes and murders the dead man's fiancee and walksaway laughing.
The scenes depicting the "killing fields" revisit Cambodiaunder Khmer Rouge rule in a play performed by some 80 fine artsstudents to mark the radical movement's ouster from power 26 yearsago.
Being staged Friday - the day Vietnam's invading army toppled theregime in 1979 - the drama provides a chilling flashback about thegenocide that the actors, ages 13 to 25, say is a lesson about theircountry's darkest period.
"Young people can never imagine how painful their parents'experience was. This show can also help them renounce violence,"said Meth Vannry, a 22-year-old student playing a Khmer Rougemilitia chief.
The Khmer Rouge's policies led to the death of some 1.7 millionpeople from starvation, disease, overwork and execution in 1975-79.Several of the movement's leaders are still alive, but none has beenbrought to trial.
The show - which has no title- focuses on the elements of theirideological madness: abolishing money and religion, closing schools,forbidding home cooking, separating men from women, brainwashingchildren to beat their parents and killing intellectuals - all inthe name of building a pure communist system.
In a scene about summary execution, a Khmer Rouge chief has a mankilled for stealing salt, a precious item then forbidden to be keptin households. The victim begs for mercy, but a knife-wieldingexecutioner grabs him by the collar and stabs him to death.
Watching the scenes of killing "is quite a chill for me," saidperforming arts professor Chen Neak, who at 61 is old enough toremember the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge. The challenge for hisstudents is to replicate the insanity they only heard about.
"I have to make people fear me, hate me," Vannry said. "Butit's very difficult to do it right, to concentrate on how to actlike a wild man."
Inside a rundown room typical of the cashed-strapped Cambodianschool system, Chen Neak became angry when the rehearsing performersfell short of his expectation.
"More tension, more fear! That's what the atmosphere in PolPot's era was like!" he yelled, gesturing impatiently.
Khun Vuthy, 39, one of the show's original developers, said theschool stages a similar drama every year - the theme this time isthe deception the Khmer Rouge used to get rid of intellectuals. Tensof thousands of teachers, doctors and judges are believed to havedied, leaving Cambodia with a lack of human capital even today.
In one scene, a Khmer Rouge cadre asks intellectuals at apropaganda meeting to volunteer their knowledge for building aclassless communist society. A professor steps forward, followed bya female doctor, a university student and a senior army officer inthe U.S.-backed Lon Nol regime. All are exterminated later.
The Khmer Rouge used to boast of having high moral standardsregarding relations between men and women. But the drama alsoreveals their hypocrisy.
Two students portray a couple engaged to be married who areseparated into male and female labor camps. One day, the man iscaught sneaking out to visit his sick girlfriend.
The Khmer Rouge militia chief played by Vannry executes the manwith a bayonet for "betraying the revolutionary moral." He thenrapes the woman before taking her life with the same weapon.
In the final episode, Vannry's character is shot in the leg as heflees approaching Vietnamese troops who - though never seen in theplay - eventually ousted the Khmer Rouge.

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