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Cambodia Publishes First History of Khmer Rouge Regime

The first textbook written by a Cambodian on the history of the Khmer Rouge has been published by the Documentation Center of Cambodia. Previous accounts of the Khmer Rouge era have all been written by foreign scholars and reporters. The book aims to educate Cambodians about the rise and fall of the genocidal regime that killed almost 2 million people in the late 1970s. Rory Byrne reports from Phnom Penh.

Very little is taught about the Khmer Rouge here, in large part because the subject is sensitive among political groups and other high-profile people once associated with the genocidal Maoist movement.

Even those Cambodians who lived through the regime don't know the whole story, and more than 70 percent of the population has been born since the Khmer Rouge was ousted in 1979.

The new book is entitled A History of Democratic Kamphuchea, the name the Khmer Rouge gave the country after taking power in 1975.

The book is published by the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group that documents Khmer Rouge crimes. It relies heavily on first-hand testimony of survivors and perpetrators of Cambodia's genocide.

The book's author, Khamboly Dy, says propaganda and differing interpretations of events have clouded people's understanding of the regime itself, and of the Vietnamese-led action that drove it from power.

"That part of history is very political, and so far we don't have the common agreement on the content of [that] history, because there are a lot of interpretations on the history of the Khmer Rouge, like the 1979 event - whether it is the invasion, or the liberation of Cambodia," he explained. "So there are a lot of interpretations."

The book was written for high school teachers and their students. It is part of a wider process being conducted by various private groups aimed at helping Cambodians to better understand the history of the "Killing Fields" era. The book was published as United Nations-backed trials of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders are approaching.

Khamboly Dy says the aim is to present the plain facts, as opposed to trying to interpret them.

"We introduce the facts about the Khmer Rouge - we don't use the interpretation, we don't use propaganda, we use facts. And we try to balance, to make the book neutral, not to take sides," he added. "That is very important, to know exactly what happened in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, and the real events: not the propaganda, not the hatred, because from now on we need to focus on peace and reconciliation, and justice, not on hatred or any propaganda."

Cambodia's Education Ministry has approved the book as a "core reference" guide for history textbooks, but not yet as part of the official school curriculum. However, there are discussions about producing a condensed version of the book's material, to be included in future textbooks.