By: Staff Write ( April, 2002 Volume 2 No.4 )

Skull Map No More

The infamous map of skulls that has confronted visitors to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum for more than two decades was dismantled last month in a short Bang Skol ceremony in which monks prayed for the dead.
The map had become one of the most famous examples of the brutality of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. Toul Sleng, a former high school turned torture center under the regime, was the final stop for thousands of victims before they were trucked to Choeung Ek Killing Fields and murdered en mass. Former director of Toul Sleng, Duch, is currently in custody awaiting trial over his involvement. Once decried by King Sihanouk himself as terrible for the souls of the victims whose skulls and bones made up the map, many ordinary Khmers have also agitated for the removal of the exhibit for years, citing the Buddhist belief that a soul cannot rest without the proper blessing and cremation of its mortal remains.
With the Khmer Rouge tribunal still on hold, the final fate of the remains is still not clear. Some want the gruesome reminders to remain as evidence should a trial ever be held. Others wish to rely on photographic evidence and lay the dead to rest. On March 10, the estimated 300 skulls and bones were taken down and placed in specially made glass cases to prevent deterioration. A stupa has been planned as a substitute for the map.

Sovanna Phum Mobile

Well-known theatre company, Sovanna Phum Association for the Development of Cambodian Performing Arts, will now be able to take its shows throughout the Kingdom thanks to an $8200 donation from the British Embassy. The group, headed up by Delphine Kassem and puppeteer Mann Kosal, has used the grant to buy a truck. The bed of the truck will fold out to provide a ready-made raised stage for crowded village performances.
Based in Street 360, Phnom Penh, Sovanna Phum has long held performances of circus, shadow puppetry and dance. Mann Kosal is credited by many as being the savior of sbech touch, or small shadow puppet theatre a form of popular puppetry that was all but wiped out during the Khmer Rouge years. The troupe has regularly traveled to the provinces to give performances, but until now has been hampered by time constraints and having to set up a stage at ground level. Now they can negotiate the country quickly and easily, and ensure more people in a village can see their shows. Sovanna Phum works with NGOs to create educational plays on subjects such as breast feeding, often attracting hundreds of villagers to watch at one time.
The group’s first performance using the truck will be at Prey Nup, Sihanoukville municipality, for French NGO Gret to explain to villagers that the dike and reclaimed land are now for them to manage for themselves as Gret has finished construction and reclamation and is moving on to help other villagers. The group also performs a variety of dance, circus and puppet shows every Friday night at its Phnom Penh theatre. For details on these or enquiries about buying Mann Kosal and the team's famous shadow puppets, call 012 846 020 or visit them at 111, Street 360, Phnom Penh.

Election Figures Final

The National Election Committee released final results in February's national commune council elections recently, confirming a landslide victory for the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). The CPP won control of 1597 communes of a total of 1621.
The Sam Rainsy Party won 13, Funcinpec won 10 and the small and little-known Khmer Democratic Party won one commune in Kampot province.
The February 3 elections were aimed at decentralizing government at the grassroots level.
The CPP has controlled the commune councils since the system was resurrected shortly after the Pol Pot regime fell in 1979.

Swim The Mekong

The Seventh Annual Mekong River Swim gets underway again with the usual splash on April 7 at 9.30am. Competitors will leap into the mighty river from Preak Leap Agricultural College, across the Cambodia-Japanese Friendship Bridge. The cost to enter is $10 for foreigners and $5 for Khmers. Competitors are asked to arrive at least half an hour early to allow for organization and registration. The swim has been a popular event in Phnom Penh over the years, with large numbers of competitors undertaking the 600-meter annual swim. Prizes this year for the separate male and female categories include month-long memberships for Mi Casa's Sweat Club, dinner for two at the Cambodiana and The Globe, and lunch for two at the Garden Restaurant, as well as 12 consolation bottles of Cuvee Flore French wine. Alligator Ski Club will provide a support boat and there will be a free t-shirt for all competitors who register on time.