Friday marks 40 years since the Khmer Rouge first marched into Phnom Penh. Over the following 44 months in the region of 2 million people from a population of just over 8 million died – killed, starved or struck down by disease – as Pol Pot’s brutal regime attempted to style Cambodia into a classless, agrarian society.
Cambodia is still struggling to deal with its history, where personal memory is politicised and the spectre of the Khmer Rouge is ever-present but often wilfully ignored. Even the most basic term remains contentious: can a regime be described as genocidal when so much of the killing of Khmers was done by Khmers?
Nhem En, a survivor of sorts from that dark time, is an unwelcome reminder of a knot of dilemmas that Cambodia is only starting to untangle – who to blame; how to forgive; and how to understand a regime that implicated such large swaths of the population in seemingly unfathomable cruelty.