(dpa) - Cambodians as a nation virtually ignored the 33rd anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge Thursday, preferring to celebrate Khmer New Year.
The Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh April 17, 1975, almost immediately emptying the city to begin a brutal four-year reign that would leave up to 2 million dead.
It was the same determined national amnesia that surrounded Tuesday's 10th anniversary of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's death, and faith in the tribunal set up to try surviving leaders of the former regime is wavering.
Prime Minister Hun Sen had already urged people to celebrate the New Year and focus on the present, in a time of booming economy.
Even the former Khmer Rouge have reluctantly given up commemorating the day in former strongholds in the remote north and north-west such as Anlong Veng and Pailin.
"We would celebrate it if we could, but the government has forbidden it," said My Mak, deputy governor of Pailin and now a member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party.
"We don't celebrate what happened afterwards, but on that day we believed we had liberated the country, and it was everything we had been fighting for," he said in a recent interview. "It was the best day of my life."
Mak served as a radio operator at the capital's airport during the regime's reign, which ended in January 1979, watching his colleagues disappear one by one and wondering when he would be next.
For Bunna, 44, it was the beginning of four years of hell. He celebrates Pchum Ben - the festival of the dead - instead.
He lost his mother in a Khmer Rouge rocket attack in 1973, and then watched his brother and sister slowly starve to death, forced to walk nearly 200 kilometres to labour in rural rice fields.
His father was executed in 1978 by troops loyal to Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok, leaving him alone in the world. Ta Mok died in hospital in 2006.
"The Khmer Rouge bombed Phnom Penh all New Year and marched in the day New Year ended. I can't forget."
A call by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for the joint UN-Cambodian court to try former leaders to hurry forward also makes Bunna and many other Cambodians bitter.
Five defendants have been jailed awaiting trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes, but Bunna notes that many of the same five were being feted by the UN and recognized as Cambodia's true government during the Cold War in the 1980's.
Political expedience meant the world refused to recognize the Vietnamese-backed government that toppled the Khmer Rouge. Bunna said the resulting international sanctions left millions starving.
The court has garnered as many headlines over corruption and kickback allegations and budget woes as it has for its defendants.
"Buddhists believe justice is more than one lifetime long," Bunna said. "I want to get on with living this life."