Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tears flow at stupa unveiling

Relatives of those who died in the stampede on the bridge to Koh Pich last year said they had to force themselves to attend yesterday’s ceremony inaugurating a stupa built to commemorate the lives of the disaster’s 353 victims.

“I started crying when I saw my son’s name on the stupa,” said Yang Pit, whose 20-year-old son died in the stampede. “I will force myself to come here every year on this day, even though I know this place caused my son’s death,” the 53-year old resident of Phnom Penh said. “I need to show my dedication to my son and the other victims.”

Finding Closure

Chhoun Sroun, 53, traveled from Kandal province to attend the inauguration. She lit incense sticks in front of the stupa and prayed for the souls of her two children to be reincarnated into better lives. “It is good to see the stupa for the victims. I will return to show my dedication to my children every year,” she said. “I don’t want to see the bridge, but I cannot avoid it because my children’s spirits are here.

“When I saw the bridge I felt a shock, and when I read my children’s names on the stupa, I cried,” she said. “I need the government to have this kind of ceremony for the victims every year.”

Symbol of Peace

Yesterday’s ceremony began at 7am and lasted about four hours. More than 1,000 people attended, including relatives of the deceased, monks and government officials.

They began by offering prayers and respect to the spirits of the deceased in front of the stupa, which bears the name of each victim. The ceremony was led by relatives of the deceased, Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An, Phnom Penh governor Kep Chuktema and the daughter of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Hun Mana.

The stupa was designed in the style of those at Bayon temple, with four faces at the top facing in four directions. This “prom” statue symbolises a peaceful place where the spirits of the victims can rest in peace.

“We will commemorate the victims every year to demonstrate that we remember those who died in the stampede on November 22,” Kep Chuktema said, adding that he will preside over the annual ceremony while he is governor.

When asked about the cost of the stupa and who paid for it, Kep Chuktema told the Post that it cost about US$120,000 and that funding came from Bayon Television, Bayon Radio, Cambodian Television Network, Phnom Penh City Hall and the company that built the bridge, Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation.

He rejected a recent report by the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights that said those who died had been electrocuted or burned, and called for a thorough investigation by the government. “They have the right to say what they want, to make any accusation, but what happened was an accident,” he said.

Haunting Memories
People who were caught in the stampede but survived were either absent or silent at yesterday’s commemoration. One survivor who lost her sister-in-law said she never wanted to see the bridge again. 

“It is good to have a stupa to commemorate victims, but for this kind of tragedy, it should not have been built. It shocks family members and remind us about that night,” she said. 

The ceremony ended with relatives of the deceased and officials offering food to the 353 monks who led the prayers for all those named on the stupa.