About 40,000 residents, mostly all former Khmer Rouge members, brought flowers, incense and food to Pailin’s 14 pagodas on Thursday, marking the municipality’s largest showing for the Pchum Ben festival since the Khmer Rouge regime, Pailin officials said Friday.
“It’s so different from the regime of Pol Pot,” said Mei Makk, Pailin’s cabinet chief. “We can now go to the wat and pay respect to our ancestors.”
During the Khmer Rouge regime, Mei Makk said, people were not allowed to talk about the Pchum Ben festival or go to pagodas. Buddhism was banned and many temples were destroyed. It was not until 1996, when many Khmer Rouge members defected to the government, that Pailin again openly celebrated the Pchum Ben festival.
Accompanied by their families Thursday, former Khmer Rouge “Brother No 2” Noun Chea and prime minister Khieu Samphan visited Wat Prum, a pagoda near the border with Thailand, Pailin Police Chief Lav Chan Chhay said.
“Uncle Noun Chea and Uncle Khieu Samphan and Grandfather [‘Brother No 3’] Ieng Sary all love Buddhism,” Lav Chan Chhay said. He said Khieu Samphan was healthy but Noun Chea’s health is deteriorating as he gets older.
Ieng Sary paid respects to his ancestors at Wat Svay Pope near his Phnom Penh residence, Lav Chan Chhay said.
Former Khmer Rouge fighters and their families dressed in traditional Khmer clothing as they marked the end of the 15-day festival in which Buddhists pray and bring gifts to pagodas to remember their ancestors.
Pailin residents are eager for the National Assembly to form peacefully, Mei Makk said.
“I hope they don’t keep the national crisis longer than this,” Mei Makk said. “We are so scared during any national crisis because we have been in war too long.”