The former top leaders of the Khmer Rouge, who outlawed all religion in Cambodia during their regime, joined countrymen this week to celebrate the Buddhist holiday Pchum Ben, making offerings in public and in private to the souls of dead ancestors, sources reported Wednesday.
Nuon Chea, known during the Pol Pot regime as Brother No 2 and Ieng Sary—Brother No 3—made offerings to dead ancestors at separate pagodas, while Khieu Samphan, the president of the Democratic Kampuchea regime, prayed at home, top aides to the men said, requesting anonymity.
Nuon Chea prayed with his family at Wat Prum, 20 km outside the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin.
Khieu Samphan made six or seven dishes of food for his ancestors, some of whom died during the decades of civil war Cambodia suffered, but he prayed at home.
Ieng Sary, the former deputy prime minister of the Khmer Rouge government, prayed in Phnom Penh.
“I have already finished the Khmer Pchum Ben ceremony with my family,” he said by phone Wednesday.
All six of Pailin’s pagodas were full over the holiday, said Keut Sothea, second deputy governor, though not many people likely prayed for Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot, he said. Not many people knew who he actually was, Keut Sothea said.
Between 1975 and 1979, Khmer Rouge cadre knocked down pagodas and destroyed the statues and Buddhist literature they housed. Monks were defrocked and forced to work in the field, while some temples were turned into prisons.
Only two former Khmer Rouge leaders—Duch and Ta Mok—have been detained for alleged crimes committed during the regime.
Duch, who is a converted Christian, did not celebrate or receive any visitors during the holiday, said Ka Savuth, his lawyer.
Benson Samay, the lawyer for Ta Mok, declined to comment. Ta Mok remains in a military prison.
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)