Though reviled by most as the leader of a regime responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million, Pol Pot is still loved by some who believe that he was a patriot, and who gathered over the weekend to pray for his return.
Buddhist monks chanted as offerings of incense sticks and food were brought to the ceremony on Saturday, 100 meters from the spot where Pol Pot was cremated following his death eight years ago to the day.
He died an ignominious and suspicious death on April 15, 1998, in a remote jungle hut where he had been exiled in the Dangrek Mountains on the outskirts of Anlong Veng town after being purged by his rebel underlings.
Those at the gathering of more than 50 former comrades of Pol Pot who honored their leader on Saturday said the occasion was organized for the Khmer New Year, not the eighth anniversary of his death.
The ceremony also honored all Khmer Rouge fighters who died in battle in the jungles of the Dangrek Mountains, they said.
Six Buddhist monks who joined the ceremony honored Pol Pot’s life and his achievements for the people of Anlong Veng district in Oddar Meanchey province, one of the last rebel strongholds to fall to Cambodian government forces.
As the monks chanted for Lok Ta Pol Pot, or “Grandfather Pol Pot,” former comrades offered up prayers for his reincarnation, Anlong Veng district official Khoem Samnang said on Sunday.
“Former Khmer Rouge soldiers and civilians here still respect Pol Pot very much and they call him ‘Ta’ [grandfather],” Khoem Samnang said by telephone.
“Former Khmer Rouge soldiers and Cambodians from various provinces joined together to hold a ceremony for Pol Pot and monks prayed near his grave,” he said. “They organized a ceremony for him as they want him to be reborn and to look after villagers here.”
The small ceremony was befitting of an aged and respected leader and the Khmer Rouge soldiers who died defending the Dangrek Mountains, said Tin Bun Heng, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who was integrated with RCAF soldiers in Military Region 4 after the fall of Anlong Veng.
“This ceremony was to give gratitude to Pol Pot and other dead soldiers. He was our former leader and an old man,” Tin Bun Heng said.
With the religious ceremonies over, the small crowd enjoyed some New Year festivities as Cambodian kickboxers and opponents from Thailand fought several bouts in a ring set up for the occasion.
On Sunday more visitors made their way to the grave, lighting incense sticks and leaving behind small offerings of food, said RCAF soldier Iem Sochea, who is based near the small, aluminum-roofed structure that protects Pol Pot’s cremation site from the elements.
Though some of the visitors were former followers of Pol Pot’s regime, others had been drawn by superstitious belief that the former Khmer Rouge chief brings luck from beyond the grave, Iem Sochea said.
Several years ago, rumors spread that people making offerings at Pol Pot’s grave had scored lucky in a lottery in Thailand, which they attributed to winning numbers given to them in their dreams by a ghostly Pol Pot.
Iem Sochea said on Monday that he was living proof of Brother Number One’s lottery-winning powers.
“I always give Pol Pot fruit, cakes and sweets and I always pray for the lottery numbers. Once I promised that I would buy him a chicken if I won the lottery and I won 70,000 riel [approximately $17.50],” Iem Sochea said. “Almost every day people come to give offerings at the grave,” he added.