Infamous Rebel Wife Joins Ceremonies, Confounding Monks

Pouch Khan, a monk at Wat Svay Pope, didn’t know who the woman was until other monks told him. When he heard, he walked toward her to observe what she was doing.

“I wanted to see her because her husband was famous during the Khmer Rouge regime,” he said. “I also wondered why she was here because during the Khmer Rouge, they didn’t want monks to exist.”

Ieng Thirith, the wife of former Khmer Rouge deputy premier Ieng Sary and one of the female leaders of the Cambodian communist movement, attended Wat Svay Pope less than two weeks ago as part of the Festival of the Dead, monks at the pagoda said.

Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith often go to the pagoda near the Russian Embassy off of Sothearos Road and near their Phnom Penh home, monks said. Ieng Thirith is the younger sister of Khieu Pon­nary, Pol Pot’s first wife.

But on Sept 16, Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister during the Khmer Rouge regime, was not with his wife at the pagoda. Pail­in’s First Deputy Governor Ieng Vuth, the couple’s son, said his father has been staying in Pailin.

Monks at Wat Svay Pope said coming to the pagoda did not clear Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith of their sins and some of them questioned why the family came to the wat at all, because religion was banned during the Khmer Rouge regime.

“Many innocent people were killed in his regime,” said Em Teang, a monk at the pagoda who saw Ieng Thirith bring rice and other food items to the pagoda. “It is a big killing, so even though they tried to participate in ceremonies, that could not take them away from their sins.”

The last time Ieng Sary was at the pagoda was in August, when a stupa he had built to keep his relatives’ bones and ashes was finished, monks said. He and his family came to the pagoda for a ceremony for their dead relatives.

“He told us about his relatives who died in the past,” Em Teang said, “but he didn’t say whether they were killed during Pol Pot’s regime.”

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