Squatting on the edge of a deep hole at the Choeung Ek killing fields on Thursday, Korm Sariem burned incense sticks and prayed.
He was praying for his son, father and three brothers who were killed during the Pol Pot regime. The five were taken to this area 15 km south of Phnom Penh for execution, according to the 51-year-old man.
“I come here to pray for all my loved ones because they were miserably executed by the despicable Pol Pot,” Korm Sariem said, pointing his finger to the mass graves around him.
Korm Sariem was one of at least 2,000 mourners who gathered Thursday around a skull-filled monument to pray for justice and peace. Four hundred Buddhist monks accepted food offerings from the mourners and chanted prayers for the more than 1 million victims of the Khmer Rouge era.
The ceremony was held as part of the 15-day Pchum Ben Festival—the Festival for the Dead—which ends Saturday.
Phnom Penh’s First Deputy Governor Chea Sophara said the ceremony was not meant to “fuel anger and revenge against anyone as the country enjoys peace now.”
“We want your relatives and the younger generation to abide by nonviolence, mutual understanding and unity in order to build a firm peace that will last a long time,” Chea Sophara said.
Korm Sariem said that he goes to the killing fields every year as part of the festival. In addition to praying for his murdered family members, he demanded that all former rebel leaders be brought to trial.
“Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders are very bad, so they must be tried by national and international court,” Korm Sariem said. “Otherwise, my dead relatives will not be at peace.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen said he supports a trial organized by the government, but has rejected an international-style tribunal with heavy involvement by the UN.
Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok and Tuol Sleng prison head Kaing Khek Iev, known as Duch, are the only members of the rebel leadership who have been arrested. They are both in jail awaiting a trial.
Bun Tha, 56, said she came to the killing fields to pray for those who died there and across the country in the Pol Pot regime.
“When I come here and see the skulls displayed, I feel terrible about the Pol Pot regime,“ she said. “I don’t want to see this genocide come back because we suffered extremely.”
As a Buddhist, she said she has to forget the past suffering and pray for peace.
Bun Tha added that she wants to see former Khmer Rouge leaders brought to justice to calm the souls of the dead. “They [rebel leaders] should not have impunity for their mass crime.”