No Public Cremation for Pen Sovann, City Hall Says

A spokesman for the Phnom Penh municipal government on Monday said former Prime Minister Pen Sovann, who died on Saturday, would not receive the public cremation the opposition CNRP wants because the privilege was reserved for serving senior officials only.

A founding member of the Khmer Rouge defectors who helped topple Pol Pot in 1979, Pen Sovann became the first prime minister of the government that came next in 1981. Bristling under the thumb of the new regime’s Vietnamese overlords, however, he was arrested after only a few months on the job and spent the next 11 years in prison and under house arrest in Hanoi.

Pen Sovann walks onto a stage at a CNRP campaign rally marking the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy to Cambodia in July 2013. (Lauren Crothers)
Pen Sovann walks onto a stage at a CNRP campaign rally marking the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy to Cambodia in July 2013. (Lauren Crothers)

Having fallen out of favor with the CPP government borne of Vietnam’s occupation, he took up with the opposition when he returned to Cambodia in the 1990s and was elected to the National Assembly as a CNRP lawmaker in 2013. He died of natural causes at his home in Takeo province at the age of 80.

CNRP lawmaker Nuth Rumduol said the party submitted a request to City Hall on Monday morning, via the National Assembly, to cremate the body on Sunday at Wat Botum park in central Phnom Penh.

Fellow CNRP lawmaker Pol Ham, who is heading the funeral committee, said the former premier deserved a public cremation.

“People across the country know who he was; he was a former prime minister,” Mr. Ham said. “He was a patriot.”

City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said the request would be rejected because mere lawmakers did not qualify for a public cremation.

“A ceremony in Wat Botum park is allowed only for high-ranking politicians,” he said. “Lawmakers are not entitled to funerals there.”

Mr. Rumduol said the CNRP planned to move Pen Sovann’s body from Takeo to Phnom Penh’s Wat Thann on Wednesday. If they could not convince the government to allow the cremation at the park, he said they would have it at the pagoda.

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