Pol Pot’s Daughter Marries in Former Stronghold

MALAI DISTRICT, Banteay Meanchey province – Sar Patchata, the only daughter of deceased Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, was married Sunday after a two-day ceremony held in a neatly trimmed flower garden in this former rebel stronghold.

Ms. Patchata was born in 1986 to Pol Pot and his second wife, Mea Som, and was adopted after the communist leader’s death by Tep Khunnal, a diplomat who had served as an aide to Pol Pot and ambassador to the U.N. for the Khmer Rouge after their overthrow by Vietnamese forces in 1979.

Sar Patchata and her new husband, Sy Vicheka, are flanked by her stepfather, Tep Khunnal, and her mother, Mea Som, during the young couple's wedding celebration Monday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)
Sar Patchata and her new husband, Sy Vicheka, are flanked by her stepfather, Tep Khunnal, and her mother, Mea Som, during the young couple’s wedding celebration Monday. (Alex Willemyns/The Cambodia Daily)

The wedding in Malai district, whose Khmer Rouge rebels defected en masse in 1996 to the Phnom Penh government, began on Saturday evening with a select group of friends and family observing four monks from Wat Malai bless Ms. Patchata and her groom, Sy Vicheka.

Ornate wooden armchairs padded with stitched floral patterns seated the group of about 50.

The chairs, and Ms. Patchata’s European-style family home and its carefully curated gardens, were the only obvious flourishes of wealth throughout the two days of the ceremony, until seven glass chandeliers were carried out and attached to the large pink-and-white wedding tents shortly before last night’s dinner.

Imported liquor from France, such as Ricard pastis de Marseille, was served at select tables, while Heineken beer was available at others.

“It looks completely European,” said prominent Cambodia historian Henri Locard, 74, who attended both days of the ceremony, as he took a photograph of a laughing So Socheat, the wife of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, who was seated nearby.

Khieu Samphan is currently on trial in Phnom Penh for crimes against humanity.

Mr. Khunnal, Ms. Patchata’s stepfather, who has had two further children with Ms. Som since Pol Pot died near Anlong Veng in April 1998, said that the young couple met while studying in Malaysia.

“Our idea was to not be too traditional, or too sophisticated,” Mr. Khunnal said of the wedding, but declined to otherwise comment on his stepdaughter.

“It’s only a small wedding ceremony with our friends and relatives,” he said.

Under the Khmer Rouge regime, at least tens of thousands of men and women were forced to marry people they had never met in mass ceremonies. Relationships were tightly controlled by party authorities and couples often separated shortly after marriage.

Suong Sikoeun, a communist intellectual who worked in the Khmer Rouge Foreign Ministry under Ieng Sary and a wedding guest last night, said that the history that Ms. Patchata was born into was not relevant to the festivities.

“This wedding is not about politics. We’re just joining as friends and relatives, as this is a Khmer tradition,” Mr. Sikoeun said. “It is an example of how the Khmer people, whether rich and poor, can meet without dispute and not continue to hold onto ill-feelings…. We must maintain solidarity.”

A mixture of traditional Khmer dresses and far more modern fare graced the aisles and dance area of Ms. Patchata’s wedding last night. A member of the catering staff said that the food, which included duck, had been brought all the way to the ceremony on the Thai-Cambodian border from Phnom Penh.

Wedding guest Chau Khim, 76, who is currently a civil party at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh and works as an adviser in the Ministry of Agriculture, said that the political life and history of Pol Pot had no relevance to the life of Ms. Patchata, who was a young girl when her father passed away.

“Cambodians often have the mind to accuse one generation in connection to the older generation,” said Mr. Khim, who moved to France in 1974 and did not return until 2003.

“They are father and daughter, and it is a Khmer habit to say that they affect each other. Under the Khmer Rouge, when they needed to kill one person, they did not only kill them, they would kill their entire family too. In this case, it’s different. They have been separated as father and daughter.”

Mr. Khim’s older brother, Chau Seng, was the cabinet chief for Prince Norodom Sihanouk and one of the largest personalities in his regime in the late 1960s, and was tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge at S-21 prison.

In an interview in 2004, Sar Patchata said she had changed her name from Meas Sith in 2001 on the advice of Mr. Khunnal, who told her she should not hide her identity as the daughter of Pol Pot, whose real name was Saloth Sar.

Im Somen, 53, is part of Ms. Patchata’s extended family and one of many former Khmer Rouge cadres who now live around Malai district, said she moved to the area in 1996 after having lived near Pol Pot in Anlong Veng after 1985.

“My niece is a part of the younger generation, and does not know anything about that,” she said, explaining that Ms. Patchata received little negative stigma in Malai as Pol Pot’s daughter, as many hold the former leader in high regard.

“When I lived with Pol Pot, he was a very polite and gentle man. He was never rude toward anyone, but I don’t know about his actions during the regime.”

Sin Sopheap, 38, the head monk of Wat Malai, who blessed the bride and groom, said that the Khmer Rouge’s policies were kept in the past in Malai.

“That is the political inclination of the leaders of any regime,” he said of Khmer Rouge policies to outlaw religion, which included eradicating monks.

“This regime in this period is one that has nation, religion, and king, and everybody respects the state religion. The Khmer Rouge regime is gone now,” he said.

Ensconced in Malai, the former revolutionaries late last night began rising to dance to traditional Cambodian songs played by a Thai band, while the beaming newlyweds posed for more photographs at the entrance to Ms. Patchata’s large family home.

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