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Ieng Sary's redemption

BUDDHIST leaders are guardedly anticipating Maha Ghosananda's clemency of Ieng Sary,

saying that such unconditional displays of compassion - even towards men who have

been branded mass-executioners - are crucial to Cambodia's salvation.

"Even if someone has committed the most violent of crimes, we must help them

to become peaceful men," says the Venerable Yos Hut Khemcaro, head of the Khmer

Buddhist Foundation, who has regularly participated in Ghosnanda's peace rallies.

"But Cambodians must be responsible and not allow anyone to manipulate them

and use different tactics to commit the same crimes."

Khemcaro is not alone in expressing this sentiment.

"Ieng Sary knows the difference between right and wrong, and should be taken

back into society for the sake of peace and development in Cambodia," says Venerable

Tep Vong Nikay, who sits atop the clerical hierarchy as one of the nation's two Supreme

Patriarchs.

"But if Sary reverts again to his former role, that we Buddhists cannot accept,"

he cautions. "If he still has weapons and troops and he starts killing people

again, the Buddhists and myself will not allow this."

Whenever Sary's name is mentioned, Nikay and the other Venerables allude to the ancient

Buddhist tale of Angulimia - the Garland of Fingers - formerly called Aheungsaka.

"Ieng Sary is just the same as Aheungsaka - the prince of Innocence," claims

Nikay.

The story goes that Angulimia was born under the Constellation of Thieves, the sign

of Innocence. When he was older, his teacher, who had become insane, tasked the pliable

young man to murder a thousand people and collect a finger from the right-hand of

each of his victims.

Dutifully, he rampaged, claiming 999 victims and wearing their fingers around his

neck. But when the moment came to claim his thousandth victim, the Buddha intervened

persuading him to give up his wicked ways and convert to his way of life.

According to Dr Hema Goonatilake, the Sri Lankan representative of the Heinrich Boll

Foundation's Phnom Penh chapter, a Buddhist-oriented development NGO, the story serves

as a multi-layered parable of Cambodia's recent cataclysmic past.

In her opinion, the moral is that the actions of individuals, and their Karma - the

spiritual baggage that is left over from previous lives - cannot be divorced from

the society-at-large, and often interact with it.

"It is society that also made Aheungsaka/Angulimia do those things," she

says.

It is futile, therefore, to condemn the acts of individuals and push them to confess

to their sins, unless the wider social picture is examined to see what are the ills

that caused them to behave particularly, so that they won't resort to crime again.

More bluntly, Khemcaro makes a similar point.

"A few Khmer Rouge leaders could not have acted alone," he declares. "There

were millions [of Cambodians], including Buddhist clergy, who helped and worked with

the Khmer Rouge.

"The Khmer Rouge was born out of Cambodian society. It is the child of Cambodia."

Even if Ieng Sary never reveals the whole truth about the extent to which he served

Pol Pot under Democratic Kampuchea, both Goonatilake and Khmecaro are convinced he

will be ostracized as long as he does not demonstrate a willingness to reform and

engage himself in bringing about change for the good of all Cambodians.

"Self-realization is more important than simply confessing to one's sins,"

says Goonatilake. "Besides, in his mind, Ieng Sary must already be dying a thousand

deaths."

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