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
"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
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
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