To a passing stranger, the distant sound of music may have hinted at just another celebration in a typically busy wedding season fast drawing to a close.
But this was no ordinary wedding. The biggest crowd that some villagers could ever recall seeing in Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district was gathered yesterday to witness the wedding of a woman whose genealogy will forever remain notorious across the country and, indeed, the world.
Pol Pot’s daughter, Sar Patchata, was getting married.
Rows of luxury cars lined a field in Malai commune’s Kbal Spean village, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold. Assembled inside the wedding party were officials from as far away as Phnom Penh. Alongside them were former Khmer Rouge soldiers who had travelled a much shorter distance to attend and whose friendships with each other went back decades.
“It’s a good opportunity,” said Ros Ka, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who spent years fighting with forces loyal to Pol Pot and who was enjoying the chance to see some of his former comrades for the first time in years. “We can meet with the seniors after we have lived apart for years. You don’t know how delighted we are.”
Not everyone could make it to this reunion, he added, because they simply couldn’t afford the journey.
Patchata, 26, is the only daughter of Pol Pot, the former Khmer Rouge leader responsible for an estimated 1.7 million deaths during Democratic Kampuchea’s brutal agrarian-based dictatorship of 1975 to 1979.
Patchata’s mother, Mea Son, married Pol Pot – whose real name was Saloth Sar – in the mid 1980s after he fled Phnom Penh and was waging bloody war from the Cambodian-Thai border.
Following Pol Pot’s death in 1998 while under house arrest, Son, then 40, told the Post that the brutal dictator had treated her and his only daughter, then known as Mea Sith, well right until the end.
“He was a good husband to me; we met in 1985,” she said. “I am very sad that he has died and I do not know what the future may bring.”
The future was equally uncertain for Patchata. Photos at the time showed a young girl’s grief as she stood beside her mother and her father’s jailer, staring through a long black fringe. Yesterday, that same face – which bears a resemblance to her father’s – beamed as the cameras captured her at every turn.
Tep Khunnal, a former Malai district governor, adviser to Pol Pot and member of the Khmer Rouge delegation to the UN in the 1980s, married Patchata’s mother after the dictator’s death, and brought them to live in the district.
“Khunnal has raised her since she was 10 after Pol Pot died,” said Chen Nat, one of Khunnal’s colleagues.
After earning a master’s degree in English literature in Malaysia, where she met her Cambodian husband-to-be Sy Vicheka, Patchata returned to her home three years before the wedding, Nat said.
“She said she will not go to live or work anywhere else now and will stay here to run her uncle and aunt’s rice mill.”
Suong Sikoeun, a former spokesman and high-ranking official in the Ministry of Information and Ministry of Foreign Affairs during the Democratic Kampuchea era, said those who attended the wedding yesterday remained part of a strong community.
“It’s not a meeting of politics,” he said. “It is a show of friendship … [Pol Pot’s] daughter is not mired in politics. We love and respect each other as one and help one another.”
The celebrations had all the pomp expected of a Cambodian wedding. Just after dawn, couples with trays of fruit formed a procession that slowly made its way to the bride’s house.
Wedding guest Meas Chey spoke of her connection with the bride. Just days after Patchata was born, Chey gave birth to a child in the same camp hospital as Pol Pot’s wife.
“I don’t know her very well anymore,” she said. “When she finished high school, she went to study in Phnom Penh. But I know she is … very different from her father.”
By the afternoon, friends and relatives were offering the married couple thousands of dollars in cash and gifts – Son offered her daughter a gold necklace – as the couple prepared for a new life together.