Mural of Aung Kulimea is depicted on the ceiling of Wat Mankul Wan
IN his wooden house in Pailin, Nuon Chea is proud to show the shrine nailed to his bedroom wall. To his rare visitor, he wants to talk about Buddhism.
"I do pray everyday to Lord Buddha," says Brother Number Two. According to his relatives, even monks from the nearby pagoda come to him for lessons about Buddhist principles. He lists the five rules: do not kill, steal, drink alcohol, lie, or have illegitimate sexual relations.
"I always followed thoses rules and I have never made any bad actions," insists Pol Pot's former right-hand man.
"Did he really practice those principles, especially the first one?" wonders Ven Yos Huot Khemacaro, a monk at Wat Langka in Phnom Penh. "I do know that even at the time of the Buddha there were examples of murderers becoming saints, but for that to happen, one has to be sincere."
The monk questioned the real motivation behind Chea's claim to follow the Buddhist path.
"According to Buddhism we must take responsibility for our own actions - actions that can never be undone," he said."To be sincere, first one has to recognize the errors he committed in the past. Because once you have recognized your errors you know that your actions produce effects and then you can do better in the present," explains the monk.
"The Khmer Rouge violated all the precepts of Buddha, their bad actions lead to bad consequences, the violence. They are not happy. They have been living in hell for a long time because the powerful ones live in fear and know they have many enemies," underlines the monk.
When asked about the KR karma, monks in Battambang referred to the tale of a notorious killer, Ang Kulimea . He wanted to kill 100 people and make a necklace of their fingers to be invicible. The Buddha was to be his 100th victim but after 99 murders he changed, became a monk and was eventually swallowed by the earth.
"Maybe Nuon Chea wants to pray to Buddha to ask for a favor regarding his karma", says Bu Ran, 78-year-old, chief monk in Anlong Vil. "Their actions cannot be eliminated, but we don't actually know how long their sins will haunt them".
The monks underline that Buddhism does not judge or sentence one's actions. "The karma is not the sentence, it is only your actions," said Yos Huot. "We are talking about the next life. But you know all those people [the KR] are already suffering and I think they are already in hell now because of their past actions.
"In a community, there are regulations. This is not the jungle law where the strongest win," notes Yos Huot.
"The judges have to follow four principles to give a proper justice. They should not be motivated by greed and corruption, they should not act with anger, they should be competent and respect the procedure, and they should not be afraid, but be independent," said Yos Huot. "I think those principles are important for Cambodia to follow [for the Khmer Rouge case.]"