Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Senior Reds go Buddhist for family shrine

Senior Reds go Buddhist for family shrine

Senior Reds go Buddhist for family shrine


Heng Chivoan

Picture of the Stupa with a plaque that reads:

The Stupa built on April 28, 2000 By H.E. Ieng Sary and Khieu Thirith and children is devoted to:

Uk Pon, father (1900-1986)

Khieu Un, wife (1883-1953)

Srey Thon, brother-in-law (1920-1974)

Khieu Thirath, elder sister (1924-1975)

Khieu Tham, elder brother (1926-1975)

Khieu Phal Lon, elder sister-in-law (1929-1992)

Horn Peoun, son-in-law (1946-1985)

Khieu Ponnary, elder sister (1920-2003)

Aging former Khmer Rouge leaders Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith have chosen

a centuries-old pagoda in Phnom Penh to house their stupa - the Chedei that will

hold their ashes when they die.

A large black frame with gold lettering that hangs over the front door of the family

stupa at Wat Svay Popei on Sothearos Blvd. says that His Excellency Ieng Sary and

Khieu Thirith built the Chedei, as it is known in Khmer, in 2000.

The stupa is devoted to their parents, two sisters and a brother in law as well as

to the first wife of Pol Pot, Khieu Ponnary, who died in 2003, says the sign.

Although he has not yet been indicted, Ieng Sary, now 78, is widely expected to be

one of a handful of top Khmer Rouge leaders who will face trial by the ECCC. His

wife is 75.

Sary and his family come to the Wat for traditional holidays such as Khmer New Year

and Pchumben to pray for the souls of deceased relatives and to bring good luck to

the living, said Sam Chhom, a 74-year-old layman who has arranged ceremonies there

for Ieng Sary's family.

"I knew his name (Sary) during the Pol Pot regime, but I had never seen him,"

Chhom said.

"I saw him the first time in 2000 after he built the Chedei and came to invite

me to arrange the Buddhist ceremony to pray to the souls of their parents and brother

and sister."

He said that at the last Khmer New Year in April, Sary was unable to walk on his

own and his bodyguards carried him.

"When I knew that he was Ieng Sary, I started to look at his behavior and I

noticed that he respected the Buddhist monks as much or better than some of the others,"

Chhom said. "Now I am not afraid of him, but I don't know why a polite man like

him eliminated all the Wats and the Buddhist monks in the country."

During the Pot Pot regime, the Chedei in some Wats were bombed or destroyed and replaced

by torture camps, prisons or farms for cows and pigs. Wat Svay Popei was built centuries

ago for royal families. Before the Khmer Rouge, it was reserved for the rich and

for followers of the Buddhist Dhammayuth, a strict regime that forbids its monks

from keeping money.

Many of the stupas - the bell-shaped structure that holds the relics of the dead

as a permanent sacrifice - are painted in gold.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, questioned why Ieng

Sary respects Buddhist traditions now, when the KR regime killed more than a million

Cambodian people and attempted to destroy the religion of the majority of the country.

"I think that the behavior of Ieng Sary (building his Chedei) has indicated

that he committed a bad deed. Therefore he has sacrificed for it," said Chhang.

During the KR regime, Ieng Sary held the title of foreign minister of Democratic

Kampuchea (DK). He was also a member of the Central and Standing Committees.

As DK foreign minister, Sary was alledgedly involved in encouraging hundreds of Cambodian

intellectuals and officials to return to Cambodia from overseas after the KR took

power in April, 1975, most of whom were initially interned in the re-education camp

at Boeung Trabenk. Subsequently dozens were sent to Tuol Sleng where they were tortured

and executed.

He has lived in Phnom Penh since 1999. Under sentence of death in absentia from a

1979 People's Republic of Kampuchea Court, he received a royal pardon from retired

King Norodom Sihanouk following his defection from the Khmer Rouge in 1996.

Although Ieng Sary was copied on various messages directed to Noun Chea, Brother

Number Two, in recent years he has denied detailed knowledge of internal developments

of the purges carried out by senior party officials.

After the Vietnamese invasion of 1978-1979, Sary faded from public view though he

continued as the official conduit for Chinese military and political assistance to

the Party of Democratic Kampuchea (PDK).