Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Society wedding on Thai border

Society wedding on Thai border

Society wedding on Thai border

The bride and groom, Nuon Chhaknita and Ke Sokleap.

THE bride was radiant in a cubic zirconium tiara, with a mixture of gold-trimmed

red, green and pink outfits to match. The groom looked dapper in a over-size suit,

beige, with a white shirt, and patterned tie in metallic blues.

There were balloons, there was food aplenty, guests of course, and music.

- And there was Nuon Chea, former Brother Number Two, father of the bride, in-law

to the groom, and according to some Khmer Rouge scholars, the brains behind much

of the KR's brutal rule.

Nuon Chea, former deputy secretary of the powerful Central Committee, and a member

of the Standing Committee of the KR, celebrated his adopted daughter's marriage March

16 in Ta Prum where Nuon Chhaknita tied the knot with Ke Sokleap.

It was the first big Khmer Rouge-related wedding of the decade, and likely to be

the last too. Ieng Sary, one of the former bigwigs, was reportedly too ill to travel,

so neither he nor his wife, Ieng Thirith, turned up. Former Prime Minister Khieu

Samphan went to the ceremony, but then again, he didn't have so far to travel. He

lives next door to Nuon Chea, although insiders say they don't talk much these days

- some lingering dispute over who betrayed the movement.

Home for the two, and for the bride and groom, is a small clearing on the Thai border

some 30 kilometers west of Pailin town. The clearing contains three simple houses.

The former Khmer Rouge leaders now follow traditional Khmer culture and the Buddhist

religion. Both institutions were targets of their destructive social policies between

1975-79.

Sitting in a rattan chair in his narrow wooden house, Nuon Chea welcomed 20 journalists

from the local and international media. With his Hollywood sunglasses and a palm-leaf

fan to keep him cool - there are no fans in his house, nor is there air-conditioning

- the 77-year-old told the reporters of his health problems.

"I can walk in my house without a stick," he says, "but I have to

be careful. If I feel I am about to fall down, I must fall forwards on my face, rather

than backwards. If I hit the ground with the back of my head, I might have problems

with my brain."

Of the 300 invited guests, all but 50 turned up for dinner. Khieu Sam-phan did not

make it to the meal; Nuon Chea did, but only long enough to greet the guests.

"I didn't invite many high-ranking government officials," he says. "All

the guests are former brothers here. [Ieng] Sary told me that he was seriously ill

and could not get out of bed, which is why he could not come."

The ceremony, he says, followed traditional Khmer fashion. Such marriages were not

possible during the Democratic Kampuchea regime, though - marriages were a political

affair. As so many men died to liberate the country, says Nuon Chea, a social crisis

arose.

Nuon Chea, is flanked by his adopted daughter, Nuon Chhaknita, and new son-in-law, Ke Sokleap, at their wedding celebration in Ta Prum, near the Thai border, March 16.

"So, to have a policy for social change, we decided to bring all men and women

together for marriage without discrimination about their age and without regard for

beautiful faces," he says. "We did not force them to marry, rather it was

a discipline. If a man and woman did not love each other, no one forced them to wed."

However, he denies responsibility for killing those who objected to getting married.

The Angkar - the 'organization' - in true Orwellian style, dictated who would marry.

Choice was non-existent and those who refused went missing or were sent to an "education"

camp.

Not so, says Nuon Chea. At that time everyone joined together to build the economy

and improve the conditions of life in Cambodia after the long war of the early 1970s.

One guest, a former KR soldier, tells the Post how he remembers it: "During

my life under Democratic Kampuchea I saw numerous couples getting married at the

same event. That [style of mass wedding] is in contrast to the traditional way,"

he says. "I feel happier now, because the idea of many grooms and brides getting

married at one wedding ceremony no longer exists."

The former Brother Number Two says he has learned much listening to Radio Free Asia

and BBC broadcasts. His knowledge of world politics and economics has improved, he

says, and he supports the Cambodian government's decision to integrate into the world

economy.

He says he is still keen to learn more about the global economy. Politics, though,

holds less interest.

"I think that economics is very important," he says. "I advised my

daughter before her marriage to build a strong economic base at home and to love

each other. Then there will be no dispute in the family."

Nuon Chea's new son-in-law, Ke Sokleap, is the bodyguard for the governor of Pailin,

Y Chhien, who was himself once Pol Pot's bodyguard. Sokleap is also an up-and-coming

businessman in the region.

Nuon Chea supports the government's efforts to join the regional trade grouping and

the World Trade Organization.

"We cannot live in isolation," says the former communist turned ultra-Maoist

of the capitalist world order.

He has never clarified who besides Pol Pot was responsible for the killings, but

he did tell the Post in August, 2001 that he felt pained by the outsiders who killed

his people.

"When I was growing up, I saw my nation had no independence," says Nuon

Chea. "Khmers were the slaves of France [the former colonial power]. When they

studied abroad, they copied a poor image - they never learned about the problems

of these foreign countries, but instead copied what they saw and transplanted that

to Cambodia. That increased discrimination between rich and poor."

He still rails against France, China, Thailand and of course Vietnam, all of whom

he says look down on Khmer culture and are trying to destroy the country.

As for the big question, the Khmer Rouge tribunal, both Nuon Chea and his wife Ly

Kimseng, say it was the UN's right to withdraw from the tribunal. Both say they are

ready to stand trial, and that is the government's decision to make.

Kimseng, who cooked for the top KR leaders, blames Pol Pot for the deaths of around

1.7 million Cambodians between 1975-79, and says the Vietnamese killed just as many

when they occupied the country after that. Other than Vietnamese agents, the CIA

and KGB should also take responsibility for the deaths.

"As for the matter of UN participation," says Nuon Chea, "that is

their right. For me, I like to keep quiet these days, because I am old now and have

illnesses."

Back at the party, the bride and groom spent two hours welcoming the guests as they

entered the room. Around 6pm, Nuon Chea was helped into the room. After visiting

each table and greeting guests, he sat at his table for a few minutes, then left

for home without eating.

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