Some 1,000 mourners attended the cremation Thursday of Cambodia’s former Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary, who died last week while on trial for genocide and war crimes.
At a ceremony in Malai in northwestern Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, relatives and former regime cadres paid their last respects to the leader, who had co-founded the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
His body was cremated at 6:30 in the evening with former Khmer Rouge soldier and Pailin governor Y Chhieng lighting the torch.
Ieng Sary’s death from cardiac failure on March 14 at age 87 ended any hopes he would be punished for his role in the regime and prompted calls from rights groups and the U.N. to speed up proceedings for the remaining two Khmer Rouge defendants, both of whom are in their 80s.
In a trial before the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), Ieng Sary had denied the charges against him, saying he had no knowledge of mass executions that came to define the Khmer Rouge regime, and claimed he had no powers of arrest.
Tem Moeun, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who took part in the cremation ceremony, said Ieng Sary was a responsible leader who had protected Cambodia’s territory and sovereignty and helped lead the country toward peace and national reconciliation after defecting from the regime.
Ang Odom, who served as one of Ieng Sary’s defense lawyers and who worked with him for the past five years, said his client had not kept any evidence about the Khmer Rouge years that was to be revealed after his death.
Ieng Sary’s widow Ieng Thirith, the regimes’ social affairs minister, attended the beginning of the cremation ceremony with tears in her eyes before being wheeled away.Originally a co-defendant in the tribunal, Ieng Thirith was deemed unfit for trial last year after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.
Still standing trial at the ECCC tribunal are former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, 81, and “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, 86. Both have suffered strokes and are in frail health.
The ECCC has so far completed just one case, sentencing former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to life in jail for overseeing the deaths of some 15,000 people.
Civil parties in the ECCC expressed “deep regret” last week that Ieng Sary died without providing an account of his role during the Khmer Rouge era and without finally being held accountable for his actions.
Led by the notorious Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians through starvation, overwork, or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.
Reported by Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.