About 40,000 Cambodian citizens, government officials, opposition party members and diplomats attended a funeral procession on Friday in the capital Phnom Penh to pay their last respects to the former president of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and Senate Chea Sim, who died last week.
Before a Buddhist cremation ceremony in Wat Botum Park, Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a eulogy in which he vowed to continue Chea Sim’s legacy of dedication to the country to bring about peace, independence and national unity.
“What Samdech [honorific] [Chea Sim] left us is his legacy for the country, religion and the king,” he said.
The senior politician’s legacy, however, is controversial, given his involvement as a military commander in the communist Khmer Rouge when it seized power in 1975 after a civil war.
Villagers who attended the funeral said they were saddened by the passing of Chea Sim, who died at age 82 at his home in Phnom Penh on June 8 after years of deteriorating health from high blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments.
“I have a lot of pity for him [because] he struggled for our country and helped liberate the Cambodian people from [former Khmer Rouge leader] Pol Pot’s regime,” one woman who declined to give her name told RFA’s Khmer Service
Another villager described Chea Sim as a “fine” individual.
A golden casket containing Chea Sim’s body was part of the three-kilometer (1.9-mile) procession that included nine floats lacquered with gold as well as musicians, honor guards and monks, The Phnom Penh Post reported.
King Norodom Sihamoni, Queen Mother Norodom Monineath, newly elected Senate President Say Chhu and National Assembly President Heng Samrin also were in attendance, the report said.
CPP to convene congress
CPP spokesman Sok Ey San said his party would convene a central committee congress on Saturday to vote for a new party president.
Hun Sen had said in April that he would assume the position when Chea Sim died.
“There are 545 members who will participate in the congress to elect the party president and deputy president,” Sok Ey San told RFA.
He added that the CPP’s internal regulations require that such a congress be convened if the seat of the party president is vacant.
“Now that Samdech Chea Sim has died, we need to select a new president,” he said.
Immediately after Chea Sim’s death last week, New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a statement accusing the senior politician of international crimes, including “possible charges of genocide and other crimes against humanity” committed when he was an official during the murderous Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979).
“Chea Sim’s passing is a reminder that virtually all former Khmer Rouge officials have gone unpunished for the millions of deaths and incredible suffering of ordinary Cambodians during Khmer Rouge rule,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“It is a mockery of justice that Chea Sim could serve in the post-Khmer Rouge Cambodian leadership for decades without ever facing an investigation, much less arrest or prosecution.”
The Cambodian government declared Friday an official day of mourning and public holiday with flags flown at one-third mast in honor of Chea Sim, according to The Phnom Penh Post.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.