During Pol Pot's reign of terror 1.7m died. Now locals pray at his grave

TEN years after the death of the brutal Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, his grave has become a symbol of spiritual comfort to some in the village where he died.

Villagers pray at the site, asking for blessings of luck, happiness and even protection from malaria – despite the mayhem he wrought upon their country.

"I know it is odd, but I just do as many people here do, asking for happiness from his spirit," said Orn Pheap, 37, who lost a grandfather and two uncles during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror from 1975 to 1979.

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Her house in Anlong Veng, 190 miles north of the capital, Phnom Penh, sits 100 yards from the grave, and she said: "I don't know how long I can stay angry with him, since he is already dead."

For most, Pol Pot, who died ten years ago today from apparent heart failure, is remembered as a murderous tyrant with fanatical communist beliefs. Under his leadership, the Khmer Rouge turned the country into a vast slave labour camp, causing the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, forced labour and execution.

Last week, his grave – a pile of dirt covered by a knee-high corrugated zinc roof – was cluttered with clay jars filled with half-burned incense sticks, a sign of prayer and worship.

Cambodians believe in the influence of spirits and superstitious forces on their daily lives and fortunes, which may be why some worship at the grave.

Anlong Veng, once a jungle war zone, is now a sprawling market town, bustling with the kind of capitalist activities Pol Pot and his comrades sought to stamp out. Ramshackle shops are filled with clothing, homewares, pirated DVDs and other goods from nearby Thailand.

Pol Pot's grave has been designated a tourist attraction, and it is one of the few remnants of Khmer Rouge history, which the government is trying to preserve.

Some Cambodians have travelled to Anlong Veng to spit on the grave and curse him in anger, said Sat Narin, 37, who owns a nearby clothing shop. "Given his bad reputation, he should not be venerated," he said. "But somehow he is popular with some people."

Among the worshippers who seek blessings from Pol Pot's ghost are ethnic Vietnamese who live in the area – a sharp irony given the massacres of ethnic Vietnamese during his rule.

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One such woman recalled a nightmare in which she saw a black-clad man sitting on a tree near her hut. When she described the vision to her Cambodian neighbours, they advised her to take offerings to Pol Pot's grave to ask his spirit for protection. "I have prayed at his grave ever since," she said. "I just want to show some respect to the spiritual master of the land."


IF POL Pot were still alive, he would be facing war crimes charges along with five of his former comrades detained by Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal.

Their long-delayed trials are expected to start later this year.

The five are: the alleged chief torturer of the Khmer Rouge, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch; Khmer Rouge prime minister Khieu Samphan; Ieng Sary, the regime's former foreign minister, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, who was also a Khmer Rouge member and the top surviving Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea.

Nhem En, who was forced to work as the photographer at the Khmer Rouge's Tuol Sleng torture centre in Phnom Penh, says he is setting up his own museum in Anlong Veng about the communist group – not to glorify them, but for educational purposes.

He, too, used to light incense and pray at Pol Pot's grave, he said, but "only for him not to butcher people again in his next life".

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