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Former Khmer Rouge Turn to Christ

A small number of former Khmer Rouge say they are moving from bad karma and Buddhism toward forgiveness and Christianity.

In the former rebel stronghold of Pailin, there are at least two Christian churches, and as many as 100 converts.

Pou Him is a former Khmer Rouge soldier living in Pailin. He said he believes very strongly in Jesus Christ, and he also has the Bible to read at home.

He said he was working under the Khmer Rouge for many years, and at that time believed in Buddhism, which follows a belief in karma.

If you do something wrong, he said, you can receive bad karma and cannot be cleaned of what has been done. So, after coming back from a refugee camp along the Cambodian-Thai border in 1992, he converted to Christianity.

"Jesus does everything for us, to bless us, and what we have committed," he said. "I have been baptized, so Jesus will help me pray away from the devil."

Some Khmer Rouge soldiers, like Meas Kim, say poverty changed their religion.

Meas Kim lived in Koh Kong province during the war, but in peace, she moved to Pailin with her family and six children. She has been a believer in Christ for almost 20 years, she said, and hopes God will help the family.

"I hope my children can go to school, because Jesus Christ can help them and train them," she said. "I believe that it is very just for me, that I can pray away my bad devils, and hope that He will take the bad devil from me."

Mean Lab, a priest at For Good News Church in Pailin, said there are at least 100 former Khmer Rouge soldiers who believe in Jesus Christ, though some of them are not 100 percent sure.

"Jesus, when he was born a human, his purpose was to save humans on Earth, to free them from the Devil," he said. "Our people want to know why Jesus came to the Earth. He came to the Earth because he wanted to save the people."

Roth Phanith, a priest at a Presbyterian church in Pailin, said that there are some people who "believe" only in order to get a gift.

"That's why sometimes we have some difficulty to go out and do this outreach about God to the people in Pailin," he said.

There is no kept number of churches or religious organizations in Cambodia, said Chhorn Em, secretary of state for the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

There are "a lot," he said, adding that this did not affect the nation's predominant Buddhist traditions.

"For the future, we are worried for the youth, because we consider much about the elderly people, the old generation, and we never take care of the new one," he said. "This is a problem in the future. But for the present, it's only a small number."