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In Pailin, Former Guerrillas Honor the Fallen

Former Khmer Rouge soldiers in Pailin celebrated Pchum Ben in recent days by meditating and praying to former soldiers who died in the war against the Phnom Penh government.

Surrounded by high, forested mountains 400 kilometers from the capital, Pailin was one of the final strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, which fought a 25-year civil war against government troops following its fall in 1979.

Pailin Deputy Governor Keuth Sothea, a former Khmer Rouge fighter, called other former soldiers to attend a ceremony Friday, to meditate for their fallen friends and family.

A giant stupa has been built in Pailin’s largest pagoda, with the remains of many soldiers interred within.

Chea Sovang, who burned five joss sticks at the ceremony Friday, spoke so softly he could scarcely be heard: “I meditate for friends who were with me when we were in the jungle. We had nothing to eat during the war. And I pity them. They had no parents. They had nothing. And they were injured and died in blood.”

Pchum Ben is a 15-day Buddhist ceremony where Cambodians honor the dead by traveling to the pagodas with food and offerings for the spirits. It ends Sept. 30.

An untold number of Cambodian guerrillas and soldiers died in decades of fighting that only ended in 1996.

“They are good believers,” venerable monk Nhim Sothun, chief of the Ratana Sophoan pagoda, said of the former Khmer Rouge. “They come here because they understand well Buddhism, and they have done real meditation.”