Hundreds of mourners gathered yesterday for a funeral ceremony at the rural stronghold of Khmer Rouge co-founder Ieng Sary, who died while on trial for genocide and war crimes.
The 87-year-old died on Thursday, cheating Cambodians of a verdict over his role in the regime and handing another blow to the UN-backed court, which has been blighted by delays and cash shortages.
The outpouring of grief at the ceremony, including tears from some of the mourners, spotlighted the lingering divide between supporters and ex-members of the former regime - which wiped out nearly a quarter of the country's population between 1975 and 1979 - and those who survived its brutality.
Ieng Sary's body was taken late on Thursday to his powerbase in northwestern Malai district, near the Thai border where he held out with fellow Khmer Rouge members after the regime fell from power until his defection in 1996.
"Between 300 and 400 villagers attended the start of the funeral this morning," a witness said, adding that many people cried and burned incense in his honour. He is expected to be cremated next week.
Some mourners praised Ieng Sary, even though he was accused of overseeing purges and the murder of intellectuals as foreign minister.
"He was good. He helped people with a lot of things," supporter Meas Sam, 53, said. "I am a bit sad that he died, but he is so old. I hope he rests in peace."
The death of Ieng Sary, who was co-founder of the Khmer Rouge and one of the regime's few public faces, intensified fears his remaining two elderly fellow defendants may also fail to live to see justice at the tribunal.
Yim Sopheak, a 47-year-old street vendor who said the Khmer Rouge regime had executed her parents, said Ieng Sary "deserved to die in prison, not in a hospital. He should have died in the same way as he executed my parents and other people".
Yi Chea, a 72-year-old flower seller who says her husband and other relatives were also killed during Khmer Rouge rule, said she was happy Ieng Sary was gone. But "he did not deserve to die naturally like this".
Additional reporting by Associated Press