Former Khmer Rouge become monks, nuns

DPA, April 3, 2006

Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- Three hundred people, including members of the former ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge, have entered a pagoda in the district of Pailin for 12 days of intensive Buddhist education to help them overcome problems within their communities, officials said Monday.

Oung Pouv, the chief of the northwestern town near the Thai border, said the group of men and women aged between 15 to 80, had entered Wat Phnom Yat after a ceremony on March 31.

'Around three quarters of them are former Khmer Rouge or their children,' he said. 'During their stay the monks and nuns will teach them about morality, about how to prevent and discourage domestic violence, about Cambodian traditions and about the dangers of HIV and AIDS.'

Aid workers say former Khmer Rouge communities, made up largely of rank-and-file soldiers who sometimes served the radical ultra-Maoists from very young age, often have problems adjusting to society. They had spent much of their lives under a regime that abolished education outside its own propaganda as well as markets and money to transform the country into an agrarian utopia.

The new course was endorsed by Y Chhien, Pailin governor, who is himself a former Khmer Rouge commander. Men and boys undertaking the course shaved their heads and donned the saffron robes of Buddhist monks. Women took the white robes of Buddhist nuns.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between 1975-79, during which up to two million people died of starvation, disease, overwork, torture and executions.

Overthrown by the Vietnamese in 1979, the movement continued to wage a guerrilla war from border strongholds such as Pailin until only a decade ago.