PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - CAMBODIA on Tuesday quietly marked the 10-year anniversary of Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot's death, amid fears that time is running out to try ageing regime leaders before a genocide tribunal.
Pol Pot, the tyrant who turned Cambodia into the killing fields in the late 1970s, died on April 15, 1998, reportedly from a heart attack, in the remote northern outpost of Anlong Veng, the Khmer Rouge's final stronghold.
He was unceremoniously cremated under a pile of rubbish and tires.
'Pol Pot died a criminal, responsible for millions of lives,' said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which collects evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities.
'He is not the kind of person Cambodian people should commemorate.'
Nhem En, deputy governor of Anlong Veng and a former Khmer Rouge member, told reporters by telephone: 'It is the 10-year anniversary of Pol Pot's death, but there is no commemoration for his soul.'
Up to two million people died of overwork and starvation or were executed under the 1975-79 rule of the Khmer Rouge, which abolished religion, property rights, currency and schools.
Millions more were driven from the cities onto vast collective farms as Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist regime sought to create an agrarian utopia.
'Pol Pot is a person the world hates,' said Nhem En, who once was the official photographer at the Khmer Rouge's notorious Tuol Sleng torture centre in Phnom Penh.
But some people still visit his grave, Nhem En said.
'There are some people who go often to his grave to pray and to ask for good luck and even lottery numbers from his soul,' he said.
The government has been planning since 2000 to transform Anlong Veng into a showcase of the communist regime's final days to attract tourists, with even Pol Pot's toilet slated to be displayed for curious visitors.
Cambodians in the capital Phnom Penh were however more concerned about the future of efforts to try Pol Pot's former colleagues.
A joint Cambodia-UN tribunal convened in 2006 after nearly a decade of haggling, but has faced delays and a funding crisis, raising concerns that the elderly defendants could die before facing trial for their alleged role in one of the 20th century's worst atrocities.
As tribunal officials try to pull together the additional 114 million dollars needed to finish the process, many of the five defendants detained by the court complain of weakening health.
One of them, 82-year-old Ieng Sary, has been repeatedly hospitalised.
'If one of them dies (without standing trial), it is a failure for the court and is not acceptable,' said Youk Chhang.
'The justice that we wanted from Pol Pot died along with him.'
Public trials of the regime's five top surviving leaders are expected to begin later this year.
Originally budgeted at 56.3 million dollars (S$76 million) over three years, the tribunal has raised its cost estimate to 170 million dollars, which would allow the court to continue operating until 2011.
Court officials travelled to the United Nations in New York in March to seek the extra money, but so far only Australia has come through, promising 450,000 dollars more for the cash-strapped court.
International backers appear hesitant to pledge more money to the process amid allegations of mismanagement and political interference, leaving people like Heng Samnang, who lost his father to the Khmer Rouge, pessimistic.
'Cambodian people need justice, therefore the court must speed up the trials,' the 43-year-old said, walking slowly around Tuol Sleng, which is now a museum.
'If two or three more Khmer Rouge leaders die, it is finished.' -- AFP