Among hundreds of mourners on Thursday at the funeral of Pen Sovann, Cambodia’s first prime minister after the Khmer Rouge, was Pen Sona, his 42-year-old daughter, one of three children he had with his Vietnamese wife while living in Vietnam.
Pen Sovann, who helped gather the rebels who would help topple Pol Pot, fell out of favor with the Vietnamese almost as soon as they put him in power in 1981, largely because he pushed back against their control, and would spend the next decade in prison and house arrest in Vietnam.
Pen Sona, center, Pen Sovann’s daughter, prays with family members during her father’s funeral at Wat Thann in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)Ms. Sona said that her family had no idea of his arrest until two years after it happened.
“We filed a complaint to the Vietnamese authorities requesting they explain why they arrested my father and said that if my father committed a mistake in Cambodia, you should not arrest him. If he committed a mistake in Cambodia he should be punished in Cambodia,” Ms. Sona said on Thursday inside Wat Thann.
Ms. Sona, who was a child at the time, said she next saw her father—who died on Saturday at the age of 80—after he was moved from the “dark prison” to house arrest in Hanoi in 1986.
“Even though he did not tell us everything, everybody in our family knew how they treated him in the prison,” she said.
Pen Sovann would regularly have Cambodian students visit him while under house arrest, but always under the ever watchful eye of Vietnamese soldiers, she said.
“They put the guards surrounding the house and they would watch every move,” Ms. Sona said.
Nguon Nhel, second vice president of the National Assembly, made a brief visit to the pagoda on Thursday to pay his respects to Pen Sovann on behalf of the assembly.
Nguon Nhel, second vice-president of the National Assembly, pays his respects to Pen Sovann at Wat Thann in Phnom Penh on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)However, Eng Chhay Eang, a lawmaker for the CNRP—which Pen Sovann represented in parliament beginning in 2013—rebuked the many CPP officials who snubbed the ceremony.
“He is the one who liberated the Khmer people from the Pol Pot genocidal regime. If you show gratitude to the liberation, you should show gratitude to Pen Sovann’s sacrifice,” Mr. Chhay Eang told reporters at the funeral.
“I cannot believe no notable CPP officials came.”
With City Hall rejecting its request to cremate Pen Sovann’s body in Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum park, the CNRP issued a statement on Thursday saying that the ceremony would instead be held at Wat Russey Sanh in Dangkao district on Sunday.
Despite Pen Sovann’s rocky political career, Ms. Sona had no doubt about how Cambodians would remember her father.
“He is a hero. He took the nation on the top of his head,” Ms. Sona said. “He served the country. He loved the country. He loved the Khmer people.”
“He was arrested because he was accused of betraying the nation and people, but the truth is he did not,” she added. “The people know what happened.”
sokhean@cambodiadaily.com, wright@cambodiadaily.com
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