Thousand mourners attend KRouge leader's cremation

About 1,000 mourners massed Thursday for the cremation of a co-founder of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, highlighting the stark divide between supporters and victims of the brutal communist regime.

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, 87, died last week while on trial for war crimes and genocide, cheating Cambodians of a verdict over his role in the regime's 1975-1979 reign of terror.

Relatives and former Khmer Rouge fighters attended the cremation outside his home in Malai, a one-time regime stronghold near the Thai border.

The pyre was lit by Y Chhean, a provincial governor and former bodyguard of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot. As smoke came out of the crematory, fireworks lit the sky.

Ieng Sary's tearful widow Ieng Thirith, the regime's former social affairs minister, was among the mourners but left before the actual cremation.

Initially a co-defendant alongside her husband, she was freed in September after being deemed unfit for trial due to dementia.

Many of the mourners wore black ribbons pinned to their chests.

"He is a hero for the people of Malai," said former Khmer Rouge cadre Long Run, 78, describing the regime co-founder as a "patriot" who defended the country from Vietnamese invaders.

"I was shocked when I heard he was dead. We're sorry that we lost him now," he told AFP.

The death of Ieng Sary, one of the regime's few public faces, intensified fears the remaining two elderly co-defendants may also die before verdicts can be reached in their trial, which began in June 2011.

"Justice for the victims is fading little by little," said Bou Meng, 72, one of a handful of people to survive incarceration at the Khmer Rouge's Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.

He reacted angrily to the mourning for Ieng Sary in his powerbase in the remote northwestern border area, where he held out with fellow Khmer Rouge members after the regime fell from power until his defection in 1996.

"Regarding him as a hero is totally wrong," Bou Meng said in Phnom Penh. "He is a killer."

At a funeral ceremony last Friday some mourners wept, according to witnesses, even though Ieng Sary as foreign minister was accused of overseeing purges and the murder of intellectuals.

"Although people from outside this area accused him of genocide, he did good things for the poor people here," said former regime cadre Nhem Preuong, 58.

The one-time radical student was the oldest of three former leaders on trial, along with "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 86, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 81.

All denied charges including war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated two million Cambodians through starvation, overwork or execution in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

So far the UN-backed court -- which has been dogged by allegations of political meddling and frequent funding problems -- has achieved just one conviction, sentencing a former Khmer Rouge prison chief to life in jail.

"The court must speed up the trial," said Bou Meng. "I deserve some kind of justice while I'm still alive."