CHOEUNG EK, Cambodia – About 50 Cambodians brought food offerings and lit incense before 8,000 skulls Wednesday at one of Cambodia's most notorious killing fields to honor those who died there under the genocidal Khmer Rouge (search) regime.
The ceremony at the mass graves of Choeung Ek, which included blessings by Buddhist monks, was held before Cambodia marks the 30th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge capture of Phnom Penh (search) on Sunday.
An estimated 1.7 million people died from execution, starvation, ill health and overwork during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 brutal rule. None of the regime's top leaders has been brought to trial, although the government has signed a deal with the United Nations (search) to create a U.N.-backed tribunal.
Locals from villages near Choeung Ek brought bananas, rice, noodles and soup to offer to Buddhist monks. Some bowed before the skulls, stacked one on top of another inside a glass encasement in a tower.
Long Tang, a 67-year-old woman who lost a son, some siblings and cousins under the Khmer Rouge, lives near the site and came to pay tribute to victims. She said her heart still aches for them.
The Choeung Ek site, marked by craters and signs noting the number or types of victims, made headlines in Cambodia in recent weeks when the Phnom Penh city government signed a deal with a Japanese company, giving it the right to manage the site for 30 years. This drew opposition from one of the country's leading genocide researchers.
The site is located about seven miles outside Phnom Penh.
It often figures in the debate about the practice of maintaining skulls and bones of Khmer Rouge victims as monuments, since many Cambodians believe the souls of the dead linger on earth because their remains have not received a traditional Buddhist cremation.