A grim reminder of Khmer Rouge brutality was seen as an opportunity by Cambodian villagers who stumbled across a mass grave and took gold jewelry from the remains, officials said Wednesday.
The countryside in impoverished Cambodia is littered with mass graves from the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule, when about 1.7 million people died of starvation, disease, overwork and execution due to the policies of the radical communist regime.
In late September, three young girls recently found a grave site while collecting firewood near a remote village in Kampong Speu province, about 110 kilometers (70 miles) west of the capital, Phnom Penh, said area official Voar Kham.
After pulling out of the ground a nylon rope that turned out to be attached to human bones with some shreds of clothing, the girls dug further and picked up a pair of earrings, a ring and a necklace from among the remains.
Word spread and villagers flocked to the site, where they found more jewelry the victims had hidden under their clothes before they were executed by the Khmer Rouge, Voar Kham said.
"The villagers also held a prayer for the remains in gratitude for the gold they have found," he said.
At least US$1,650 (Ђ1,372) worth of gold was recovered before officials stepped in and banned the villagers from disturbing the grave so it could be studied by genocide researchers.
The grave contained the bones of about 60 people, including children, Voar Kham said.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which collects evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities, said such a discovery was not uncommon.
His group has identified 19,042 Khmer Rouge mass graves across Cambodia, and most have already been disturbed over the past 26 years by people digging them up to look for loved ones' remains, document Khmer Rouge killings and search for valuables, he said, AP reported. V.A.