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Remembering Genocide in Pol Pot’s Home Town

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Download Cambodia has some of South East Asia’s most beautiful tourist sites – but also some of its darkest.

A short hour’s drive from the world-famous temple complex Angkor Wat, is Anlong Veng – the last stronghold of the murderous Khmer Rouge.

When they were in power they killed between one and two million civilians.

And they held out here until just a decade ago, when they finally surrendered to the government.

Now Cambodia’s government and the local residents are turning this place into a tourist attraction.

Correspondent Borin Noun is our guide today.

More than 100 children of former Khmer Rouge fighters welcome a group of tourists to their home town.

But it’s not a typical welcome. They’re handing over official reports on massacres that took place here under Khmer Rouge rule – a 15-page book titled “Justice, Peace and National Reconciliation”.

Anlong Veng is the home town of former Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and his military commander Ta Mok.

Our guides take us inside Ta Mok’s lakeside home, and then to the graves of both leaders. Finally we visit the jail they built out of steel.

This is Hean Sokuntheary’s first visit here – she lives in the capital Phnom Penh, four hundred kilometres away.

“Both men were butchers of the Khmer Rouge regime and they were cruel. You see the jail here? It was established by Ta Mok and his former Khmer Rouge comrades. It’s made as if it’s for animals, not humans. I feel sorry for the previous generation who had to live under the Khmer Rouge regime.”

Ta Mok was nicknamed “The Butcher” – he allegedly orchestrated brutal massacres that killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians.

He briefly led the Khmer Rouge after Pol Pot died in 1998 – he was the only rebel leader who refused to surrender or strike a deal with the government. But he was arrested a year later and died in prison in 2006, still awaiting trial.

Both Pol Pot and Ta Mok were cremated here in Anlong Veng.

A local history teacher joins the group of visitors - he doesn’t want to be named for his security, because not all the locals reject the Khmer Rouge.

“This was the last battle ground for the Khmer Rouge, when they were led by Ta Mok. They established their forces here and fought hard until they lost and were integrated in the 1990s. This is where Ta Mok and Pol Pot lived and it’s now considered an historical site.”

The brutality of the Khmer Rouge rule means Cambodia has many tourist sites that mark this dark history – some call it ‘genocide tourism’.

Phnom Penh has the Tuol Sleng prison – at least fifteen thousand people were sent here, and tortured, starved, or shot to death.

A little outside the capital is Choeung Ek, or “The Killing Fields” where the regime executed about 17,000 people.

Another local tourist Hoeun Srey Leak says she learned a lot about the past from her visit.

“Iron rooms were made for prisoners who did not follow orders from the Khmer Rouge. This is where they punished and tortured their comrades. You see the lake there? It’s a man-made lake, built under Ta Mok’s orders. They fed prisoners to crocodiles that they kept in the lake.”

51-year old Keo Oun helps maintain Ta Mok’s home – and she’s the former leader’s relative.

She was a teenager when the Khmer Rouge ruled.

She doesn’t want to recall that history  – her main concern now is to develop her hometown.

“Former Khmer Rouge fighters have integrated with society in the late 1990s. And now we have many local and foreign visitors. We have many new schools for children and new streets are being built. We just want peace and our children to be happy.”

At the moment, around ten tourists a day come here, both Cambodian and international.

59-year-old Ngam Mak is a former Khmer Rouge fighter who still lives in Anlong Veng.

“I think, what the Khmer Rouge did was wrong to our nation and to our people. Our former leaders must be held to account for their role in the past.”  

But not all residents feel exactly the same.

Many Khmer Rouge fighters were family here – and some may still support their former leaders, or feel sympathy for them. But the rest of the country needs justice.

A UN-backed international war crimes tribunal was set up in 2003 to bring senior leaders of the regime to trial.

Last February, they sentenced the Khmer Rouge chief jailer to life imprisonment for his role in running the Tuol Sleng prison.

Turning Anlong Veng into a tourist site is part of this process.

Two years ago, the government established a plan to restore fourteen former Khmer Rouge sites, with signs and information for tourists.

The Documentation Center of Cambodia is an NGO supporting this plan to preserve Anlong Veng – they’re working together with several government ministries.

Chief project officer Dy Kham Boly says this kind of tourism is part of the reconciliation process.

“Anlong Veng was the last battle ground for the Khmer Rouge led by Ta Mok, which integrated in 1998. The integration brought peace and reconciliation. We want this community to learn about the reconciliation process as well.”


Last Updated ( Saturday, 04 August 2012 12:52 )  

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