Sar was born in 1925, in a sleepy village on the Stung Sen River; his parents
were religious people, devoted Buddhists who instilled in their children a respect
for human life. The village where they lived were called Prek Sbov, and Saloth
Sar was a pleasant enough looking man, yet unremarkable; a little on the chubby
side, but someone who you felt would be the kind of person that you would really
want to have as a colleague. His penetrating gaze was intense, but when he spoke,
you could tell that he not only cared for you, but also wanted to give support
to your feelings. He was quite obviously a person of intelligence and his passionate
wit permeated the surroundings whenever he was present, but he was never pedantic.
However, his brother, Saloth Nhep, 71, has not seen his sibling in over thirty
years and who still lives in the ancestral settlement; said of his brother, "When
he was young, he was really gentle, as I knew him. His character was kind and
he studied hard. We simply loved each other" ()
man that we have been talking about was Pol Pot (Saloth Sar). Described as a gentle
soul, he was the vicious leader of the Cambodian based Khmer Rouge and he personally
oversaw the cold-blooded killing of approximately 2 million of his people. ()
Individuals were murdered simply for the reason that they could read and write,
in view of the fact that they were teachers or doctors or that they wore glasses
or could speak a foreign language. In this way, Pot insanely believed that equilibrium
could occur in Cambodia, all people would be on a par, that is, with one exception,
Pol Pot. He had been self anointed and would be special. So secretive was this
man that his own family was not aware who he was; nor were they sheltered from
his violence, which he inflicted indiscriminately on all without regard to ancestry.
today is a country of about 10 million people existing in an area approximately
the size of the State of Missouri and having an average annual income of $300.
() In spite of a noble heritage, the country almost came apart at the seams during
the 19th century and willingly became a French protectorate, when France
honored numerous requests for assistance from the countrys officials in
1863. On November 9, 1953, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam received independence from
France in a package deal. Just as Cambodias vast empire was disintegrating
in the middle 1800s, Frances empire came apart in the middle of the 20th
century, and the French could not get out of Indo-China fast enough. The United
States was dim-witted enough to replace them as the areas policeman and
lost its first war in history as a result of their bargain.
A Switzerland They Ain't
publicly neutral, Cambodias eastern provinces were serving as bases for
the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War, while their
ports acted as supply depots. The United States considered these actions antagonistic
to its interests and shortly, the countrys ruler, Prince Sihanouk, withdrew
from both the government and the country, purportedly for medical reasons ().
The country was renamed the Khmer Republic and, as you would have expected, the
Khmer Rouge filled the leadership void. During this time, the country was again
renamed and it now became Kapuchea.
conditions in Cambodia had been historically weird, things soon became absolutely
bizarre, as the country soon was able to boast that it had neither banks nor currency.
In addition, Pol Pot stepped into the breach and with a fervent nationalism and
announced his opposition to the Vietnamese Government and all they stood for.
The New York Times in an interesting quote stated, "Pol Pots army captured
the capital on April 17, 1975, after a devastating five-year civil war. During
that period of time, the United States dropped more bombs on Cambodia in its campaign
against Pol Pot than it had unleashed on Japan during World War II. () How many
of us realized that at that time, the United States was even bombing Cambodia.
ensconced in office, Pot went on a determined campaign to expunge from the population
anyone that could not mesh with the landscape and appear invisible to the outside
world. No one was exactly able to pin point who should live or who should die,
but Pol Pot knew and instructed his followers with rigid regulations that had
to be followed on pain of death. Many believe that Pol Pot was not the worst despot
in the history of the world, and we know Hitler killed more people and certainly
so did Stalin; but consider these men were leaders of countries with modern transportation
and communication systems.
you are interested in truly decimating a population, it is always helpful to have
the countrys logistics operating in your favor. However, Cambodia did not
have logistics, it did not have transportation, it did not have roads, and believe
it or not, the country literally did not even have an operating government. Cambodia
became isolationist to a degree that had never been seen before on the face of
the earth. No one could get either in or out of the country unless they blasted
their way in both directions and no one no matter what their reason was allowed
to visit as well.
was under these unsupervised condition that Pol Pot began his tedious job of liquidating
the population. To his credit, Pot, never wavered from his self-anointed mission
and he accomplished it in spite of often impassable jungles, harrowing weather
conditions and international criticism. However, in spite of these physical problems,
Pot was on a mission and was to be deterred, the man continued on without missing
had to search out his victims in small villages and steaming Asian jungles. In
many instances, he was forced to walk for days in order to find enough victims
to make his trek meaningful, and yet in spite in this he persevered. When the
mid-day heat became oppressive, he became obliged to travel and pillage only at
night, and was forced to carry out his hacking, beating, starving, torturing and
killing mission after the sun had gone down. Moreover, in spite of Pots
strange approach, this was a man that had come from a prosperous and influential
family, and there is not much question that he did what he did out of some wildly
perverted affection for his country and not for any financial gain. Certainly,
someone that was murdering the population for a living had every right to be a
little paranoid and Pot was no exception. With good cause, he was extremely sensitive
regarding who cooked his meals, who walked beside him on the road and who was
safeguarding him while he slept.
you cant blame the man responsible for creating unthinkable human misery
for being nervous when he dined. Thinking that everyone was out to poison him,
was not totally unwarranted and on at least one occasion, our jovial leader had
his cooks killed for concocting an unappetizing concoction that gave him a stomachache.
On another occasion, when the electricity peculiarly went out at an unexpected
time, true to character, he had the maintenance people put to death. Nevertheless,
of course, this does not really make him a bad guy. He was loved and admired by
his associates and almost was thought of as a god-like person that was going to
lead the people to Nirvana.
all of these frustrations involving his everyday life, lights going on and off
and food having to be carefully watched, his wife, not unexpectedly had a nervous
breakdown from which, in spite of the best available Chinese psychiatrists that
could be provided, she never really recovered, and Pot asked her permission to
marry again. She gave her permission and Pot literally took on a second wife.
There is not much question that in the lonely job that Pot had taken on, you would
need a companion to share both the good and the bad. His first wife had remarked
on more than one occasion that she did not realize when she got married that her
husband would be obliged to kill people for a living. In talks with here friends,
she never diminished the stature of Pot, she only would say that he was more married
to killing than he was to her and that was her frustration.
he was a young man, Pol had won a scholarship to go to radio electronics school
in Paris, where he was a serious, but not an extraordinary student. It was while
in Paris that he started running with a group of people who claimed that they
really knew what the world needed to become a better place. He soon became a card-carrying
member of the French Communist Party. On his return to Cambodia, he immersed himself
in the teaching of his beliefs to others at a private school until his was driven
by his conscience to shape a more substantial mark on society. Pol fled into the
jungle to organize the Khmer Rouge. It wasnt much later that he was able
to overthrow the government of Cambodia and evacuate the entire population of
Phnom Penh and other major cities, ostensibly for the peoples safety. Although
countless died in their forced march through the countryside, Pol Pot contended
that he had saved them from an even worse fate. ()
it was today, the Cambodian nation had once been great. Their people had been
mighty and they easily conquered most of Southeast Asia in the 12th
Century. That civilization left behind monoliths to its greatness, such as Angkor
Wat. Thus, the modern Cambodia, having been reduced to a mere sliver of its former
greatness, conveyed upon its residents a feeling of frustration and insecurity
in not having been able to fulfill the destiny of their forefathers. This was
a nation that wanted to take its rightful place among the consequential nations
of the world, but without a Moses to lead them out of the darkness of centuries
of decay, this would be impossible. However, that was soon to change, as there
was already a self proclaimed Moses there but no one had found him.
Pot scripted his public relations well and portrayed himself as a modern Moses
that could recreate the glory of the ancient Angkor civilization; Moreover, he
began his quest by convincing the people that the only road to greatness led from
the countryside and soon was leading his people from the cities. National insecurity,
coupled with his totally misguided objectives, led the country into numerous other
absurdities, the most disastrous being, the fatal assumption that the leadership
of Pol Pot would somehow help the country consummate its return to greatness.
Whatever else he may have been, the simple act of getting people to leave the
security of their homes and march into the countryside must have taken a great
salesman, and apparently, Pol Pot was just that.
this snippet of a country actually became convinced (at the urging of China) that
they could take on and defeat one of the great military powers of the decade,
Vietnam. "Border tensions between Cambodia and Vietnam (aside from traditional
Khmer fear and hatred of the Vietnamese) goes back to the controversy over the
Brevie Line, drawn in 1939 by French colonial administrators and considered by
Vietnam to be the official international boundary between the two countries. For
years after the French departure, various Cambodian governments attempted to negotiate
the return of Cochinchina known in Cambodia as Kampuchea Krom, which they
maintained was a French colony, not a protectorate, that had been promised to
Cambodia by early French colonial authorities. The Khmer rouge also felt an abiding
distrust of the Vietnamese, who, they believed, had never renounced their determination
to incorporate Cambodia into a larger, Hanoi dominated Indochina federation."
On December 25, 1978,
Hanoi launched its offensive with twelve to fourteen division and three Khmer
regiments a total invasion force comprising some 100,000 people. Vietnamese units
struck across the Cambodian frontier in five spearheads that thrust initially
into northeastern Cambodia. One task force drove west from Buon Me Thuot. A second
column attacked west from Pleiku, and followed the circuitous Rout 19 to capture
Stoeng Treng City (the capital of Stroeng Treng Province). In thus concentrating
its initial thrusts in the northeast, Hanoi may have had several objectives. One
of these may have been to capture quickly substantial expanses of the Cambodian
territory that had been an early spawning ground for the Khmer Rouge and its fledgling
RAK in the late 1960s. The remoteness of this would have rendered it difficult
to dislodge Vietnamese forces, no matter what the outcome of the war. An early
occupation also would have preempted Khmer Rouge units, it they were pressed harder
elsewhere, from falling back to this area where they might have enjoyed a measure
of public support. The attacks in the northeast also may have been intended to
confuse the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea about where the full brunt of the
Vietnamese offensive would fall."
After the fall of
the capital, Vietnamese units continued their advance in two columns into western
Cambodia, capturing Batdambang and Siemreab. The columns met at Sisophon and drove
on to the Tai border, where there was heavy fighting in March and in April. In
the meantime, some remaining Khmer Rouge units offered scattered resistance before
they melted away into less accessible areas. There the Khmer Rouge leaders soon
rekindled an insurgency against the new government in power, just as they had
in the late 1960s, and insecurity persisted in the countryside in spite of the
continued Vietnamese presence
. In the 1984 to 1985 dry season, the Vietnamese
military command in Cambodia, frustrated because of depredations by the guerrillas,
undertook a sustained offensive to dislodge them from their sanctuaries in the
refugee camps. These installations were pounded by artillery and were overrun
by Vietnamese tactical units. The operation, which was intended to cripple the
Khmer guerrillas, had the opposite effect, however. It drove them away from the
border, and they undertook prolonged forays deeper into the Cambodian interior."
When the Vietnamese operation had ended, a substantial
"liberated zone" had been created in which forces opposed to the Khmer
Rouge could lodge hit and run attacks without fear of being attacked within their
sanctuary. Effectively, the Vietnamese had shaped a buffer zone between the two
countries while creating a militarily friendly regime in that area that bounded
their country. Eventually the Vietnamese withdrew, always keeping a watchful eye
on the liberated territory.
A Tiger No Less
Pol Pot, ever the super salesman, indoctrinated
his illiterate followers into the concept that one Cambodian soldier was a match
for eight Vietnamese military men. When the smoke had cleared, the Vietnamese
had nearly sent the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia back into the Stone Age. They were
saved from this eventuality with the arrival of the monsoon season, just as the
Vietnamese had started to partition the country. For the next ten years though,
Vietnam, a hated enemy, controlled the cities while, the Khmer Rouge controlled
the countryside, and Thailand played host to the refugees resulting from one of
the greatest military miscalculations of all time.
Pot, the fatherly espouser of French poetry was
now 69 years old and the job of searching out the next killing field was becoming
ever more cumbersome as the effects of incurable cerebral malaria took their toll
on his aging body. The immensity of constructing 20,000 mass graves to house the
dead and dying should be perceived as one of the wonders of the modern world.
Hitler and Stalin gave orders causing the deaths of millions, but never sullied
their hands. More importantly, Hitler and Stalin did not even come close to eliminating
the 20% of their populations that Pol Pot was able to perform.
This was a man that took substantial pride in
his work. He exemplified meritorious leadership by invariably being at the forefront
when acts of unpleasantry were required, as he would say, a "sine qua non."
His was revered by his followers and constantly astounded them with his demonstrations
of ever more sophisticated techniques for torture and killing. Pol Pot did not
shirk his responsibility, for he was a man who knew how to lead by actions, not
words, and he did it precisely and with dignity. For this reason, we are convinced
that he deserves our "Evil Incarnate of the 20th Century"
Award. History will be the eventual determiner as to whether this award was rightfully
bestowed when there was so much legitimate competition. Nevertheless, Pots
work was rigorous, moreover it was hands-on and he was growing drained from the
Pol Pot () instilled pride in his subordinates.
He was constantly extolling them on the virtues of maintaining accurate records
of the events that were taking place. He believed that it was important that posterity
understood his achievements along with his accomplishments as it related to the
betterment of the entire Cambodian society. It is for this reason that he felt
that the killing a few million people was a small price to pay for the total indoctrination
and subjugation of the country and it was equally important to him that the entire
nauseating rape of the Cambodian people be memorialized. By his painstaking record
keeping he has provided future generations with chapter and verse of his unparalleled
dedication to a cause that we believe has been unrivaled in history for the percentage
of the people in one country that have been callously murdered. And all the while,
he believed that this was for the greater good, but then again so did Hitler,
Stalin and Tojo and so to do the leaders of North Korea and the Taliban.
This maiming, torturing and murdering of his people
was carefully chronicled and stands today as a memorial to Pol Pots achievements.
One particular place has been immortalized as Pol Pots favorite for carrying
out executions. Today is known as the "Killing Fields" but then it was
identified as Choeung Ek. It is here that the remains of 9,000 people have been
found buried in 129 mass graves. "A glass stupa built of broken skulls, bones
and tattered clothing commemorates the people unearthed from the graves."
() Even in decline and death, he left a legacy of killing to hold witness to his
achievements. More than 8 million land mines are still buried in various locations
throughout the country and they continue on a daily basis to cause the loss of
life and limb. The 30,000 Cambodians who have already lost limbs to Pol Pots
war against civilians arguably will be joined by countless more that will suffer
the same fate over the decades to come, as the impossible job of removal proceeds
onward at a snails pace. Yes, Pol Pot will be well remembered.
A New Kind of Society
The society fostered by Pot was one in which intellectuals
were considered adversaries and the mere act of memorializing something on a piece
of paper was akin to a death sentence. And yet, the major western powers along
with China acting in concert orchestrated his entire performance due to their
extraordinary anxiety over a potential victory by Russian Style Communism in Vietnam.
However, because what was called the real war was being fought in Vietnam, not
Cambodia, the lives of Cambodians were considered as literally inconsequential
when weighed against a face-saving conclusion to the Vietnam engagement.
While the people were being murdered internally
in Cambodia by their own leadership, the Americans and their allies were bombing
the daylights out of the Vietnamese who were using Cambodia as a sanctuary. It
was not considered significant that during this period that, the bombing of Vietnamese
targets in Cambodia such as parts of the Ho Che Minh Trail that crossed the border
in several sectors was having little effect on the Vietnamese, but was doing substantial
damage to the Cambodian civilians, who in most cases were unaware that an international
war was being waged next door. These folks did not have radios, which were illegal,
televisions that couldnt be seen because there were not stations, newspapers
that either couldnt be delivered or were not produced. The only thing that
the people knew was that they were being killed and maimed from both within and
The cover-up became so intense that during a particular
period of time, when 500,000 Cambodians were being bludgeoned to death by their
own government, for being convicted of crimes like wearing glasses, the ever-righteous
American CIA denied any killings occurred at all. However, as the evidence continued
to mount, the slaughter could no longer hidden from outside eyes and eventually,
even Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under President Carter, came
out of the closet and admitted "I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot
Pot was an abomination. We could never support him, but China could." In
reality, he had not quite come out of the closet far enough; we knew, encouraged
and supported the Chinese operation.
Moreover, by this time, having cleared the major
cities of their populations, Pot was resting easily in his jungle domain, telling
his only interviewer in the last 20 years () that he felt bored and was not positive
how posterity will look at his startling achievements, since he was forced to
use such strong medicine to impose his will upon his own people. In the meantime,
after most of the damage had been done, a number of competing groups came out
of hiding in Cambodia, and rallied the people against this murdering despot. It
seemed to suddenly dawn upon other Cambodian leaders that the country had been
totally despoiled while no one seemed to be looking.
Chronologies of Pots ways were soon published
and other political parties took control of the country by raising the issues
of how much damage he had done. Pot was eventually declared a war criminal and
military search parties were sent out to bring him back for trial. However, Pot
at this time still controlled the countryside and early on, most of those that
went to find him never returned. Because no messages were ever received back from
those death squads that were assigned to bring back Pot alive, a major concern
soon developed that it may well have been that he was superhuman and had powers
that they could not deal with.
However, time was not being kind to Pol Pots
body. At this point, he was no longer a spring chicken and his own physical strength
along with his control over his followers began to rapidly wane. Many of his soldiers
upon hearing that they had become wanted men, slipped into what was now "government
territory" and began to "tell all" in exchange for their lives
to be spared. Moreover, as the situation continued to rapidly deteriorate, Pot
was begun to be seen as a disadvantage to the Khmer Rouge. He had become sickly;
he could not keep up any more in the treks through the jungle and was not helpful
when it came to murdering local villagers. It was said that the best he could
do when the killing began was to find a high point where he could watch his associates
hack their victims to death and act as a cheerleader. Even in the end, he was
quick to chide his associates when their killing strokes had lost their edge.
Thus, he was removed from leadership and Ta Mok
became his successor. Ta Mok had been given the unenviable job of steering the
course for the Khmer Rouge at a time when that job could well have been compared
to captaining the Titanic. The more that the Khmer Rouge were chased by Cambodian
Government bounty hunters, the faster they had to move and the higher the toll
it took on Pots frail body. By this time, the ever-nomadic Khmer Rouge
were only one step ahead of the various factions that were bent on their destruction.
Staying ahead of all of their potential enemies required trudging day and night
through the steaming jungles, not exactly the best therapy for the now 73-year-old
Pol Pot, who could hardly walk. His ex troops were growing tired of carrying him
from place to place. Eventually, Pot died, probably from malaria, as he had lived,
traveling from city to city on his bizarre mission.
A Good Deed
Many have said that Pol Pot never did any good
for anyone and that all he was only capable of spreading misery. As almost a last
bequest, it seems that he has sent us all a message. We are all aware of the fact
that gambling holds a tremendous fascination for the most of the people of Southeast
,Asia and of all the various forms that gambling takes, "the numbers"
is probably most popular of all. The people selected events to gamble on and then
play the numbers that best display the event numerically. Thus, when Pot died,
he was 73 years old and literally, the entire country of Thailand played 73 that
day. As if ordained by a higher authority, number 73 won and most of the bookmakers
in Thailand were wiped out because of the enormous amount of money wagered on
Pots death. The big win may have been a hollow victory, though with the
bookies running for cover, most winners didnt get paid. Pol Pots ultimate
last laugh by a most complex man. ()
No one could immediately replace him and the country
was torn apart by rival political factions vying for control over what had become,
this land of the dead. In reality, none of these competing groups were a much
better than the Khmer Rouge and by this time, Cambodia had become so much of an
international pariah that no one seemed to care much what happened there anyway.
On the other hand, the country was now desperately in need of hard currency. This
in turn ultimately created the environment where Cambodia was once again opened
up to the outside world. Historically, Cambodia was a natural tourist destination
containing ugly reminders of the near past evidenced by millions of human heads
neatly displayed in rows, often next to magnificent edifices created by long ago
great civilizations. Of all of these creations, Angkor Wat is the most remarkable.
Its origins represent the antithesis of everything modern Cambodia stands for.
In its heyday it was literally the center of the Pacific Rim universe and was
highly venerated, not a place shunned by international governments for so long
that no one cares about Cambodia and where the country is or how it is ruled.
This indeed was a great civilization, not a literal non-entity as is Cambodia
Interestingly enough, in spite of world opinion
and strong United Nations support for a trial of the Khmer Rouge leaders, Cambodia
years after the war had ended, continued to put up one obstacle after another
to delay any trial. These roadblocks are technical in nature but require the country
to pass certain forms of enabling legislation. Tied to aid and threatened by a
loss of tourism, these laws continually fail to get through the Cambodia parliament
on one technicality after another. In spite of the massive damage to the country
that the Khmer Rouge had inflicted, it seems that Cambodia is still on a march
toward national unity and doesnt want to endanger their stability any more
than it has been already.
They are more satisfied with having the Khmer
Rouge killers in their midst rather than create a review of what had occurred.
United Nations spokesman, Fred Eckhard frustrated, commented, "It seems like
we are now starting at the bottom of the ladder again
Its a setback,
time-wise." The logic, at least to the Cambodians of not prosecuting the
Khmer Rouge, is inescapably. "Almost every Cambodian lost a relative to the
Khmer Rouge, and many of the killers live freely in villages across the country.
Also, the current government and military include top Khmer Rouge defectors. The
wider the net cast by the prosecution, the greater the threat to the power hierarchy."
A Great Disappearing Act
Another factor that enters into the equation is
the fact that Cambodian textbooks have been rewritten to exclude the Khmer Rouge
period from the countrys history. Amazingly, these years have simply vanished
from history and are not accounted for in the countrys schoolbooks. Demographically,
this is a young nation with 53 percent of the population under 18 years old. These
people remember little or nothing of what transpired during that time. The government
feels it is better to keep in that way. An interesting development should there
ever be a trial would be the unusual affair of Ieng Sary, who many say was the
number third ranking official in the Khmer Rouge and for that reason was sentenced
to death in absencia for his actions.
Leng was an active participant
in the murder of over 2 million people, however it was also Ian that led a mass
defection of Khmer Rouge soldiers in 1996, literally bringing an abrupt conclusion
to the fighting. What was left at that point were only remnants of what had been
an elite fighting force and Pol Pot and his followers from that day forward, became
the pursued, not the pursuers. The Cambodians were overjoyed at the defection
and an overjoyed King Norodom Sihanouk granted him amnesty on the spot. However,
today, Leng leads the good life in downtown Phnom Penh, his daily walks through
the city go almost unnoticed and it is felt that if he were tried, it would unnecessarily
bring back memories that are better off lying buried. Should Leng be tried in
spite of his amnesty, a number of government authorities believe that it would
cause a revolution in Cambodia, others arent so sure:
"Leng Sary is the one theyre
most worried about," said a foreign diplomat. The question is not whether
Leng Sary will be angry, but whether the people loyal to him will feel threatened,
or even double-crossed," the diplomat said. The governments concern
about civil war is inflated, but can the Khmer Rouge blow up a tourist boat in
Siem Reap? Sure. Can they blow up a bus in Phnom Penh? Sure. Its what the
Khmer Rouge does best."
Obviously this is a much more complex problem
than it would have appeared at first glance. However, to many of the people that
were directly effected by the actions of Khmer Rouge, there may be no real choice.
However, the Cambodians are a highly complex people and no matter how much pressure
they receive from the outside, it is they who will make the ultimate decision.
"Leng Sari must be punished,"
said Ourng Kheng, 61, a former government official who lost two uncles, his father,
and his 6-year old daughter to the regime. He survived by hiding his diploma and
eyeglasses in a bamboo shoot and disguising himself as a poor farmer in the south
of the country. "The responsibility is not only on a few Khmer Rouge leaders.
Every Khmer Rouge leader should be held responsible and punished. We must appeal
to every Khmer Rouge leader to stand before the court, before the Cambodian people
and the international community in order to give a lesson to the next generation
of Cambodian leaders," Ourng Kheng said. "
Interestingly enough, Time Magazine, at the time
did an interesting comparison of life in the areas of Cambodia under Khmer Rouge
domination and those that were not. This story is short and to the point but you
can certainly see the point:
"Life is bad here,"
says Pou Venh, father of three, a sad-faced man whose body is emaciated by malaria.
"There is no land for growing rice, no food, mines everywhere. The school
has no furniture." He and his wife try to keep their children from wandering
too far, but they dont even know if the patch of ground around their small
wooden shack is safe. Two months ago a pregnant woman was killed by a mine as
she walked to the outdoor latrine 20 yards behind her hut."
"Out side the areas the
areas that the Khmer Rouge control, villages are acquiring motorcycles, electricity,
pagodas, noodle stands. Nevertheless, the Khmer Rouge does not permit such progress
to reach Kdep Tmar. Malaria is endemic there and the settlements only doctor was
killed by a mine in the forest when he went to gather herbs for his sick son.
Kdep Tmars people are on a dark, forbidding path that stretches back through
years of civil war and bad karma and leads to nowhere but suffering and death.
It is the road Pol Pot chose for Cambodia." ()
Today things are dramatically different in Cambodia
and many of the grim reminders of the recent past have been put on the shelf in
hopes for a national unity and rebuilding. Cambodia is developing a free enterprise
system where people are free to create businesses that can set them apart from
the poverty of their peers. One such example was the land mine museum created
by a former Khmer Rouge Cambodian soldier, 28-year old Aki Ra, located on the
heavily traversed route to Angkor Wat. The museum, which graphically illustrates
the land mines themselves, and how they are buried, and how they are removed,
and what they look like. Probably because of the grisly nature of Cambodia where
one person in 250 has lost limbs, the museum became an instant success and Aki
soon joined the ranks of those that had made it big. However, local authorities
somehow determined that Aki was not a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officer and
therefore could not run his business. Government authorities determined that the
now successful operation should be operated by the government itself." If
we set up a museum, we will make it bigger with all kinds of weapons that remain
from the war, Siem Reap was a battlefield province, and a lot of equipment remains
from the war that we can bring to show", said Morn Samon, provincial military
A Place Apart
Moreover, the country itself still has this strange
affair with its recent history of war, torture and deprivation that had occurred
over the better part of four decades. The land mind museum was a mere toy compared
to the Tuol Sleng Museum, which has had several recreations. It started life innocently
enough as the Tuol Svay Prey High School in downtown Phnom Penh. During the Khmer
Rouge years, it was turned into a political prison where the art of torture reached
it highest peak in world history. Every type of pain that had historically been
known to man was carefully tested in the former high school to determine which
form of torture was most effective in getting prisoners to confess in the shortest
period of time.
It became known as Security Prison 21 and the
Pol Pot were most efficient in using it to its maximum. After the Khmer Rouge
slunk back into the jungle, it was restored as a museum of torture. "More
than 20,000 suspected enemies artists, intellectuals and others
were jailed, interrogated and eventually taken to their executions at the
Choeung Ek extermination camp, 10 miles southwest of town. The only seven who
survived that camp were sculptures spared by the regime in order to create busts
of the illustrious Pol Pot." () Tuol Sleng has often been referred to as
the Cambodian Auschwitz with the standard barbed wire and corrugated iron giving
witness to exactly what was going on within.
Nevertheless, In spite of $3 billion in foreign
aid since 1991, the country is still in a state of chaos. The only appreciable
change in the situation is the fact that the gap between rich and poor has widened
even substantial more. The country continues to be virtually lawless and few are
prosecuted for their crimes (). Cambodia was ranked 174th out of 191
in healthcare by the World Health Organization and because of a lack of doctors
and the money to pay for them even if they are available, many of the 11 million
people living in Cambodia are in critically poor health. The entire country is
infested with malaria and it is the leading cause of death.
"She was a "Remy Martin
girl" a bar hostess paid to tout the popular cognac. He was a married
air force colonel. They met at a restaurant and quickly began a torrid affair.
But when his wife found out, she put and end to the relationship with a form of
brutality common here. The enraged wife, Minh Rinath, hired four accomplices and
went to the hoe of the bar hostess, Son Rasmey, a 22-year old known for
her porcelain skin and luxuriant hair. Wile the accomplices held Son Rasmey down,
Minh Rinath poured two bottles of hydrochloric acid over her face, arms and back.
The attack resulted in horrific disfigurement, burning off most of Son Rasmeys
hair and leaving her face covered with large red scars. Minh Rinath, who confessed
to the crime, was tried last month. But instead of giving her the maximum six-year
sentence for misdemeanor assault and battery or even upgrading the charges
to attempted manslaughter the judge ruled Minh Rinath would not have to
spend a day in jail. Those who sprinkle acid on the victim, they have lost
their husband, the judge, Tith Sothy, said in a recent interview. The
As If war and pestilence was not enough, the worse
floods in decades almost completely overran the country, "wiping out crops,
roads and homes. It was estimated that the flooding in the Mekong Delta was the
worst in 70 years and that 480,000 square miles of land are under water in Cambodia,
Vietnam, Thailand and Laos and the imminent threat of hunger and water-borne illnesses
such as cholera and typhoid
The floods have also scoured acres of deforested
lands that had been cleared by commercial logging and hill tribes who still practice
destructive slash-and-burn agricultural methods. Treeless plains cant hold
the water, causing topsoil to slide into Mekong tributaries and fill its channels
with silt. " Aid for the people was literally non-existent unless you were
one of the members of the ruling party, thus the people had to do the best with
what they had available. There are almost no paved roads and more than half of
the countrys budget comes from foreign aid.
One of the great creators of foreign exchange
in Cambodia is sex and predominantly, men visit the country to do just that. It
seems that almost all of the children in the country have been abandoned or ensconced
in the sex trade. However, while the Cambodian government no longer officially
sanctions sex, the fact that Internet has become a powerful in selling sex in
the country and its strange attraction. "An estimated 1 million children
are believed to enter the multibillion-dollar illegal sex market each year (),
according to statistics from an international gathering of child activists, including
the United Nations, in 1996. Once children are coerced into "the oldest profession,"
they are exploited, abused and put at great risk of contracting HIV." ()
Most hotels in Cambodia have no regulations prohibiting customers from being accompanied
by unrelated children to their rooms. Although the government denies being in
favor of this occupation, it is one of the few avenues available to Cambodia to
bring in hard currency. It also represents a staggering opportunity for government
bureaucrats to shake down sex purveyors and make a few illicit dollars here and
there in one of the worlds most corrupt countries.
As if kids didnt have enough problems with
being sold into "white slavery", that is the least of their troubles.
"Cambodia has one of the highest rates of child abandonment in South-East
Asia, its orphanages are overcrowded and homeless urchins roam the capital, Phnom
Penyh, sniffing glue and begging. Many sleep in the citys dump." ()
Much of the reason for the children being abandoned is the fact that the mothers
themselves have probably been abandoned or beaten up by husbands, boyfriends and
lovers and they live in such abject poverty that there is nothing left to feed
and cloth their children. The only real hope for these children is foreign adoption.
However, the paper work has become oppressive and government officials have found
the adoption industry an interesting method of increasing their net worths.
For fees ranging form $5,000 to $15,000, the bureaucrats can be substantially
speed up the process. Although it may be hard to believe, effectively, the Cambodian
Government has gone into the business of selling its own children to foreigners.
However, this maybe the childrens only chance at survival.
Land belonging to people is summarily appropriated
by the government for little or nothing and resold to developers or illegal loggers.
The multiple party system in Cambodia promotes political bickering to persist
unabated with each side looking for its proper share of both power and graft.
While the Hun Sen party is currently in power, the strong Cambodian Senate is
controlled by Prince Norodom Ranariddh who leads the opposition. While the United
States has held its tongue in condemning the government of Hun Sen, and once affiliated
with the hated Khmer Rouge itself during the Vietnam War, fearing the fermentation
of political instability, things are deteriorating quickly and civil rights in
Cambodia are rapidly becoming at best an international joke. Political instability
or not, sooner or later the world is going to have to address the continuing mess
that is going on in this country and attempt to do something about it. However,
it is hard to get a handle on just what to do in this country of enigmas.
the Khmer Rouge army collapsed in most probably a state of exhaustion from carrying
the sickly Pol Pot around from place to place, there was a great deal of discussion
of what was going to happen to the former Khmer Rouge leaders. As we have discussed
earlier the two countries with the most to fear from an open trial of the Khmer
Rouge leaders used every trick at their disposal to throw the rest of the world
off the track of holding trials and really determining the perpetrators in one
of the greatest mass killings ever known to man. The Cambodian Government had
been well paid to butt out of the
situation and were asked told to use flowery phrases in discussing their position
in the matter instead of giving any facts whatsoever. It is probably unique in
the annals of history where a country in which literally everyone had a close
relative that was murdered by the Khmer Rouge, suddenly found their murderers
to be placid and inoffensive.
less an authority than prime Minister Hun Sen set the stage for the farce to begin
on Christmas Day, 1998 when he talked to the two remaining primary leaders of
the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea and told them that if they would
turn themselves in that they will be welcomed with flowers
not a bullet.
It is also interesting that this day was the twentieth anniversary of the
invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese who were then attempting to topple the
Khmer Rouge Government. That interesting anecdote aside, it has become painfully
apparent that the two ex-Khmer generals will not be forced to appear either in
an international tribunal or a Cambodian court.
A Philosopher of Sorts
Sen set the agenda by saying, If we bring them to trial it will not benefit
the nation, it will only mean a return to civil war, we should dig a hole and
bury the past and look toward the future. Somehow or other, Hun had changed
his tune dramatically in a short period of time. It was not that long before this
stirring speech that he was actively calling for their heads on a chopping block.
However, there was a substantial amount of history on Huns side in the fact
that over the years it was the tradeoff of amnesty for surrender that was the
deciding factor in ending the countrys destructive civil war.
Huns statement may have played well to the people at the time, when Hun
made his deal, there was literally nothing left of the Khmer Rouge and many insiders
murmured that Hun Sen was sitting on a very small voting edge in Cambodia and
was strongly in need of more party organizers. If he could pull this slight of
hand off, he could be a solid favorite in the next election. Having worked closely
with Samphan and Chea over the years when he was also a member of the Khmer Rouge,
he knew that if anything they were excellent organizers and furthermore they were
blindly loyal. Thus, it was Hun Sens twisted idea of trading them their
freedom for their work in Huns behalf and support in the upcoming election.
This also was not the first time that this sort of thing had happened, Huns
strongest support among voters came from a fiercely loyal Khmer Rouge base who
believed that Hun was extremely interested in their plight. But it seems that
this time, Hun Sen had stretched the chord a little to tight and soon had a near
revolution on his hands.
many could believe that the flowers that he was talking about werent loaded
into hundred pound sacks of concrete that would be dropped on their heads, but
no, he clearly had indicated that a rapprochement with the Khmer Rouge was a necessary
part of the healing process. Most people that heard the speech were interested
in hiring the public relations expert that wrote it because if this got pulled
off it would go down as the greatest ploy in public relations history. However,
there were aspects of his critique that made sense if you did not want to go to
the trouble of looking at all of the skulls of those that
had been murdered during this period neatly laying nearly everywhere as far as
you could see. Eventually some one said that the writer was traced to either being
a former writer for a top television comedian located in Pasadena, California
or a top communist official now residing in Beijing who was educated at Stanford.
In either event, the delivery certainly had a California twist to it. From wherever the rapprochement idea came from, the two were
indeed welcomed warmly after a two-hour helicopter ride from Pailin, a provincial
capital run by one of Hun Sens former associates to Tigers Lair,
a fortress that is literally Hun Sens home in a suburb of Phnom Penh.
doesnt take a large leap of faith to figure out what had happened. The man
(Hun Sen) was paid off big time and his alternative that he was told
to consider was probably either the proposition of a nice life in the country
or his swift assassination in the city. However, when you consider where Hun was
coming from you can also figure out the obscure. Now I know you are not going
to believe this but Hun in was once a top official of the Khmer Rouge and one
didnt have to be a brain surgeon to figure out that he could have well become
chopped liver himself if things became overly challenging. We can just picture
Huns American, Chinese and Thai handlers telling him that they had a tad
of information on his previous life that would make interesting reading in the
Cambodian Star Ledger Journal if he didnt play the game according to their
Samphan and Chea were naturally a tad nervous that they were going to be had and
although they were desirous of coming home to Phnom Penh, they wanted to do it
with their heads still attached to their bodies. Interestingly enough, under normal
circumstances the two would have had a lot to worry about anyway but as an additional
problem, it turns out that it was none other than Samphan that had orchestrated
the failed peace treaty of 1991 and when agreement was reached he went to Phnom
Penh for the signing ceremony. The Government that was then in power orchestrated
a mob attack on Samphan and his party and they barely escaped with their lives.
Having had such a close call under the same circumstances, he was not about to
have a similar thing happen to him again. This time around negotiations were extremely
delicate and every base was covered in detail. After substantial negotiations,
a compromise was reached in that the deadly duo would go to Pailin a Cambodian
Province that is overseen Ieng Sary, another former Khmer Rouge official and a
buddy of Han Sen. Since he goes way back with these guys, they trust him and in
that province, he is king. He was just another example of another conversion orchestrated
by Hun Sen and a good one at that. His political alliance with Sen provided the
votes that got him elected and allowed Leng the run of the province without having
to fear retribution. An excellent deal for both men.
everyone was thoroughly satisfied that the mission was planned in good faith,
Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea arrived with their big mouthed aid, Long Norin who
went along with them on their trip to Phnom Penh and it was he that told everyone
the way it was. Implementing a trial would also involve the 200 days and
nights of U.S. bombing in Cambodia with a reference that if the bombing
had not taken place, the Khmer Rouge could never have come to power and that directly
or indirectly the entire problem would be laid at the feet of the Americans. However,
as an afterthought he mentioned that the trial would also involve China.
Carefully pointing out that China had aided and abetted the Khmer Rouges
effort to dislocate Cambodian citizens out of their homes and into the countryside.
These were very chilling thoughts for the Chinese Rulers in Beijing and
Americans at the State Department. As if he had not made his point
strongly enough, Long went on to say in referring to a proposed trial of his bosses,
If they push for this, we will dig up the past and present out own case.
The Khmer Rouge, the Americans and the Chinese will then go to the Hague together
is an even more interesting case. Thailand is also a small country but it is a
country of born politicians. It is in within country that the presidency sells
for the highest price in the world. That should give you some idea of the amount
of graft and corruption present here to make it a worthwhile purchase. It has
been said that the it takes the average president 75% of his term in office just
to pay back with interest the money that was given to him to run for office by
his sponsors. It is only in the last 2% of his term that he is able to make any
money to speak of. However, all Thai presidents leave office as multimillionaires
so it is certainly a good job if you can get it.
the Thais as a people are usually aligned with something or other, they are also
very politically astute and have a strong instinct for survival. However, if you
lived where the Thais live, you wouldnt have been sleeping well during the
Vietnam War years. Every one of their surrounding neighbors seemed to be violating
everyone elses border with impunity and it was an enormous effort to retain
the status quo. How these people were able to do it in the midst of all these
wars going one was somewhat of a miracle but there were compromises that had to
be taken into consideration. A major one included a gentleman by the name of Ta
the Butcher Mok who was one of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge and
a really nasty person through and through. It seems as though Ta had invested
substantial parts of his income in businesses on the Thai border and had as associates
numerous government officials and businessmen. Whenever things got too hot, The
Butcher who always worked close to the Thai border on the Cambodian side,
would tell his troops that he was going to be away for a time while he looked
after his business interests. Those in the know say he was always warmly welcomed
and allowed to stay as long as he desired or at least until the heat was off.
With the meeting in Phnom Penh set up and agreement semi-assured, the Butcher
would be all that was left of the Khmer Rouge and he had already seen his best
days, was infirmed and had literally no army left, so the agenda was extremely
A New Form of Justice
there were many players in this scenario and higher authorities in Cambodia are
always necessary to make a point. Hun was ready when the moment arrive and went
on to say the King Norodom Sihanouk had supported his proposal as it related to
giving amnesty for Noun and Khieul. This was somewhat surprising when you consider
that the always pliable Sihanouk lost at least fourteen close relatives under
the Khmer Rouge regime. However, talk about credibility, this guy Sihanouk had
been on the dole for most of his natural life. Between sucking up to the Chinese,
the Americans, the Vietnamese and various political groups in his own country,
this guy was said to have the heart of a chameleon that had tripped on a can of
suspecting that the King had lost substantial credibility and his point was going
over like a lead balloon then named Prince Norodom Ranariddh as another backer
of the program. It turns out that the apple never falls to far from the tree and
that Norodom was none other than Sihanouks backward son and now president
of the National Assembly and Hun Sens coalition partner in the government.
This Hun believed represented real creditability adding one more reliable person
that was backing his position. This however was the same Prince Norodom that had
sold out to each party that had risen to power in Cambodia just as a matter of
course. This guy was about as consistent as a rattler ready to strike a desert
rabbit. For a price these guys would have voted for the Borgia family as homemakers
of the year.
was a time for big jokes and the biggest joke of the century was the news coming
out of Washington that the State Department was helping the Cambodian Government
bring the Khmer Rouge to justice. Sadly, that was not going to happen and what
was coming out of Washington was just plain public relations although meant for
public consummation was never serious considered. Lee McClenny an official and
part of the con job said that Justice in Cambodia has been long delayed,
but must not now be denied. If you believe that he was serious when he said
that one, I have this bridge that goes from Manhattan to Brooklyn that you can
buy from me for a song and charge whatever tolls you like. Believe me, its
a great deal. The United Nations was more serious about the situation than were
the Americans and they started investigations into how to bring this gang of deadly
Cambodian cowboys to justice but they did it slowly, very slowly as if they were
concerned that if they went to fast, the United States were once again renege
on their dues. Going along slowly suited Hun to a tee. He was right there with:
If the wound no longer hurts, we shouldnt poke a stick in it and make
it bleed. Wow, well said Hun but how much did you make for that quote?
people of Cambodia were restive and couldnt understand making any sort of
deal with the deadly duo. However, just at that point, Khiew Kanharith a government
spokesman rose to help Hun by putting the whole matter into the right perspective.
We should shun talk of trial because this is making the defectors afraid
that they would be arrested. Good try Khiew but your speech writers dont
hold a candle to Huns and you should shut up until you get competent staff
or the money to pay them. These folks have already defected dumb head, what the
Hell do we care whether these murderers are a little worried now that they can
back at the ranch, the Kings certified check from some unnamed party apparently
had bounced and he was now hopping mad. What apparently had occurred was that
once the check had bounced he had taken the first plane to Beijing to find out
what was going on. It appears that in spite of the fact that the Chinese offered
him substantive medical treatment for his various illnesses, they would not make
the check good. This annoyed the king no end. Thus he was forced to utter the
following: Taking into account the very wide and undeniable discontent of
the majority of the Khmer people, I announce to this majority that I respect them
and will not renew my power of amnesty for major Khmer Rouge criminals. From now
on, I leave the responsibility to Hun Sen of handling this unfortunate and dramatic
affair of pardons accorded to the Khmer Rouge. This was the Kings
way of staying alive, let Hun worry about the repercussions of screwing up the
picture was not hard to visualize. The King meets with the top brass in China
and tells them that his serious blood pressure problem is cased by the heat he
is taking from the position that the Chinese are forcing down his throat. He strongly
indicates to them that if the check had cleared he could deal with the situation
but with the total lack of consideration shown by Chinese officials, he is opting
out of the deal. The Chinese are non-plused, pull out now and we will not give
you your blood pressure medicine they retort and with good reason, however,
we will give you an easy out. Publicly abdicate all of you responsibility in the
matter to our man in Cambodia, Hun Sen and we will keep you alive one way or the
other. You are nothing but a figurehead anyway. If you remain a good boy we may
make the check good. The became concerned about what one way or the other
meant but was assuaged enough to go home and make his agreed to announcement.
Healing the Wounds
the meantime, both Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were living it up in the best hotel
in Phnom Penh along with their families and totally unconcerned about what was
going on. They had total confidence in American and Chinese officials not wanting
them to talk about anything that had happened. While they were at it they let
loose an apology or two, not wanting to get creamed by a flying brick as they
walked down the street. However, they made the mistake of telling the Cambodians
to forget the past and start anew. At a press conference in Phnom Penh, they we
asked whether they felt any remorse for what had occurred. Khieu Samphan indicated
that, Yes, sorry, very sorry, We would like to apologize and ask our compatriots
to forget the past so our nation can concentrate on the future. Let bygones be
bygones. Picture these crepes saying in effect, sorry I called you aunts
and uncles, brothers and sisters and parents. Oh and by the way, before I did
them in, we tortured them a tad just to make the affair more entertaining, but
believe me I am really sorry about what I did, it must have been a really bad
hair day. But they werent finished.
then, believe it or not, they would go on to say that we thank the government
of Cambodia for making our stay in this city comfortable for ourselves and our
families. Someone indicated that was present said he went on to say, that we want
to thank each and every one of you that has help out in providing escort service
for our numerous pleasure trips to the various temples and capital buildings along
with the sensational picnic at Angkor Wat. By the way, whoever prepared the lunch
did the seasoning on the steaks just right and it was certainly appreciated that
someone remembered that I liked mine rare on the inside and black on the outside.
Khieu Samphan also was obliged to add that you people have been so darn right
nice to us that we are willing to let Bygones by bygones, I dont
know about you but this certainly proves to me that he is obviously a real class
guy. He only tortured people because that was a necessary part of the business
he was in. We can understand that.
just as it appeared that the Americans, Chinese, Thais and Han Sen were having
their way, many of the people interviewed by local journalists regarding what
was soon being called the Chea Samphan freak show, reminded anyone within
shouting distance about the fact the deadly duo ran the Tuol Sleng torture center.
This was a place where if you were lucky you were killed outright because if you
didnt you were either shocked or choked until you passed out and then awakened
in order to go through the ordeal again. In any event, Chea and Samphan along
with their families had a grand old time in Phnom Penh and were all then taken
back to the countryside to relax by helicopter. Once again something had occurred
that didnt sit well with the people. They became concerned that the two
villains would now slip back into the jungle and disappear before they had been
dealt with or worse than that they could die of old age at the rate things were
coming down. Government officials had a really snappy answer for that one. Khieu
Kanharith speaking for authorities stated that they were free to go because no
warrant existed for their arrest. It was about this time that Amnesty International
contributed its two-cents. its a black day for the Cambodian people
and a black day for international justice was the statement by their spokesman.
we have two low-life's that have just apologized for
murdering 2 Million people in cold blood and yet they are allowed to walk with
the statement, we dont have warrant. He was not through giving
his speech on judicial regulations in Cambodia, Everyone is presumed innocent
until they are proven guilty. We say they are free to go until they are summoned
by a court. If the court does summon them and they dont return, then they
can be in contempt of court. Well, I guess I really wasnt thinking
is out very clearly. How could I be so stupid; obviously they would return, no
one would want to be guilty of contempt of court, especially these law abiding
killers who were going to get their heads chopped off if they were found guilty
of anything and there was no question that if there was ever a trial, they would
be found guilty.
A Disappearing Act
few days later they slipped into the jungle under the cover of darkness and disappeared.
Of course slipping away is not going to accomplish anything, remember that contempt
citation. Once that is issued they will be morally obligated to return. Right!
You know what the government is going to be able to use that contempt citation
for if these guys determine that it is in their best interests to sit this one
out dont you? Their slipping away did cause quite a bit of commotion and
the people wanted to know why they were allowed to leave. Government Officials
had a ready answer for that one as well. They indicated that if the two had been
arrested in Phnom Penh it could have rekindled Cambodias civil war. How
about arresting them somewhere the official was asked? He didnt seem to
have an answer for that one. I guess they have a point there, the only trouble
is no one can see it including puzzled government lower echelon bureaucrats. However,
you cant trust lower echelon people with all of the information that is
this sensitive. We are sure there is something more here than meets the eye.
now they had done it. The Cambodian government was really annoyed that after showing
the two such a great time, they would run off without even saying thank you. However,
before this created a real brouhaha another incident occurred that distracted
everyone from their original target. Cambodian Army regulars were somehow able
to capture Ta the butcher Mok, also known to his friends as Ek Chhoeun
as if on cue. In other words, it appears that the alternative plan of keeping
an eye on the Butcher, letting him alone, but should any heat arise from the other
negotiations, arrest him. This guy was so hated that he would be able to become
the only subject to be talked about in Cambodia for the next several months the
public relations guys claimed. This guy was also known Chhit Choen, and he was
the most trusted and vicious member of Pol Pots roving band of murderers.
Incidentally, Mok in Cambodian means Grandfather Mok Ta a name that would soon
strike terror in the hearts of anyone that ever ran across him.
lovable lad had trained as a Buddhist Monk in his youth who went bad. It can happen
to anyone but you see Ta was so unscrupulous that no one had even a second thought
about not giving him amnesty. And as we have noted it was as though the army was
keeping track of the butcher just in case they ran into this type of situation.
General Tea Banh had explained the government position on Ta Mok earlier when
he stated that: We have nothing to negotiate with him. We are looking for
him in order to arrest him and castrate him as well. Sounds to me as thought
the general was really serious about this situation. At the end of the day, the
Butcher was brought in from the cold and as we speak, he is rotting
in jail but as with all others, has not even been notified of a trial date.
before too much time had passed, on what must have been a really bad hair day,
the Cambodia Government started floating a proposal that they establish a truth
commission regarding the Butcher that would have the right to grant him immunity.
You have to understand that this was same Ta Mok the Butcher that was written
about by Nayan Chanda in his book Brother Enemy that describes the
man in detail. Not only captured rebels and their families, but whole villages
that had sheltered them were killed. They were driven in trucks to killing fields
and hacked to death. They also seemed to have forgotten
that this friendly old man who wouldnt trust his own soldiers and for that
reason named his own family members as lieutenants, was also this was the man
that ran the notorious Tuol Sleng prison where he is alleged to have personally
seen to the torture and deaths of 16,000 people.
was the Butcher that had gone into the Great Lake region of Cambodia
where numerous people of Vietnamese extraction lived and with total impunity murdered
women and children as they were merely farm animals. This tended to annoy the
Vietnamese and they spent years pursuing the Butcher trying to get
even. He was not a nice man. If the truth commission was formed,
a Vietnamese official indicated that the Cambodia would soon become a distant
outpost for training Vietnamese on Stone Age fighting tactics. There were a great
number of subliminal implications in this statement and apparently someone in
the government got the gist of their message in time to put the idea to bed.
government of Cambodia didnt say a lot more about the proposed Truth Commission
and summarized their new position with the fact that maybe the truth commission
wouldnt be such a good idea with this wacko because when you kill everyone,
you dont have too many live witnesses left to testify against you. I always
say, you cant get evidence to convict out of a stone, however that may not
be true anymore with DNA and all. The Butcher really didnt like
anybody, but the Vietnamese were his enemies, the opposition party were his enemies
and the everyone else was his enemy was his enemy as well. Maybe it was the fact
that he had lost a leg to a mine early on that sponsored his hate campaign.
A Man Apart
we were saying, for a time it looked like Tak Mok would never be captured and
the worst of all the culprits in the Great Cambodian Civil War would never be
brought to justice alive. However, when it appeared that the government had overstepped
the bounds of propriety in the matter, Tak was suddenly captured on March 6, 1999.
It turns out that Tak Mok was a bit of a talker and through his lawyer , Benson
Sammy the only person that had access to Tak in prison we are told the world that
his client had personally ordered Pol Pot killed on April 15, 1998. Tak had believed
that Pot had become an endless bother and couldnt keep up on the long marches.
This was a contradiction from previous stories that had been released by sources
primarily emanating from Tak Mok himself, that earlier stories had it that Pol
Pot had died of natural causes at the age of 73 on April 15, 1998. Nobody was
ever the wiser because Pol Pot was cremated and buried without a medical inspection.
However, it had been believed at the time that in spite of Pol Pots obviously
weakened condition, he did not die of the announced natural causes.
probably announced that he had ordered Pot killed because he thought that he would
be able to pick up Brownie Points with the Cambodian people for admitting
that he had disposed of that madman. However, there still remained some question
as to how the greater villain was, The Butcher of Cambodia or the
man that was directly responsible for deaths amounting to somewhere around two-million
innocent people. However, this announcement by Benson Sammy seemed to bring avalanche
of people who already had known
how Pot had died and had never come forth previously.
man that had been on the scene at the time of Pots death, a reporter, Nat
Thayer had an entirely different slant on the story, he indicated that there was
little question that a few days after Thayer had interviewed him, Pot was listening
to the Voice of America on his portable radio and was stunned to learn that Tak
had announced that he was turning him over to the Cambodian Authorities for trial
on charges of genocide. Pot, not wanting to be taken alive
overdosed on a combination of anti-malarial pills and tranquilizers to avoid capture.
Once dead, Tak was really annoyed because now he had no bargaining chips left
and had Pot burned on a stack of old tires and debris while the putrid black smoke
stank up the forest for miles around. This story makes a lot of sense as turning
over Pot would have taken the heat off of Tak while Pol Pot toke the fall or at
least it would have given Tak breathing room until he came up with another ploy.
As the years go by, we believe that this will be the accepted theory of Pots
the Khmer Rouge were all either captured, died or had escaped into other countries
and Cambodia announced they would become a democracy and have free elections.
In the meantime though, it would be unnecessary for the United Nations to hold
a trial to convict the guilty parities as Cambodia would see to it themselves.
Furthermore, they had big news for everyone. They announced that they would be
holding a big trial in the near future of the murderers of several innocent Western
tourist pack packers who were ruthlessly killed by a Khmer Rouge officer by the name
of Nuon Paet. As the world watched the trial to determine whether Cambodia would
be serious in bringing its killers to the bar of justice. However, at the time,
no one thought of this action as just another ploy in the large arsenal of ploys
that were available to the ever alert Hun.
A Court of Another Kind
experience turned out to be a court of the kangaroo variety. The defendants were
not able to ask prosecution witnesses any questions. In part this was due to the
fact that most of the witnesses were not required to be in court because the had
given their testimony four years earlier on video tape. The most intriguing event
of the trial occurred when two of Paets associates who were literally the
only live people testifying against him, not only
told how Paet killed the tourists but how they had assisted in the western tourists
painful demise. While this testimony had been obviously carefully rehearsed, the
court suddenly indicted the two on the spot and sentenced them to life imprisonment
along with Paet. The whole trail then broke apart in mass confusion with nobody
really knowing what the outcome had been until days later. This was not a good
start by Cambodia towards showing that this was a new country attempting to correct
the mass injustices of another age.
the jousting continued on but at a much slower pace. The Cambodian people were
not taking well to the idea of Noun Chea and Khieu Samphan were be given the royal
treatment and wherever they went, someone was either trying to take a poke at
them or screaming obscenities relative to what they had done in the past. This
feeling seemed to be universal and Hun Sen started getting the idea that he had
made a mistake in not having the men tried. In a complete about face he made the
following statement on national television: I am one among many people who
support an investigation into the genocidal regime of Pol Pot, which must be punished.
On a role, Hun Sen let the cat out of the bag to some degree by blaming the United
States, the United Nations along with Cambodian politicians all were deserving
of blame for the incident. But he went into chapter and verse, the United States
funded the Khmer Rouge in a military alliance against the Vietnamese. That certainly
makes sense and we cant find fault in the logic of that. It would just be
question of who was Americas greatest preserved enemy at that time, and
the obvious answer to that was that the Vietnamese were world class villains while
Pol Pot was then an enigma.
Hun Sen was not finished carefully laying out the blame, The United Nations in
their efforts to end the Cambodian Civil War, negotiated with the Khmer Rouge
leaders in an attempt to reach a compromise settlement with them that later blew
up. The United Nations was guilty of negotiating with criminals and at no time
did they call for their scalps. That is a tad more of a stretch; picture this,
the United Nations tells the Khmer Rouge that they are going to conduct peace
talks with all of the dissident factors in the country to attempt a national reconciliation,
however they add that no matter which way the talks go, the Khmer Rouge leaders
will be strung up by their knuckles. Truthfully,
I dont think that this is a good way to get someone to come to the bargaining
Sen went on that Thailand, was guilty of harboring the Khmer Rouge leaders whenever
they needed sanctuary and I dont think that anyone would argue with him
about that including the Thais. The Khmer fighters as you know were among the
fiercest on earth and tended to work the jungle right alongside Thailand. Thailand
at best historically has had porous borders and with or without permission, anyone
could enter or leave the country at will. It wasnt so much that Thailand
was playing footsie with the Khmers, it was the fact that Thailand played footsie
with everyone. Start a revolution in their neighborhood and they will recognize
the rebels on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays and the government on Tuesdays, Thursdays
and Saturdays. They will take Sunday off for rest unless another group emerges
fighting for power and in that case, they somehow fit them in, most probably on
Sunday. Hun Sen ended his dialog on a high note, I am compelled to reveal
the truth for the sake of true morality. What a guy!
Life & Death In Cambodia
reconciliation wasnt going over with a bang and to make things worse, the
rains did not come to Cambodia when they should have. This lasted for a period
of three years. Worse yet, as will happen in cases like these the rains did come
when they shouldnt. Thus, you had intermittent flooding and drought, a great
combination if you are trying to kill of the entire population of an entire nation.
This added hunger to a growing list of internal problems such as poverty, the
total lack of social services including medicine and doctors, a lack of
viable infrastructure along with a heavy dose of cholera that seemed at
near panic proportions. Talk about infrastructure, this country makes "rural
seem" like a big city. The United Nations announced that fully 15 percent
of the population could possibly die if aid were not immediately provided. They
added that a high percentage of children under five years old were malnourished
and stunted. One of the most unpleasant results of the continuing poverty and
malnourishment is that many families have resorted to selling their youngest children
to provide food for those that remain. The going price seems to be around $10
Pot is buried inauspiciously near Anlong Vent, Cambodia, a hamlet not really worth
visiting. Strangely, in spite of the fact
that Anlong is not near anywhere else and requires some hardship in getting there,
many Cambodians continue to visit Pol Pots final resting place, most of
whom indicate they saw good in the man but they dont say why. Most of the
visitors leave an odd collection of gifts on the grave site, but in reality they
are still after the ever elusive winning lottery numbers which many believe that
Pot can deliver to them from the beyond. Many of the local villagers contend that
they have hit it big in the lottery using numbers provided by Pot. As I recall,
it was on the date of Pots death that everyone in Thailand played that number
and put the countrys bookies out of business.
is also where Pot lived at the end, with his wife and fourteen-year-old daughter.
Nothing much is left of his house and the few possessions lying around are of
literally no value from any point of view. Because the vaunted trials have never
taken place, the truth of really happened in Cambodia is still buried in the past.
For this reason, many of the villagers do not really know whether Pol Pot is good
or evil, but no matter which, he is revered for the mystical belief that he can
help them win money from beyond the grave. People in this region also pray to
Pol Pot for other things but the primary wish is for good health. It seems so
strange that anyone would pray to Pot for health when you consider that he was
the provider of death to no less than one in five Cambodians.
to Pot at a certain nearby bush has been said by many of the villagers to have
produced instant cures for some of the strangest maladies known to man and the
glory of this spot has spread wide and far. Although It is somewhat hard to believe,
this is really happening and many in the area are talking of building hotels in
order to handle the expected barrage of tourists that are expect to be coming
looking for good fortune and health at a place that is now known as Pots Pyre.
Between A Rock and A Hard Place
the facts are these, in spite of a report issued in July of 2001 by respected
scholars that seven of the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders were unquestionably guilty
of mass murder, Hun Sen continued to walk the tight rope, alternatingly promising
to try the murderers and alternatively attempting to avoid another civil war.
Among those named by the report is Kaing Duch Khek lev, who directed
the torture center in Phnom Penh. Although untried, he and Ta The Butcher
Mok are the only ones in custody of the former Khmer Rouge leaders. Prison life
is not bad for them as they are waited on hand and foot. For the others, they
continue leading the good life. Nuon Chea, leng Sary, and Khieu Samphan have reached
an accommodation with the Cambodian Government and will probably never be tried
for their crimes.
there arent many left to take to the court of justice and those that are
will either be little fish or those with crimes so heinous they cant be
allowed to go free even by the appeasement oriented Cambodian Government. It is
clear that justice will never be done for the 2-million innocents
that were hacked to death here. The worst of the players in this horrible
play will spend their remaining days in some country jail, thinking about the
glories of days past, comradery and killing. They will have their thoughts to
keep them company.
little more background on the players in this scenario would be helpful and we
quote a piece from the Associated Press which appeared in Infobeat.com on 12/26/98.
Khieu Samphan, the best-known Khmer Rouge intellectual, is considered
a moderate in the group. He was the official Khmer Rouge leader for years, though
real power remained with Po Pot, until he was purged, and Ta Mok.
Born in 1931 the son of a provincial judge Khieu Samphan
won a scholarship to study in Paris, where he became involved in communist politics.
His 1959 doctoral thesis is considered a blueprint for the Khmer Rouge economic
policy collectivization of agriculture and economic self-reliance.
Elected as a left-wing member of the National Assembly in 1962 and in 1966,
he disappeared into the jungles in 1967 to escape a purge against the left and
joined the Khmer Rouge.
Despite little military experience, Khieu Samphan was the official commander
in chief of the Khmer Rouge forces that seized Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. He
was named head of state the following year. Khieu Samphan stayed with Pol Pot
and other hard-liners after a Vietnamese invasion toppled the Khmer Rouge regime
in 1979. Some observers believe that he was
held against his will by Ta Mok. (When
he surrendered his pitch-white hair had been dyed black to conceal his identity.)
Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge deputy secretary-general, was known as
Brother Number Two, after Pol Pot. He remains a sinister, shadowy figure, even
in a movement renowned for paranoia and secrecy.
In May 1975, a month after the Khmer Rouge seized power, Nuon Chea laid
out the groups policy hallmarks destroying every vestige of a market
economy and killing suspected traitors.
Nuon Chea was born in 1927 into a prosperous family and went on to study
law at Thailands prestigious Thammasat University. Unlike some of his comrades,
Nuon Chea was not introduced to Communism in France, but as a member of the Communist
Party of Thailand. (When he came in from the cold, he could not even walk without
the assistance of a cane. Obviously life had been tough for a 72-year old man
that trying to flee through the dense jungle on a cane)
Ta Mok, toppled Pol Pot as leader of the last Khmer Rouge faction
in 1997, when Pol Pot tried to stop peace talks with the government. Ta Mok became
known as The Butcher for his bloody purges of perceived traitors during
Khmer Rouge rule. He also led massacres of ethnic Vietnamese civilians in the
A Buddhist monk in his youth, Ta Mok joined the resistance against the
French rule of Cambodia in the 1940s and was an early adherent of the communist
party developed by Pol Pot.
Ta Mok lost a leg to a land mine in the early
1980s while directing guerrilla warfare against Vietnamese forces that were propping
up the Cambodian government. Ta Moks bloodthirsty reputation could make
a defection deal with him politically impossible.
die hard here in Cambodia because everyone in this country had a relative that
was needlessly murdered by the Communists. After the insurrection had ended, Memorials
were erected to them throughout the country and while they are most interesting
for tourists to see and realize what this country has been through, it is an almost
unnecessary reminder to the people of this country regarding just how bad things
actually became under the thuggish government of Pol Pot.
of the more extreme exhibits is located in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and
it is a map of the country made from the skull of 300 victims who perished during
that regime. Not illogically, the museum is in close proximity to the Phnom Penh
high school that housed the notorious torture center known as S-21. It was here
that local inhabitants were subjected to unbelievable inhumanities that might
conceivably have been as bad as or worse than offered up during World War II by
the Nazis and the ghoulish cohorts.
that had witnessed the sight of these skulls making up a map of the country were
often left with an oppressive sense of foreboding for months on end. Miraculously
for all concerned, the skulls gradually started to decay giving off a putrid odor
and in spite of the museums personnels best efforts to try to muffle the
smell it began to permeate the air around it. Officials in the Cambodian Government
determined that it was time to take down the exhibit which covered an area of
approximately 130 square yards and at long last grant the dead a proper burial.
The skulls will most probably be cremated in Buddhist tradition according to the
wishes of King Norodom Sihanouk along with the families of the victims.
Cambodia will lose a stunning example of mans inhumanity to man, it is now
a time for reunification and with so many former members of the Khmer Rouge becoming
card carrying members of the new government it seems time to by many to attempt
to wipe out the bitter memories of the past here. Although the crimes against
humanity are too gruesome to ever be completely forgotten it is time to begin
Pol Pot was eventually outed, he and his brutes had literally destroyed everything
existing of value in the country other than a few national relics. Manufacturing
was non-existent as the cities had been emptied and agricultural production had
been thrown back in to the Stone Age. Therefore, we are forced to ask the question, what does a country
do that has totally been inundated by revolution and internal strife for decades?
A country where mine fields dot the countryside and grim reminders of mans
inhumanity to man are ubiquitous. What
do the new leaders do to get their country up and running once again? What kind
of industrial machine can they put together to earn hard currency?
we have pointed out earlier, the countrys prize is Angkor Wat the mystical
complex of buildings that are one of the magnificent achievements ever created
by the minds of humanity. The amazing complex at Angkor Wat was for some unknown
reason spared by Pol Pot. However, the site where it is located is way off the
beaten path and because of environmental concerns certain restrictions have been
placed on excessive tourism because of the fragility of the structures and the
after the terrorists had attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September
11, 2001, people all over the world, feeling a concern for their safety dramatically
cut down on non-critical travel. Vacations to far off territories became few and
far between and visitors to Cambodia not only tapered off but the countrys
only real link with the outside world, Royal Air Cambodge, the countrys
national airline collapsed because of a combination of mismanagement and a lack
of business. Having a national airline is a tremendous asset and tourist can be
won over simply by offering them reduced prices on air travel by subsidizing it
and making the money back by their spending within the country.
some degree you can even control what the tourists will do and where they will
go, giving economic planners the ability of spreading the wealth around the entire
country depending on necessity and seasonality. Neighboring Vietnam is an excellent
example of what can occur when an airline works in harmony with governmental tourist
policy and although that country has not been as successful as it would have liked
in terms of industrialization, the tourism business has become an enormous success.
The countries are not even in the same league
when compared from the viewpoint of someone wanting to visit international
historic shrines. Cambodia was blessed with it all, Vietnam has their tarnished
war-memorials, and that is about it.
the Khmer Rouge having laid down their arms and are now part of history, tourists
that were either unwilling to enter country during the war or could not get the
necessary visas because of government restrictions, for the last three years have
felt free to travel throughout Cambodia at will without fear of being injured
from a snipers rifle bullet or being thrown in prison. For the most part,
early on in this experiment, Cambodia will be counting heavily on travelers from
neighboring countries taking up the slack created by international travelers hobbled
by September 11. Because of this fact, the government is going to be hosting numerous
tourist conventions where they will be showing off their substantial wares. The
Association of Southeast Asian Nations is due to hold their next convention the
in Cambodia and substantial progress has been made in negotiations with neighboring
China, where little travel takes place unless substantive arrangements have been
worked out in advance with plodding government bureaucrats.
addition, the Association of Southeastern Nations (Asean) is working to create
a two-legged tourist magnet. The first is to make inter-Asean travel much easier
to accomplish than it is today with improvements in the process of issuing visas
becoming more automatic and ending the bureaucratic intransigence which hurts all nations. Interestingly
enough much progress has already been made in this direction. Moreover, once unified
the Asean group will begin a joint travel advertising program where tours can
be booked within and through multiple countries seamlessly and simultaneously.
Government officials in Cambodia are hopping that this will take some of the steam
out the problem created by the national airline going down the drain. However,
the country is still extremely poor and has little excess money to invest in this
program in spite of what the country has to offer. Only $1 million is going to
put into the promotional side of travel and this will hardly make a discernable
It Is Hard To Get There
while there are numerous national airlines with landing rights in Cambodia, traffic
is for the most part insubstantial and no planes from either Japan or Korea have
this country on their itinerary. Fundamentally, the country with all of the magnificence
of Angkor Wat put aside is basically dull and I mean dull. For a period there
was some nightlife in the larger cities, which consisted primarily of nightclubs
and discos along with local bars, but because of some nasty internally generated
violence, the government not wanting international visitors injured determined
to cut down on what little nightlife there was by introducing strong measures.
The measures were carefully geared to keeping people off the streets at night
and today it would almost appear as they had rolled up.
this left many no place to go but the nefarious gambling casinos that have been
built on the borders with neighboring countries to lure their residents into Cambodia.
For the most part, these casinos are not part of any plans for international tourists
because they are both difficult to get to and most are rather seedy to say the
least. Las Vegas it aint. However, the casinos are an attraction for people living in
neighboring countries and as such visits to from places are part of the total
number visitors to Cambodia. Of the total visitors to this country last year,
almost one-third of them came either by land or by boat illustrating the percentage
of people arriving for short trips from neighboring countries.
literally turned out the lights on any hope of serious fun to be had in this country
but in spite of that, visitors to Angkor Wat are increasing every year. People
can literally go directly to the site by and are even entering the facility by
land through Thailand. Moreover, once finished with a tour of the temples, most
guests are now heading over to the second largest city in the country, Siem Reap
where things are a tad more modern and a bit looser than in the capital of Phnom
Penh. In tallying up the tourism math, last year, which in a general sense was
skewed by outside events, tourism was up 30 percent and that was without a lot
of advertising or spending.
Cambodia will get its act together relative to how best to attract tourists. One
of the countrys drawbacks is certainly the fact that there is little business
to be done here other than the making of garments. Thus, executives have abandoned
the place and most travelers are pure tourists. While this is a tough spot to
be in, the scenery is so magnificent that as time goes on and people come to the
realization that Cambodia is now relatively safe, it will become a must place
of the itinerary of international travelers, indeed a place not to be missed.
Even their grisly museums that act as a grim reminder of a war that was one of
the most deadly in mans history are places that people are interested in
seeing when the come here. All Cambodia needs now is a couple of bucks to advertise their wares and
they should be well on their way.
Cambodia's Loch Ness Monster
When you can't attract tourists any other way, it has been
a common ruse for countries to invent monsters that no one ever seems to witness
in order to attract attention. The Loch Ness Monster has been a great example
of this kind of tourist bureau created mass hysteria. Ireland has taken in an
enormous amount of money from tourists and scientists that are only after a free
vacation in a land that they need an excuse to visit. These folks always indicate
that they came close to finding the monster but just missed so that they can return
in a few years to try again. In North America we have "Big Foot", a
special combination of man and beast that has actually been photographed. With
this type of evidence there is little question "Big Foot" must truly
be real. People from the United States have actually seen him with their own eyes.
However, the problem with this scenario is that no one has ever seen Mrs. "Big
Foot" or Mrs. "Loch Ness Monster" for that matter or even discussed
the matter in mixed company. With no evidence of Mrs. "Big Foot" or
Mrs. "Loch Ness Monster" we would wonder why none of these scientist
have ever thought to mention that most forms of life that we are familiar with,
bred by getting next to a member of the opposite sex. If this form of life did
not exist, one could probably make an a priori case that Mr. Big Foot and
Mr. Loch Ness Monster did not exist either in spite of reams of evidence to the
contrary. Of course all of the normal people that see strange animals primarliy
fall into the category of drunks, perverts or psychopaths. Why did not one of
these illusional people think of the fact that even monsters need a family to
go home to at night.
Cambodia as we have discussed at length has had a severe tourism
problem primarily because of the usually things that scare tourists away. Famine,
pestilence, war and genocide are just a few of things that have abounded in this
country causing a noticeable drop in travel to the area. Tourist dollars have
been really hard to come by here and something had to be done to create an interest
in this quaint little place that has made murder and obseccion. Many of the older
folks that survived the plagues that have unleashed themselves on this peaceful
population, have heard the fabled stories of the Loch Ness Monster and other fairy
tales that have constantly brought a flow of loony tourists into areas that are
usually inhospitable.. After all, a monster could not continue to be undiscovered
in a hospitable area; in that case, everyone besides the nut jobs would be able
to see him and then he would be carted off and taken to the nearest zoo to be
gazed to death. A proper monster would have to live in an area that is very difficult
for common people to egress because that is what monsters are really all about.
How many people that you know of have seen a troll or a gargoyle? Cambodia had
all the necessary accoutrements for monster magic to happen. They had a number
of "hidden mountain ranges" where evil things were rumored for centuries
to have occured. Moreover, the people would never go to these places because it
was rumored that once into the foothills you would be swallowed up alive, never
to be seen again. Holy socks!
However, someone had to have seen the monster and returned
alive or no one could verify that it really was there to begin with. The bureaucrats
had a sit-down and soon there were confirmed reports coming from a few credible
villagers who had been in the mountains that they had indeed seen a strange
beast that had massive horns, was a ravenous predator feeding on poisonous snakes,
crocodiles and even people. Better yet, numerous examples of this viscous beast's
head had been carefully preserved in some of the villages and was available for
those that wanted to gawk or those that were disbelievers. However, no one
could really find the animal called a "khting vor" or by its scientific
name, Pseudonovibos spiralis because the country was constantly under siege
with fighting going on hither and yon. Even if the khting vor was imaginary, Pol
Pot's gang of murders was not and those folks also hung out in the hidden mountains.
However, there had to be something more concrete, someone of substance had to
substantiate this wild story. After all, with numerous samples of this beast's
head all over the country, some of them could have been Mrs. khting vor and therefore,
it was not at all illogical. that a live copy of this monster did indeed exist.
Cambodians are truly resourceful people. They would have to be to survive what
they had been through over the recent years and they mentioned the "khting
vor" to "Hunter Weiler, a wildlife researcher who was co-writer of the
official entry on the khting vor for the "Red List of Threatened Animals,"
published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature." Weiler
stated without one bit of equivocation that, "This is the only documented
mammal that we know exists but that has never been seen by outsiders." said
the New York Times in a story titled, Cambodia's Mystery, the Horns That Never
Were by Seth Mydans.
statement certainly created a lot of international interest and people started
booking trips to Cambodia's hidden mountain ranges by the hundreds. Because of
the fact that planes did not land anywhere near this rocky terrain and there were
no roads leading there, many of the searchers were obligated to hire guides, mules,
and supplies far in advance of their arrival date. Moreover, they were required
to pay hard cash on the barrel-head when booking their reservations because their
chances of returning from these mountains were considered slim at best.
Men were advised to leave their women at home, not because of the torturous terrain
but due to the fact that the dangers of being torn apart by this beast were just
too high. However, this caused many of the wanabee explorers to be amazed by the
fact that any guides would volunteer to be any part of their expedition considering
the enormous risks supposedly involved in the adventure. Moreover, television
stations and newspapers started a search for parties willing to take their cameras
and reporters along into the wild with them. However, it was widely rumored that
international insurance companies would not issue policies on these people no
matter what the cost.
when everything was going magnificently for the Cambodian tourist office, the
journal of the French Academy of Sciences wrote a scholarly article stating that:
"Pseudonovibos spiralis is simply a forgery, their regularly ringed horns
having been carved from domesticated cattle sheaths and then artificially deformed."
The tourism minister yelled foul and said that this only reinforced the truth.
He indicated that there were several answers to this scholarly error. First of
all, there could never be as many exact copies of these animals horns if they
were not real because the villagers were just not capable of even making the image
of one. Thus, he said, the truth indeed lies elsewhere; the khting vor did in
fact roam the territory in great numbers at one time, but because of the animals
proclivity towards eating poisonous snakes for diner, it developed tolerance for
snake bites. Soon the natives were killing khting vors every time they were bitten
by anything, grinding up their horns and having them for supper along with their
highly fermented grape juice. While the horns did were rumoured not to have tasted
that great, the fermented grape juice was said by many to be sensational. This
did not help the survival of the herd as Cambodia was indeed a land with many
snakes and much need for the odious mixuture of horns and fermented grapes. .The
elders indicated that they had infallible evidence that several of the beasts
had not as yet been killed for their horned potions and were still very much alive.
enlightened report for a time seemed save the day for the tourist bureau but things
suddenly took a nasty turn for the worst. It seems that some American big
game hunters had bagged one of these monsters back in 1929 and donated the animal's
horns to the prestigious University of Kansas Natural History Museum. It would
not be a stretch to take a DNA sample of horns and determine once and for all
it really was someone said. Sadly for Cambodia, the tests were made and
it turned out to be what most people had believed all along, it was a domestic
cow. The Cambodians, being a hardy sort, now were forced to find another
monster but this time they vowed that it would be much more mysterious and never
be available to have modern scientists get close enough to get a sample of its
chromosomes. Something like Nessy, who never roams too close to shore and most
of the time spends his or her days shrouded in fog or deep in a swamp and not
detectable under the waters of Loch Ness. Better yet, possibly something on the
order of Pol Pot returning from the grave. That would make a super "Big Foot"
or better yet, a beast to be really reckoned with especially here in Cambodia.
for office here is more of a labor of love than much of anything else. Even in
Democratic countries, it is not necessarily a treat to know that everything that
you have ever done in your life is going to hung on a clothes line for public
inspection. In order to get through that you have to be either very hard headed
or extremely brain dead. Moreover, raising money is another universal issue that
is critical in getting elected. If the folks dont know who you are and what
you stand for, you probably have about as much chance of getting elected as fish
does living out of water. There is staff to hire, position papers to write, advertising
to create and debates to enter into and thats even before the hat goes into
the ring. Each step of the way is littered with mine fields and one wrong word
can lead to political oblivion. The cost of running and winning an office in this
part of the world on the basis of cost per vote in real terms is the most expensive
in the world. In Cambodia it is not only expensive but it is life threatening
the price of poker raises geometrically when you are running for office against
an entrenched political regime, especially one that in the last election won 1,597
of the 1,621 communes (voting districts) in the country. Those that are already
in office are able to do many of the standard inequitable things that bureaucrats
do all over the world as part of their job description. In Cambodia however, they
do them all such as force people to vote for them in exchange for jobs, charge
job holders a private tax that goes into election coffers, announce large public
works projects to benefit the population just before elections and last but not
least stuff the ballots boxes by having your own people in charge of the election
process. The actual ballot counting is usually skewed as well with unfavorable
votes destroyed for numerous unfathomable reasons or losing the ballots in areas
where the incumbents are not expect to do well. When asked about the irregularities
and ethically vote counting, Hun Sen, the nations reigning freely elected despot
stated, What are international standards. I dont understand. International
standards exist only in sports. Moreover, we must admit that the man was
indeed right when he said that.
Not Good For Your Health
an opposition party candidate in this country can be extremely life-threatening
for your health and on occasion, it can be fatal. Politics in this country is
hardly an occupation for the faint of heart. The following story is an interesting
example of one of the potential pitfalls that await those that try to take on
Uch Horn was afraid. Ever
since the 53-year old schoolteacher had agreed to run as an opposition candidate
in Cambodias local elections there were growing whispers in his village
that he practiced sorcery a provocative rumor among poorly educated, superstitious
Cambodians. Alarmed, Uch Horn traveled to Phnom Penh to notify human rights groups
that he was in danger.
His fears turned out to be prescient.
On June 30, he was shot and killed by a gunman who supposedly blamed the popular
teachers sorcery for local troubles, including three recent
deaths. Though the government says the killing was unrelated to Uch Horns
activities on behalf of the opposition Sam Raine party, human rights groups believe
the damaging rumors that he used black magic were fuelled by local leaders who
were eager to discredit or even eliminate a popular rival.
The killing and the shooting
of two candidates from the royalist Funcinpec coalition since then have highlighted
the rough road that lies ahead as Cambodia prepares for next years local
elections. When voters are to choose their own local leaders for the first time
since the Khmer Rouges brutal rule in the 1970s.
properly bizarre fashion, in order to put this uncanny election oriented occurrence
to bed without further investigation, local officials quickly announced that they
were totally in agreement with the fact that Uch Horn was indeed a soccer and
that there was nothing more to investigate. This unilateral government action
strongly resembled the type of occurrence that was common under the Khmer Rouge,
when whoever argued with the type of decisions usually disappeared in the middle
of the night never to be seen again. While this incident occurred several years
after the last Khmer Rouge had been removed from office, no one wanted to make
a federal case out if and in many peoples minds it may well have been that
Uch Horn dealt in evil incantations and potions. Life in Cambodia has become much
easier when no one is rocking the boat.
there is a King in Cambodia who sits on a thrown here on occasion when he isnt
out to lunch which is often. What about him? Obviously in this country, the job
of being king is only a formality and he has become one of the many lackeys kept
around for Hun Sens convenience. To make matters worse Hun makes no bones
about it. I have no right to be the king, but I have the right to create
a king. His humbleness went on to say, Dont forget, that if
Hun Sen casts a veto, a new king cannot be created. Moreover, Hun Sen has been going
at a monster pace in creating new schools around the country, each and everyone
that he has built though, naturally bears his name. There are now over 1700 schools
in Cambodia each thoughtfully named Hun Sen. Picture a group of Cambodians getting
together in later life and talking about which school they graduated from.
I Wanna Be In Pictures
Hun Sen has thought to make his mark on everything that he touches. If that was
not a grandiose enough accomplishment, he has begun writing songs to memorialize
his supernatural achievements that have amazingly occurred in just about every
conceivable field. Moreover, because of the fact that this timid man is not yet
totally convinced that the people have yet come to realize what he has done in
their behalf he is now making a documentary movie with mandatory viewing which
will extol his numerous accomplishments. When looking for an apt title to the
movie he has been sort of stuck on the title Super-hero-leader of Cambodia.
if glorifying his own persona is not enough to get all the people to love him
there are other options available to Hun Sen in his leadership position. After
all, those that are already in office have the police, the army and local militias
available to make life totally miserable for opposition candidates and they do
that with a certain aplomb; however Hun has taken their use to another level.
These loyalists can be used for two purposes, the first is to get out the vote
and the second is that while they are doing the first they have ways of convincing
votes which candidate will insure their own physical safety. This can be a very
strong argument. The view of this sort of Chicago Style politics that has been
strongly stressed by the United States, which is well aware that the coming elections
will be rigged is that any election is better than none at all.
is here is almost a life or death struggle. The commune chief who rule the local
areas have at the very least, substantially abused their authority that they have
over their people substantially. Should they be outed in the coming election,
the newly elected leadership could well want to get even with them for their previous
transgression and those in office know it. The present commune chiefs
worry about what happens to them if they lose the elections Said Yi Kosalyathanak,
a monitor with human rights group Adhoe. They think, If I lose, who
will protect me And that kind of thinking will lead them to defend their
addition, no one in this in this country can say that Hun Sen was not on the spot
when it came to keeping the peace. You see, the man has a large family and a number
of his nephews were what you would kindly call bullies and trouble makers. These
relatives of Hun Sen had a bad habit of hanging out at the karaoke parlors in
Phnom Penh looking for trouble. Unpleasantly, on numerous occasions, trouble came
calling and the pugnacious nephews were available for a fight having the necessary
accoutrements close at hand. Brass knuckles, guns, and knives were often used
by these rowdy nephews in making their point by beating up the usually mild mannered
clientele of these establishments. After a while this type of attitude started
to give the city a bad name and the residents grew restless and filed a complaint
with Hun Sen himself.
Hun Sen is not a man that likes to hear about family problems and most of the
evil doers were on his wifes (Bun Rany) side of the family anyway. He resolved
the dispute in short order by closing down literally all of the karaoke parlors,
which were an important cog in the citys tax and tourist process. This type
of impulsive behavior has kept a solid lid on complaints here. Bun Rany for her
part is no shrinking violet, it seems that Hun Sens mistress, the beautiful
and talented Piseth Pilika was dispatched by hired killers in the middle of the
night and many people openly discussed the fact that they were either family members
of hers or hired by family members. While this may have stopped Hun Sun from his
gallivanting ways, it has certainly not restrained the man from shaking down merchants,
criminals and every other industry where cash money can possibly change hands.
In this land of poverty, Hun Sen it has been said has accumulated a substantial
part of the countrys GDP for his personal use.
Would You Believe Free; Elections?
you getting the idea that former Khmer Rouge member and quick study Hun Sen, rules
with an iron hand? You bet, and not a great number of people want to run or vote
against him in the countrys elections. Many of the folks in this country
say that before the 48-year old leader has packed it in he will make Pol Pot look
like a Monarch Butterfly. Moreover, it wouldnt much matter if they voted
against him; that wouldnt help in the least because that is not the way
things work in these really free elections. In this part of the world,
the foregoing is merely childs play. Here a large portion of the people
are not even allowed to vote because many of them turn out not to have their voting
credentials not in order in spite of the fact that they have voted
from the same district and at the same polling place for decades. In Cambodia,
there really is only one party and that is the Cambodian Peoples Party,
which stays in office by sending waves of fear throughout the oppositions
territory. This is accomplished by threats of violence followed by actual physical
attacks if the threats do not do the job. Among other coercions that seem to get
the job done is the threat of the voter who makes a mistake in polling place,
losing his land and his job, something that can easily mean death by starvation.
Becoming elected here represents substantial income from the graft that
must be paid to get anything accomplished in government and therefore the price
of being elected to office runs extremely high.
army is also out in force on Election Day to make sure that nothing goes wrong
or right depending on your point of view. However, this statement is subject to
substantial interpretation. What it really means is that nothing should go wrong
for the Cambodian Peoples Party. Those that might not vote the party line
are not allowed in the polling place, transportation is purposely made difficult
in rural areas where voting places are some distance from home. Busses are burned,
roads are closed and buildings where the vote is taking place are often closed
for environmental reasons on that day only to reopen immediately after the polls
January last year, 17 commune council candidates or party activists all
but two from the opposition Sam Rainey party and royalist Funcinpec party
had been killed in what the United Nations called suspect circumstances.
Eleven of the deaths had taken place since the beginning of November, suggesting
acceleration as the election draws nearer. When asked to account for the
higher percentage of murders that seem to occur here as elections approached,
government responded that many Cambodians were afflicted with a bad gene that
acted up in that season and that it has been going on for generations. This was
the first time anyone in these parts had ever heard that story but because it
came officially out of Hun Sens office, no one has questioned it.
a report earlier this month, the United Nations human rights office in Cambodia
also expressed concern about other widespread abuses, such as the destruction
of party signboards and the collection of citizens voter registration cards
by local officials for examinations. Voters have also been forced
to attend ceremonies to swear allegiance to the ruling party.
tactics are particularly effective in what has become a totally intimidated population.
They have gone through so much in recent years and have learned to understand
that their authorities have the upper hand. They are well aware that one of their
neighbors rants and raves a little too much about the problems with the political
system here, more often than not they often vanish never to return again. This
is the way things were under Pol Pot and the people would rather do as they are
told and live with a modicum of peace rather than making any waves whatsoever.
Cambodias election process is rated only slightly better than those in Iraq,
which doesnt have any at all.
A Get Together
of Old Neighbors
Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese got along about as well as cats and dogs. Eventually
Vietnam had enough of Pol Pot and his gang of cut throats and invaded the country,
which was becoming a military risk to their operations and sent the Pot and his
merry men scampering for the hills. The Vietnamese kept a close eye on Cambodia
making sure that they were not going to get out of control again and there had
been numerous incursions by their troops whenever it seemed that the Cambodians
were getting a tad too obstreperous.
has rejoined global society and has made ignoble efforts to get their own government
and economy back onto the right track. From the point of view of tourism, Vietnam
has passed the test with flying colors and is attracting visitors from all over
the world with their attractions, many of which are war oriented. However, these
monuments have been touched up and glorified and this has become big business.
The Vietnamese Government has also attempted to industrialize through a capitalistic
type of hierarchy. There were a sprinkling of early successes and then some failures
but all in all the experiment is still one in which the jury is out. However as
far as re-unifying their own people, they cannot report substantive results.
they overran Saigon after America had beaten a hasty path out of town, the South Vietnamese were given
the simple choice of playing the game the Vietcongs way or be executed.
Moreover, most chose to live but even those that made that choice of melding into
society were sent to re-indoctrination centers where they were taught how to behave,
North Vietnamese style. While the training was rather severe, there was not a
viable alternative for the people and they played the game. These folks have managed
to become part of the still rather controlled Vietnamese society.
one group was not re-indoctrinated or even given a chance to do it. It seems that the Vietnamese in
spite of their recent capitalistic leanings are still fundamentally Communists.
Their society is based on there being no state religion and those that determine
they still want to practice one are ostracized and worse. The Vietnamese Governmental
setup runs more along Stalinist-Russian lines than the more lenient Chinese principals.
of those that have caused the Governments unhappiness are Christians of
various Protestant sects. These people come mainly from the coffee growing areas
around what are known as the Vietnamese Central Highlands. At best things have
not gone too well in this neighborhood because the price of coffee beans, the
only real crop that is grown here has seen the bottom drop out and what was already
a poor society has literally been broke ever since. The people in this area have
never melted into Vietnamese society as a whole and Governmental Authorities have
indicated that their religious beliefs and anti-social behavior is nothing more
than an attempt at separatist political activities. Furthermore, they contend
that this stirring of the pot has been fermented by Vietnamese who are living
in the United States and would like to see their country as it was, not as it
things really became tough and fighting started between soldiers and the village
males, bands of these people overmatched people scattered across the accessible
border with Cambodia and set up housekeeping there. While the Cambodian government
did not exactly welcome them with open arms, they were well treated and given
a new start in life. However, most of the women are still at home waiting for
their men to come back. Religion has literally been banished from the society
and eventually the uprising caused global newspaper reporters to want to visit
the scene and see what had occurred for themselves. After much pushing and prodding,
they were reluctantly allowed into the area closely followed by Vietnamese soldiers
and political chiefs. One of the women said she and other villagers, who
are mostly Protestants, were under constant surveillance from authorities. They
watch us, all the time, she said. At this, Nguyen Thang Xuang, chief of
the Chu Se towns peoples committee, suddenly interrupted and ordered the
journalists to leave, a command backed up by dozens of security men. Its
finished, its finished, Mr. Xuange said. Please get back into
the journalist left, they were tailed by throngs of emotional local villagers,
who seemed desperate to communicate to outsiders but who spoke Vietnamese and
could do little more than sob and clasp the departing visitors hands. Journalists
were also denied access to another village where, according to Human Rights Watch,
security forces opened fire on people who protested attempts to break up a prayer
meeting last March. U Ran Phe, the district chief, said village authorities were
too busy directing social, economic development, to receive visitors.
the Vietnamese indicate that the men that left were lured into Cambodia by guile.
However, Vietnamese officials say those now in Cambodia are illegal
migrants who were lured across the border by promises of an easy life, with
daily stipends and new houses. However, the men are afraid to come
back because they believed that they would be executed for what they have done.
Their women are quickly becoming vegetables under the constant scrutiny of Vietnam
officials and the Cambodians are growing concerned that if there is no progress
toward an agreed settlement with the Vietnamese, they will be seeing Vietnam soldiers
back in their country once again. The last thing these folks want is Vietnamese
soldiers back in their country, the last time they were there they took over everything
and didnt want to leave.
last element has sent shock waves of fear through the men that have supposedly
illegally migrated fearing that if faced down by the Vietnamese, the Cambodians
will turn into butter. Their worst fears realized, they are now getting messages
from government officials in Cambodia that it would be better if they went home
to their families. Believing that they would be killed upon return, this is not
a very sensible alternative for the men. Thus, Cambodia is faced with Vietnam
on one hand, an old enemy that is not excited about its linen being public hung
out to dry and Christians who came because they were offered sanctuary and are
not going to be forced to return to a certain slaughter. Cambodia who seems always
to be biting one bullet after another is once again caught between a rock and
deal had been struck sometime ago to get the country moving again and rebel Khmer
Rouge leaders who were still living on the outskirts of society were brought home
by the present government and given a form of amnesty. They gave them forgiveness
and announced a program aimed at national healing. However, this did not fit neatly
into the plans of the United Nations and other countries that felt that severe
punishments should be handed out to these barbarians. After a bunch of halfhearted
negotiating sessions the Cambodian leaders agreed that, maybe they would get around
to something of that kind in due course, but they certainly didnt seem to
be in any hurry to accomplish it. Moreover, it was becoming ever harder to tell
the difference between politicians that had been Khmer Rouge and those that were
not. There had been a blending process that made it difficult to tell who was
who without a scorecard.
the United Nations seemed to see these negotiations as hopeless and after five
years of fruitless efforts, totally frustrated, withdrew entirely from the talks. On February 9, 2002 none other then
Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general announced, that because of the
fact that the Cambodian Government had created a law to punish the wrong doers
but had not implemented the new regulation, it was literally impossible to bring
the case to a conclusion. This seemed to satisfy Cambodian strongman and leader,
Hun Sen just fine who as if to throw the whole matter back into the United Nations
face, published a statement in all of the nations newspapers to showing
chapter and verse of how hard he
had tried and the in spite of that, the UN had given up the ghost. However, everyone
in the country was aware of Sens close ties to all of the Khmer Rouge and
his reluctance to punish anyone because length trials could even implicate him.
this time, Ke Pauk a former Khmer rouge leader died and he was buried under extraordinary
substantial pomp and circumstance by a legion of his ex-followers. He had died
at sixty-eight and as in the case of almost all of the other Khmer Rouge leaders,
it was from natural causes. However, one of the differences between Ke Paul and
others was the fact that he had personally been directly involved in the deaths
of over 10,000 people many of whom were endlessly tortured before their loose
grip on life was forcibly released. Pauk was indeed, one of the worst of a very
bad bred of Pol Pots brutal cadre. His death also left those remaining alive
that could ever be brought trial at less than a half-dozen mass murderers.
Don't Wait For The Hanging
are all not quite old and the rigors of war have had its effects upon them. Many
are no longer fit for trial and the remainder will probably die of natural causes
before one will ever be convened. This war was one that took a terrible toll on
all of the participants. This was hardly a walk in the park, everyone on the Pol
Pot side had to fight the purported enemy along with the elements. They were outdoors
most of the time traversing rivers without bridges, land without roads and mountains
without a hearth. Nature does not continue to treat this kind of activity with
Many of his followers however,
thought of Ke Pauk as national hero while the survivors of those killed by him
viewed the man as a monster. This caused an enormous stirring of the pot
once again and the fact that the UN had been willing to walk away from the situation
was now no longer enough for many. The United States that had been up to their
behinds in alligators during the Vietnam War supplied substantial aid to the Khmer
Rouge during that time as did China. Neither China or the U.S. was originally
interested in having their dirty linen from that conflict come to life but that
changed. For some reason, the United States in spite of their support for Pol
Pot and his renegades was now thirsting for their blood. Maybe we had forgotten
that the United States was deeply involved in the problem but American
Ambassador Kent Weideman said: These are the last batch of monsters that
havent faced justice, after killing millions of people. This was one of
the most dramatic instances of atrocities in the 20th century. It would
be a tragedy to let those that remain go free.
One would have thought that
this may have been on our minds when we were giving these banal folks aid. However,
the United States has always been strong on democratic principals, but sadly for
the most part, only in retrospect. This is beginning to look like a game of musical
chairs with the United Nations now on the other side of the table on this issue.
They indicate that the best they can get is a hopelessly flawed trial that could
even lead to a whitewash. The United States counters this thinking by saying that
a flawed trial is better than no trial at all. Hun Sen will oblige either side,
drop it or let us proceed with a flawed trial that will wind up proving nothing
seems to be his adage.
Amnesty International put the
matter in proper perspective, Participating in trial procedures which are
not fair would serve only to undermine United Nations human rights standards,
and sell the Cambodian people short. Human Rights Watch was also correct in their
interpretation of the matter: Its possible that theres a waiting
game going on in the hope that a number of the key suspects and witnesses will
pass on and make the whole issue of a tribunal irrelevant. However, this
did not have to be vocalized, it is indeed a fact and the horse is already out
of the barn. Moreover, when all is said and done whoever is left is going to blame
Pol Pot anyway. As the great Cambodian Ke Pauk put it, It was Pol Pot who
gave the orders. I think that we heard the same expressions of innocence
at Nuremberg. At least this bloody affair has been put to bed, one has to learn
when the game has ended it is best to take your ball and go home; otherwise someone
else is going to steal the ball.
Angkor was the capital of Khmer Empire for over
600 years beginning in the 9th century and during this time was known
as the city of Angkor Thom. () It was then home to over one million residents.
The word Angkor has many possible meanings but it is most commonly believed to
originate from the Sanskrit word, nagara, meaning city (). Wat is derived
from the same root and means temple. Thus, carrying the two definitions to their
illogical conclusions, Angkor Wat is the name of the largest temple or building
in the area and it certainly is one of the largest and most elaborate structures
ever built by man. Moreover, there seems to be little question that it is the
worlds largest religious structure and weighs in at about the same size
as the "Imperial Palace in Beijing. It is said to have been constructed as
a funereal monument dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu (Buddhism and Hinduism coexisted
up to the 14th century)". ()
Its construction required no less than 400 years
and in an article by the UNESCO Courier, Luco, Fabienne, May 2000, when referring
to Angkor Wat: he said: "It is a phantasmagoric world. When European travelers
discovered Angkor in the 19th century (), they were astounded by the
grandeur and the mystery of the temples, covered with sculptures of "airy
figures stifled and crushed by the forest," in the words of the French writer
Guy de Pourtales. "I have before me," he wrote, "not only an empty
capital but 700 years of unrecorded history. And deaths most dreaded prodigy:
silence." The silence that enveloped Angkor when it was abandoned in the
15th century seemed immutable, but appearance can be deceptive. A fabulous
archaeological site, this great stone skeleton is also a living place, at once
the realm of divinities and a city of mortals, where everyday business is steeped
in customs from a prestigious past.
This monument to mankinds achievement was
a work in progress for over five centuries, from the 9th through the
14th centuries. It rose in Cambodias Kulen hills near Tonie Sap,
the Great Lake. At that time, it was the glorious capital of Cambodia, which then
included major parts of modern Thailand, Laos and Viet Nam. Most of the religious
monuments in this region were Hindu and Buddhist, a testament to the countrys
close relationship with India. The massive stone temples that were constructed
were not the only monuments to Cambodian ingenuity; engineers also built a complex
hydraulic system comprising huge reservoirs (barays) linked to immense networks
of spider-like canals, dikes and moats. By the 12th century, Angkor
was one of the most populated and largest cities in the world and from an agricultural
point of view, was entirely self-supporting.
A Chinese diplomatic mission was sent to Angkor
in 1296 and Chou Ta-Kuans description of life in the city was revealing,
as it is the only surviving contemporary account. It went something like this,
"Every night in a golden tower, the king had to mate with a nine-headed serpent
that took on the appearance of a woman. In the palace, bare-breasted women as
white as jade wore their hair in a bun. At the other end of the spectrum, the
commoners were "rude, black and very ugly." The nobles were carried
about in gold palanquins and dressed in precious fabrics whose patterns were indications
of rank. They lived in houses with lead and tile roofs, while those of the common
people were covered only with thatch. Farmers tilled their fields on the banks
of the Great Lake. In the dry season, when the waters receded from the flooded
forest around the lake, the farmers came down from the hills and grew rice."
Stuck In Time
Siamese troops overran the country in 1432 and
naturally plundered Angkor. The rulers of the country hurriedly left and before
long, the forest overran most of the ruins. The jungle continued to reclaim much
of the land over the next 450 years, but because so much of the Angkor Wats
construction was either rock or metallic, much has survived natures onslaught
and once again, Angkor Wat shines in its magnificence. Interestingly enough, the
pictures engraved into the stones of Angkor Wat show a civilization that seems
to have stood still in time. The inhabitants of Cambodia still use the agriculture
instruments depicted in murals on the citys walls, and they use them in
much the same way that they were utilized 1,000 years ago.
At the lake, the local fisherman employs literally
the same net to catch his fish and the same style to pitch it into the water,
and he uses the same wheelbarrow to bring home his catch. It is cooked under the
identical type of fire and served using identical types of eating utensils. In
spite of this, the locals that surround the ancient city believe that any structure
as magnificent as this could only have been derived directly from the gods and
they cannot be convinced that man had anything to do with its construction. Moreover,
local residents are so overwhelmed by the structures that they will not even enter
them and believe that only nobles, civil servants and merchants should venture
inside this holy site. As for the temples, they believe them to be even more sacrosanct,
reserved for only priests and dignitaries.
Although there are remains of the complex hydraulic
irrigation system that once controlled water in the area, todays farmer
only has sufficient rainwater for one crop of rice a year. Botanists have indicated
that the ancient Khmer rice farmer, utilizing his highly complex irrigation and
water management systems was amazingly able to harvest three crops of rice a year.
However, because the locals are unaware of the methods used by their ancestors,
the land produces little and what is grown on the areas farms is nowhere
near enough to allow even a small family to survive. Pursuits such as fishing,
handicraft and temple restoration projects supplement the meager harvests that
persist, year after year.
The Encyclopedia Britannica depicts the largest
and most awesome structure in Angkor Wat as follows:
"The enormous structure
of the Wat is some 1,700 yards long by 1,500 yards wide. Surrounded by a vast
external clister, it is approached from the west by a magnificent road, which
is built on a causeway and lined with colossal balustrades carved in the likeness
of the cosmic serpent, associated with the sources of life-giving water. The Wat
rises in three concentric enclosures. The western gate complex itself is nearly
as large as the complex of central shrines, and both are subdivided into smaller,
beautifully decorated courts. Only five of the original nine towers still stand
at the summit; although they follow the basic pattern of the Khmer roof tower
composed of diminishing imitative stories; the contour of the towers is not rectilinear
but curved, so as to suggest that the stories grow one out of another like a sprouting
shoot. All the courtyards, with their molded plinths, staircases, porticoes and
eaves moldings, are perfectly articulated enclosed spaces. The symbolic meaning
of the Wat is clear. Its central shrine indicates the hub of the universe, while
its surroundingthe gate complex, the cloister, the city of Angkor itself,
and finally, the whole visible worldrepresent the successive outer envelopes
of cosmic reality. That it is oriented toward the westand not to the east,
as was customaryindicates that its builder, Suryavarman II, intended it
as his own mortuary shrine; for according to Indo-Chinese mythology, the west
is the direction in which the dead depart.
Angkor Wat, which is dedicated to the God Vishnu,
covers an area of 500 acres (nearly a square mile) and the height of the building
climbs to 700 feet at it highest point (nearly 70 stories). The wall carvings
surrounding the structure stand seven feet high, and they go on for nearly almost
one-half a mile. Viewing just this one building could take a lifetime of study,
and even then, there would undoubtedly be many items of interest that would be
missed. These are not the only carvings that appear on the property. Literally,
every available centimeter of space is taken up with myriads of engravings that,
for the most part depict assorted characters from Hindu legends.
The Khmer kings believed that gods were highly
favorable to mountainous regions and in order to appease them, the builders of
Angkor constructed artificial mountains with images of both themselves and of
their gods at the apex. The buildings in the region were all built on artificially
raised mounds to give the gods more comfort. It is assumed that the large amount
of earth needed to accomplish this feat was the remainder of what was created
when the artificial lakes were cut out of the landscape. In addition, a stone-lined
moat was built around the area to insuring the fact that evil spirits would be
kept away from what was considered holy territory. The moat was four miles in
length and about 200 yards wide. To give you some idea of the immensity of the
project, the quantity of stone contained just in the moat was as much material
as would have been found in even the largest of Egyptian pyramids.
Vietnam Strikes Again
Angkor was over-run in 1177 by warriors from the
Kingdom of Champa (Vietnam) who after invading the area, sacked the city and carted
off massive amounts of valuable artifacts before they were eventually beaten back.
The city needed a lot of restoration when it was ultimately liberated and a massive
renewal program was embarked upon. Moreover, this time, for additional protection
the city was enclosed in a wall 26 feet high and 39,000 feet in circumference
to insure its sanctity. At the center, the rebuilder, Jayavarman VII, placed what
was called the Bayon, which was a symbol of his own religious belief. This structure
was a pyramid surrounded by 216 massive stone faces with 54 towers. It totally
dominated the landscape and was approximately 15 stories tall. Jayavarman himself
is recreated in one of the stone faces and looks smilingly out over the surrounding
landscape seemingly at peace with the magnificence of what he had created.
Ta Prohn is one of the numerous temples that appear
on the property. What is most interesting about Ta Prohn is the fact that sprongs
(Banyon-like trees) started growing around and on top of the structure. Thus,
the trees roots surround the temple in an almost eerie fashion and when entering
the building the feeling is that you are going into a dank forest of the night,
not a temple. It is one of the most amazingly unique combinations of nature and
man working in harmony to create a masterpiece. Ta Prohn is a massive structure
having almost 600 rooms along with approximately 40 towers. Within this one structure,
you can easily take a day to wind your way through narrow corridors in literally
a maze of broken stone Buddha's and vegetation. "If you stand with your back
to one of the walls, and clap your hand against your chest, the entire enclosure
vibrates with a smooth, long bass note, like the sound of a kettle drum. "This
is to purify your heart, for paying respects to the queen, Hed said
These types of awesome monuments to mans
architectural talents engulfed the entire length and breadth of the city. W. H.
Ponder wrote a description of the city at sunrise in 1936 which is a classic:
"And then, as the light strengthens to the southeast, the tremendous towers
of Angkor Wat push their black mass above the gray-green monotony of foliage,
and there comes a reflected gleam from a corner of the moat not yet overgrown
with weeds. But of the huge city whose walls are almost at our feet, and all of
the other great piles scattered far and near over the immense plain that surrounds
you, not a vestige is seen. There must surely be enchantment in a forest that
knows how to keep such enormous secrets from the all-seeing eye of the sun?"
A Country of Engineers
Because of the fact that the Khmers were so talented
in the nuances of irrigation, they were able to create some unusual effects in
the city of Angkor. They constructed a series of artificial lakes called Barays,
which purposefully had a perfectly rectangular composition. In the center of each
lake stood a temple that could only be visited by boat. The acreage that was irrigated
was massive, consisting of almost ten square miles and this land was well put
to use by farmers who planted food for the community within its boundaries. The
property is divided into two distinct parts with one of them having a collection
of huge stone elephants abutting the perimeters. These elephants were each apparently
carved from a single stone, and the logistics involved in both carving and moving
these massive structures to their ultimate resting place are most difficult to
The Wats overall site is prodigious, with
no less than a thousand temples strategically located throughout a property, which
encompasses over 120 square miles. Interestingly enough, it may well have been
the enormity of the construction projects that ultimately did in the Khmer Empire.
The Khmers neighbors were both envious and powerful, and because of the
dedication of the Angkor people to creating massive edifices and irrigation projects,
the preponderance of the people were always fully occupied in improving, expanding
and repairing those undertakings. Thus, the Khmer did not have a substantive standing
army. When incursions took place from neighboring Vietnam, Thailand and Burma,
countries who were all consistently vying for regional superiority, holding them
off continually sapped substantial resources from the economy and this just may
ultimately have contributed to these early Cambodians ultimate demise.
Eventually, Angkor became totally indefensible
as consistent raids on the city primarily by the Thais required ever-shorter logistical
supply lines and less complex water delivery systems. The perimeters were shortened
in 1431 when the Khmers retreated to Phnom Penh and although Angkor Wat was maintained
from the early 15th century until the late 19th century
by Theravada Buddhist monks, and was the focus of annual pilgrimages, it ceased
to function as the capital or even a city of consequence. On the other hand, eventually
most of the other parts of Angkor succumbed to the jungle that had surrounded
them in spite of the Herculean efforts of the Monks to beat it back. It is import
to remember that the Wat was located in a tropical area that regularly was attacked
by monsoons and floods. The jungle in this type of climatic conditions was able
to reclaim land at an amazing pace.
The Ugly French
The French attempted to at least maintain Angkor
Wat during the later part of the 19th and most of the 20th
century until they were summarily thrown out of the country by the locals as hated
colonialists. From the time that the French pulled up stakes in 1954 until 1991,
when the civil war began to terrorize the country, large quantities of valuable
art objects were regularly stolen from the Angkor site and were transshipped through
Thailand to art buyers all over the world. However, in spite of wars, the jungle
and thievery, the basic site had remained in reasonably good condition, although
its size made any reconstruction efforts a massive undertaking. Since the country
has returned to a slightly more stable condition, many countries have joined Cambodia
in its attempt to restore the Angkor site, including Japan, Poland, German and
France. The newest problem that the country of Cambodia must now deal with is
how to handle the massive rush of tourists that are going want to visit one of
the greatest wonders of the world. A wonder that had been unavailable to prying
eyes for at least 500 years.
The world has recently fallen in love with Angkor
Wat and almost 500,000 visitors viewed the temple last year with the Cambodian
Government expecting to see this number rise to around a million in 2003. The
only road leading directly to Angkor Wat is dirt and on rainy days turns quickly
to mud. There is a seemingly endless procession of vehicles of every type and
description, streaming toward the city. Because of its location near the equator
and due to the fact that torrential rains fall during certain seasons, the tourists
usually visit during wintertime in the northern climes. Everyone has his own explanation
relative to the reason history and story behind this site. One of the tourist
guides had a unique explanation regarding what Angkor Wat is really about.
"He explained that Angkor
was designed as a model of the universe. With the central tower, 216 feet above
the ground, representing the highest peak of Mount Meru, the mountain that is
the center of the universe in Hindu mythology. The surrounding towers represent
other peaks; the walls are the mountains at the edge of the universe and the massive
moat represents the oceans. " ()
As the tourist dollars start to pour in, the restoration
process is being rushed along at a frenzied pace including the Grand Hotel dAngkor,
a magnificent facility built during colonial times as a jumping off place to Angkor
Wat only for the very rich. The hotel has been faithfully restored and has once
again become a Mecca for wealthy visitors, but it is generally booked months in
advance. It has become a "must do" for the well-traveled affluent. In
spite of the stunning beauty of this entire landscape, it has its dark side as
well. In the nearby village, everything was for sale including recently removed
object de art from Angkor Wat, there was a price on almost everything
including a storefront that was selling teenage girls right in its window. The
girls had their prices pinned to their cocktail dresses so that there could be
no misunderstanding regarding their purpose. Everywhere, there were beggars, many
of whom had been victims of land mines and were missing various appendages. There
seemed to be nothing but misery so close to this amazing edifice that it really
seemed to be a crime, but so is everything in this desperate country that seems
to have been lost in both space and time.