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A purely analytical perception...


History

Saloth 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" () 

This 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. 

Cambodia 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 country’s officials in 1863. On November 9, 1953, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam received independence from France in a package deal. Just as Cambodia’s vast empire was disintegrating in the middle 1800s, France’s 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 area’s policeman and lost its first war in history as a result of their bargain.

 A Switzerland They Ain't

Although publicly neutral, Cambodia’s 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 country’s 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.  

While 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 Pot’s 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.  

Once 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.  

When you are interested in truly decimating a population, it is always helpful to have the country’s 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.  

It 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 a beat.  

Pol 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 Pot’s 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.  

A Paranoid Sort

And you can’t 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.  

With 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.  

When 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 wasn’t 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 people’s safety. Although countless died in their forced march through the countryside, Pol Pot contended that he had saved them from an even worse fate. ()  

Whatever 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. 

Pol 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.  

Secondarily, 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, Pot’s work was rigorous, moreover it was hands-on and he was growing drained from the toil.

 

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 Pot’s achievements. One particular place has been immortalized as Pol Pot’s 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 Pot’s 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 snail’s 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 couldn’t be seen because there were not stations, newspapers that either couldn’t 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 without.

 

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…Pol 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 Pot’s 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 Pot’s 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 Pot’s 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 Pot’s death. The big win may have been a hollow victory, though with the bookies running for cover, most winners didn’t get paid. Pol Pot’s 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 today.

 

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 doesn’t 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… It’s 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 country’s history. Amazingly, these years have simply vanished from history and are not accounted for in the country’s 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 aren’t so sure:

 

"Leng Sary is the one they’re 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 government’s 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. It’s 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 don’t 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 Tmar’s 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 commander." ()

 

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 Rasmey’s 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 deserve leniency.’"

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 can’t 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 country’s 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 world’s most corrupt countries.

 

As if kids didn’t 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 city’s 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 worth’s. 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 children’s 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.

 

Pol Pot and his Merry Men 

When 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.  

No 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

Hun 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 Hun’s side in the fact that over the years it was the tradeoff of amnesty for surrender that was the deciding factor in ending the country’s destructive civil war. 

While Hun’s 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 Sen’s twisted idea of trading them their freedom for their work in Hun’s behalf and support in the upcoming election. This also was not the first time that this sort of thing had happened, Hun’s 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.

 Now many could believe that the flowers that he was talking about weren’t 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 Sen’s former associates to “Tiger’s Lair”, a fortress that is literally Hun Sen’s home in a suburb of Phnom Penh.

 It doesn’t 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 didn’t 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 Hun’s 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 didn’t play the game according to their rules.  

Moreover, 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.   

When 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 Rouge’s 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 for trial.” 

Thailand 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.  

Although 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 wouldn’t have been sleeping well during the Vietnam War years. Every one of their surrounding neighbors seemed to be violating everyone else’s 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 significant.

 A New Form of Justice

But 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 paint.  

Hun, 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 Sihanouk’s backward son and now president of the National Assembly and Hun Sen’s 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.  

This 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, it’s 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 shouldn’t poke a stick in it and make it bleed.”  Wow, well said Hun but how much did you make for that quote?  

The people of Cambodia were restive and couldn’t 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 don’t hold a candle to Hun’s 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 be tried?  

However, back at the ranch, the King’s 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 King’s way of staying alive, let Hun worry about the repercussions of screwing up the deal.  

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 

In 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 weren’t finished.  

And 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 don’t 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.  

However, 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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. “it’s a black day for the Cambodian people and a black day for international justice” was the statement by their spokesman.  

Here 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 don’t 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 don’t return, then they can be in contempt of court.” Well, I guess I really wasn’t 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

A 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 don’t 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 Cambodia’s civil war. How about arresting them somewhere the official was asked? He didn’t 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 can’t 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. 

Well, 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 Pot’s 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.  

This 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.  

However, 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 wouldn’t 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.  

It 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.  

There government of Cambodia didn’t say a lot more about the proposed Truth Commission and summarized their new position with the fact that maybe the truth commission wouldn’t be such a good idea with this wacko because when you kill everyone, you don’t have too many live witnesses left to testify against you. I always say, you can’t get evidence to convict out of a stone, however that may not be true anymore with DNA and all. The “Butcher” really didn’t 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           

As 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 couldn’t 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 Pot’s obviously weakened condition, he did not die of the announced natural causes.  

Tak 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.  

One man that had been on the scene at the time of Pot’s 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 Pot’s death.  

So 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

The 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 Paet’s 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 tourist’s 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.  

So 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 can’t find fault in the logic of that. It would just be question of who was America’s 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.  

But 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 don’t think that this is a good way to get someone to come to the bargaining table.  

Hun Sen went on that Thailand, was guilty of harboring the Khmer Rouge leaders whenever they needed sanctuary and I don’t 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 wasn’t 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 

National reconciliation wasn’t 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 shouldn’t. 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 American.  

Pol 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 Pot’s final resting place, most of whom indicate they saw good in the man but they don’t 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 Pot’s death that everyone in Thailand played that number and put the country’s bookies out of business.  

This 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.  

Praying 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 

But 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.  

So there aren’t 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 can’t 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.  

A 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 group’s 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 Thailand’s 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 early 1990s.

            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 Mok’s bloodthirsty reputation could make a defection deal with him politically impossible.  

Skull Memorial 

Memories 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.  

One 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.  

Those 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 personnel’s 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.  

While Cambodia will lose a stunning example of man’s 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 again here.    

Tourism 

When 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 man’s 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?  

As we have pointed out earlier, the country’s 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 surrounding environment.  

Moreover, 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 country’s only real link with the outside world, Royal Air Cambodge, the country’s 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.  

To 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.  

With 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 sniper’s 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.  

In 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 dent.

 It Is Hard To Get There From Here

Moreover, 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. 

However, 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 ain’t.  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.  

This 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.  

Eventually Cambodia will get its act together relative to how best to attract tourists. One of the country’s 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 man’s 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.

The 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.

This 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.

Just 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.

This 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. 

 

 

The Elections 

Running 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 don’t 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 that’s 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 as well.  

However, 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 don’t 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

Being 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 the establishment:

 

“Uch Horn was afraid. Ever since the 53-year old schoolteacher had agreed to run as an opposition candidate in Cambodia’s 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 teacher’s “sorcery” for local troubles, including three recent deaths. Though the government says the killing was unrelated to Uch Horn’s 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 year’s local elections. When voters are to choose their own local leaders for the first time since the Khmer Rouge’s brutal rule in the 1970s.”[1] 

In 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 people’s 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.  

However, there is a King in Cambodia who sits on a thrown here on occasion when he isn’t 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 Sen’s 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, “Don’t forget, that if Hun Sen casts a veto, a new king cannot be created.”[2]  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

But 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.  

Moreover, 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.  

Winning 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 chief’s 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 power.’”[3] 

In 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.  

However, Hun Sen is not a man that likes to hear about family problems and most of the evil doers were on his wife’s (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 city’s 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 Sen’s 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 country’s GDP for his personal use.  

Would You Believe Free; Elections?

Are 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 country’s 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 wouldn’t much matter if they voted against him; that wouldn’t 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 child’s 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 People’s Party, which stays in office by sending waves of fear throughout the opposition’s 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.  

The 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 People’s 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 close.  

Since 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 Sen’s office, no one has questioned it.  

”In a report earlier this month, the United Nation’s 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.” [4] 

These 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. Cambodia’s election process is rated only slightly better than those in Iraq, which doesn’t have any at all.  

A Get Together of Old Neighbors

The 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.  

Vietnam 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. 

When 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 Vietcong’s 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.  

However, 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.   

Most of those that have caused the Government’s 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 is.  

When 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 town’s peoples committee, suddenly interrupted and ordered the journalists to leave, a command backed up by dozens of security men. ‘It’s finished, it’s finished,’ Mr. Xuange said. ‘Please get back into your cars.’” [5]

“As 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 visitor’s 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.” [6] 

Moreover, 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.”[7]  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 didn’t want to leave.  

This 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 hard place.  

Justice Denied 

A 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 didn’t 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.  

Eventually 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 Nation’s face, published a statement in all of the nation’s 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 Sen’s close ties to all of the Khmer Rouge and his reluctance to punish anyone because length trials could even implicate him.  

About 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 Pot’s 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 Judge

They 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 benevolence.  

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 haven’t 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: “It’s possible that there’s 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 Wat

 

 

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 world’s 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 death’s 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 mankind’s achievement was a work in progress for over five centuries, from the 9th through the 14th centuries. It rose in Cambodia’s 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 country’s 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-Kuan’s 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 Wat’s construction was either rock or metallic, much has survived nature’s 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 city’s 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, today’s 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 area’s 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 surrounding—the gate complex, the cloister, the city of Angkor itself, and finally, the whole visible world—represent the successive outer envelopes of cosmic reality. That it is oriented toward the west—and not to the east, as was customary—indicates 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’, He’d said (the guide)"

 

These types of awesome monuments to man’s 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 conceive.

 

The Wat’s 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 Khmer’s 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 Cambodian’s 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 d’Angkor, 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.

 

 



[1]  Rough road ahead as Cambodia prepares for local elections: Voters will choose their own local leaders next year but human rights observers fear a rise in intimidation. Amy Kamin, FT.com, Financial Times. August 2, 2001.

 [2] There is a nine-member Throne Council in this country, which selects the new king from a pool of expectant royal relatives. However, the nine-member council can be vetoed by a negative vote from Hun Sen

[3] Rough road ahead as Cambodia prepares for local elections: Voters will choose their own local leaders next year but human rights observers fear a rise in intimidation. Amy Kamin, FT.com, Financial Times. August 2, 2001.

[4] The Financial Times, January 29, 2002, Climate of fear mars elections in Cambodia, Local Polls Observers Say Intimidation Poses Threat to Free Vote by Amy Kazmin.

[5]  For the most part, these people are called Montagnards and they had allied themselves with the West during the Vietnam War. This represents another reason that they are being ostracized and the United States has attempted to aid the resettlement. A number of these people have put down their roots in North Carolina thanks to help from the emigration people.

[6] Vietnam denies ethnic persecution, Financial Times, February 20, 2002, By Amy Kazmin

[7]  Ibid

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