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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 10:24 GMT 11:24 UK
Cambodia cashes in on grim past
By Patrick Falby
Anlong Veng, Cambodia

All that remains of the last house of one the 20th century's most brutal rulers, Cambodia's Pol Pot, is his toilet bowl and a dozen empty medicine bottles.

Now the site, along with others belonging to leaders of the ousted Khmer Rouge, could soon be restored and spruced up under a controversial plan to cash in on the country's genocide-scarred past.

A tour guide designated by the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism said Pol Pot needed bottled oxygen to sleep at night, and three days after he died in 1998, in the northern town of Anlong Veng, locals burned the structure down.

Tour guide So Phorn in front of murals in Ta Mok's house
Ta Mok's house is empty apart from murals on the walls
The guide, So Phorn, has intimate knowledge of the town and its former rulers because he was adopted and raised by Ta Mok, the brutal Khmer Rouge high commander now in prison for crimes against humanity.

"I show people around because I used to live with him," said Phorn. "I know everything."

Phorn's unusual connections could soon see him rewarded with the assistant directorship of the Anlong Veng Tourism Office.

Development of the area is part of a scheme, announced by Prime Minister Hun Sen in December 2001, to turn all of the country's genocide sites into tourism offices.

The idea is to preserve and prepare the former stronghold as an international tourist destination.

Some might think a scheme to lure tourists to that dismal collection of sites bizarre, but the Ministry of Tourism's secretary of state, Thong Khon, insisted the concept would work.

"We're going to train local people to be tour guides there," he said. "We also plan to build a museum, but we have to raise funds."

Mr Khon was enthusiastic about the idea of former cadres showing around paying customers. He said the area had recently been cleared of land mines and as soon as a master plan was completed he hoped to line up corporate sponsors or private money to finance the cultural tourism venture.

And he said that that once the rutted road from the famed Angkor Wat temples was overhauled and a border crossing with Thailand opened, many more people would visit.

Guide So Phorn takes visitors to various sites that were once homes for senior cadres. All are now in various stages of decay.

Ta Mok's house is now stripped of furniture, but murals of temples and animals frolicking by a waterfall are intact.

Anlong Veng
Former commanders' homes will become tourist sites
Phorn takes tourists to where Pol Pot was put on trial by his former guerrillas. It is now a collection of lumber and long grass, home to several chickens.

The place that was his home until he was ousted from power in 1997 sits in ruins, with a cracked and empty swimming pool. In front of Pol Pot's grave stands a battered and empty donation box, put out by soldiers to raise money for developing the area.

Mr Khon said that with a bit of money, the reconstruction would create a more authentic atmosphere.

"We have plans to rebuild some of the leaders' houses," he said.

The local carpenters who built them in the first place are still around.

Anlong Veng Lake sealed by Ta Mok's dam
Anlong Veng - buzzing with malarial mosquitoes - needs a lot of work
But the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, Youk Chhang, is opposed to the plan.

His organisation gathers evidence against the Khmer Rouge in preparation for a genocide tribunal of remaining leaders, and he is steadfastly against the commercialisation of what happened.

He fears that the memory of victims from the Khmer Rouge will not be honoured. He thinks that the Ministry of Tourism has shown a basic misunderstanding of the concept of a museum, and Anlong Veng could instead become some sort of Khmer Rouge "theme park".

"Speaking from experience, at a lot of places under the label of 'tourism', you'll find roast chicken, fried bananas, blue tents and grass huts," he said. "The concept of a museum requires scientific research and understanding."

It is also not clear how other people implicated in the Khmer Rouge will react to the idea.

When the district chief, a former Khmer Rouge major, was approached for comments about sightseeing, he cursed and shouted he didn't want to talk about it.

So Phorn, though, was happy to do so.

Asked what his adoptive father would think about showing strangers around the old homestead, Phorn said the answer would be: "OK, no problem."

"Yeah, I think Ta Mok thinks it's a good idea," he said.

Khmer Rouge's legacy of fear
24 May 03  |  Asia-Pacific
UN warned on Cambodia court
30 Apr 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Key figures in the Khmer Rouge
17 Mar 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Surviving the Khmer Rouge
24 Jan 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Pol Pot: Life of a tyrant
14 Apr 00  |  Asia-Pacific
Masters of the killing fields
02 Jan 01  |  Asia-Pacific

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