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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 April, 2005, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Killing Fields deal sparks anger
By Guy De Launey
In Phnom Penh

Skulls at Cheoung Ek
The site is a symbol of the Khmer Rouge's brutal rule
A plan to privatise the Killing Fields memorial near Phnom Penh has caused outrage in Cambodia.

Thousands of people died at the Choeung Ek site during the Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s.

City authorities are on Thursday due to sign a deal with a Japanese company to develop the site's tourist potential.

Around 17,000 people are buried there in mass graves. The skulls of around half are displayed behind glass panels on a Buddhist stupa at the site.

Tourist buses regularly bump down the dirt track to the memorial.

And that seems to be the attraction for a Japanese company called JC Royal.

It has reached an agreement with Phnom Penh municipal authorities to manage Choeung Ek for the next 30 years.

In return, the company will initially pay $15,000 a year to the city.

The company plans to increase admission charges by 600% and build a visitor centre.

Handing over such an important site to an overseas company has angered Youk Chhang, the director of Cambodia's Documentation Centre, an organisation that gathers evidence about the events of the Khmer Rouge era.

Youk Chhang has written to Prime Minister Hun Sen, asking him to intervene.

"This is about the memory of a country, of a nation - and that's something important for the survivors. Memories cannot be contracted, cannot be sold, cannot be purchased - and therefore it should be in the hands of Cambodian survivors to maintain the place," he said.

The timing of the deal could hardly be more insensitive.

Thirty years ago this month, Khmer Rouge forces marched into Phnom Penh and began a four-year rule that resulted in the deaths of nearly two million people.

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