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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Controlled looting

Controlled looting

The Editor,

I do not wish to comment on the bulk of Michael Vickery's article ("A non-standard

view of the 'coup'", Phnom Penh Post Vol 6, No 17), but I take issue with his

penultimate paragraph concerning the looting.

At least some of it, perhaps most, was definitely to reward the troops. I personally

witnessed the stripping of the house of a senior Funcinpec official by armed, uniformed

men, who were taking everything down to the last t-shirt. The stolen items were carted

away by pick-up and cyclo. It was utterly controlled and all the more unpleasant

for so being; furthermore, the event took place virtually a stone's throw from the

residential compound of the CPP leadership behind Wat Botum. It was watched by a

crowd of silent and palpably resentful, poor civilians - and it seemed clear that

their resentment was not directed towards the absent house owner.

As for the rest of the looting, I am sure many ordinary Cambodians would be offended

at being characterized as "indecently and pretentiously rich". The situation

of the victims was well described at the time by a reporter for the French language

radio station RFI, who said, approximately (I'm quoting from memory): "These

were not the rich, but the middle classes, the petits fonctionnaires, who had saved

from their small incomes, dollar by dollar, to buy their stereo, television or moto..."

If possession of such items is Michael Vickery's indicator of indecent and pretentious

wealth, then I suggest it's high time he joins the 20th Century before the rest of

us, impoverished Cambodians included, join the 21st.

Just one more comment on the article. If the 1980s are ancient history for journalists,

how about Stalin's purges and Mao's Great Leap Forward for a historian? I should

have thought they could reasonably be described as "regimes making war on their

own people", both a fair time before 1991.

- Michael Bolton, Phnom Penh.

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