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Former Khmer Rouge stronghold might be next academic hub

120829_04

People stand outside Ta Mok’s house in Takeo. Photograph: Alan Parkhouse/Phnom Penh Post

In an ironic twist of fate, the former home of one of the top officials of the Khmer Rouge regime — a government notorious for its purges of intellectuals — may be converted to an institution of higher learning by Build Bright University.

An administrator, who did not wish to be named because he was not authorised to discuss the matter, said on Monday the one-time residence of the Khmer Rouge’s final leader, Chhit Chhoeun — better known by his nom de guerre Ta Mok — was being “reconstructed” to serve as a campus in Takeo province as early as the 2012-2013 school year.

BBU’s upper management, however, would confirm only that the university was looking to expand.

University president Virak Chey said that expected enrolments for the coming year would necessitate more space, but for the time being, expanding onto the Ta Mok property was “just a rumour”.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an organisation dedicated to researching the Khmer Rouge era, said that to “reclaim” the home for intellectual pursuits would help students understand even better a regime that ruthlessly persecuted the educated.

“To understand the history of the Khmer Rouge is to be on the grounds of the original site,” he said, stressing the importance of maintaining the original architecture, lest its historical significance vanish.

“You can understand politics through architecture, as well, I think. It tells you a lot about what they were thinking.”

Long the commander of the Khmer Rouge’s southwest zone, Ta Mok — nicknamed “The Butcher” — was made commander-in-chief of Democratic Kampuchea’s army in 1977, and reportedly orchestrated extensive purges to weed out “disloyal” cadres.

After the fall of Democratic Kampuchea, Ta Mok eventually stripped overall control of the movement from Pol Pot, and waged a guerrilla war almost until his arrest in 1999.

He died of natural causes in detention in Phnom Penh in July, 2006.

To contact the reporters on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com
Stuart White at stuart.white@phnompenhpost.com

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