A Khmer Rouge soldier, half-smoked cigarette hanging out of his mouth, squints
at the copy of the Phnom Penh Post he holds open in front of him. His four colleagues
squat next to him under a tree, arms draped over their old AKs. The man's eyes are
trained on page two, though his face betrays a degree of bemusement.
It was this photo that first introduced me to the Post. The KR were Ieng Sary's soldiers,
as they defected in 1996. Taken by former Post photographer-at-whim Darren Whiteside,
and hanging in the FCCC, the photo conveyed to me the Post's place in modern Cambodia:
inextricably bound up with the country, its people, and its social fabric. Even if
most of the people themselves couldn't read it.
When I joined the paper, I thought it was the best job in the world. Many of the
stories I covered are things I will never forget, like watching the mutilated corpse
of a murdered opposition member be exhumed, trowelful by trowelful. Of course, I'll
also always remember going to see a turtle, worshipped by thousands, that for weeks
appeared out of the river to greet its devotees at 11am and 2pm, daily except Tuesdays.
Yet even the "light" stories had their dark side. I wrote a piece on a
fortuneteller, detailing her predictions that the coming year would be a tough one
for Cambodia's leader. After the paper came out, mysterious men tracked her down
at home and threatened her, forcing her to go into hiding for a few days. Even if
most Cambodians cannot read the Post, the ones in power can.
And that is why the Post is so important. Its existence and its editorial independence
constantly remind the leaders of the country that their actions are being watched,
investigated and reported on. The Post is part of Cambodia's living history and,
we can hope, helps to shape that history for the better.
óBeth was a reporter from Jul 1997 to Jul 1999. She now works at the UN in