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Post-guerilla press

Steve Heder once referred to me as a child of toxic waste, but he wasn't trying

to be unkind.

I arrived on vacation in Cambodia the same late December day in 1998 that several

thousand tons of  mercury-tainted toxic waste from Taiwanese uber-polluter Formosa

Plastics  were found dumped on the outskirts of Sihanoukville.

Within weeks I'd somehow convinced Michael Hayes that a Mandarin-speaking journo

with Taiwan experience was precisely what the Post needed to round out its reporting

staff.

I started at the Post just as the paper was coming to terms with the New Cambodia

of early 1999.  That rarest of Cambodian birds, political stability, had taken

shaky wing in the aftermath of the CPP/Funcinpec coalition and after three decades

of conflict the last remaining Khmer Rouge forces had consented to

be gently de-fanged by the CPP.

Overnight, Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary went from fugitive mass murderers

to plump, indulged tourists on the beach at Sihanoukville.

Suddenly the priorities of the (literal) guerilla journalism from which the Post

had forged its international reputation were passe, leaving the paper and its

employees scrambling to capture the new Zeitgeist.

From analyses of government efforts to defeat the  Khmer Rouge militarily,

our editorial focus shifted to efforts to get their former leaders into a credible courtroom

for crimes against humanity.

The Post was there as the new front lines in post-conflict Cambodia moved from the

outskirts of Anlong Veng to the walls of garment factories and the streetside encampments

of landless peasants.

What hadn't changed was that we would have paid (and in fact often did)

for the rush and privilege of tracking down great stories across Cambodia and

living to talk about them during long, lazy  red wine afternoons watching

the Tonle Sap merge with the Mekong.

I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Happy birthday, Phnom Penh Post.

óPhelim was a PPP reporter from Feb 1999 to Sep 2000 and Managing Editor from

Oct 2000 until Jul 2001. He is now a reporter for Dow Jones Newswires in Beijing.

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