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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Visit to Anlong Veng is a trip back into KR times

Visit to Anlong Veng is a trip back into KR times

anlong.jpg
anlong.jpg

Like the students at this school in Anlong Veng, seen here dutifully pointing

to the Kingdom's flag, most of the town's residents are torn between old and new

ways, with the road ahead as uncertain as Route 67.

ANLONG VENG -

Recently a bulldozer was blown up by an anti-tank mine on National Route 67

between Siem Reap and Anlong Veng. While constructing a new and wider gravel

track, the vehicle struck a mine that had been shifted into the middle of the

road by earth moving equipment. The driver was seriously injured and the

bulldozer completely shattered.

Visit to Anlong Veng is a trip back into KR times

The mine accident resulted in an

immediate UN travel ban and an advisory to NGOs not to use the road until it had

been properly secured. But even though the tension surrounding Route 67 has now

begun to die down, the incident is still a sign of how volatile the connections

are between the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng and the rest of

Cambodia.

In a town considerably left to its own devices, the access

roads continue to be the single most important link to the outside world. Since

its defection in April 1998, Anlong Veng may have been militarily and formally

reintegrated, but there is still a long way to go before this last major rebel

base to surrender will be socially reconciled with the rest of the

country.

In a field study in November last year, a team from the

Cambodian Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCCR) found great differences in the

progress of reintegration in various former KR zones. Whereas areas in

Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces - for instance Pailin and Malai - have

made large steps towards socio-economic and administrative reintegration, the

former KR areas in Siem Reap province remain isolated and

underdeveloped.

The team didn't visit Anlong Veng due to poor road

conditions, but it pointed out a number of problems that also apply to Pol Pot

and Ta Mok's old hometown, such as the lack of good roads, schools, pagodas and

regular visits by provincial authorities.

In spite of the mine accident,

work continues to improve and widen National Route 67 - now more a dirt trail

than an actual road. During the last rainy season it could take as long as two

days to make the 120 kilometer trip between Siem Reap town and Anlong Veng. But

even in the dry season, a single night of rain turns many parts of the road into

a veritable mud slide.

The trip itself illustrates just how remote and

isolated Anlong Veng has been for years. About an hour drive north of the

Banteay Srei temple, the village of Sre Noi used to be the last frontier before

the battle zones and KR country. From here on, the land is completely

uninhabited and the first few thatch huts only start popping up along the

roadside a few kilometers before Anlong Veng.

In town, a small market has

gradually sprung up along the dusty red approach road. A few wooden shops sell

everything from plastic buckets and cooking oil to cigarettes and white

Thai-made flip-flops. This was totally unheard of under the rule of hard-line

communist Ta Mok who looked upon markets and trade as capitalist

plagues.

"Before, people had to sneak into Thailand or Siem Reap if they

needed even a small cooking pot, and then they had to smuggle it back to their

house. Now, they can just come here and buy it," remarked one woman shop

owner.

However, most of the traders at the emerging Anlong Veng market

are newcomers, and only a few local residents have had the courage to set up

shops. According to local authorities, almost a third of the district's 25,000

inhabitants have moved to town from other parts of Cambodia after the defection,

searching for business opportunities. They all had connections to either

relatives or friends in the area before moving in.

On the other hand,

First Deputy District Chief Pe Saroeun said that none of the old Anlong Veng

residents have left town so far.

"They feel better here. Here they have

land and property and more opportunities," explained Saroeun.

On the road

towards the former prison village of Tuol Kruos, the old white three-story Ta

Mok school provides for the daily education of some 1,200 pupils. This is the

first dry season when the children have not been sent to do front-line duties

after school hours. Earlier, kids under ten years of age were put to work

collecting bamboo and sharpening it into punjee sticks, while kids over ten had

to carry them to the front-line.

One constant that hasn't changed since

the KR days is the team of 17 teachers in the school. They were all educated

under the KR regime, and up until defection taught their students things such as

that being a good leader included learning to conduct hit-and-run warfare. Among

other revolutionary slogans, part of the curriculum was "bad-smelling meat or

any enemies within our lines must be absolutely destroyed."

Apart from a

few very teachers' courses, the Anlong Veng education department has not

received much help in shifting the curriculum to more innocent subjects like

Khmer language, maths, social science and geography. In consequence, the

illiteracy rate is estimated at a distressing 65-70 percent.

Also, none

of the Anlong Veng teachers get paid. Director of the education department Phong

Kim Chhan doesn't even know how much the government-fixed wages should

be.

"We receive no salaries from the government. And teachers from other

parts of the country don't want to move to Anlong Veng, because it is so remote

and has many problems like malaria," said Chhan.

In fact, most of the

development work taking place in Anlong Veng - such as demining, health care and

agricultural development - is carried out by a handful of NGOs. Contact with the

provincial authorities are scarce, particularly so after Anlong Veng was

transferred from Siem Reap province to the newly-created Oddar Meanchey province

last year.

According to Second Deputy District Chief Dom Chhuny, the

transfer was not a popular move in Anlong Veng:

"We were happy to be part

of the rich province of Siem Reap. When we heard about the transfer, we thought,

'We are just starting a new district and now we are going to be part of a newly

started province, too.' We were poor people joining with a poor province," said

Chhuny.

Saroeun added:

"Before, we got everything we needed from

the Siem Reap provincial authorities immediately. After the transfer, our

development has definitely been slowed down."

According to Saroeun,

officials from the provincial capital Samrong have visited Anlong Veng every few

months. While the road to Siem Reap is being improved, the road to Samrong

remains a mine-strewn muddy mess.

But the people in Anlong Veng only have

the provincial authorities, independent organizations and themselves to depend

on. They have no links to Ieng Sary's Democratic National Union Movement (DNUM)

that gathers and provides a network for former rebels in Pailin and Malai.

Neither do they have any contact with old Khmer Rouge areas further south

towards Siem Reap.

Of greater importance, though, are the connections to

government authorities. In an article based on the CCCR team's findings,

team-leader Ok Serei Sopheak among other things recommended:

"Provincial

and district officials, as well as officials of the Social Fund, should have a

clear schedule of visits to the reconciled areas. It is important that the

former Khmer Rouge be convinced that the government cares for them."

In

Anlong Veng, they're not always entirely sure about that.

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