PAILIN - Radio Pailin FM was off the air and had been for three days. There wasn't
enough power for its 200-watt generator, but it was time to think about updating
the equipment anyway.
No matter. It was Khmer New Year and there was a party on, water and talc being thrown
at people in the disco, the karaoke and the gambling and drinking stalls that were
using most of the town's electricity supply.
One of Cambodia's most secretive but widely-heard radio announcers was leading the
Kong Duong, 41, is the chief of Pailin's information office, the director and main
DJ of Radio Pailin FM, education officer for Pailin's provincial election commission
and in charge of hosting parties and receptions for visiting dignitaries.
His hushed, tailored voice is very different from the strident revolutionary tone
one might have expected, given his past.
Duong was, he says, the Number One voice of Khmer Rouge radio from 1983 to 1994.
He worked closely with Pol Pot, perfecting the mantra of hate against the yuon, interfering
war-mongering foreigners, and the two-headed aiyong (puppets) and traitors in Phnom
In 1983, he says, there was one mobile radio and a second land-based Chinese one.
The mobile radio was in Koh Kong for four years before shifting to Pailin in 1987,
then to Anlong Veng in 1994.
There were six main announcers: three men and three women. Duong says proudly that
he was most often trusted with the more important announcements.
He left KR radio when Ee Chhean, Sok Pheap and Ieng Sary defected from Pol Pot and
insulated themselves in Pailin and Malai. His five announcer colleagues - all firm
friends - stayed in Anlong Veng. He says he doesn't know whether now they are alive
"In fact there was a group of about 100 people who made up Khmer Rouge radio,"
he says, counting technicians and the like.
Pol Pot, he says, ruled the operation. Duong says he took orders directly from Pol
Pot, who usually worked near the radio station.
"Even if we had just one line to announce, it would come from Pol Pot."
As a boss, Pol Pot was "very serene, he seldom got angry. He was a cool[-headed]
"If we did something wrong he would try to give advice. He didn't immediately
Duong was lucky, or good, or both. He never made political mistakes, only the odd
technical one - like reading yesterday's newscast or being in the hot-seat when there
was equipment failure.
Pol Pot's guard would call Duong, or whomever, into the leader's room nearby. "If
you made one mistake or two mistakes you would just try to make it up."
Three mistakes? "Yes, I was afraid. If you made too many mistakes you were sent
away to the jungle; sent away to the front.
"I think of the 100 people, nearly 20 were sent away to the front to become
Not killed? "No, not killed... they were sent to become soldiers. I myself did
not make many mistakes. I can live in any regime."
It was a different time, the 80s and early 90s from today, he says. Yes, he called
Hun Sen and many others puppets and yuon and traitors "but during that time
I was doing what I was told, and what was right. Because there were many Vietnamese
"But now, if we work to solve Cambodia's problems, we do not say things like
He said if Cambodians continue to blame one another "then these people cannot
work together. We must stop this".
He laughs about the invective he heaped upon Hun Sen over the years. "Yes, but
I never think about this now. Many newspapers still criticize Hun Sen. I tried to
blame him and call him yuon. But Hun Sen doesn't do anything [about that] because
he's trying to solve the problems, and now he likes democracy."
Duong realizes he worked a long time - nearly 11 years - with Pol Pot. "Sometimes
I considered that [Pol Pot] killed many people, but you have to understand that like
friends, or family, I am sad about the news [of his death].
"I want to talk about comparisons. Emperor Hirohito of Japan killed many people
during World War II. But when he died still many prime ministers and foreign dignitaries
came to his funeral ceremony." Later, when asked about international calls for
justice for Pol Pot, Duong said: "If there is a problem in a family, it is up
to the family to ask a stranger to come and sort it out. If the owner of the house
asks for help, then you can come.
"Did the owners of Cambodia's house ask for help? In another country - Burma
- when [drug warlord] Khun Sa was considered a rebel, the regime in Burma asked the
US to help catch him. But after Khun Sa came into the government? Nothing."
Duong's Radio Pailin FM hadn't yet announced the news of Pol Pot's death. It was
waiting the approval of Ee Chhean or Ieng Sary to do so - "if it's true, they
will call me".
"I don't think I will be announcing it like a bad thing. I will probably just
announce that he is dead, and the time he died.
"The people here know about Pol Pot very well. Even if it is said that someone
has done a very bad thing, already he is dead. There's no need to say [the person]
Duong says "99%" of the people in Pailin listen to Radio FM, and the audience
stretches to Bavel, Malai, Samlot, Phnom Pret, down Route 10 and "especially
all along the border". In and around the Pailin district alone, that accounts
- in a description redolent of revolutionary DK - for 20,755 "old people"
and 10,000-odd "new people" who have come to settle into the autonomous
Duong is beginning to get lots of fan mail. And he says vendors often give him things
for free when he goes to the market because he is so popular.
Duong is in charge of the news, though he has other people helping him whom he trusts.
He says he knows his audience and knows exactly what is right and proper for them
to hear. He works directly with Sary and Chhean, and probably others, though he doesn't
name them, such as Long Norin and Pol Pot's former long-time personal secretary Mei
Meakk, who chairs the Provincial Election Commission.
He plays songs on air, then he educates the people about farming.
Another song, and then more education - softly-spoken, persuasive - teaching about
agriculture, rice, health, clean water, warning against spending money on the "bright
lights" that are now being tolerated in Pailin. "Helping the families who
are settling back in the area, and into peace... Explaining to people what may be
needed in the market."
Duong can't and won't broadcast political news that highlights divisions and disputes.
"If one side blames the other, I can't announce this because Pailin is neutral."
He says if the people don't have access to Pailin FM "then they may become like
those in Samlot, always breaking away, always fighting.
"People need help to understand the information. Sure."
He says that even if locals hear news on Voice of America radio - and he says more
than half of them can get VoA - they will not interpret it.
The people take their cue only from their leaders via Pailin FM. While it was off-air,
the only radio broadcast the Post heard anyone listening to was from hardline KR
around Anlong Veng.
"If they hear the news on Pailin FM, they will know how their leaders are thinking,"
he says. Caustic and confrontational news, especially about politics, will only "confuse"
people and "disturb their minds".
The July coup was a perfect example. Pailin, he says, was closed down: to news, to
trade, to traffic, to guns. "CPP people, Funcinpec people, no-one could hold
a gun to Pailin. At that time we stopped people from passing into Pailin."
As for news of the events: "I just broadcast as if nothing was happening in
"Only afterwards did the people know, but in that time the problem had already
been solved," he says.
"The people here follow their leaders. If the leaders decide to keep something
quiet, then the people think that maybe then there's not a big problem.
Duong gathers Pailin's news from three Phnom Penh radio stations via the town's satellite
There is no Pailin TV, but the television reception from Thailand is strong. However,
the people prefer Khmer Channel 5 television, he says.
Duong is certainly very aware of what is going on, but says even as he is neutral
he still thinks about what is right and wrong, "but for this I cannot say".
It's almost unnecessary to ask whether Pailin Radio FM will be opened up to campaigning
Fun-cinpec and CPP election candidates who have just erected their party signs along
the town's main street in the last month.
"No," he says reasonably.
It's hard to escape the irony as Duong packs up his briefcase and hurries across
Pailin park to his next meeting - teaching dozens of commune election officials about
registration for the July elections.
But in this, Pailin seems to be throwing itself into democratic overdrive. Its PEC
is working hard to make sure that all the dates are met, and election officials are
up to speed with all the information, laws and requirements.
More than any Cambodian "province", Pailin has the strength of administration,
governance and discipline to ensure it happens.
But what shines through is that it's Pailin's administration, governance and discipline.
Not Phnom Penh's.
Duong has been a busy man: last night's New Year karaoke competition, today's interview
and PEC training. And tonight, April 17, a big party bash at Ee Chhean's house.
April 17? What, a bit of a celebration for victory over Lon Nol and the Americans,
all those years ago?
Duong smiles: "No. No. Nothing like that. It's the end of Khmer New Year. We've
been having lots of parties. This is the last big one."
Maybe tonight there will be a lot of talk about Pol Pot?
"No. They don't care."