A former photographer at the Khmer Rouge regime’s most notorious detention facility said yesterday that he planned to found a village in his name near a museum in Oddar Meanchey province built to house his collection of Democratic Kampuchea memorabilia.
Nhem En, who during the regime took mugshots of inmates being processed at Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng prison, said the village – to be named “Nhem En Village” – would accommodate 200 families on about 20 hectares of a 50-hectare plot on which the museum is also being constructed.
Work on the 7-by-25-metre museum building began in July, and Nhem En said yesterday that he expected it to open in January 2011.
He added that, if all of his plans come to fruition, the 50 hectares – located in Anlong Veng district, which remained a Khmer Rouge stronghold until 1998 – would soon see a second museum devoted to the Khmer Rouge as well as a football pitch and stadium and a market.
As for attracting full-time residents, he said, “I’ll offer land plots that are 10-by-25 metres, and it will cost the families between US$100 and $150. Villagers can build homes and sell souvenirs to tourists.”
His plans could soon run into opposition from local officials, however.
Oddar Meanchey provincial governor Pich Sokhin said the village did not have approval from his office. “We do not allow [him] to set up the village because [Nhem En] did not submit any letter to the provincial authority,” he said.
Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said anyone looking to found a new village would need to provide a list of 100 people willing to live there, and also to obtain permission from officials at the commune, district, provincial and central government levels.
“[Nhem En] must abide by the law,” Sak Setha said. “A village is built based on commune administration control.”
But Nhem En, who is the deputy governor of Anlong Veng district, said his position entitled him to push ahead without completing the steps enumerated by Sak Setha.
“Whatever Nhem En says he will do he must do because Nhem En does it for the citizens,” Nhem En said. “It’s not necessary for me to ask permission at the province level because I am a member of Anlong Veng district authority. I have a right to establish a village.
It will not impact other villagers or the government’s land.”
He has previously said he earned the money for the purchase of the land from his rice fields.
In April 2009, Nhem En made a splash when he announced plans to sell what he said were Pol Pot’s shoes and some of the cameras he used at Tuol Sleng for $500,000. After no buyers emerged, he said in May that he would sell all of his Khmer Rouge memorabilia for $1 million. That, too, was unsuccessful. These items are now set to be exhibited in the Anlong Veng museum.
The Council of Ministers in March approved a draft of a sub-decree allowing for tourism development in Anlong Veng.