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Anlong Veng makes new friends from old enemies

Anlong Veng makes new friends from old enemies


Two years have passed since Anlong Veng turned its back on Ta Mok and his KR guerrillas.

During a recent visit Vong Sokheng and Anette Marcher found a strong new Hun Sen

allegiance and changes that would have Ta Mok bouncing off the walls in his prison

cell.

Hun Sen's roundabout is seen by locals as a symbol of the Phnom Penh Government's committment to the Anlong Veng region.

A NEW landmark shot up in Anlong Veng a few weeks ago. Right at the junction in the

center of this last Khmer Rouge stronghold, a large blue and yellow monument now

towers above most other buildings in the modest town.

It's the Hun Sen Roundabout - the latest sign of "the times they are a changing"

in one of the last outposts to give up on the communist struggle.

With its animal sculptures and gold painted inscription, the Prime Minister's lavish

gift to Anlong Veng is impossible not to notice. The town went to great pains to

ensure that nobody had any chance to overlook it. The curved access road from Siem

Reap and Samrong was straightened out and moved some 30 meters to the north, so that

all visitors would have a direct view to the monument while driving into town.

This also meant that at least a dozen houses and shops along the road had to be demolished,

but no sacrifice was too great when it came to expressing gratitude to Anlong Veng's

new benefactor.

In contrast Ta Mok's road based monument has fallen into disrepair following

the changing alliances of the locals

Meanwhile, Anlong Veng's other traffic landmark, the Ta Mok Roundabout, is wilting

away halfway up the road on the Dangrek Mountain. Its three statues depicting two

KR soldiers and a punjee stick-carrying woman cadre have all had their heads shot

off by target-practicing RCAF soldiers. The fragmented remains are rapidly crumbling

behind the bushes.

Nobody could say why Ta Mok chose this remote and inaccessible spot for a stone-carved

tribute to the communist ideology.

The roundabouts are a microcosm of how Anlong Veng is gradually changing from being

the last major center of the KR to being a new CPP stronghold.

The villagers have long been taught to obey without question only one authority and

one leader. Before defecting in April 1998 it was the KR leadership, now it's the

government in Phnom Penh, more specifically Prime Minister Hun Sen, and both military

and civilian leaders are full of praise for their new patrons.

"Anlong Veng has received a lot of help from the government," says Yim

Phanna, former KR commander in Anlong Veng and now regional commander in Siem Reap.

The site of Pol Pot's 1987 show trial lies in ruins. A belated attempt has been made to preserve it. The sign reads: "do not remove timber from this site"

"The situation is much better than before. Better security, better roads and

better health conditions. We never had that under Ta Mok," says Phanna who visits

Anlong Veng occasionally and keeps close radio contact with his old home town.

First Deputy District Chief in Anlong Veng, Pe Saroeun, also praises the government

and points out that only CPP officials visit Anlong Veng regularly:

"We have only had one visit from a Funcinpec official since our integration

and Sam Rainsy Party has never come to see us," says Saroeun.

Anlong Veng must be one of the only towns in Cambodia that has not been plastered

with billboards and signs from various political parties. However, that will soon

change. These days, the local village artist is busy painting a number of large CPP

signs in colors that match the Hun Sen Roundabout.

Hun Sen's name also features prominently on the five new schools that the prime minister

reportedly ordered business tycoon Mong Reththy to build in and around Anlong Veng.

Two of those schools are placed right next to the old Ta Mok school, where KR children

used to learn about guerrilla warfare and how to deal with 'yuon aggressors' and

other enemies.

For several years, Sam Nakry, 45, taught at the Ta Mok school, mainly mathematics

that - as he says - "had nothing to do with politics". Nakry was abducted

by the KR in 1981 and taken to Anlong Veng. After defection he was fired from his

job at the school and now works as a guard at the local hospital.

Nakry believes that the villagers' political one-sidedness hinders the development

of the area.

"It is a problem. People now have the right to participate and to voice their

opinions, but they only ever listen to the government. They don't look to any other

political parties. Before they only listened to Pol Pot or Ta Mok. Now they only

listen to the government. In a way, it is the same," says Nakry.

Although the government has made some contribution it is the humanitarian organizations

which seem to bear the brunt of the town's development.

The site of Pol Pot's 1987 show trial lies in ruins. A belated attempt has been made to preserve it. The sign reads: "do not remove timber from this site"

The position of the hammer and sickle on the sign of the village black- smith

may reflect the changing political beliefs of residents

Aside from the ever-present pick-up truck taxies, the vast majority of vehicles traveling

the muddy roads are Landcruisers and jeeps from UNHCR, HALO Trust, UNICEF, WFP, Medecins

Sans Frontieres, CMAC, Action Against Hunger, Cambodian Red Cross and a number of

other NGOs.

The aid projects currently in progress are as varied as the organizations carrying

them out, but Second Deputy District Chief Dom Chhuny maintains that the single most

pressing concern of people in Anlong Veng is the lack of farming equipment.

Many villagers lost everything when they fled the fighting in April 1998 that led

up to the defection. If they could, most sold their cows and plows - often at very

cheap prices. When they returned to Anlong Veng from their refuge inside Thailand

they spent their money on small two-wheeled tractors and trailers to transport their

families.

These tractors are now put to use in the rice fields, but Chhuny says they are anything

but ideal.

"Cows are much better. The machines break down too quickly and it is very difficult

and expensive to get spare parts. They have to come from very far way," explains

Chhuny.

Nakry agrees that the lack of farming equipment is a big problem in Anlong Veng,

but also points to another predicament that is not so easily remedied: The distribution

of land.

When the first wave of defectors came back to Anlong Veng after fighting subsided

in the town itself, they naturally grabbed the best plots. Later, when other defectors

came down from the mountains, they found that someone else was occupying their land

and living in their houses. In stead they had to search for other plots, often a

fair distance away from town.

Nakry says that these disputes are still festering below the surface.

"The people who had to go far away to find land, keep the disputes in their

mind. They keep thinking: You came first, but you took my land. The only reason they

don't do anything about it is because they are afraid of the law," says Nakry.

Despite the difficulties, modern times continue their march into Anlong Veng, and

Ta Mok would probably be bouncing off the wall in his prison cell, if he knew the

state of his old haunt.

Previously the town consisted mainly of thatch and palm leaf huts. They have now

been replaced by wooden houses.

The market place along the main street is rapidly expanding. Even the stalls that

were demolished during the roundabout construction have reappeared along the new

access road. And the town now has no less that three small pagodas. Both trade and

religion was frowned upon by the hard-line communist Ta Mok.

Half a dozen motodops patrol the red laterite roads, as does a lonely ice cream man

with a tape recorder blasting away on the front of his bicycle. Another source of

noise are the numerous TVs and a few karaoke bars that sometimes carry on long into

the night. A handful of prostitutes have migrated up from Siem Reap.

The favorite cigarette brand - for those who can afford it - is of course Alain Delon.

Signs of communist times are rare, but sporadically found. The old army green Mao

caps have not gone completely out of fashion, although various RCAF and baseball

hats are the preferred headgear these days.

The local blacksmith sports a sign that maybe even Ta Mok would find acceptable.

It shows a number of tools that can be purchased in the shop. One is a sickle, crossed

by a long knife. The hammer is painted adjacent to it - possibly a reflection of

the changing philosophies currently in vogue.

The most domineering souvenir of the previous regime is the huge irrigation dam in

the center of town (Ta Mok had a notorious fondness for dams.)

Ta Mok also built a nice, big, three-story lakeside house for himself - back then

the only concrete building in town except for the school and the hospital.

Recently UNICEF conducted a five-day seminar on women's and children's rights. It

took place on the ground floor of Ta Mok's old residence.

Chhuny, who attended the seminar, chuckles slightly when presented with the combination

of Ta Mok and human rights.

"But you know, Ta Mok also wanted his house to be the meeting place of the town,

and any meetings were always held in that same room before," he reasons.

However, Chhuny concedes, the subject of the meetings back then was - to say the

least - slightly different.

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