Two of the hundreds of photographs of doomed prisoners on the walls of Tuol Sleng, many of them taken by Nhem En.
Nhem En, deputy district chief of Anlong Veng in Odor Meanchey province, says he
can make millions of dollars and create thousands of jobs by highlighting his town's
Khmer Rouge past.
En, infamous for his methodical photography of the doomed and dying inmates of KR
torture prison S-21, says all he needs to seed his enterprise is $50,000 from the
government to build a museum, and the assistance of nongovernmental organizations
and humanitarians. And the government seems right behind him.
En's plans are bold. He said when the museum is set up, it will exhibit hundreds
pictures of all activities of the regime's leaders, CDs of KR songs and other related
documents. All the old singers and workers for KR radio are living in Anlong Veng,
He said he will produce millions of copies of pictures, CDs of songs and documents
to sell to tourists, and he would create jobs for people such as producing archetypal
KR black clothes, sandals, Ta Mok and Pol Pot's walking sticks and other things used
during the Khmer Rouge regime.
So far, he said, he has received 500 KR songs. And the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh
has offered him 100 photos of former KR leaders.
Few people would seem better qualified than Nhem En to organize an exposition of
KR memorabilia. En said he had participated in "the revolution" since 1971
when he was 11 years old.
From 1971 to 1973 he worked for the National United Music and served as a food transporter
to the front lines of the battlefield for the National United Front of Democratic
Kampuchea led by Khieu Samphan, Hu Nim and Hou Youn. From 1973 to 1975 he served
in the KR army to "liberate" military headquarters from Lon Nol's troops.
From 1975 to 1979 En continued to serve with the KR. A highlight of his youthful
career was in 1976, when he and 41 other children were chosen by Angkar as the best
children to study different skills in Shanghai, China. He stayed in Shanghai for
six months, and studied techniques of cinematography, photography, and mapping.
The results can be seen on the walls of the Genocide Museum at Tuol Sleng, the KR
torture prison S-21, where the regime put En to work photographing the thousands
of inmates as they went to their deaths one by one.
"Like Hitler died a hundred years ago, yet there are still a lot of people go
to see the place where he died," En said. "So why not Cambodia? The Khmer
Rouge regime just recently ended."
He says as well as upgrading access roads to Anlong Veng, a town remote from Phnom
Penh but close to the Thai border, an airport is also on the drawing boards. In early
2006, Civil Aviation made a study to establish an airport two kilometers square.
En said tourism would improve the lives of Anlong Veng's 30,000 people - 8,000 families
-85 to 90 percent of whom are farmers.
"I promise I will earn and give back to the government at least a million dollars
a year from tourists," En said. "I will try my best to attract as many
tourists as possible to visit Anlong Veng."
En's plans coincide with the government's. Minister of Tourism Lay Prahas said his
ministry and the government plan to develop Anlong Veng as a tourism zone - and to
establish a history museum.
Anlong Veng is the place where the Khmer Rouge regime ended and is full of evidence
such as Pol Pot's and Ta Mok's graves and houses, Prahas said. And as it is close
to Thailand it will be easy to attract tourists.
"Now we are fencing off those sites, writing the proposal and doing more research
in Anlong Veng," Prahas said. "And when we finish writing the proposal,
we will file it and ask the government for implementation.
"The museum will be like Toul Sleng and Choeung Ek museums - showing pictures
and other KR things," Prahas said. "To do this, we have to work together.
Now we are seeking from help from ADB. And we do not know for sure yet how much it
will cost to establish a museum and upgrade Anlong Veng to be a tourism zone."