Former leaders of the Khmer Rouge Pol Pot and Ta Mok preached the simple life
to their followers. As Anette Marcher discovered in Anlong Veng, their
own accommodations were somewhat more than proletarian.
From his mountain-top villa, Pol Pot had a splendid view of the plains below
the Dangrek escarpment.
"Chez Pot" has seen better days, but enough still stands of the original two-story structure to be worth a visit - once the mines are cleared from the approaching roads along the Thai border.
Nestled among lush pink bougainvillea, his
250-square-meter two-story house was a peaceful retreat from the endless battle
against the government and other enemies.
In the late afternoons the old
Khmer Rouge supremo would sit on his first floor balcony. Through the
surrounding trees he would look out over the jungle, the irrigation canals and
the town of Anlong Veng about a dozen kilometers in the distance.
the die-hard communist doyen would use these quiet moments to envision a new
strategy against the "yuon aggressors." Maybe he would contemplate the
discussions he had just had with other top KR leaders in the large meeting room
that took up half of his brick-and-concrete residence.
wife and teenage daughter would be setting up his evening meal in the gray and
ochre-tiled living and dining room. If he felt like working further into the
night, Pol Pot could withdraw to his small office-like library. On the wall, a
framed photo of the rebel leader together with then-Prince Sihanouk would remind
him of the days when the guerrillas fought arm-in-arm with the
At the end of the day, Pol Pot could retire peacefully to his
sleeping quarters upstairs, protected by armed guards and an earth wall around
the compound. If the government troops and their artillery cannons suddenly
moved too close to the residence, Pol Pot could take shelter in the bunker-like
basement where he kept his most prized belongings. An inside lock on the heavy
steel hatch ensured that the residents would be hidden safely underground - at
least for a while.
And, of course, if everything else went wrong, the
Thai border was only a few kilometers to the north.
Today there is not
much left of the house where Pol Pot lived from 1993 until he was dethroned by
KR military leader Ta Mok in an internal power struggle in July 1997. After the
KR supremo's death on April 15, 1998, advancing government troops shelled the
area, leaving the residence in ruins. Later, soldiers and locals looted the
home. Even the toilet seat from the broken western-style toilet bowl has been
Now, the surrounding bougainvillea - one of Pol Pot's favorite
flowers - is encroaching on rubble and broken floor tiles like the enemies that
in the KR leader's mind encroached on Cambodia for so many
Underneath the balcony, somebody seems to have put the former
library - the building's only intact room - to an entirely different use. Dozens
of empty Ara cigarette packets litter the floor and pornographic graffiti adorn
the concrete walls.
A few kilometers away, Ta Mok's hilltop residence has
also found a new mission in life. When government troops marched into the area,
barely a month before the old military commander was captured in March last
year, they immediately turned the square building with its wooden tile roof into
a primitive border camp.
Where Ta Mok used to sit and plan his next
merciless attack on ethnic Vietnamese, a handful of long-time RCAF soldiers now
doze in their hammocks. They've removed the floor boards and the indoors
kitchen. Also, they've shown no sympathy for the western style porcelain toilets
that the KR leaders seemed to be so fond of. The toilet bowl has been carelessly
Back along the border road towards Anlong Veng lie the
scattered remains of the simple wooden house, where Pol Pot spent his last few
months under house arrest. Charred wood, an empty jar of curry paste, several
pill bottles and a crushed toilet bowl litter the glade of the demolished
building. According to an RCAF commander on the spot, the house was blown up in
late 1998 by a shell that also hit Pol Pot's grave close by.
The pile of
ashes from the cremation and the fragile construction of thin branches covering
the grave don't seem to have taken too much damage, though. People from Anlong
Veng still venture up here occasionally - not to worship, but just to have a
And the soldiers at the check point close by make sure that both
locals and visiting foreigners have something to look at. Grenades and large
used shells have been strategically placed around the house and grave. None of
that was there a year ago.
It may, however, be a while before all these
are turned into proper tourist attractions. Pol Pot's grave and last home are
fairly easily accessible (take a left turn at the Ta Mok Roundabout on your way
up the mountain. It's the one with the three statues of staunch KR fighters who
had their heads shot off last year).
The KR supremo's luxury villa and Ta
Mok's mountain retreat are a somewhat different story. The road along the border
is still heavily mined and not entirely safe, so local authorities are rather
reluctant to let outsiders through.
Visitors may therefore have to be
content with Ta Mok's two-story lakeside villa in downtown Anlong Veng. The
district authorities say they have turned the house into a museum - which
basically means that they have taken all the furniture away, but left the
colorful wall paintings of temples and grazing elephants untouched.
yes, all the three porcelain toilet bowls in the house are still there, too.