Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home

school.jpg
school.jpg

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.

Maybe

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.

Downstairs, his

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

royalists.

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

nicked.

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

years.

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

dumped outside.

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

look.

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.

And

yes, all the three porcelain toilet bowls in the house are still there, too.

 

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