I do not wish to comment on the bulk of Michael Vickery's article ("A non-standard
view of the 'coup'", Phnom Penh Post Vol 6, No 17), but I take issue with his
penultimate paragraph concerning the looting.
At least some of it, perhaps most, was definitely to reward the troops. I personally
witnessed the stripping of the house of a senior Funcinpec official by armed, uniformed
men, who were taking everything down to the last t-shirt. The stolen items were carted
away by pick-up and cyclo. It was utterly controlled and all the more unpleasant
for so being; furthermore, the event took place virtually a stone's throw from the
residential compound of the CPP leadership behind Wat Botum. It was watched by a
crowd of silent and palpably resentful, poor civilians - and it seemed clear that
their resentment was not directed towards the absent house owner.
As for the rest of the looting, I am sure many ordinary Cambodians would be offended
at being characterized as "indecently and pretentiously rich". The situation
of the victims was well described at the time by a reporter for the French language
radio station RFI, who said, approximately (I'm quoting from memory): "These
were not the rich, but the middle classes, the petits fonctionnaires, who had saved
from their small incomes, dollar by dollar, to buy their stereo, television or moto..."
If possession of such items is Michael Vickery's indicator of indecent and pretentious
wealth, then I suggest it's high time he joins the 20th Century before the rest of
us, impoverished Cambodians included, join the 21st.
Just one more comment on the article. If the 1980s are ancient history for journalists,
how about Stalin's purges and Mao's Great Leap Forward for a historian? I should
have thought they could reasonably be described as "regimes making war on their
own people", both a fair time before 1991.
- Michael Bolton, Phnom Penh.