K RAINGYOV - It is plain that this is no ordinary commune even before you enter it.
Travelling down a newish dirt road atop a dyke stretching some 20km to and from the
commune, there are big painted signs, some pointing the way and others extolling
virtues such as the need to plant trees.
The road is broken in places, chunks of it washed out by recent floodwaters, but
modern excavators and road rollers are already at work repairing it.
Entering the commune itself, there is a compound which, on this particular day, contains
two large tractors, a smaller one, an excavator, a road roller, a water tanker, half
a dozen water pumping machines and a stack of bags of fertilizer.
The water truck bears the initials HS on a sign on its doors - Hun Sen.
This is the Hun Sen Development Center, opened by the Second Prime Minister in January.
There is a small, concrete headquarters - link to the outside world by a modern telephone/fax
system connected to mobile telephone lines - next to a smart, new medical clinic.
Across the road is a primary school. There is another primary school, and a secondary
one, elsewhere in the commune.
In the grounds of the primary school is a Japanese ultra-violet water purifying system.
It, and other equipment and buildings in the commune, bears plaques testifying to
their donors. The school and medical clinic was paid for by Phnom Penh's Holiday
Hotel, for example.
Life is undoubtably better for this commune of 2583 families of 12,000 people than
they probably ever dreamed of.
Situated near a big lake, but for years with inadequate water canals to make use
of it for irrigation, Kraingyov suffered has from alternate droughts and floods.
The buildings fell into disrepair; the people struggled for their livlihoods.
Late last year, after a particularly bad food shortage according to commune chief
Sour Heng, things began to change. Hun Sen came to town.
According to Toung Hok, deputy head of the technical committee, there were several
reasons why Hun Sen chose Kraingyov for an extensive rural development program.
Land was plentiful - the commune has 2000 hectares, or one hectare per family - the
under-utilized lake provided the potential for ample irrigation, and the people were
not lazy "unlike people in other areas maybe."
Improvements came quickly. The road and dyke were constructed, allowing easier transportation
to ferry crops to sell at markets. Old water pumping stations were rehabilitated,
a primary school knocked down to make way for a new one, new equipment of all sorts
Hun Sen paid villagers in rice to dig out irrigation canals. He lent them rice seed
and money for fertilizer at no or low interest.
Last summer, he gave clothes, books and pens to 2000 children here.
The Prime Minister regularly visits, by helicopter or road, to give speeches and
inspect the activities.
Kraingyov, in short, was turned into a very special place, with a standard of services
and supplies unheard of in the vast majority of Cambodia's thousands of communes.
And this in a commune where not a single foreign NGO works.
And the villagers, according to commune chief Sour Heng, know who to thank and where
their loyalties lie.
"People here regard Samdech Hun Sen as their father," he said.
"They say that since they born, they never saw anyone who came here to spend
a lot of energy and money to help them.
"Now even every temple here has a genarator. What Samdech Hun Sen has been doing
here is just great."
Two weeks ago 150 Kraingyov villagers went to Phnom Penh to display that loyalty
- and, as Hour said, to ensure their commune project continued unjeopardized - by
looting a newspaper office.
Hour maintains he tried to stop them, but was threatened to stay out of their business.
He said it was a spontaneous display of anger, but human rights workers believed
It was not the first time Kraingyov villagers had protested at the New Liberty News.
In February, after it ran an article about drought at Kraingyov, they protested outside
the national assembly.
Human rights workers say that protesters they interviewed then admitted being provided
with trucks and the materials to make banners by district officials.
They question how villagers in Kraingyov would have seen the newspaper's recent story
about the flooding damage to its road which was said to have prompted last week's
"People go between here and Phnom Penh every day to sell crops," replies
"They have been following what the paper has been writing about them. They are
not afraid of spending 400 or 500 riels to buy newspapers to inform themselves."
He maintained the villagers also had no qualms about chipping in to "hire"
the three trucks which took them to Phnom Penh most recently.
The villagers, he said, had previously tried to protest legally about New Liberty
News at the National Assembly.
When they saw what they perceived to be second attack on them by the paper, they
decided to resort to "destruction" to ensure "there was no third time."
Toung Hok, who manages the commune's rice and irrigation programs, said the newspapers'
report on the recent flooding and road damage was a "distortion."
While there clearly had been serious damage, as the Post saw, he said the area was
prone to flooding and it was no longer nearly as bad as it used to be. Also, he said,
the road would soon be repaired.
Six hundred hectares of the early season rice crop had already been harvested, so
there was clearly no disaster.
Hour acknowledged the attack on the newspaper office was illegal, but suggested the
authorities not pursue the matter.
If they tried to prosecute anyone, he said, "the whole commune will confront
The Post was implicitly advised not to travel too widely through Kraingyov - Hour
said two reporters from the government-owned Kampuchea newspaper were almost "chopped"
by angry villagers who did not distinguish between newspapers very well - but several
villagers spoken to expressed strong support for the attack.
"I really wanted to go but the trucks were all full," said one excited