(AP) - Television cameraman Neil Davis documented the Cambodian war for his company
almost single-handedly, roaming the battlefields with a battered, handheld camera.
Two decades later, his one-time employers rushed in seven staffers and 1.5 tons of
equipment for this week's election.
Along with Davis, no more than a dozen foreign journalists were based in Phnom Penh
to cover the apocalyptic 1970-75 conflict. The U.N. organized election has drawn
nearly 800, unquestionably the largest number ever in the country.
Much has changed on the media scene in Cambodia. But there's one constant: a coterie
of middle-aged Western journalists who have charted Cambodia's agony since the beginnings
are back, drawn again and again to the place and the story.
"The tragedy of this country is so intense that for me it has an irresistible
pull," said Lewis Simons, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Knight-Ridder
chain. "I feel this compulsion to see it through."
Others like Simons also cite Cambodia's seductive beauty, the stoic smiles of a people
who have known little but suffering and their own memories-both youthfully exuberant
and tragic-as reasons for their attachment.
Although most have ranged the globe on assignments, the old hands invariably say
few others in their careers have been so compelling.
James Pringle, a Scotsman who has worked for British and American publications, even
bought a home here, hoping one day to retire to a peaceful land with his Cambodian
Another veteran couldn't stay away despite a fortuneteller's warning that he should
not fly this year. So Tiziano Terzzani, an Italian working for the German newsmagazine
Der Spiegel, simply took a slow boat from neighboring Thailand.
His long hair and beard streaked with gray, Al Rockoff haunted old hangouts, talking
about the war and the time he was medically dead for minutes after being wounded
on the battlefield as if it happened yesterday.
A photographer form Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Rockoff was a character in the highly acclaimed
film "The Killing Fields," which depicted the foreign newsmen in the last
days of the Cambodian War and the Khmer Rouge horror, which ensued.
"If you keep your eyes half closed it's still wonderful despite the years of
destruction," said Johbn Swain, a correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times who
was also portrayed in the film.
Old timers do, however, take painful note of the graceful French villas bring razed
by developers, the thickening traffic and the crude behavior of some U.N. peacekeepers
which has soured the hospitality Cambodians had always offered foreigners.
The French colonial Hotel Royale, the center for journalists, spies and gossip, during
the war is on its last seedy legs and deserted by most in favor of the Cambodiana,
an air-conditioned Western ghetto where rooms go for U.S. $200 a night.
Scores of younger journalists now make their rounds of the Gecko Bar, No Problem
Café and other spots in what has been dubbed "The Swilling Fields."
Many are freelancers, taking advantage of free U.N. helicopter rides and hoping for
a big, violent story.
The ones who have witnessed Cambodia's procession of horrors are hoping for peace.
Simons, who first reported from Cambodia in 1969, said he has become so personally
involved that he must make an effort to maintain his professional objectivity.
A quarter century later, British photographer Tim Page still lights incense for the
colleagues he lost in Cambodia.
More than 20 foreign journalists were killed or are still listed as missing.
Their Cambodian counterparts suffered even more casualties. Davis, an Australian
who worked for VISNEWS, went on to cover more conflicts and was killed in a Thailand
Wounded five times in Indochina, Page was once talked of as a war lover.
He first came to Cambodia in the mid-1960s and recently celebrated his 49th birthday
in Phnom Penh.
"Are we chasing nostalgia? No, I don't think I am anymore," Page said.
"Personally, we want to see what gave us what we are. And for Cambodia? I think
the older and wiser of us really want to see these people have some peace,"