PHNOM MALAI - Former Khmer Rouge women who crossed sides to join the government,
along with their ex-guerrilla husbands and sons, have taken up a new fight.
Armed with machetes and AK47's, a group of ex-rebel women stormed a newly-opened
"Dancing Restaurant" - which they believed to be a brothel - to prevent
the spread of prostitution into Malai.
The women, led by Neng, the diminutive wife of General Sok Pheap, military chief
of Malai, say if brothels are allowed to open, HIV/AIDs will infiltrate their area.
The former rebel zone along the Thai-Cambodian border has up until now remained a
relatively HIV/AIDS free enclave, health workers said, compared to "inside Cambodia",
where infection rates outstrip any other country in the region.
"I am very opposed to prostitution and even if a few prostitutes make their
way here, I will chase them out of the area," said Neng, 45.
"We heard on the radio about AIDS and are very worried it will come here. Also,
prostitution could affect each family as it will cause disputes between husbands
and wives and the divorce rate will go up."
Neng said Sok Pheap recently drove a group of Phnom Malai women down to examine Svay
Pak, Phnom Penh's spawling brothel village, and decided "the industry wasn't
one we want in Malai".
Neng, a former KR battalion commander, and a mother of five, was among a group of
armed, stone-throwing Malai residents who forced the closure of the dancing restaurant,
which had just opened, about two months ago.
"The people were not satisfied about that [restaurant opening], so not only
the women but also the men pushed them to close it down," said Neng, who did
not want to go into details about their actions.
But Long Narin, secretary-general of the former rebels' Democratic National United
Movement (DNUM), said the women took machetes and AK47s to close the brothel.
"Some of these women are former battalion commanders - when they pick up a gun
they know how to use it," observed Narin, who said that the decision to enforce
a prostitution ban in former communist stongholds, had come from the women.
"Radio Pailin", now broadcast from the former hardline KR radio station,
blasts a similar message on megaphones in daily broadcasts. It advises newcomers
to Pailin, south of Malai, that "no stealing, prostitutions, gambling, expolitation
of workers or begging is permitted".
DNUM president Ieng Sary said Pailin will try to keep up its ban on protitution.
"After the war, we face many difficulties and prostitution will add enormous
"We are trying to keep our society clean but we don't know for how long we can
succeed," said Sary, adding that at present "education and organisation"
would be used to re-educate prostitutes and pimps.
Sary said in the future a prison may be needed but remained vague about Pailin's
out-of-town civilian re-education center.
In Pailin, the wife of former senior KR divisonal chief Prum Su said women there
had asked officials not to allow anyone to open night clubs in Pailin.
"We don't want the corruption and other problems these clubs will bring,"
Rim An said.
The ban is not 100 percent effective in Pailin - local businessmen reported sex could
be bought discreetly, but not on an organised basis.