Steve Heder once referred to me as a child of toxic waste, but he wasn't trying
to be unkind.
I arrived on vacation in Cambodia the same late December day in 1998 that several
thousand tons of mercury-tainted toxic waste from Taiwanese uber-polluter Formosa
Plastics were found dumped on the outskirts of Sihanoukville.
Within weeks I'd somehow convinced Michael Hayes that a Mandarin-speaking journo
with Taiwan experience was precisely what the Post needed to round out its reporting
I started at the Post just as the paper was coming to terms with the New Cambodia
of early 1999. That rarest of Cambodian birds, political stability, had taken
shaky wing in the aftermath of the CPP/Funcinpec coalition and after three decades
of conflict the last remaining Khmer Rouge forces had consented to
be gently de-fanged by the CPP.
Overnight, Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary went from fugitive mass murderers
to plump, indulged tourists on the beach at Sihanoukville.
Suddenly the priorities of the (literal) guerilla journalism from which the Post
had forged its international reputation were passe, leaving the paper and its
employees scrambling to capture the new Zeitgeist.
From analyses of government efforts to defeat the Khmer Rouge militarily,
our editorial focus shifted to efforts to get their former leaders into a credible courtroom
for crimes against humanity.
The Post was there as the new front lines in post-conflict Cambodia moved from the
outskirts of Anlong Veng to the walls of garment factories and the streetside encampments
of landless peasants.
What hadn't changed was that we would have paid (and in fact often did)
for the rush and privilege of tracking down great stories across Cambodia and
living to talk about them during long, lazy red wine afternoons watching
the Tonle Sap merge with the Mekong.
I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Happy birthday, Phnom Penh Post.
óPhelim was a PPP reporter from Feb 1999 to Sep 2000 and Managing Editor from
Oct 2000 until Jul 2001. He is now a reporter for Dow Jones Newswires in Beijing.
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