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Ta Mok's property becomes a draw with tourists

Ta Mok's property becomes a draw with tourists

ta.jpg
ta.jpg

Less than ten months after his death in a Phnom Penh military hospital, the

homes and gravesite of Ek Choeun, the former Khmer Rouge military chief known as

Ta Mok, still draw an ever-growing number of visitors.

Tourists visit the late Ta Mok's properties, such as this second home the one-legged leader used for meetings. Nhem En, deputy district chief of Anlong Veng, said many of the tourists come to learn the old military leader's battlefield secrets.

On many days,

more than one hundred tourist vehicles arrive at Ta Mok's former home in Anlong

Veng town, said Ouch Sarith, 44, a vendor positioned at the entrance to the site

in remote Anlong Veng district, Oddar Meanchey province. Many have come to pay

respect and "worship," he added.

Sarith said the influx started shortly

after Ta Mok died on July 12, 2006, in Preah Ketokmealea Hospital from a range

of ailments, including high blood pressure, tuberculosis and respiratory

problems.

His body was transported from Phnom Penh to Anlong Veng

district for a well-attended funeral ceremony before he was cremated according

to tradition at Wat Srash Chhouk, about 10 km from his main house in Anlong

Veng.

His death has been lamented as a huge loss for the Khmer Rouge

trial process.

Now, on a busy day Sarith earns more than $25 selling cold

drinks and snacks to Asian and Western tourists eager to glimpse the one-time

stomping grounds of the one-legged leader, made infamous by the Western press as

"The Butcher."

"The tourists come here to visit and take pictures of the

Ta Mok's house to show to their relatives at home," said Sarith. "During their

visits to Ta Mok's houses, most tourists always light incense sticks for

worshipping."

After nearly five decades of guerrilla warfare, Ta Mok was

captured in 1999 by government forces. A native of Takeo province and a former

monk, Ta Mok is said to have ordered large-scale massacres in Khmer Rouge zones

under his jurisdiction from 1973. In March 1974, his troops sacked the ancient

capital of Oudong and slaughtered the local population.

Nhem En, deputy

district chief of Anlong Veng, said tourists go to visit Ta Mok's home to study

how the Khmer Rouge leader lived. Many come to learn how he was able to fight

off armed incursions into his territory from 1979 to 1995, En said.

After visiting Ta Mok's main house in Anlong Veng village, many tourists

trek to his grave at Wat Srash Chhouk, and to another of his homes - a second

residence used for meetings - on the top of nearby Phnom Dangrek, said Sarith.

Rong Saroun, 58, owner of Khnang Phnom Dangrek Restaurant near Ta Mok's

visiting-house, said about 50-60 tourists per day go to visit the site and

inspect the "high ground" from which Ta Mok could command his troop fighting

down below.

Saroun estimates he earns from $75 to $250 per day from his

café and guesthouse located on the top of the famous ridge separating Thailand

and Cambodia, Saroun said.

But En said the present tourist numbers could

be increased if there were more points of interest for tourists. En, also known

for his methodical photography of the doomed and dying inmates of Khmer Rouge

torture prison S-21 at Toul Sleng, has long been a proponent of a museum in the

area.

"Hundreds of thousands of tourists would come to visit Anlong Veng,

if my proposed museum becomes established because Anlong Veng is the historic

zone of the Khmer Rouge," said En.

He said he needs about $50,000 to

launch a museum in Anlong Veng, but the government has "ignored" his idea.

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