Like the students at this school in Anlong Veng, seen here dutifully pointing
to the Kingdom's flag, most of the town's residents are torn between old and new
ways, with the road ahead as uncertain as Route 67.
ANLONG VENG -
Recently a bulldozer was blown up by an anti-tank mine on National Route 67
between Siem Reap and Anlong Veng. While constructing a new and wider gravel
track, the vehicle struck a mine that had been shifted into the middle of the
road by earth moving equipment. The driver was seriously injured and the
bulldozer completely shattered.
Visit to Anlong Veng is a trip back into KR times
The mine accident resulted in an
immediate UN travel ban and an advisory to NGOs not to use the road until it had
been properly secured. But even though the tension surrounding Route 67 has now
begun to die down, the incident is still a sign of how volatile the connections
are between the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng and the rest of
In a town considerably left to its own devices, the access
roads continue to be the single most important link to the outside world. Since
its defection in April 1998, Anlong Veng may have been militarily and formally
reintegrated, but there is still a long way to go before this last major rebel
base to surrender will be socially reconciled with the rest of the
In a field study in November last year, a team from the
Cambodian Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCCR) found great differences in the
progress of reintegration in various former KR zones. Whereas areas in
Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces - for instance Pailin and Malai - have
made large steps towards socio-economic and administrative reintegration, the
former KR areas in Siem Reap province remain isolated and
The team didn't visit Anlong Veng due to poor road
conditions, but it pointed out a number of problems that also apply to Pol Pot
and Ta Mok's old hometown, such as the lack of good roads, schools, pagodas and
regular visits by provincial authorities.
In spite of the mine accident,
work continues to improve and widen National Route 67 - now more a dirt trail
than an actual road. During the last rainy season it could take as long as two
days to make the 120 kilometer trip between Siem Reap town and Anlong Veng. But
even in the dry season, a single night of rain turns many parts of the road into
a veritable mud slide.
The trip itself illustrates just how remote and
isolated Anlong Veng has been for years. About an hour drive north of the
Banteay Srei temple, the village of Sre Noi used to be the last frontier before
the battle zones and KR country. From here on, the land is completely
uninhabited and the first few thatch huts only start popping up along the
roadside a few kilometers before Anlong Veng.
In town, a small market has
gradually sprung up along the dusty red approach road. A few wooden shops sell
everything from plastic buckets and cooking oil to cigarettes and white
Thai-made flip-flops. This was totally unheard of under the rule of hard-line
communist Ta Mok who looked upon markets and trade as capitalist
"Before, people had to sneak into Thailand or Siem Reap if they
needed even a small cooking pot, and then they had to smuggle it back to their
house. Now, they can just come here and buy it," remarked one woman shop
However, most of the traders at the emerging Anlong Veng market
are newcomers, and only a few local residents have had the courage to set up
shops. According to local authorities, almost a third of the district's 25,000
inhabitants have moved to town from other parts of Cambodia after the defection,
searching for business opportunities. They all had connections to either
relatives or friends in the area before moving in.
On the other hand,
First Deputy District Chief Pe Saroeun said that none of the old Anlong Veng
residents have left town so far.
"They feel better here. Here they have
land and property and more opportunities," explained Saroeun.
On the road
towards the former prison village of Tuol Kruos, the old white three-story Ta
Mok school provides for the daily education of some 1,200 pupils. This is the
first dry season when the children have not been sent to do front-line duties
after school hours. Earlier, kids under ten years of age were put to work
collecting bamboo and sharpening it into punjee sticks, while kids over ten had
to carry them to the front-line.
One constant that hasn't changed since
the KR days is the team of 17 teachers in the school. They were all educated
under the KR regime, and up until defection taught their students things such as
that being a good leader included learning to conduct hit-and-run warfare. Among
other revolutionary slogans, part of the curriculum was "bad-smelling meat or
any enemies within our lines must be absolutely destroyed."
Apart from a
few very teachers' courses, the Anlong Veng education department has not
received much help in shifting the curriculum to more innocent subjects like
Khmer language, maths, social science and geography. In consequence, the
illiteracy rate is estimated at a distressing 65-70 percent.
of the Anlong Veng teachers get paid. Director of the education department Phong
Kim Chhan doesn't even know how much the government-fixed wages should
"We receive no salaries from the government. And teachers from other
parts of the country don't want to move to Anlong Veng, because it is so remote
and has many problems like malaria," said Chhan.
In fact, most of the
development work taking place in Anlong Veng - such as demining, health care and
agricultural development - is carried out by a handful of NGOs. Contact with the
provincial authorities are scarce, particularly so after Anlong Veng was
transferred from Siem Reap province to the newly-created Oddar Meanchey province
According to Second Deputy District Chief Dom Chhuny, the
transfer was not a popular move in Anlong Veng:
"We were happy to be part
of the rich province of Siem Reap. When we heard about the transfer, we thought,
'We are just starting a new district and now we are going to be part of a newly
started province, too.' We were poor people joining with a poor province," said
"Before, we got everything we needed from
the Siem Reap provincial authorities immediately. After the transfer, our
development has definitely been slowed down."
According to Saroeun,
officials from the provincial capital Samrong have visited Anlong Veng every few
months. While the road to Siem Reap is being improved, the road to Samrong
remains a mine-strewn muddy mess.
But the people in Anlong Veng only have
the provincial authorities, independent organizations and themselves to depend
on. They have no links to Ieng Sary's Democratic National Union Movement (DNUM)
that gathers and provides a network for former rebels in Pailin and Malai.
Neither do they have any contact with old Khmer Rouge areas further south
towards Siem Reap.
Of greater importance, though, are the connections to
government authorities. In an article based on the CCCR team's findings,
team-leader Ok Serei Sopheak among other things recommended:
and district officials, as well as officials of the Social Fund, should have a
clear schedule of visits to the reconciled areas. It is important that the
former Khmer Rouge be convinced that the government cares for them."
Anlong Veng, they're not always entirely sure about that.