Former Untac governor tours old haunts of Siem Reap's dark past

Former Untac governor tours old haunts of Siem Reap's dark past

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090115_08.jpg

Photo by:

Peter Olszewlsi

Benny Widyono at his former Siem Reap residence.

WELCOME to the governor's residence, says Professor Benny Widyono, pointing to a humble wooden house on the airport side of National Road 6, one of the few such houses that haven't been chewed up in the thirst for land in what is now mostly a row of high-priced hotels.

Widyono was the former Untac Siem Reap shadow governor in the early 1990s, and when he took up his station here in 1992, he eschewed gubernatorial grandeur, choosing not to live in a mansion like many of his peers, but instead opting for humble digs so that he could not be compromised.

The quaint little house is now an office for a security company, but his former landlady, Lom Ang Sim, still lives in an adjoining little house.

And when she saw him inspecting his former home,  an emotional welcome mat was put out, and bemused security company officials allowed the entourage to inspect the building's dim interior.

Checking out the house was part of a guided tour of old haunts that Widyono conducted for the Post during his brief stay in Siem Reap for the Centre for Khmer Studies annual board meeting.

But there wasn't all that much for Widyono to show because hardly anything is left that was standing in Siem Reap when he was the main man.

The only other still-standing building he could find was Martini's girlie bar near the Old Market and, apart from a few garish nightclub refurbishments, he said the building is the same as when he was governor and visited frequently because two Khmer Rouge generals operated out of the premises.

There's an irony that the KR generals' former lair is now a girlie bar because Widyono points out two sites in town that were attacked by the Khmer Rouge on morality grounds alone, in anger over the practice of Untac soldiers to corrupt local women.

At one site near the Grand Hotel, the Khmer Rouge killed two nurses while they were sleeping in their tents because they slept with Untac staff.

Widyono shakes his head and winds up his brief tour saying that dealing with the Khmer Rouge back then was like dealing with "mental patients on early release".

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