Over the past 25 years, Ek Tha has worn many hats – UN interpreter, Reuters journalist, government spokesman, vocal believer in extraterrestrial life.
Now, he’s adding author to that list.
This week, Tha – an ebullient 44-year-old who was known as Ek Madra when he worked as a full-time journalist – released a monograph examining Cambodia in the Cold War decades that led to the Khmer Rouge.
While the topic is not new, Tha hopes to provide a Cambodian perspective of what occurred during those much-studied decades without the political biases that he says so often colour local writing about the Kingdom’s recent history.
“I want to prove to global audiences that in the past, for decades and decades, many foreign authors have written books and books about Cambodian history, and now it’s time for Cambodian people to tell about our political culture,” he said in an interview yesterday.
While Tha continues to work as deputy press director at the Council of Ministers, he insists that his work, which is available at Monument Books, is independent and impartial, even in its analysis of contemporary developments.
“I do not belong to any political party. I am an independent researcher.… I try to bring the facts,” he said.
Although some may find that hard to believe from a current government official, Tha’s self-published book, The Factors Contributing to Cambodia’s Civil War 1950s-1980s: Lessons Then & Now, breaks the ruling party’s line on a number of issues.
He refers to the factional fighting of 1997 as a “coup”, despite longtime government protestations to the contrary, and asserts that “rampant graft”, as under Prince Sihanouk in the 1960s, continues to exist today.
In a section of photos and comments that form a sort of epilogue, he makes no secret of his divergent opinions on certain issues, such as the controversial refugee resettlement scheme between Cambodia and Australia. He says the deportation of 20 Uighur asylum seekers to China in 2009 was “to gain Beijing’s support”.
In a section that discusses the role the internet played in the Arab Spring uprisings and Cambodia’s much-feared draft cybercrime law, Tha cryptically states that “if leaders claim to be democrats, they have to be seen as democrats”.
He said this was a general comment and not directed at the CPP.
Still, the eccentric Tha – who told the Post in 2014 that he has been researching alien life for the past two years – is already buckling down on a “political novel” tracing a Cambodian love story during the Cold War.
In later planned-for books, he says he will raise issues of deforestation, land evictions and corruption.
But he insists this “personal research” work is completely separate from his government press job.
“I have no fear.… After all these years, Ek Tha is still Ek Madra.”