anlong veng town, Oddar Meanchey province – Without land to farm or much opportunity for business in their native village in Kompong Cham province, Kim Eang and her family left in March and decided to settle here near the Thai border.
When they arrived, Kim Eang paid $1,000 for a plot of land along the tiny town’s main road. She opened a restaurant.
“In July, I was offered $5,000 for my land by a man who came from Siem Reap,” she said proudly. “He wanted to start a business fixing cars and trucks.”
Kim Eang did not sell. Today her restaurant clears nearly $11 dollars a day, a sizable income in a region of poverty and little food.
Until March 1998, when Anlong Veng fell to the government, it was the last stronghold of Khmer Rouge control. Under the dictatorship of Ta Mok, nearly all the work done in Anlong Veng had been for the community.
But the few businesses, which have opened here in the 15 months since Ta Mok fled after a majority of his soldiers turned against him, are thriving.
Immigrants from other provinces, like Kim Eang and her family, are responsible for breathing life into Anlong Veng’s near- dead economy, and now dominate the town and its businesses.
“Only newcomers are doing business,” said Kim Eang’s daughter, who was reluctant to give her name.
In the market, Kheng Touch, who arrived with eight relatives from Kompong Cham to start a business selling food, agreed.
“All of the people in this [market] area are newcomers,” he said. “No defectors own stalls.”
Anlong Veng’s district chief, Yim San, said the newcomers are helping the economy.
“For the first time, we have a market where people can buy what they need and what they want,” Yim San said.
Each platform in the market is split into four, 2-square meter, plots that are rented by the district authorities on a five-year contract for around $18 per year.
Many of the stalls have not been rented yet because there are not enough people in Anlong Veng able to start a business.
But, they are coming.
Within the last year, about 400 people have come to Anlong Veng in search of a better life, Yim San said.
Most of those who were driven from their villages by economic blight chose Anlong Veng because they believed it would soon become a boom town.
Many were also lured by Anlong Veng’s proximity to Thailand and the opportunities for trade an active border entails. Although before she left Kompong Cham, Kim Eang heard that the Choam border pass in Anlong Veng district would open soon, it has been five months since she moved and still there is no indication it will open.
While the border remains
closed, all the products sold in Anlong Veng’s market and shops must be transported from Siem Reap town, nearly 135 km away. Huge trucks plow through this route year-round, although in the rainy season drivers expect to spend about five nights on the muddy treacherous trip.
This raises the cost of everything in Anlong Veng to nearly double Phnom Penh prices which few—aside from the newcomers—can afford.
The majority of former Khmer Rouge are sticking to their traditional means of sustenance: farming and raising livestock.
According to Prak Sopheap, the World Food Program’s team leader in Anlong Veng, “only 30 percent of the people living in the market area are defectors, who maybe saved some money to start a business.”
Most people who lived under Ta Mok’s control rarely handled money, using it only to buy rice and other necessities in times of shortage, never having enough to save. Their only assets were their livestock.
When they fled to Thai refugee camps during the 1998 RCAF offensive, they were forced to leave their animals behind. When they returned as defectors, all of their livestock were gone.
“When we came back from the Thai camps, all of our animals were gone,” said Srey Neang, who had been living under Ta Mok’s control for nearly ten years.