Officials in Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district have spent the last two months following an order from the Ministry of Tourism to scour the former Khmer Rouge stronghold for relics of the communist movement.
The Council of Ministers designated Anlong Veng a historic site on Feb 5, due to its key role in the latter years of the Khmer Rouge movement, including as the last communist redoubt to fall to the government in 1998 and the last resting place of Pol Pot who died there in 1996.
Plans to make Anlong Veng town a tourist attraction because of its Khmer Rouge past were first floated in 2001 but district officials have now announced their intentions to rebuild 14 Khmer Rouge-era buildings, including homes that belonged to Pol Pot and the movement’s much-feared military commander Ta Mok who died in 2006.
“The Ministry of Tourism asked us to continue researching and collecting documents [concerning the Khmer Rouge],” district tourism department director Seam Sok Heng said yesterday, adding that five tables, some chairs and some clothing from the Pol Pot-era had been found in local villagers homes.
Mr Heng said that he had sent a request to the Tourism Ministry seeking funds to pay villagers for Khmer Rouge memorabilia, which could potentially be placed in the reconstructed buildings to heighten the sense of realism.
Dara Vanthan, deputy director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which is dedicated to researching the Khmer Rouge movement, said his organization sent a letter to the ministry in 2008 offering assistance in historical research. Mr Vanthan said the ministry has since created a commission to study Anlong Veng, but formal collaboration with his organization has not begun.
“I think it is important that they should consider how to preserve the site along with the historical record,” Mr Vanthan said.
Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said yesterday that the Anlong Veng site is still in its master planning stage, but that collecting, verifying and preserving documents concerning the Khmer Rouge has been a ministry priority.
Mr Khon said his ministry would “pay some money as an encouragement” to villagers unwilling to hand over artifacts for free.
Professor John Lennon of Glasgow Caledonian University, who studies genocide memorials worldwide and has examined Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the killing field memorial at Choeung Ek, said the Anlong Veng project is unlikely to be well maintained.
“Tuol Sleng has historically been tremendously underfunded and the Killing Fields have signs from the 1980’s,” Professor Lennon last month. “For the Government to now invest in a new site seems quite peculiar.”