anlong veng district, Oddar Meanchey province – From her wooden house in Trapaing Brei commune’s Srah Chhouk village, Preak Lin, the daughter of jailed ex-Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok, earns a living selling soy sauce, cigarettes and canned sardines.
Her home overlooks a dusty road and a cluster of now dilapidated shacks marked with a Ministry of Tourism sign that informs visitors they were once “Ta Mok’s sawmill.”
Between attending to customers last week, Preak Lin recalled happier times when her father administered this remote, northern region—the Khmer Rouge’s last stronghold before it fell to the government in 1998.
“I was happy during the Khmer Rouge time because we were not worried about robberies or banditry, and we had enough food to eat,” the 47-year-old said.
Though he is reviled by many and accused of ordering the executions of an untold number of Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge era, Preak Lin recalled that her father provided roads, hospitals and dams for the people in this area.
“[Now] Nobody helps us,” Preak Lin said. “We have to help ourselves.”
Since Ta Mok’s arrest in March 1999, the buildings that the former military strongman once occupied have been turned into tourist sites, run by the provincial tourist department, though local authorities here say visitors are few.
Billed as one of the most prominent tourist sites in nearby Anlong Veng town, Ta Mok’s large cement house, surrounded by dammed swamp lands, draws only about four to five foreign visitors per month due to the poor conditions of the roads leading into town, according to Anlong Veng tourism director Seang Sokheng.
In November, he said, an extraordinarily high number of foreigners visited the site—a total of 18.
Preak Lin said she has mixed feelings about allowing visitors to explore the places where she used to visit her father.
“It’s good that tourists can come and see what he did for the people in this area…but the profits from the visitors don’t benefit me,” she said, adding that she herself never returns to Ta Mok’s old properties. “I feel too emotional,” she said.
Ta Mok, who has been jailed in Phnom Penh Military Prison for more than five years, has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed more than 1 million lives.
At 79, he remains one of the few ex-Khmer Rouge leaders behind bars. Former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, all pegged as possible defendants in a long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal, live freely.
Though Cambodian law does not allow a person to be incarcerated more than six months without trial, Ta Mok is still awaiting prosecution in jail.
Military Court investigating Judge Nhin Sam An on Thursday said Ta Mok will be released in March if no new charges are brought against him.
“I don’t know whether there will be new charges or not,” he said. “I cannot say right now.”
Preak Lin decried Ta Mok’s detention as unfair but held little hope that he would be released soon.
“It’s unjust that they only keep him in prison,” she said before bursting into tears. “Why is it only him in prison alone and the others are still at large?”
“The government treats our family unjustly,” she added.
Preak Lin said she hasn’t seen her father since his arrest. And earning just $2.50 to $5 from her shop each day, she said she can’t afford to make the trip to Phnom Penh.
Her husband and her mother, Nget Khem, died about 10 years ago, and Preak Lin’s three sisters who live in Battambang province’s Samlot district rarely visit their father.
Preak Lin said she hoped that the Khmer Rouge tribunal would begin quickly, as she was certain Ta Mok would not be found responsible for genocide.
“I want the tribunal to happen sooner. We don’t want him kept in prison so long,” she said. “If the trial happens, he will not be sentenced as seriously as the others. If no trial happens, he will remain in prison.”
Preak Lin said she would testify on Ta Mok’s behalf if asked to do so.
“He only followed someone else’s orders,” she said. “He just followed Pol Pot’s orders.”
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)