The Phnom Penh Municipality is granting the rights to develop and manage the Choueng Ek killing fields to a Japanese company, according to officials and documents obtained Sunday. The deal allows the company to promote the genocide memorial site as a tourist destination for the next 30 years in exchange for payments initially amounting to $15,000 per year, officials said.
A copy of the contract, obtained from the general manager of Choueng Ek, hands the Dangkao district site over to the JC Royal Company Co Ltd, starting April 1, 2005, and names Governor Kep Chuktema and JC Royal representative Koji Yamamoto as signatories to the deal.
It states that the concession aims to “increase revenue for the state and develop and renovate the beauty of Choueng Ek killing fields,” where thousands detained at the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison were executed and buried in mass graves.
“The company must be responsible for renovating and taking care of the entrance to the killing fields, construct fences, manage the garden and grow trees and flowers…prepare a proper place to respect the souls of the victims who were killed…and develop around the compound field,” the contract states.
The company must also preserve the pits, where the bodies of Khmer Rouge victims were exhumed, it said.
In return for permission to manage the site, the company will pay the municipality $15,000 per year for the first five years. That amount will increase by 10 percent every five years, until the end of the 30-year contract.
Neang Say, general manager of the Chhoeung Ek killing fields, said Sunday that the company intends to charge foreign and local visitors $3 each, compared with the current admission price of 2,000 riel per foreigner and 500 riel for Cambodians.
He said JC Royal has agreed to keep the 31 workers employed at the site, though their salaries will continue to be provided by the government. “So we work for [a] private [firm] but we get our salaries from the state,” Neang Say said.
In 2004, the municipality earned $20,688 from visitors to the site, Neang Say said, adding that the number of visitors vary, sometimes reaching into the hundreds each day.
Neang Say, however, said that he was unhappy with the deal.
“I am not satisfied by those government officials who decided to concede [the site] to this company to make a business from dead people,” he said.
“Those officials have not thought to offer justice for those victims who were killed in Pol Pot’s regime. But they have tried to exploit [them],” Neang Say added. “They allow foreigners to come and make a profit from dead people. It is a shameful act.”
Phnom Penh vice-governor Man Chhouen confirmed the deal on Sunday.
He said the municipality granted JC Royal permission to manage the memorial site because City Hall “did not have the ability” to upgrade it.
Man Chhouen referred further questions to Municipal Cabinet Chief Nuon Someth.
Nuon Someth, however, declined to comment on the deal on Sunday.
“I am not aware of anything,” he said.
Repeated calls to Kep Chuktema were unsuccessful Sunday.
JC Royal representatives could not be reached, as the company’s number is not listed and officials did not know its contact information.
An address for the company, written in the contract, showed JC Royal as located at #92, Street 110 in Tuol Kok district. Tuol Kok district Governor Seng Ratanak, however, said he did not know of such a street in his district.
The same address on Street 110 in Daun Penh district, was an apartment building and residents there said they had never heard of JC Royal or company representative Koji Yamamoto.