Frontline World

Cambodia - Pol Pot's Shadow, October, 2002

Synopsis of "Pol Pot's Shadow"

In Search of Justice

Historical Analysis: The U.S. and Cambodia

The Rapper, the Dancer, and the Storyteller

Learn more about Cambodia

Genocide, War Crimes, Politics




Diary Entry 9
PAILIN - The Gem Market

Inside the gem market in Pailin


Land Mines and Sapphires
The Gem Market
Brother Number Two

The town of Pailin is dominated by the gem industry. The central market is filled with a labyrinthine workshop of artisans painstakingly polishing rubies and sapphires and carving elaborate, glittering jewelry. Since capitalism has come to this formerly hard-core communist realm, the gems that once funded the Khmer Rouge war now fill the pockets of the former commanders.

A close up of a ring
If we wanted any example of the power of the Khmer Rouge, it's here, subtly, in the gem market. In a country suffering crushing poverty, a place where millions of people struggle to eke out the most basic living, hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rubies and sapphires lie unguarded on the work tables. Artisans casually tend to the business of melting down gold chains, fashioning jewelry and polishing stones. Yet I never see a single security guard or one sign of a weapon -- even now, it seems, fear of the Khmer Rouge is the only "security" necessary.

We've heard a lot of stories about Pailin's vice-ridden, Wild West reputation. At first, Pailin seems like a disappointingly sleepy mountain town -- until we get to the central market. The center of town is dominated by a massive illegal gambling operation, indecipherable to us. Open stalls covered with swaths of numbered squares and lottery wheels fill the whole area, surrounded by shouting crowds jockeying to place their bets.

Outside the market in Pailin
But when we come back later that day to take pictures, the whole gambling operation has been wiped from the market. There's nothing left but a gaping empty asphalt slab in the middle of town and a couple scraps of paper tickets. Adam and I stick out as the only non-Cambodians in town, and it seems word must have spread of our arrival.

Back in Phnom Penh, we had spoken to Co-defense Minister Prince Sisowath Sirirath, who was still very much concerned about what the Khmer Rouge might be up to in Pailin.

"We still believe that they command a lot of force," Prince Sisowath told us. "That's why we are very concerned about a Khmer Rouge trial. We don't know what the Khmer Rouge has in mind ..." Like many, Prince Sisowath worries that if there were a war crimes trial in Cambodia, it might push the Khmer Rouge to once again take up arms. "You don't see other parts of the world which have just experienced war and atrocity allow rebel forces to have such power and such a tremendous amount of cash," he said. "You don't see it happen in Kosovo, Bosnia, in Angola ... No. In Cambodia, the history is still very fresh here. People remember well. They strike fear ... ."

Pailin's information minister Kong Duong
We track down Pailin's information minister to learn more about how the higher-ranking Khmer Rouge officers are adjusting to the postwar integration with the government. Kong Duong is a large confident man with a smooth voice and a bejeweled ring on one of his fingers. He used to be one of the voices of Khmer Rouge propaganda, reading obscenity-laced invectives against the government on the rebel broadcast. Now, he spins tunes and gives advice to the lovelorn on the local disco station. We catch a bit of his show.

"Hello ladies and gentlemen, friends and listeners," Kong purrs into the microphone. "This minute I'm going to deliver you the thought for Sunday. And I would wish you to have happy feelings. The bad thoughts and feelings will make you old and have heart disease and nerve problems."

He delights in reading a letter over the air from one of his listeners. In it, a man asks how husbands in other countries have several wives when he can't handle the one wife he's got. Kong gleefully advises his listeners on how to maintain domestic harmony.

Kuong Duong broadcasts over the radio
"Love is not only for human beings," he intones. "Even birds and bees have love. Even vegetation has love. But if you change love like clothing, then it will destroy you ..."

He looks like a man who has found his calling.

"I am no longer Khmer Rouge," Kong says. "I am a new person. Now when I do the news on the radio, nobody controls me ... During the Khmer Rouge, we had to lie. Now we can tell only the truth."

"Before, things were different," Kong explains. "Before, we lived in the jungle ... we did not have any marketplace or any vendors. We did not have movies, plays or video. No temples. We just lived and did farming to get enough food and water and then made war. And then in the present time, you have many places to have fun. You can go wherever you want and do whatever kind of living you want."

NEXT: PAILIN: Brother Number Two
PREVIOUS: PAILIN: Land Mines and Sapphires

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