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.
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.
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.
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 ... ."
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.
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
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.
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."
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."
PAILIN: Brother Number Two
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