ANLONG VENG PEACE CENTER
A Long Road If We Don’t Walk Together
The Anlong Veng Peace Center is dedicated to memory, reconciliation, and peace building, and it achieves these objectives through peace studies and genocide education. Peace studies represent the Center’s effort to identify and analyze violent and non-violent behaviors as well as structural mechanisms that precipitate conflict. Genocide education represents the Center’s effort to establish curricula that address the fundamental questions of what happened and why during the Khmer Rouge period. Both educational approaches are utilized with a view toward encouraging peace, education, and the rule of law. The Center’s new headquarters office is situated in Anlong Veng—the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge regime. Working closely with the local community, schools, and tourism officials, the Center looks forward to bridging the divide between the former Khmer Rouge (KR) and Cambodia’s younger generation. The intent of the Center is to provide a variety of educational and tourism-related programs that help preserve the oral and physical history of the region as well as building peace and reconciliation between generations and across social divides. The Center not only aims to provide a critical understanding of Cambodia’s violent history, but it also seeks to convey a basic understanding of different theories on conflict resolution and transformation. Using its new office space as a headquarters, the Center will meet its objectives through future programs centering on interactive discussions, guided tours of local historical sites, and a curriculum that uses individual stories to convey historical and moral lessons.
The tours will be rehabilitative to victims and former KR cadres in that they will provide victims and former cadres an opportunity to reflect on and impart their understanding of their experiences during the Democratic Kampuchea period and the civil war years (1979-1998) that followed.
Through face-to-face discussions with victims and former KR cadres, the program will challenge participants to contemplate the diversity of human experience (both instances of humanity and inhumanity) during times of conflict and social upheaval. The stories validate the significance of individual human beings, and they help foster the most basic components of conflict transformation and civic skills. Concepts such as the ability to reflect, think objectively, and empathize with others are cornerstones to any peaceful, democratic society. The project will focus on historical empathy as its core objective, and the students, teachers, and tourguides who attend the program will be responsible for serving as representatives in their local communities, sharing their learning and insights.
The establishment of the Anlong Veng Peace Center in Anlong Veng represents a start of the Center’s work towards its mutually reinforcing aims of Peace, Education, and Sustainable Tourism. Through these core objectives, the Center aims to become a leading institution for the development of sustainable approaches to achieving reconciliation and peace in Cambodia and the region.
Reports by Dr. Ly Sok-Kheang
ImageWomen Rights Forum organized for the first time in Romchek village of Anlong Veng district with 37 villagers (31 women) participating. On the morning of October 15, 2019, the villagers came, individually or in groups, from all over the village and gathered together in the house of Mrs. Hean Pisey, deputy chief of the village. Although she has informed about the forum many days ago, Mrs. Pisey drove around in her motorbike and made a final call for the forthcoming forum. The gathering sounded like an occasion the villagers greeted joyfully. Everyone chatted while waiting for Mr. Liv, Romchek village chief, who was coordinating with other villagers to reconnect the village road after it was destroyed by flooding. While waiting, DC-Cam-produced songs: “Anlong Veng, My Love,” and “A Rainbow, No Love,” were played, everyone listened carefully and said: “both songs are beautiful and meaningful.”
Upon Mr. Live’s arrival, I started the forum by thanking him and all the villagers for letting this forum happen in one of the remote villages in the district. Anlong Veng Peace Center was established to concentrate on memory, peace and reconciliation in Anlong Veng. Women Rights Forum is one of the many sub-projects of the Center. The history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) and Anlong Veng community are the main focus and focal points of discussion. I then briefly presented on the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1979, under which 1.7 million people perished because of the notorious rule. I focused my discussion on daily life during that period so that the participants could relate with their own experiences. A common, spontaneous response was that KR rule made their lives extremely horrible.
In connection with that period, the history of the Anlong Veng community was also discussed. Given that they directly experienced the recent history of the community, several women made comments from their seats. They said they formerly worked in the transportation unit, and that they were required to carry ammunition from Anlong Veng to the battlefront as far as Kampong Thom and Siem Reap provinces. A few hundred women were instructed to walk on a designated path, carrying as much Imageammunition and artilleries as they could. They had no choice but to walk in line. Returning, they were instructed to walk a different way. The women were sometimes under attack and got injured due to insects and mine explosions. The helplessness of women is, therefore, not an issue.
Cambodian elderly women in rural areas normally sharing and eating betel leaf when they meet up casually or formally.
In relation, attention was also paid to the ongoing development of the district. The Anlong Veng Master Plan was discussed. The Anlong Veng Master Plan is part of Documentation Center of Cambodia’s (DC-Cam) promise provided by the Inter-Ministry Committee on the Development and Preservation of Anlong Veng Historical Sites. Anlong Veng Master Plan has two phases: Phase I entails the construction of a new path to connect all fourteen historical sites. This path is detailed in the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC) sub-decree on Anlong Veng Historical Sites. Phase II contemplates the transformation of Anlong Veng into “A City of Peace, Regeneration, and Prosperity at Cambodia’s Northern Border.” After hearing this, a participant said that, “It’s good.” The rest nodded in agreement in what the concept note has shown.
In the final part of the forum, each participant was given the opportunity to raise any of the abovementioned topics or other contemporary issues facing their villages for discussion.
Six men attending the forum, while some brought along their kids and took care of them on behalf of their wives
ImageA woman broke the silence by raising the issue of “family’s debt.” She, and others, said that each family became entangled by the burden of debt as a result of unfavorable low prices for their agricultural products such as rice, cassava and mango. They spent so much money ploughing the fields, fertilizing and on other things. Rather than generate income, the net result is that the family could not pay back the debt borrowed from financial institutions. Then, I asked Romchek village chief Mr. Liv to respond. Mr. Liv said he acknowledged that issue. He added that the problem, however, could be mitigated if each family came up with a good, careful family plan. Without this, each family has an unavoidable risk.
Two women mentioned the drug trafficking and domestic violence among youths in the village. Others confirmed that domestic violence had taken place in the village, but that it was not a primary concern. However, youth violence because of drugs was a grave concern for the villagers. Drugs breed many problems in the village.
Image A woman right behind the village chief suddenly spoke after I asked if anyone wanted to say anything. She complained about her land being grabbed by the military. She said she cleared and worked on it for many years. Mr. Liv gave her some advice and informed her about the government’s decision to give people the title to the land if they have already worked on it. As her land did not fall under Mr. Liv’s authority, he encouraged her to look for a solution with Mr. Set, Romchek Khang Lech village chief.
While paying attention to the forum, some women grabbed a betel leaf.
Mr. Liv took that opportunity to inform his villagers that each family has a chance to get affordable electricity to light their homes and to watch TV. Of course, they all saw this as good news as they had been waiting a long time for this. Then, Mr. Liv declared the end of the forum.
While smiling and walking slowly back home, Sap, 59 years old, said she was pleased with this gathering and provided quick feedback:
“In that period, life was extremely hard. I did not have a secure place to live. Only after the reintegration [in 1998], did I come and live here in Romchek village. Our community has made substantial progress. Currently, primary and secondary schools, roads, and a pagoda and a hospital have been built. Villagers’ children receive education at the public schools. I am so happy with this. Peace brings us these abovementioned things.”
The forum lasted for about two hours.
APPENDIX: Women Rights Forum in Rumchek Village
TEAM: Mek Navin, Hean Pisey and Ly Sok-Kheang
REPORT: Ly Sok-Kheang
DONOR: United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
On September 19-20, 2019, Oddar Meanchey Tourism Department in collaboration with Anlong Veng Peace Center of Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) organized the third training for tour guides. The trainings are designed to raise public awareness about the history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) and the Anlong Veng community, to maintain peace and tolerance, and to promote the community tourism sector.
Twenty-five participants, eight of them females who were former Khmer Rouge members in the community, participated in this training. Community youths born after the reintegration of Anlong Veng in 1998 also participated. This is seen as a good composition as the developing community needs people of all ages to know about their community and the Khmer Rouge.
As scheduled, Mrs. Thinny Moniraksmei, Oddar Meanchey Tourism Department Director, presided over the opening ceremony of the training held inside Ta Mok’s museum (Ta Mok’s former house). She started her speech by drawing attention to Anlong Veng community history that we should not forget. It was under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Win-Win Policy that allowed Cambodia to enjoy peace since 1998. That is the very reason why Anlong Veng should be able to make sustainable progress through its tourist sector. Mrs. Moniraksmei also stressed that each tour guide should learn about the history of the Anlong Veng community and its fourteen historical sites. She added that each trainee should be able to give a professional tour and warm hospitality to in hopes that visitors would find it important to spend a few days learning about the history. Mrs. Moniraksmei also reminded all trainees of the need to obtain full information about Oddar Meanchey tourism spots, so they can direct visitors to the places they preferred.
After the opening ceremony, the two-day training began inside Anlong Veng History Museum or Ta Mok’s museum. Trainees sat in three different tables facing each other. This setting was very convenient for a discussion and series of presentations.
Mr. Chhauy Sam-Et, deputy chief of Oddar Meanchey Tourism Department in charge of education and training, focused his presentation on good hospitality. This includes smiling and the Sampeah and food and accommodation services. He also briefly touched on the province’s tourist sites in Chong Kal district and Samrong City.
After Mr. Sam-Et’s session and a short break for refreshments, I began my session by giving the trainees guidance on how to use “Guidebook for Tour Guide” and “A History of the Anlong Veng Community: The Final Stronghold of the Khmer Rouge Movement.” Having summarized from the Guidebook, I used only three slides that focused on “How to use this Guidebook,” “Rationale for Teaching the History of the Khmer Rouge,” and “Philosophy of the Anlong Veng Community History Guidebook.”
The first topic was focused on Guidebook’s chapter one. This is about the history of the Cambodian Communist Movement, of Democratic Kampuchea, and of the Anlong Veng community. Trainees are assigned to work either in pairs or in groups to respond to questions that are set out in the book. They are also directed to learn as many historical facts as possible. The idea is to make them remember those historical facts so they are in a good position to be an excellent tour guide for any visitors to Anlong Veng. In the afternoon, attention was paid to chapter two’s story-telling and historical sites. Each trainee was to summarize survivors’ stories into a few lines with concrete, clear information. They then exchanged their notes and discussed their notes with each other. The same work was done in chapter three’s historical sites where each trainee was assigned to work in groups to summarize information into a short paragraph about the 14 sites in Anlong Veng. Each group took turns to report what they wrote. At the end of my session, trainees were asked if they had any questions about history, storytelling, historical sites, and others so that I could provide further explanations if necessary.
On the second day of training, Mr. Ken Sophy, deputy director of Tourism Product Department of Ministry of Tourism, focused his presentation on “guidelines of development and preservation of a community tourism,” “guidelines to provide tours,” and “narrative approach.” The last part of the day was devoted to the closing ceremony. All the trainees and those from the second training obtained their certificates so, they are now qualified and licensed to perform as tour guides.
After the training, many trainees expressed their opinions, ranging from hopes and expectations that the training will provide economic growth in the Anlong Veng district through an influx of visitors from the domestic and international community.
Latt Lav, a trainee, said: “I think this training is very important. It’s the first time for me. Within two days, I obtained a lot of knowledge on the history and the 14 historical sites in Anlong Veng and others places in Oddar Meanchey province. It has made me qualified and given me the ability to guide tours and narrate the history and historical sites to any visitors to Anlong Veng. I expect tourism will help develop our community. I wish to have more trainings and to develop adventure tourism in Anlong Veng as well.”
Yuon Leang, 25 years old, said: “It’s very good to have this training. It’s my first time learning in-depth about the history and hospitality that each tour guide should know. I feel Anlong Veng is a historical place. That’s why I am very keen to learn about its history so that our community can use it to promote tourism. As a newly trained guide, I am capable of narrating my community history and guiding any visitors to Anlong Veng.”
You Sorn, 63 years old, said: “I think that it’s good [to have the training] given that we have 14 historical sites. Although I lived through that period of history, I am able to digest more information that I have not heard before. I think that the instructor’s explanation was more accurate and correct compared to what I knew. This training is special as youths have a chance to hear directly the experiences of those living during that period. They are able to convey their history to the next generation. I suggest that such a training should be annually organized. My hope is that Anlong Veng can make good progress in the future.”
Chhoeung Bunthan, 27 years old, said: “To me, this training is really good as I have never gone deep into the history of our community before. Tour guides and tours can help develop our community. More importantly, local and international visitors can hear and learn about our history. I wish to see the training continue.”
Suos Somealea, 25 years old, said: “I think it’s good to have this training as I never joined this before. It helps develop my knowledge, enrich my understanding about history and convey it to others. I found the discussion with those experiencing the KR period incredibly interesting. It’s great if it can be organized twice per year.”
Khieu Mai said: “It’s good that I have learned about the historical sites, which are attractive to visitors. And, tour guides will play a role in guiding the tour. In other words, the tourism sector can help build Anlong Veng into a prosperous community. My suggestion is that a tour guide community should be created to perform this work.”
Bun Ran, 58 years old, said: “I think it’s good. Although I have lived through that period, I could not remember everything, especially dates. That’s why the training is a good compliment to what I’ve known before. Finally, I wish to see the continuity of the training. I wish to see more youths participate in this as they can convey this history to others.”
Chham Long, 63 years old, said: “I think it’s good for people of every generation. This training is comprised of history and hospitality. It’s our custom that people should know about virtue, morality, and good behavior. I would suggest that the training be organized to help develop the community and prevent discrimination.”
Lach Khan, 65 years old, said: “I participated in this training for the sake of my own understanding. I cannot give anyone a tour given that I am old. I find that teaching the history is critical. I lived through the period but could not remember the events clearly. My suggestion is that the training should be continued, and youths should be encouraged to participate.”
San Ran, 59 years old, said: “I found it helpful to have this training. Given that Anlong Veng has been reintegrated into the government since 1998, we lost so much time to challenge our limited capacity to build a tourism sector and other services. This training helps improve the community as we can learn about our history, good hospitality, and behavior. This will allow us to communicate with people both inside and outside the community. I would like to appeal to the ministry and provincial tourism department to strengthen order at each historical site.”
Vit Neang, 63 years old, said: “I have obtained knowledge on history and also historical sites. This training taught us about morality and virtue. I would suggest that Anlong Veng should be built into a community in the future.”
Neang Phai, 61 years old, said: “I found I’ve obtained a lot of knowledge about the 14 historical sites through books and instructors on history. In my opinion, the training is very important for the community for the future. Youths should be a more focused group than older generation in the next training.”
Uon Ry, 63 years old, said: “I think the training has many advantages. It has provided me with a better knowledge than I had before. I would suggest a next training.”
Seng Khoan, 58 years old, said: “I think the training is good for the community. I have learned more about the history and other historical facts. I hope that we can convey this to other people. I suggest that more youth trainings should be given, considering that my generation experienced the history discussed.”
Prum Phen, 31 years old, said: “I found this training good and it enriched my knowledge. Secondly, it made me understand the roles and duties of a tour guide. Finally, this training further developed my understanding about the history. The third training will also help the community grow. I wish Anlong Veng to be a community in the future.”
Seang Sok Heng, 48 years old, said: “I found it important to organize this training. Anlong Veng’s 14 historical sites could be one of the sources of income to help develop Anlong Veng. Additionally, remembering the history is important for every generation in order to prevent future reoccurrence of the Khmer Rouge genocide. I’d like to appeal to national and international stakeholders to help further develop the 14 historical sites.”
Hun Nak, 26 years old, said: “I found the training good and informative so that I can learn about the 14 historical sites and hospitality to be a tour guide. With this, tour guides can help attract more visitors to Anlong Veng. I wish a continuity of the training.”
Team: Ly Sok-Kheang and Sout Vechet
We conducted a classroom forum on the history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) and the Anlong Veng community at Rumchek Secondary School in Anlong Veng district on July 18, 2019. The enthusiastic participation of forty-eight students was symbol of profound change since the time of their parents’ education. During the DK, and for years afterward in its area of control, the Khmer Rouge had closed this and other schools, abolishing any aspect of formal education. Instead, the KR revolution empowered the farmer-worker class which was economically poor but steadfast in its allegiance to the new regime.
Students of Rumchek Secondary School – Photo by Youk Chhang, 18 July 2019
The farmer-worker class has always represented the country’s majority. Redirecting socio-political power to this group, while also keeping it locked into desperate, uneducated conditions, was the strategy of the infamous Pol Pot and his government. This was his way of co-opting Cambodia’s largest social sector into his regime and preventing a potential force of political opposition. As Aristotle observed, “… In a democracy, the poor will have more power than the rich because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme. It is also in the interests of a tyrant to keep his people poor, so that they may not be able to afford the cost of protecting themselves by arms and be so occupied with their daily tasks that they have no time for rebellion.” Surely, this resonates with the KR’s campaigns of forced labor to achieve its revolutionary goals. For them, trapping the masses in forced labor was more important than educating them.
Education was a long-term, time-consuming objective for which the Khmer Rouge leadership understandably had no patience. People of all ages were assigned to execute their tasks on a daily basis without a proper rest or food. The study of basic literature and mathematics was occasionally permitted during a short break under the shade of trees or cottages. That was not the type of proper education that many of top KR leaders—Khieu Samphan, Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, to name a few—obtained abroad (successfully or not). This raises the question of whether advanced study had benefitted the KR rulers or failed them. If they concluded that their education was irrelevant, they’d understandably fear that any effort to improve Cambodians’ capacity could run the risk of destabilizing their control over the people. Ultimately, the combination of limited knowledge and failures in their own personal education, such as with Pol Pot himself, convinced them that schools were a dangerous distraction from the imperative for huge development projects in the paddy fields. The people were needed for their hands, not their minds. Indeed, in this perspective, development of the mind could only lead to trouble. The regime taught that the only enlightenment necessary was within the KR elite, not among the ordinary masses.
The KR’s fall from power in 1979 ended the prohibitions against schools elsewhere in the country. In their remaining stronghold of Anlong Veng, though, the KR continued to stunt education. They ensured that only primary schools functioned, and only at a minimal level. Many of the forty-eight students’ parents are former KR members whose rights to education were stripped and who were obliged to serve the revolutionary cause. Against this ebb and flow over the last forty years, they are now beginning to take up the challenge to restore the modern concept of family morality by providing their children with access to a proper education through high school and beyond.
Among seven high and secondary schools in Anlong Veng, Rumchek is considered one of the oldest villages. It is legendary for a thick forest that blocks sunlight from penetrating through the trees. It is unusual for the dark history of the Khmer Rouge to be shared with today’s students by their parents, many of whom served the movement until its final reintegration into the government in 1998. Nonetheless, we can observe the students’ great curiosity in their general education as well as about the KR history. They shared with us their prior knowledge as well as their questions.
DC-Cam’s team has had the chance to bring the KR history to the school children as part of our nationwide effort. Prior understanding of students in Anlong Veng, of course, has been especially limited due to the connection of parents to the revolutionary movement both during 1975-1979 and through 1998 in this stronghold area. For its initial evaluation, the team asked each of the forty-eight participants to write a brief summary of what they know about the KR history nationally or locally. Overall, responses mentioned starvation, summary executions, forced evacuation, and the closure of school system. They were then asked to write one question about the history that they were most anxious to get an answer. Among these questions, a notable one asked why, prior to the KR, the rich had suppressed the poor.
DC-Cam evaluated student responses to the forum. Overall, 89 percent agreed that it was a good and useful event. Our statistics show that 35 percent of participants described themselves as enthusiastic about gaining more knowledge in this area. Between 92 percent and 98 percent felt that they are able to memorize the history, express empathy for KR survivors, and support initiatives that would help prevent the genocide from happening again, build peace and promote reconciliation and healing.
Eighteen-year-old Khav Chanla grew up and studies at Anlong Veng High School, the first high school of its kind in the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge movement, Anlong Veng. Born to a father of hill tribe Tumpuon and a Laotian mother, Chanla is confident to say he has not been stigmatized and shamed because his parents used to serve in the Khmer Rouge regime, its official name: “Democratic Kampuchea (DK) (1975-1979).”
Chanla is now in twelfth grade at Anlong Veng High School, which was previously Ta Mok’s primary school in 19931 and became a high school in early 2000s. Chanla is one of 103 students who attended two separate classroom forums about the Cambodian Genocide on May 17, 2019. Students from Anlong Veng High School and Trapeang Tav High School participated in the forums. It is part of the Documentation Center of Cambodia’s (DC-Cam) nationwide effort to organize these types of forum at the high school level to teach the history of DK. Each month, hundreds of students are participating in these forums. However, the Anlong Veng Peace Center, a project initiated by DC-Cam, takes pride in focusing solely on the high schools and secondary schools in the Anlong Veng district.
Chanla is one of a large number of the students whose parents fled to the Cambodian-Thai border with the Khmer Rouge in 1979 and stayed in Anlong Veng. Some people justified staying in Anlong Veng by claiming that the incoming war where the Vietnamese army militarily ejected the KR from power would not allow them to live in their previous locality. This applied to Chanla’s parents who left Mondul Kiri province for camps in Thailand. There is no doubt that while some had no alternative but to mobilize and join the retreating KR, there were many who were faithful followers.
One of the many reasons for this following is that many people were indoctrinated to fight against the common, historic enemy, Vietnam, and pledged allegiance to that cause until the disbanding of the KR in 1998. Between 1975 and 1979, the KR is believed to be responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people due to overwork, disease, starvation, and execution.
Despite learning the history of the DK from his family members, the forum was the first time Chanla delved deep into this subject in a classroom forum, and actively engaged in a direct discussion with his classmates and the team from DC-Cam.
The classroom forums were held in the Anlong Veng district, where approximately 80 percent of the sixty thousand local residents are former members of the KR. Undoubtedly, their long-held communist ideologies still persist and hold great sway on their current way of life and their community. They have their version of the historical narratives, therefore, teaching the DK’s history in Anlong Veng ushers in a new endeavor. This is a challenge because many of the school children have a parent who served the movement until 1998.
Chanla has no problem learning about the DK’s history through DC-Cam’s forum because it is immensely beneficial for his knowledge. He said, “it is a way he can see history through clearer lenses.” Chanla learned from his parents that they fled their native villages in Mondul Kiri province, northeast Cambodia, and remained in the KR because of the war with Vietnam. Chanla’s parents also told him they wanted to live under Ta Mok’s control, as Ta Mok looked after his subordinates well. Ta Mok provided everyone with all their basic needs, even food.
The term “Khmer Rouge” conveys a strong message. It can be viewed as “discrimination and divide,” which jeopardizes peace and stability. To Chanla and his parents, it carries as it represents the movement, not an individual. Chanla learned from the classroom forum, it was the name Prince Sihanouk gave to his opponent, the communist group.
DK history is seen as the darkest side of Cambodia’s history. For this reason, Chanla saw no reason to forget it. Instead, it should be well recorded and remembered because it is the era of an authoritarian regime that caused genocide. It striped the people of all their fundamental rights, most importantly the right to life.
The group discussion and lecture brought Chanla and his classmates a clearer understanding of DK history. Chanla said, “this educational environment inspired me and my classmates to develop critical thinking. For example, we began to consider whether a dictatorship was good or not. It is then up to us, as a new generation, to avoid such a disastrous history.”
Asked if learning about the DK’s history can contribute to the peace-building process, Chanla nodded in agreement and uttered that we are in a better position to help develop our country. The KR regime is an example of how a regime cannot have peace if the people are too suppressed. This suits our cliché, “oppression breeds resistance.” People deserve their rights. Their opinions should be listened and respected. Each person should be able to contribute to the development of their country to the best of their ability. The KR leadership should be held accountable, and, it should be further stressed, that the subordinates merely executed the superiors’ order. Chanla said, “you followed the order; or were killed.”
To the KR revolution, hill tribe people were perceived as “loyal and sincere” from the beginning. In later stages of the regime, they fell prey to the systematic and widespread purges. Chanla viewed this as sorrowful given the people were indiscriminately targeted and executed. It was a matter of KR leadership and its policy to govern a country where each citizen was not humanized and valued.
Chanla highlighted the importance of learning the history of the DK. He said, “it is very important for us to reflect and contemplate the future. The more history we learn the more we can develop critical thinking that can shape our daily lives to make better, wiser decisions.” Chanla would encourage all attendees to think and decide what we, as people who can shape Cambodia’s future, should or should not do in the present and in the future. He further underlined that a country’s conduct should not cause any harm to others, both bodily and spiritual.
More photo: https://photos.app.goo.gl/hYmRoKggnazVmYAG8
“Walking Trails” hit a milestone on January 5, 2019 for the Anlong Veng Peace Center’s work to promote memory, reconciliation, and peace building. The event attracted more than one thousand people who gathered together, to chat, wear the same sport T-Shirt, participate in a fun run, and to walk on the Dangrek mountain. This was the first-ever social event since the reintegration of Anlong Veng at the end of 1998. The Anlong Veng community is home to approximately eighty percent of former Khmer Rouge (KR) members, while new residents move to the community searching for better living opportunities: namely, business, agricultural land, or migration into the neighboring country, Thailand. Outwardly, the two groups peacefully co-exist and live side-by-side regardless of their past background.
Approximately 14,000 people took part in the Walking Trails on January 5, 2019 in Anlong Veng.Before becoming involved in DC-Cam I only knew that Anlong Veng was one of the Khmer Rouge’s strongholds along the Cambodian-Thai border, and many former KR members settled there. Back in 2007, I attended and spoke at a forum, held in Siem Reap province, about DC-Cam’s outreach activities concerning the KR. This was right at the time when the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), or better known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal was starting. Our return to Phnom Penh was delayed because work needed to be done in Anlong Veng. Our team met with an individual for a potential interview. This individual served as a district chief during the KR regime. We would travel back and forth between Siem Reap and Anlong Veng as we intentionally did not want to stay overnight in the community. As observed, the community was still a sleepy, isolated, and feared. Many of the former KR members live close together and have established trust with each other. It took me a little while before I learned DC-Cam set up a research team to interview people in Anlong Veng. My involvement in the project increased. One of my colleagues asked me to read through and comment on the new monograph. What I learned through reading and listening was that the people in Anlong Veng were distant with outsiders and, to some extent, less welcoming. They preferred to live quietly and cohesively among their comrades.
The creation of Anlong Veng Peace Center came when there was a great need for the promotion of peace and reconciliation in the community. When the Peace Center started few people knew about it, although it had hosted monthly Peace Study Tours. Our participants have travelled from one home to another and from one village to another, trying to inform the community about the Peace Center’s work. Thousands of posters were printed and distributed widely. Eventually, the Peace Center intensified its work at the Anlong Veng History Museum, also known as Ta Mok’s museum, by putting up “100 photos” exhibition to educate the public and to make sure the KR Regime is not forgotten. People from various backgrounds: from village and commune chiefs to district officials joined us to inaugurate the photo exhibition. The exhibition also included signposts for all 14 historical sites, which were designated as such by the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (RGC) sub-degree. These signposts consisted of: walking maps, timeline billboards, street signs to historical sites (which were installed at the Anlong Veng roundabout), and panels of the KR’s leaders, Pol Pot and Ta Mok. To further increase our strenuous effort to raise public awareness about the community and the Peace Center. The Anlong Veng Peace Center proposed that the “Walking Trails” should be organized. This idea was conceived more than a year before the officials from MOT made a substantial move to discuss it with NOCC. However, the planned date of the event, January 5, 2019, was just 3 weeks away. While I was waiting, I kept talking to anyone at DC-Cam and other public circles about the event.
Some commentators uttered that unless I can do magic, such an event cannot take place on time. Given the short time-frame many people saw it as impossible. Mobilizing the forces of the Anlong Veng community was a sticking point. It was because Anlong Veng’s people were not familiar with “Walking Trails” and might not be supportive of it. More importantly, many believed it would be difficult to encourage the community to attend and join the social activities. Rather than becoming disheartened about this preconception, I kept working closely with the NOCC, officials from MOT, and local leaders from both provincial and district levels.
Still continuing my crusade, I along with Dr. Chuk Chumno, Director of the Department of Tourism Development, and His Excellency Top Sopheak, undersecretary of the Ministry of Tourism, made an appointment to speak with His Excellency Vat Chamroeun, Secretary General of NOCC, at his office. This was the first time the working group gave serious attention to the event. During the meeting, I was asked to brief H.E. Vat Chamroeun about the history of the Anlong Veng community and its historical sites; as well as the significance of organizing such an event. After the briefing, we decided to make the Walking Trails happen. First, we discussed the date. DC-Cam proposed it should be organized before the end of 2018 in order to capture the 20th anniversary of peace being fully restored in Cambodia after the reintegration of Anlong Veng. However, the Ministry’s schedule was so tight the event could only be held in early January 2019. At this point, H.E. Top Sopheak proposed “January 5, 2019” and everyone agreed. Before the meeting finished, we agreed to conduct an on-site visit to work out the logistics of the event.
Weeks later, H.E Vat Chamroeun and his entourage made an unofficial visit to Anlong Veng. Dr. Chuk Chumno, Mrs. Thinny Monireaksmei, Director of Oddar Meanchey Tourism Department, and I guided them from the Anlong Veng History Museum or Ta Mok’s Museum, and to the Anlong Veng Peace Center. On the way up the mountain, the delegation stopped at the foot of the mountain to evaluate the altitude and road situation in preparation for the Walking Trail. Then, we moved to the Choam border check-point and, finally, to the Anlong Veng Peace Center. H.E. Vat Chamroeun then decided to organize two separate events: First, a fun run of six kilometers starting at the Anlong Veng History Museum or Ta Mok’s Museum, to the Anlong Veng roundabout and then back to the museum; second, participants embarked on the Walking Trails from Choam to Anlong Veng Peace Center.
On December 21, 2018, the first meeting in Anlong Veng was held inside the Anlong Veng district hall. H.E. Vat Chamroeun and H.E. Dy Rado, Deputy Governor of Oddar Meanchey province, presided over the meeting. The meeting participates were heads of the Education, Health and Land Management offices in Anlong Veng, chiefs of armed forces such as police, military and paramilitary, and me (as the representative from Anlong Veng Peace Center of DC-Cam). The meeting focused on the management of the upcoming events by seeking collaboration from the Health Office to provide a stand-by ambulance, from the Education Office to prepare 800 high school students to participate, and from the armed forces to control traffic and safety. NOCC took care of the logistics such as T-Shirts and race numbers and event management. H.E. Dy Rado was extremely helpful and effective in coordinating the meeting and making sure the event met the NOCC’s requirements. Near the end of the meeting, I was asked to brief the attendees about Anlong Veng’s history and the objectives and expectations of the Walking Trails. The meeting wrapped up with H.E. Vat Chamroeun’s thoughtful thank you speech and appeal for a close collaboration and coordination to make the event organized and successful.
In preparation for the event, exhibitions were installed, depicting the life of Chhit Choeun or Ung Choeun, better known as “Ta Mok,” and Pol Pot’s, former Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) work and family life. Our team installed the exhibitions at Anlong Veng History Museum, the Anlong Veng Peace Center, Anlong Veng’s District Hall, Pol Pot-Khieu Samphan’s hide-out, and the Oddar Meanchey Provincial Hall. These panels challenge the common conception the KR cadres have of Ta Mok being a good guy because they paid no attention to or did not realize the other side of him and his actions during the KR genocide.
The second meeting in Anlong Veng was held on January 4. As the event would be the next morning, the working groups had a quick discussion after Mr. Than Kot, Deputy Governor of Anlong Veng district gave a progress report. Then each group received their assignments and responsibilities. As for the Anlong Veng Peace Center, we brought in two bands: “Marching Band” and “Music Band” inside the Peace Center’s compound on top of Dangrek mountain. The “Marching Band” is considered one of the best teams in Cambodia. They performed the national anthem and other classic music to entertain the participants inside the Anlong Veng History Museum. After this, the “Marching Band” moved to the Anlong Veng Peace Center immediately.
After the meeting, each group completed a final review of the “Walking Trails” to check that everything was ready for the event. The Anlong Veng Peace Center had their stage and sound system for the “Music Team” ready. Inside the Museum, the compound was cleared and cleaned. An ambulance, two trucks, and other motorbikes were prepared for the next morning too. Most importantly, the Offices of Education and Health as well as the police and paramilitary units closely collaborated and prepared for the event. Anlong Veng’s education office sent hundreds of students to participate, while the health office contributed an ambulance. Anlong Veng’s paramilitary unit received Thai participants from the early morning at the Choam border check point at the very early morning of January 5.
So, at dawn of January 5, 2019 in Anlong Veng, students, civil servants, villagers, Thais, and research fellows from the U.S. and Japan, gathered together inside the Anlong Veng History Museum or Ta Mok’s museum to prepare for the fun run. The participants tried their best to run three kilometers and return to the Museum, as planned. The Walking Trails was subsequently held so the participants could walk from the Choam border check-point to the Anlong Veng Peace Center. Its distance is about five kilometers. Then the “Music Band” welcomed the participants at the Peace Center. Under the shade of trees, a stage was prepared, and the participants enjoyed the music.
Upon arrival at the Anlong Veng Peace Center, participants stood in groups, enjoyed the shade, took photos of the cliff, and mobilized in front of the stage to hear H.E. Vat Chamroeun’s thank everyone for their active participation and hard work during the Walking Trails, especially under the morning’s heat. The event wrapped up around 11 a.m. All the participants returned home with a copy of “Guidebook for Tour Guides.”
Weeks later, a colleague from DC-Cam traveled to Anlong Veng for her doctoral research. She discovered that many people in Anlong Veng used information for that guidebook as discussion topics when discussing the history of the KR regime. The KR regime is believed to be responsible for the death of nearly 2 million people between April 17, 1975 and January 6, 1979. At one point, my colleague heard a villager saying: “Do they all think that ‘We [former KR members] are bad?’”
As observed, the “Walking Trails” have gained a lot of support through our social media and our colleagues on the ground. They would like the Ministry of Tourism through NOCC, Anlong Veng Peace Center of DC-Cam, and local authority to organize this every year in Anlong Veng district.
Ou Saran was the only guest speaker who shared his personal experience about his time with the Khmer Rouge movement with 15 pre-service teachers from the Institute of Regional Teacher Training-Battambang and Anlong Veng High School in December 2018. Making no attempt to hide his background as a former KR soldier, the 65-year-old of Koh Thmei village, Anlong Veng commune, Anlong Veng district, said he was always content with sharing his history. Asked if he felt ashamed of being a KR soldier, Saran did not hesitate when he said, “NO,” but to acknowledge that: “The past never goes unnoticed and mistakes were undeniably made. In a family, there might be also a good or bad child.”
As a former soldier of the KR, Saran merely told the peace tour participants that if he thought back to the time when he joined the revolution, it was beyond his ability to predict and decide the path his life would take. Everyone understood that the socio-political society was uncertain. However, being a combatant, Ou Saran fought and served the movement wholeheartedly until it was victorious.
A little while later, the peace tour participants seemed to go back to the basics; asking Saran to describe his family life. In response, Saran said he started living in this village only after the military tug-of-war in 1994 when the government forces conquered and briefly occupied Anlong Veng for a couple of days. Ta Mok, original name Chhit Choeun or Ung Choeun, the most stubborn war lord, ordered all of his forces and people to retreat to the Dangrek mountain, while commanding the destruction of all rice farms in place since 1990. He said doing so would prevent the enemy from using the food supplies. He called them “the enemy; the Vietnamese.” The government succeeded in the military maneuver as Ta Mok learned that the g
overnment sent in full-fledged forces which he compared to the collapse of a dam that caused a fast flow of water. Three days later, Ta Mok fought back and the government suffered heavy casualties. Ta Mok used Guerrilla war tactics. Many tanks were destroyed. Only after this, did Ta Mok return to this village because bombers targeted schools and hospitals. So, the people were assigned to live in the jungle. The people demined, cleared the forest, and started living. Koh Thmei village was under control of the division 980. Men were kept being sent off to the frontline.
Ou Saran stressed that he was later assigned to take care of women after he sustained an injury while fighting. In Koh Thmei village, he witnessed the construction of three main roads and people building their own shelters. However, men were in charge of clearing the forest. Saran bluntly uttered that only now could he have a proper house, but still refrained from saying that it is a permanent one. When asked for further explanation on that comment, Saran pointed to the current political situation.
However, Saran highly valued the reintegration of the KR movement into the national fold. It was a big turning point that Cambodia as a whole began to enjoy peace and stability.
Regarding the peace study tour in Anlong Veng, Ou Saran appreciates that it is a correct, humble thing to do in terms of documenting the history. Documentation is vital both for remembrance and for prevention. However, there might be some hatred as well because the younger generation might be angry at the former KR members.
To Saran, education should be a mirror, reflecting back a country’s or regime’s good and bad sides. This led him to remind people of every generation to avoid taking up any bad ways. Learning from history can be a stark reminder of how a national unity should be a core principal to safeguard peace, security, and development. However, in Anlong Veng, Saran did not make a clear-cut comment that the community is within harmony and co-existence. To this, he told visiting tour participants his grave concern was much more about violence, land grabbing, and corruption. And that people’s greed would lead to a conflict. However, such societal illnesses never are eradicated. Even during the KR regime, while some ate watery porridge, others ate rice and had a better lifestyle, which showcases the establishments of the regime. Saran confessed that it is impossible for people to live in an equal manner.
A participant took to the stage and asked him what he most regretted concerning his service with the KR movement. He responded that after joining the revolution at the age of 17, he did not have any small asset that he could use to sustain his living. For most of his life, he merely to carried a pack of clothing and cooking materials and wandered from one place to another. He further underlined that right now, he has a house that was donated. However, a sense of security has yet to set in because when the participants asked him if he could live in his village permanently, Saran admitted he could not feel such a way yet.
In response to the judgement pronounced in November 2018 at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), Saran said: “I am a part of the past mistake” by reiterating that when the top leaders were found guilty, the junior felt that way.
Regarding the peace study tour, On Saran commented that it is good to aim for a better future. This goal would mean to collectively help prevent the commission of such a heinous crimes as those committed by the KR. People passed the knowledge from one to another. And sometimes, he said he could learn from visiting groups as well. It is an environment under which we can have a mutual understanding.
More photo: https://photos.app.goo.gl/gPkeYGXqUUFaUgK39
From July 16-19, 2018, a group of twenty-four students from the Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) and Anlong Veng High School participated in a study tour aimed at providing them with basic knowledge of the history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979), Anlong Veng community history (1979-1998), and also core concepts of peace and reconciliation. In particular, these students had a chance to learn directly from the personal experiences of villagers in Anlong Veng. This inter-generational dialogue is a way to understand the past, to negotiate the differences and to promote tolerance, peace, and reconciliation in the community.
This report attempts to highlight: first, the discussion with the participants before embarking on the trip; second, the presentation and group discussion concerning peace, and third, the field research the students did in the two villages of the Anlong Veng district. The final part will briefly touch on the extra work the participants did by contributing to the “Garden of Healing” inside the compound of the Anlong Veng Peace Center.
Pre-Study Tour Activities
On July 12-13, 2018, the students of RULE came to DC-Cam’s office to participate in a pre-trip meeting and also to hear about trip activities and other assignments. The group consisted of twenty carefully selected students. The meeting started with an overview of the daily itinerary for the study tour and then we stressed that each student would select a topic to explore during the 4-day program. Each student responded with their topic of interest. Three were interested in learning more about the daily life and main sources of living for the Anlong Veng people; while another three wondered when Anlong Veng was established, how they suffered under the KR regime, and why the KR movement chose Anlong Veng as its final stand against the government. Nine students were curious about Ta Mok’s personality and his war strategy. Two participants wished learn more about Ta Mok’s ability to mobilize the support of the people, how he organized Anlong Veng as a small community along the border, and how he commanded an army that retained control over Anlong Veng until 1989. Two students desired to learn more about the conflict between Ta Mok and Pol Pot and the acts that led to the final reintegration of Anlong Veng in 1998. One participant came up with an interesting idea to examine the tactics used by Ta Mok to win the people’s support for his anti-government war. With these topics in mind, each participant was instructed to start thinking of five major questions they wanted answered during the trip. Accordingly, a series of questions were created and shared prior to the trip.
One student’s, Tuon Reaksa, thoughts resonated with those of her friends’ writing that: “I want to get a better sense of what the community is like and interview those who lived through the KR regime.” Each participant greatly appreciated and looked forward to a face-to-face discussion with former KR members. Additionally, the students were also expecting to learn more about the legacy of Anlong Veng’s infrastructure, the existing 14 historical sites, long-held KR ideologies, characteristics of the KR leaders, i.e. Ta Mok, and the possible adverse effects of the regime when considering the current social fabric. The study tour was also meant to have students work in groups with the local students, and learn about research methodologies. Ret Meng Hai and Sen Kimlang anticipated a certain degree of truth being told and then wished to turn that information into a research paper.
Journey into the Landscape of Healing, Anlong Veng
In the early morning of July 16, 2018, twenty students showed up
and went on the mini bus to Anlong Veng, the former final stronghold of the KR. On the way, Kimi Takesue, professor of Arts from Rutgers-Newark University, U.S., followed and filmed their activities. Some students talked with each other, while others fell asleep only a few hours after departure. Immediately after their arrival in Anlong Veng, the students were led to some historical sites such as the former school and hospital of Ta Mok and O-Chik bridge. However, the itinerary had to be cut short after visiting the school because of the heavy rain during the evening. Everyone rushed to take shelter and waited for the next day’s activities.
All the participants started the new day by heading to the top of the Dangrek mountain and turning right where there is a beautiful cliff and the Anlong Veng Peace Center, the former meeting place of Ta Mok. Stepping out of the mini bus, they caught a glimpse of the cliff and could not wait to take photographs. Later, they walked into the Anlong Veng Peace Center for the very first time and took a seat for the day’s session.
The sessions covered the learning objectives of the Peace Study Tour: the history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) and the Anlong Veng community, interview techniques, and also the critically important concept of “peace.” Instead of giving a direct presentation for this session, the students were divided into four groups and discussed the meaning of peace and the ways it can be achieved.
After 20 minutes, each of the groups presented very similar ideas of how to define “peace,” but, the groups differed in how they believed “peace” is reflected in real life. Group 1 conceived of peace as a peaceful life without any discrimination, violence or war. To achieve this, the group explained that freedoms and rights to life, expression, and assembly should be respected as stated in the principles of domestic and international laws. The group argued that rights and equality should be the backbone of democracy, and that past human rights violations should be documented, studied, and shared in order to raise public awareness and to prevent it from happening again. In a similar vein, group 2 viewed peace as a state of “no war, no chaos, no invasion, and no discrimination.” To help clarify this, the group emphasized three components: political stability, culture, and religion. The group also commented that peace can be in danger if people are “greedy.” Group 3 was a bit different from the other two groups, arguing that peace can be achieved in physical, mental, and economic sectors. The group believed that the mental component should be to have no malice against each other; no physical violence should be resorted to. Additionally, the group stressed that living conditions cannot be separated from peace.
Group 4 went the furthest to define peace by laying out six points for peace to be maintained: first, negotiation among the conflicting parties; second, encourage tolerance and compromise instead of any violence; third, “full independence of the country” is the key to see whether the country is at peace; fourth, there is great importance of “putting national interest at the highest level;” fifth, “the process of accepting truth” is a way to resolve any conflicts; and sixth, education can equip people with knowledge and foresight to make any decisions. Overall, the group concluded that peace can start humbly from each individual.
After the presentations, the participants divided into three groups to hear the narratives of two civil parties to Case 002 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and a local resident spoke about her life during the KR regime and under Ta Mok’s rule. One group stayed inside the Anlong Veng Peace Center, and the other two went outside under trees to hear the narratives. Each group asked questions to get a better sense of the personal history. The session was wrapped up in about half an hour.
The final session of the day detailed how to produce a short documentary film. The film crews provided careful guidance about how to become a film maker in 5 minutes. Each of the 4-member film crews became a cameraman/woman, note-taker, mic controller, or interviewers. To prepare for the next day, each team practiced using their own equipment and did tests to make sure their practice was on the right track. As planned, three teams were sent to two villages, O’Angre and Tuol Prasat of Trapeang Tav commune, Anlong Veng district. They effectively performed their recently learned jobs. The local residents also collaborated to share their personal histories with the students. In other words, twelve other participants shared their testimonies and were able to make their voices heard in the pieces of writing.
After such diligent interviews, all the participants worked collectively on the garden at the Anlong Veng Peace Center. They leveled and cleared the soil. It took about two hours. Before getting it got dark, they planted corn and bean seeds in the fields. Planting crops is part of our effort to make the once abandoned areas into a green garden where visitors can enjoy organic fruits and vegetable.
The Anlong Veng Peace & Human Rights Study Tour wrapped up with visits to Son Sen’s Cremation Site, Ta Mok’s stupa, and Ta Mok’s museum, Ta Mok’s former house. The participants returned to Phnom Penh with wonderful memories of Anlong Veng.
Sie Kimcheng: “I liked planting the vegetables in the Anlong Veng Peace Center.”
Chip Sathavy: “I learned a tremendous amount about Anlong Veng—it was the Khmer Rouge movement’s last stronghold along with many social experiences.”
Rim Sokheng: “Our Anlong Veng rests on the beautiful mountainous landscape filled with many historical narratives.”
Sen Kimlang: “I liked the uniqueness of the programs designed by the Anlong Veng Peace Center. The programs not only inspired me to learn more about our history but also encouraged me to open myself up to the Anlong Veng community.”
Sreu Penh Chet: “I will always remember the warm and beautiful smiles of the Anlong Veng residents. It inspires me! I want to go back there again.”
Mut Chanrina: “Besides learning about our history, I also learned how to use a video camera to produce a short documentary film about what I have witnessed in history. I have some skills now.”
Soeun Chantheng: “Sea of Green Forest is Peaceful in my heart … You Are Anlong Veng!”
Sim Ra: “The Peace Tour allowed me to expose myself socially and academically to a new understanding of our history.”
On the evening of Friday June 8th, twenty university students gathered in Anlong Veng to participate in the Anlong Veng Peace and Human Rights Tour led by Ly Sok-Kheang. Fifteen students traveled from Kampong Cham Province while the other five were local to Anlong Veng. Supporting team members—Phat Bora, Sout Vechet, Keo Theasrun, and Emmeline Eao from DC-Cam’s Phnom Penh offices, as well as myself. Laignee Barron, journalist from Times Magazine also joined us for the majority of the tour. This was the largest tour group to date.
This report will go over the specifics of the various activities and presentations experienced throughout the tour with an emphasis on the complex emotional aspects tied to Anlong Veng, putting history in context. The goal is to highlight the importance of uncovering these memories in order to obtain a more holistic understanding of past events– to uphold DC-Cam’s mission of memory, justice, and healing.
After arriving on the 8th, the group did a walking tour to Anlong Veng High school and Hospital. Both sites are examples of infrastructure that were implemented in the early 90’s by Ta Mok, one of the last commanders in chief of the Khmer Rouge Era. The school was the main high school building up until 2017, when a new, larger structure was built on the grounds. The original hospital building (since 1993) is still in full use. Before Ta Mok there were no such institutions in the area.
The students were interested in knowing more about the specific curriculum taught during the Khmer Rouge times in the high school. The tour guides told us that lessons were planned with Khmer Rouge leanings focusing mainly on Khmer language and mathematics and sent to nearby Thailand to be printed.
Both buildings are symbols of the complicated history Anlong Veng holds. Through the guides students learned that most of the population of Anlong Veng believe Ta Mok to be a generous and fair leader because they saw him in his later years and he provided for them. Many people do not have clear knowledge of the horrific events he was responsible for, including the mass evacuations and killings from 1975- 1979.
Although both structures were quite run down, they still held a sense of beauty, their design reminiscent of those from the era of New Khmer Architecture of the 60’s. That visual paired with our presence and the information learned from the guides was the beginning of our active weaving of historical contexts and perspectives.
Saturday we made our way up the Dangkrek Mountains to the Anlong Veng Peace Center, utilizing the former meeting place of Ta Mok as our educational hub. We filled half of the day with presentations and lecture from Mr. Kheang. The presentation began by establishing the great power of our group taking up space in the historically loaded site– “This is our house after all, our land and country, and our responsibility to preserve it,” Kheang pronounced to us all. I could feel the groups’ sense of importance and diligence focus as we sat around the large meeting table. He then went on to go through the history of DC-Cam and the three main objectives of the tour– to learn history through site visits, meet and interview Anlong Veng residents, and to use what is learned to teach others as well as raise awareness about the peace projects.
When asked to share their knowledge of the Khmer Rouge Era most students explained that most of their information was from their parents. Kheang reflected on the amount of information the group was able to come up with, noticing that they knew much more than groups in past years. We then continued presentations about Khmer Rouge and Anlong Veng History, looking through several map figures of KR regions and reviewing DC-Cam future plans for the Peace Center.
A key feature of Kheang’s presentation apart from the factual statistics was the encouragement of critical thinking to the students. Kheang used Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia as an apt example, posing the question, “If Vietnam hadn’t entered Cambodia– what would’ve happened potentially, who would’ve helped?” This thought is especially relevant and challenging for Khmer students because of the general ignorance and disdain towards Vietnam felt by the Cambodian population. It served as a vital point in reframing “enemy” attitudes into peace planning and reconciliation. By questioning histories that are presented as one dimensional to consider the multitude of experience by both survivors and perpetrators– how those roles can easily be switched.
During the afternoon the students had the opportunity to hear first person accounts of KR times from Hov Teng, Mon Mao, and Sokhy. Mr. Teng and Mr. Mao both served as civil parties to Case 002 of the ECCC and Mr. Sokhy was a former KR soldier beginning in 1991 during Ta Mok’s time in Anlong Veng.
Mr. Teng lost 23 of his family members during the Khmer Rouge. He described the unbearable working conditions to which the students repeatedly questioned the exact timing of, seeming to be in disbelief that they worked around the clock everyday. The students asked Mr. Teng if he ever thought of running away of trying secretive things to survive like stealing food to which Teng replied that where he was during the time, there was nowhere to run and they (KR) were always watching. Out of eight brothers and sisters in his immediate family, two survived. He didn’t learn about most of his family’s fate until much later, a common story for many people displaced and separated from their homes.
The final guest speaker, Mr. Sokhy told students about his experience as a KR cadre. At sixteen years old he attempted to escape Cambodia into Thailand unsuccessfully and became a soldier. When questioned about his reasoning for joining Khmer Rouge forces he told students there were no other options, saying, “we had no choices.” The students were very interested in Sokhy’s perspective of Ta Mok after he claimed to have had contact with him. He gave the students a straight forward reply, saying Ta Mok always kept his word and didn’t appear to manipulate everyday people, but had was known for having a very bad temper once crossed. He reaffirmed the glorification of Ta Mok as a figure head telling the group that everyone from the community loved him.
We ended the day with going over interview techniques and media training in preparation for the following day in the village. There was particular emphasis on how to conduct the interviews sensitively, understanding that asking individuals to open about such dark memories could be difficult. Students were advised to note each person’s attitude and disposition and pay attention to the details of the interview in order to gather the truth from the story as much as possible.
Sunday was dedicated to collecting material for the students’ video projects. After arriving in Rom Chek commune the students split into their preplanned groups (3 full video, and 3 audio only) and set out to find interviews. I was able to accompany four interviews with a student group throughout the day. The interviews unsurprisingly varied immensely from quite worried and hesitant about sharing experiences to very talkative and open. The most striking similarity I noted throughout the interviews was each person telling the crew at one point or another of their coping mechanisms to live their lives after the Khmer Rouge. They all expressed their inclination to keep thoughts of the past out of their minds, and avoid any feelings relating to that time to keep from upsetting younger people.
The most in depth interview I was able to witness was the last one before we left Rom Chek. Students began to make their way back from their interviews to the house we used as our meeting place, when the owner of the house who is the mother of a Peace Center staff member began talking about her life. I quickly encouraged a group of students to get their equipment set up and we captured her story. Through tears she described her experience as a young girl in a KR commune. During that time it was only her father and other young siblings. After her father refused an arranged marriage by the KR she remembers him being taken away, and never seen again.
The interviewing process provided the students with a focused arena for inquiry with an understood purpose of preservation and documentation of individual’s stories. Given that this history is so recent, essentially anyone and everyone in the country has a story to tell that relates to the KR, and with the tools and experience gained during this time the students will be equipped to continue their work to ensure their longevity.
Overall the intensive in Anlong Veng was an incredibly rich and valuable experience for all that were involved. The trip allowed the students to connect what their knowledge of Anlong Veng and the Khmer Rouge with tangible reference points. All of the students agreed that physically being able to visit the historical sites and speak to residents added much more depth to their understanding of the KR time period. The variation of information and techniques used in the tour are invaluable for future Cambodian educators.
Also to note:
Upon leaving Phnom Penh to Anlong Veng we traveled with almost 200 plant starts that were generously donated to the Anlong Veng Peace Center. Unfortunately due the tight schedule we were unable to do a tree planting with the students as planned.
Upon arriving, Mr. Kheang was put into contact with a former Peace Tour participant that was so inspired by what was being done in Anlong Veng that he returned to contribute his own skills to the community. The young man was studying agriculture at the Royal University of Agriculture when he attended the tour and since graduating has moved to Anlong Veng to begin forest protective work. He met with Mr. Kheang to express his interest in assisting with future projects. The meeting was an unexpected success story and proves the great impact the Anlong Veng Peace Center and DC-Cam can have on future generations!
Individual stories are, as always, the key focus for the participants of the Anlong Veng Peace & Human Rights Study Tour. In April 2018, twelve participants (4 females and 8 males) from Regional Teacher Training Center-Takeo province and Anlong Veng High School were specifically selected to meet for interviews with villagers in Anlong Veng. It is also an opportunity for the students to engage in an inter-generational dialogue with residents for the sake of promoting “memory, peace and reconciliation.”
This month, special attention should be dedicated to some of the participants’ responses to the question: what do you feel about “former Khmer Rouge members”? The participants provided three different aspects about this according to their pre-tour survey. First, six out of eight participants portrayed former KR members in a negative light. Their common thought was that the former KR members’ acts or complicity in the regime was regrettable and evil, costing nearly 2 million lives and causing the disintegration of Cambodia’s social fabric. This led You Hong Yieng to reflect on why such acts of violence where Khmer killed Khmer took place in our country. If he had a wish, Yieng said, he would like to hear a clear explanation about former KR members’ motivations. Second, Neak Sophyrom, a pre-service teacher, stressed the significance of meeting the former KR members in person as it would be the chance to understand their perspectives. Third, Leng Punareay, a pre-service teacher, viewed the former KR members as positive and appreciative in the sense that they had to endure and overcome as many hardships as the people.
The second day of the study tour was devoted to seminars and discussions about the KR-related topics. The presentations covered the objectives of the study tour, the history of the KR and Anlong Veng community. Each session was followed by group reflections. The participants took the opportunity to find out the answers to these questions:
|What is the last Khmer Rouge stronghold?|
When did the Peace Center begin?
How was Khmer Rouge commercial relation with other country?
How was Khmer Rouge weapon trade from 75 till 79?
What would happen to Cambodia if the Vietnamese did not attack Khmer Rouge? (Summarized by Phat Bora)
As part of our regular practice, a local resident, Mr. Pok Sokhin, was invited to share his experiences with the participants. He became a local resident of Anlong Veng from the early 1990s, describing how he ended up in Anlong Veng and he had no alternative but to inadvertently join the Khmer Rouge forces. The excerpt of his talk is as follows:
He has been here in Anlong Veng since 1990 to look for his missing uncle. He ended up in there as he was not allowed to leave. He was later drafted into the KR forces. He was a soldier at the frontline. He fought in about 50 battles or so. He sometimes transported the weapons himself and sometime other people did the work. He could visit his home town in 2002 and all his neighbors and family thought he was dead. Many of his comrades-in-arms died or were wounded in the battlefields. At that time, he was very angry with the government soldiers when he lost one of his legs. He just fought for what his leader believed in.
In term of eating, the Khmer Rouge in the frontlines faced a lot of difficulties. They only had one pot and had to use leaves as utensils. He did hear of Son Sen’s death at the time but did not witness it firsthand. He found out that Ta Mok was a great man. He would always visit the people, he provides for the people and would always provide when asked. He likes Ta Mok more than Pol Pot because Ta Mok is more relatable and he was more kind.
Khmer Rouge soldiers were very disciplined. Otherwise they would face severe punishment. The Khmer Rouge navigated the jungle by map and collected intelligence for a couple of times before carrying out any attacks. In term of strategy, Khmer Rouge implemented guerrilla tactics because Khmer Rouge did not have any actual military bases. Khmer Rouge usually mounted the attack at dawn and swiftly retreated.
The forces of both the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian government often managed to disguise as each other to intrude in the ranks. He also mentioned about KR soldiers disguising oneself as the government soldier and was captured. For him, he had to escape and got lost in the forest for days.
The forces of the Cambodian government attacked Anlong Veng twice, first in 1992 and second time in 1993. Finally, the government also attacked Anlong Veng in 1998 when he and his comrades-in-arms escaped to O’Beitap to join the government. He was very happy during the reintegration because he thinks that the government welcomes and cares for them even though they were enemy not long ago. (Summarized by Phat Bora)
Sokhin’s personal story was the first exposure to former KR perspectives for the participants. His personal experiences allowed the students to reflect on some of the many circumstances that former KR joined military ranks, some of which took up arms under duress.
On the second part of the day, interview techniques were introduced to discussion to give the participants an example of what sort of questions to prepare for their upcoming interviews. The twelve participants were divided into three different groups and started to develop their questions. Afterward, Prof. Paul Cooke of University of Leeds took the floor and provided a brief overview of what the participants were expected to do on the next day. He assigned each of the four participants with roles of being a cameraman/woman, sound controller, interviewer and note taker (this role required the participant to write down information that the cameraman/woman would film for a cutaway. For example, if the interviewee mentioned their kitchen, the cameraman/woman would need to film their kitchen afterward.)
As each team had their actual role, Prof. Cooke gave them some time to think about a topic and to form a question that would provide an answer to the topic. As assigned, each team was supposed to collect two interviews as part of a series of documentary film production. Next morning, all the team members left the district town for Ta Dev village. As planned, three teams conducted six film interviews in the morning. The afternoon was devoted to editing. Each team needed to provide a proper introduction and conclusion to the film interviews conducted and also to mention the organizers of the Anlong Veng Peace & Human Rights Study Tour.
All students actively participated in the 4-day program and found in rewarding and enriching. The enthusiasm that the students displayed in conducting their film interviews had yielded superb results.
This product is expectedly used as part of their educational careers soon after the eight pre-service teachers from Regional Teacher Training Center in Takeo province are set to take up their teaching position at the end of this academic year of 2018. The brief training and quick practice still made it possible for the participants to do the job effectively.
On the 23rd of January 2018, 15 students embarked on the Anlong Veng Peace and Human Rights Study Tour, an initiative of the Anlong Veng Peace Centre. The centre is dedicated to truth, justice and memory in Cambodia. The tour is aimed at expanding student’s knowledge of the history of the Khmer Rouge regime, deepening empathy of people’s experiences under the regime and breaking down the barriers between former members of the Khmer Rouge. The students comprised of 10 pre-service teachers from the Regional Teacher Training Center in Kampong Cham province and 5 students from Anlong Veng High School. As majors of history, the students were intrigued by the stark contrast between Anlong Veng’s natural beauty and its dark history.
On Friday, the students had the opportunity to engage in a discussion with Mr. Teng and Mr. Mao, two civil parties to Case 002/02 of the ECCC. Through a face-to-face encounter with the civil parties the students had the opportunity to ask questions about their personal experiences of life under the Khmer Rouge regime. One of the students asked about why the Khmer Rouge forced everybody to wear the same black uniform. She learned from Mr. Mao that this was to symbolise the social equality as part of the regime’s communist ideology.
Through this interaction, the students were able to engage with the human suffering that occurred under the Khmer Rouge regime, a type of learning one cannot acquire through textbooks and lectures. The civil parties both spoke of the suffering they experienced through over-labour and the meagre rations of watery rice porridge that they were fed. Mr. Mao spoke of the time that he himself was sent to the killing fields for execution. 100 people were taken to the killing fields and 84 of them were executed. Luckily, his labour unit had met their production quota and their lives were spared, he said. He reiterated that others were not so lucky.
Mr. Teng, a member of a mobile unit, spoke about the loss of his family members during the regime. A total of 23 of Mr. Teng’s family members perished during the regime. Mr. Teng told the students that a few of his family members were murdered for being suspected traitors to the Khmer Rouge. Angkar had spies everywhere, and would arrest those people suspected and never to be seen again. The interaction with Mr. Teng allowed the students to understand that people under the Khmer Rouge not only suffered from being over-worked and underfed but also lived in constant fear of being denounced. At any time, yourself or a person close to you could disappear. Mr. Teng had shed a tear at the mention of the pain and loss he endured under the Khmer Rouge. Seeing Mr. Teng’s express his emotions allowed the students to understand just how painful it is for survivors to live with what they have experienced.
At the end of his speech, Mr. Mao stated the reason he became a civil party was not for revenge but for justice. Justice for the 1.7 million Cambodians who lost their lives under the Khmer Rouge. Mr. Mao wanted to make the distinction between justice and revenge. He wanted to teach the students that they should learn from the past so that it does not repeat itself. Mr. Teng had pleaded with the students, as the future of Cambodia, not to allow the regime to happen again. Engaging with the civil parties was incredibly important for the students. They saw the civil parties as the representatives of the ordinary Cambodian people at the Khmer Rouge trials.
Saturday – Interviews with villagers; reflection on the trip
On Saturday, the students had the opportunity to interview some of the villagers in Anlong Veng and gain their perspectives being former Khmer Rouge. Through a face to face encounter with former Khmer Rouge, the students had their preconceptions of Khmer Rouge challenged. This enabled them to engage in diverse perspectives and experiences instead of othering all Khmer Rouge as cruel and evil. One interviewee spoke of how he was ordered to execute 10 people but did dare to do it. In his words, he said that he would have rather died himself than murder people. Another student gained an insight into the doctors of Anlong Veng under Ta Mok’s rule. She noted that despite not having adequate medical equipment, the doctors would travel great distances at any time or day to treat those in need. She reflected that the doctors under the Khmer Rouge had displayed more compassion than many doctors nowadays. The students also learned of the respect and admiration that the Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok holds amongst the villagers. They learned that during the Khmer Rouge’s final years, Ta Mok would always provide the villagers in need. He would distribute rations of rice and canned fish throughout the villages. In this way the students were able to understand the sympathies toward the Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng. The experiences of interviewing the former Khmer Rouge allowed the students to empathise with the members of Anlong Veng by exposing them to divergent perspectives.
The students found the study tour to be enriching on a historical and experiential level. As pre-service teachers, the students felt that personally engaging in the local history of Anlong Veng had boosted their confidence in being able to teach the subject of Khmer Rouge history. The students reflected on ways in which they could transmit history of the regime to their juniors. They spoke of the lessons to be learned of the past and the value of teaching the younger generation of national unity and solidarity. They saw Cambodia’s dark past as a cautionary tale for younger generations, of the immense tragedy that can occur when leaders seek only power. Other students found the experience of interviewing former Khmer Rouge members to be the most valuable part of the tour. For them, speaking to the former Khmer Rouge allowed them to understand the conflict from another perspective they previously had not been exposed to. That these men had joined the Khmer Rouge because they wanted to protect the nation, not to destroy it. By understanding the past we can make judgments on what is in the present. By knowing the history of the Khmer Rouge and their own perspectives we can guarantee that the past does not repeat itself. For memory is the best safeguard for the future.
Friday, January 12
On January 12-15, 2018, ten students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh and five students of Anlong Veng High School embarked on a journey out to Anlong Veng to participate in the Anlong Veng Peace and Human Rights Study Tour. The students originated from diverse backgrounds and provinces in Cambodia and came from community development and economic development academic disciplines.
The Friday tour began by visiting Ta Mok High School, now renamed Anlong Veng High School. The school was completed in April 1993 and could accommodate between 300 and 400 hundred students. Next, the students visited the Ta Mok Hospital, built in October 1993. This was the first proper medical facility in the region. The hospital catered for minor illnesses and injuries, however serious medical treatment required evacuation to Thailand.
Finally, the students visited O’Chik Bridge. The bridge was originally built for temporary use to transport people down from the camps on Dangrek Mountain. It was built from timber and bamboo and was very unstable. During the rainy season the river would expand which made journeying across the breach perilous. There were even instances of people drowning when attempting to cross the bridge during the rainy season. Ta Mok had commissioned that a new bridge be built and was completed in January 1996. Ta Mok refused constructors to use pilings and instead the materials were gathered from the boulders near his house.
Ta Mok had facilitated these projects for the benefit of the Anlong Veng community. This leg of the tour allowed the students to understand why former Khmer Rouge warlords were still valorised in Anlong Veng. Not because of an obedience to the Khmer Rouge policy but because they had attempted to improve their standard of living.
Saturday, January 13th
Saturday began with an introduction to the work of the Anlong Veng Peace Centre in trying to build peace and understanding of the past in the region. The lesson began with the history of Democratic Kampuchea and the development of the Anlong Veng community. Next the students were introduced to the local reconciliation processes that had been taking place long before the Khmer Rouge tribunals commenced.
The students were divided into two groups and asked to brainstorm ideas on how to develop the Anlong Veng district. Group 1 focused on the need to conserve the historical sites of Anlong Veng. They suggested that promoting tours and Kayaking along the Anlong Veng Lake would provide funding for conservation projects. This would help to boost tourist interest in the historical sites of Anlong Veng. The group stressed the importance of local participation in conservation and tourist projects. This had two important implications, the first was that it would reduce a stigma against former Khmer Rouge members in Anlong Veng if tourists were socialised with them. Secondly it would help to ensure that the revenue generated from such projects would be distributed evenly across the community.
Group 2 had the vision of creating a Botanic Garden that encompassed all of the historical sites in Anlong Veng. It would be an inclusive venture including an organic farm and a research institution to teach the locals on sustainability. They believed that this would stimulate tourism in the district, which they believed to be the most effective method of economic development.
The students had the opportunity to engage in a discussion with two civil parties to Case 002 to the ECCC. Here the students could directly speak to survivors who lived under the Khmer Rouge regime. This gave an individualised and human understanding to the brutalities of the past. And despite all the hardship that they had went through, the students learnt that these civil parties only wanted reconciliation and not punishment for the crimes of the past. After breaking from lunch, the students received a presentation in interviewing and essay-writing skills in preparation for Sunday’s task and their assessment at the end of the trip.
Next, the students visited Ta Mok’s lakeside house which has been transformed into the Ta Mok Museum. The site consisted of four buildings. The first, built in 1993 was used by Ta Mok as a headquarters whilst he oversaw the construction of the O’Chik bridge. The second building, completed in 1996 was Ta Mok’s house, which consisted of three levels. The top floor was his bedroom. The middle level was his living room where he would receive guests and high ranking Khmer Rouge cadre. The ground floor, which only had one entrance, served as Ta Mok’s private room that only he entered. The third house was built to accommodate Ta Mok’s family and the fourth house sheltered Ta Mok’s cooks and servants.
Ta Mok’s house has been transformed to reflect the vision of the Anlong Veng Peace Centre in shaping Anlong Veng as a centre for dark tourism and memory in Cambodia. The 100 photos project has been erected in Ta Mok’s house to reflect the different aspects of Cambodia’s history under Democratic Kampuchea.
Next the students visited Ta Mok’s compound in the Dangrek Mountains. This house was originally used as a military command to direct operations across battlefield. Now it has been symbolically transformed into the Anlong Veng Peace Centre to represent the transition into reconciliation taking place in Anlong Veng.
Sunday, January 14th
On Sunday, the students were broken up into small groups and sent to O-Run and Chheu Teal Chrum villages to conduct interviews with the residents there. The students drew upon the skills and knowledge that they were taught yesterday. The students asked about the villager’s personal histories and when they had migrated to Anlong Veng. They also engaged in open discussions about their roles in the Khmer Rouge regime and the Pol Pot-Ta Mok split. One of the interviewees had spoken about how they still experience painful memories of war time years. Such as how a loud ‘boom’ noise could trigger traumatic flashbacks to hiding from artillery or hearing landmines explode. These interviews allowed the students to see the humanness of former Khmer Rouge fighters and acknowledge that they too have had painful experience from the years under the Khmer Rouge.
The students journeyed back out to Anlong Veng Peace Centre on the Dangrek Mountain for a reflection on what they had learned on the tour. Upon discussing what the student’s preconceptions were about Anlong Veng, most of them had a very limited knowledge of the district. What they did know was transmitted from their parent’s knowledge and they had a very simplistic understanding of the Anlong Veng community. Their thoughts were that many in the Anlong Veng community were former Khmer Rouge and therefore bad. The study tour allowed the students to engage with the members of Anlong Veng in a more complex and empathetic way. The students reflected that one cannot make a strict divide between a victim and a perpetrator. These understandings are critical for reconciliation and building peace in the nation.
Monday, January 15th
The tour concluded with a visited to the Khmer rouge exhibition inside Wat Thmei, a former security prison in Siem Reap. The exhibition included the forced evacuations from the cities as well as the forced transfers across the country. The pagoda included the layers of skulls as a tribute to those who had perished in the security centre. This visit concluded the peace tour and the students journeyed back to Phnom Penh that afternoon.
On December 12-15, 2017, a group of fifteen students—ten pre-service teachers from Regional Teacher Training Center in Kandal province along with five local students of Anlong Veng High School—took part in our monthly peace study tour of Anlong Veng historical sites. While bringing the number of participants to 165 by the end of this month, it has remained a significant channel for an inter-generational and community dialogue between the participants and the local residents in Anlong Veng, the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge movement. The participants could put peace into perspectives and discuss the concept of reconciliation in the Cambodian context.
This report touches upon the educational activities ranging from a series of presentations on history to group discussion on the key concepts. Then, it will lead to their prior knowledge and expectation from the study tour and their general reflection, especially, the interaction with villagers. The last part will touch upon their recommendations for such a study tour.
The four-day program for peace study tour covered a series of presentations on the history of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) and of the Anlong Veng community. This brief talk usually was a catalyst for critical debate among the participants. At the beginning, they were asked about what they know about the KR history. Most of the participants already had a basic understanding of the killings, starvation, and horrible living conditions. According to their pre-tour survey submitted before the commencement of the study tour, they rated their knowledge about the KR history at an average. Some students admitted to have poor knowledge of peace-building efforts after the 1998 reintegration of the KR movement in Anlong Veng. The sources of information predominately referred to their parents for the most part, and others means such as books, internet, media and schools. They would also have several questions in mind: why Khmer killed Khmer? Who was behind the KR? Why did the KR rule the country and cause such a human disaster? Why did the KR regroup and continue their warfare? How was the KR created and brought to the end? All of these questions were merely helpful to draw participants’ attention to the presentations and some of the answers could be heard. However, there might be no exact answer to them. They were rather debatable.
When asked what they wanted to learn about Anlong Veng during Ta Mok’s rule (1989-1998), they preferred to learn about the school system, financial sustainability, UXOs, war, foreign relations, the reasons of Anlong Veng being selected to be one of the strongholds and the process of re-integration. Out of this curiosity, the presentation on Anlong Veng history could help explain some of these questions. However, this process indeed had made everyone engaged in the tour more enthusiastically.
The rest of session focused on the key concept of “peace and reconciliation.” Each participant was assigned to reflect on this individually and write it down. Yorn Saravady, 19 years old, wrote that “peace” means “physical and psychological happiness, rights and freedoms, and no fear at all.” Similarly, Pang Sokroath, 20 years old, defined peace as “the process of safety and prosperity.” Ser Sengtha, 20 years old, and Chum Theara, 22 years old, considered peace as “the absence of war.” This session was quickly followed by a group discussion on the term “reconciliation.” This time, they were asked to consider what processes of reconciliation in Cambodian society they experience in their daily lives.
As planned before lunch time, two civil parties from Chong Kal district took the floor and engaged in a discussion on the life experience through the KR regime (1975-1979). The participants were divided into three different groups. While two groups met in person with the two civil parties to the Case 002 of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), another group was arranged to talk to a former KR soldier. The participants were then regrouped and exchanged their information from the discussion.
The afternoon session went ahead with the presentation on interview techniques and the process that each participant had to know how to communicate with villagers. As learned from the morning session, the interview technique session was merely provided with a very basic information and example. Once again, the participants were assigned to work in groups of 5. Each group needed to come up with a good planning such as questionnaires, recorders, etc. They also needed to discuss among themselves if they could do the interview either individually or in pairs/group. The team work was so important to connect the pre-service teachers with the local students of Anlong Veng High School.
The last part of the second day was dedicated to the documentary film screening of “Anlong Veng community” and the tour of historical sites. The 13-minute film was specifically produced to show youths’ perspectives on the Anlong Veng district, daily life and also the issues facing the community. Afterward, three tour guides out of 20 gave the participants a tour of Anlong Veng museum or Ta Mok’s museum (formerly Ta Mok’s house), Son Sen’s cremation site, Pol Pot’s cremation sites and Anlong Veng Peace Center on the Dangrek mountain, where they could enjoy a very beautiful scenery of Anlong Veng district as a whole. More importantly, this study tour used the space of Anlong Veng Peace Center as a reflection point for the day.
The third day was field research entailing interviews with villagers of various backgrounds. The three groups went to a village of Thlat commune, spending the whole morning engaging in a face-to-face discussion with villagers. The 15 participants decided to work in pair for a more comprehensive talk. Some of them could meet with a few villagers out of their curiosity of the KR history and life experience.
Reflecting the Educational Tour
As part of our daily reflections, the participants provided various comments on the entire program, ranging from historical sites, presentations, interview techniques, inter-generational dialogue, and Ta Mok’s past achievements in Anlong Veng to the opportunity to learn about the Anlong Veng community during this study tour. Yorn Liza, 20, wrote that she could see the other side of history through the actual site visit. She came to realize how the KR movement organized its military structure and constructed public buildings such as hospital, school, bridge and lakes. Pech Meng Leang and Hem Borei, both 20 years old, echoed Liza’s comments, adding that Ta Mok could do these works only with the help of Thai constructors and others. Regarding Ta Mok’s former school, Rin Dara, 30 years old, stepped in the debate and wondered the persons who could do the teaching, the subject matters, the administrative and financial support of the school, and also the number of school girls and boys.
With these in minds, the participants valued the significance of interview techniques and the actual practice with villagers so that they could explore more through the inter-generational dialogue. Un Kan, 25 years old, heard a perspective in favor of the KR movement and Pol Pot. After the interview, Kan wrote that: “the people liked and supported the KR leaders because, they thought, the KR leaders were good; their rule was free from thieves; everyone obeyed the superiors’ order; Pol Pot was a good leader, but the subordinates were not faithful to the top echelons at all.” Asked for his comments after the tour, Kan said he heard a completely different version of story that he obtained from his parents and other people in his community. Out of this curiosity, he approached another man who resonated his parents’ narratives. Chum Theara, 22, agreed with what Kan has raised, describing his experience as different from what he normally heard from people in his community
However, most of the participants considered the opportunity as very informative and a new experience. The local villagers provided them with hospitality and a warm welcome. Theara even commented that he would rather try to explore more if he had the chance to visit the community again. The participants’ overall reflection on daily life was that they live in a safe and sound environment.
The students of te study tour has expressed their enthusiasm about the study tour of Anlong Veng community. The history of Anlong Veng community and the KR movement was raised as a means to generate group debate and to reflect upon the daily life in the once reclusive community of Anlong Veng. The inter-generational dialogue with the villagers could be a way of try to promote mutual understanding and empathy. Learning from various perspectives and narratives would be a significant component to encourage the participants to go deeper into this complicated history. Visiting the community represented a concerted effort to make a social reintegration and, ultimately, to maintain peace.
On November 11-14, 2017, fifteen students and pre-service teachers took part in an educational tour to Anlong Veng, the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge movement. Ten pre-service teachers travelled from Battambang Regional Teacher Training Center to Anlong Veng to join five other students of Anlong Veng High School to embark upon a four-day study tour organized by the Anlong Veng Peace Center, an initiative of Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) in collaboration with Ministry of Tourism.
On the first day of the trip, both the participants and the staffs of Anlong Veng Peace Center spent much of the day travelling to Anlong Veng district. While having dinner together after arriving from a long day of travel, the staff of Anlong Veng Peace Center and the ten participants from Battambang Regional Teacher Training Center took some time to introduce themselves and had a brief discussion about the work of Anlong Veng Peace Center, the trip’s itinerary, and what were their expectations from the trip.
When asked what they wanted to know the most from the educational trip, many participants showed strong interest about the learning of the livelihood of Anlong Veng people and Anlong Veng Museum (Ta Mok’s Former House). On the other hand, a few of the participants had a very particular curiosity regarding the reason why Ta Mok moved to Anlong Veng. The discussion was wrapped up by briefly stressing the importance of history and its application to deal with any arising issues. As an assignment, the participants were asked to reflect on the factors that could develop peace and reconciliation and to explain them to the rest of the group, and to think of three questions about Anlong Veng’s history that they wanted to explore.
The second day of the educational trip started at a community house in O-Korki Kandal village where most of the day’s activities took place. The morning meeting included a brief introduction about the Anlong Veng Peace Center and its two books (A History of Anlong Veng Community: The Final Stronghold of the Khmer Rouge Movement and Anlong Veng Guidebook).
When asked about what they know about KR, the participants replied with various answers such as: KR’s 4-Year Plan, the purges, DK history teaching methodology, the forced transfer, cooperative life, the biography of KR leaders, historical dates, serious human rights violation in KR regime, Anlong Veng historical sites, and the hardship of people during KR regime…etc. The participants were asked about what they want to know about the KR. This would be a learning process that would prepare them for the next day’s interviews.
After the discussion and a series of presentations, the 15 participants were divided into 3 groups to discuss and present about the meaning of “peace” and “reconciliation” as well as how to achieve it. The three groups discussed the two concepts at various places and had to produce their answers on the flipchart. Each group had their group leaders who would present their finding.
Twenty minutes later, group one volunteered to present their result of the discussion. They defined peace as understanding, unity, and co-existence. The group continued to define the term “reconciliation” in the sense of conflicting parties trying to reach an agreement and heal the uneasy relation conflict. Once again, they can co-exist and live in harmony.
Group Two’s definition for peace is harmony, prosperity, freedom, and development while, to them, reconciliation means reconnecting, understanding, and seeking justice in order to find a sound solution for both parties of conflict. When asked how they could achieve peace and reconciliation, the group simply answered “We can study hard and try to think for the solution to the conflict”.
Group Three answered that peace is the sound of both mind and body and reconciliation means unity. Therefore, to achieve peace and reconciliation in the society, one must not exploit other, be highly educated, clearly understand what peace is, has thoughtful and capable leaders, and thoroughly think about the consequence of one’s own action.
The morning session ended with the presentation on various topics of history in connection with Anlong Veng and Khmer Rouge in general. The afternoon’s session continued with film screening about the work of Anlong Peace Center as well as some of the methods and techniques for interviewing people. The participants had the chance to talk with two civil parties, Mr. Om Teng and Mr. Mon Mao from Chongkal district, Oddar Meanchey province. The two speakers narrated their personal experiences and engaged in a fruitful discussion about this history.
At the end the day, the participants were given a tour by two tour guides, who were trained by the Anlong Veng Peace Center’s team and instructors from the Ministry of Tourism, in September 2017. Given the time constraint, the participants could visit Anlong Veng’s Museum (Former Ta Mok’s house), Tamok’s bridge, Pol Pot’s grave, and finally the Anlong Veng Peace Center itself.
On the third day, the participants along with the civil parties were taken to Andaung Bei village in Lomtong commune, Anlong Veng district, to meet for interviews with villagers about their experiences under the Khmer Rouge regime. During the interview, the civil parties assisted some of the participants by sharing some of their personal experiences to aid in clarifying the information from the interview. Now their interviews have been converted in articles for publication with “Searching for the Truth” magazine and Reaksmei Kampuchea, a local newspaper.
From October 18-21, 2017, a new round of the Anlong Veng Peace and Human Rights Study Tour began with 15 (11 female) university and Anlong Veng high school students participating. This program is designed to promote inter-personal and inter-community dialogue as part of our broader objectives of promoting memory, peace, and reconciliation. Students of various majors and backgrounds, regardless of whether their relatives were victims or perpetrators, are selected and trained to partake in the community-based reconciliation project of the Anlong Veng Peace Center.
The start of this Canadian-funded project took place during Cambodia’s annual recollection of the October 1991 Paris Peace Agreement (Peace Agreement). Today, this agreement’s validation is debated. It was supposed to be the official end of Cambodia’s chronic conflicts. However, this has not been achieved. This year marks 19 years (1998-2017) since Cambodians could have realized peace. Peace, in this context, refers to the absence of violent conflict.
This article will first highlight the activities of the Peace and Human Rights Study Tour. Then, it will examine students’ perception on peace in general, not their opinions about the Peace Agreement. And, lastly, it will focus on the students’ post tour and daily reflections of the entire program.
On the 17th of October 2017, one day before the Anlong Veng Peace and Human Rights study tour, the Anlong Veng Peace Center’s team met with the 10 participants. These participants had diverse academic backgrounds and came from many different walks of life. The meeting started with an introduction of the Anlong Veng Peace and Human Rights study tour, its purposes, its previous participants, and its funding sources.
Next, the participants discussed why they wanted to join the tour. Most participants said they had many questions about the Khmer Rouge that could not be answered by studying the subject at school or by listening to stories from living relatives. The participants coveted an opportunity to learn directly from Anlong Veng, the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge. One participant said that he wanted the opportunity to write his graduation dissertation at Anlong Veng. Aside from the four students who are studying history at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), the participants did not have much knowledge about Khmer Rouge and the Anlong Veng community generally.
When asked about what they wanted to know about the Anlong Veng community and Khmer Rouge history, their responses were as follows:
- Hul Sros said: “I want to know more about the story behind Pol Pot’s grave and Ta Mok’s meeting house.”
- Ty Plech said: “I also want to know about the historical sites; the lives of Khmer Rouge cadres and the prejudice they faced; as well as the leadership structure in Anlong Veng after the Khmer Rouge regime [fell].”
- That Sreymab said: “I want to learn about the changes in the livelihood of Anlong Veng’s people from before the Khmer Rouge regime until the present.”
- Hak Delina said: “I want to know how the people of Anlong Veng feel about the Khmer Rouge and the reasons they joined the Khmer Rouge.”
- Ma Sokvibol said: “I want to know why Anlong Veng became the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and the special characteristics of the region.”
- Kheang Senghoeun said: “I want to learn about the perspectives of the Anlong Veng people toward the Khmer Rouge leaders and how these perspectives have changed over the years.”
- Soy Natry said: “I want to know about the Anlong Veng people’s perspective toward Khmer Rouge in general.”
- Ren Rachana said: “I want to know why Anlong Veng lasted longer than any other Khmer Rouge strongholds and why the Khmer Rouge tried so hard to defend it.”
- Hout Senglim said: “I want to know how the Anlong Veng people know about the Khmer Rouge and where the supports Khmer Rouge got.” [Not sure what is being said here, maybe: where the supporters of the Khmer Rouge went/are?
- Pech Marina said: “I want to know how the Khmer Rouge ruled Anlong Veng and where those Khmer Rouge came from.”
Next, the Anlong Veng Peace Center’s team encouraged the participants to write down five additional questions they wanted answered during the trip. Then, the Peace Center’s team discussed the itinerary and the requirement of the trip. The requirement was that each participant had to interview one person in Anlong Veng and write one article, and summit it to the center for publication.
Much of the first day was spent travelling from Phnom Penh to Anlong Veng. Upon arriving in the evening, the participants had the chance to take a quick tour around some of the historical sites in Along Veng (including Ta Mok’s school, hospital, bridge, and lake). They also could visit the Anlong Veng Peace Center which is located on top of the Dangrek mountains. There, the participants saw for the first time the calming and peaceful atmosphere of the Center and Anlong Veng. The participants had a brief, yet meaningful, discussion inside the Center. Discussing various topics such as: how to think critically, what is education, what are the obstacles the Along Veng currently faces, what impact can each participant bring to the community, how to further promote peace and reconciliation, and what can be done to further develop Anlong Veng and preserve its historical significance.
The second day started by meeting with 5 other Anlong Veng students. We had a quick breakfast at a nearby restaurant, and left for the community house located in O-Korki Kandal village where most of the day’s activities happened. The Anlong Veng Peace Center’s staff started the session by getting everyone in the room to introduce themselves. This was followed by a brief presentation about the objectives and trip agenda, as well as a short video about the Anlong Veng Peace and Human Rights Study tour. The Anlong Veng Peace Center’s staff continued to give presentations on various topic concerning the history of Anlong Veng and Khmer Rouge generally. Questions and discussion from the participants came afterward.
After the presentations, the participants were divided in 3 groups, consisting of 5 people per group (each group included a leader, a recorder, a motivator, a timekeeper, and a reporter) to discuss and present ideas on two questions: What factors are required to achieve peace? How is peace sustained?
Group Discussion on “Peace”
The fifteen students put peace in context by providing ways it could be maintained. The three teams, shared two common thoughts: that only through “the people” and “education” could peace be secured and stability established in contemporary Cambodia. However, the teams also came up with other, unique factors. One team believed that leadership levels should play a decisive factor. Considering this, the fragility of peace would be dependent upon the will, commitment, interest, or greed of the leadership. Another team believed rule of law is a main focal point of peace. This team asserted that individuals deserve equal treatment before the law; and that a reliable justice system would reduce the possibility of social unrest. Finally, the teams valued information as playing a critical role in protecting peace. It should be noted that the students did not mention some of the negative sides of that medium, i.e. misinformation and provoking.
Additionally, based on the teams’ common recommendations to safeguard information, the teams valued the idea of building up mutual trust and understanding, promoting tolerance, endorsing an extremism-free environment, increasing a sense of solidarity, and crafting peaceful settlements concerning any rising disagreements or conflicts, as well as upholding human rights and socio-economic standards and development for all people.
During the afternoon session, a brief presentation was given about how to interview people; and the 15 participants were divided into 4 smaller groups for the field work. Guest speakers were invited to speak to the students so that they could practice working together before going to a village. It served as a sample of how they work together at a village. For the last activity of the day, the students toured the historical sites guided by two tour guides, who were trained in August 2017.
The participants were taken to a local village called Lumtong Chas to engage in an inter-generational dialogue with the locals. Working in groups of 3 or 4 members, the participants succeeded in collecting individuals’ narratives concerning his or her life during the Khmer Rouge rule. Additionally, each student took a photo with the village residents. For most, this was the first opportunity they had to directly interact with the local people. Each participant’s article will be published in the local newspaper Reaksmey Kampuchea and DC-CAM’s “Searching for the Truth” magazine.
The students left Along Veng to visit the Wat Thmey pagoda in Siem Reap. There they received a short introduction to exhibitions on “Forced Transfer,” “Phnom Penh in 1979,” and “Wat Thmey information during the KR regime.” After that, the participants did a final reflection, comparing the dark history of the Khmer Rouge with the glorious legacy of Angkor Wat at the reading hall inside Wat Thmey.
In their reflections, all the students wrote that they felt the trip was informative, educational, and significant. The historical sites and dialogue in Anlong Veng and drew collective attention. Ty Plech, 4th year student majoring in history at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP), wrote: “it is extremely important to strengthen our knowledge of the KR history. This will broaden our understanding, thus enabling us to think critically.” Like Plech, That Sreimab commented on the face-to-face meeting with the Anlong Veng residents, writing that: “many of our Cambodian people perished during the KR period. As part of the younger generation, I will make a strong appeal for an effective prevention of such heinous crimes.” Besides the substance of the program, the participants also valued the team spirit and the opportunity to share their various thoughts on relevant topics. Soy Natry, 2nd year student majoring in International Relation at the Institute of Foreign Language (IFL), wrote: “History teaches us about what is right or wrong. It has thus left us to remedy the mistakes so that our country can live in peace and prosperity.”
Anlong Veng Peace Center Experience Part One:
Connecting CMAC, the Preah Vihear Temple, and the Anlong Veng Peace Center
Remnants of war and reminders of past conflicts are ubiquitous throughout Cambodia. Some serve to educate or to honor lives lost while others have inflicted ongoing hardship throughout the country. Among the latter, are the leftover landmines that have wrought devastation on families and communities in numerous provinces. Although Cambodia has seen relative peace since the early 1990s, ridding the country of land mines has required decades of tedious efforts by national and international agencies.
When the last major Khmer Rouge stronghold surrendered to the Phnom Penh government in 1998, the landscape was littered with landmines leftover from ongoing guerilla warfare. In 1992, the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) appointed the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) to assist refugees driven away from their homes during war to safely return home. Today, CMAC is the largest demining organization in Cambodia and independently continues its mission to rid the country of mines. CMAC and its sponsors understand demining is crucial to economic development and improving the livelihood of Cambodian communities.
On July 7th, 2017, CMAC inaugurated the Peace Museum of Mine Action in Siem Reap province and held an official ceremony to accept the Government of Japan’s $11 million donation towards demining efforts. Officials from both governments, including Cambodian Minister of Defense, Tea Banh, and Japanese Ambassador to Cambodia, Hidehisa Horinouchi, were in attendance. Hundreds of residents from neighboring communities were also in attendance to commemorate the event. The museum will provide visitors with a historical account of CMAC’s demining efforts following an era of war. More importantly, the Peace Museum of Mine Action aims to educate visitors about the long-term effects of war and advocate for peace. Cambodian and Japanese officials demonstrated a spirit of diplomacy which was emulated by all attendees. The ceremony symbolized commitment, cooperation, and hope for CMAC’s ongoing mission to clear Cambodia of all remaining mines.
The nature of CMAC’s work as well as their objectives for peace and prosperity are synonymous with the objectives of the Anlong Veng Peace Center. The Sleuk Rith Institute’s (SRI) initiative for Anlong Veng is built on sustainable long-term growth and development that run harmoniously with the community and the land. To successfully draw tourism and aid infrastructural development, SRI will look to CMAC’s continued efforts in clearing the region of landmines and bringing safety and peace of mind to its communities.
The Anlong Veng Peace Center is situated in the Dangrek Mountains, near the border of Thailand. The region is staggeringly beautiful though tainted by war and ongoing social stigmas. The 14 designated historical sites mark the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge and its infamous leaders, Pol Pot and General Ta Mok. The surrounding villages are inhabited by many former Khmer Rouge cadres who resettled in the area, raised families, and cultivated the land. The Preah Vihear Temple, listed as one of the 14 sites, rests above the border of Thailand and Cambodia. The temple has long been both the site and subject of border disputes and civil war. It is believed to be the last area overtaken by the Khmer Rouge before they were ousted from the capital in 1979. However, it was not re-opened to the public until 1998 because of the guerilla warfare that continued to wage throughout the Dangrek mountains. Though the temple was permanently transformed by decades of war and conflict, its historical significance has only increased.
Development of the Anlong Veng historical sites is an opportunity to promote further understanding of the Khmer Rouge movement, but even more importantly, it is an opportunity to bridge the Anlong Veng communities to the rest of the country, and eventually the international community. Working with agencies like CMAC who share common objectives of peace and development strengthens SRI’s efforts in Anlong Veng. By ensuring the land is safe and habitable, opportunities for travel and tourism are simultaneously increased. Ultimately, joint collaborations in the region will further integrate Anlong Veng communities into the rest of Cambodia, and bring further understanding, empathy, and reconciliation for a country still defining itself after decades of war.
Anlong Veng Peace Center Experience Part Two:
When the Khmer Rouge regime was ousted in 1979, many members, including Pol Pot, re-assimilated in the Dangrek Mountains, and continued waging guerilla warfare throughout the Northern exterior provinces. The last remaining military stronghold officially surrendered to the Cambodian government at the Preah Vihear Temple, in 1998. Although the military campaign ended, the former KR members and their families remained in the outlying regions. They were largely isolated from the rest of Cambodian society, but still faced the same struggles to survive and rebuild in a region torn apart by decades of war. Many of the party’s members settled in the district of Anlong Veng of the Oddar Meanchey province, where the Anlong Veng Peace Center is based. Although the stigmas of the Khmer Rouge, war crimes, and mass atrocities haunt the region, the residents of these communities exude warmth and kindness, though it is sometimes measured.
Though some would portray Anlong Veng’s isolation to be a result of its dark history, the reasons are naturally varied and more complex. Lack of infrastructure, economic opportunity, and a history of border conflict with Thailand have also contributed. Though subsistence is fragile in many parts of the area today, the potential for development and continued integration is evident. The work of Anlong Veng associates has already contributed to a greater sense of community and connectedness, as well as educational and economic opportunities. This shift can be witnessed in SRI’s fieldwork where they conduct personal interviews with residents of Anlong Veng, and host educational events for local students.
The published history from the KR era is subject to generalizations and partial accounts, as with any period of war and conflict. Associates of the Anlong Veng Peace Center seek to expand knowledge and understanding of the KR era and the Anlong Veng community, with the intent to shape a more informed world view. In-person interviews conducted by associates as well as local high school students are effective methods to gain more understanding about the KR era, its ideologies, and the impact of history on surviving KR cadres and their families.
Though generations who lived through the era are sometimes wary, they also demonstrate willingness and even transparency when approached by interviewers. Local high school students particularly benefit in the interview process and the work of the Anlong Veng Peace Center. The students participate in an interactive training on genocide and the KR history before conducting interviews in the surrounding villages. The experience is not only educational, but noticeably empowering for students. The region’s youth are most capable of connecting and transforming their communities, therefore; imparting critical thinking skills and educational opportunities is crucial to bring change and continued peace.
The peace center’s vision for the Anlong Veng region is comprehensive. From planting rosewood trees, to hosting educational trainings, and collaborating with foreign sponsors in developing a sustainable tourism industry, the center’s initiatives offer promise and opportunity for Anlong Veng. When asked whether they had reservations regarding the potential influx of tourism to Anlong Veng, residents, including former KR cadres, welcomed the prospect. With the aim to increase integration and economic growth, the center will gradually implement projects that benefit the community as much as the potential investors and visitors it also hopes to attract.
Ultimately, stigmas will dissipate as greater understanding of the past is achieved through connecting Anlong Veng communities and promoting reconciliation. With the incorporation of the region’s youth, the center also gives Cambodia a greater chance to understand and define its own history. Though war seems to arise instantaneously, peace is a process reached with time, understanding, healing, and commitment to human dignity. The Anlong Veng Peace Center has demonstrated a commitment to the peace process and will continue to advance this objective as it implements its initiatives.
On June 19th, 2019, the Peace Center hosted a community forum at O-Sramar Secondary School. Forty-eight students, twenty-nine male and nineteen female, participated in an event which highlighted topics in the study of the history of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979) and its particular relevance to Anlong Veng. The forum was the third in a series, following Trapeang Tav and Anlong Veng High School, in which local history has been explored and discussed at the secondary school level in this final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge movement.
O-Sramar Secondary School is located in Trapeang Tav commune. It is in close proximity to Dangrek mountain, home of the Anlong Veng Peace Center. The Center is perched at the edge of a beautiful cliff historically known as Ta Mok’s Former Meeting House (or Peuy Ta Ruon). Until now, students have been taught very little about either the genocide committed during the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975‒1979 or the subsequent civil war focused on their own home area in 1979‒1998. Research has demonstrated that students’ families rarely discuss the Khmer Rouge and its legacy in Cambodia or Anlong Veng. Understanding of this history has been minimal for years ‒ even post-1998.
Tin Ponleu, a fifteen years-old 9th Grader at this school, is typical. Her family moved to Anlong Veng in the early 2000’s. She reports that although she did occasionally hear personal narratives about Democratic Kampuchea, these were standard accounts of mistreatment and rural under-development. The scale of atrocity and deprivation was missed. Tin Ponleu believes these stories precisely because such topics were included in her school curriculum covering geography and history. We believe this demonstrates the success of the Anlong Veng Peace Center’s various initiatives to introduce a realistic platform to teach and discuss history in this former KR stronghold.
At the beginning of this school event, the team distributed printed material titled, “A History of the Anlong Veng Community: The Final Stronghold of the Khmer Rouge Movement” to all attendees. This text provided four essential chapters as a brief summary background to the ninety minute forum. This included: “A History of the Cambodian Communist Movement,” a “History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979),” a “Community History of Anlong Veng: Part I,” and “Community History of Anlong Veng: Part II.” This material was meant to elevate discussion at the event as well as promoting the students’ own independent thinking at home.
For the purpose of more effective communication, the event began by asking attendees to re-arrange their desks in a face-to-face manner. With this fresh environment, each was assigned to fill in a pre-forum survey individually. After that, they were divided into four groups in order to focus on each of the above-mentioned texts. Each group worked together on the texts to compile a set of questions derived either from the text or from outside experience. This was followed by a question and answer session. Group leaders facilitated the discussion, helping ensure that the students read all of the text and participated with opinions and questions.
Most attendees commented that this was their first time engaging in a group discussion of history. The experience complimented the students’ own knowledge drawn previously from their older relatives. Ponleu, for example, reported that her fifty-six year-old father (and her grandfather), who once served under the Khmer Rouge, had described to her the overwork, food scarcity, and prohibitions against religious practices. These accounts created a foundation of understanding about harsh treatment, lack of freedoms, and economic underdevelopment during the Democratic Kampuchea (DK).
Ponleu and her classmate Pet Porch expressed their realization about how group work was effective in promoting their understanding of the many details of the history. They remarked on the positive experience from collaboration with classmates and how each team member managed to share opinions and guidance with others.
Ponleu viewed this study environment as constructive given that everyone was engaged and participated. The students learned that although the expression of conflicting opinions can delay making final conclusions, the experience of an open and democratic forum in which all voices are heard was a valuable tool for education and well worth it in the end. Similarly, Porch echoed this by saying that we could not live in isolation and that digesting multiple sources of information enables us to make wiser decisions. At this forum, Porch led a group of nine members free to propose any thoughts on the topics before he took responsibility for which ones to incorporate into a final argument. Both students were very supportive and appreciative of their classmates’ opinions.
Our team paid close attention to any claims of bias or discrimination against students who were children of former KR members (like the case of Ponleu). Group leaders like Porch stated confidently that no such instances were expressed and that the forum enriched the historical understanding of all participants regardless of their backgrounds in Anlong Veng.
Asked if he heard about the trials at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia’s (ECCC), Porch admits to a very limited awareness of them. It should be recalled that Trapeang Tav has become the new home of the former suspect, IM Chem, in Case 004/02. Her case was abandoned before its conclusion.
More photo: https://photos.app.goo.gl/BPMfzNfcxUeYJiBe7
From 11 to 13 June, I had the honor of joining a group of students and educators from Pursat province visiting the Anlong Veng Peace Center. Guided by DC-Cam staff, we embarked on a multi-day exploration of Cambodia’s living past, probing the legacy of the Khmer Rouge in a region heavily impacted by conflict in the latter decades of the 20th century. 18 of us in total participated in what DC-Cam has come to call the Anlong Veng “Peace Tour”: myself, two staff from DC-Cam, six high school teachers, and nine of their students — all of whom were nominated to join the trip due to their academic standing and eagerness to learn about Cambodian history.
I was struck from the outset by students’ high level of attention and engagement. As we passed between historical sites ranging from Pol Pot’s grave to Ta Mok’s former home, all of the participants discussed the implications of these historical sites for Cambodian identity today. In addition, both the students and teachers alike actively participated in the more structured lectures that Dr. Ly Sok-Kheang delivered at the Peace Center itself. The sessions in the Peace Center provided an overview of Khmer Rouge history as well as the local history of the Anlong Veng community. While based around a PowerPoint presentation, the lesson felt much more like a dialogue than a monologue. Different prompts opened up interactive discussion as students and teachers alike asked questions and shared reflections. This level of interactivity is rare in Cambodian classrooms, as Kheang later explained to me. Experiential education programs such as the Anlong Veng Peace Tours help students to build personal connections with the past, a vital component of history and human rights education. When students and teachers alike feel themselves embedded in a larger historical narrative, they are bound to take more seriously the often-uttered cry of “never again.”
The Anlong Veng Center is a work in progress. Many of the Khmer Rouge historical sites scattered near the Cambodian-Thai border are in a state of disrepair; others, such as Son Sen’s grave, lack even a historical marker. This lack of upkeep, of course, was one of the primary reasons that DC-Cam decided to create the Center, to ensure that this history did not wash away with the yearly rains that carve muddy channels through the roads of Anlong Veng. But rather than feeling “incomplete,” the Center’s ongoing evolution invites others in to help envision what a hybrid human rights-history center might look like in Cambodia. Students gave feedback on the master plan for the community’s renovation and offered their perspectives on how the center could best serve Cambodians of all walks of life. DC-Cam staff will incorporate these contributions in their ongoing work in the community.
After the Peace Tour concluded, I continued with DC-Cam staff to Siem Reap. There, at Hun Sen High School, they led a Classroom Forum with roughly 120 students. I had accompanied other DC-Cam staff to other Classroom Forums around Phnom Penh before and knew the general format of these presentations, which blend Khmer Rouge history lessons with oral history methodology. As with the group of students at the Peace Center, however, the students at Hun Sen High School participated much more actively than I’d seen students engage at other schools.
Part of the reason for this may have to do with the different approach to assessing and responding to students’ prior familiarity with Khmer Rouge history. At the outset of the Classroom Forum, Kheang asked students to spend ten minutes writing a response to the question “What do you know about the Khmer Rouge?” His forthright prompt elicited nervous laughter from the crowd, a nearly universal reaction across different student groups. This is not surprising when one considers that, strapped for time, history teachers in schools across Cambodia rarely devote more than a few hours a year to the history of Democratic Kampuchea. But rather than embarrass students for what they didn’t know, DC-Cam staff instead collected and anonymously shared the responses to establish a base off of which to build. The answers ranged widely, from “the Khmer Rouge killed many people” to “they forced work” to “they wore black shirts and pants.” In cases where students’ answers weren’t clear, many volunteered to stand up and clarify their positions: again, this group came across as confident and excited to participate, a stark contrast to the timidity I’d seen in other classrooms. In addition to these responses, students also submitted one question each that DC-Cam staff later answered over the course of the session.
After this introductory exercise, Kheang delivered his presentation on the history of the Khmer Rouge. The lesson focused first on the definition of genocide and the background context that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge — including the origins of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and the covert U.S. bombing in eastern Cambodia and Laos. A timeline of the Democratic Kampuchea period (1975-1979) followed. The part that most engaged students, however, was the review of Democratic Kampuchea’s major leaders. In an exercise that mixed historical empathy with revelation of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality, Kheang asked students to read out loud quotations from Pol Pot, Ta Mok, and Khieu Samphan, among others. As students channeled the words of these Khmer Rouge leaders, they better understood the gravity of the Khmer Rouge years and the totalitarian ideology that motivated the regime.
An overview of the Anlong Veng project concluded the Classroom Forum, but not before students had a chance to ask questions of the DC-Cam staff. After an hour and a half of intensive Khmer Rouge history, students felt more confident to make informed questions about the material. Their questions, focusing on the legacy of Khmer Rouge in today’s Cambodia, struck at the heart of what it means to remember, to commemorate, and to reconcile with the past. One student’s question echoes with me still: why, he asked, wasn’t genocide — as a concept, as a history — taught in Cambodian schools? It’s a question that deserves an answer and an intervention for a generation of Cambodians eager to engage with their history. Hopefully the Peace Center will prove to be an engaging forum in which to explore and better understand similar questions.
On Wednesday, 19 April 2017, five civil parties (henceforth CP’s) from Oddar Meanchey visited the Anlong Veng Peace Center in order to learn about the Center and it’s work – Mr Hov Teng, Mr Srang Saroem, Mr Khien Ram, Mr Chea Chhauet and Mr Morn Mao. It is recommended that this project will be incorporated into the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC – known as The Khmer Rouge Tribunal) reparations programme. In order to ensure that the project is an appropriate reparations mechanism, the Victims Support Section (VSS) of the ECCC recommended that CP’s visit the Center in order to give their own informed opinion on the utility and benefit of such a project.
Dr. Ly Sok-Kheang, director of the Anlong Veng Peace Center, brought the CP’s to the Center in the morning. The Center is situated on Dang-rek Mountain, providing a truly remarkable view of Cambodia. Immediately on arrival, the five moved to the cliff edge that offers a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. One can’t help but be struck by the beauty of the landscape; not only that surrounding the area, but the undisturbed nature in which the Center is nestled. Dr. Ly has had students visiting from Phnom Penh plant trees around the Center on prior visits, saying that he feels too often trees are cut down and no new ones planted. These trees are beginning to grow, and perhaps this reflects the potential that the Center has as a reparations programme. A Center for education and dialogue, it has the potential to put down new roots in Anlong Veng.
Dr. Ly began his presentation with the CP’s on this note. First, he explained the objectives of the Center: to further understand and search for a true understanding of Cambodia’s history, which we must do by understanding “the other side of the coin”. Thus, the Center focuses on reconciliation, for both the community and the country as a whole. The Center, Dr. Ly explained, is a library and information desk for young people; from Anlong Veng and Phnom Penh and beyond; from Cambodian and internationally. Next, Dr. Ly addressed the Center’s geography, noting the beauty of its surroundings on Dang-rek Mountain and the scenery’s role in helping to establish the Center as a place for reflection. The Center’s activities – student study peace and Human Rights tours, the proposed tour-guide training programme, research and documentation, and the writing of an Anlong Veng history book, amongst other activities – were described.
Dr. Ly explained to the CP’s that as the final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, there remains much still to learn from this area. He said that in order to understand the Khmer Rouge regime, we must learn from both victims and perpetrators, but that doing so does not glorify the regime or ex-cadre in any way. Instead, it is important in helping people to understand the Khmer Rouge ideology, which can go some way towards answering questions surrounding the regime’s continued support in these areas even after 1979 and the end of Democratic Kampuchea. Questions about history still remain unanswered, and Anlong Veng is a historical marker for the entire country. Dr. Ly explained that the philosophy of the Center is based on the idea that we cannot reject a particular group in society; to understand the Khmer Rouge and the past, we should start in Anlong Veng, a symbol of dark part of the country’s past, which can act as one component of Cambodia’s history, in contract with sites of great civilisation such as Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear.
Following this, Dr. Ly asked the CP’s for their thoughts on the Center, and its potential as part of the ECCC’s reparations programme. All five agreed unanimously that the center should be incorporated as a reparations programme by the court. Mr. Morn Mao answered first, agreeing with the center and its projects, and praising the Center’s role as a place for study, learning and documentation. He elaborated, saying that in his opinion, the Center would be a beautiful reparations programme if the ECCC decided to sponsor the Center. Given that the Center is within a former meeting room of some of the Khmer Rouge leaders, and in an area where many of these leaders lived and died, Mr. Mao argued that the Center inevitably causes visitors to reflect on the past. He expressed hope that the Center would develop into a place for reading and research about the past, and welcome both Cambodian and international visitors. Answering last, Mr. Hov Teng said that it was important to have a site that commemorates the past in this way – his suggestion, however, was to add to the Center by installing a monument, which could act as a further symbol of commemoration.
We wished to find out more about the CP’s thoughts on the Center and the project, and their opinions on reconciliation and reparations. Therefore, I spoke with each CP individually, to discuss their opinions one-on-one and gain a greater understanding of the support for the Center that they had expressed.
All of the CP’s mentioned the merging of the beautiful surroundings with a site for education and commemoration. Mr. Mao explained that before visiting the Center, he felt slightly nervous given the historical context. However, on arrival he was struck by the beauty of the location, and told me he felt it was an important site for visitors to both appreciate the scenery and relax, and reflect on the past. Mr. Hov Teng echoed this sentiment, as did Mr. Srang Saroem. Mr Saroem explained that it was his first time in Anlong Veng, and prior to visiting he had not expected the Center’s location to be so beautiful. Further, Mr. Saroem explained that whilst he was in court at the ECCC, he often felt anger and a desire for revenge – he wished for the death of the accused. On arriving at the Center and exploring the site, he explained that he had suddenly began to feel differently; he felt “happy” and a “release” after listening to Dr. Ly talk about reconciliation. Mr. Saroem said that he is realising that revenge is not the most important thing, but instead it is more important to “reconcile victims and survivors”. It was important that the CP’s understood that the Anlong Veng Peace Center does not in any way intend to glorify the Khmer Rouge regime or Anlong Veng’s role in the past, but instead to provide a site for the essential study of this past. From these reactions, it seems clear that not only did the CP’s appreciate the amalgamation of nature and education, but also found the Center and its location to be a positive, optimistic site for the promotion of learning and reconciliation.
Mr. Mao mentioned that after the conclusion of his involvement in Case 002/01, he was not contacted by the ECCC or kept up to date with the trials’ development or conclusion – he was therefore surprised to be contacted by the Anlong Veng Peace Center. This is reflective of the necessity for reparations programmes to provide longevity, and a means of continuing victims’ journey towards achieving their own ideas about reconciliation and justice. Mr. Saroem noted that the court cannot give victims back what they lost, and that the best it can achieve is the imprisonment of top leaders, whilst Mr. Khien Ram noted that the trials allow victims to express their anger about the past, which for some can be healing. But, as Dr. Ly explained, the Center can complement the court. The court can try senior leaders, in accordance with its mandate, right now. However, the Center has longevity, and can allow people to use research and education as a means of condemning the Khmer Rouge regime, socially and academically, indefinitely. The Center represents a means of criticism and expression, and documentation and education, which does not have an expiry date; as Mr. Chhauet noted, the court must be quick in its prosecutions given the advanced age of the accused. By including the Anlong Veng Peace Centre in ECCC reparations, the court will help to counter the limited time frame that its trials inevitably have, by investing in a project that is not constricted by time.
Finally, we must also consider what kinds of reparations the CP’s feel are most important to them. Mr. Khien Ram noted that he was glad that the Center had been established, as he felt reparations should involve the preservation of documents, whilst Mr. Chhauet also noted the importance of education and encouraging the younger generations to study the past. Mr. Teng said that reparations programmes should focus on projects that provide evidence of the past, to ensure such atrocities do not occur again, whilst Mr. Mao focused heavily on the importance of education in reparations programmes. Mr. Mao expressed his desire to pass his story on to younger generations, and felt positive about the Center’s role as a museum that involves young people.
Indeed, from these responses it is evident that the Anlong Veng Peace Center gained unanimous approval from the five CP’s, and that its goals and foundations correspond with the CP’s own desires in terms of reparations, reconciliation and commemoration. Further, it should be noted that whilst only five of Oddar Meanchey’s seventeen CP’s were able to visit the Center to pass their opinions on its work, these five were the only CP’s able to travel as a consequence of illness and the passing of one CP (as was explained to us by the CP’s in attendance). Despite the limited number of CP’s able to attend, the hugely positive and optimistic responses of the five in attendance were extremely encouraging to those of us from the Anlong Veng Peace Center, and it seems that the Center has the ability to extend CP’s, Anlong Veng’s and Cambodia’s wider population’s post-conflict journey beyond the ECCC, as a Civil Party reparations programme. For this reason, we hope that the ECCC will take this preliminary report as encouragement to consider the Anlong Veng Peace Center as a recommended reparations programme. This report is written by Katie Hetherington, an Associate of the Anlong Veng Peace Center and Masters student at the Centre for Conflict Studies, Utrecht University.
Walking Trails – Anlong Veng
We Walk Together Toward Peace, Security and Prosperity
Anlong Veng District
Walking Trails – Anlong Veng has had a special privilege to host its annual “Walking Trails” on Dangrek Mountain in Anlong Veng district, to highlight the importance of peace, security and prosperity in the former final stronghold of the Khmer Rouge movement. Anlong Veng was reintegrated into the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) in 1998, the year that the Cambodians have enjoyed a full peace.
The calendar date 1 February, 2020 is set to start our long walk toward peace and prosperity in Anlong Veng. Anlong Veng is a small district in Oddar Meanchey province, which is located in the northwest of Cambodia.
Nestled along a border with Thailand, Anlong Veng contains numerous physical reminders of Cambodia’s horrific past. The Khmer Rouge was the name given to the communist regime that swept over Cambodia in April 1975. For almost the next four years, Cambodians suffered from forced labor, starvation, torture, and terror. Under Pol Pot, the regime consumed its citizens and nearly destroyed all Cambodian institutions, including religion and culture.
Families were broken up, loved ones were separated, and many people were arrested and killed. When the Khmer Rouge regime finally fell in January 1979, the country was covered with at least 20,000 mass graves. Even though the regime was tossed from power in 1979, many Khmer Rouge members continued to fight a guerrilla war, and for almost the next two decades, they controlled a number of areas in Cambodia.
Anlong Veng is recognized as the last stronghold of this Khmer Rouge guerrilla movement. The area contains dozens of physical reminders of the regime’s control, and many former Khmer Rouge cadres continue to reside in the area.
This race seeks to call attention to not only the historic significance of Anlong Veng, but also its significance as a mile marker for the country’s peace, security, and prosperity. Anlong Veng may have been the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge, but it is also a symbolic milestone in Cambodia’s rise from its horrible past. The reintegration of Anlong Veng meant a new beginning for Cambodians in the region who had struggled with war and all of its consequences, including disease, disability, poverty, and death. The reintegration of the region also meant a new beginning for all of Cambodia, which had finally put an end to over three decades of war, genocide, and mass atrocities.
Today, Anlong Veng continues to exude an air of mystery, adventure, natural beauty, and to some extent danger. The area has been a front-line area for border disputes with Thailand, and certain sections of the jungle continue to be off-limits because of mines.
But while old guidebooks may describe Anlong Veng as a place of risky adventure, the region is undoubtedly safe, secure, and peaceful. This race seeks to highlight these qualities through a scenic path that takes runners and the public along some of the more beautiful sections of the region.
The area has a diverse natural beauty that will be observable during the race. Small streams, rice paddies, ponds, and water falls can be found throughout the area, and parts of the race will include portions where one can look into Thailand from a scenic cliff. The race will include sections that are close to various historic artifacts and buildings, including a late, local warlord’s main headquarters and residence.
The race aims to give the public an opportunity to tour Cambodia’s past, as well as reflect on Cambodia’s future. In many ways, Cambodia is a symbolic graveyard to malevolent or failing ideologies, animosities, and strategies. Yet, in spite of its historic conflicts and struggles, Cambodia stands as a land of hope and opportunity. This race will culminate with a reflective run and walk to Anlong Veng Peace Center (Ta Mok’s Former House on Dangrek Mountain), as a symbolic demonstration of all Cambodians’ capacity to learn and overcome their past. While we will never escape our history, we do not have to be enslaved by it. It is only by learning from the past that we can ever hope to move forward.
Saturday, 1 February, 2020
Starting Time: 6 a.m.
Start Point: O-Thmar Village (Lim Heng Reservoir)
Final: Anlong Veng Peace Center (Ta Mok’s Former House on Dangrek Mountain)
Distance: 5 Kilometers
Ministry of Tourism
National Olympic Committee of Cambodia
Oddar Meanchey Provincial Administration
Anlong Veng District Administration
Anlong Veng Peace Center
of the Documentation Center of Cambodia
For more information, please contact:
Dr. Ly Sok-Kheang, t: 012 570 465
Mr. Sok Vanna, t: 011 833 318
Mr. Hor Chin Vireak Yuth, t: 097 977 7778
Dr. Chuck Chumnor, t: 081 888 877
Mrs. Thinni Moni Reasmei, t: 012 676 364
TA MOK’S HEALTH BECAME SERIOUSLY WORSE LAST NIGHT
Mr. Benson Samay, representing Mr. Ung Choeung (aka Ta Mok) who was charged for genocide and crime against humanity since 1996, announced that Ta Mok’s health became even worse last night.
During the period of his stay in the Hospital, he almost lost his control and became unconscious last night; he could not stand and sit, could not eat and drink and could not speak, now under special care of the doctors.
On Monday of July 10, 2006, Ta Mok stated that he would like to accept the trial if he got the chance to be alive and release any information regarding the truth during the period of Democratic Kampuchea.
He said to his lawyer: “Please inform the whole world that I have never killed anyone during that period, as the Military Commander, I had the responsibility to construct the dam, road, bridge, gutter and reservoir for irrigation, to plant rice, to breed poultry in the farm for Angkar of that period”.
Ta Mok has been detained for seven years; he felt that it is quite unjust. After detaining for 6 years, he could be released, but unfortunately, he was accused of war crime again.
Ta Mok has mentioned that the International Medias have blamed him for all the atrocities but have failed to investigate what their Western Government had done when they initially supported the Khmer Rouge. He will reveal all the details when the time comes and the world will be shocked.
Circular on Preservation of remains of the victims of the genocide committed during the regime of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1978), and preparation of Anlong Veng to become a region for historical tourism.
Following the liberation of 7 January 1979, numerous graves were left behind throughout the entire territory of Cambodia as physical testimony of the crimes committed against the innocent Cambodian people by the genocidal Pol Pot regime. Right away, the authorities and citizens made efforts to take the remains of the victims and to preserve them carefully, some in stupas, and some in other forms of appropriate memorial. However, the government has observed that since that time these memorials have not been properly maintained.
In order to preserve the remains as evidence of these historic crimes and as the basis for remembrance and education by the Cambodian people as a whole, especially future generations, of the painful and terrible history brought about by the Democratic Kampuchea regime against the people and territory of Cambodia during the period 1975-1978, lasting 3 years, 8 months and 20 days, and especially to preserve and prepare the Anlong Veng region to become a historical museum for national and international tourists in the future, the government issue the following directives:
- All local authorities at province and municipal level shall cooperate with relevant expert institutions in their areas to examine, restore and maintain existing memorials, and to examine and research other remaining grave sites, so that all such places may be transformed into memorials, with fences, trees and informative plaques for both citizens and tourists; the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the Ministry of Tourism shall issue further technical guidelines, and shall appoint expert officials to work together with the local authorities on this issue.
- With particular reference to the Anlong Veng region, in the district of Along Veng, Otdar Meanchey Province, which was of historic importance in the final stage of the political life of the leaders and military organization of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, the Ministry of Tourism shall continue to make efforts, as previously directed by the government, to cooperate with the local authorities and with all relevant ministries and institutions, especially with the Ministry of Land Management, Construction, and Urbanization, Military Region 4, the Cambodian Mine Action Center and the Documentation Center of Cambodia to eradicate mines, to prepare a sound master plan, to research document, to establish a historical museum, and to search for sources of grant in order to preserve all historical evidence and to transform Anlong Veng into a national region of historical tourism. It is absolutely prohibited to encroach on or subdivide land in an anarchic manner, or to undertake any form of construction in Anlong Veng that has an impact on this historic region without government permission, except for construction of housing for residents of the village and commune, in accordance with the regulations of the Ministry of Land Management, Construction and Urbanization.
- Efforts shall be made to implement the above provisions before 7 January 2002, the 23rd anniversary of the overthrow of Democratic Kampuchea. On receiving this directive, all relevant ministries and institutions and local authorities shall implement it effectively.
Phnom Penh, 14 December 2001
[Signed and sealed]
Ministry of the Royal Palace
General Secretariat of the Senate
General Secretariat of the National Assembly
Ministries, Secretariats of State and Institutions
Office of the Prime Minister
Offices of the Deputy Prime Ministers
Offices of Provinces and Municipalities
Archives and Records