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Horror at plans for "mass murder tourism"

Issued: 24 August 2003

Cambodia's plans to transform the Khmer Rouge site to be a tourist magnet have shocked the survivors of the country's genocide.

The Cambodian village of Anlong Veng, dotted with humble wooden huts and despair stalls selling gadgets give a hint of its dark past. Once the malaria-infested scrap of jungle, the site was the last shelter of genocidal leader Pol Pot and is being a core of controversy between a great amount of income from the mass tourism overseen by the government and the delicate matters dearly considered by relatives of almost two million victims, murdered during the Khmer Rouge Rule between 1975 and 1979.

Overseeing the potential of a big amount of revenue from tourism, the Cambodian government is enthusiastic to push forward plans to develop the site by throwing a multi-million pound to restore the old houses of the top leaders of the Khmer Rouge and even hiring the former consorts of Pol Pot and other relatives of the former Khmer Rouge members as guides. According to the state's secretary for tourism, these people are close to Pol Pot, they will know well about his life and the inside story of the Khmer Rouge.

Amidst the eagerness of the government, the opponents, most of whom suffered the bitter memory of losing their loved ones to the cruel Khmer Rouge, attacked that the project is going to commercialize the memory of those who died. Also, they give a reason that Along Veng has great religious significance because of all the suffering and that the memory should not be cheapen by the superficial tourists who jump off a coach and take a picture. Worried that the development for tourism will bring more problems than benefits as well as disvalue the memory of what happened, the opponents state that the site should not be purely developed to be a tourist destination but a historical site to remind people of what happened.

The project has been boosted by the recent declaration that Along Veng is free of anti-personnel mines after a five-year operation to clear some of the most contaminated land in the world. Almost a fifth of Cambodia's population was killed under the Khmer Rouge rule. Victims were murdered, starved to death in re-education camp or succumbed to diseases that multiplied under disastrous agrarian policies.

After Pol Pot fell from power in 1979, he order a retreat to the north and north west and fought a civil war that lasted until 1998, when he died in Along Veng, having been ousted of the leadership the previous year.

Senior Khmer Rouge leaders, however, remain at large 25 years after the fall of the regime, making the tourism project particularly controversial.



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