Thursday, April 25, 2002

Chhay Sophal
Reuters News Agency

p. A14.

Surviving in peace off profits from vice

AILIN, CAMBODIA — Pol Pot would be horrified.

His hard-line Communist Khmer Rouge regime banned money, entertainment and even love in a bid to create a pure agrarian utopia. But its legacy is a paradise for gambling, drinking, sex and drugs.

The ramshackle jungle town of Pailin near the Thai border is a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, home to many members of the movement that broke up in 1998 with the surrender of its last fighters. The town's economy is founded on one product above all — vice.

Thais flock across the border to gamble in casinos run by former Khmer Rouge cadres, drink and croon in their karaoke bars and have sex with Vietnamese prostitutes in their brothels.

Former leaders of the notorious movement live here in comfortable retirement after giving up their fight, untouched so far by halting efforts to set up an international tribunal to bring them to justice.

They say they knew nothing of the regime's atrocities — about 1.7 million people died during its 1975-79 rule through execution, torture, disease and starvation — and for everything they blame Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge Brother No. 1, who died in 1998.

Brother No. 2, Nuon Chea, seen as the regime's ideological guru, lives freely near Pailin. He says times have changed, but he has not abandoned the principles that first inspired him to join the Khmer Rouge decades ago.

"I really hated the injustice, corruption and debauchery of the anarchic colonialist society," he said at his home in a bamboo forest 50 metres from the Thai border.

But Nuon Chea's younger followers now show no sign of following the principles he still espouses.

Not only have they stopped fighting debauchery but they are also actively profiting from it.

"Khmer Rouge areas are being used as drug-trafficking routes from Burma [Myanmar] into Phnom Penh," said Graham Shaw, a United Nations Drug Control and Crime Prevention official.

"If there is a lot of money to be made from anything, we assume senior leaders know about it. … It's all part of transnational organized crime — using casinos to launder money, to warehouse illicit drugs, and house women trafficked for sexual exploitation."

In response, Nuon Chea says he has moved with the changing times but that does not make him a hypocrite. "… from time to time, everything has to be changed."

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Created: April 26, 2002
Last modified: July 9, 2002
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