Stumbling Across Cambodian History
When you explore the Cambodian countryside you never know what you're going to find.
In the middle of Kirivong district (down the road from our pepper farm) sits a structure thoroughly riddled with bullet-holes.
Undisturbed since the end of the Khmer Rouge era, the local police recently saw fit to renovate and reclaim the place.
Fortunately, I managed to snap some pictures first. Post-restoration photos are at the bottom.
This building, whatever it was for, sustained some serious gunfire. There is not a single surface, inside or outside, that doesn't show damage. Some bullets completely penetrated the cement walls!
I got some photos from a building across the street which suffered an even worse fate. In addition to bullet hole damage, It appears that the floor has fallen out of the bottom. Was there an explosion?
A War Torn Town
I've been reading 'The Pol Pot Regime' by Ben Kiernan. He opens the book with an anecdote from our favorite district in Cambodia, Kirivong, Takeo, that provides some useful context.
During the time when borders were being redrawn by the French, a large, lower portion of Cambodia was cut out of the country and allocated to Vietnam. Over a million ethnic Khmers still live in that Vietnamese region today, people known as "Kampuchea Krom" (Krom is the Khmer word for 'lower' or 'bottom').
The US government decided during its war in Vietnam that these disenfranchised people would make good allies against Vietnamese Communists. So special Kampuchea Krom infantry forces were armed and trained by Americans to fight the Viet Kong in the south.
Here is where the story gets interesting. Kiernan explains that after the Khmer Rouge (KR) took power, one American-trained Kampuchea Krom battalion in Vietnam made its way back into Cambodia to, "join common cause with the Pol Pot regime."
Some time after their warm reception in Kirivong by KR forces, word came from Phnom Penh leadership on what was expected from these outside helpers... they should die.
Kiernan brings up a famous KR slogan, offering a glimpse into the schizophrenic nature of the genocidal Pol Pot regime: "Spare them, no profit, remove them, no loss." The Khmer soldiers from across the border who sought solidarity with Pol Pot's cause instead became casualties of it, and they were executed.
The book goes on to tell of thousands of Kampuchea Krom being murdered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge regime on its incursions into Vietnam. This in spite of KR leaders' several proclamations that liberation of Kampuchea Krom territory was part of their agenda. Like most of those chaotic times there is little sense to be made of the contradictions. The product of authoritarianism often can't be understood.
Maybe none of this historical context specifically relates to our 'haunted house' in Kirivong. But it provides interesting context against which to view our little town, one which is saturated with buried history from merely 50 years ago. In fact, it was one of many Cambodian border-towns pelted during the American cluster bombing campaigns starting in the late 1960's.
Here are the 'after' pictures from the renovation. I'd say they did a pretty good job!
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