Map of Cambodia
Looking at the map of Cambodia above (click on the map to enlarge) and in particular the major centres that I've visited emphasises there is still so much of the country that remains to be explored by travellers and tourists alike. With the improvement in traveller safety, the coastal resort of Kompong Som (Sihanoukville) is certainly experiencing an upturn in the numbers of visitors to its four main beaches, while overland travel from Thailand via Poipet and onto Siem Reap (& Angkor) is becoming increasingly popular, as is the sea-border crossing at Koh Kong. In addition, a few tour companies are now offering trips to see the primitive beauty and hilltribes of the mountainous Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri provinces in the northeast of the country, although some travellers are getting there under their own steam. The rest of Cambodia by comparison sees very few visitors.
Click here to view a superbly detailed map of Phnom Penh or Siem Reap or go to the comprehensive Visitors Guides for Phnom Penh, Siem Reap & Sihanoukville website, produced by Canby Publications. A very detailed map of Cambodia can be viewed here (please note download time may be quite long).
The land border with Laos is currently open. Travellers are now able to obtain a special permit at the Immigration Office in Stung Treng to cross the border and enter southern Laos at Voeung Kam. It can cost up to $15 and you'll need to charter a boat ($25) for the 1-2 hour trip up the Mekong River (which may be difficult/impossible in the dry season due to low water levels). At the border post, be prepared to pay anything between $5-20 for an exit stamp to the Cambodian border guards. You'll need a Laos visa beforehand as they are not available at the border post. The reverse crossing, from Laos to Cambodia, is also permitted (but make sure you already have your Cambodian visa). The Lao border guards will charge you $5 for an exit stamp. The road crossing between the two countries at Dong Kro Lo has now opened up as well (don't forget the Cambodian guard will want a $20 exit/entry stamp fee). Note: The above details and prices have changed. Click here to get the latest updated details (Jan 2006).
This follows hard on the heels of the easy availability of $20 (1,000 baht) visas at the increasingly popular Aranyaprathet (actually Klong Luek) /Poipet border checkpoint, that has seen travellers literally flooding in from Thailand on their way to Siem Reap and beyond. The road from Poipet to Siem Reap is being repaired and if it's not washed away in the rainy season, will drastically reduce the travelling time between the two.
In addition, if you have the necessary visas, you may be lucky enough to cross at the border point at Baan Chong Pakkad (Thailand) opposite Pailin (Cambodia), but it's unlikely. The locals come and go freely across the border but foreigners are a different proposition. In July 2001, the Thai authorities refused to give this crossing international status because of the nearby gambling dens - though this has now changed and tourists are now allowed to cross.
Travellers confirm that a $20 Cambodian visa is now also available at the Hat Lek/Koh Kong sea-border crossing. The Thai military are now building a road from the Hat Lek border post to the town of Koh Kong. The reason - allowing Thai nationals to use the gambling casinos.
Increasing the border traffic into Cambodia, a new speedboat service has become available from Chau Doc in Vietnam, crossing the border at Khaom Samnor (Cambodia)/Vinh Xuong (Vietnam) and then up to the Neak Luong ferry crossing on the Mekong River and onto Phnom Penh by taxi or bus. It costs around $15 (with Saigon Tourist) but get your visa beforehand.
There's also talk of the border with Vietnam at Ha Tien/Xa Xia opening soon to foreigners, but recent attempts to cross there have been thwarted, despite assurances from the Vietnamese consulate in Sihanoukville that it was 'no problem'. It seems the Cambodian officials at the border don't agree. The only recognised land crossing with Vietnam is still at Moc Bai, where you'll need the necessary visa before you get there. By the way, Ho Wah Genting buses now run daily between Phnom Penh and Saigon. The Ha Tien crossing is still not open to tourists (Jan 2006).
Another crossing that looks a distinct possibility from Vietnam into Cambodia sometime soon is the one at Xa Mat, north of Tay Ninh (Vietnam) and southeast of Kompong Cham via the village of Krek. When that opens the existing stream of traffic along Highway 1 to Phnom Penh could be seriously affected. The Xa Mat crossing is still not open to tourists (Jan 2006). One border crossing that is open to travellers is at Phnom Den, at the end of Highway 2 before you enter Vietnam at Xuan Hoa. Visas though are not available at the border post, get them beforehand.
In July 2001 the Cambodian authorities requested an extension of the opening times of the Poipet and Koh Kong crossings from 6pm to midnight. It was refused by their Thai counterparts. They also requested two new recognised crossings at Chong Chom/O'Smach (in northern Cambodia) and at Baan Chong Pakkard/Pailin, but these were also refused as the Thais are not keen to encourage their nationals to cross the border to engage in gambling activities. Note: Both of the latter crossings have now been recognised as international land border crossings.
I should also mention that both tourist visas ($20) and business visas ($25) are available on arrival at the international airports at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. You'll also require one passport photo for the visa application. Standing in the queue awaiting the return of your passport gives you a good glimpse into Cambodian bureaucracy.
Note: The border crossing information is from 2002 unless stated.
NEW: In April 2006, the Cambodian Foreign Ministry launched a new e-Visa service for travellers. Click http://www.mfaic.gov.kh for more information.
Map of Angkor
The above map has been kindly supplied for my website by Naoki Hatano, a good friend from Japan, who has his own excellent site devoted to the temples of the Angkor complex. Click here to visit his website.
John Pilger - the catalyst
It was the campaigning journalist John Pilger who first aroused my passion in the plight of Cambodia and its people, back in 1979 and 1980. His two documentaries for ATV in the UK called Year Zero : The Silent Death of Cambodia (first screened on 30 October 1979 and which proved the catalyst for an outpouring of over �6 million worth of aid to Cambodia from the British public) and the follow-up a year later, Cambodia : Year One brought the real horror of the Khmer Rouge legacy into our own living rooms for the first time.
Pilger, a world-renowned investigative journo and broadcaster, worked for the Daily Mirror newspaper in the UK for 22 years and more recently the New Statesman magazine, amongst many others. He returned to Cambodia in 1989 to film Cambodia : Year Ten and followed that with Cambodia : The Betrayal (1990) and Cambodia : Return to Year Zero (1993). All of these had been produced with his long-time friend and director David Munro, but Pilger (right) hasn't been content to limit his search for injustice and the truth to just Cambodia. In his global travels, he's also produced hard-hitting documentaries on Australia's Aborigines, Vietnam, Palestine, South Africa, Nicaragua, Burma and East Timor and received many accolades for his work. Twice the British Journalist of the Year for his work in Vietnam and Cambodia, amongst a number of other awards, he's been International Reporter of the Year and won an Emmy and the Richard Dimbleby BAFTA Award for his broadcasting. He's also successfully published a number of books including Heroes, A Secret Country, Distant Voices and Hidden Agendas.
Click on John Pilger to visit a new web site based on his work.
Below is Pilger's article (April 2000) for the New Statesman magazine on the anniversary of the beginning of Year Zero.
To coincide with the release of John Pilger's 1993 report, Cambodia : Return to Year Zero, the New Internationalist magazine produced a special issue of the same title in April that same year. John Pilger edited the magazine's special issue and it included articles by Ben Kiernan, Chanthou Boua, Paul Donovan and Pilger himself. The on-line version of the magazine, can be found here. It's well worth having a look.
For many years, my biggest disappointment was my inability to get hold of copies of Pilger's first two documentaries that so aroused my interest in Cambodia. However, a plea for help on this website proved successful and my sincere thanks go to Merrily & Jeff in the USA for sending me original copies of both programmes. I am indebted to you.
How Thatcher gave Pol Pot a hand
by John Pilger (New Statesman: 17 April 2000)
Almost two million Cambodians died as a result of Year Zero. John Pilger argues that, without the complicity of the US and Britain, it may never have happened.
On 17 April, it is 25 years since Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. In the calendar of fanaticism, this was Year Zero; as many as two million people, a fifth of Cambodia's population, were to die as a consequence. To mark the anniversary, the evil of Pol Pot will be recalled, almost as a ritual act for voyeurs of the politically dark and inexplicable. For the managers of western power, no true lessons will be drawn, because no connections will be made to them and to their predecessors, who were Pol Pot's Faustian partners. Yet, without the complicity of the west, Year Zero might never have happened, nor the threat of its return maintained for so long.
Declassified United States government documents leave little doubt that the secret and illegal bombing of then neutral Cambodia by President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger between 1969 and 1973 caused such widespread death and devastation that it was critical in Pol Pot's drive for power. "They are using damage caused by B52 strikes as the main theme of their propaganda," the CIA director of operations reported on 2 May 1973. "This approach has resulted in the successful recruitment of young men. Residents say the propaganda campaign has been effective with refugees in areas that have been subject to B52 strikes." In dropping the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on a peasant society, Nixon and Kissinger killed an estimated half a million people. Year Zero began, in effect, with them; the bombing was a catalyst for the rise of a small sectarian group, the Khmer Rouge, whose combination of Maoism and medievalism had no popular base.
After two and a half years in power, the Khmer Rouge was overthrown by the Vietnamese on Christmas Day, 1978. In the months and years that followed, the US and China and their allies, notably the Thatcher government, backed Pol Pot in exile in Thailand. He was the enemy of their enemy: Vietnam, whose liberation of Cambodia could never be recognised because it had come from the wrong side of the cold war. For the Americans, now backing Beijing against Moscow, there was also a score to be settled for their humiliation on the rooftops of Saigon.
To this end, the United Nations was abused by the powerful. Although the Khmer Rouge government ("Democratic Kampuchea") had ceased to exist in January 1979, its representatives were allowed to continue occupying Cambodia's seat at the UN; indeed, the US, China and Britain insisted on it. Meanwhile, a Security Council embargo on Cambodia compounded the suffering of a traumatised nation, while the Khmer Rouge in exile got almost everything it wanted. In 1981, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, said: "I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot." The US, he added, "winked publicly" as China sent arms to the Khmer Rouge.
In fact, the US had been secretly funding Pol Pot in exile since January 1980. The extent of this support - $85m from 1980 to 1986 - was revealed in correspondence to a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On the Thai border with Cambodia, the CIA and other intelligence agencies set up the Kampuchea Emergency Group, which ensured that humanitarian aid went to Khmer Rouge enclaves in the refugee camps and across the border. Two American aid workers, Linda Mason and Roger Brown, later wrote: "The US government insisted that the Khmer Rouge be fed . . . the US preferred that the Khmer Rouge operation benefit from the credibility of an internationally known relief operation." Under American pressure, the World Food Programme handed over $12m in food to the Thai army to pass on to the Khmer Rouge; "20,000 to 40,000 Pol Pot guerillas benefited," wrote Richard Holbrooke, the then US assistant secretary of state. I witnessed this. Travelling with a UN convoy of 40 trucks, I drove to a Khmer Rouge operations base at Phnom Chat. The base commander was the infamous Nam Phann, known to relief workers as "The Butcher" and Pol Pot's Himmler. After the supplies had been unloaded, literally at his feet, he said: "Thank you very much, and we wish for more."
In November of that year, 1980, direct contact was made between the White House and the Khmer Rouge when Dr Ray Cline, a former deputy director of the CIA, made a secret visit to a Khmer Rouge operational headquarters. Cline was then a foreign policy adviser on President-elect Reagan's transitional team. By 1981, a number of governments had become decidedly uneasy about the charade of the UN's continuing recognition of the defunct Pol Pot regime. Something had to be done. The following year, the US and China invented the Coalition of the Democratic Government of Kampuchea, which was neither a coalition nor democratic, nor a government, nor in Kampuchea (Cambodia). It was what the CIA calls "a master illusion". Prince Norodom Sihanouk was appointed its head; otherwise little changed. The two "non-communist" members, the Sihanoukists, led by the Prince's son, Norodom Ranariddh, and the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, were dominated, diplomatically and militarily, by the Khmer Rouge. One of Pol Pot's closet cronies, Thaoun Prasith, ran the office at the UN in New York. In Bangkok, the Americans provided the "coalition" with battle plans, uniforms, money and satellite intelligence; arms came direct from China and from the west, via Singapore. The non-communist fig leaf allowed Congress - spurred on by a cold-war zealot Stephen Solarz, a powerful committee chairman - to approve $24 million in aid to the "resistance".
Until 1989, the British role in Cambodia remained secret. The first reports appeared in the Sunday Telegraph, written by Simon O'Dwyer-Russell, a diplomatic and defence correspondent with close professional and family contacts with the SAS. He revealed that the SAS was training the Pol Pot-led force. Soon afterwards, Jane's Defence Weekly reported that the British training for the "non-communist" members of the "coalition" had been going on "at secret bases in Thailand for more than four years". The instructors were from the SAS, "all serving military personnel, all veterans of the Falklands conflict, led by a captain".
The Cambodian training became an exclusively British operation after the "Irangate" arms-for-hostages scandal broke in Washington in 1986. "If Congress had found out that Americans were mixed up in clandestine training in Indo-China, let alone with Pol Pot," a Ministry of Defence source told O'Dwyer-Russell, "the balloon would have gone right up. It was one of those classic Thatcher-Reagan arrangements." Moreover, Margaret Thatcher had let slip, to the consternation of the Foreign Office, that "the more reasonable ones in the Khmer Rouge will have to play some part in a future government". In 1991, I interviewed a member of "R" (reserve) Squadron of the SAS, who had served on the border. "We trained the KR in a lot of technical stuff - a lot about mines," he said. "We used mines that came originally from Royal Ordnance in Britain, which we got by way of Egypt with marking changed . . . We even gave them psychological training. At first, they wanted to go into the villages and just chop people up. We told them how to go easy . . ."
The Foreign Office response was to lie. "Britain does not give military aid in any form to the Cambodian factions," stated a parliamentary reply. The then prime minister, Thatcher, wrote to Neil Kinnock: "I confirm that there is no British government involvement of any kind in training, equipping or co-operating with Khmer Rouge forces or those allied to them." On 25 June 1991, after two years of denials, the government finally admitted that the SAS had been secretly training the "resistance" since 1983. A report by Asia Watch filled in the detail: the SAS had taught "the use of improvised explosive devices, booby traps and the manufacture and use of time-delay devices". The author of the report, Rae McGrath (who shared a joint Nobel Peace Prize for the international campaign on landmines), wrote in the Guardian that "the SAS training was a criminally irresponsible and cynical policy".
When a UN "peacekeeping force" finally arrived in Cambodia in 1992, the Faustian pact was never clearer. Declared merely a "warring faction", the Khmer Rouge was welcomed back to Phnom Penh by UN officials, if not the people. The western politician who claimed credit for the "peace process", Gareth Evans (then Australia's foreign minister), set the tone by calling for an "even-handed" approach to the Khmer Rouge and questioning whether calling it genocidal was "a specific stumbling block". Khieu Samphan, Pol Pot's prime minister during the years of genocide, took the salute of UN troops with their commander, the Australian general John Sanderson, at his side. Eric Falt, the UN spokesman in Cambodia, told me: "The peace process was aimed at allowing [the Khmer Rouge] to gain respectability." The consequence of the UN's involvement was the unofficial ceding of at least a quarter of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge (according to UN military maps), the continuation of a low-level civil war and the election of a government impossibly divided between "two prime ministers": Hun Sen and Norodom Ranariddh.
The Hun Sen government has since won a second election outright. Authoritarian and at times brutal, yet by Cambodian standards extraordinarily stable, the government led by a former Khmer Rouge dissident, Hun Sen, who fled to Vietnam in the 1970s, has since done deals with leading figures of the Pol Pot era, notably the breakaway faction of Ieng Sary, while denying others immunity from prosecution. Once the Phnom Penh government and the UN can agree on its form, an international war crimes tribunal seems likely to go ahead. The Americans want the Cambodians to play virtually no part; their understandable concern is that not only the Khmer Rouge will be indicted.
The Cambodian lawyer defending Ta Mok, the Khmer Rouge military leader captured last year, has said: "All the foreigners involved have to be called to court, and there will be no exceptions . . . Madeleine Albright, Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush . . . we are going to invite them to tell the world why they supported the Khmer Rouge." It is an important principle, of which those in Washington and Whitehall currently sustaining bloodstained tyrannies elsewhere might take note. � Copyright of The New Statesman
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The contents of this website cannot be reproduced or copied without permission of the site author. � Andy Brouwer 2006