Las Vegas Overruns Pol Pot’s Idyll in Togel Hari Ini Cambodia
“You want gemstones? Ruby? Sapphire? $150, good price,” says Te Meng Suor, sidling up to a weary traveler in the foyer of a cheap tourist hotel in western Cambodia, the heartland of the once fearsome Khmer Rouge ( news – web sites).
Flashing a gold-toothed grin, the diamond dealer thrusts his bright pink business card at the newcomer.
“Have Buy & Sell Ruby and Sapphire,” it reads — a message which would have made the late rebel chief Pol Pot’s blood run cold.
From 1975 to 1979, his ultra-Maoist troops waged war on modernity, laying waste to Togel Hari Ini businesses and schools, banning money and emptying towns and cities in a bid to turn the Southeast Asian nation into an agrarian society.
But four years after his death, the abject failure of Pol Pot’s crusade is there for all to see, right in his own back yard. No peasant utopia or rural cooperative in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold Pailin; just naked capitalism running wild.
The impenetrable jungle which served as the hide-out of Khmer Rouge guerrillas still encircles the town of a few thousand houses nestling in the mountains along the Thai border in what is Cambodia’s Wild West.
Reminders of the civil war are littered around the final battlefield of the Khmer Rouge, whose bloody four-year rule left about 1.7 million people dead.
Rusting skeletons of tanks — now the climbing frames of inquisitive youngsters — lie beside the roads; children play soccer on pitches marked out by the thin white tape and bright red warning signs of minefields.
But the jungle is in retreat, the tanks are breaking up and the mines are slowly but surely being cleared.
And in Pailin, for years the stronghold of Pol Pot’s revolutionary army, the forces of the market and the U.S. dollar have taken over.
VEGAS IN THE JUNGLE
Even though the Khmer Rouge still has considerable support in the province whose governors enjoy semi-autonomy from Phnom Penh, few complain the battle against capitalism has been well and truly lost.
“I used to have to carry a B40 rocket launcher through the trees. Now I drive a taxi. There is no comparison,” said Keo Vandy, 33, who was forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge.
Every night, neon lights illuminate the sky and the throbbing beat of Thai pop music echoes around the surrounding hills as Pailin turns into a mini Las Vegas in the jungle. Huge letters “Welcome to Caesar” marked out in boxwood hedge greet the busloads of Thai gamblers who arrive every evening.
What was once a narrow jungle footpath for guerrillas carrying guns and ammunition is now a two-lane dirt road where air-conditioned land-cruisers outnumber ox-carts.
The troops have been replaced by armies of croupiers in red waistcoats and short black skirts on their way to work at the Caesar International Casino, an aircraft hangar-style monstrosity offering “Disco, Dance, Karaoke, Restaurant, Massage.”
The gambling Klondike spirit has even embraced ex-soldiers who risk life and limb on ground still strewn with mines and unexploded shells to excavate sacks of earth in search of the gems which once kept the Khmer Rouge struggle alive.
“Hunting for stones is difficult, but it is better than being a soldier. I can make up to 1,000 baht ($23) on a good day,” said Loung Voeu, sitting waist-deep in muddy riverwater, slowly sieving a bucket of earth.
“It’s all about luck. Even if I don’t find anything today, there is always tomorrow.”
ONE BANK TOWN
In one final snub to the Khmer Rouge ideology of the Pol Pot years, Pailin even boasts a bank which opened the moment the last of the rebels laid down their weapons in 1998 under an amnesty agreement with the Phnom Penh government.
And business is booming.
“We now have over 400 customers,” said Chuon Sotha, manager of the Canadia Bank outpost. “You could not have done this 10 years ago because the town was a battlefield, but we’ve been open four years now and there hasn’t been a single shootout.”
The only people holding out appear to be the Khmer Rouge’s top two surviving commanders, ‘Brother Number Two’ Nuon Chea and former front-man Khieu Samphan, now living out a peasant retirement in tiny wooden houses hidden deep in the jungle.
“No, Nuon Chea has not yet opened an account with us,” Chuon Sotha added with a smile.