Monday, August 29, 2016


Gaudy murals are on the walls of the war criminal's home
I'm in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold town of Anlong Veng, and I'm entering the most important house in town. This home once belonged to a man born as “Chit Choeun”. He is better known to the world by his nom de guerre: “Ta Mok”. His victims had another name for him: “The Butcher”.

This house is not that of a simple communist. It's a big compound, two big cinder block houses sitting on a hill. In a poor place like Cambodia, that makes this place something like a mansion.

I walk up the stairs, and enter the home of one of the world's worst war criminals, who ordered thousands killed. There’s no furniture in his house; it's all been looted. But the floor tiles show that Ta Mok could afford luxuries that few other Cambodians could.

Looking at the walls, I’m surprised to see big, gaudy murals! They depict the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear. Another shows a jungle scene with animals. As for the artist's skill, it looks as though a high school art student painted them. I wonder if Ta Mok ever realized, that the reason he couldn’t find a competent artist, was because he and his Khmer Rouge goons had already killed them all.

Ta Mok's looted lair is atop a hill in Anlong Veng
I walk up to the next level, and find another wall painting; a large, detailed map of Cambodia. Ta Mok may have planned his military operations here. The corner of the room opens up to a balcony, so I step out for a look. His home overlooks a lake; old Ta Mok had the best view in town.

This shallow lake wasn't always here, it was created by a dam built during the years of forced labor under the Khmer Rouge. This recently made artificial lake that surrounds his house, has killed all the trees. At this time of year it’s not even a lake, it's more of a swamp. Add environmental destruction to Ta Mok's list of crimes.

Across the water on a dry section by the swampy lake, is what appears to be an outhouse. I heard this used to be Pol Pot’s Anlong Veng residence. That small structure is all that remains, the rest was looted, including the bricks.

Further north by the Thai border, Ta Mok had another home. Most of his buildings there had been looted and torn down too, leaving only foundations. Only a strange, one room wood and concrete building remains there. Also looted, the doors and even the floor were gone. Graffiti in several languages lines the walls. The largest lettering said, “TA MOK, ASSASSIN DE L’HISTOIRE”. (Ta Mok, assassin of history.) The only resident still living in that house was a stray dog.

View from Ta Mok's window has 'Pol Pot's outhouse' at center
Here in Anlong Veng, I walk into one of the Butcher's empty bedrooms. POW! I smack my head on a low doorway. Sometimes, it's not good to be tall. This house was built specifically for Ta Mok, apparently he was short. I wonder if he had a Napolean complex.

There's nothing else to see in his looted house, so I walk out into the yard. There’s a constant ring of cowbells, as loose cattle are roaming the grounds. I walk over to a garage area. There are two tiger cages in here. Given his nickname, I wonder what Ta Mok kept in these cages, tigers, or people. Out in the yard, is a Chinese made police wagon. The engine and front wheels are gone, but the prisoner compartment on the back is still intact. It’s painted a sinister black. The bars on the windows are slightly bent. Were these bars bent by the hands of desperate prisoners, sent to their deaths by Ta Mok?

Ta Mok was a hardened communist, but I still wonder, what drove him to murder so many of his own people? He had lost a leg in combat in 1970, did that turn him even more violent? (I've noted a sick trend of lost body parts among Khmer Rouge leaders. Duch, the warden of the S-21 torture center, had lost a thumb. The current deputy governor of Anlong Veng Province, he had lost an arm. Hun Sen, the current Prime Minister/dictator, he lost an eye. Did losing body parts bring out the evil in these men?)

In the late 1990's, the noose finally began to close around the Khmer Rouge. The end of the long war drew near, and the last major town they held in Cambodia was Anlong Veng. As such, Ta Mok was the last major Khmer Rouge leader arrested for war crimes; he was finally captured in 1999 in Thailand just across the border. Even bribery couldn't save him anymore.

Truck used for transporting unfortunate prisoners during the Khmer Rouge genocide era
Leaving the Butcher's home, I walk down the highway to the town cemetery, where I find a pile of rubble. This is where Ta Mok's story ends. He died in prison in 2006, denying his victims the satisfaction of a trial, and his body was brought here to Anlong Veng. 

I'm looking at his former gravesite, a pile of red bricks, white pillars, and concrete. Given Cambodia’s current poverty, his tomb was fairly elaborate and expensive. 

If this memorial was torn down by angry survivors, or by families of his victims, that would be understandable. But it wasn't. Unfortunately, his tomb was torn down to make room for a larger, more elaborate, expensive gravesite. They are totally redoing the Butcher's mausoleum!

This new memorial to a monster is supposedly being paid for by Ta Mok's extended family; they still live in town. They own three better than average homes out by the main highway. It seems his family managed to keep some of their patriarch’s ill gotten wealth after the peace agreement.

Genocidal Ta Mok's 'new' tomb under construction

Despite the fact that he ordered the execution of Buddhist monks, and the destruction of Buddhist pagodas, Ta Mok's mausoleum is being built in Buddhist Khmer style. Images of the Buddha, nagas, and elephants are all beneath the layered rooftops. Inside, a large concrete slab covers his grave. 

It’s an elaborate, ironic mausoleum. Back during his days as a communist general, Ta Mok would have ordered the execution of anyone who would have built a Buddhist memorial, such as this one that is being built for him here! It's as if Ta Mok's family is trying to rewrite history.

As I watch, Khmer workmen clamber up the scaffolding, and work on the roof. Still under construction, the edifice is merely a bland grey cement color. It should be painted red, for the blood of all the innocents that he ordered murdered.

Laborers build a Buddhist mausoleum for a radical communist!

But whatever color it is painted, the paint job probably won’t last. Once the mausoleum is completed, it probably won’t be long before spray paint covers this 'glorious' mausoleum with graffiti strewn condemnations. 

In Ta Mok's case, those condemnations are well deserved.