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Urban Revival: A Talk with Thong Khon, Mayor of Phnom Penh

This interview was conducted in December 1989 by a group of 11 Southeast Asian journalists visiting Cambodia on a tour sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and hosted by the Association of Cambodian Journalists. Evans Young, Quaker international affairs representative for the AFSC from 1986 to 1989, edited this interview. Thong Khon is the mayor of Phnom Penh, president of the…

Update from Cultural Survival (Canada) - 14.3

The Innu In March 1990, NATO announced that it had chosen the preferred site for the low-flight training base. Dashing the hopes of Canada's Department of National Defense, NATO selected Turkey. To many observers the announcement appeared to end the controversy over the placement of a military training facility involving low-level flying over the land of the Innu people of Labrador, but the…

The Survival of Cambodia's Ethnic Minorities

During the Pol period from 1975 to 1979, Cambodia was subjected to probably the world's most radical political, social, and the outside world, its cities were emptied its economy was militarized, its Buddhist religion and folk culture were destroyed, and more than 1 million of its 8 million people were starved and massacred while foreign and minority languages were banned and all neighboring…

The Rebirth of Agricultural Peasants in Cambodia

After 1955 a clear deterioration began in the conditions of production for small farmers in the Cambodian countryside. Increasing monetarization of the rural economy, combined with extortionate interest rates, pushed small peasants off their insufficient land. At the same time, the process of social differentiation accelerated, particularly as some people accumulated small herds of oxen. In this…

The Pol Pot Legacy in Village Life

The legacy of Pol Pot - the most hated man in Cambodia - and his policies are immediately apparent in the physical and emotional landscape of village life. In January 1990 I collected impressions during a three-week journey through Cambodia. Here, I discuss how Khmer villagers have been affected by and interpret Pol Pot's legacy, and then provide an overview of how villagers have returned to…

The Legacy of Angkor

Angkor, the great medieval city located near the Tonlé Sap (the "Great Lake") in northwestern Cambodia, was abandoned by Khmer rulers in the fifteenth century in an effort to find a capital that could be more easily defended against the expansionistic Thais. In the ensuing centuring - called the first "dark age" of Khmer history (the second being that instituted by the Khmer Rouge under Pol pot…

The Krama: A Cambodian Patchwork

From near and far, the kramas grace the Cambodian people with their own special character. The humble Khmer garment, a scarf made up of thousands of tiny squares, resembles Khmers' own history: it is a patchwork of contrasting hues - dark and light, sad and joyous. After living and working for years with Khmers, one cannot help but have seen a thousand and one morsels of this material on a…

The Diplomatic Dance: Cambodia on the International Stage

Cambodia has not known peace since well before the United States' withdrawal from Saigon on 30 April 1975. With each palace coup, and even with the arrival of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975, many Cambodians believed that finally the wars were at an end. They welcomed Pol Pot's soldiers with hope for the future. But the war did not end with Pol Pot's arrival, nor with Vietnam's…

The Court Ballet: Cambodia's Loveliest Jewel

A pair of giant basrelief dancers frames the main entrance to Phnom Penh's palace compound. With cured-back hands and diaphanous stone sarongs, these apsaras, or heavenly dancing nymphs, are fitting gatekeepers for Cambodian royalty. True, it has been two decades - and three regimes - since kings held court in these saffron-roofed halls. But just 20 years ago, on the ornate second story of Chan…

Roots of Genocide: New Evidence on the US Bombardment of Cambodia

The Vietnamese army has withdrawn from Cambodia, 10 years after its invasion to oust the Pol Pot regime. Some Cambodians fear that Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge forces will push back from their sanctuaries in Thailand to regain power, while others believe that the Vietnamese-trained army of Prime Minister Hun Sen will be able to hold the country. Fifteen years after the original Khmer Rouge takeover in…

Returning to Cambodia: Khmer Artists Seek Growth

It was at the Pochentong International Airport in early 1974 when I last saw relatives, friends, and dance students as they sent me on my way to the Philippines with my husband, Sam-Ang Sam, who was then sent by the University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh to the Conservatory of Music, University of the Philippines. Information leading me to my relatives and friends was unknown to me until 1981,…

Return to a Khmer Village

Remember us." On a spring day in 1960, this phrase was repeated to me time and again as I said goodbye to friends and neighbors in West Sobay, a hamlet that I had lived in for almost a year while doing fieldwork on Cambodian peasant culture. I felt particularly forlorn when I stopped at the house of Iing and Dom, an elderly couple of exceptional gentility and kindness who had become my fictive…

Reflections on Cambodian History

In 1975, a spokesperson for the newly installed communist regime in Phnom Penh claimed proudly that because of the revolution "2,000 years of Cambodian history have ended." By "history" the spokesperson seems to have meant the sum total of Cambodia's past, as well as all the narratives about it prior to 1975. The abruptness with which the new government embarked on a new era made many Cambodians…

Preserving a Cultural Tradition: Ten Years After the Khmer Rouge

For a decade and a half now, Cambodia has been in a state of warfare and instability. Control over Cambodia's politics has changed hands form monarchy to republic to communism. The years 1985-1979, when the country was in the grip of the Khmer Rouge, mark the most destructive and lethal period of Khmer history. The Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot's leadership, destroyed not only Khmer lives, health,…

Making the Traditional Musical Instruments of Cambodia

All of the musical instruments that make up the classical orchestra of Cambodia can be constructed within the country with indigenous materials. Traditionally, theses materials were collected from almost all areas of the country and were then traded through long-established routes to various centers where the instruments would be assembled. These traditional crafts and trading routes were…

Imagining Cambodia

How is one to write about Cambodia? In New York, thousands of miles away, images tumble into mind. A bejeweled dancer gently lifts an arm, bends a wrist, and seeks out her magic crystal ball while xylophones and gongs play vibrantly at her side. At Angkor, a multitude of enormous faces casts Jayavarman's benign Buddha smiles in four directions, the twelfth-century dark stone surfaces still…

Health Care in Cambodia

Because Cambodia's population density is quite variable - some provinces are isolated and mountainous (Ratanakiri), and some are populated and fertile (Battambang) - the country's health care needs and services vary greatly. Cambodia's population is approximately 8 million, with about 800,000 people living in the capital, Phnom Penh. Under Prince Norodom Sihanouk and the French, a basic but…

Flowers in the Forest: A Talk with Chheng Phon, Minister of Information and Culture

Flowers in the Forest: A Talk with Chheng Phon, Minister of Information. and Culture This interview was conducted in December 1989 by a group of 11 Southeast Asian journalists visiting Cambodia on a tour sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and hosted by the Association of Cambodian Journalists. Evans Young Quaker international affairs representative for the AFSC from 1986 to 1989…

Editorial: Can Leopards Change Their Spots?

Since World War II, the United States has frequently flexed its political muscles by assessing which side in a given struggle is likely to come out victorious and then backing it. If the winner is not obvious, then all too often the US policy has been to support both sides of a conflict so that "our" team will be the one in power. But what price do we pay for such short-sighted political self-…

Buddhism and Revolution in Cambodia

From April 1975 until the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia at the every end of 1978, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot attempted to institute one of the most radical revolutions in modern history. The government of what was called Democratic Kampuchea set out in a ruthless manner to create a fundamentally new order. It was to be a racially "pure" society, in particular one purged of Vietnamese. It was…

A Talk with Prime Minister Hun Sen

I had the privilege to interview Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, in January 1990. During our discussion, Hun Sen touched upon his reasons for joining the national liberation struggle back in 1970, his early opposition to Pol Rot, the dynamics of change since 1979, his government's relationship with Vietnam, and the recent Australian peace initiatives. This interview was the highlight of…

A Building Full of Books

I sit in a small room near the front of the National Library building in Phnom Penh. The room is just off to the right from the main entrance to the building. It has a large window thrown open and a ceiling fan that has only one speed - it whirls with the sound of a helicopter. This room is used for processing books: new acquisitions are given the library stamp and are duly logged into the list…

14-3 Cambodia

September 1990