Cambodia: Report From a Stricken Land [NOOK Book]

Overview

Based on his observations over three decades, Henry Kamm, Pulitzer Prize-winning NEW YORK TIMES Southeast Asia correspondent, unravels the complexities of Cambodia. Kamm's invaluable document--a factual and personal account of its troubled history-- gives the Western reader the first clear understanding of this magic land's past and present.
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Cambodia: Report From a Stricken Land

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Overview

Based on his observations over three decades, Henry Kamm, Pulitzer Prize-winning NEW YORK TIMES Southeast Asia correspondent, unravels the complexities of Cambodia. Kamm's invaluable document--a factual and personal account of its troubled history-- gives the Western reader the first clear understanding of this magic land's past and present.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this disturbing first-hand report, Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Kamm makes us care deeply about Southeast Asia's forgotten stepchild, Cambodia. Melding a history of the tormented nation of 10 million with reportage based on his numerous trips there between 1970 - 1997, he criticizes the Western powers, led by the U.S., for supporting dictator Pol Pot's genocidal regime (1975-79), which, he argues, the West considered a lesser evil than the Vietnamese communist invaders and their Cambodian backers who ruled for the subsequent decade.

Today, while Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia's absent king and former moderate leader, 'governs' by fax from Beijing, where he lies incurably ill with cancer, Cambodia is still ruled by the tyrannical, Vietnam-installed coalition government of Prime Minister Hun Sen. According to the author, Hun Sen has never attained legitimacy in the eyes of many of his compatriots, whose country -- strewn with countless land mines -- is beset by rampant lawlessness and corruption, endemic poverty and Asia's worst AIDS/HIV epidemic. Contending that the UN's much-touted 1992-93 peacekeeping mission to Cambodia was a failure that left the status quo intact, Kamm boldly proposes that Cambodia be placed under an international trusteeship to nurse this gravely incapacitated nation back to health.

Library Journal
The agony of the Cambodian people, manipulated by the outside world and brutalized by their own leaders, has few if any parallels in recent history. Kamm (Dragon Ascending, LJ 2/1/96), who for years has covered Southeast Asia for the New York Times, presents a bleak and disturbing portrait of a country whose decades-long travails he witnessed. In the best populist tradition, Kamm sympathizes with the Cambodian people, targets of Pol Pot's genocidal rule (1975-79) and the corrupt and venal authoritarianism of his successors. At the same time, he acidly condemns Cambodia's rulers, many of whom he knew up close, including the wily but self-indulgent Prince Sihanouk and the superstitious and incompetent Lon Nol. Kamm blames weak and indecisive international leadership for the failure of the UN-sponsored effort in the early 1990s to effect genuine peace and reconciliation in Cambodia. Sober yet passionate, Kamm's well-informed survey is an excellent introduction to a country that the world has all but abandoned. This belongs in both public and academic libraries.--Steven I. Levine, Univ. of Montana, Missoula
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611459692
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/12/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 999
  • Sales rank: 328,501
  • File size: 391 KB

Table of Contents

Preface
Chronology
1 Hope is for the Unborn 1998 1
2 Brief Greatness, a Decline without End - From the Beginnings until 1970 16
3 Tripping into Disaster - 1970 31
4 The Prince and the Chauffeur - 1964 and 1970 41
5 Dressing up for War - 1970 49
6 Cannon Fodder - 1970 63
7 Murder of the Scapegoats - 1970 74
8 A Republic Stitched together - 1970 85
9 The Mystical Marshal - 1970-1975 93
10 The Price of Trusting America - 1970-1975 100
11 "The Cambodian no Longer Exists" - 1975-1979 120
12 The Genocide and its Perpetrators - 1975-1979 134
13 A War Left Unfinished - 1979 144
14 Meeting the Murderers - 1979 157
15 Life Starting a New - 1979-1980 170
16 "Below the Level Required by Their Task" - 1980-1987 186
17 Enter the United Nations - 1991-1992 201
18 Elections Instead of Reconciliation - 1992-1993 212
19 Cheating the Voters - 1993 223
20 Back to Square One - 1994-1998 230
Afterword 248
Index 253
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First Chapter

Chapter One

Hope Is for the Unborn: 1998

    United Nations officials stationed in the poorest countries of the world share an understandable inclination to work themselves into a constant state of determined optimism about their mission. Without persuading themselves regularly that a brighter future lies ahead, they could hardly face the misery that surrounds them and go about their endeavors to relieve it. Andrew Morris, head of the Cambodian health services of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), was taking the most hopeful possible view of Cambodia as the year 1997 was drawing to a close.

    "I don't think there is a good outlook for this generation," he said, speaking deliberately. "The hope is for the Cambodians not yet born."

    Thus the understating Englishman was writing off with pained realism hope for a decent life for today's Cambodians, including the youngest, the generation that is his professional concern at the UNICEF. What is true for today's children in this grossly misgoverned country surely applies with even greater validity to their elders in a nation of more than ten million, half of whom are under eighteen years old. And yet, not long ago the world was hypocritically congratulating itself on having halted Cambodia's distress and set Southeast Asia's stepchild on a course toward peace and recovery.

    Since 1970, when it was plunged into the Indochina War, which had begun with the Vietnamese rising against French colonial rule and lasted until the Communist victories in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in 1975, Cambodia has suffered the worst that this callous century has devised. It struggled through five years of bloody civil conflict with the destructive intervention of bellicose foreign powers, four years of a genocidal revolutionary regime, then liberation through invasion and a decade of military occupation by Vietnam, a hated and feared big neighbor, and throughout these years unceasing internecine warfare on its soil, continuing to this day.

    Then came the promise of decisive change; at last better days seemed ahead. As the final decade of the century opened, the mightiest powers of the world were rearranging their conflictual mutual relationships. They agreed with considerable fanfare at a drawn-out conference in Paris in 1991 to help ease tensions among themselves by removing the irritant of a small Indochinese country of low intrinsic importance to any of them. At a cost of about two billion dollars, which was spent mainly to transport to Cambodia and maintain there for eighteen months twenty-two thousand aliens--soldiers, police, administrators, diplomats, and experts in varied fields from all corners of the globe--the big powers and Cambodia's neighbors charged the United Nations with implementing the Paris Agreement.

    How the warring Cambodian Communist leaderships--Pol Pot's Khmers Rouges and the Vietnamese-installed government of Hun Sen--retaining their crude methods of rule even after forswearing their old doctrines, subverted the very notions of peace and reconciliation to which they agreed in Paris will be related later. So will the sequels of this sabotage: how the international community, determined to rid itself of the Cambodian bone of contention at any cost, pronounced to be a success a mission that had largely failed, and how Cambodia's politicians of all persuasions undermined the single substantial achievement of the international enterprise, the surprisingly popular and clean elections. Following the adoption of a constitution by the newly elected National Assembly, the aliens left. In September 1993, for the first time since war began in March 1970, Cambodians were on their own, relying on the actions of their own elected political leaders.

    The leaders betrayed them, much as earlier leaders had done. The incompetence and venality of most of Cambodia's political class has been an unfortunate constant since the country regained its independence from French colonialism in 1953.

    Cambodia today is still governed by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, the same pugnacious leader who ruled thuggishly before the elections, which he and his party lost. The winner yielded to his threat of force. The country has regained a king, who under the constitution adopted by the National Assembly is to serve as the ultimate arbiter of the political process. But Norodom Sihanouk, who represented most Cambodians' hopes for a restoration of normality in their stricken land, is a futile, ailing, absentee monarch, alternately condemning or cajoling, largely by fax from Beijing, the three, yes, three, competing prime ministers of Cambodia.

    Political opponents have been murdered, detained, tortured, or have fled into exile, with predictable effect on free political expression and the outlook for future honest elections. The powers that rule are openly criticized largely from the safety of exile or, at far higher risk, by Cambodians who enjoy the limited protection of dual nationality. Freedom of the press survives shakily, often at the cost of unsolved murders and attempted murders of critical journalists. Many provincial and district leaders, as well as military commanders, act as independent warlords, using troops as criminal gangs. These men of power are protected by a totally political judiciary, always at the service of the executive. Lawlessness is the rule. The National Assembly is dormant. Corruption flourishes from the highest to the lowest level of office-holders. And as the rich proudly flaunt their wealth and power, Cambodia's patient and passive people watch their country's treasures vanish into criminal hands, while their leaders mock the people's rights and ignore their needs.

    All this may be written off as politics as usual in a country of low political culture, stemming from the harrowing history that Cambodians alive today feel in their bones. It ,nay be reversible. But Cambodia is not just an underdeveloped, misruled country like so many others. It is afflicted with the catastrophic cumulative effects of the destruction of its society in the four years of Khmer Rouge tyranny. These years of horror were preceded by the authoritarian regime of Sihanouk, the once and present king, and five years of war, from 1970 to 1975, between the manic Khmers Rouges and the incompetent, American-supported Lon Nol. There followed a Vietnamese-imposed puppet government that has held, in effect, uninterrupted power since 1979, despite the United Nations operation and the elections of 1993.

    Cambodia is a puppet no longer; it gained national independence when Vietnamese occupation troops voluntarily withdrew in 1989. But the Hun Sen regime has never obtained legitimacy in the eyes of Cambodians. It was not the government that they elected when for the first time in their history they were allowed to vote honestly and freely in 1993. It imposed itself, with the complicity of King Sihanouk. Nor have Cambodians forgotten that their present rulers were not victims of the Khmers Rouges, like the overwhelming majority of their generation, but men who held positions of regional or local command in Pol Pot's machine until that paranoiac monster began devouring its own, and they fled to Vietnam for their lives. And some did not convert to less murderous politics until after the Vietnamese invaders drove the Khmers Rouges from power.

    So the reflections that made Andrew Morris, the UNICEF official, deliver so pessimistic a verdict for the chances of today's Cambodians, basing his judgment on the disastrous state of health and education of their children and their mothers, are only a part of Cambodia's enduring crisis. But his diagnosis of a gravely incapacitated country affects the very basis of the chances for recovery and is substantially shared by doctors, midwives, nurses, and educators working in the towns and villages of Cambodia and by educated Cambodians and resident foreigners who view the country with sympathy and compassion. Not all foreigners do. Many are led to unsympathetic and harsh judgments by their impatience with the Cambodians' prevalent passivity before the challenges of life, and by their "imperfect understanding" of modernity as viewed by non-Cambodians. This understanding leads to responses that outsiders view as erratic or irrational. There is also antagonism over the high level of insecurity, corruption, the bureaucracy's dilatory ways and devious business practices. Much of this was also true in the past.

    A great deal of the Cambodian tragedy is visible to the naked eye. The capital city of Phnom Penh, before 1970 the trimmest and most cared-for in the region, is today reflective of a society that has been battered and overturned. "Phnom Penh is a lot dirtier, but I still recognize it," said a woman, back from France for her first visit in more than twenty years. "But the faces! They are no longer the same people." She did not mean that, like all Cambodians, she is reminded wherever she turns of family members, friends, and acquaintances whose lives were extinguished in the years of genocide. That goes without saying and applies, to a lesser degree, also to foreigners like myself, who have been witnesses to Cambodia's travails over many years. What the woman remarked on was the profound change that has taken place in Phnom Penh's population, which has nearly doubled from the 600,000 who lived there in 1970. It is no longer the urban mix of roughly equal numbers of Cambodians, Chinese, and Vietnamese of prewar Phnom Penh that made it a city of considerable civility. It collapsed only when in 1970 the Lon Nol regime unleashed a fearful pogrom against the Vietnamese population.

    The capital has become a city of country folk. The Khmers Rouges emptied it in 1975, and in their genocidal madness they killed city dwellers even more readily than peasants. Under their draconian regime, few Cambodians succeeded in escaping to foreign asylum. The outflow of refugees that followed the Vietnamese invasion four years later contained a disproportionate share of educated city dwellers who had somehow survived and who understandably had given up hope of being able to rebuild their lives in their country. At the same time, rural people headed into the city from the blighted, war-torn countryside. They hoped to find security, paid jobs, food, shelter, and medical care dispensed by the international aid organizations centered there. They found instead the same poverty that they left behind, but in a setting totally unfamiliar to them.

    In their overwhelming majority the rural settlers in Phnom Penh never became urbanized. It takes family links in the city, a level of education never available to them, and urban employment to change the families of subsistence farmers into city dwellers. Phnom Penh has become a city whose residents live rural lives of the most restricted horizons in an urban setting. This is desperately difficult. They no longer belong to a larger community and are separated from their extended families, which gave cohesion to Cambodia's villages. They no longer grow their own food, draw water from a well or a stream, or gather their firewood near their houses. In the city, they must pay for these necessities or do without, and they have very little to pay with. What they can do, wherever they are, is raise household animals. Pigs, chickens, or ducks were as uncommon in prewar Phnom Penh as in New York. Today they are part of city life, along with an occasional lumbering water buffalo for good measure. The Tuol Sleng Concentration camp, a former school close to the city center, was a site of torture and death for an estimated total of sixteen thousand men, women, and children in Pol Pot's days. Now its chambers of horror are a stop on the conducted-tour circuit. The pigsties of its neighbors encroach upon the grounds of the memorial.

    The center of the city and its surrounding residential quarters have taken on an air of superficial, unhealthy, robber-baron development--bank buildings, hotels, office blocks, and the pompous villas of the newly rich, but no housing for those whose ill-paid labor serves them. A day of rain makes the poorly maintained and overburdened drainage system overflow and leaves deep, stagnant pools and puddles that make streets impassable for days. The farther one goes from the center, the denser become the shantytown slums, rickety huts leaning precariously one against the other. The reek of poverty announces the lack of sanitation and the prevalence of ever-mounting heaps of rotting garbage long before its festering source comes into sight. The vast slums of Phnom Penh make even the low official estimates of the availability of safe drinking water and toilets seem optimistic indeed.

    "Most poor Cambodians, whether in rural or urban areas, use water from unprotected wells and springs and have no access to toilets of any kind," said the Cambodia Human Development Report, issued at the end of 1997 by the government and the United Nations Development Program. Children, often naked and almost always barefoot, abound, cheerful despite it all, and women outnumber men by far. "In some regions as many as 50 per cent of all families are headed by women; in other regions the proportion is 20 per cent, but nowhere is it lower," UNICEF has found. In a society in which upheavals and poverty have broken traditional extended-family and village links of mutual caring and substituted an "every man for himself" way of life, it is a severe handicap to have no man in the house.

    "A Cambodian child is more likely to die before the age of 1 year than a child in any other country in the East Asia and Pacific Region," the latest UNICEF report states. In numbers, this means that 110 of 1,000 Cambodian children die before reaching their first birthday. The regional average is 42. And 181 children in 1,000 do not live until the age of 5. Pregnancy for a Cambodian woman is a condition of maximum risk. Between 650 and 900 die of complications, accidents in labor, or abortions per 100,000 births, one of the highest rates in the world. Among foreign health workers in the cities and the countryside, there is a strong belief that official statistics underestimate reality. In Cambodia, the gloomiest estimates have always proved closer to the truth.

    Florence Beauvilliers is a French midwife who has worked for more than two years on behalf of Medecins Sans Frontieres in the remote northern province of Stung Treng, which borders on Laos. There she married a Cambodian doctor. "We have no idea of the mortality rate of mothers or babies, but it must be enormous," she said. "Pregnant women die if there is the least complication. The educational level is very low, and almost all births take place at home with traditional midwives. They don't know how to spot difficult births in advance. The women are taken to town by oxcart or boat at the last moment, and they arrive too late. Hygiene? They don't know what that is in Stung Treng." Dr. Beat Richner, a Swiss pediatrician who runs an exemplary children's hospital that he created virtually single-handedly in Phnom Penh, said, "There is a vicious cycle of diarrhea and malnutrition, the consequence of the hygiene of poverty."

    Poverty accounts for the poor state of health and nutrition. About one-half of all children under five are either stunted in growth or underweight. There is little "wasting" of bodies from acute famines, as in the disaster-prone sub-Sahara belt in Africa. The stunting of Cambodia's children stems from long-term, chronic undernourishment, the consequence of unrelieved poverty. The illnesses that give Cambodians born today a poor life expectancy of little more than fifty years (sixty-six and sixty-nine years, respectively, in neighboring Vietnam and Thailand) are those of poverty and wretched living conditions. Tuberculosis, respiratory infections, and diarrhea, as well as malaria, inherent in a land of forests, take a heavy toil. "The TB problem is one of the worst in the world," said Dr. Georg Petersen, a Norwegian who directs the Phnom Penh office of the World Health Organization.

    The AIDS scourge has not spared Cambodia. After an encouragingly slow start, due to the country's comparative isolation until the 1990s, the spread of the illness has more than caught up. A 1997 report issued jointly by the government and a number of aid donors states succinctly: "The Kingdom of Cambodia has the most serious HIV/AIDS epidemic in Asia with many contributing factors which suggest that the epidemic has the potential to cause Cambodia to become one of the worst affected countries in the world."

    The most reliable estimates put the number of cases of HIV-positive patients at 70,000 to 120,000 in late 1996, and the yearly number of new infections at 17,000 to 25,000. The spread of this illness, too, is a result of poverty and the unraveled social fabric, which has driven more Cambodian women than ever before into prostitution. The illness is due in more than 90 percent of cases to heterosexual transmission, largely by prostitutes, in a country where terminating an evening out among men with a visit to a brothel is not uncustomary. More than 40 percent of the prostitutes in Cambodia's plentiful brothels tested HIV-positive in late 1996. As many as 35 percent of the prostitutes are minors.

    Cambodians receive little medical care, and care badly for themselves. Public health services were destroyed in the Khmer Rouge reign and haltingly restored with very limited means under Vietnamese occupation. The frail structure collapsed completely when communism was officially abolished in 1989 and greed in the name of economic liberalism became the official creed. A slow rebuilding began after the 1993 elections, largely through the efforts of foreign donors and nongovernmental aid organizations. A plan for a rational system has been adopted by a willing Health Ministry, but Dr. Petersen emphasized that "a tremendous improvement for delivering health services" now exists "on paper." The Human Development Report states that for the time being, "Cambodia has one of the lowest rates of utilization of health services in the world ... a Cambodian has only 0.35 medical contacts with the organized health services each year."

    Dr. Petersen described the effect of the abandonment of Communist ideology. "Between 1989 and '93 everything collapsed," he said. "Since '93 there is unchecked capitalism. Medicines are sold everywhere in open shops. Even the poorest people spend 7 to 8 percent of their earnings on their health. There are all the side effects of the explosive development of a totally unchecked system. There is incredible misuse of drugs."

    Dr. Natacha Prandy, who came to Cambodia as a pediatrician for the Russian community, which was large in the days of the Soviet Union, and stayed on as a general practitioner for Medecins du Monde, a private French relief organization, summarized the fatal link between lack of education and bad health. "They don't know how to take care of themselves," she said. "First they go to the traditional doctor. Most are charlatans. The illness gets worse. Then they go to the pharmacist, most of whom are not pharmacists but drug-sellers. They say they have a stomachache, and he sells them what he wants. They have been to a fake doctor and a fake pharmacist, and often they have been given a fake medicine. They take any drug that they are given. Then, when they are so sick they can no longer work they come to a hospital. And often they arrive too late. The public health system hardly exists. Doctors are very badly trained. They over-prescribe dangerously, four antibiotics at a time, why not? They are ignorant of the most elementary things. I know of a fifteen-year-old girl who went blind because of a prescribed massive overdose of quinine."

    The effect of chronic malnutrition, stunting, and frequent illnesses on the low state of education is evident. Prolonged absences are common. The average village child suffers four to six episodes of respiratory infections and the same number of attacks of long-lasting diarrhea a year, Andrew Morris said. There is also a "tremendous impact on learning ability from severe and widespread goiter," resulting from iodine deficiency, according to the UNICEF health official. Of the country's twenty provinces, nine have a goiter rate of more than 20 percent among schoolchildren, four of them surpassing 30 percent. "The goiter can be undone, but the children can't catch up unless iodine is introduced while they are very young," according to Morris, who is a pharmacist. Only 15 percent of the salt used in Cambodia is iodized; it is sold mainly in the border regions that are supplied from Vietnam or Thailand.

    How much can be expected from an education system that started from zero in 1979? After the Pol Pot years, in which schools were abolished, only three hundred Cambodians with a higher education were left in the country. Most were employed in the varied tasks of recreating a national administration. A handful were gathered to recruit teachers--almost anybody able to read, write, and do simple sums--and write new textbooks, relying on their own memories from school days and on the political guidelines laid down by the Vietnamese Communist party. The books were astonishingly ideological, dedicated to the nigh-impossible tasks of making enthusiastic Communists of an inert population, people who had just emerged from martyrdom under a Communist regime, and of making Cambodians admire Vietnam. Many are still in use while new texts are being prepared and distributed, said Jean-Michel Le Pecq, who heads a European Community program to rebuild primary education. A program of deletion of political content has left pupils with many pages more white than black and befuddling breaks in continuity.

    The French educator said that of the 47,000 primary school teachers, half had been recruited without having completed their own primary education of five or six years. Less than 1 percent have finished the eleventh grade. By their own definition, 69 percent of Cambodians over fifteen years old consider themselves literate. The claim meets with incredulity; a 1996 report by the Asian Development Bank found 48 percent of women and 22 percent of men over fifteen to be illiterate. UNICEF expects this problem to grow at least over the next decade because of the high dropout rate in elementary schools and the low levels of achievement of those who stay the course.

    The United Nations agency expects that of 1,000 Cambodians born today, 290 will never go to school, 390 will repeat the first grade, and 500 will not complete the primary education that they begin. Only 27 out of 1,000 who enter primary school will graduate from high school, the Human Development Report estimates.

    Some more discouraging statistics: teachers' contact with pupils averages less than three hours a day. The average Cambodian adult has had only three and one-half years of schooling. The repeat and dropout rates are chilling. Of those who started first grade in 1989, only 34 percent entered fifth grade five years later. Many repeat the first grade two or three times and drop out by the second grade, particularly girls, said Anne H. Dykstra, who was a UNICEF project officer. "This is a lethal combination," she said. "They can't build an economy on that, not even agrarian."

    Not that parents are indifferent to the education of their children. Great hope for the future lies in the fact that in one of the world's poorest countries, families assume two-thirds of the cost of maintaining a public school system, possibly the highest rate of such contributions in Asia. But for that and foreign aid, the system would collapse. The government contribution, a rock-bottom 8.1 percent of the national budget, barely covers the paltry teachers' wages of about fifteen dollars a month. Such low salaries mean that almost all teachers hold second and third jobs. A widely used and tolerated practice is for teachers to keep their classes beyond the regular hours. They call the extra time "private lessons," for which parents must pay about five hundred riels, or sixteen cents, a day. The sacrifice that this represents for the average family can be measured by the fact that the teachers' salaries represent the national average for regularly employed Cambodians, and untold numbers in Phnom Penh and other towns are day laborers who on many a day find no work.

    Parents also pay for school repairs and building projects and offer gifts in kind to teachers. Sadly, those who can afford it also offer substantial sums to teachers to assure their children's success in exams. Practiced at all levels of education, this widespread bribery has greatly devalued the reputation of school certificates and diplomas.

    It is not only in the vital fields of physical health and education that Cambodians continue to suffer from the effects of the Khmer Rouge whirlwind that blighted society and the traditional civilization that bonded it, and that deprived its members of the comforting certainties of mutual support. A system in which every single person's survival was threatened tore out by its roots a village culture of mutual help of ancient standing. Even today, when 85 percent of Cambodians continue to live in villages, men and women are left feeling alone and threatened in what has changed into an aggressively competitive human environment.

    Sociological studies have shown a drastic decline in sammaki, a once widely used word denoting solidarity and community spirit. "There is no more mutual help among people," said Florence Beauvilliers, the midwife. "The nurses in the Stung Treng provincial hospital do only the minimum. They hand out pills and meals, but they don't help those who can't feed themselves. They sit on an empty bed and play cards. Maybe you can expect no more from women who earn ten dollars a month." And very often, she added, the nurses deprive patients of the pills that they are to take and sell them for private gain. "It is not the same country," an elderly woman told her daughter-in-law who was on her first visit back from exile in France. "Today your neighbor makes you pay for helping you out with a pinch of salt."

    The tradition of sammaki today extends only to members of the immediate family, and even there bonds have loosened. Loyalty between husbands and wives is much looser than before the war years, particularly since economic hardship has split families. Many men leave the village to go where they might find work. The scarcity of men, who suffered greater ravages in the wars and the years of Pol Pot, has made polygamy and deserted wives and children a common social illness. Prostitution and the selling of children into prostitution at home and in Thailand are the results of a general deterioration in a traditional morality that had held fast through the centuries.

    Cambodia today is also a ward of untreated psychiatric illnesses that have their principal origin in the four years of the genocide. Twelve psychiatrists practiced in Cambodia before 1975; none were left after the despot's fall. A first group of ten physicians were receiving psychiatric training in 1997. No Cambodian hospital provides in-patient psychiatric care, said Dr. Lavrantz Kyrdalen, a Norwegian specialist who heads the training program. As a result, even violent patients live with their families, sometimes chained up for years.

    The causes of widespread mental illness are complex, said Dr. Kyrdalen, a soft-spoken man who delivers opinions precisely, after long thought. He finds the causes in the severe losses under the Khmers Rouges, aggravated by the hardships of today and compounded by the absence of any treatment for twenty years. Severe depressions are the most common disorders: the mood is low, thinking pessimistic, often suicidal, and there are frequent complaints about physical symptoms for which there is no physical cause. Alcoholism, rare in the days of peace, has become common. Many Cambodians suppress their anxieties, deny them to avoid conflict until they cannot manage anymore. Then they may become violently aggressive or suicidal.

    "The permanent level of anxiety among Cambodians is unbelievable," Dr. Kyrdalen said. He witnessed two examples. A controlled explosion of a mine found in Phnom Penh brought panic, and when a coup d'etat in July 1997 brought street fighting between troops of two rival prime ministers in the capital, previous traumas re-erupted explosively. "They thought the Khmers Rouges were back," the psychiatrist said. "There is a collective pessimism in this country regarding the future. The Cambodian perspective is very short-term. They can't believe in peace; they believe most conflict must lead to violence."

    It is difficult to believe in peace in a country where vast regions remain seeded with land mines planted by all the armies and factions that have made war in Cambodia. One-legged men, women, and children draw almost no attention in the streets of Phnom Penh, so common is this terrible mutilation. Despite the continuing, dangerous work of demining, carried out with the help of foreign organizations, no day goes by without making new victims. It is estimated that one of every 243 Cambodians has been maimed by a mine.

    Tioulong Saumura is a French-educated economist and was vice governor of the National Bank until Hun Sen's 1997 coup d'etat drove her and her husband, opposition leader and former finance minister Sam Rainsy, temporarily into exile. For her, the Pol Pot years "completely destroyed the moral values of Cambodians." She said that even the deeply anchored Buddhist religion has lost its moral content and no longer has roots. "It has become merely a superstition on which you call for protection against misfortune," she said.

    "What there is today is a cult of the present and a cult of `myself.' It shows in the economy. There is no savings and no investment. Even our fruit trees are no longer cared for and pruned. It shows in the poor fruit that you buy in the market. It is the fruit of trees that have been allowed to degenerate. Nothing is maintained any more. It shows in the irrigation system. When a canal gets silted over, forget about it. Wells that are no longer yielding water are abandoned, not repaired. It shows in the beautiful villas that the nomenklatura of Hun Sen's Cambodian People's party has built for itself. They don't maintain the streets on which they stand, even if the rainy-season flooding damages their Mercedeses."

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2001

    Kamm speaks his mind and hits the mark on Cambodia.

    No pontificating by American diplomats here, just the cold, hard reality of Cambodia as seen by keen-eyed observer Henry Kamm. No one comes out looking good in this account of all the wrong turns made by the United Nations, Cambodia's neighbors, and Cambodian leadership figures. That Kamm has no masters to serve is perfectly clear. Once again we see that in a democracy journalists, not diplomats or bureaucrats, provide the most revealing insights and trusted information. If there is one book which should be read by anyone interested in Cambodia, this is it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2000

    A 'MUST' for those who are interested in Cambodian history!

    This is one the the best book ever written about Cambodia. The author takes us to Cambodia from the ealier days to the the present. A must for those who wish to understand Cambodia but lack the time for a prolonged study.

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