Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Shame Of Cambodia's Memorial To Slain War Reporters

Anyone who knows anything about the Cambodian Government will know they never do anything quickly. But it’s appalling how slow they’ve been honouring the more than three dozen journalists who were killed or went missing during the bloodshed and turmoil of the 1970-75 war.

I wrote a story back in August telling how the Government was to replace the original polystyrene memorial (pic above) that was unveiled in a park outside Phnom Penh's Hotel Le Royal in April 2010 to honour the 37 brave souls who died over the five years it took Pol Pot's murderous forces to capture the capital.

People had pulled chunks off it, exposing patches of white polystyrene, and the flimsy structure was leaning heavily and looked like it would fall down any minute. Some said it was a crying shame erecting such a cheap monument in the first place - especially for a country so filled with stone statues, and the huge numbers of gifted masons out here working for a few dollars a day.

The Government promised a more permanent memorial would take its place - funded by foreign money of course (anyone who’s seen the luxury limos and four-wheel drives ministerial lackeys drive around, and the incredibly sumptuous buildings they work in, will understand the Government needs to watch every penny.)

But the flimsy monument was removed from outside Le Royal - the unofficial headquarters of the foreign media who reported on Cambodia's takeover by the Khmer Rouge - a couple of months ago.

Back in August, Cambodia’s information minister Khieu Kanharith told me a new one with all the names of the dead and missing engraved on it was on its way, adding: “We will finalise the project at the end of this month.”

Perry Deane Young, of the Overseas Press Club of America, said at the time: “The war in Cambodia was one of the most dangerous assignments journalists faced in the twentieth century.

“It was a courageous band of dedicated men and women who risked their lives to tell the story. It is only fitting that those who made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of the truth should have a permanent memorial lest we forget.”

But nearly four months later, there is just an empty patch of grass where the last one stood (pic below). And it doesn’t look like being filled anytime soon - not if the Cambodian Government’s priorities are anything to go by.

No doubt they are now too busy planning a monument to mark the death of Kim Jong-il, an old-fashioned tyrant who bathed himself in riches while his people starved to death. Perhaps it’s a cause more in keeping with current ideologies?

:: Of the 37 slain journalists and photographers, ten were from Japan, eight from France, seven from the US, four from Cambodia, two from Switzerland, and one each from West Germany, Austria, Netherlands, India, Laos, and Australia.

The most famous was Sean Flynn, son of the film star Errol, who set off from Phnom Penh with fellow US snapper Dana Stone in search of a story. They were never seen again.

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