A Council of Ministers official who helped ink the controversial deal to allow a Japanese company to manage the Choeung Ek killing fields memorial as a tourist attraction revealed on Monday that he is also the chairman of the company’s board of directors.
The Council of Minister’s Cabinet Chief, Chea Vandeth, said Monday that he has been working for the Japan-based JC Royal Company since it formed about seven months ago.
Chea Vandeth said that JC Royal’s director, Koji Yamamoto, “noticed that Choeung Ek killing fields was not developed, which is why he decided to get into this project. To construct a video showroom and fences…in order to attract more tourists to visit this killing field.”
Chea Vandeth confirmed that the company has agreed to pay the Phnom Penh Municipality $15,000 each year for the first five years of its exclusive contract, in exchange for permission to develop and manage the site, where thousands of prisoners from the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng prison were executed and buried in mass graves.
Officials and documents have revealed that the agreement gives JC Royal the exclusive right to develop and manage the site for the next 30 years. Chea Vandeth said that Yamamoto could not be reached as he is in Japan.
Yamamoto is also the president of the Sun Fund, a project that supports Cambodian students studying in Japan.
Revenues from ticket sales at the privatized Choeung Ek killing fields “will be kept in the Sun Fund to support our other Cambodian students studying in Japan,” Chea Vandeth said. The Sun Fund is currently sponsoring two Cambodian students, he said.
According to a copy of a letter from the Council of Ministers to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, obtained on Sunday, Chea Vandeth had urged City Hall to approve the deal with JC Royal.
“The Council of Ministers has drafted the contract and is awaiting the agreement from the governor to appoint a representative to negotiate in order to reach an agreement,” Chea Vandeth wrote in the letter, dated Feb 14.
Although news of the privatization of the Choeung Ek memorial has outraged many, a senior municipal official said that privatization of the Tuol Sleng genocide museum was also a possibility.
“It is a bad example,” Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said Monday. “We should not let other nationalities manage our own bitter memory,” he said, adding that he too was concerned the Municipality would attempt to do the same with the Tuol Sleng genocide museum.
Choeung Ek’s General Manager Neang Say also blasted the move on Monday, charging that the Municipality is capitalizing on the tragedy of others.
“The current leaders take benefits from those dead people who were killed violently,” he charged.
Phnom Penh’s first Vice-Governor Mam Bun Neang defended the deal on Monday, saying that JC Royal can provide infrastructure for the site that the Municipality would otherwise not be able to afford.
The company will develop the site “to be beautiful in order to attract more tourists to visit Cambodia,” Mam Bun Neang said.
He said City Hall granted the concession to a Japanese company “because we believe strongly and trust in the Japan government and people. Japan has never thought to destroy Cambodia…. Japan never attempted to get benefits or exploit us.”
Mam Bun Neang added that the Municipality may consider a similar deal to privatize Tuol Sleng.
“We will study Tuol Sleng museum someday,” he said.
Mam Bun Neang defended JC Royal’s proposed $3 admission price for foreigners to Choeung Ek, saying it is not expensive compared with entrance fees to the Angkor Archeological Park.
Cambodians, allowed free admission in the past, will be required to pay 500 riel, he said.
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