, June 23, 1997 — Last week, award-winning journalist Robert Scheer made an emotional return to Cambodia for the first time in 31 years – just as word of the infamous Khmer Rouge guerrilla leader Pol Pot’s imminent surrender began making news around the world. If the reports are confirmed, it could be a strangely poetic benchmark in a career that sprang from “A Warning from Phnom Penh,” a celebrated essay Scheer wrote in 1965 for Ramparts magazine.
The last time he stood on Cambodian soil, Scheer was one of five Western correspondents permitted to visit the country in 1965. A veteran reporter, a syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times, a contributing editor of The Nation, and a political pundit for National Public Radio, Scheer covered the war in Southeast Asia during the ’60s for the Los Angeles Times , and went on to write six books about the subject. Writer Joan Didion has deemed him “one of the best reporters of our time.”
As fate would have it, Scheer finds himself once again as a reporter in the midst of conflict in Southeast Asia. For the last week Scheer, 61, has been filing online reports from Vietnam and Cambodia for Expedia’s
the Mungo Park
™, Microsoft’s online adventure magazine, published by Expedia ™. Traveling with his son, Peter, and the Mungo Park field team, Scheer returns to Southeast Asia for the first time in almost 30 years to tell and show the world how things have changed. Scheer is the voice of June’s live expedition, “Flash : Back to Vietnam” exclusively on Mungo Park (http://mungopark.com)
Scheer and crew arrived in Phnom Penh via Hanoi last Tuesday night, just as reports of a shoot-out drove the city indoors. Two bodyguards of one of Cambodia’s co-prime ministers were killed, and several people were wounded including an American reporter. Since then, Cambodia has taken the world stage as Pol Pot’s whereabouts remain unknown and competing government factions issue conflicting statements about his capture.
As unconfirmed reports fly, Scheer has covered developments via daily dispatches, digital photographs, and candid audio communiqu
s filed electronically via the Internet.
“When I was here 31 years ago, this was one of the most peaceful, beautiful, calmest little countries in the world,” said Scheer in an audio communiqu
on the Mungo Park web-site. “I wrote at the time, ‘It needs no change. Leave it alone.'”
In upcoming dispatches, Scheer will continue reporting on developments in Phnom Penh and revisit the eleventh-century temples at Angkor Wat.
Transcript Of Audio Communiqu
s From Scheer’s Mungo Park
“In the news business, there’s an illusion that being on the spot is important to getting the news,” Scheer begins in his first audio communiqu
from Cambodia. “Well, I’m on the spot with the Mungo Park crew here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and frankly, I don’t know what’s going on. There are hundreds of reporters here from all over the world with lots of equipment, and they are similarly confused.
“Two things are up. The dreaded Pol Pot – who terrorized this country for four years, from 1975 to ’79, and then escaped to the jungle and has been fighting since – is somewhere northwest of here. He’s either dead or alive. He’s either free or captured. He’s either given himself up or he’s escaped. I don’t know. And what I do know, I learned from listening to the BBC on shortwave radio or trying to follow CNN, which is the same thing the other reporters are doing. The problem is that we can’t leave the hotel at night without considerable danger.
“Last night two bodyguards of one of the co-prime ministers who run this country were killed by the bodyguards of the other person who is supposed to be sharing power with him. A B-40 rocket is said to have been fired over the U.S. ambassador’s house last night. He is supposed to have moved his family into a hotel for security.
“…This is all a terrible shame. When I was here 31 years ago, this was one of the most peaceful, beautiful, calmest countries in the world. I wrote at the time, ‘It needed no change. Leave it alone.’ Instead, we, the U.S., dragged Cambodia into the Cold War. Prince Sihanouk was overthrown. A guy named Lon Nol was put in power. This fellow Pol Pot was part of the resistance. Then the Vietnamese threw him out after he killed one out of every four people in this country.
“We didn’t like the Vietnamese. We, the U.S., were allied with China. We ended up backing a coalition that included this Hitlerian figure Pol Pot, giving money to this coalition, which ended up in his pocket – and then finally he was too much of a murderer and we turned against him. “Now, of course, we will be grateful that he is captured. It is a mess.
“My feeling is that it’s best to stay home and let other folks sort out their own history. This is like being involved in a neighbor’s divorce. You feel important but in the end, you make matters worse.”
Since September 1996, Mungo Park has taken online adventurers on the first-ever descent of the Tekeze River in Ethiopia; in search of the Queen of the Lovedu, a legendary Bantu tribe of women; into space aboard Atlantis space shuttle mission STS-81; diving the coral reefs of Fiji with Jean-Michel Cousteau, and through the remote and treacherous rain forests of the Darien Gap.”
(http://mungopark.com) is available on the World Wide Web and features an interactive expedition program, live Internet chats, a famous-author series, and regular columns from well-known journalists. Named for the famous eighteenth-century Scottish explorer who discovered the Niger River and mysteriously disappeared while navigating its waters, Mungo Park is about exploring the world – both firsthand and online.
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