The journalist

Gwen Robinson

Kavi Chongkittavorn. Photograph : Christian Hogue

I first met Kavi Chongkittavorn in the late 1980s, when journalists, spies and aid workers flocked to the Thai-Cambodian border town of Aranyaprathet, drawn by the protracted Cambodian refugee crisis and guerrilla war. Aran, as it was known, was the base for myriad international agencies and Thai military and government bodies overseeing the vast border camps. More intriguingly, it was the command centre for Cambodian resistance groups — led by the Khmer Rouge, which had renamed its murderous regime the Party of Democratic Kampuchea after being ousted by Vietnamese troops in 1979.

I can’t remember our first conversation but recall thinking that from his wild hair, scruffy appearance and knowing yet unassuming air, he could be a seasoned aid worker or a local fixer for Western media. I quickly learned he was a roving reporter for the Nation, a Thai English-language daily, and that foreign correspondents approached him with a mixture of bemusement and respect. He had already notched up the distinction of opening, and then being expelled from, one of the first media bureaus in Phnom Penh permitted under the Vietnamese-backed regime of Hun Sen. And he would subsequently pull off a breakthrough deal to open a bureau for the Nation in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

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