|Written by Sebastian Strangio and Vong Sokheng|
| Tuesday, 31 March 2009 |
Phnom Penh Post
HUNDREDS turned out for a commemoration Monday marking the 12th anniversary of the 1997 grenade attack that left at least 16 dead and more than 100 injured during a peaceful opposition rally in Phnom Penh.
During a two-hour ceremony held at the commemorative stupa marking the site of the attack near the former National Assembly, participants lit incense and laid wreaths next to photos of 13 of those killed, while lawmakers and victims' relatives issued calls for fresh investigations into the still-unsolved case.
SRP President Sam Rainsy, who was injured and whose bodyguard was killed during the 1997 rally, slammed the government for its inaction but expressed hopes that investigations conducted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation would succeed where it had failed.
"The criminals must not be hidden by the powerful," he told the crowd. "I believe the Obama administration has clear principles of justice [and] we hope that the US can send the people behind the grenade attack to jail."
Ly Nary, who lost her journalist son Chet Doung Daravuth in the attacks, appealed to the government to continue its investigations and said she looked forward to seeing the attackers in the dock.
"We should take [such] impunity away from our society," she said in a speech.
"We have waited for 30 years to see leaders of the Khmer Rouge face trial, so we will continue to wait [for progress on the grenade attack]."
But Peo Heng, 62, whose daughter Yung Soknov and niece Yung Srey were killed in 1997 after joining the rally to demand higher wages for garment workers, was less confident time would reveal the perpetrators of the attack.
"Twelve years on, there remains no justice," she told the Post. "My daughter and niece did nothing wrong. They just participated in the rally to call for an independent court and demand a salary rise."
On March 30, 1997, four grenades were thrown into the crowd at a rally held by the opposition Khmer Nation Party, killing and injuring scores of bystanders.
While the results of a subsequent FBI investigation of the incident have never been made public, Sam Rainsy said a copy of the report leaked to Washington Post reporters pointed to the involvement of Brigade 70, Prime Minister Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit.
He expressed confidence that while the Cambodian government had not managed to find the killers, a new era of international legal norms could bring the country's entrenched impunity to an abrupt end.
"The President of Sudan, who is currently in power, is afraid to leave his country, and he will be arrested if he visits any European countries," he told journalists after the ceremony, referring to the leader's recent indictment by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
"This trend will come to Cambodia."
Other observers who spoke with the Post agreed the government had demonstrated no clear commitment to the case.
"I think the fact that 12 years have passed since the grenade attacks and the government has yet to launch an independent investigation or make a single arrest is a clear indication that impunity continues to plague Cambodia," said Sarah Colm, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Colm added that some of the figures suspected of involvement in the attacks, including the head of Brigade 70, had since been promoted by the government, describing the appointments as a "slap in the face" for the victims.
"Rather than going after the perpetrators of political violence or human rights abuses, some of the very [military] units and people alleged to have been involved in the attacks are this year being promoted," she said.
While the trials of senior Khmer Rouge figure Duch, which reconvened Monday, was a vital step in the erosion of the Kingdom's culture of impunity, Colm said it was vital that ongoing violence and intimidation was also "promptly and fairly" addressed.
"These more recent crimes are not isolated incidents," she said.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann agreed, saying the party would continue holding an annual commemoration on March 30 until the attack's "perpetrators and masterminds" were brought to justice.
"There is no political will or commitment to conduct a serious investigation," he said.
"With the assassinations of political opponents or union leaders, they always make up another story to cover up the truth."
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Monday but told the Post last week that the government was still conducting investigations with the help of the FBI, and that three suspects had so far been identified in connection with the attacks.
"As long as we can wait, we will try to shine a light on the perpetrators," he said.
However, US embassy sources said the FBI had closed its case and was "not able to reach a conclusion" as to the perpetrators of the attacks.
"We extend our sympathies to the families of the victims of the attack and note with regret that the perpetrators of the attack have not been brought to justice," embassy spokesman John Johnson said by email.
"The victims and their families deserve justice, and we urge the Cambodian government to make every effort to solve this case."
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
|Written by Cheang Sokha and Georgia Wilkins|
| Tuesday, 31 March 2009 |
Phnom Penh Post
Duch will not be called to respond to charges for days.
PROCEEDINGS at the long-awaited trial of Kaing Guek Eav got off to a deeply symbolic yet fairly brief start Monday, with an opening statement by prosecutors being delayed until Tuesday.
The accused, a 66-year-old former teacher better known by his revolutionary name Duch, stood up and politely greeted the judges with a traditional bow. He then confirmed his various pseudonyms, before sitting solemnly and attentively as judges read out the details of his alleged crimes, including how prisoners at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison he oversaw were subjected to beatings, suffocation and electrocution before being killed.
"Before I was arrested by the military police, I was a teacher in Samlot district," Duch told the court.
"I have already been notified of the charges against me," he added.
Though his indictment had been filed months in advance, Monday was the first time it was read aloud to the court and the defendant, who is on trial for charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and under Cambodian law for the charges of premeditated murder and torture.
Duch is not likely to be called upon to respond to the allegations against him until Wednesday, and witnesses, many of whom were at the court Monday, will not testify until next week.
Bou Meng, one of three survivors from the prison in which up to 15,000 people were tortured and sent to their deaths, was at the hearing but kept a low profile.
"I was angry because they killed my wife, [but now] I am happy because I have a court to try Khmer Rouge leaders," he told reporters before leaving Monday's hearing.
The indictment described how S21, a secret interrogation centre, had an explicit policy to "smash" - a code word for kill - the enemies who were sent there.
It also cited descriptions of the former chief by witnesses, who claimed that "Duch was feared by everyone".
The charges quoted Duch as saying children were "like a blank piece of paper. They could be easily indoctrinated," in reference to his alleged policy of training child guards at the prison.
Co-prosecutor Chea Leang, who ended the hearing by requesting an unbroken two hours for the opening statement, prompted some discontent in the public gallery, with one person shouting that at a cost of millions of dollars, the court should be able to work eight hours.
"If this is the pace in which proceedings will be in the future, there may be some cause for concern," Michelle Stagg Kelsall, a court monitor for the East-West Centre said after the hearing.
Dy Ratha, who was participating in the trial as a civil party, said she was glad proceedings had begun, but was disappointed Duch was not called on by judges.
"What we want is his [Duch] confession of the crime so that we can accept and forgive. Today the trial of Duch is a surprisingly and lesion for the next generation and if there is no trial Khmer Rouge memory in the past will be gone.
Lawyers for Duch told the Post Sunday that he hopes to use his trial to apologize for his role in the 1975-1979 regime.
could be easily indoctrinated”, referring to his alleged policy of training child guards at the prison.
Co-prosecutor Chea Leang, who ended the hearing by requesting an unbroken two hours for the opening statement, prompted some discontent in the public gallery, with one person shouting that at a cost of millions of dollars, the court should be able to work an eight-hour day.
“If this is the pace in which proceedings will be in the future, there may be some cause for concern,” Michelle Staggs Kelsall, a court monitor for the East-West Centre’s Asian International Justice Initiative, said after the hearing.
Dy Ratha, who was participating in the trial as a civil party, said she was glad proceedings had begun but was disappointed Duch was not called on by judges.
“What we want is his [Duch’s] confession of the crime so that we can accept and forgive. Today the court’s [reading of Duch’s indictiment] was shocking and provided a lesson about the regime for the next generation. If there is no trial, the Khmer Rouge and the past will be gone.”
Lawyers for Duch told the Post Sunday that he hopes to use his trial to apologise for his role in the 1975-79 regime.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, March 30 -- Three decades after Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge was flushed from power, a prominent regime official is standing trial this week to answer charges of crimes against humanity, breaches of the laws of war, murder, and torture.
Kaing Khek Iev, who is better known by what he describes as his "revolutionary" name, Duch, ran the Khmer Rouge's most notorious torture center, Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh. An estimated 16,000 men, women and children died there between 1975 and 1979.
["I am responsible for the crimes committed at S-21, especially the torture and execution of the people there," Duch said Tuesday before a five-judge panel of a joint United Nations-Cambodian court. Survivors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime watched from a public gallery.
[ "May I be permitted to apologize to the survivors of the regime and families of the victims who had loved ones who died brutally," Duch continued. ". . . I would like you to forgive me."
[At the same time, Duch said he was only following orders issued by the top Khmer Rouge leadership, and feared for the lives of his family if he had disobeyed. "I am solely responsible for this crime, but I am just a scapegoat," he told the court.]
Duch is the only prominent member of the Khmer Rouge regime to express remorse for the group's attempt to create a communist agrarian utopia, a political experiment that cost as many as 1.7 million lives -- a fifth of Cambodia's population -- through murder, overwork, disease and starvation.
Duch's case is being heard by a court that includes Cambodian and international judges who are working under a system loosely based on French civil law.
"There were autopsies carried out on live persons, there was medical experimentation, and people were bled to death: These were all crimes against humanity admitted by Duch," the prosecutors charged in the indictment. Among the four forms of torture he officially condoned, they said, was pouring water up victims' noses.
Duch previously had confessed to many of the crimes, admissions he has said were motivated partly by his conversion to Christianity in the mid-1990s. By the time he was identified by a journalist in 1999, he had reinvented himself as an aid worker.
In grainy, 30-year-old pictures taken at Tuol Sleng, Duch stands among the black-clad guards he ordered to carry out "the policy of smashing enemies."
"The term 'smash' was widely understood to mean 'kill,' " prosecutors told the court. They went on to say that if guards allowed a prisoner to die or to commit suicide before the regime had completed its torture, the guards could be branded traitors and find themselves on the receiving end of the electric clips attached to ears and the fingernail extractors.
If Duch, 66, is found guilty, he could face a life sentence.
On Monday, the first day of the trial, he attentively read the transcript of the indictment as he sat, dressed in a white shirt and dark trousers, in the court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. He looked more like the mathematics teacher he once was than a ruthless killer whose careful documentary record of his own brutality now forms a large part of the case against him.
Hundreds of spectators sat behind a glass screen, having gathered to witness a moment that Theary Seng, whose parents were killed by the regime, described as "momentous."
"I'm still processing it, but it is just an amazing sensation after having talked and written so much about it, after having waited personally for 30 years for this court to take place," said Theary Seng, who spent three years in a Khmer Rouge jail and remembers her mother being taken away along with other adults to be executed.
The legal process for bringing Duch to trial has been deeply controversial. That process is expected to cost $150 million, $60 million of which has already been spent. There have been accusations of government interference intended to limit the scope of the charges and protect some from prosecution. There have also been allegations of corruption by court officials.
"This court is greatly flawed," Theary Seng said, pointing out that after 30 years, memories and evidence have both deteriorated.
Cambodia's government is led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former brigade commander in the Khmer Rouge before he defected to Vietnam. The government contains at least three other former senior Khmer Rouge officials.
"Hun Sen has thrown obstacle after obstacle in the way of fair trials, an independent tribunal and speedy justice," said Brad Adams, the Asia Director for Human Rights Watch. "We don't have an independent court. We have a politicized Cambodian judiciary matched with a minority group of U.N.-appointed people."
Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader who oversaw the reign of terror, died in 1998, apparently of natural causes. Four other key members of the regime, all now in their late 70s and early 80s, have been indicted: Nuon Chea, the movement's deputy leader; Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge president; Ieng Sary, the group's foreign minister; and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was the social affairs minister. They are all fighting the charges.
International prosecutors want to charge an additional six people, a move Chea Leang, the Cambodian co-prosecutor, has resisted. She says that further trials would inhibit reconciliation. Adams said such arguments underscore a fundamental weakness in the courts.
"The notion that you can deal with the deaths of 2 million people by putting five or even 10 people on trial is ludicrous," he said.
The court is also limited by its mandate, which covers only the period from the day the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh in 1975 to the day the Vietnamese army drove it out in 1979.
But even the court's critics say that despite its shortcomings, the process is healing some of the wounds of a population still deeply traumatized by its experiences under the Khmer Rouge.
"Despite the fact that it is very flawed, I see other benefits coming out of it," said Theary Seng. "We are using the court as a catalyst, as an illustration to jump-start discussions on healing, on reconciliation, on trauma, on history, on our own culpability, on the culpability of the Chinese and the Americans."
Reuters contributed to this report.
Comrade Duch tells UN-backed tribunal 'I was only obeying orders'
The first Khmer Rouge leader to be tried for genocide apologised in court today for the deaths of more than 14,000 people who were murdered at the Cambodian prison camp he ran under the brutal ultra-Maoist regime.
Kaing Guek Eav – better known as Comrade Duch – was Pol Pot's chief torturer and presided over the slaughter at the notorious Tuol Sleng, or S-21, prison.
The former maths teacher turned born-again Christian is on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
"I am responsible for the crimes committed at S-21, especially the torture and execution of the people there," Duch told the UN-backed tribunal this morning.
"May I be permitted to apologise to the survivors of the regime and families of the victims who had loved ones who died brutally at S-21. I would like you to forgive me," Duch told the panel of five judges as survivors of the Khmer Rouge looked on from the public gallery.
Although the 66-year-old said he wished to express "regret and my heartfelt sorrow for all the crimes committed" during the 1975-79 reign of terror in which 1.7 million people died in Cambodia, he claimed he had only been following orders.
He said he had only obeyed the commands because he feared his family would face reprisals if he refused to comply.
"I am solely responsible for this crime, but I am just a scapegoat – a person who played a role in the killings," he told the court on the second day of his formal trial.
Duch has been variously described by those who knew him as "very gentle and kind" and a "monster".
In an indictment in August the tribunal said: "Duch necessarily decided how long a prisoner would live, since he ordered their execution based on a personal determination of whether a prisoner had fully confessed" to being an enemy of the regime.
In one mass execution, he gave his men a "kill them all" order to dispose of a group of prisoners. On another list of 29 prisoners, he told his henchmen to "interrogate four persons, kill the rest".
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch disappeared for two decades, living under two other names and as a converted Christian before he was located in north-west Cambodia by a British journalist in 1999.
Taken to the scene of his alleged crimes last year, he wept and told some of his former victims: "I ask for your forgiveness. I know that you cannot forgive me, but I ask you to leave me the hope that you might."
His defence lawyer, Francois Roux, said today that his client had been in detention for nine years, nine months and seven days, adding: "This situation is unacceptable."
Duch is expected to be a key witness in the future trials of those also deemed "most responsible" by the tribunal for one of the most grotesque chapters in the 20th century.
The other four – "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea; the regime's ex-president, Khieu Samphan; and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister and his wife – have denied knowledge of any atrocities.
If convicted, the five face a minimum of five years and a maximum of life in prison.
By Ek Madra
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (pictured) warned Tuesday that putting more Khmer Rouge cadres on trial for crimes committed during Pol Pot's 1975-79 reign of terror could plunge the country back into civil war.
"I would prefer to see this tribunal fail instead of seeing war return to my country," Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander, said a day after the joint U.N.-Cambodian court resumed its trial of Pol Pot's chief torturer.
Duch, former head of the S-21 prison where more than 14,000 "enemies" of the ultra-Maoist revolution died, is the first of five aging senior cadres to face trial 30 years after the end of a regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia.
Human rights groups have used this week's trial to push for investigations of more suspects, arguing that would ensure justice is delivered to millions of victims and survivors.
But Hun Sen, speaking at the opening of an industrial zone in the port of Sihanoukville, said the trials should not go beyond the five charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
"If as many as 20 Khmer Rouge are indicted to stand trial and war returns to Cambodia, who will be responsible for that?," he told the audience.
After Duch, the others awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, the regime's ex-president Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister, and his wife.
They have denied any wrongdoing. Duch has expressed remorse for his victims, but said he was following orders.
The court admitted in January that a bid to go after more suspects was brushed aside by the Cambodian co-prosecutor, who argued it would not be good for national reconciliation.
A final ruling on the additional cases -- details of which the court has not disclosed but the number of which has been put at six in media reports -- is still pending.
"The issue regarding the jurisdiction of the court and whether or not to have further suspects is complicated," said Helen Jarvis, an Australian working for the tribunal.
The government has denied meddling in the court, but rights activists have long suspected Hun Sen does not want it to dig too deep for fear it will unearth secrets about senior Khmer Rouge figures inside his administration.
Hun Sen, 58, joined the Khmer Rouge during their 1970-75 guerilla war against the U.S.-backed government of General Lon Nol. He rose to be a junior commander and lost an eye in fighting just before the rebels took the capital, Phnom Penh.
He has said he defected to Vietnam in mid-1977 and played no part in Pol Pot's bloody agrarian revolution, in which an estimated 1.7 million people, or a third of the population, died.
Analysts said Hun Sen's opposition to expanding the tribunal's work may reflect his concerns former Khmer Rouge commanders will flee back to the jungle and fight any move to arrest them.
Pol Pot's death in 1998 was followed by a formal Khmer Rouge surrender that helped usher in a decade of peace and stability, threatened now by the global economic downturn.
(Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Jerry Norton)
|Al Jazeera.net |
Prosecutors in Cambodia have opened their case against the alleged architect of the Khmer Rouge prison atrocities, saying that "history demands" justice for the group's 1.7 million victims.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was the chief jailer at the notorious S-21 prison and faces charges of crimes against humanity including murder, rape and torture.
Duch, 66, is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge leaders to stand trial before a special United Nations-backed tribunal, three decades after the regime's reign of terror.
The tribunal is seeking to establish responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians from starvation, neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution under the Khmer Rouge.
"Justice will be done," Chea Leang, the co-prosecutor, said at the start of the second day of the long-awaited trial.
He said Duch and the S-21 prison he ran had played central roles in the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule.
"S-21 formed an integral and indeed vital role in a widespread attack on the population of Cambodia," Chea Leang told the court.
"The accused's crimes were part of this attack."
"For 30 years, a generation of Cambodians have been struggling to get answers for their fate."
The first day of the trial proper on Monday saw no witness testimony and Duch spoke briefly only to confirm his identity and his understanding of the charges against him.
As well as hearing from victims the trial is expected to be the first opportunity for Duch to publicly tell his side of the story.
His testimony is also expected to be vital in securing the convictions of the four other Khmer Rouge leaders awaiting trial before the tribunal.
Duch, who was a teacher before becoming the Khmer Rouge's chief torturer, faces a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted. Cambodia has no death penalty.
Francois Roux, Duch's French lawyer, said last month that his client wished "to ask forgiveness from the victims, but also from the Cambodian people. He will do so publicly. This is the very least he owes the victims".
On Monday the prosecution read out a 45-page indictment against Duch that contained a litany of grisly accounts of the alleged atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge rule.
The Khmer Rouge executioners threw victims to their deaths, bludgeoned them and then slit their bellies, or had medics draw so much blood that their lives drained away, prosecutors said.
Duch himself allegedly oversaw the atrocities, which included snatching children from their parents and dropping them from the third floor of a prison building to break their necks.
Prosecutors alleged that Duch's job was to extract confessions of counter-revolutionary activity but said that "every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution".
"Prisoners were then kicked into the pits, where their handcuffs were removed. Finally the guards either cut open their bellies or their throats."
The indictment also claims that some prisoners were killed by having large quantities of blood withdrawn by medics, leaving them "unconscious and gasping".
Professor Alex Hinton of Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, said the indictment set out in more detail than ever before the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge and was a critical historical record.
"They took the lifeblood of people. I think it really encapsulates the utter dehumanisation," he said.
31st March, 2009
HA NOI — Viet Nam’s and Cambodia’s information agencies should uphold their roles toward increasing mutual understanding between the two nations, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said yesterday.
At a meeting with the Cambodian Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith (pictured) in Ha Noi, the PM urged the two information ministries to continue to boost their co-operation in exchanges of working delegates, share experiences, personnel training and investment in facilities for media, which would contribute to the development to the two countries.
He said the traditional friendly and co-operative ties between Viet Nam and Cambodia were a valuable asset to be maintained and developed sustainably for the happiness of the two countries’ people.
The Vietnamese Party, State and people always attached great importance to friendship and co-operation with Cambodia and would do their best to expand the relationship to in all fields to benefit the two sides, Dung said.
Minister Khieu Kanharith thanked Dung for his welcome and suggestions. He also thanked the Vietnamese Party’s and State’s aid to the Cambodian information sector.
He said he hoped the co-operation would be fostered under the framework of the agreements signed between the two sides for the development of the sector and the two people’s interests.
Also yesterday, the Prime Minister welcomed former German counterpart Gerhard Schroeder.
This is the third time the former prime minister has visited Viet Nam in the role of a consultant of economic groups from Germany and Europe.
Dung said he highly appreciated Gerhard Schoeder’s visit and his contributions to boost bilateral friendship, He said he was delighted the relationship between the two countries had been well developed in fields such as economics, culture, education, health and technology.
However, the co-operation in the economic field had not matched the two countries’ potential and strength and he recommended the two sides foster co-operation more efficiently to the greater benefit of the two people.
Dung said he hoped that as a consultant of some German and European economic groups, Gerhard Schoeder would encourage more investment in Viet Nam and promote activities to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic relations next year.
Schoeder said the visit aimed to implement German investors’ projects in Viet Nam and promote investment co-operation between the two sides for the celebration.
Dung and Schoeder also discussed measures to cope with the world economic crisis and some specific co-operation projects between the two countries. — VNS
31th March, 2009
|The amount of vegetables exported from An Giang Province to Cambodia doubled following a tariff exemption agreement for 40 agriculture products between Viet Nam and Cambodia. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Long|
AN GIANG — About 70 tonnes of vegetables are exported from An Giang Province to Cambodia every day, double the volume in previous years, local officials say.
Nguyen Van Thao, head of the province’s An Phu District’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department, says the growth follows an agreement between the two countries to exempt tariffs for 40 agricultural products.
The vegetables are grown to high hygiene and safety standards, Thao says.
The Mekong Delta province has become the first locality to export safe vegetable to the neighbouring country through the Khanh Binh border crossing.
The district has around 1,000ha for vegetables, yielding 20,000 tonnes per year. The productivity is yet to meet vegetable demand in the Cambodian market.
However, according to Thao, the export volume has recently dipped and prices of some kinds of vegetables dropped by 50 per cent. Chili was sold at VND30,000 per kilogram a few months ago, but after Tet (late January) the export price is VND10,000 per kilogram.
Thao says that this is due to the harvest of vegetables in Thailand.
Farming area in Thailand is not large as in the Meong Delta, and brisk exports will resume after the harvest season in Thailand ends, Thao says.
Despite the current lull, merchants at the Khanh Binh wholesale market say they receive orders from Cambodia worth billions of dong a day.
An Phu District authorities say they are now expanding the area for cultivating vegetables by 1,300ha to meet export demand. — VNS
HA NOI — As many as 170 export and production businesses have registered for a trade fair to open in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh tomorrow.
The five-day fair will feature 330 booths displaying household appliances, foods, textile and leather products, construction materials, chemicals, production tools and stationery. The fair, co-organised by the HCM City Investment and Trade Promotion Centre, the High-Quality Vietnamese Goods Businesses Club and the Viet Nam Goods Trade and Services Corp, is the eighth of its kind held in Cambodia since 2002.
Kep, Cambodia - In Cambodia, where a decade-long tourism boom has been driven almost entirely by safe and easy access to the ancient Angkor Wat temples, the rebirth of a seaside resort town is helping to lure visitors to country's long-neglected coastline. The sleepy town of Kep on the south-east coast has been earmarked as Cambodia's first boutique tourism destination, but for now it bares few of the characteristics of the countless backpacker Meccas and resorts scattered throughout South-East Asia. Tourist numbers have surged in recent years, but this town of just a few thousand people has maintained its unhurried, pastoral character. Unlike Sihanoukville, a lively huddle of guesthouses, bars and nightclubs on the central coast, Kep seems to be taking a relaxed path towards developing its tourism sector. But with its alluringly lush rainforests, crystalline waters and bountiful seafood, Kep is finding that the tourists don't need much encouragement. A three-hour drive from the capital Phnom Penh, Kep has become a favorite weekend retreat for expatriates and Cambodia's burgeoning middle class. The town is only 20 minutes from a recently opened Vietnamese border crossing, making it a perfect place to say hello or goodbye to Cambodia. "They told us to expect fewer tourists in Cambodia this year," a local taxi driver says. "But more and more come here every week, to see the mountains and the caves, and of course, to eat."Kep's famous crabs were among the many treasures that helped the town become playground for Cambodia's French rulers in the early 20th century. Along with former king and independence leader Norodom Sihanouk, the French elite built dozens of mansions in the hills along the coastline and sailed their yachts in the calm, protected waters in the Gulf of Thailand. But like many regions in Cambodia, Kep was ravaged by the United States' secret bombing campaign during the Indochinese War and was forcibly evacuated during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1975 rule. The ultra-communist group considered the town a symbol of bourgeois hedonism and colonial oppression, and destroyed most of its infrastructure. Kep lay dormant for more than a decade, and the scars of its troubled past are still visible among the poor local population and neglected amenities. The seaside villas left standing have become overgrown with vines and tree trunks, and now only the smallest of fishing boats can dock in the once-bustling port. But Kep's striking beauty has not paled despite years of conflict, neglect and civil war. Guesthouses and hotels catering to all budgets have been built along the coast, including the exclusive Knai Banh Chatt hotel, which boasts views of the imposing Bokor Mountain from its infinity pool. While the town has no beach and is separated from the sea by a strip of coarse red stones, a cheap 30 minute boat ride to Koh Thonsay - known as Rabbit Island - reveals one of Cambodia's unspoilt, pristine beaches. Budget accommodation is compulsory, asthe island's only available beds are housed in palm-wood bungalows, which can be rented for between 7 and 10 dollars per night. The bungalows' power generators are switched off a 10 pm, and as the fluorescent lights along the beach fade, a spectacular night sky is revealed. But Kep's greatest attraction may well be the variety of seafood on offer in the restaurants and stalls downtown. Crabs cooked with local pepper sell for between 3 and 10 dollars and grilled fish on skewers cost less than 5 dollars. For the more adventurous, or rather less eco-conscious, gilled seahorse is also available. Driving past the various building sites, road workers and bulldozers on the road out of town, one gets the impression that the place is on the verge of a tourism storm. A good road now runs straight to the nearby riverside town of Kampot, which is enjoying its own tourism rebirth, and there are signs of a coastal tourism trail emerging. So as travellers look for cheaper tropical escapes in South-East Asia, now might be the time to experience Kep and beat the rush.
Internet: www.kepcity.com, www.mot.gov.kh, www.tourismcambodia.com
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Phnom Penh Post
THE government is seeking new investment to develop a tourist port in coastal Kep province to boost tourism with Vietnam's Phu Quoc island, said Minister of Tourism Thong Khon on Monday.
"We have got the green light [from the government] to develop Kep as an international tourist port, now we are looking for a qualified investor to upgrade the dilapidated port or to build a new port in Kep province to link tourism destinations between the province and Phu Quoc island in Vietnam," said Thong Khon.
He added that were such a project to be completed, it would attract more visitors to costal provinces and eco-tourism destinations in Kep and Kampot from Phu Quoc island.
Travel between Phu Quoc and Kep takes only 90 minutes, he said, adding that Phu Quoc has become a popular destination for tourists in the region and could draw around 3 million tourists per year by 2012.
"There are two local and foreign investors interested in the project, but we have not made any decision yet," he said.
Thong Khon could not estimate how much the port investment would cost.
"We think that the development will begin soon and only take six months to complete because it is not a large port - it is not a significant investment for a port development, but cruise ships will be expensive because we need the facility to meet international standards," he said.
Vietnamese tourism grows
He said Vietnam has surpassed South Korea as the No 1 source of tourists.
"During the first two months of this year, 45,000 Vietnamese tourists came to Cambodia - 39 percent more than in 2008," said the minister.
Kong Sopheareak, director of the Tourism Ministry's Information and Statistics Department, said Cambodia saw 419,480 tourists in the first two months of 2009 - down 4.3 percent from the same period last year.
"I think the number of tourists this year will increase by 2 percent because we expect a strong second quarter," said Kong Sopheareak.
Last year, the number of foreign tourists vising Cambodia was 2.15 million - a 5.5 percent increase.
30th March, 2009
VietNamNet Bridge – Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) and Electricity of Cambodia (EDC) will put into operation a 220kV power line on March 30, an important step towards effecting electricity sales to Cambodia, according to EVN Deputy General Director Dang Hoang An.
The Chau Doc (Vietnam) – Takeo (Cambodia) power line is part of an agreement signed in March 2003 between the two governments and a contract between EVN and EDC.
According to EVN, the line has a maximum transmitting capacity of 200MW.
(March 30, 2009)
(lubavitch.com) Some 570 rabbinical students will soon be traveling to any of 285 locations worldwide where they will conduct communal seders this Passover, April 8 and 9th. New on the list of exotic locations slated for Chabad’s seders is Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
At Lubavitch World Headquarters, itineraries for the rabbinical students preparing to lead the seders are being drawn up in coordination with regional Chabad representatives, reflecting numbers that surpass last year’s.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos, the Chabad-Lubavitch educational division, says that despite the dire economic climate, “The Rebbe insisted that every Jew be given the opportunity to participate at a Seder, and we will do everything possible to make sure that happens on the largest scale yet.”
|Aguiar became excited about this project last year and contributed towards what is “the world’s largest collective Pesach seder in the world.”|
Funding for the seders comes from several philanthropists including Mr. George Rohr, a long time supporter of Chabad activities, and a gift of $500,000 from energy magnate, Guma Aguiar. This is the second consecutive year that Aguiar, 31, has been a major sponsor of Chabad’s global Passover campaign.
Aguiar became excited about this project last year and contributed towards what is now the world’s largest collective Pesach seder in the world. As a result, he said, "Chabad leaders and I have realized what a truly sacred honor it is to partner together with each other on this project."
The comprehensive list of locations means that Jews—even those in remote points of Africa, Vietnam, China, Chile, Japan, the Caribbean, Ukraine, Russia, Peru and Spain, among many other locations in South America, Central Africa, Europe and the U.S.—will have the benefit of a traditional Passover seder with Chabad.
Conducting seders in some of the backwaters of the Far East and Africa involves often complicated logistics and requires the cooperation of local authorities. Getting vast quantities of matzah, wine, meat and other Passover staples to places that are hard to reach, entails considerable preliminary work to ensure timely deliveries.
With seders hosting anywhere from 20 to 2000 (Nepal), accurate figures for the total number of people who will be participating at Chabad seders are hard to come by, but 500,000 would be a safe estimate, say coordinators.
These seders are in addition to those hosted by Chabad representatives in their respective communities worldwide.
To search for the Chabad-Lubavitch center closest to you, click here.
30th March, 2009
Reported in English by Khmerization
Thai demining troops (TMAC) had sneaked into Khmer territories at Samlaut in Battambang province to plant 6 demining signs on 25th March. The Cambodian side protested and the meeting had been scheduled for 30th March.
Mr. Oul Sarin, deputy commander of police at Samlaut, said: "The spots where Thai troops had planted the signs are located about 200 metres west of Cambodia's Soksan Border Post or north of Border Point 203."
Mr. Oul Sarin said, after the Cambodian patrol walked pass the spots, the Thai deminers sneaked in to plant the signs and when the Cambodian border police asked them to remove those signs they said "no we won't remove them, we leave them for discussion".
Khmer border police said that the Thai did this many times before. They came in to plant the signs and later did the mine-clearing and declared that those parts of the lands Thai territories.
Col. Poum Chan, police commissioner of Battambang, said the meeting will be held on 30th March and that the Cambodian side will demand that the Thai remove the signs.
By San Suwit
29th March, 2009
Reported in English by Khmerization
Radio Voice of Vietnam reported that the Overseas Vietnamese Association had just officially inaugurated its headquarter in Preah Sihanouk province.
At the same time, the VOV reported that a school which cost $86,000 to construct had been officiated to teach Vietnamese children the Vietnamese language from year one to year. The cost of the school construction was funded by overseas Vietnamese and Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mrs. Cheap Sotheary, Adhoc representative in Preah Sihanouk province, said that the officiation ceremony was attended by local Cambodian authority. She said: "I saw the old headquarter of the Vietnamese Association was located near the Sihanoukville Information Office. But on 27th (March) I saw their new headquarter was being officiated because now they have the rights to buy lands and they don't to rent any more. In fact, the inauguration ceremony was attended by local Cambodian authority, so may be they have proper authorisation and legal recognition from the Cambodian authority."
The inauguration ceremony, which was attended by Deputy Governor of Preah Sihanouk province and member of parliament for Preah Sihanouk province, was conducted in the Vietnamese language with Cambodian translations.
According to the Vietnamese radio, there are 50 Vietnamese children who are attending the school to study Vietnamese language with Vietnam's Kien Giang province footing the bill to the tune of 20 million dongs (~$US1700) to furnish the school.
Mrs. Cheap Sotheary had asked the local authority about the legal status of those Vietnamese residents. She said: "I asked them, are all those Vietnamese legal residents? They told me that, in fact, those Vietnamese came to live in Cambodia a long time ago. They have proper documents like personal ID cards and family books. They want to tell me that, in fact they are Khmer citizens. Most of the members of the association are legal residents who had lived in Cambodia legally for a very long time, but some were temporary residents who had just come to do business in Preah Sihanouk province, they have proper documents that are recognised by the authority. Before, there was no Vietnamese school, but when the headquarter of the association was officiated, we also see the inauguration of the school as well. Before, there is only a Chinese school.
According to the same radio broadcast, there are 823 Vietnamese families residing in Preah Sihanouk province presently.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Testimony opened Monday at the first trial of a Khmer Rouge official, with a detailed description of the internal workings and methods of interrogation in the regime’s central torture house.
In statements included in a long indictment read by court officials, the defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, admitted ordering and taking part in systematic torture that sometimes continued for days.
In his statements, made during pretrial investigations, he said he was working on orders from the top Khmer Rouge leadership, an assertion that appeared to implicate four other defendants who are awaiting trial.
Thirty years after the regime was deposed, Duch is the first person to take the stand and answer for one of the most horrific episodes of mass killing in the past century, in which 1.7 million people are estimated to have died from 1975 to ’79 of starvation, overwork, disease or execution.
The trial has opened, with the backing of the United Nations, amid controversy over allegations of corruption and political influence by the government, which critics have accused of trying to limit the scope of the indictments.
The former commandant of Tuol Sleng prison, Duch, 66, is charged with crimes against humanity and with war crimes, as well as with murder, in the deaths of at least 14,000 people, almost all of them tortured before they were executed. Only a handful of the prisoners at Tuol Sleng survived.
Some inmates were also subjected to medical experiments, including “live autopsies,” the drawing of blood and experimentation with homemade medications, according to Duch’s statements in the indictment.
Testimony on Monday involved the reading of a detailed description of the charges against Duch (pronounced DOIK). Statements from the prosecution and the defense should follow, and then accounts from witnesses and the defendant. The trial is expected to last about four months.
Through his French lawyer, François Roux, Duch has admitted his role and apologized to the victims, but he was also quoted Monday as saying he feared for his life if he did not follow orders.
Neatly dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt, Duch stood at the start of the proceedings to give his name, as well as a string of aliases, and to confirm that he understood the charges against him.
A former schoolteacher, Duch disappeared after the Khmer Rouge were routed by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979.
He was found in 1999 by a British journalist, living quietly in a small Cambodian town, where he said he had converted to Christianity. He was arrested shortly afterward and has been in custody since.
According to the charges read Monday, the prisoners brought to Tuol Sleng were presumed guilty. Even if they had been mistakenly arrested, they were killed to preserve the secrecy of the prison, the indictment said.
Much of the prison’s work involved internal purges that consumed the Khmer Rouge regime, according to the indictment. Those who were arrested were not told the charges against them, but were forced to confess to crimes in coerced statements that often ran to hundreds of pages.
Many of the arrests were made on the basis of names given by prisoners under torture, and were followed by further arrests of the new prisoners’ family members and associates in a widening net — an attempt to root out supposed enemies.
Duch implicated his superiors directly, according to the indictment, telling investigators, “If I remember well, there never were any exceptions: I always reported to the superiors and they always ordered the arrest of the persons implicated.”
The four other defendants are surviving members of the Khmer Rouge leadership: Ieng Sary, who was foreign minister; Nuon Chea, known as Brother No. 2; Khieu Samphan, who was head of state; and Ieng Thirith, who was minister of social affairs.
All have denied the charges against them, which include crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Witnesses quoted in the indictment said Duch instructed them in methods of torture that included beatings, electric shocks, suffocation in plastic bags and the removal of fingernails and toenails.
Duch was quoted as saying he introduced three methods of interrogation: “cold,” “hot” and “chewing.” The cold method employed propaganda without the use of torture or insults. The hot method included “insults, beatings and other torture authorized by the regulations.”
The chewing method consisted, in Duch’s quoted words, of “gentle explanations in order to establish confidence, followed by prayers to the interrogated person, continually inviting her or him to write” a confession.
Another witness told investigators that torture could be used if “chewing” failed to bring results in two or three days.
One quoted witness said Duch was involved in one interrogation in which a woman was stripped to her underwear and beaten long into the night. The witness said Duch beat her until he tired, and passed the task on to another torturer.
Interrogation sessions followed a regular schedule: 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. But they could also last long past midnight, the indictment said. Interrogations could go on for days and were considered complete only when a confession was obtained.
“Duch meticulously read, analyzed, annotated and summarized the majority of these confessions for his superiors,” the indictment said.
But it quoted Duch as saying that he and his superiors were “skeptical of the veracity of the confessions.” It quoted him as saying they were used as “excuses to eliminate those who represented obstacles” to the regime.
Throughout the interrogations, the indictment said, untrained medical workers, sometimes including unsupervised children, worked to keep prisoners alive until they confessed and could be sent to a killing field.
| By Stephanie Scawen in Pailin, |
For Al Jazeera
It is said that in life there are only two certainties – death and taxes. But Cambodia could add a third – the road to Pailin is always difficult.
Stretching 83 back-breaking kilometres west from Cambodia's second city of Battambang it seems the road has always been in a potholed state of disrepair.
A decade ago it was pitted with deep craters from years of fierce fighting between Khmer Rouge forces and the Cambodian armed forces.
Both sides of the track littered with danger signs warning of landmines. The journey took a mind-rattling five hours.
In the intervening years it has been repaired, the ruts from rainy season damage rolled flat, the travel time quickened, only for the wheels of countless heavy trucks bearing timber and other goods to tear it apart once more.
Now the road is in upheaval again - this time for the better - as Chinese money pays for it to be completely rebuilt, with sturdy new bridges and drainage channels to replace the rusting steel and timber structures that have somehow held together all these years.
In late 1998 Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's Brother Number Two, and the former Head of State Khieu Samphan had just come out of Pailin’s jungles to meet Cambodia's prime minister, signalling a final end to years of hostilities between the last remaining Khmer Rouge guerrillas and the government.
Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge's former leader, had died earlier the same year while held under house arrest by his former military commander, Ta Mok, a man known to many as "the Butcher".
Change in the air
But change is in the air. A new Honda motorbike dealership is doing brisk trade, a Suzuki store is opening soon. Lockups compete to sell the latest mobile phone and all along the road from Pailin to the Thai border 15 kilometres away, construction is under way.
Down at the border there are duty free shops selling wines, cigarettes and liquor. Bright lights flash from the casinos attracting gamers from the other side of the international crossing.
The teak forests and thick bamboo groves that used to surround the town have disappeared, replaced by hectares of flat land given over to farming.
The forested track I first walked tentatively down with a TV crew to try to confront Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan in early 1999 is now unrecognisable.
Only the concrete post that supported a bamboo pole barring the path to the leaders’ homes remains to mark the way.
At the time there was a guard post manned by a Khmer Rouge soldier with an AK47. As we approached he furiously dialled his war-time field telephone.
Minutes later another soldier appeared brandishing a rocket launcher and a rack of five grenades. We were being warned.
Two cars with blacked-out windows appeared and sped past heading for the Thai border.
It would be another eight years and four more trips to Pailin before I came face to face with Nuon Chea, when the ageing former Brother Number Two finally agreed to talk to Al Jazeera in June 2007.
It was one of the last interviews he did before being detained by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia or ECCC – the hybrid United Nations-Cambodian body that will try the former Khmer Rouge leaders.
The journey to Pailin from Battambang then took just two hours, but the ECCC still took Nuon Chea south by helicopter.
He left behind many other former Khmer Rouge members, among them Kong Duong a pleasant, smiling man, who is now Pailin's chief information officer.
He is also the former boss of Pailin radio – a station which ironically used to broadcast the songs of a popular female singer who was herself murdered by the Khmer Rouge.
Kong Duong says he only joined the Khmer Rouge in 1979, after the invading Vietnamese army forced the group from power. He fled into the jungles to fight for the country’s liberation.
But he is no fan today of the Maoist extremism which the Khmer Rouge used so ruthlessly to all but destroy Cambodia's people.
Now in his new role as Pailin's information officer he is helping to transform the town.
"Pailin has moved on," he insists.
New work ethic
"The development of capitalism is a good thing. When we lived under communism the aim was equality, no-one wanted to compete. People were poor then because there was no competition. Capitalism is good for development because people work hard and compete."
One of those signing up to Pailin's new capitalist work ethic is Kiet Boren, a casino worker from Battambang who came to Pailin 10 years ago, seeing the opportunity to make money in a 'new province'.
He says he plans to use the money he's making to start up his own business in the future.
Like many people here he knows about the Khmer Rouge trials only just beginning in Phnom Penh after years of delays, but he does not spend much time thinking about it.
Kong Duong agrees. "I don’t think the priority for people here is justice or the Khmer Rouge trial," he says.
"Their priority is daily life, and whether they can sell their cassava at the market, or earn enough money to send their kids to school."
The new road to Pailin is due to be finished towards the end of next year, which may just coincide with the start of the second Khmer Rouge trial, predicted to include all five surviving leaders.
Just like the physical road, after years of delays Cambodia's long road to justice is finally nearing completion.