Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

As trials begin, questions shadow Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal.

As trials begin, questions shadow Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal.

By Brendan Brady - Special to GlobalPost

Reuters Pictures - A painting is seen at a "Killing Fields" memorial in Batey district in Kampong Cham province, 125 km (78 miles) east of Phnom Penh, March 28, 2009. Former Khmer Rouge torturer Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, will face his second trial for crimes against humanity on Monday. At least 40 witnesses are expected to testify against the former chief of Phnom Penh's S-21 prison, where an estimated 14,000 people were tortured and killed

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Thirty years after the fall of the ultra-Maoist regime known as the Khmer Rouge that ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, trials are set to begin to hold a handful of its leaders accountable. Under their fanatical regime, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from overwork, starvation and murder.

After years of delays, testimonies begin Monday in the trial of Kaing Khev Iev, the chief of the Khmer Rouge’s notorious torture center, codenamed S-21.

Iev, better know by his nom de guerre, Duch, is one of five detained senior Khmer Rouge leaders believed to be the architects of the regime's reign of terror who are still living. They face a UN-backed war crimes tribunal and could receive a maximum of life imprisonment.

Court officials went to great lengths to frame last month’s procedural hearings for Duch as an historic moment of progress for the court and for the impoverished country’s healing.

But even as some degree of official accountability is materializing, a storm of criticism and controversy surrounds the war crimes court — a hybrid structure with both international and national judges, lawyers and administrators presiding.

The Cambodian side is struggling to keep financially afloat following a funding halt after allegations arose last July that national staff, in order to secure their jobs, were forced to pay sizable portions of their salaries to their bosses.

Donor countries have provided the bulk of funds to run the tribunal, and the bitter pill of backing a court associated with corruption has become more difficult to swallow as the court’s budget, originally set at $53 million for three years, has ballooned to $170 million for five years just one-and-a-half years into the process.

Cambodian court officials have denied the allegations. A review last September by a UN oversight body has yet to be made public.

However, a report from a German parliamentary delegation, written last November after its members met with the tribunal's deputy director of administration, Knut Rosandhaug, presents a bleak picture: Referring to “grave corruption” problems, Rosandhaug said that if “the national government continues to object to following up on the corruption allegations … the United Nations should withdraw from the tribunal” or else it will risk tainting its image.
But UN officials have yet to voice such stern words.

“The only real pressure can come from the donor countries and the UN — with one voice — but they have never done that,” said Brad Adams, head of the London-based Human Rights Watch in Asia, and an early member of the negotiations with the government to establish a war crimes court.

By failing to throw down the gauntlet, the UN has undermined the court’s entire mandate, he said.

“We thought we should have an international standard court,” Adams said. Instead, he continued, in this case "the government considers the UN an intruder.”

Indeed, Canadian co-prosecutor Robert Petit is being made to feel he overstepped his mandate.

Petit’s move to add more suspects to the docket — a handful of figures he describes as having been key to implementing the policies set by the regime’s top leaders — was blocked by his Cambodian colleague, Chea Leang, a niece of the current deputy prime minister.

She argued that additional prosecutions could prove destabilizing, overstretch the tribunal’s limited resources, and would run against the spirit of the 2003 U.N. treaty establishing the court, which called only for “senior leaders” of the regime and “those who were most responsible” to be tried.

Many senior government posts are currently held by former Khmer Rouge cadre, and experts say the government fears a wider roundup could expose them to scrutiny. For his part, Prime Minister Hun Sen made his position clear in 1998 when he recommended Cambodians “should dig a hole and bury the past.”

But Petit says casting a wider net would play a key role in validating the court’s work. “It would allow the court to achieve as much justice as possible even within its limited confines.”

For Adams, the move is more essential: “Unless there are more cases, it will not have done the minimum necessary for all of this to have even been worthwhile.”

The country is divided over whether additional high level cadre should be tried — with 57 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed, according to a recent poll. It is safe to say, however, that the decision will come down to politics between Cambodian and international officials, and have little to do with local public input.

As the court makes slow progress, old wounds fester.

“Thirty years later, the memories are still excruciating,” said Van Nath, who witnessed prisoners being waterboarded, doused with battery acid or simply bludgeoned to force them to admit to trumped-up crimes against the regime.

Nath, 63, is one of S-21’s few surviving victims. While he was electrocuted and faced constant threat of execution, he survived only by dint of his artistic skills, which he was forced to use to paint propaganda portraits of Pol Pot.

Unlike the other figures in detention, Nath’s former keeper, Duch, now a born-again Christian, has acknowledged his crimes and asked for forgiveness. He is, however, expected to argue in court that he was following orders from his superiors and would have been killed had he not obeyed.

Even if the rail-thin, seemingly benign former schoolteacher cuts a sympathetic figure on the stand, to Nath he remains “a man who gave orders with authority” while presiding over a prison where more than 12,000 men, women and children were brutally tortured before being executed in the “killing fields” outside the city.

Making more Cambodians with blood on their hands face trial would help the country’s healing, he said.

But, he added, “with the limited movement we have so far, that doesn’t seem possible … and I’m still waiting every day for judgment on these five.”

Brendan Brady is a reporter and editor at The Phnom Penh Post.

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Khmer Rouge trial: the British victim John Dewhirst

Khmer Rouge trial: the British victim John Dewhirst

(Getty Images)
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, the former Khmer Rouge prison chief of S-21, or Tuol Sleng prison, is pictured in the courtroom at the Extraodinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penh on March 30, 2009. Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal on March 30 resumed the trial of the Khmer Rouge's prison chief, the first person to face justice at the court for the regime's atrocities, the chief judge said.

By Anne Barrowclough (Times Online)

As hundreds of Cambodians crowded into a courtroom today to see the chief torturer of the Khmer Rouge finally brought to trial, a lawyer in Britain quietly got on with her work. Only those closest to her know how, 30 years ago, Kang Kek Ieu, alias Comrade Duch, destroyed Hilary Holland’s family.

In 1978 Ms Holland’s brother, John Dewhirst, aged 26, was captured by the Khmer Rouge and sent to be tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng, the regime’s infamous prison. He was the only Briton among 17,000 Cambodians to die at the prison. Three decades on, as Cambodia watches the first trials of the Khmer Rouge’s leaders, his fate continues to devastate his sister.

"The horrific circumstances and the manner of how John was killed still makes it so difficult to cope with," Ms Holland told The Times from her home in Cumbria.

The young Newcastle teacher had been sailing through the Gulf of Thailand with two friends in July 1978 when their boat was intercepted by a Khmer Rouge patrol boat.

The boat’s skipper, Stuart Glass, a Canadian, was killed instantly. John and the other crew member, Kerry Hamil, a New Zealander, were sent to Tuol Sleng, a former school turned into a torture centre presided over by Duch.

They were tortured until they “confessed” to being CIA agents and taken to Cheong Ek, a pretty orchard on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. There they were bludgeoned to death with an iron bar.

Back in Britain Ms Holland was increasingly concerned at her younger brother's unusual silence, but it was not until she switched on the news one evening that she learnt he had become a victim of a regime she had hardly heard of. Shortly afterwards the Foreign Office called to tell her that John had been captured and imprisoned. He was almost certainly dead, they said.

The pain of that moment has never left her. "It was indescribable," she said. "I don't think I have got the words to explain how I felt. I used to think that if you could die from emotions like this I would have died.

"I have experienced death – I have experienced the death of my husband when I had two young children. But this is completely different."

Yesterday, in a wood-panelled courtroom on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital city, Duch identified himself quietly before charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, premeditated murder and torture were read to a UN-backed war crimes tribunal.

He is the first of five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge to be brought to trial, 30 years after the fall of Pol Pot and his regime.

Nearly two million Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979 as Pol Pot pursued his ideal of an agrarian communist utopia. Tuol Sleng was the most notorious Khmer Rouge prison: of the 17,000 people sent there, only 15 are known to have survived.

Behind a bulletproof screen at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, the 66-year-old former maths teacher who presided over their suffering listened impassively as the court was told that the sole purpose of Tuol Sleng – known by the Khmer Rouge as S-21 – was to kill its inmates.

According to the thick file of charges read to the court: "Every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution. The policy at S-21 was that no prisoner could be released... prisoners brought to S-21 by mistake were executed in order to ensure secrecy and security."

During his trial Duch’s brutality will be described in detail. On his orders, victims were plunged head first into tanks of water, often drowning; they were given electric shocks to their genitals and their ear drums. The strongest were hooked up to intravenous pumps and literally bled dry.

It was cruel fate that delivered John Dewhirst into Duch’s hands. The carefree, adventurous young man had taken a break from his teaching job in Japan to go sailing with his two friends on their motorised junk Foxy Lady. Their boat drifted into Cambodian waters but, to the Khmer Rouge, their presence had no innocent explanation.

Yet even after she had heard of his incarceration in S-21 his sister hoped his friendly nature would help him to survive. "I thought if anyone could develop a personal relationship with his jailers, it would be him," she said. "I thought he would charm his way out of there."

She had no way of knowing that nothing could have saved him – although the meticulous Duch, who catalogued the details of all his prisoners, described him as a "polite" young man.

Before he died John was forced to write a detailed confession explaining how he was recruited and trained to be a CIA spy.

The confession, in Cambodian and English, entitled “Details of my course at the Annexe CIA college in Loughborough, England”, claims that John was recruited into the CIA by his father and from 1972 to 1976 was taught CIA techniques, including photographic skills and weapons-handling, by retired agents at his teacher-training college in Loughborough.

The confession, a mixture of the dull and the ludicrous, claims that Loughborough was one of six CIA colleges in Britain. Others, John wrote, were in Cardiff, Aberdeen, Portsmouth, Bristol and Doncaster. His college, he said, was run by “retired Colonel Peter Johnson” while the bursar was a CIA major.

Among many bizarre admissions was a claim that his father was a CIA agent whose cover was “headmaster of Benton Road Secondary School”.

The confession is signed and dated 5/7/1978. John's thumbprint sits along his signature. Like those made by thousands of innocent inmates at S-21, the confession was probably dictated by his interrogators on Duch’s orders.

Hilary Holland wants answers. She wants the Khmer Rouge leaders to admit their guilt and to explain why they destroyed so many lives. "There must be a public accountability," she said. "I would like it to be seen that they understand what they did. We still seem to know so little."

It is too painful for Ms Holland to attend Duch's trial, but she is relieved that after all this time the leaders will finally be brought to justice.

"No one is going to undo the horrors, but bringing these people to account is important. I don't care what happens to them but I would like them to tell the truth, to explain their motivation."

Duch, who was arrested in 1999 after being tracked down by a journalist, is alone among the defendants in expressing remorse and has agreed to co-operate with the tribunal.

At a procedural hearing last month, he made it clear through his lawyer that he would use his trial to apologise to his victims, although he did not expect “immediate” forgiveness.

His French lawyer, Francois Roux, said: "After ten years of prison at last the day is coming where he can in public respond to the questions."

But Duch cannot expect no forgiveness from Ms Holland. "People like Duch, who ordered the atrocities, were the worst," she said.

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Saturday, March 14, 2009

The long search for justice

The long search for justice

Written by Andy Brouwer
The Phnom Penh Post

Beth Pielert's Out of the Poison Tree chronicles one woman's journey of self-discovery in pursuit of a beloved father and the reasons behind the tragedy that was Democratic Kampuchea.

In 1977, director and producer Beth Pielert was sitting in a Hebrew school class reading about Anne Frank, who perished in the Holocaust, and was told never to let anything like the Nazi's "Final Solution" happen again. Meanwhile, 21,000 kilometres away, genocide was happening in Cambodia.

Years later, Pielert met a former Nuremberg prosecutor who sparked a theme for a film - people who were creators of justice after a great injustice had occurred.

Pielert's film Out of the Poison Tree follows Thida Buth Mam and her sisters back to Cambodia to find out more about the disappearance of their father under the Khmer Rouge and to hear first-hand from Cambodians about the necessity for justice and forgiveness.

As the Khmer Rouge tribunal readies itself for the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, this film is aptly timed for the voice it gives to ordinary Cambodians and to well-known figures like Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), or Aki Ra, an orphan raised by the Khmer Rouge who now runs the Land mine Museum.

The first screening in Cambodia of Out of the Poison Tree will take place at Meta House on Saturday at 6:30pm.

Where did the idea for the film come from?
Beth Pielert: I was visiting family on the East Coast [of the US] and I shared a ride to the airport with Henry King Jr, a former junior prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. Meeting Henry sparked an idea for a film about "right livelihood", where people who were exposed to great injustices like the Holocaust worked in careers that helped bring justice to the victims.

In the summer of 1999 ... my mother handed me an article from The New York Times that featured Craig Etcheson, [the co-creator of DC-Cam] and his work at the Yale Cambodian Genocide Studies Program.

I was able to meet Craig and interview him on camera. I learned more details about the Khmer Rouge regime and the long-overdue need for justice.

In 2000, I flew to Cambodia with my stepfather Robb, and together we interviewed survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime to better understand their desire for justice and what they had lived through.

Personal stories of healing and reconciliation for survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime were not yet prevalent at that time. I began production Out of the Poison Tree in earnest in 2001.

How did you and Thida meet?
BP: I met Thida Buth Mam in 2002. ... By [that time] I had already shot interviews with Youk Chhang and Aki Ra, in addition to a former Khmer Rouge soldier and smaller interviews, all of which made up the framework for the film. But I was in need of a contemporary component, an arc that could join stories from the past with the present. I always thought this would be the trial but ... that was taking forever to materialise.

I met with Thida, who had lived through the regime and who, I thought, could potentially serve as a consultant. Thida and her incredible family were so generous with their time and stories that Thida went from consultant, to translator to associate producer of the film.

When Thida phoned one day in late 2004 to say that she and her sisters were returning to Cambodia specifically to look for her father Buth Choen, I requested that I film her and their journey, and they generously agreed.

What do you hope people will take from the film?
Thida Buth Mam: For me, I want to tell the Khmer Rouge genocide story. If we look into the reasons the Khmer Rouge had, which led to the genocide, they were all reasonable, especially when a nation is under dictatorship or oppression. It can happen again, especially in Cambodia.

Cambodians must know themselves well to prevent this from ever happening again. Also, I was hoping to give a voice to the victims.... Cambodians should be fearful of the return of the Khmer Rouge the same way the Americans are afraid of another Vietnam War.

BP: There are several things that I hope people take away from the film, the foremost being understanding - understanding what it was like to be a country like Cambodia caught in the middle during a time of great political tension between the US and Vietnam.

The fallout from economic stress caused by the US bombings, starvation and military dominance helped enable the Khmer Rouge to gain power.

I also wanted to provide a sense of what it was like from the victims' point of view and how this unquenched justice spans the generations.

I wanted to provide a sense of the "choice-less choice" position many of the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge regime were in - for many of the Khmer Rouge soldiers, it was truly kill or be killed.

Thida, is the search for your father now complete? What did your mum think of the film?
TBM: No, I decided to stop. I don't think I can deal with finding out more details. Every time we found out a small fact about my father's fate, I went crazy in my head and in my heart. I think it is best that I don't know. Basically, I went searching for the truth about my father and found the truth about me. As for my mum, she is like me. She cannot handle the truth. She discouraged us from going and never asks me about it.

What are your hopes for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal?
TBM: [That] the Khmer Rouge admit to their crime, they apologise, they explain to us why they did what they did, they tell us what other countries were behind this - China? Vietnam? Thailand? That this practice of law or justice will make the Cambodian judiciary system better.

Also, acknowledgment of a brutal time in Cambodia and that my generation feel that we have done our best and that the genocide story stays alive.

BP: In many ways I wish that the Khmer Rouge tribunal had been created in the image of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Granting amnesty to the perpetrators may have expedited the Trial and yielded more details about the "how and whys" of the Khmer Rouge.

Finally, Thida, will you return to live in Cambodia?
TBM: I have bought some land where I plan to build a home when I can afford it. I hope, in my retirement, to live in Cambodia most of the time. I hope I can contribute back to my homeland.


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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Watch Video: Cambodia For Sale

Video Journalist David O'Shea reports from Cambodia, where locals are now faced with a new peril - rampant land developers literally smashing entire communities, leaving thousands homeless.


These days, for better or worse, we don't hear all that much about that once basket-case nation even though, as we speak, a leading henchmen of the notorious Pol Pot is on trial in Phnom Phen finally charged with crimes against humanity. As if surviving the Killing Fields wasn't enough, hapless Cambodians are now faced with a new peril - rampant land developers literally smashing entire communities, leaving thousands homeless. And David O'Shea reports that all this is going on with a proverbial wink and a nod from Cambodia's powerful political elites.

REPORTER: David O'Shea

This is a story about power in Cambodia - those who have it and those who don't. It's also about the power of money and what some would call 'progress' in this impoverished land. Right across the country, the poor and powerless are being shoved aside in the rush for so-called development, and it's happening with the complicity of Cambodia's leaders.

The story begins here in Boeung Kak Lake in the heart of the capital, Phnom Penh. Two years ago, a little-known developer signed a 99-year lease with the council for this 133-hectare site. And they're filling 90% of the lake with sand to build a high-rise. The problem for people living around the edge of the lake is, as the sand goes in the water level rises and their houses go under. Since the beginning, there's been a total lack of transparency about the deal. Opposition parliamentarian Sam Rainsy is quite literally wading into the debate.

SAM RAINSY, OPPOSITION PARLIAMENTARIAN: We are here to support the people and to protest against these so-called development projects that cause so many problems for the people living here.

REPORTER: This is a ridiculous situation.

SAM RAINSY: Ridiculous. They don't take into account the environment. They ignore, or they pretend to ignore, that when they fill in lakes, this is going to cause floods. But they don't care - they want to make profits.

REPORTER: Who is this 'they' you're talking about?

SAM RAINSY: They're unscrupulous businessmen who have the support of corrupt political leaders.

People here tell Rainsy they have seen nothing like it in 30 years.

SAM RAINSY: They say this is directly related to the nearby lakes being filled in.

REPORTER: It's not that you've had more rain this year than usual?

SAM RAINSY: No, it is not due to rain.

REPORTER: So it's a pretty miserable existence here at the moment?

SAM RAINSY: Yes, everybody is complaining. Behind their gentle smile you can perceive the anger.

DAN NICHOLSON, CENTRE OF HOUSING RIGHTS AND EVICTIONS: This is the biggest forced relocation of people since Khmer Rouge times - over 4,000 families - and it's happening without proper information, without proper consultation.

Dan Nicholson is with the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, headquartered in Geneva. They're campaigning for the 4,000 families set to be evicted from villages around the lake. Families who have lived here for years, including many who settled here immediately after the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period.

DAN NICHOLSON: The whole contract under which it's being done is blatantly illegal but even though we've gone to court, we can't stop it. There's a total lack of involvement of the community and for the benefit for the community. Instead, the urban poor are just being shunted out of town while the elite take over with another badly thought out development.

The community's legal challenge was dismissed by the court on a technicality. And for those residents resisting threats and intimidation to leave, the flooding is making daily life extremely difficult. Nicholson believes the company, Shukaku, may be using it as a strategy to force them out.

DAN NICHOLSON: They've been pumping sand into the lake for the last couple of months, and so when the rains came, all this flooding is much worse than usual at this stage - kind of a way to force the community out, I guess - those who're staying.

REPORTER: You think? So, that could be it?

DAN NICHOLSON: Yeah, well, they've been told either to go now or your houses will be flooded, so...

This enormous development will completely transform this part of Phnom Penh, but finding out anything at all about the company behind it is almost impossible. Shukaku has no office, and they're not even in the phone book. What we do know is that the company director is senator Lao Meng Khin, a close ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen. The senator is also director of Pheapimex, one of the most powerful conglomerates in the country. According to this report released a fortnight ago by the London-based NGO Global Witness, the senator made his millions in logging.

‘NGO GLOBAL WITNESS’: “ In a forest industry dominated by illegal logging and conflict with local people, Pheapmex held the dubious distinction of being notorious amongst the concessionaires for its ruthlessness and the level of destruction inflicted on its concession areas.”

On the other side of Phnom Penh is the community of Dey Krahorm. It's a market area in a great location, and like the residents around the lake, people have lived here legally for decades. Land titles here are still a mess following the upheaval of the Khmer Rouge years, but under a 2001 law, if people can prove that they've occupied land for more than five years, they have possession rights. What's more, Prime Minister Hun Sen specifically earmarked this area as a social concession, to be developed in conjunction with the existing residents. But that promise was broken, and it's clear the government is now supporting the developer. Negotiations for adequate compensation have just hit a wall. And community leader Chan Vichet knows that this is the beginning of the end. Vichet is on the way to City Hall to see if he can salvage the stalled negotiations.

CHAN VICHET, COMMUNITY LEADER (Translation): Here in Cambodia they don’t respect the poor. If there are legal proceedings, we always lose. In court even if you are right you will lose against the rich. We live here legally, but the Council considers us to be illegal residents. They say we are anarchists.

With no-one to stop them, Vichet and the other delegates march straight into the Deputy Governor's office.

CHAN VICHET (Translation): I’m bringing this proposal to you because the people are very worried.

WOMAN (Translation): Please make it short, it affects my business. Do whatever is possible.

DEPUTY GOVERNOR (Translation): Okay, let’s go outside, yes I will do something. Let’s go.

WOMAN (Translation): Thank you very much.

The Deputy Governor says the company's offer stands - $US20,000 per family or a house outside the city at the relocation site. The residents complain that $20,000 is a fraction of the land value for prime real estate in the centre of the city and the relocation site offers inadequate housing too far from their livelihoods.

DEPUTY GOVERNOR (Translation): Vichet, you have to change son. You have to change your attitude. We are not at war, we are educated people. That’s all I can do, the company has offered you $20,000.

WOMAN (Translation): That won’t buy a home.

DEPUTY GOVERNOR (Translation): It’s your decision. We won’t talk further because you don’t act decently. You respond by making faces at me. Very rude! You are very rude. You must excuse me, I regret making time to talk to you.

REPORTER: Mr Deputy Governor, can you guarantee that these people will be safe or are they going to suffer some kind of attack in the next few days?

DEPUTY GOVERNOR (Translation): Have you seen anyone get hurt? Did anyone get even a slap?

CROWD (Translation): No, no, no.

DEPUTY GOVERNOR (Translation): When your husband hits you at home it’s worse than my words to you.

REPORTER: So far nobody hurt. What about tomorrow or the next day?

DEPUTY GOVERNOR (Translation): Tell him I am not the one who makes decisions. He has a right to ask but I have a right not to answer.

Rumours are swirling that tonight is eviction night. I find Vichet at home - a broken man.

CHAN VICHET (Translation): I don’t know what to do now, if they use force to evict us we have to protect our homes. If we can’t defeat them, we just have to watch them do it because we have no power.

At midnight, police set up roadblocks and hundreds of officers move into place. Colour coded T-shirts are handed out to the hundreds of workers the company have trucked in to do their dirty work. At 2am a car pulls up, and axes are handed out to the workers. Around the corner scores of trucks are standing by to haul away the rubble. In the pre-dawn, the colour coordinated workers take up positions and on the dot of 6am, they attack.

MAN (Translation): Get them out, get them out, get the camera out of here.

At every entrance I'm turned back.

REPORTER: So, what's happening? Tell me what's happening. What's happening?

POLICEMAN: I don't know. It's the order. I don't know.

REPORTER: What's the order?

POLICEMAN: I don't know. I'm sorry.

The demolition work is swift. Within a few hours, it's all over.
This is the ruins of Vichet's house. I spoke to him last night at midnight - or just before midnight. He was pretty resigned to losing his place, and here it is, gone.
When the bulldozer driver ploughs through people trying to save their possessions, they strike back. The company's fire extinguishers are used to disperse them. An injured woman is carried out as others salvage what they can.

WOMAN (Translation): We paid money for these blocks, thousand of dollars, look what they have done to us by bulldozing these homes. Some were still asleep, got hurt and were hospitalised.

WOMAN 2 (Translation): My childrens jewellery.. ring, earrings, all gone. Why can’t they let us move without force?

WOMAN (Translation): They won’t let us take anything we had to fight to get our belongings. The owner of that house was unconscious and was taken to hospital.

Human rights workers observing proceedings could point to several laws broken here today.

NALY PILORGE, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER: What the company has done with the complicity of authorities - military police and local police - is illegal. This was designated a social concession and it was sold to a company, which is prohibited. And if you see those buildings behind you, this is next - all these people that have been watching, I'm sure they know they're next. This is a very valuable piece of land. It's a really sad, sad situation, and again, illegal and with the complicity of the authorities.

The workmen on the roof of Australia's new embassy also had a ringside view of the destruction. The building is going up right in the middle of the eviction zone. All around it communities have been forced out or will be shortly - even though they have a strong legal claim to be there.

AUSTRALIAN ANTHEM: Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free. We've golden soil... Our home is girt by sea...

It's Australia Day at Ambassador Margaret Adamson's residence.

REPORTER: Are you concerned that violent and illegal evictions are going on on the doorstep of the new Australian embassy?

MARGARET ADAMSON, AMBASSADOR TO CAMBODIA: Well, Of course we have concerns about how the Cambodian Government manages the issue of land tenure. It's a long-standing issue in the country and we have concerns which we express to the Cambodian Government on a regular basis.

REPORTER: This was right on the doorstep of the new Australian embassy, so it must be... doubly embarrassing for you at this stage, no?

MARGARET ADAMSON: I'm conscious of the location. .. I don't find it embarrassing, no. I find it a matter as I've said before to you, that is a matter which is played out in different parts of the country, so I don't see find on the doorstep of the Australian embassy any less deserving of our attention than anywhere else in the country.

REPORTER: Under the 2001 law, don't they have residency rights or possession rights?

MARGARET ADAMSON: It's very difficult to prove, though, isn't it? It's very difficult to prove...

REPORTER: If they've been there for longer than five years noticeably without violence... I understand what you say.

MARGARET ADAMSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. No, I understand what the principles are, but it is difficult indeed to actually have the documentation, documentation that is accepted, to enable those claims to be respected.

Together the international community pledged $1 billion last year to the Cambodian Government. The Global Witness report 'Country For Sale' is scathing about the role played by donor countries like Australia.

‘THE GLOBAL WITNESS’: “ Cambodia’s international donor community has consistently failed to bring the government to book for blatant violations of its commitments to protect the human rights of Cambodians, fight corruption and ensure the protection of land and natural resources.”

The land grabbing frenzy is going on right around the country. Of them all, one case stands out for its brazen abuse of power. The village of Kong Yu is in the remote north-east of the country near the Vietnamese border. The indigenous Jarai people here are culturally and ethnically distinct from the Khmers and the Vietnamese. They live in tight-knit communities and practice shifting agriculture on their ancestral lands. But the traditional ways are under serious threat.
With a combination of lies, intimidation and financial incentives, a well connected woman is snapping up their land for a rubber plantation. Her name is Keat Kolney, sister of the Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. Her husband is Secretary Of State at the Ministry of Land Management, which is responsible for registration of indigenous lands. This footage shows the businesswoman in Kong Yu village handing out sarongs and cash.

DAN KING, COMMUNITY LEGAL EDUCATION CENTRE: The villagers in their mind on that particular day, they were not clear whether this was a donation by a rich state party official or whether this was, in fact, money for the purpose of selling the land, so in their minds they were clear. They were donating from the small, grassy hill called the Dombok, and it's approximately 50 hectares. Subsequently more has been cleared and Keat Kolney now claims 450 hectares of land.

Dan King is an Australian lawyer advising a team of Cambodian lawyers who've taken on the villagers' case. He says Cambodian law clearly states that indigenous land cannot be sold.

DAN KING: It's basically an open-and-shut case in terms of the documentation and the evidence. It's about the court having the courage to make a very difficult decision against a very high powered, connected individual to make sure that justice is done.

The villagers of Kong Yu have told their version of events on video. An American filmmaker helped them with the technology, but the villagers acted all the parts and filmed it themselves. The first scene shows the arrival of the company's brokers who want some land. The villagers declined, but were told that Prime Minister Hun Sen needed the land to house disabled soldiers, and if they didn't sell, it would be taken from them anyway. This was a blatant lie, but the villagers felt powerless to resist and agreed to hand over approximately 50 hectares. Then there's the party scene. The villagers killed a pig and the company supplied the beer, and in the middle of the festivities, out comes the inkpad again.
Men from the company even went around the village in the middle of the night waking people up to get their thumb prints. The villagers only realised what it all meant later.

WOMAN 3 (Translation): After we agreed to give the land to them, some time later the company came with trucks and bulldozers and started to clear the land beyond the boundary hill. They damaged our rubber trees and the villagers went to stop them from clearing the land. All of us, young and old, went to the boundary to stop them.

But they failed, and the authorities accused them of disturbing the peace and locked up seven people. I approached plantation owner Keat Kolney through her lawyer to request an interview, but was told she was too busy. And at Kolney's plantation office near Kong Yu village, I get a frosty reception.

GUARD (Translation): Didn’t you see the sign? Unauthorised entry prohibited. See? The sign is over here. Unauthorised entry prohibited.

Back in the village, the lawyers are discovering that the community is now divided - into those who want to sell more land and those who want to get the land they lost back.

DAN KING: For the first time that we have been working with the villagers, for the first time they are thinking about selling a large piece of land - the whole community, not just a few families, but half the community - wants to sell the land. That is a serious situation. We won't have a case. There won't be a Kong Yu case if they sell their land.

Crucially, the village chief has turned.

VILLAGE CHIEF (Translation): The company authorised me to sort out the land issue and the villagers gave me the authority to do that as well.

DAN KING: The current village chief was then appointed because he was one of the strongest and most vocal advocates for fighting the case and to be getting the land back. Since then I think he has not seen the case move forward in the courts. As I said, he's obviously been talking to the company and his position has changed. He no longer supports the case. He is advocating the sale of land, and it is very sad to watch.

While the lawyers try to get him to stay the course and fight the case, he's now a staunch supporter of the company.

VILLAGE CHIEF (Translation): I am afraid we will lose the case in court because the company is rich and we are poor. We have accepted their money, how can we win? The whole village has accepted the money by making a thumbprint.

Some of the villagers are suspicious as to why he changed his mind.

WOMAN 3 (Translation): In fact, the district and the village authorities do not support the people since there is nothing in it for them, I think that they support the company because they gain from it. The villagers have nothing, all they have is the land.

But the company is stepping up its efforts to get the community to sell their remaining land, and now the local authorities are offering them more cash and even a school if they agree to sell. Like their compatriots right around this country, the villagers are quickly learning the ways of the modern world - where money talks.






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Sunday, March 01, 2009

US: drug problems in Cambodia, Philippines

US: drug problems in Cambodia, Philippines

WASHINGTON (MSNBC) - The United States on Friday praised Beijing for its efforts to fight drug smugglers but said China remains a major transit point for international drug markets.

The State Department, in its annual survey of global counter-narcotics efforts, also described substantial drug problems facing Asia, including in Cambodia, the Philippines and Myanmar; progress was seen in Laos and Vietnam.

While Beijing recognizes drugs as a major threat to its security and economy, "corruption in far-flung drug-producing and drug transit regions of China limits what dedicated enforcement officials can accomplish," the report said.

North Korean drug activity, the report said, "appears to be down sharply. There have been no instances of drug trafficking suggestive of state-directed trafficking for six years."

But, the State Department said, not enough evidence exists to determine if state-sponsored trafficking has stopped. The State Department has previously raised suspicions that Pyongyang derived money from drug production and trafficking.

In the report, the United States also said that drug runners have increasingly looked to move their products through Cambodia because of Thai and Chinese crackdowns.

The report noted "a significant and growing illegal drug problem" in Cambodia. It praised the country for destroying seized drugs and stiffening penalties for drug use and trafficking but said corruption hampers government efforts.

The State Department called the scope of the drug problem in the Philippines "immense," despite law enforcement efforts to disrupt major drug organizations. Still, the report said, the government had some success enforcing counter-narcotics laws.

Laos has made "tremendous progress" in reducing opium cultivation, but, the report said, the country's momentum is "stalling, and gains remain precarious."

Vietnam was said to have continued making progress in fighting drugs, improving its pursuit of drug runners and its cooperation among state agencies and with the United Nations.

The report said that, in 2007, rising opium values pushed poppy cultivation into new regions of military-run Myanmar. The State Department did not receive 2008 U.N. statistics on Myanmar in time for the annual report.


Associated Press writer William C. Mann contributed to this story.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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