Thursday, 15 May 2008

Miracle: 3-year-old girl survives for 40 hours

Song Xinyi, a 3-year-old earthquake survivor, receives medical treatment after being saved in earthquake-hit Beichuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 14, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

Song Xinyi, a 3-year-old earthquake survivor, is saved in earthquake-hit Beichuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 14, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

Song Xinyi, a 3-year-old earthquake survivor, is saved in earthquake-hit Beichuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 14, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

Song Xinyi, a 3-year-old earthquake survivor, is saved in earthquake-hit Beichuan County, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 14, 2008. Song was saved after being buried in the ruins for more than 40 hours. (Xinhua Photo)

Cambodian Red Cross donates $10,000 to help China's quake relief efforts

Special report: Strong Earthquake Jolts SW China

PHNOM PENH, May 14 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian Red Cross here on Wednesday donated 10,000 U.S. dollars through the Chinese Embassy to the Red Cross Society of China to facilitate its humanitarian activities for the earthquake-affected areas in China.

"We, therefore, would like to ask your kindness in conveying the message of condolence to the families of the dead and our sharing of the hardships and difficulties being struggled over by the survivors and the rescuers," said Bun Rany, president of the Cambodian Red Cross, in a letter to Peng Peiyun, president of the Red Cross Society of China.

A 7.8-magnitude quake rocked Wenchuan county, 159 km northwest of the southwest Sichuan province's capital of Chengdu, at 14:28 (0628 GMT) on Monday, killing more than 14,000 lives and the death toll is still expected to rise.

Editor: Wang Hongjiang

Cambodian Red Cross donates $10,000 to help China's quake relief efforts

Special report: Strong Earthquake Jolts SW China

PHNOM PENH, May 14 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian Red Cross here on Wednesday donated 10,000 U.S. dollars through the Chinese Embassy to the Red Cross Society of China to facilitate its humanitarian activities for the earthquake-affected areas in China.

"We, therefore, would like to ask your kindness in conveying the message of condolence to the families of the dead and our sharing of the hardships and difficulties being struggled over by the survivors and the rescuers," said Bun Rany, president of the Cambodian Red Cross, in a letter to Peng Peiyun, president of the Red Cross Society of China.

A 7.8-magnitude quake rocked Wenchuan county, 159 km northwest of the southwest Sichuan province's capital of Chengdu, at 14:28 (0628 GMT) on Monday, killing more than 14,000 lives and the death toll is still expected to rise.

Editor: Wang Hongjiang

Cambodian Airways to Be Cleaned Up
Wednesday, 14 May 2008

PHNOM PENH, May 14 (Xinhua) -- The Secretariat of State Civil Aviation (SSCA) of Cambodia has recently announced that it is toughening up on the use of illegal aircraft in an effort to improve the safety of the kingdom's airways, local media reported Wednesday.

The SSCA requested airlines, small aircraft companies, private airplane owners, government ministries and local authorities cooperate in its safety push and provide the SSCA any information concerning illegal aircraft operating in Cambodia, the Mekong Times newspaper said.

To maintain order and ensure security and safety, aircraft and other flight equipment which are not registered at the SSCA will be prohibited from operating anywhere in the kingdom, Mao Has Vannal, secretary of state of civil aviation, said in the announcement.

The SSCA has cooperated with other civil aviation authorities around the world to help ensure the world's airways are safe, the newspaper said.

Source: Xinhua News Agency - CEIS

King Sihamoni Celebrates 55th Birthday

A giant picture of King Sihamoni hangs in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh to mark his 55 th birthday.

San Suwith
Radio Free Asia
14th May 2008
Reported in English by Khmerization

Courtesy of Khmerization at

King Sihamoni is celebrating his birthday outside of the Royal Palace, this time in Kampong Cham province where his subjects organised a Buddhist ceremony at a local temple in his honour. The king also planned to fly to celebrate his birthday in a location near the historic temple of Preah Vihear on the Khmer-Thai border.

But in Phnom Penh, despite no grand parade and pompous celebration, the king’s pictures were placed along the roads and boulevards everywhere in his honour.

King Sihamoni was born to ex-king Sihanouk and Queen Monique on the 14th of May 1953. He was educated in Beijing and later completed his doctorate degree in classical dance from Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1971.

Between 1975-1976, he studied cinematography in North Korea. From 1975-1979 he lived under house arrest with his parents and his brother, Prince Norindrapong, at Khmamarin Palace in Phnom Penh.From 1979-1980, he served as a private secretary to the then Prince Sihanouk. And from 1981 onward he served as a permanent representative of the Cambodian resistance to the United Nations, Cambodian Extraordinary Ambassador to the Unesco and also as the president of the Association of Khmer Artists in France.

King Sihamoni is conversant in many languages. Other than his native Khmer, he can speak French, Czech and English very proficiently.

He ascended to the throne on 14th October 2004, succeeding his father, King Sihanouk who had abdicated a second time a few weeks earlier.

Many political leaders hailed King Sihamoni as having a unique and special character.

Mr Ciem Yeap, MP from the Cambodian People’s Party, credited the king as having helped the country moving toward economic prosperity, judicial improvements and have helped solved political issues in the country.

Mr Keo Puth Rasmy, president of Funcinpec Party, said that the king has helped maintain national unity and peace in the country, despite acknowledging the king not being able to fulfil all his constitutional duties.

Mr Son Chhay, MP from the Sam Rainsy Party, said that the current king resides in the country more than the ex-king and therefore helped to ensure political stability. But he also said that the king is still unable to fulfil all his constitutional duties such as ensuring the independence of the judiciary and the army. Despite the king’s shortcomings, MP Son Chhay said that he does not blame the king for not fulfilling all his constitutional duties, but blames the government for not transferring all his constitutional powers to him.

Mr You Hockry, Secretary-General of the Norodom Ranariddh Party, said that the king is a symbol of national unity who can guarantee national independence, sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Cambodia.

Mr Kem Sokha, president of the Human Right Party, wish the king a long life, but also wish to see the king using all his constitutional powers to fulfil all his constitutional obligations. He believed that the king have not been able to fulfil all his duties. The case in point is that the king is a Commander-in-Chief but was and is still unable to ensure the neutrality of the army. Another example is that the king is presently the chairperson of the Council of Magistracy, but he is powerless to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

All civil societies as well as ordinary people have wished His Majesty good health and longevity.

Norodom Ranariddh Party Condemned The National Election Committee For Cancelling The Candidacy Of A Party Candidate

By Mao Sotheany
Radio Free Asia
14th May 2008
Translated by Khmerization

Courtesy of Khmerization at

The Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) has condemned the National Election Committee (NEC) for cancelling the name of Mr. Noranarith Annandayath (pictured), deputy secretary and a member of the National Council of the NRP, from the candidacy’s list after the party lodged an application to register his candidacy for the parliamentary seat of Phnom Penh for the upcoming election on 27th July.

(The NEC has said in the past that Mr. Annandayath was not registered as a voter in Phnom Penh).

It was unclear of the reasons for the cancellation of Mr. Annandayath’s name from the candidacy’s list , but in a statement released yesterday, the NRP has asked the NEC that: if the Mr. Annandayth’s name was not on the voters’ list for the seat of Phnom Penh, why then the chief of Toul Tumpuong II district issued him a certificate of confirmation on 10th of May saying that he was on the voters’ list?

Radio Free Asia is unable to obtain any comments from the NEC officials or the officials from the district of Toul Tumpuong II in relation to NRP’s complaints.

Former King Offers Money to Quake-Hit China

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
14 May 2008

Khmer audio aired May 14 (735KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired May 14 (735KB) - Listen (MP3)

Former king Norodom Sihanouk presented $50,000 to Chinese authorities Wednesday, to help the country as it struggles in the wake of a devastating earthquake.

The money and two sympathy letters were delivered to Chinese Ambassador Zang Jinfeng, said Prince Sisowath Thomico, a former adviser to the king.

Thousands have died in the aftermath of a massive earthquake that shook southwestern China Monday. Tens of thousands are still missing.

The donation comes after Cambodia gave $50,000 to cyclone-struck Burma last week.

Hun Sen Touts Road and Bridge Projects

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
14 May 2008

Khmer audio aired May 14 (735KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired May 14 (735KB) - Listen (MP3)

Prime Minister Hun Sen boasted Wednesday of creating more than 400 kilometers of roads and many new bridges in the last two weeks alone, in a move observers say is a kind of campaigning ahead of the election.

Campaigning is officially set to begin June 26 and will run through July 25, two days before the polls open for general elections. But observers say remarks by Hun Sen broadcast on local media are aimed at pulling in voters sooner.

Hun Sen had “inaugurated some new national roads and bridges of more than 400 kilometers, during the last two weeks,” the prime minister told a crowd gathered for the opening of 152 kilometers of road and four bridges in Koh Kong province. “This is a marvel in the 21st Century, in what the Cambodia government and the people are cooperating with development partners to make for our Cambodians.”

“The people have asked him to continue,” Hun Sen said of himself. “After the election, I will take the prime minister post.”

Hun Sen’s public appearances were part of a “very important election campaign,” said Human Rights Party Vice President Keo Remy. They also amounted to “demagoguery to capture ballots from the voters.”

Opposition Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Ieng called the statements “propaganda.”

“He is proud of the right things,” Eng Chhay Ieng said. “But he must tell the public how much the government has in foreign debt.”

Yong Kim Eng, director of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, said Hun Sen’s speeches were an “election strategy” to show the public the achievements of the government.

Former Policeman Arrested in Acid Attack Case

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
14 May 2008

Khmer audio aired May 14 (950KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired May 14 (950KB) - Listen (MP3)

A former municipal police officer has been arrested following an acid attack earlier this month, and officials said Wednesday he may have connections to senior government figures.

Ear Puthea, 34, was arrested and transferred to the courts Tuesday, said Lt. Gen. Sok Phal, deputy chief of National Police.

“He is charged, but please I do not want to say for what he is charged,” said Ek Chheng Huot, deputy prosecutor for Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

The arrest is linked to a May 8 acid attack on Ya Soknim, whose family have said she was the victim of violence in a love affair involving a high-ranking military police official.

Rights workers said the case was linked to “personalities” in the government, while noting that suspects in acid attacks are rarely punished.

Economic Activist Arrested for Planning Protest

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
14 May 2008

Khmer audio aired May 14 (1.04MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired May 14 (1.04MB) - Listen (MP3)

An activist for the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association was arrested in Banteay Meanchey province Wednesday as he distributed leaflets for a May 16 protest against the rising cost of goods.

Morng Puthy, head of IDEA’s Banthey Meanchey office, was arrested and held by the province’s Or Chrov district police, said IDEA President Von Pov.

"The arrest means that Cambodian authorities are pressuring the freedom of opinion and expression of the people,” Von Pov said. “This contradicts the prime minister, who always says that Cambodia has clung to democracy and respect of human rights."

Banteay Meanchey Police Chief Hun Hean said leaflet distribution advocating protest without permission was illegal.

The demonstration “might cause turmoil in our society,” he said, adding that Morng Puthy had not yet been released.

Cambodian Official Rejects Request for Khmer Prostitutes to Work in Australia

Posted on 15 May 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 560

“A Cambodian official voiced concern earlier this month after an Australian association of prostitutes called for ”immigrant working visas ” for foreign prostitutes who intend to sell sex in Australia.

“Cambodia will not allow its prostitutes to travel to Australia with immigrant visas to continue their careers as prostitutes. This is according to the Minister of Information and the Royal Government’s spokesperson Mr. Khieu Kanharith’s information by phone, saying that ‘we have just stopped the permission for marriages between Khmers and foreigners because of exploitation. Now it is difficult to marry Khmer nationals, let alone talking about prostitution, it becomes more difficult.’

“It should be noted that the Royal Government of Cambodia stopped early March to issue permission for marriages between Khmers and foreigners until further notice, because some Khmer women who lack knowledge and live in poor conditions are often cheated under the pretext of a marriage to a foreign country, but finally they become prostitutes.

“There is an alliance of sex workers in Australia which raised the current needs of foreign prostitute immigrants on 29 April 2008, as Australia is expecting many foreign prostitutes as they are also expecting many doctors.

“Elena Jeffreys, the president of the Australian sex workers’ association, told the Australian media Australian Broadcasting Corporation, ‘We are considering an human rights approach to labor migration generally, and then any labor migration policy can include a non-discriminatory approach to sex workers as well.’

“She added that the Australian Immigration Department could save millions of dollars each year used for apprehending illegal immigrants and raids on brothels [searching for illegal immigrants], if those who are sex workers could ask for working visas.

“However, the Cambodian official called for caution about such kind of plan.

“Cambodian officials and human rights activists indicated that most Cambodian prostitutes earn only US$1.25 from serving one client, and it would be difficult for them to meet the requirements to apply for working visas to work in Australia.

“Ms. Kek Galabru [the director of LICADHO], a leading human rights activist, said by phone that she does not support such a request, but it depends on the sex workers themselves to ask or not to ask for such visas; and she will give them advice related to these issues.”

Deum Ampil, Vol.3, #68, 14-15.5.2008

Overseas Officials To See International Adoption’s Success

By Shereen Oca
Staff Writer

A group of high-ranking delegates and officers from China and Cambodia will visit Long Beach this Saturday in an effort to learn more about international adoption from the people it directly affects — adoptive families, their children and adult adoptees — at the annual Holt Family Picnic.

More than 300 people connected through Holt International Children’s Services will reunite, celebrate and share their adoption experiences this Saturday at El Dorado East Regional Park.

“It’s rare that we get the highest-ranking officials,” said Sally Dunbar, of Holt Family Recruitment.

The officials are members of the China Centre of Adoption Affairs and the Chinese Department of Civil Affairs as well as officers from the Royal Government of Cambodia. For some of them, including China’s Director of Civil Affairs, this visit will be a milestone, organizers said, as they haven’t had the opportunity to see the adopted children in their new environment.

“We want to let officials know how good these children grow in their family,” said Jian Chen, director of programs with China at Holt. “To see what kind of support these children have in the U.S.”

At the picnic, the international delegates will have a chance to meet with many of the 75 families expected to attend — families such as the Davees.

For 10 years, Mary and Bill Davee tried to have a baby, during which, Davee endured two ectopic pregnancies and one miscarriage. Then, Davee said she remembered seeing a news program in high school on the large number of G.I. babies left in Korean orphanages.

“I thought if my father hadn’t married my mom, I could have been one of those babies,” said Davee, who is of African American and Korean descent. “It had a special place with me, although I didn’t know it at the time.”

That impression remained with Davee throughout the years, she added. Although she couldn’t remember the specific name of the adoption agency, she said she knew it contained four letters. Holt.

The Davees contacted the adoption agency, and now are the parents of a girl from China, 27-month-old Jinji.

Harry and Bertha Holt were inspired in a similar way in the 1950s. Spurred on by images of mixed race children in Korean orphanages, the Holts were moved to take the children in as their own, a practice unheard of at the time, according to the organization. They moved both Houses of Congress to pass a law allowing them to adopt, and soon thereafter, the couple became parents of eight Korean War orphans. In 1956, Holt International was born.

In addition to the families, Chinese and Cambodian officials will meet with adult adoptees like Todd Kwapisz.

Korean-born Kwapisz was adopted in 1973. He grew up in what he called the mostly-white community of Lake Orion, Mich. People often ask him if he was treated differently, but he said he didn’t think about being adopted until he was 18. That’s when his parents sent him on a Holt-coordinated heritage tour to Korea with 40 others who also were adopted.

“(There was a) common thread of stories (about being) adopted,” Kwapisz said. “Families didn’t look like us. Questions about being adopted. Being different. To have that bond and be able to talk to other people who can relate to you was a powerful experience.”

Kwapisz now serves as director of Holt’s Adult Adoptee Outreach.

“Holt has learned adoption is a lifelong process,” Kwapisz said, which is the reason it puts together programs such as heritage camps and tours and hosts reunion picnics.

The presence of Cambodian officers this year is particularly important, Dunbar said, because currently inter-country adoption laws between Cambodia and the U.S. are closed and have been since 2001.

Dunbar said she hopes this experience will help the Royal Government “gain reassurance that results are positive.”

A Korean-style barbecue lunch and children’s activities, including a water balloon toss, a three-legged race and bounce houses, are planned for the picnic. It will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 7550 E. Spring St.

“It’s sort of a vision of the future for us,” Davee’s husband, Bill said of seeing adoptive families with children of all ages. “It’s a very joyful experience.”

Although the picnic’s primary focus is on Holt families, it is open to adoptive families from other agencies and also those interested in international adoption.

E-WG student makes mark at 'history day'

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Erika Johansen's personal connection to her topic brought life to her performance
EXETER — Exeter-West Greenwich sophomore Erika Johansen is one of 49 Rhode Island students chosen to represent the state at the national History Day competition in Washington, D.C. next month.

Johansen earned her way to the national competition by winning at the state level in late April, an event that drew approximately 300 student competitors from 29 public, private and parochial schools.

What makes her win especially gratifying is that as a school, Exeter-West Greenwich doesn’t participate in the annual competition. Johansen decided to enter the event on her own.

“Some schools require students to enter but they don’t do that at EWG,” she said. “I wanted to do it independently.”

Johansen credits her mother, Lisa Johansen, and Matthew Brissette – both history teachers at Coventry High School – with guiding her through the process.

The theme of this year’s competition was “conflict and compromise” and projects ranged from the history of the Narragansett Indians to Roe v. Wade.

Johansen, who entered the competition’s performance category, took on the task of completing an annotated bibliography with 30 sources, writing a paper and writing, memorizing, and acting out a nine-minute script because she found a topic that truly inspired her: landmine victims of the Cambodian genocide.

It was a topic to which 16-year-old Johansen was especially sensitive because she is an amputee.
Johansen was born with a birth defect and, after undergoing surgery to cleanly sever her underdeveloped limb, she was fitted with her first prosthetic leg before she was 2.

“I’ve never known life with two legs,” she said. “I can’t really imagine what it’s like for these victims who were born with two legs, then lost one in an accident like that.”

Johansen became interested in the plight of Cambodians under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge after reading two books by Cambodian author Loung Ung.

Ung, author of non-fiction works “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers” and “Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites With the Sister She Left Behind” survived the Khmer Rouge genocide campaign that claimed the lives of an estimated 2 million in the 1970s and 80s.

After both her parents were killed, Ung and her older brother escaped Cambodia in 1980, fleeing to Thailand where they lived in a refugee camp before eventually immigrating to the United States.

Landmines still litter the Cambodian countryside and since arriving in the United States, Ung has become an advocate for genocide survivors and amputees.

Today, the American Red Cross estimates that 35,000 Cambodians have lost limbs in landmine accidents.

One of Johansen’s primary sources of information for the project was Ung herself, whom she interviewed over the phone.

Johansen wrote her script “through the eyes of a survivor,” she said, a survivor preparing to leave Cambodia for America. Her presentation included music, a set and photographs. To make her performance even more personal, Johansen decided not to wear her prosthetic leg.

“My leg is a real security blanket for me,” she said. “I never go anywhere without wearing it so it made me feel a little vulnerable.

“I think I realize more than other people how this can affect your life. My leg broke one day and I was traumatized. I got it fixed right away but I don’t go one day without using it.”

In the United States, Johansen said a prosthetic leg costs about $15,000. In Cambodia where, according to a 2004 census 35 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, luxuries, such as prosthetics, are simply not an option for many.

“Amputees without prosthetics are seen as not being whole in the Buddhist religion,” she said.
Theravada Buddhists constitute 95 percent of the Cambodian population.

“Victims have a difficult time getting jobs. They often have no other choice than to beg for money on the streets,” Johansen said.

Johansen said she hopes the work she put into the project will count toward the new state-mandated senior project requirements but because she’s only a sophomore, she’ll have to petition the board and explain why she did the project early, rather than in her senior year.

If she’s unable to sway the board in her favor, she said she would like to organize a benefit at the school to raise money for Cambodian amputees with Loung Ung as the guest speaker.

As for the competition itself, Johansen said she would consider entering again.

“It was a lot of work but it was a great experience. I got a great sense of accomplishment from it.

'I said to Klaus Barbie: I want people to see your human side'

French lawyer Jacques Vergès has represented some of the 20th century's most notorious criminals. Now, as his own mysterious past comes under scrutiny in a new documentary, he explains to Angelique Chrisafis why he defended them

Angelique Chrisafis
The Guardian,
Thursday May 15 2008

This article appeared in the Guardian on Thursday May 15 2008 on p12 of the Comment & features section. It was last updated at 00:42 on May 15 2008.

The lawyer Jacques Vergès sits back in his Paris office, lights a Cuban cigar and recalls the highlights of his notorious client list. He defended the Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, advised the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and acted for the terrorist mastermind Carlos the Jackal. A Buddha head given to him by friends in Cambodia's lethal Khmer Rouge regime watches over him from his desk. Asked if he would have defended Hitler, he smiles, puffs, and says: "I'd even defend George Bush. But only if he pleads guilty."

Vergès is France's most controversial lawyer, an enigmatic 83-year-old charmer, and a walking Who's Who of 50 years of terrorism and armed resistance. He fell in love with women bombers he defended, rubbed shoulders with everyone from Chairman Mao to Che Guevara and Pol Pot.

The French secret service tried to kill him in the 1950s. In the 1970s, he vanished for eight years, adding another layer of mystique to his status as a celebrity "devil's advocate".

No one has ever established the extent to which Vergès did, or did not, cross the line into the shadowy world of his clients and their armed struggles. He began his career as an impassioned leftwing anti-colonialist, defending the bombers of the Algerian fight for independence, then later went on to act for Barbie, the "Butcher of Lyon" as well as questionable African figures such as the Togo strongman Gnassingbé Eyadéma. He likens his job to that of Shakespeare: presenting characters on the courtroom stage and making the public empathise with and understand them, no matter what their crimes were.

But the most fascinating character is himself. In France's most eagerly awaited documentary of the year, Terror's Advocate, the director Barbet Schroeder has put Vergès himself in the dock, tracing the light and dark aspects of his career. Vergès's life is the story of the past half-century of terrorism - from cafe bombings to plane hijackings and hostage-takings - and the role of lawyers in the courtroom dramas that followed. It won a Directors Guild of America award and a César, France's equivalent of the Oscar. The film's release in Britain tomorrow is timely, given that Vergès is currently defending the former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan - he argues that the deaths of up to 2 million Cambodians in the 1970s did not amount to genocide. He was also briefly hired to represent Saddam Hussein, and is about to start defending the former Iraqi vice-president, Tariq Aziz.

In a rare interview in Vergès's Paris mansion - he lives above an office filled with chessboards, tapestries, books and exotic artefacts given to him by clients - the lawyer describes how he would creep into Paris screenings of the film and sit at the back to see how people reacted. He would be delighted when people recognised him and warmly shook his hand at the end. The film's impressive French box office was partly due to the intriguing notion the Vergès has defended an array of indefensible "monsters". But he hates the term. In 1987, when defending Barbie, who was later convicted on 341 charges of crimes against humanity, he wanted to make the court see his human side.

"I said to Barbie: 'What I want is for you to take on a human dimension. You're not a monster. You're not innocent, but neither are you a monster. You're an officer ... of an occupying army in a country that resists. You're no better and no worse than a French officer in Algeria, an American officer in Vietnam, a Russian officier in Kabul.'

"When you treat the accused as a monster, you give up trying to understand what happened. And if you don't try to understand what happened, you deprive yourself of any reflection on how to stop that thing happening elsewhere. If the Americans had reflected on the moral defeat that torture represented for the French army in Algeria, what has gone on at Abu Ghraib would certainly never have happened."

Vergès says he has a "split personality", pulled between the developing world and Europe. He was born in Thailand to a French doctor and a Vietnamese mother. His father had to quit his position as French consul because interracial marriages were not allowed by the French authorities, and Vergès grew up on the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where his mother died when he was three. But she bequeathed him a fierce sense of the anti-colonial struggle, a sense of outrage at non-white people having to step aside in the street.

At 17, he volunteered to serve in De Gaulle's Free French forces, earning a reputation as a hero. Later, at the Sorbonne, he briefly joined the communist party and was a leader in the anti-colonial student movement. His student acquaintances included Pol Pot, later to become head of the Khmer Rouge. "He was like the other Khmer students: very discreet, very polite, very charming, very courteous. That's all I can say."

In 1957, Vergès made his name defending the FLN, Algeria's National Liberation Front independence fighters, who were struggling against French colonialism, and whose bombs - planted in cafes and bars - set the tone for world terrorism for the following 50 years. He fell in love with his client Djamila Bouhired, the beautiful bomber and revolutionary icon who was tortured and sentenced to death. She was finally freed and he married her. He developed his trademark technique of challenging the legitimacy of the court and turning the trial into a debate on the injustice of colonialism and judges' hypocrisy. He would go on to defend members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Germany's Red Army Faction.

Then, in 1970, he did a vanishing act. He told his wife and children he was going to Spain and wasn't seen for eight years until he turned up in Paris and resumed his law practice in 1979 as if nothing had happened. The film examines some of the theories around the disappearance Vergès calls "my holidays". Was he in Cambodia advising Pol Pot? Training as a KGB spy and going in and out of East Germany? Or was he a Chinese agent in Cambodia, where he ended up in prison? One theory is that he was in Palestinian training camps in Libya, Yemen or Jordan. Schroeder establishes that he was spotted back in Paris several times during the time of his disappearance, but Vergès tells me he can't talk about his "holidays". Does it surprise him that no one has ever worked it out? "That is the biggest mystery and it shows the failure of our special services."
Unless you were working for them? "They and I would have to be extremely good in that case, considering that when I defended the FLN [in Algeria], they almost assassinated me."

In 1982, Vergès defended Magdalena Kopp of Germany's Red Army Faction, who had been caught in Paris with explosives. She was the girlfriend of Carlos the Jackal - Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the Venezuelan who made career out of bombings, kidnappings and hijackings.
Schroeder's documentary traces the love story between Vergès and Kopp, whom he visited in prison every week. Vergès tells me: "There was a profound friendship, and a friendship between a man and a woman always has something special. But you must understand where that friendship came from. She was in prison for four years, I visited every week, because she didn't speak French. And in a woman's prison, there is much less respect for politics than in men's prisons, where gangsters respect terrorists. I was her only breath of fresh air for four years - that creates a very strong link, beyond whatever liaison."

Once freed, Kopp returned to Carlos, who in 1994 was kidnapped in Sudan by French secret agents and sent to prison for life. Vergès says he was Carlos's lawyer for five months before they fell out over his defence. "Between me and Carlos there's not a lot of friendship."

Vergès insists no one has ever proved any of the supposed shady links he had to terrorist groups he defended. He denies that he has given way to greed and acting for corrupt African figures. He denies he is interested in money, saying he doesn't own his home and his only indulgences are Cuban cigars and linen suits.

A lawyer must be credible and stay true to himself, he says. "If Klaus Barbie had asked me to plead the superiority of the Aryan race I would have said no, because I would have been renouncing myself." His moral code is a question of the "elementary reflexes of human dignity and honour". He says: "There are things that a man of honour can't do. When I'm given a letter, I'm not going to open it."

Vergès maintains that he is a celebrity and not a pariah in France because the French admire anyone who kicks against the establishment. "Whoever is a lone man pitted against the rest, the French like that."

Schroeder, who also made the acclaimed Hollywood films Barfly, Single White Female and the Claus von Bulow epic Reversal of Fortune, has long been intrigued by secrets, charm and the powers of persuasion. But in this film, he has gone back to his roots, and the style of his acclaimed 1974 documentary about the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. He interviewed Vergès and his clients and friends at length and describes the film as a "political thriller". But he found Vergès far more "complex and difficult" than Idi Amin. "He's very clever, a master manipulator ... He was a mystery to me. It wasn't the people he defended, it was the fact that he started out very courageous, he started as a great idealist and he changed." Did Vergès tell him the truth? "No," he says.

Thaksin 'wants to open Koh Kong casino'

Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama cuts a large ribbon to mark the opening of Road 48 in Koh Kong while Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, and Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, right, look on. The road project was financed by the Thai government. — JAKKRIT WAEWKRAIHONG

Thursday May 15, 2008

Cambodia confident of end to Preah Vihear row

Thaksin Shinawatra is interested in developing another casino and entertainment complex in the Cambodian province of Koh Kong, Cambodian Defence Minister Teah Banh said yesterday.

Gen Teah Banh, who also is a deputy prime minister with close links to Thai generals, also expressed confidence about a peaceful solution to the dispute over the push by Phnom Penh to register Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site.

The Cambodian minister said in Koh Kong, opposite Trat, that talks about Mr Thaksin's plan were still unofficial. ''Prime Minister Hun Sen trusted and wanted Mr Thaksin to advise on developing Koh Kong as a special economic zone,'' the general said.

Gen Teah Banh was speaking as he joined Hun Sen and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An in opening Road 48 and four new bridges. The road was built with one billion baht in financial assistance from Thailand. The Thai side was led by Deputy Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat and Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama.

The road facilitates the transport of goods from Cambodia to Laem Chabang port in Chon Buri through Trat.

Mr Noppadon held talks with Mr Sok An at the temple ruins on the border of Si Sa Ket and Preah Vihear province.

Mr Noppadon hoped that the Cambodian government would agree to develop a joint management plan with Thailand on Preah Vihear with a solution reached within two weeks.

The obstacle to Cambodia's attempt to register Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site is the overlapping area around the temple, which has not been demarcated.

Mr Noppadon said that the talks on Preah Vihear are separate from negotiations to resolve the overlapping maritime boundary covering 26,000 sq km in the Gulf of Thailand, and there would be no trade-off.

The two countries have submitted different proposals on how to share the benefits from the overlapping maritime area believed to be rich in oil and natural gas.

Thailand and Cambodia signed a memorandum of understanding in 2001 to start negotiations over the overlapping area. But talks were stalled after the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh was burned down by rioters in 2003.

Koh Kong now has a casino complex operated by Koh Kong International, a firm owned by Pat Supapa, a senator representing the province and former governor.

The general maintained that the deadlock with Thailand over the Preah Vihear issue could be resolved and would not explode and compromise bilateral ties.

Rising from dust

Cambodia's Royal Palace

By Farhan Quddus
The Daily Star

You've trusted your eyes your whole life, but visit Cambodia and you just may start doubting them

Phnom Penh’s morning rush hour traffic of motorcycles, cycles and Japanese Sedans with horns blaring shows the country is on the road to recovery. But with its flourishing tourism industry, surprisingly does not have a commercial taxi service. I get on a locally made transport that is run by an old Honda 50cc with an attachment like a horse carriage on its back, sits six people easy.

The buildings are mostly all old French architecture with some being pulled down for high-rise skyscrapers. The French presence is everywhere, signboards written in Cambodge and French.We turn on the road leading to the heavily fortified US embassy and just opposite the embassy separated by an immaculate trimmed garden space is the Sunway Hotel, another great looking property. More hotel spotting and this time, our driver Saron leads us to the famous riverfront and through some of the city's prettiest avenues and boulevards, beautiful roundabouts with statues and pristine gardens and playgrounds. We pass by the Royal Palace, a gorgeous monument from the Khmer dynasty.

We drive down to the main waterfront area where some of the best hotels, bars, cafes are located. Sisowath Quay used to be a potholed dusty road only a few years ago but now has been transformed into a world class promenade with the gentle river on the one side and renovated old buildings turned into restaurants, cafes, bistros and small boutique inns on the other. It is a big tourist hangout where you will see people sitting outside cafes sipping on drinks, enjoying lunch and the breeze from the river.

We decide to stop by the famous landmark in the promenade, the Foreign Correspondent Club, tastefully decorated in the old French colonial architecture. We go up to the first floor to have a drink and look out at the great Mekong river.

Famished by lunch time, my friend Mahtani asks me if I want rice, curry and daal? I tell her that is the last thing on my mind. Saron takes us to a touristy spot full of busloads of tourists and we find a lovely restaurant with a humungous buffet spread of Cambodian, Indochine and continental spread. Saron explains each dish to me; the Cambodian cuisine is quite like Vietnamese, Laotian and Thai but not as hot and spicy as Thai. Lunches usually always has to have a samlar (a watery soup ) which is eaten with the main course , I fill up a bowl of samlar machu trey (sweet and sour soup with fish), a very refreshing broth with a distinctive flavour of prahok, a pungent fermented fish sauce similar to the Vietnamese nuac cham. Saron comes back from the buffet station with a plate of muang an, a Khmer styled grilled chicken drumsticks, nice juicy wing drumsticks with skin on, crispy on the outside, smothered in a sweet chilli sauce. The Cambodian styled fresh spring rolls are delightful. I go for the khar si kreoung, beef curry made with coconut water and tamarind. Succulent soft beef chunks cooked in thick gravy of coconut water and tamarind.

Mahatani, a vegetarian comes back from a salad bar with a Cambodian styled papaya salad with strands of long beans and exotic spices mixed with sugar and lemon juice. It is hot as red chillies had been grounded with the lemon juice in a mortar but the chilli heat makes you want more. I heap a plate of filleted catfish rolled like a nari maki with some sort of a cream sauce in between and topped with wasabe but absolutely gorgeous.

After a hearty meal, Mahtani says that its time for some siesta. Apparently the locals start work by 8am and then take a two-three hour break for lunch, returning back to work till evening.Mahtani says bye to me, walks across the street to her house and Saron takes over as my guide for the rest of the day. He is taking me to the Russian market. We arrive at a huge cluster of open stalls covered in tin. Saron proudly shows me the local products and handicrafts as we lose ourselves in a maze of bustling shops selling cheap curios. With a strained smile and the occasional nodding of my head, I touch, browse and haggle with the salesladies, all the while wondering how much oxygen is left for me to get out of this hellhole. I know my wife and my mother would like this place but I need an escape exit and tell Saron to take me to another market.

Our next shop is a tourist handicraft shop, fully air conditioned. I am prepared and relieved by the cool air and refreshing green tea as I am led like a lamb to the slaughter to the jewellery section. Jade and precious stones are abundant in Cambodia and good quality too. Their silks are also very good but I do not find the art works as exciting as I did in Viet Nam. Cambodian wood crafting is very good. The works are intricately designed.

Saron is on full swing tour guide mode as he plans on taking me to central market. I step into the landmark building as it is Cambodia's oldest market, only to find the same artefacts as in the Russian market, only slightly pricier.

We skip the war museum much to the disappointment of my guide. Saron tells me “Mr Farhan there are many, many heads in the museum." I nod and smile thinking I should have seen the skeletons of Pol Pot's genocide before lunch. As we drive back to the hotel, he starts a conversation about how much I will love Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, the other two major cities in Cambodia. I tell him that I will not be visiting these two cities this time.

Saron's eyes pop out, thinking I must be a moron not to visit the most famous landmark in Cambodia? The ruins of Angkhor Wat in Siem Reap is why millions of tourists keep flocking into Cambodia.

Sihanoukville is the seaside resort town in Cambodia and though commercial tourism is just on the rise, it is still a great new virgin territory for sun and sand lovers. Pity I do not have the time to go to either town on this trip.

Having said that, I tread lightly on the subject of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime and the impact it has had on the people of Cambodia. Saron laughs and says “Impact? Pol Pot Kill half my country Mr Farhan!” He says that he was a student back then when Pol Pot's army were advancing towards the capital. Saron's father was a motor garage owner. When the troops took over the city, the people actually admired Pol Pot's ideologies. But then things began to turn as families were forced to give up their businesses and go back to the village and work the land. Pol Pot's ideals revolved around an agriculture revolution, which never really worked. Harsh austerity measures and impoverished hardship turned the population into slaves. Saron was forced out of school like all other children and were sent back to their provinces to farm. He was lucky he did not lose half his family as almost all Cambodians have lost family and relatives during the Khmer regime. What can you say after that but remain silent? Saron looks at me and says “Don't worry Mr Farhan, Cambodia good now. You see this car I have three now, two vans and one car. Business is good.”

I learn a valuable history lesson sitting in a car, coming straight from the mouth of the people who lived through it. Phnom Penh was a short trip for me but it opened up the gateway to visit this country. As I sit in the transit lounge in Phnom Penh Airport, I am impressed by this quaint little airport, neat and clean and very pretty, just like the country.

Humor helps a rare bird survive in Cambodia

Tonle Sap Lake is the largest freshwater body in Southeast Asia. (Heng Sinith/AP – File)

Conservationist Sum Song Zoning speaks about the value of the Bengal Florican bird to a group of villagers who live near Tonle Sap Lake. (David Montero)

The rare Bengal Florican bird had been decimated by hunting, but now its numbers are on the rise – thanks to efforts like Mr. Zoning’s. (Allan Michaud/AP)

Conservationists’ gentle engagement with locals boosts the prospects for the Bengal Florican.

By David Montero
Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
May 13, 2008

For Sum Song Zoning, a community officer with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) of Cambodia, the secret to conservation is a good sense of humor.

His audience: monks and farmers, housewives with screaming babies – each with a skeptical look that deepened as the morning heat rose. His subject: the Bengal Florican, an endangered bird few have ever heard of, let alone seen. His task: to convince the lean-looking villagers that, should they ever come across the bird, a hefty five-pounder, it is better to save it than to eat it.

By all accounts, he succeeded wonderfully. There were cheers as he took playful jabs at a monk and teased two bemused old ladies, using humor to impart the value of the bird. Diagrams and posters were marshaled to explain that, as much as they look alike, Bengal Florican eggs are not duck eggs and should be left alone. During the quiz at the end, the 30 or so participants raised their hands with gleeful eagerness, suggesting that, whether or not they ever saw the bird, they were ready to protect it.

“Ten years ago, people didn’t understand the importance of the bird,” says Zoning. “Now they understand that it’s something special for Cambodia.”

Village by village, and province by province, this simple interaction is helping to save the Bengal Florican, one of the world’s rarest birds, by directly engaging the communities that dwell in the bird’s habitat. And in so doing, this approach is presenting a unique model of community-based conservation, observers and participants say.

“This is a model of conservation between communities and conservationists,” says Robert van Zalinge, a field technical adviser for the WCS. “In remote regions, protected areas are set up just based on government decisions, and that is enforced. But here, in an area of high human population, you have a much larger community interface than any other protected area in Cambodia.”

For bird enthusiasts, the Bengal Florican is prized for its rarity, being native to only three countries in the world: Cambodia, India, and Nepal. Today there are believed to be roughly 1,300 left in the world, with about 800 to 900 in the flood plains of Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater body in Southeast Asia, according to research conducted by WCS.

To scientists, the bird is unique for its elaborate mating ritual, or display: the otherwise secretive males make hopping loops in the sky, hoping to attract female attention with their striking presence – black bodies set against glaring white wings.

“They’re very difficult to see. But when they display, the male sort of advertises its territory, trying to attract females,” says Lotty Packman, a doctoral student from England who is assisting the WCS to track and tag the birds.

For the people in these stark grasslands, though, where scarcity is a way of life, the bird is a potential source of income or food. By the 1990s, hunting had significantly diminished its numbers.

Today the bird faces an even greater threat: the grasslands of the Tonle Sap, which used to stretch for hundreds of miles, are quickly diminishing as private companies convert land into large-scale rice-farming operations. Almost 30 percent of the grasslands were lost in 30 months from 2005 to 2007, warns a recent report by the WCS.

“At that rate, in five to 10 years, the grasslands could be gone and the Florican extinct,” says Mr. Van Zalinge.

To prevent that, conservationists worked with the provincial governments in the flood-plain area to devise a solution: an Integrated Farming and Biodiversity Area – a protected area that outlaws large-scale dry rice farming, which damages the Florican’s habitat, but allows farmers to continue traditional methods of deep-water rice farming. The latter’s use of grazing and burning supports the Florican by preventing the growth of scrub that destroy the grass patches favored by the birds.

In 2006, a provincial government decree designated 135 square miles of the flood plain a protected area, preserving roughly half of the Bengal Florican population here. So far, the provincial governments have stopped at least two large-scale dry rice projects, according the WCS, suggesting the firm commitment of local authorities.

What makes the project novel is also the level of community involvement. As many as 20 times a month, community officer Zoning and others gather several dozen people in towns throughout the Tonle Sap flood plain. Men and women, young and old: Their participation has helped the Bengal Florican return, like the rest of Cambodia, from a devastating past.

It is too early to say how successful the protected areas have been in increasing the overall population of Cambodia’s Bengal Florican. For now, project administrators say, success means reaching people like Meach Komhan, a farmer in the district of Baray, part of the flood-plain area.

“I had never heard of the bird before,” he says, after listening to Zoning’s presentation. “I really support the conservation, because the bird is useful for Cambodian people as a natural resource.

We don’t want to lose it in the future.”

No foreigners, no cameras for Myanmar

Southeast Asia
May 15, 2008

By Marwaan Macan-Markar BANGKOK - Images of the dead keep trickling out of Myanmar. The most moving are those of children who died when Cyclone Nargis tore through the populous Irrawaddy Delta.

Among those e-mailed to Inter Press Service (IPS)is one showing a row of six children, girls in faded dresses, a boy in shorts and an orange shirt, and another in a blue sarong. There is an image of a child, face down, stuck between branches of a bush. And there is another of a man, shock on his face, holding a dead baby in his arms.

Yet the photographer does not want to be named. He knows the risks he faces if he is identified in a country ruled by a military that has known no limits to its oppression since coming to power following a 1962 coup. Even the May 2-3 cyclone, which has according to some estimates killed over 100,000 people and rendered over a million homeless, has done little to change the junta's iron grip.

This week, a senior junta official issued another command to extend the blanket of censorship that has been thrown over the devastated terrain. Prime Minister Thein Sein told a meeting of pro-junta businessmen that "no foreigners" and "no cameras" would be permitted in the devastated delta in southwestern Myanmar, according to an informed source.

The order from that meeting, held at the Yangon military command headquarters, comes in the wake of the junta denying visas to foreign journalists to enter the country and its enforcement of tougher restrictions on cyclone coverage by local news publications.

The junta's attempt to keep Myanmar's worst natural disaster from the public eye is part of a strategy that has become painfully clear during the 10 days since the cyclone struck. The regime wants to give the impression, locally and internationally, that it has the relief efforts under control.

Its interaction with United Nations officials in Yangon, the former capital, has set the tone. Until May 9, the junta had not made a formal or informal request for UN assistance, a highly-placed source in the dilapidated city said in an interview. "They have still remained aloof."

In fact, assistance by UN agencies in Myanmar thus far has been shaped by the latter's initiative. "The UN has been offering assistance - even battling to provide it - and they accept it in bits and pieces," the source added.

Any hope that UN officials harbored of a change in attitude were dashed at a press conference given by three ministers on Sunday. This military trio, which included social welfare minister General Maung Maung Swe, informed the media that the government was "in control of the situation", and that thanks to the government's response "nobody has died except as a direct result of the cyclone" and that it was "grateful for the international aid provided".

"Myanmar is pleased to receive assistance, but distribution is to be done by the government and foreigners are not allowed in affected areas," General Maung Maung Swe reportedly said. "If you want to visit, write to us; we will consider on a case-by-case basis and go together at the appropriate time."

No wonder then the UN's exasperation at what some have described as the junta's criminal negligence. This frustration was on full display at the highest echelons of the world body on Monday.

"I want to register my deep concern - and immense frustration - at the unacceptably slow response to this grave humanitarian crisis," UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said at a press conference. "I therefore call, in the most strenuous terms, on the government of Myanmar to put its people's lives first. It must do all that it can to prevent this disaster from becoming even more serious."

Ban also used the conference to echo the view of many international relief agencies gathered in Bangkok who are having difficulty getting their emergency relief staff and experts into the delta because of Myanmar's visa restrictions. "They, too, need greater access and freedom of movement," he said.

The junta shot down Ban's call barely hours after it was made. "The nation does not need skilled relief workers yet," a senior junta official was reported to have said in Tuesday's edition of the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a mouthpiece of the junta. In doing so, the regime reaffirmed the kind of assistance it is receptive to - cash donations or aid in kind given directly to the generals in power.

Typical of such assistance was the aid rushed to Myanmar by its giant western neighbor, India. A week after the cyclone struck, New Delhi sent two Indian naval ships - the INS Rana and INS Kirpan - loaded with immediate relief and medical supplies. Four Indian Air Force planes - two AN-32s and two IL-76s - loaded with tents, medicine and roofing material also made deliveries.

India's assistance was received in Yangon by Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Social Welfare Minister Gen Maung Maung Swe. Similar government-to-government aid efforts have been carried out by Myanmar's neighbors and commercial allies Thailand and China, as well as cash donations from smaller Asian countries such as Singapore and Cambodia.

"This way there are no impediments, there is no confusion," a diplomat from a developing country told IPS. "Most developing countries prefer it this way."

While welcome, such aid is barely a trickle compared to what the cyclone-torn country really needs. It has also failed to win support from some international humanitarian agencies and Myanmar citizens living both in the country and in exile. The military regime, they say, is not equipped to handle a disaster of such monumental scale. What is more, there is emerging evidence that the junta is misusing the aid, they add.

And the likelihood of the junta changing its ways seems remote if the behavior of the country's strongman, the reclusive Senior General Than Shwe, is any indicator: so far he has refused to even receive repeated calls from the UN secretary general.

(Inter Press Service)