Tuesday, 31 March 2009

I won't allow war to restart

The Straits Times

March 31, 2009

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIAN Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday warned that his country would be plunged back into civil war if the current UN-backed Khmer Rouge genocide court pursued more suspects.
Mr Hun Sen, himself a former low-level commander for the communist movement, made his comments as the tribunal's first trial heard the regime's prison chief express remorse for his crimes.

Another four senior Khmer Rouge members are also being held by the tribunal but the Cambodian co-prosecutor has opposed pursuing six more suspects on the grounds it could destabilise the country.

'I would like to say that I prefer for this court to fail... I won't allow war to re-occur in Cambodia,' Mr Hun Sen said at the opening of a street named after him in the seaside town of Sihanoukville.

'It is my absolute position. So please try these few people (already in detention),' added Mr Hun Sen, who himself has never been implicated in any of the regime's crimes.

'For example, if we try 20 more people... the country will erupt into war killing hundreds of thousands of people. Who would resolve this problem?'

The Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnamese-led forces in 1979 after nearly four years of iron-fisted rule during which up to two million people died, but continued to fight a civil war until 1998.

The arrest of Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch - the first of five former regime leaders due to face trial - has been lauded by rights groups, but there have been allegations of interference by Mr Hun Sen's administration.

As judges mull whether to open cases against other Khmer Rouge members, the administration has been accused of trying to protect former cadres who are now in government.

After Duch's trial, the court plans to prosecute former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith. -- AFP

Khmer Rouge defendant expresses 'heartfelt sorrow'


In this image photographed from a TV footage, former Khmer Rouge prison commander Kaing Guek Eav, also know as "Duch" reads a statement during a trial in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, March 31, 2009. "Duch" was called to the stand to defend himself against accusations made by the prosecution, which delivered its opening arguments Tuesday. (AP Photo/APTN)

Cambodian Meo Soknen, 13, stands inside a small shrine full of human bones and skulls, all victims of the Khmer Rouge, near her home Tuesday, March 31, 2009, in the Kandal Steung district of Kandal province, Cambodia. Kaing Guek Eav, also know as "Duch", the commander of the infamous Toul Sleng prison, accepted responsibility Tuesday during the second day of a UN-backed tribual for torturing and executing thousands of inmates at Toul Sleng. The small shrine, located 27 kilometers, (17 miles) south of Phnom Penh is one of many out of the way and forgotten monuments to the "Killing Fields." (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Chhim Sarom, 57, tears while she describes her biography during the Khmer Rouge regimes before attending a trial of a former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, at a U.N.-backed tribunal Tuesday, March 31, 2009, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Prosecutors vowed Tuesday to get justice for the 1.7 million victims of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime, as they opened their case against the man accused of running the communist radicals' torture machine. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

By GRANT PECK

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The man who ran the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison in Cambodia accepted responsibility Tuesday for torturing and executing thousands of inmates and expressed "heartfelt sorrow" for his crimes.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, told the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal that he wanted to apologize for his actions under the Khmer Rouge, whose radical policies while in power from 1975 to 1979 left an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians dead.

"I am responsible for the crimes committed at S-21, especially the torture and execution of the people there," Duch told the tribunal.

"I would like to express my deep regretfulness and my heartfelt sorrow for all the crimes committed by the CPK from 1975 to 1979," he said, referring to the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the official name for the Khmer Rouge.

Duch, now 66, commanded the group's main S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, where as many as 16,000 men, women and children are believed to have been brutalized before being sent to their deaths. He is charged with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as torture and homicide, and could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Cambodia has no death penalty.

While Duch's statements amount to a confession of guilt, defendants at the tribunal do not enter pleas. The tribunal says its primary goal is to determine the facts of what happened three decades ago during Khmer Rouge rule and establish responsibility for the starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and executions that occurred under the regime, whose top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Duch addressed the court after asking permission to make a personal statement after the prosecution's opening arguments, in which he was described as a key cog in the Khmer Rouge killing machine.

He began by reading from a prepared statement and then put his papers down, removed his eyeglasses and gazed directly at the 500-seat audience in the courtroom, filled with Khmer Rouge survivors and other members of the public.

Duch said the Khmer Rouge came to power in an era when Cambodia was wracked by political violence and repression, but that the communist group committed crimes that were "huge."

He said he tried to avoid being made commander of Tuol Sleng, but once in the job he feared for his life and his family's safety if he did not carry out his duty, which was to extract confessions from supposed enemies of the regime.

Repeating a sentiment he has already voiced through his lawyers, Duch apologized to his victim's families but said he was not asking to be pardoned for such "serious crimes that cannot be tolerated."

"My current plea is that I would like you to please leave an open window for me to seek forgiveness," he said, vowing to cooperate fully with the tribunal as "this is only the remedy that can help me to relieve all the sorrow and crimes I have committed."

Duch's Cambodian lawyer, Kar Savuth, described his client as a scapegoat and a victim of selective justice while many others remain uncharged.

The tribunal currently has plans to prosecute only four more defendants, all Khmer Rouge leaders more senior than Duch.

The long-awaited trial against Duch began Monday with a full reading of the 45-page indictment. Executioners threw victims to their deaths, bludgeoned them and then slit their bellies, or had medics draw so much blood that their lives drained away, according to the indictment.

Duch's job was to extract confessions of counterrevolutionary activity, but "every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution," the indictment said.

Prisoners were beaten, electrocuted, smothered with plastic bags or had water poured into their noses; children were taken from their parents and dropped from third floor windows to their deaths, and some prisoners were bled to death, the indictment said.

On Tuesday morning, Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang vowed to get justice for the regime's victims.

"For 30 years, one-and-a-half million victims of the Khmer Rouge have been demanding justice for their suffering. For 30 years, the survivors of Democratic Kampuchea have been waiting for accountability," Chea Leang said, using the regime's name for Cambodia.

Most of Cambodia's 14 million people were born after the 1979 fall of the Khmer Rouge, and many struggle daily to make a living in the poverty-stricken country.

Motorcycle taxi driver Vong Song, 52, said that he hears people talking about the tribunal, but he's too busy working to pay for his three children's education to worry about it.

"Let the court and the government do it. For me, the important thing is earning money to support my family. That's what I think," he said.

Khmer Rouge official admits atrocities

Radio Netherlands

Tuesday 31 March 2009

At the Cambodia Tribunal in Phnom Penh, a senior member of the Khmer Rouge has accepted responsibility for torture and executions and asked the families of his victims to forgive him. Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, was head of the notorious S21 prison, where thousands of prisoners died.

His statement is his first public acknowledgement of responsibility for the atrocities that took place. Until now he maintained that he was only following orders.

Duch is one of five former Khmer Rouge members to be tried by the Tribunal. The Khmer Rouge regime resulted in the deaths of an estimated two million people between 1975 and 197.

Kep hastens Cambodia's coastal tourism revival

Earth Times

Tue, 31 Mar 2009 03:12:08 GMT
Author : DPA

Kep, Cambodia - In Cambodia, where a decade-long tourism boom has been driven almost entirely by safe and easy access to the ancient Angkor Wat temples, the rebirth of a seaside resort town is helping to lure visitors to country's long-neglected coastline. The sleepy town of Kep on the south-east coast has been earmarked as Cambodia's first boutique tourism destination, but for now it bares few of the characteristics of the countless backpacker Meccas and resorts scattered throughout South-East Asia.

Tourist numbers have surged in recent years, but this town of just a few thousand people has maintained its unhurried, pastoral character. Unlike Sihanoukville, a lively huddle of guesthouses, bars and nightclubs on the central coast, Kep seems to be taking a relaxed path towards developing its tourism sector.

But with its alluringly lush rainforests, crystalline waters and bountiful seafood, Kep is finding that the tourists don't need much encouragement. A three-hour drive from the capital Phnom Penh, Kep has become a favorite weekend retreat for expatriates and Cambodia's burgeoning middle class.

The town is only 20 minutes from a recently opened Vietnamese border crossing, making it a perfect place to say hello or goodbye to Cambodia.

"They told us to expect fewer tourists in Cambodia this year," a local taxi driver says. "But more and more come here every week, to see the mountains and the caves, and of course, to eat."

Kep's famous crabs were among the many treasures that helped the town become playground for Cambodia's French rulers in the early 20th century. Along with former king and independence leader Norodom Sihanouk, the French elite built dozens of mansions in the hills along the coastline and sailed their yachts in the calm, protected waters in the Gulf of Thailand.

But like many regions in Cambodia, Kep was ravaged by the United States' secret bombing campaign during the Indochinese War and was forcibly evacuated during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1975 rule. The ultra-communist group considered the town a symbol of bourgeois hedonism and colonial oppression, and destroyed most of its infrastructure.

Kep lay dormant for more than a decade, and the scars of its troubled past are still visible among the poor local population and neglected amenities. The seaside villas left standing have become overgrown with vines and tree trunks, and now only the smallest of fishing boats can dock in the once-bustling port.

But Kep's striking beauty has not paled despite years of conflict, neglect and civil war. Guesthouses and hotels catering to all budgets have been built along the coast, including the exclusive Knai Banh Chatt hotel, which boasts views of the imposing Bokor Mountain from its infinity pool.

While the town has no beach and is separated from the sea by a strip of coarse red stones, a cheap 30 minute boat ride to Koh Thonsay - known as Rabbit Island - reveals one of Cambodia's unspoilt, pristine beaches. Budget accommodation is compulsory, as

the island's only available beds are housed in palm-wood bungalows, which can be rented for between 7 and 10 dollars per night.

The bungalows' power generators are switched off a 10 pm, and as the fluorescent lights along the beach fade, a spectacular night sky is revealed.

But Kep's greatest attraction may well be the variety of seafood on offer in the restaurants and stalls downtown. Crabs cooked with local pepper sell for between 3 and 10 dollars and grilled fish on skewers cost less than 5 dollars. For the more adventurous, or rather less eco-conscious, gilled seahorse is also available.

Driving past the various building sites, road workers and bulldozers on the road out of town, one gets the impression that the place is on the verge of a tourism storm. A good road now runs straight to the nearby riverside town of Kampot, which is enjoying its own tourism rebirth, and there are signs of a coastal tourism trail emerging. So as travellers look for cheaper tropical escapes in South-East Asia, now might be the time to experience Kep and beat the rush.

Internet: www.kepcity.com, www.mot.gov.kh, www.tourismcambodia.com

Viet Nam goods expo opens in Cambodia on April 1

Viet Nam News
31-03-2009

HA NOI — As many as 170 export and production businesses have registered for a trade fair to open in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh tomorrow.

The five-day fair will feature 330 booths displaying household appliances, foods, textile and leather products, construction materials, chemicals, production tools and stationery. The fair, co-organised by the HCM City Investment and Trade Promotion Centre, the High-Quality Vietnamese Goods Businesses Club and the Viet Nam Goods Trade and Services Corp, is the eighth of its kind held in Cambodia since 2002.

Cambodia PM rejects wider Khmer Rouge trials

Tue Mar 31, 2009

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned Tuesday that putting more Khmer Rouge cadres on trial for crimes committed during Pol Pot's 1975-79 reign of terror could plunge the country back into civil war.

"I would prefer to see this tribunal fail instead of seeing war return to my country," Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander, said a day after the joint U.N.-Cambodian court resumed its trial of Pol Pot's chief torturer.

Duch, former head of the S-21 prison where more than 14,000 "enemies" of the ultra-Maoist revolution died, is the first of five aging senior cadres to face trial 30 years after the end of a regime blamed for 1.7 million deaths in Cambodia.

Human rights groups have used this week's trial to push for investigations of more suspects, arguing that would ensure justice is delivered to millions of victims and survivors.

But Hun Sen, speaking at the opening of an industrial zone in the port of Sihanoukville, said the trials should not go beyond the five charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

"If as many as 20 Khmer Rouge are indicted to stand trial and war returns to Cambodia, who will be responsible for that?," he told the audience.

After Duch, the others awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, the regime's ex-president Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, its foreign minister, and his wife.

They have denied any wrongdoing. Duch has expressed remorse for his victims, but said he was following orders.

The court admitted in January that a bid to go after more suspects was brushed aside by the Cambodian co-prosecutor, who argued it would not be good for national reconciliation.

A final ruling on the additional cases -- details of which the court has not disclosed but the number of which has been put at six in media reports -- is still pending.

"The issue regarding the jurisdiction of the court and whether or not to have further suspects is complicated," said Helen Jarvis, an Australian working for the tribunal.

The government has denied meddling in the court, but rights activists have long suspected Hun Sen does not want it to dig too deep for fear it will unearth secrets about senior Khmer Rouge figures inside his administration.

Hun Sen, 58, joined the Khmer Rouge during their 1970-75 guerilla war against the U.S.-backed government of General Lon Nol. He rose to be a junior commander and lost an eye in fighting just before the rebels took the capital, Phnom Penh.

He has said he defected to Vietnam in mid-1977 and played no part in Pol Pot's bloody agrarian revolution, in which an estimated 1.7 million people, or a third of the population, died.

Vietnamese troops invaded in late 1978 and installed a communist government made up mostly of former Khmer Rouge cadres including Hun Sen, who became premier in 1985.

Analysts said Hun Sen's opposition to expanding the tribunal's work may reflect his concerns former Khmer Rouge commanders will flee back to the jungle and fight any move to arrest them.

Pol Pot's death in 1998 was followed by a formal Khmer Rouge surrender that helped usher in a decade of peace and stability, threatened now by the global economic downturn.

(Writing by Darren Schuettler; Editing by Jerry Norton)

An Giang vegetable exports to Cambodia thrive on zero tariffs

The amount of vegetables exported from An Giang Province to Cambodia doubled following a tariff exemption agreement for 40 agriculture products between Viet Nam and Cambodia. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Long


31-03-2009

AN GIANG — About 70 tonnes of vegetables are exported from An Giang Province to Cambodia every day, double the volume in previous years, local officials say.

Nguyen Van Thao, head of the province’s An Phu District’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department, says the growth follows an agreement between the two countries to exempt tariffs for 40 agricultural products.

The vegetables are grown to high hygiene and safety standards, Thao says.

The Mekong Delta province has become the first locality to export safe vegetable to the neighbouring country through the Khanh Binh border crossing.

The district has around 1,000ha for vegetables, yielding 20,000 tonnes per year. The productivity is yet to meet vegetable demand in the Cambodian market.

However, according to Thao, the export volume has recently dipped and prices of some kinds of vegetables dropped by 50 per cent. Chili was sold at VND30,000 per kilogram a few months ago, but after Tet (late January) the export price is VND10,000 per kilogram.

Thao says that this is due to the harvest of vegetables in Thailand.

Farming area in Thailand is not large as in the Meong Delta, and brisk exports will resume after the harvest season in Thailand ends, Thao says.

Despite the current lull, merchants at the Khanh Binh wholesale market say they receive orders from Cambodia worth billions of dong a day.

An Phu District authorities say they are now expanding the area for cultivating vegetables by 1,300ha to meet export demand. — VNS

PM hopes for improved media ties with Cambodia

31-03-2009

HA NOI — Viet Nam’s and Cambodia’s information agencies should uphold their roles toward increasing mutual understanding between the two nations, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said yesterday.

At a meeting with the Cambodian Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith in Ha Noi, the PM urged the two information ministries to continue to boost their co-operation in exchanges of working delegates, share experiences, personnel training and investment in facilities for media, which would contribute to the development to the two countries.

He said the traditional friendly and co-operative ties between Viet Nam and Cambodia were a valuable asset to be maintained and developed sustainably for the happiness of the two countries’ people.

The Vietnamese Party, State and people always attached great importance to friendship and co-operation with Cambodia and would do their best to expand the relationship to in all fields to benefit the two sides, Dung said.

Minister Khieu Kanharith thanked Dung for his welcome and suggestions. He also thanked the Vietnamese Party’s and State’s aid to the Cambodian information sector.

He said he hoped the co-operation would be fostered under the framework of the agreements signed between the two sides for the development of the sector and the two people’s interests.

Also yesterday, the Prime Minister welcomed former German counterpart Gerhard Schroeder.

This is the third time the former prime minister has visited Viet Nam in the role of a consultant of economic groups from Germany and Europe.

Dung said he highly appreciated Gerhard Schoeder’s visit and his contributions to boost bilateral friendship, He said he was delighted the relationship between the two countries had been well developed in fields such as economics, culture, education, health and technology.

However, the co-operation in the economic field had not matched the two countries’ potential and strength and he recommended the two sides foster co-operation more efficiently to the greater benefit of the two people.

Dung said he hoped that as a consultant of some German and European economic groups, Gerhard Schoeder would encourage more investment in Viet Nam and promote activities to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic relations next year.

Schoeder said the visit aimed to implement German investors’ projects in Viet Nam and promote investment co-operation between the two sides for the celebration.

Dung and Schoeder also discussed measures to cope with the world economic crisis and some specific co-operation projects between the two countries. — VNS

Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Defendant Expresses 'Heartfelt Sorrow'

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: The man who ran the Khmer Rouge's most notorious prison accepted responsibility Tuesday (31 March) for torturing and executing thousands of inmates and expressed "heartfelt sorrow" for his crimes.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, told the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal that he wanted to apologize for the acts of the Khmer Rouge, whose genocidal rule of Cambodia from 1975-1979 left an estimated 1.7 million people dead.

"I recognize that I am responsible for the crimes committed," Duch told the tribunal, standing in the dock as he read from a prepared statement. "I would like to express my regretfulness and heartfelt sorrow."

Duch, now 66, commanded the group's main S-21 prison, also known as Tuol Sleng, where as many as 16,000 men women and children are believed to have been brutalized before being sent to their deaths. He is charged with committing crimes against humanity and war crimes, as well as torture and homicide, and could face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Cambodia has no death penalty.

He told the court he took responsibility "for crimes committed at S-21, especially torture and execution of people there."

While Duch's statements amount to a confession of guilt, defendants at the tribunal do not enter pleas. The tribunal says its primary goal is to determine the facts of what happened three decades ago during Khmer Rouge rule.

Co-prosecutor Chea Leang vowed to get justice for the 1.7 million victims of the country's radical communist regime.

"For 30 years, one-and-a-half million victims of the Khmer Rouge have been demanding justice for their suffering. For 30 years, the survivors of Democratic Kampuchea have been waiting for accountability. For 30 years, a generation of Cambodians have been struggling to get answers for their fate," Chea Leang said, using the regime's name for Cambodia.

"Justice will be done," she said. "History demands it."

The long-awaited trial against Duch began Monday (30 March) with a full reading of the 45-page indictment. Executioners threw victims to their deaths, bludgeoned them and then slit their bellies, or had medics draw so much blood that their lives drained away, according to the indictment.

The tribunal is seeking to establish responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like conditions and execution under the Khmer Rouge, whose top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Duch's job was to extract confessions of counterrevolutionary activity, but "every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution," the indictment said. Prisoners were beaten, electrocuted, smothered with plastic bags or had water poured into their noses. Children were taken from their parents and dropped from the third floor of a prison building.

Chea Leang recalled the regime's infamous maxim regarding its enemies: "To keep you is no gain, to destroy you is no loss."

The prosecutor displayed historic photographs and video records from the Khmer Rouge years, which began with executions of loyalists of the previous regime and the brutal forced evacuation to the countryside of the capital's 2 million residents.

Duch has been in detention since he was discovered in 1999 by British journalist Nic Dunlop in the Cambodian countryside, where he had been living under an assumed name.

Dunlop, who attended Tuesday's (31 March) hearing, said it was "surreal" to see Duch in a courtroom as victims of the Khmer Rouge watched, but it was difficult to gauge local interest in the trial.

"Whether it resonates beyond these walls is the big question, and if it doesn't, we might as well be on another planet," he said

Most of Cambodia's 14 million people were born after the 1979 fall of the Khmer Rouge, and many struggle daily to make a living in the poverty-stricken country.

Motorcycle taxi driver Vong Song, 52, said that he hears people talking about the tribunal, but he's too busy working to pay for his three children's education to worry about it.

"Let the court and the government do it. For me, the important thing is earning money to support my family. That's what I think," he said. (By GRANT PECK/ AP)

MySinchew 2009.03.31

March 30th 1997 grenade attack: twelve years on, still no justice for victims

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 30/03/2009. People looking at a photograph exhibit showing demonstrators in the middle of the grenade attack.
©Vandy Rattana



Ka-set

By Duong Sokha
30-03-2009

About a hundred people gathered in front of the former premises of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on the morning of Monday March 30th to commemorate the grenade attack which claimed the lives of sixteen demonstrators twelve years ago. Next to families of victims and members of the main opposition political formation in Cambodia - the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) - Phnompenhers joined the march for this now traditional ceremony organised before the stupa for victims of the March 30th 1997 grenade attack.

Students, workers, moto-taxi drivers, journalists… They were all demonstrating peacefully in favour of the reform and independence of justice in Cambodia, with Sam Rainsy, who was back then the president of the Khmer National Party, when four grenades were thrown in the middle of the crowd and killed sixteen people on March 30th 1997. Twelve years on, portraits of the innocent victims were displayed not far from the stupa erected to their memory, while photographs taken just after the attack were on display on hoardings and were the bloody evidence of the horror suffered by demonstrators.

Ly Neary, the mother of Chet Duong Daravuth, a journalist and doctor killed during the demonstration, was the first to speak in front of thirty monks and the hundred participants at the twelfth anniversary ceremony. The family representative insisted on reminding the audience of the long time victims’ relatives had been waiting. Twelve years later, they are still demanding justice and want the authors of the murders to be identified and prosecuted. “Again, I urge the Cambodian government to reopen the enquiry over those murders in order to find the real murderers and the people behind the attack, and bring them to justice. I also urge the American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to publish the results of their investigation so that we, families of victims, can have the possibility of clearly knowing the identity of criminals and the people behind that”, Ly Neary declared. She insisted that the sacrifice of demonstrators in favour of democracy should not be vain, and that impunity in Cambodia should end.

Insisting on the fact that many of the demonstrators injured or killed during the attack were from a modest background, leader of the opposition Sam Rainsy said he was convinced that one day, victims and their families would be given justice. “Two reports exist on that case: one by the American Senate, the other by the FBI. The first one, which was made public, points at prime Minister’s [Hun Sen’s] bodyguards. And, despite the fact that the FBI report has not yet been published, four American journalists, some of whom work for the renowned Washington Post, were authorised to take notice of them: it appears that, like the American Senate report, it points at the prime Minister’s bodyguards”, the opposition leader said in front of journalists after the ceremony. He said he trusted the implementation of the principle of justice by the administration of American president Barack Obama.

During the ceremony, held in the presence of John Willis - the representative of the International Republican Institute (IRI) in Cambodia -, the SRP leader and deputy for the Kampong Cham province stressed that the former IRI director, the American Ron Abney, who was present at the demonstration on March 30th and was injured by fragments of grenades, recently had to have a foot amputated due to secondary consequences.

Sam Rainsy also established a connection between the attack and current events: “Thirty years ago, the Khmer Rouge slaughtered nearly two million inhabitants. And today, thirty years later, the trial of Duch, the former director of the Tuol Sleng prison, is opening. One day, criminals and people behind [this attack] will be prosecuted to”, he said. The SRP president mentioned the universal competence of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, most likely, according to him, to try criminals of all nationalities like those who committed and planned the attack.

Reached by phone, the spokesperson for the National Police of Cambodia, Kiet Chantharith, asserted he was not in a position to tell what was going on with the results of the enquiry made by Cambodian authorities and simply said that an ad hoc commission was set up back then. “I am not a member of that Commission. And since I took up that position, I have never heard anyone [at the national police general commissariat] mention that case. And I do not pay attention to it”, the police general commented.

Opening of Duch trial: smooth start, impassive defendant

Kambol (Cambodia, Phnom Penh). March 30th 2009: Journalist during the reading of the accusations against Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, on the first day of his trial at the ECCC.
©John Vink/ Magnum



Ka-set

By Stéphanie Gée
31-03-2009

At the Khmer Rouge court, the first day of the substantive trial of Duch - the former director of the detention and interrogation centre S-21- was mainly marked on Monday March 30th by the analysis of facts and charges written down in the Closing Order of the co-Investigating Judges (Closing Order dated August 8th 2008 and amended by the pre-Trial Chamber on December 5th 2008). The hearing barely lasted four hours. The elements that were read out about S-21, the “smash the enemy” policy, the political line of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) behind the Khmer Rouge decision-making bodies and the description of conditions of detention of prisoners and torture sessions left the former revolutionary torturer unmoved.

Duch was dressed to the nines for the occasion. He sported a spotless white long-sleeve shirt and an impassive face as the list of physical abuse perpetrated on prisoners was read out. At the most, a wince came from time to time to disturb the wrinkles of the 66-year-old. When he took the floor, it is with a clear and distinct voice that he introduced himself or made an account of the many name changes he went through. With his classic and sober glasses, one could imagine the mathematics teacher he used to be. Conscientious, educated. Every time he spoke to the court, he joined his hands out of respect. And when the court clerk read out the Closing Order, he followed every sentence, straight-faced and focused, on the copy of the document he had with him. Will Duch keep that same equanimity when, once the heart of the debates is reached, he finds himself faced with the former S-21 deputy director or with some of his former victims who survived Tuol Sleng’s living hell?

The reading of the Closing Order painted a first picture of the situation which particularly prevailed at S-21and drew the outline of Duch’s role within the structure. Here are a few perspectives brought about by that document [The following quotes all come from the Closing Order issued by the co-Investigating Judges ]

Duch, director of S-21
With the accession of the Khmer Rouge to power, judicial institutions in Cambodia were replaced by centres for re-education, interrogation and security in which all supporters and representatives of Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic were sent together with all enemies to the Angkar. Duch explained, as detailed in the Order, that in 1976, “Pol Pot had eliminated the exploiting classes, private property, officials of the former regime, religions and teaching”. This is when internal purges started. The creed was to increase “revolutionary vigilance” with a view to "ensuring that the enemy is unable to bore from within" the Party and the Army. The revolution heightened with the escalation of the international armed conflict with Vietnam.

As early as 1967, Duch becomes a member of the Khmer Rouge communist movement. From 1971 till January 1975, he directs M-13, another security centre located in the Kampong Speu province, and is then “transferred” to S-21, which becomes operational in October 1975. His position is that of vice-chairman in charge of the group of interrogators. In March 1976, he becomes the highest-ranking official at Tuol Sleng. This does not prevent him from continuing to personally supervise interrogations of suspects, at least for the most important ones. Duch stated that to start with, he was reluctant to be appointed as head of S-21 and preferred an assignment with the Ministry of Industry. However, when he took command of S-21, he, by his own admission, understood, based on his experience at M13, that he was capable of performing this work better than his predecessor.

The feared and asserted authority
Duch ran S-21 “along hierarchical lines and established reporting systems at all levels to ensure that his orders were carried out immediately and precisely”. According to several witnesses, as stated in the Closing Order, “Duch was feared by everyone at S-21”. Besides the general rules of the Party in relation to the work of the secret security policy, he enforced strict rules which he devised himself for the operation of S-21 and selected his staff personally: former subordinates at M-13 to start with, and later children and adolescents whom he chose as guards since, “he said, [they] were ‘like a blank piece of paper’ and could easily be indoctrinated”.

Prisoners systematically “smashed”
“The primary role of S-21 was to implement ‘[t]he Party political line regarding the enemy’ according to which prisoners ‘absolutely had to be smashed’”, the Closing Order details. Every prisoner who arrived at S-21 was destined for execution. A simple transfer to that centre automatically established the guilt of the person and interrogators were then in charge of justifying arrest by extracting confessions of treachery. According to the Order, “Duch now maintains that he was, from an early time, sceptical of the veracity of the confessions, claiming that they were demanded from above”, adding that "[e]ven the Standing Committee, in my opinion, did not really believe in it". If the name of a person occurred several times in confessions, their fate would be sealed.

According to Duch, “the content of the confessions was the most important work of S-21”. Detainees were compelled to draft autobiographies in which they ended up denouncing themselves and others as traitorously serving the intelligence agencies of foreign powers: the United States CIA, the Soviet KGB and organs of the Vietnamese Communist Party. Duch “read, analysed, annotated and summarised the majority of these confessions for his superiors”.

A number of foreign nationals were also imprisoned at Tuol Sleng including Vietnamese (mainly), Thais, Laotians, Indians, and Westerners. According to Duch, no one could be sent to S-21 without a decision of the Party. He specified that he generally had no grasp of the specific rationale behind the imprisonment of persons. Duch, an enthusiastic element in the Khmer Rouge machinery, acknowledges he systematically reported his subordinates’ faults, which resulted in their arrest. “He claimed that he did this to avoid being implicated himself, since ‘everyone, fearing for their lives, surveyed everyone else’”.

“No one could escape torture”
Among tortures inflicted on prisoners, beating, electrocution, placing a plastic bag over the head, head immersion in water… And besides that, autopsies on living persons, blood taking and medical experiments were practiced on prisoners. Interrogation and torture sessions only ended when prisoners’ confessions were thought to be satisfying. Duch admitted that “anyone taken for interrogation mostly could not avoid torture”. Several witnesses have said that Duch would personally torture prisoners at M-13. Before the co-Investigating Judges, he always denied having tortured any prisoner at S-21. But several witnesses contradicted him and declared they saw him beating prisoners up. One of them said he saw Duch electrocuting a woman during an interrogation and added that he beat her “until he got tired”, whereupon someone else would interrogate her. Duch deemed the account pure fabrication. On a confession, Duch wrote “[N]ot yet confessed. To be tortured”.

The judicial investigation demonstrated that, “while Duch was not a senior leader of Democratic Kampuchea, he may be considered in the category of most responsible for crimes and serious violations committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979, due both to his formal and effective hierarchical authority and his personal participation as Deputy Secretary then Secretary of S-21”. Today, he is accountable for crimes against humanity, war crimes and national crimes before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

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The rest of the hearing
Ninety-three victims were able to constitute themselves as Civil Parties in that trial; they are represented by fifteen lawyers, including nine foreigners. On the Defence side, two lawyers, Cambodian and International, confront them. According to the scheduling of the trial, detailed in a Direction , co-Prosecutors will present on March 31st their opening statement on charges against the accused, which will last a maximum of two hours. In the meantime, the Defence Counsel will be allowed to respond. Then, these two parties will be requested to present agreed facts. Up to that stage, Civil Parties will not be allowed to speak – a decision they felt offended about.


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Request form the Defence rejected
François Roux, the French co-Lawyer for Duch, requested on March 30th that the ten paragraphs which discriminate the accused be read out right after the 150 paragraphs which incriminate him during the hearing. In that event, he said, this is “an incriminating reading and does not come as part of a fair trial”. After deliberation, judges rejected his request and estimated that those points should be examined later, during debates.

SRP marks grenade killings

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy lights candles during a ceremony marking 12 years since the March 30, 1997, grenade attack.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

HUNDREDS turned out for a commemoration Monday marking the 12th anniversary of the 1997 grenade attack that left at least 16 dead and more than 100 injured during a peaceful opposition rally in Phnom Penh.

During a two-hour ceremony held at the commemorative stupa marking the site of the attack near the former National Assembly, participants lit incense and laid wreaths next to photos of 13 of those killed, while lawmakers and victims' relatives issued calls for fresh investigations into the still-unsolved case.

SRP President Sam Rainsy, who was injured and whose bodyguard was killed during the 1997 rally, slammed the government for its inaction but expressed hopes that investigations conducted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation would succeed where it had failed.

"The criminals must not be hidden by the powerful," he told the crowd. "I believe the Obama administration has clear principles of justice [and] we hope that the US can send the people behind the grenade attack to jail."

Ly Nary, who lost her journalist son Chet Doung Daravuth in the attacks, appealed to the government to continue its investigations and said she looked forward to seeing the attackers in the dock.

"We should take [such] impunity away from our society," she said in a speech.

"We have waited for 30 years to see leaders of the Khmer Rouge face trial, so we will continue to wait [for progress on the grenade attack]."

But Peo Heng, 62, whose daughter Yung Soknov and niece Yung Srey were killed in 1997 after joining the rally to demand higher wages for garment workers, was less confident time would reveal the perpetrators of the attack.

"Twelve years on, there remains no justice," she told the Post. "My daughter and niece did nothing wrong. They just participated in the rally to call for an independent court and demand a salary rise."

On March 30, 1997, four grenades were thrown into the crowd at a rally held by the opposition Khmer Nation Party, killing and injuring scores of bystanders.

While the results of a subsequent FBI investigation of the incident have never been made public, Sam Rainsy said a copy of the report leaked to Washington Post reporters pointed to the involvement of Brigade 70, Prime Minister Hun Sen's personal bodyguard unit.

He expressed confidence that while the Cambodian government had not managed to find the killers, a new era of international legal norms could bring the country's entrenched impunity to an abrupt end.

"The President of Sudan, who is currently in power, is afraid to leave his country, and he will be arrested if he visits any European countries," he told journalists after the ceremony, referring to the leader's recent indictment by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

"This trend will come to Cambodia."

Sustained impunity
Other observers who spoke with the Post agreed the government had demonstrated no clear commitment to the case.

"I think the fact that 12 years have passed since the grenade attacks and the government has yet to launch an independent investigation or make a single arrest is a clear indication that impunity continues to plague Cambodia," said Sarah Colm, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.

Colm added that some of the figures suspected of involvement in the attacks, including the head of Brigade 70, had since been promoted by the government, describing the appointments as a "slap in the face" for the victims.

"Rather than going after the perpetrators of political violence or human rights abuses, some of the very [military] units and people alleged to have been involved in the attacks are this year being promoted," she said.

While the trials of senior Khmer Rouge figure Duch, which reconvened Monday, was a vital step in the erosion of the Kingdom's culture of impunity, Colm said it was vital that ongoing violence and intimidation was also "promptly and fairly" addressed.

"These more recent crimes are not isolated incidents," she said.

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann agreed, saying the party would continue holding an annual commemoration on March 30 until the attack's "perpetrators and masterminds" were brought to justice.

"There is no political will or commitment to conduct a serious investigation," he said.

"With the assassinations of political opponents or union leaders, they always make up another story to cover up the truth."

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment Monday but told the Post last week that the government was still conducting investigations with the help of the FBI, and that three suspects had so far been identified in connection with the attacks.

"As long as we can wait, we will try to shine a light on the perpetrators," he said.

However, US embassy sources said the FBI had closed its case and was "not able to reach a conclusion" as to the perpetrators of the attacks.

"We extend our sympathies to the families of the victims of the attack and note with regret that the perpetrators of the attack have not been brought to justice," embassy spokesman John Johnson said by email.

"The victims and their families deserve justice, and we urge the Cambodian government to make every effort to solve this case."

Slow start for KRT's first trial

Photo by: ECCC POOL
Duch at the ECCC during the first day of his substantive trial Monday
.

DEFENCE LAWYERS GO AFTER CORRUPTION

Defence lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have joined together to request that a report into corruption at the court by a UN oversight body be made public. Four out of the five defence teams say they agree with a request made by Nuon Chea's team last week, with Ieng Thirith's team agreeing in principle but not signing onto the request. Richard Rogers, head of the defence section at the court, told the Post that the issue was more urgent than ever now that substantial hearings were under way at the court. "It is a matter of urgency now that the substantive part of the trial has begun....Corruption is always going to be a black cloud over this court's head until it's resolved, whether its this week, next month or next year," he told the Post Monday. "We are hopeful that the judges do what's necessary to ensure that fair trial standards are upheld," he added. Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for Nuon Chea's defence team, said he hoped judges at the court would not dismiss the request on the basis of technicality. "Because of the nature of the request, judges are likely to argue that it falls out of the scope of the introductory submission," he said. "But any legitimate court has the inherent power to protect the fairness of the proceedings," he added. "If this request was thrown out on a technicality, it would be a real dodge," he said. In a summary posted on their website, co-lawyers for Ieng Sary said they were "hopeful that the [office of co-investigating judges] act immediately on this request especially since it coincides with the commencement in earnest of the Duch trial", adding that if judges failed to act promptly on the issue, they would pursue the matter before the pretrial chamber. A number of civil parties are also expected to join the request.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha and Georgia Wilkins
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Duch will not be called to respond to charges for days.

PROCEEDINGS at the long-awaited trial of Kaing Guek Eav got off to a deeply symbolic yet fairly brief start Monday, with an opening statement by prosecutors being delayed until Tuesday.

The accused, a 66-year-old former teacher better known by his revolutionary name Duch, stood up and politely greeted the judges with a traditional bow. He then confirmed his various pseudonyms, before sitting solemnly and attentively as judges read out the details of his alleged crimes, including how prisoners at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison he oversaw were subjected to beatings, suffocation and electrocution before being killed.

"Before I was arrested by the military police, I was a teacher in Samlot district," Duch told the court.

"I have already been notified of the charges against me," he added.

Though his indictment had been filed months in advance, Monday was the first time it was read aloud to the court and the defendant, who is on trial for charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and under Cambodian law for the charges of premeditated murder and torture.

Duch is not likely to be called upon to respond to the allegations against him until Wednesday, and witnesses, many of whom were at the court Monday, will not testify until next week.

Bou Meng, one of three survivors from the prison in which up to 15,000 people were tortured and sent to their deaths, was at the hearing but kept a low profile.

"I was angry because they killed my wife, [but now] I am happy because I have a court to try Khmer Rouge leaders," he told reporters before leaving Monday's hearing.

The indictment described how S21, a secret interrogation centre, had an explicit policy to "smash" - a code word for kill - the enemies who were sent there.

It also cited descriptions of the former chief by witnesses, who claimed that "Duch was feared by everyone".

The charges quoted Duch as saying children were "like a blank piece of paper. They could be easily indoctrinated," in reference to his alleged policy of training child guards at the prison.

Co-prosecutor Chea Leang, who ended the hearing by requesting an unbroken two hours for the opening statement, prompted some discontent in the public gallery, with one person shouting that at a cost of millions of dollars, the court should be able to work eight hours.

"If this is the pace in which proceedings will be in the future, there may be some cause for concern," Michelle Stagg Kelsall, a court monitor for the East-West Centre said after the hearing.

Dy Ratha, who was participating in the trial as a civil party, said she was glad proceedings had begun, but was disappointed Duch was not called on by judges.

"What we want is his [Duch] confession of the crime so that we can accept and forgive. Today the trial of Duch is a surprisingly and lesion for the next generation and if there is no trial Khmer Rouge memory in the past will be gone.

Lawyers for Duch told the Post Sunday that he hopes to use his trial to apologize for his role in the 1975-1979 regime.

could be easily indoctrinated”, referring to his alleged policy of training child guards at the prison.

Co-prosecutor Chea Leang, who ended the hearing by requesting an unbroken two hours for the opening statement, prompted some discontent in the public gallery, with one person shouting that at a cost of millions of dollars, the court should be able to work an eight-hour day.

“If this is the pace in which proceedings will be in the future, there may be some cause for concern,” Michelle Staggs Kelsall, a court monitor for the East-West Centre’s Asian International Justice Initiative, said after the hearing.

Dy Ratha, who was participating in the trial as a civil party, said she was glad proceedings had begun but was disappointed Duch was not called on by judges.

“What we want is his [Duch’s] confession of the crime so that we can accept and forgive. Today the court’s [reading of Duch’s indictiment] was shocking and provided a lesson about the regime for the next generation. If there is no trial, the Khmer Rouge and the past will be gone.”

Lawyers for Duch told the Post Sunday that he hopes to use his trial to apologise for his role in the 1975-79 regime.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

Land dispute hits the capital

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Chi Kraeng villagers in Phnom Penh outside the National Assembly on Monday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Chi Kraeng district residents flee violent land dispute to petition the National Assembly to intervene; opposition party pledges to take up their cause.

AROUND 100 villagers from Siem Reap gathered Monday in front of the National Assembly to petition for help over a land dispute in Chi Kraeng district that erupted into violence March 22 when four villagers were shot and injured by authorities.

The clash followed a dispute between villagers from neighbouring communes over 92 hectares of farmland. A video of the incident, which Licadho says it received from villagers, reportedly shows the deputy district police chief firing a shot into the air. Immediately afterwards, a commune policeman opened fire on villagers, shooting at least two with an AK-47. Other police or military police then started shooting, the NGO said.

The villagers, who said they fear for their safety, were met by Sam Rainsy and the opposition MP for Siem Reap, Ke Sovannroth.

Sam Rainsy pledged to take up their cause, saying: "This is a severe human rights violation.... I will push forward your case to the president of the Human Rights Committee to work on it," he told the villagers.

A representative of the group, Thoang Sareith, told the Post the villagers would remain until the National Assembly resolved their case and guaranteed their safety. Villagers have previously reported receiving threats on their mobile phones, and Thoang Sareith said they were now afraid to return home.

Am Sam Ath, a monitor for the Cambodian human rights NGO Licadho, said the land dispute between the two communes had been ongoing since 2004, but resolution efforts by the authorities had been unsuccessful. He said that provincial Governor Sou Phirin had promised on March 24 he would resolve the dispute fairly with the participation of civil society groups. That had not happened, he added.

Am Sam Ath said the Constitution gives citizens the right to petition the National Assembly for assistance if they lack confidence in their local authorities to solve the problem.

Ke Sovannroth told the villagers that she had written a letter to the Interior Ministry and the National Assembly requesting an investigation, but had not yet received a response.

The Post was unable to contact Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak for comment, but he has previously said that the ministry was investigating the incident, and that police would be held to account if they were found to have acted unlawfully.

Mekong riverbank collapses as result of dredging: villagers

Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
A sand-dredging operation in Russey Keo district.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

But authorities deny landslides in Russey Keo district are the result of sand extraction, saying natural erosion prompted collapses.

RIVERBANK collapses sent villagers' land tumbling into the Mekong River in Phnom Penh's Russey Keo district Saturday, according to local residents, who claim sand-dredging operations have undermined a 100-metre stretch of land abutting the river.

Ktor village resident Long Bota said the landslide occurred Saturday at around 7pm, casting a 15-metre-wide swath of his land into the river and nearly claiming his house.

"Around 15 metres of my land collapsed and two other empty lots belonging to other people along a 100 metre stretch have collapsed," he told the Post Monday.

He said the riverbank collapse took place close to a former sand-dredging site, which had since been relocated around 5 kilometres from the site of the landslide. "Now I can't stay in my house because it is on the verge of collapsing into the river," he added.

Prek Leap commune chief Preap Mony told the Post that Saturday's riverbank collapse, which he estimated measured 10 metres by 20 metres, had not occurred because of sand dredging, since the operations were located far from the village, but because of natural erosion.

He said the village has experienced similar collapses around four times since 1999 because it sits on a promontory that is constantly buffeted by strong water currents.

In March last year, a similar riverbank collapse in Russey Keo's Sammaky village, about 6 kilometres from the city, sent 39 stilt houses into the waters of the Tonle Sap, leaving 61 families temporarily homeless.

But Long Bota said in this case authorities have deluded themselves about the cause of the erosion and affirmed that around 100 metres of riverbank land was lost, which they would have witnessed for themselves had they bothered to visit the site. "The authorities have never taken care about this. They are complicit," he said.

When contacted Monday, Russey Keo district Deputy Governor Kop Sless would not comment in detail but said that the bank collapse had taken place on reclaimed land.

Hun Sochara, director of the Department of Water Resources and Meteorology, said he had not yet heard about the collapse but would order his officials to investigate a possible cause.

Serial killer myth hits Siem Reap

Photo by: Michael Fox
Curious onlookers gathered outside the house of the Siem Reap "killer family" who are said to have murdered dozens. Police have denied the reports.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Michael Fox and Peter Olszewski
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

SIEM REAP

Rumours of a family of mass murderers near Siem Reap have turned a quiet town into a popular attraction, but police say reports have exaggerated what really took place in Arak Svay.

RUMOURS of dozens of bodies buried in a backyard in a village near Siem Reap have spread through the city and made the home at the centre of the claims a macabre attraction.

Police, however, have dismissed the two-week-old rumours and said the case was almost complete.

The reports claimed that a family was using its beautiful daughters to lure moto drivers to a grisly death at a remote house in Arak Svay village, about 15 minutes from the city centre. The number of murders was rumoured to be as high as 90.

Sightseers were still arriving by car, tuk-tuk and motorbike on Monday; and a neighbour, Noum Coun, told the Post there had been a constant stream of visitors for over a week.

A local man, who would only give his name as Phamma, went to the house with a group of friends to find out for himself.

"I heard information from everybody and wanted to see the house and see the area," he said.

Vendors were also selling refreshments to visitors outside the house.

The small home now has a hand-written sign on the locked gate warning people to keep out.

Police said the gates were locked and guarded over fears that the now vacant property would be ransacked.

Curious crowds have also turned up at Angkor Pyong Yu on successive Sundays following rumours that a "bad family" of serial killers would be displayed in cages at the entertainment park and that there was a display of human remains that had earlier been sold as dog food.

People even turned up at the Siem Reap prison to buy tickets to view the family in their cell, but prison officials said tickets were never on sale and the family had been moved to the province's new prison.

Police said that only one person had been murdered and three people robbed. Three of the five alleged killers, all related, are now in custody.

Police arrested Keo Sophay, 48, and her two sons Chea Sophealy, 26, and Kong Samedy, 17, according to Rasmey Kampuchea. The two daughters are still on the run.

Deputy police chief of Siem Reap district Mak Sam On said the reports grew as they were passed on.

"There was only one man killed, Ream Rith, who was a friend of one of the family members, and he was killed on Valentine's Day. We found his body early in the morning of February 15 at Pyong Yu," he said, adding that the alleged killers were arrested on February 22.

Angkor Thom commune police chief Yom Yat told the Post on Friday that the victim had delivered flowers to the home on Valentine's Day before heading into Siem Reap with one of the daughters. When the duo returned to the house at 1pm, the man was killed with a machete.

Yom Yat said that the following morning people alerted police to a body in the bush at Pyong Yu, and when police investigated, they found the remains wrapped in linen.

The dead man's family identified the body and informed the police that the victim was last known to be visiting the girl in Arak Svay village.

Originally denied entry to the home, police returned with a warrant and found the stolen motorbike, hair from the victim and a bloody machete.

Mak Sam On would not speculate on a motive for the murder and said that as far as police were concerned, the issue was nearly complete.

"Our investigation is almost over as three people have been charged with premeditated murder and motorbike robbery and are now in jail.

We are continuing to look for the daughters."

Disputed temple's visits fall: military

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Chhay Channyda
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

THE popularity of Preah Vihear temple, which received a steady flow of patriotic visitors in the first weeks after the border dispute with Thailand broke out in July, has plummeted as travellers see it as the starting point of any potential armed eruption between the two sides, say military officials on the ground.

"We have less people visiting the temple every day," said Yim Phim, commander of Brigade 8, stationed at Preah Vihear. He said only the occasional group trickled in.

That the nearly eight-month standoff's only armed fight came near Preah Vihear has had the effect of keeping people away, he said, adding that poor access routes to the ancient mountain temple were another reason.

"It's different from Ta Moan Thom temple. The lines [between Cambodian and Thai troops] are more organised there," he told the Post.

Indeed, the number of travellers to Ta Moan Thom, another disputed temple site along the border in Oddar Meanchey province, has remained high, with more than a thousand people visiting last Sunday, according to Neak Vong, deputy commander of Brigade 42, which is based there.

He said the site's popularity has forced soldiers there to adopt new duties: "Our soldiers now have to pick up plastic bags and garbage, and clean toilets for the tourists."

Putting theory into practice

Photo by: Sovann Philong
A Cambodian IT student comes to grips with the reality of the workplace.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy and Hor Hab
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Cambodia produces too many IT graduates every year for the limited jobs available – and many lack the hands-on experience the sector needs

CAMBODIA's universities are pumping out more graduates than its information technology sector can absorb.

While the exact number is unknown - the Ministry of Education does not release full figures - the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP) alone has produced around 500 IT graduates each year since 1997. Norton, Build Bright, Setec and Pannasastra universities also offer IT courses.

Ouk Chhieng, head of the computer science department at RUPP, said only 25 to 30 percent of IT graduates would find full-time work while a further 20 percent would be employed in temporary or part-time positions.

Those lucky enough to find a job were far from the finished product, said Erya Houn Heng, president and CEO of First Cambodia. "They need a lot of guidance in a real working environment and usually require one to two years' training before they can be considered efficient workers."

First Cambodia employs about 180 people in Laos and Cambodia, all drawn from local universities. It recruits around 30 new employees each year, picking just three or four out of every 100 it sees. While the average starting salary for a new employee is $150 per month, experienced workers can earn anywhere from $200 to $4,000 for senior managers.

Norton University graduate Min Phannarak works for software development company Arocore. Incredibly, or perhaps typically, when he enrolled to study IT he didn't even know how to turn a computer on.

He said his degree had not prepared him for work in the sector, and with no computer at home it was difficult to practice his skills.

"At university you learn the theory of software, but you don't know how it works - you are just told that you will need it in the future," he said.

But he was one of the lucky ones, he said. Most of his fellow graduates were unemployed or worked at computer shops for $80 to $100 a month.

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They are like rough diamonds that have not yet been polished.
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Arocore CEO Kit Hargreaves, who employs 13 Cambodians, said finding qualified graduates was difficult, particularly as no universities or schools in Cambodia taught Flash, a common development program.

Most of Arocore's Cambodian staff did manual database work as their skill levels were still low, Hargreaves said.

"We actually only have a couple of guys I can trust to be really good programmers."

He said a lack of intuition about computers and applications stemmed from inadequate teaching and the fact that few Cambodians had grown up around computers.

"What they learned in school - how to type code in theory or how to follow instructions in a book - isn't what makes a good programmer," he said.

"What makes a good programmer is being able to apply old technologies or established bits of code in a new and intuitive way, which is something Khmers have a long way to go in grasping."

Sous Sakal, business development manager at software design firm Blue Technology, said Cambodian programmers needed more practical work experience.

"I think local universities produce quality students; [but] they have not yet had the opportunities to develop to their full potential," he said.

"They are like rough diamonds that have not been polished."

Google zooms in on epidemics

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
The InSTEDD team in Phnom Penh use new technology to detect impending epidemics.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Geoffrey Cain
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Mobile phones and Google Earth may hold the key to a coordinated approach to the world’s worst epidemics, according to researchers currently undertaking field trials in Cambodia

Bird flu outbreaks continue to swoop on communities today, and while officials have managed to contain the disease, some responses have been uncoordinated, shortsighted and bungled.

And that's why techies are using Google Earth to predict where an outbreak will hit next.

To better coordinate responses to outbreaks, Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD) is developing artificial intelligence and text messaging technologies for humanitarian workers.

Cambodia is its first test site.

"I've repeatedly seen coordination failures put people and plans at risk, even when everyone involved was professional, dedicated, well-meaning and working very hard," said Eric Rasmussen, CEO of InSTEDD, in an email from California.

The San Jose-based NGO, funded by Google.org and the Rockefeller Foundation, started its first field laboratory in Cambodia in May 2008.

The group is also holding field trials in Mongolia, Ghana and Bangladesh. Speaking in Phnom Penh, Eduardo Jezierski, vice president of engineering and former Microsoft software developer, said the group was learning from the past.

"We're ... taking lessons from [Hurricane] Katrina and Banda Aceh [the 2004 tsunami], and trying to improve response to disasters," he said.

When a disaster hits, InSTEDD's artificial intelligence software can instantly coordinate several computers with different information, averting the red tape that so often hinders a speedy response.

"Different groups have different information, and the [computer] systems rarely talk to each other. Sometimes the data is outdated or incorrect," Jezierski said.

"This century's challenges will transcend categories, so we need to improve coordination," he added.

Evolving response to epidemics
Among the group's projects, the team in Phnom Penh is developing a software called Evolve, which detects impending epidemics by monitoring satellite maps and the media reports, said Taha Kass-Hout, adviser to InSTEDD.

Then, algorithms suggest the disease's means of spreading - food-borne, water-borne or other - and advises the best course of action.

"The great thing about Evolve is that we can zoom in on a region and source of the disease," Kass-Hout, a former physician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, told IRIN.

"Traditionally, this takes a lot more time, during which the disease can spread into a full-blown epidemic."

Evolve is now undergoing field trials with the World Health Organisation and the government and is to be released this summer.

The Cambodian lab is also testing GeoChat, a text-messaging program that pinpoints disease cases on a map when relief workers report them from their mobile phones.

With the technology, a command centre can quickly forge a unified response against an epidemic or disaster.

The organisation is working with the Ministry of Health and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to test the technology, set for release in May.

Designing the technology in the environment in which it is to be used, rather than a computer laboratory, was one of the keys to success, said Karl Brown, associate director of the Rockefeller Foundation.

"The fact that several of their tools are first of a kind, in that they don't really fit into any existing category of emergency response or public health surveillance tools is proof that they really did design the tools around the problem versus trying to mould the problem to existing tools."

Software developers eye strong market potential

Photo by: Anne Laure Poree
Kit Hargreaves says money spent on a good IT system is money well spent.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Poree and Hor Hab
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Opportunities are opening up for local developers of software and applications as the number of firms in Cambodia using information technology continues to grow.

"Locally produced software is a better fit to the local market than off-the-shelf international variants, as most available software doesn't account for local laws and often can't work with Khmer characters," said Sous Sakal, a business development manager at Blue Technology.

Accounting software was a good money-earner for the company, he said, fetching between $300 and $20,000 per program, depending on its complexity.

Erya Houn Heng, president and CEO of First Cambodia, a company specialising in system integration, said the local IT sector had almost unlimited opportunity to grow.

"Only about 5 percent of small and medium-sized enterprises in Cambodia are using computer systems," he said.

But for many companies, cost is a real obstacle to using advanced technology, said Kit Hargreaves, the 23-year-old boss of Arocore, a new arrival on the local technology development scene.

"But an IT system is the backbone, the life of the company in many ways," he said "If the money is spent well, you don't have any issues."

Arocore recently customised an ordering system for Elements, a new nightclub set to open in Phnom Penh, using an iPod Touch device, which allows waiters to transmit orders to the bar in real-time, improving efficiency and reducing errors. Integration with a central billing and inventory system also helps manage stock levels.

"The income generated was average compared to the time passed on this project, but through it we developed our skills and it is exactly what we love doing," Hargreaves said. "We like creativity."

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Locally produced software is a better fit to the local market.
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Theara Sam, Blue Technology's sales director, said the sector needed to be led.

"This is the story of the chicken and the egg," he said. "If there is more money injected in IT, IT will help the industry to grow. If we don't have the resources for a good product, it affects innovation." As the local market for software grows, many developers are looking further afield for sales opportunities.

"There is a strong market in Cambodia," Theara Sam said. "SMEs [Small and medium-sized enterprises] need to use technology, otherwise there will be obstacles to their growth. But we are thinking about expanding in the international market. A shop in Singapore will pay much more than a shop in Cambodia for the same kind of software."

Erya Houn Heng said First Cambodia was looking to expand throughout the ASEAN region. It already had an office in Laos and is in the process of registering an office in Vietnam for a launch later this year, he said.

Mobile-phone operators face the levelling force of the free market

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Mobile phones have become ubiquitous in Phnom Penh.


Mobile Market

Already operating:
- Mobitel (Royal Group)- 012, 092, 017
- Hello (Telekom Malaysia) - 015, 016, 081
- M-Fone (Camshin) - 011, 099, 085
- qb (Cadcomms) - 013
- Star-Cell (Applifone) - 098
- Excell (GT-Tell Cambodia) - 018
- MetFone (Viettel) - 097
- Smart Mobile (Latelz) - 010, 093

Due to start up:
- Beeline (Sotelco) venture - June 2009
- Kahua - company and launch date unknown

Final operator remains unknown


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Hor Hab
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

While Cambodia’s largely untapped mobile-phone market has potential for growth, insiders see the number of operators diminishing as the industry settles and the sector matures

AS the global economy slips into recession, domestic mobile-phone operators remain confident that Cambodia - a country with low mobile penetration rates and large untapped markets - will see mobile-phone usage continue to boom.

But with 11 mobile operators currently licensed in Cambodia, eight of which are operating, industry insiders say consolidation is likely once the market settles and the sector starts to mature.

"Cambodia provides a unique opportunity," said Syed Azmeer, chief marketing officer of mobile operator Hello. "If you look at the whole Mekong Basin or Indochina markets, this is one of the last untapped markets."

Hello, which is owned by Telekom Malaysia International, launched its new 081 phone prefix last month, and Azmeer said economic development and a heavy investment in infrastructure would drive the sector forward. "We've seen a good uptake in the last two years. We have a lot more people who can afford to own a phone now," he said.

Thomas Hundt, the CEO of Smart Mobile - a local subsidiary of Russian firm Latelz Co Ltd, which became Cambodia's eighth operator when it launched in February - said prospects for growth were "significant", and would compensate for any downturn in the global economy.

"Despite the economic crisis, Cambodia is still developing. In countries where development is taking place, telecommunications is one of the vital drivers," he said.

Room to move
Despite the heated competition in the Cambodian market, Hundt said that "poor" customer service levels and an undistributed market gave a lot of room for operators to carve out their own niche. "Despite the fact that there is a clear market leader, there are still significant developments to come in all dimensions of telecommunications," he added.

"There is a lot of potential and a lot of investments have been made."

While mobile phones have become ubiquitous in Phnom Penh and the major provincial towns, their presence conceals the fact that the market is still largely in its infancy.

Hello CEO Yusoff Zamri said although Cambodia had a SIM card penetration rate of around 30 percent, the figure overrated the true number of mobile users. He said that since many locals owned more than one phone, the estimated 3.8 million SIM cards in circulation translated to perhaps 3 million actual subscribers - leaving a market of nearly 12 million who are yet to enter the sector.

He added that Telekom Malaysia has invested "in excess of $100 million" in capital investments for the coming years, an indication of the company's confidence in the sector.

Price war
But in an unsettled, price-sensitive mobile market, some say that eight operators - leaving aside the three players that have been issued licences by the government but have not yet launched services - will saturate the local market and that local costs, while a benefit to consumers, would drive down profitability.

"Eight operators is too many," said Pasi Koistinen, CEO of Star Cell Mobile, owned by local operator Applifone Co Ltd. While low prices would be a boon for consumers, he said that there would be "no room" for new entrants, and that a price war would undercut companies' ability to conduct profitable business.

Some sort of consolidation was therefore inevitable, he said, and the 11 licences would likely shrink as firms merged or bowed out of the market.

Indeed, Asia's most developed economies have substantially consolidated local mobile operations: just three major state-owned operators make up the majority of the Chinese market, while Japan has five operators and Thailand four. Vietnam also has just four major players, although several new ventures are set to come online this year.

Hundt from Smart Mobile said consolidation would take place "in the medium to long term", but its exact form was hard to guess.

"I don't know any country in the world where eight or nine MP operators are in place," he said.

One method, said Hello CEO Yusoff Zamri, was direct government intervention in the sector. Zamri said Cambodia could follow the same path as Malaysia, which had eight operators until the government stepped in and forced them to merge with one another.

"What the government did was to force the companies to consolidate and let them talk amongst themselves and [work things out]. A couple years later, the number went down to three," he said. However, he added that consolidation depended largely on how willing the government was to intervene in a freely competitive market to "push" for consolidations.

In an interview with the Post March 23, So Khun, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, acknowledged that there were natural limits to the number of operators who could profitably operate in the domestic market, but that its international free trade obligations prevented it from forcing companies to consolidate. "I think Cambodia should have only three mobile service providers, but we can't limit the number we have as Cambodia is a member of the World Trade Organisation," he said.

Mao Chakrya, director general of the ministry, said the government would let open competition determine which operators prospered.

"The market is still there because penetration is still low, and the operators can see this," he said.
How the sector will settle over the next 10 years will be determined in large part on how operators can differentiate their services from one another.

Aside from the standard virtues of value for money and reliability, another potential frontier is technological innovation. With the launch of the qb (pronounced cube) network last March, 3G mobile internet services were pushed to the forefront of the Cambodian market.

Mao Chakrya said three operators - MobiTel, qb and M-Fone - were operating mobile internet services, and Hundt said Smart Mobile would introduce a 3G service later in the year.

Azmeer from Hello said the adoption of new electronic credit top-up technologies would increase the willingness of people to adopt mobile technologies.

"What's important here is the synergy between the bank and the telco," he said, adding that Hello was the first company to give its customers access to Wing services.

"We have the capacity and the security on the network to provide that [service]."
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No appetite for sharing among cambodia's mobile phone operators

EFFORTS are being made to reform Cambodia's notoriously anarchic mobile telecommunications industry, according to industry insiders, but officials say the government lacks the necessary laws to promote full cooperation between the country's eight telco operators.

Two related problems - network interconnectivity and mobile tower sharing - have put the brakes on the local industry, increasing call drop-out rates and delaying the arrival of new players into outlying markets.

Cambodia's mobile phone towers are owned by private companies, and without the regulatory framework, there is no way for the government to force operators into cooperation.

Thomas Hundt, CEO of Smart Phone, said that tower sharing had benefits both for the urban environment - by keeping the number of towers low - and for consumers, since companies did not each need to make expensive capital investments. "We are also in discussion about these things because we believe it benefits not only the mobile operators, but also the public domain," he said.

But Mao Chakrya, Director General of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said some operators could be reluctant to share antennae as it could affect their ability to optimise signals. However, in the absence of a legal framework for the issue, the ministry's hands were tied, he said. He refused to say if a draft law under consideration would force operators to share antennae, acknowledging only that legislation was not the only way to bring providers together.

"It could be a good business strategy for a private company to come and build antennae to lease to providers," he said.

In terms of interconnectability, the Cambodian government put responsibility in the hands of private operators. Hundt said Smart Phone had concluded interconnection agreements with all operators and that its interconnection operated at a "very high level".

Yusoff Zamri, CEO of Hello mobile, said that there had been considerable improvements in interconnectivity in recent years, but that there were still improvements to be made.

But he emphasised the problem was not technical, and that just one local operator - whom he declined to name - was preventing connection from Hello subscribers "We only have issues with one particular operator. Except for this particular operator, we have no issue: [other operators] reach consensus quite quickly," he said.

"It's not a technical issue. It's more a strategic issue from this operator."

Sebastian Strangio

Women finding their voice online

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Koulina Keo at work on her blog.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Geoffrey Cain
Tuesday, 31 March 2009

At less than half-a-percent, Cambodia has one of Asia's lowest rates of internet users – yet women make up nearly half its blogging community, which number in the thousands

FOR women looking to amplify their voices, blogs are leading the way in the Kingdom's women's empowerment movement.

While print, radio and TV remain male-dominated, the Kingdom's blogging scene showcases a disproportionate number of outspoken women, known as "BlogHers", writing about controversial topics.

"Most voices in the media have been dominated by high-ranking males in the government," said blogger Sopheap Chak. "Blogs are one medium that women, regardless of their position or political affiliation, can use to convey their voices to the public."

Sopheap Chak, who has written about human trafficking, corruption and women's issues in her iFocus blog, is one of the Kingdom's gutsiest bloggers, openly speaking out against government officials.

Death threat
She received one online death threat for criticising the CPP, she claimed, which read "It's the time to quit before you are getting kill CPP!! If I was you, I will look for the door now!" Most political blogs in the Kingdom remain anonymous.

"Blogs are one of the most exciting and innovative uses of technology for the right to expression while these rights are still restricted in Cambodia," Sopheap Chak said.

"We can share news, critically express our opinions and communicate through blogs."

Nearirath Sreng, a prominent BlogHer and one of Cambodia's few young female lawyers, received nationwide attention when she blogged about her experiences raising funds to compete in the prestigious Philip C Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Washington, DC.

"I love and really enjoy posting my blog about my experiences at Jessup because I have to ... update my coaches who couldn't make it to DC with us," she wrote by email from the competition. "And my little sister will read it every day to update my parents, too. So blogging is a good way to keep people I love and I know updated."

BlogHers also took centre stage on Women's Day on March 8, setting out their own beliefs in gender equality.

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With technology, we can bring Cambodia out of the past of poverty and war.
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"If you look at the past, women had to get involved most in family work," wrote Kounila Keo, a journalist. "But as time passes, the gender roles of men and women are, too, changing throughout the world. Women aren't just women now."

The Cloggers
The female blogger clique is part of a wider movement in the Kingdom known as the Cloggers, short for Cambodian bloggers.

The Cloggers began travelling around the Kingdom in 2005 under the leadership of popular blogger Mean Lux, holding workshops on information technology.

Since then, they've spawned from around 30 bloggers to a vibrant community in the thousands - nearly half of them women.

The popularity of blogs among women comes despite the Kingdom having an internet penetration rate of only 0.48 percent - or 70,000 Internet users out of a population of 14 million, among Asia's lowest.

"This is our wired generation of Cambodians," said Tharum Bun, a 27-year-old photographer widely perceived as the leader of the Cloggers. "With technology, we can bring Cambodia out of the past of poverty and war."

In September last year, the group hosted the first-ever BarCamp Phnom Penh, a popular technology conference where anyone can present. Techies attended from all over Southeast Asia, including representatives from Microsoft.

"The Cloggers are doing the right thing by just inviting as many people as possible and showing them technology in a neutral way," said Preetam Rai, former Southeast Asia editor for Global Voices Online, a blog aggregation service.

"Cambodia needs a generation of citizens who are able to discriminate information effectively."

Yet after the government ordered the website reahu.net to be blocked for its photos of semi-nude Apsara dancers, some bloggers worry censorship could hit their own content.

"In my opinion politicians have either not noticed online political blogs or they are deeply suspicious of them. I think Cambodia comes under the first category," Rai said.

"I am not sure how the politicians will behave when they do start encountering blogs critical to them.

"Practically speaking, blogs reach a very small percentage of Cambodian people. Politicians might as well ignore them for now," he added.