Saturday, 14 February 2009

Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province

A Muslim boy poses for a portrait in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province February 13, 2009. A landmine exploded nearby a day earlier, killing a family of three, local said. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)
Men watch boxing in a coffee shop in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province on February 13, 2009. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Children carry drinking water down a dirt road to their home in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province February 13, 2009. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A woman sells vegetables in the central market in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province February 13, 2009. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A boy rests in his father's arms as he shops in a market in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province February 13, 2009. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A boy picks fruit off a tree as smoke rises from burning fields in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province February 13, 2009. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Men move bags of corn from a truck entrapped in sand on the outskirts of Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province on February 13, 2009. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A sign warning of mines is placed on a road as Cambodian soldiers search for mines on the outskirts of Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province February 13, 2009. A landmine exploded nearby a day earlier, killing a family of three, local said. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian soldiers look for mines on a dirt road on the outskirts of Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, in western Cambodia's Battambang province February 13, 2009. A landmine exploded nearby a day earlier, killing a family of three, local said. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Jayo Tan, a 55-year-old former Khmer Rouge solider, purchases rice at the central market in Pailin, a former strong hold for the Khmer Rouge, in western Cambodia's Battambang province on February 13, 2009. Tan said he lost his right eye in 1990 to artillery fire on Wat Phnom Sampeau. On February 17, Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Jayo Tan, a 55-year-old former Khmer Rouge solider, purchases rice at the central market in Pailin, a former strong hold for the Khmer Rouge, in western Cambodia's Battambang province on February 13, 2009. Tan said he lost his right eye in 1990 to artillery fire on Wat Phnom Sampeau. On February 17, Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Kon Pun, a 49-year-old former Khmer Rouge solider, sits on the front porch of his home in Pailin, a former stronghold for the Khmer Rouge, in western Cambodia's Battambang province February 13, 2009. Pun said he lost each leg to a different landmine while serving under the Khmer Rouge regime. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian Government soldier Mar Viehet, 48, makes his way along a dusty road in Kampon Speu province, Cambodia, Saturday, Feb, 14, 2009. Viehet lost a leg to a landmine while fighting against the Khmer Rouge in 1980. Next week a tribunal is set to begin on Feb. 17, 2009, to try five Khmer Rouge leaders accused of crimes against humanity. At least 1.7 million people died of disease, executions or were worked to death during the Khmer Rouge's reign from 1975 to 1979.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Former Cambodian Government soldier Moa Chhay, 71, looks on from a wheel chair Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009, near Veal Thom village in Kampon Speu, Cambodia. Chhay lost both legs to a landmine while fighting against the Khmer Rouge. Next week a tribunal is set to begin on Feb. 17, 2009, to try five Khmer Rouge leaders accused of crimes against humanity. At least 1.7 million people died of disease, executions or were worked to death during the Khmer Rouge's reign from 1975 to 1979.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Cambodian Government soldier Mar Viehet, 48, walks near Veal Thom village in Kampon Speu, Cambodia, Saturday, Feb, 14, 2009. Viehet lost a leg to a landmine while fighting against the Khmer Rouge in 1980. Next week a tribunal is set to begin on Feb. 17, 2009, to try five Khmer Rouge leaders accused of crimes against humanity. At least 1.7 million people died of disease, executions or were worked to death during the Khmer Rouge's reign from 1975 to 1979.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Cambodian tourists offer blessings for a safe highway journey at a popular stop in Pechnil Hill, Cambodia, on the way to Sihanoukville Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Former Khmer Rouge fighter Nov Sann, 53, and son Sam Seng Hong, 11, look on from their rural Cambodian home in Veal Thom village of Kampon Speu province, Cambodia, Saturday, Feb. 14, 2009. Sann lost both arms to a landmine while fighting Cambodian Government forces in 1993. Next week a tribunal is set to begin on Feb. 17, 2009, to try five Khmer Rouge leaders accused of crimes against humanity. At least 1.7 million people died of disease, executions or were worked to death during the Khmer Rouge's reign from 1975 to 1979.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)

Cambodia to ban foreign gays from adopting children

Foreign gays will be banned for adopting

By Staff Writer,

New rules on foreign adoption in Cambodia will ban a range of foreigners from the process.

Gay people, single people, those on a "low income" and those who already have two children will not be able to adopt.

In meetings with Jean Paul Monchau, the French official responsible for overseeing international adoptions, Cambodian officials expressed concern about the "potential psychological effects" of adoptions by these groups, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

If a proposed law on adoption is approved by the National Assembly it will codify these exclusions. It will also make it legal for parents to put their children up for aoption - at present only orphans are eligible for foreign adoption.

Homosexual acts are legal in Cambodia, and in 2004 the King expressed support for same-sex marriage.

The concept of sexuality as understood in Western culture has little meaning in Cambodia and as a result many people who have sex with people of the same gender do not identify as "gay" or "bisexual."

A gay community has emerged in the past ten years, and the first Pride event was held in Phnom Penh in 2003.

During the 1970s the Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodian society, killing educated people and forcing city dwellers into the countryside to work the land.

During their reign of terror they discarded Western medicine, destroyed temples and libraries. More than one million people died.

As a result Cambodia was left with many orphans, widows, and single-parent families.

Violence and poltical instability in the years following the overthrown of the Khmer Rouge meant that 1999 was the first full year of peace in 30 years.

Travel: Angkor, the mysterious temple complex of Cambodia

A figure carved out of solid rock at the ancient temple of Angkor Wat.

Providence Journal, RI
Sunday, February 15, 2009

By Ellen Creager

Detroit Free Press

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — For something so ancient, the rock face looked as content as a man who’s just eaten a big slice of peach pie.

“Who made you?” I whispered. “Were you lonely when nobody came to visit for 400 years?”

No answer. Just a smile.

That is the fascination of Angkor, the mysterious temple complex of Cambodia. As at the pyramids of Egypt or the temples of the Maya, visitors here must infer the nature of a civilization from the astounding architecture left behind.

Angkor, located in the city of Siem Reap in central Cambodia, probably should have been a winner in 2007’s New Seven Wonders of the World contest. In scope and beauty, it easily beats Mexico’s Chichen Itza and possibly even Peru’s Machu Picchu. It likely lost because fewer people have seen it than the other attractions. Although 2 million tourists a year visit Angkor now, the site was basically covered by the jungle from 1500 to 1900, then off-limits to visitors due to war and political instability in Cambodia from the 1960s to 1998.

Its masterpiece is Angkor Wat, a funky temple built in the 12th century in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu. Stunningly original, the temple’s five towers were built using porous clay foundations and sandstone exteriors. Put together with an unknown mortar, its stones were stacked like a Jenga puzzle, each piece fitting atop the other into tall spires.

Yet Angkor Wat is only one of 72 major temples, and the Angkor ruins area is more than 1,000 miles square.

The rise-and-fall story of Angkor is dramatic enough to fill 10 history books. Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the great Khmer Empire spread over what are now parts of Laos and Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Its center was Angkor, the home of the kings, temples, fountains and gold.

A series of attacks by the Siamese and exhaustion of the land by over-farming led to the abandonment of the city in the early 15th century, historians believe. That’s when most of Angkor fell victim to the jungle for 400 years. There it sat, while nations rose and fell, while America was discovered, while Shakespeare wrote Hamlet.

When French archaeologists in the late 19th century rediscovered Angkor and started pulling the vines away and looking at what remained, they were astonished. We still are.

It takes all day for even a bare-bones tour. You can start before sunrise and watch the sun come up over the towers of Angkor Wat, stay all day, then watch the sun go down from a hill nearby.

Some of the ruins have been sufficiently restored so that you can wander the halls and climb the steps. Yet most are only partly put back together, giving the ruins a tumble down feel, as if you’d just stopped by after an earthquake.

Angkor Wat, built in the early 12th century by King Suryavarman II, is the star of Angkor. But I preferred the Bayon, a nearby temple with 49 towers emblazoned with nearly 200 huge carved images of a pleasantly smiling face. Historians believe the images represent either King Jayavarman VII, who built the temple in the late 12th century, or the Buddhist “compassionate being” Lokesvara, or both.

Yet, the Bayon is not just a happy-face ruin. It’s also an ancient art gallery, with wonderful bas-relief murals depicting the ordinary life of the Angkor people — gambling, in childbirth, dancing, cooking, playing, hunting and fishing. These murals not only are a kind of Facebook posting of daily life back then, they illuminate the high standard of living at Angkor in its heyday, when people had enough to eat, safety, leisure and time to create such art.

You don’t need a guide to visit the Angkor complex, but I would recommend it. The complex is so huge that it helps to have someone show you high points you might miss on your own.

Many tourists get around by tuk-tuk, a cart with an awning pulled by a motorcycle driver. Other sightseers visit by car, van, tour bus, bicycle or even by elephant, depending on what kind of tour they book.

Inside the complex, it’s not just sightseers. Local people gather sheaves of rattan, the reed used to weave baskets. Cattle wander amid the chaos. An ice cream truck parks in a field. At most of the popular temples and sites, persistent children sell sticky rice, baskets, scarves, bracelets, guidebooks, bananas, pineapple chunks and Fanta Orange.

The average tourist needs at least two days to see Angkor, but archaeology buffs will want to stay longer.

One of the most photo-friendly sites is Ta Prohm, a temple-monastery. Today, visitors can see the temple much as it was found in the early 1900s, with giant kapok tree roots winding through the doors and windows, so that the stone temple appears to be part of the natural landscape. Also lovely is Neak Pean, a pond with a fountain as elegant as anything you’d find at Versailles.

Today, the Angkor Wat complex is in no danger of fading away. Huge luxury hotels have opened pell-mell outside the park just in the last three years. About 3,000 new hotel rooms are about to be added to the 7,000 already here.

Naturally, environmentalists aren’t happy about the unregulated hustle and bustle right next to a UNESCO World Heritage site. They worry about the water table under Angkor being sucked dry by hotel wells. They worry that the site’s fragile ruins can’t handle the traffic.

Still, I keep thinking that the kings who built Angkor would probably love all the attention.

From the 1960s to 1998, Cambodia was either at war, crippled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, or unstable. Now, the fledgling democratic nation is trying to make up for lost time in expanding tourism at a frenetic pace in Siem Reap/Angkor, the destination for half of all tourists to Cambodia.

Ready or not, Tourism Cambodia expects up to 3 million tourists at Angkor by 2010.If you go . .

GETTING THERE: Fly into Siem Reap’s 2-year-old Angkor International Airport from nearby Bangkok, Thailand; Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; or Singapore. No direct flights from the U.S.

VISA: Needed but easy to obtain through Cambodia’s e-visa program. Get it before arrival for $25 at

LODGING: Most hotels in Siem Reap are new and less than a mile from the gates of the Angkor complex. Try Tara Angkor (about $90-up,

MONEY: Cambodia uses the riel, but it also uses U.S. dollars; no need to exchange money.

TOURS: Most tourists to Angkor go as part of a larger tour of Southeast Asia. However, it is possible to fly in on your own and hire an Angkor guide through your hotel.

TICKETS: A one-day ticket to Angkor is $20; a 3-day pass is $40; purchase at the Angkor entrance gate; if you’re on a tour your guide will take care of this.

SHOPPING: Siem Reap has nice handicrafts at local markets and roadside shops. Look for textiles, baskets and marble statues of Buddha.


Take a break from the heat every two hours while touring the ruins. Weather can be humid and in the 90s. Wear a hat and sunscreen; carry water.

Read up on Hinduism and Buddhism and the history of Cambodia to better appreciate what you are seeing.

Try to shoot Angkor photos in late afternoon when the light is best. Also shoot in black and white for a quaint result.

Learn a little of the Khmer language, although most Cambodians who deal with tourists speak some English. For instance, “Angkor” means city. “Wat” means temple.

Document links RCAF shake-up to land deals

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- The official record of a Council of Ministers meeting held the day after the Jan. 22 dismissal of RCAF (Royal Cambodian Armed Force) Commander-in-ChiefKe Kim Yan said that the government has ordered an investigation of the former military leader and his business associates over several land deals across the country, national media reported Saturday.

CPP (the Cambodian People's Party) and military officials have repeatedly claimed that the ouster Ke Kim Yan was solely to promote reforms within the military, but according to the minutes of a Jan. 23 meeting of the Council of Ministers, land issues were also at play in the decision, the Cambodia Daily newspaper said.

According to the meeting minutes, "The Council of Ministers has been informed and commented on the termination of the position of commander-in-chief from HE Ke Kim Yan based on two reasons:

"First, reforming the RCAF rank and file by adhering to work effectiveness in the military rank and file.

"Second, involvement with land issues by a top, powerful person in the military rank and file .. and doing business by using the name of military for personal gain."

The minutes go on to describe a resolution by the Council of Ministers to have both military and government bodies investigate Ke Kim Yan's land dealings.

However, newly appointed RCAF Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun and Defense Minister Tea Banh both said they are not looking into Ke Kim Yan's properties.

"Anything relating to Ke Kim Yan has ended since his termination from the position of RCAF high commander," Tea Banh told the Cambodia Daily.

Editor: Bi Mingxin

Cambodia holds photo show to highlight wedding culture

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 14 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the French Center of Culture were holding a week-long photo show to highlight wedding culture, said Khmer-language newspaper the Rasmei Kampuchea on Saturday.

Altogether 400 out of 1,000 submitted photos were posted at the center to feature traditional wedding ceremonies of different nationalities.

"The show is meaningful for humanity and it allows us to understand other traditions and cultures in wedding days," Hem Chem, Cambodia Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, was quoted as saying.

Kau Borin, representative of the show, said that the photos were sent from all over the world.

The exhibition started earlier this week and is expected to conclude on Sunday.

Editor: Bi Mingxin

Masters of Cambodia's killing fields face justice at last

Times Archive, 1977: 'Evidence' of mass executions

Officials believe that the number of people killed in Cambodia since the communist victory 'appears to be in the tens if not hundreds of thousands'

Wave of barbarity hits Cambodia, 1978
The desperate struggle for Cambodia
Kampuchean death toll mounts, 1979

Related Links
Former Khmer Rouge torturers turn accusers
Justice comes calling for Pol Pot’s right-hand man
Pol Pot henchmen face trial after 30 years

A Buddhist monk contemplates the torture chambers in Tuol Sleng prison, now a museum. An estimated 17,000 men, women and children were tortured and murdered in the former school

Vann Nath, centre, and Bou Meng, to his right, pictured in 1980 with other survivors. Both will be in court this week as their tormentor goes on trial


February 14, 2009

Anne Barrowclough in Phnom Penh Him Huy, a seasoned executioner at Tuol Sleng, studied the list of names of people he would kill that night. When the silent, terrified prisoners had been lifted on to his lorry he drove them out to the pretty orchard on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. There, he took them one by one to the ditches that had been freshly dug, forced them to kneel and clubbed them to death with an iron bar.

“Sometimes it took just one blow, sometimes two,” he told The Times. “After I clubbed them someone else would slit their throats. But every time I clubbed someone to death I would think, tomorrow, this might be me kneeling here, with one of the other guards killing me.”

In the orgy of cruelty unleashed on Cambodia during the insane years of Pol Pot's rule, Tuol Sleng, formerly a high school, was to become a symbol of the apocalyptic state the Khmer Rouge created. Enveloped in secrecy and identified only by the code name S-21, it existed solely to interrogate and kill the men and women incarcerated behind its walls, the vast majority of whom would never leave it alive.

From 1976, until Vietnamese troops took over Phnom Penh in January 1979, as many as 17,000 men, women and children were taken to S-21 to be interrogated for counter-revolutionary crimes, and then killed. Only 14 are known to have survived, although recent evidence suggests that five child prisoners may have escaped and still be alive today.

Thousands of innocents died here - but so too did members of Pol Pot's own circle, Khmer Rouge soldiers and the prison's own guards. “Out of my interrogation unit of 12, only I survived,” said Prak Khan, a soldier who became a torturer at the prison.

The man who presided over the atrocities of Tuol Sleng with fanatical devotion was Kang Kek Ieu, also known as Comrade Duch, who was posted to S-21 in 1976. He goes to trial this week, accused of crimes against humanity.

Today Cambodia is, on the surface, a peaceful country with a thriving tourist industry. Casual conversations with Cambodians reveal nothing of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge years. But behind the superficial serenity, the people are still traumatised by their memories. In interviews with The Times, the prison survivors, guards and even those who carried out the worst atrocities described Duch as a man of almost sub-human cruelty, who instilled terror into prisoners and guards.

Bou Meng, an artist who was taken to S-21 in 1977, remembers how Duch would visit the room where he and dozens of other prisoners were shackled to the floor. “He ordered me to beat the man beside me with a bamboo cane while he watched,” he said. “Then Duch ordered the man to beat me. You could see the pleasure in his face.” Duch was a frequent visitor to the torture rooms, where he drove the interrogation units to ever-harsher techniques as they worked through the day and night in four-hour shifts.

“The sound of screaming was all around us all the time,” said Vann Nath, a former prisoner and now a renowned artist.

Duch brought the orderly mind of a dedicated teacher to S-21. He kept a meticulous record of the prison's workings and read every confession. Often, he would send them back with corrections marked in red pen, as if they were the test papers of a reluctant student. “Sometimes the confessions came back saying, ‘must get more from the prisoner',” said Prak Khan.

The prisoners were deemed guilty simply because they had been accused - and it was the interrogators' duty to force them to admit that guilt.

Many admitted to crimes they did not even understand. “I had not even heard of the CIA,” said Bou Meng. “But they beat me with bamboo rods and electric cables until I confessed that I worked for the CIA and the KGB.”

“We kept torturing them until they confessed,” said Prak Khan. “If they didn't, the torture got worse. We pulled out their finger and toenails and gave them electric shocks. Sometimes we would tie a bag over their head so they suffocated. We'd take it off just as they were about to fall unconscious. If they still didn't confess, they'd be killed.”

Some inmates were sent to a clinic to “donate” blood to the army hospitals. Prak Khan, whose interrogation room was adjacent to the doctors' clinic, said: “They would bring the prisoners blindfolded and tie them to the beds with their legs and arms spread out. They attached lines to their arms. The tubes led to a bottle on the floor. They pumped all the blood out until the bodies were limp. Then they threw the bodies into pits outside.”

The routine was always the same for the prisoners taken to S-21. Told they were being taken from their homes to work as teachers, doctors or mechanics, they were handcuffed on arrival, photographed and forced into cells, often 60 at a time, where they were shackled by the ankle. They were banned from speaking to guards or each other. At night they were not allowed even to turn over without permission.

“If the guards heard our shackles they would beat us,” said Chum Mey, a mechanic. He spent his first two weeks being tortured day and night. “They pulled out my fingernails and toenails. Then they put electric wires in my ears. I heard the generator and then I felt the fire coming out of my eyes. After 12 days and 12 nights I signed their confession and they took me to a big room with other prisoners. Every night we waited to hear the trucks come. If midnight arrived and they hadn't come we knew we would live another 24 hours.”

The guards lived through their own hell. Him Huy, known to the prisoners as “Cruel Him”, said: “One day I would be guarding prisoners with another soldier and that afternoon the other soldier would be arrested. You always expected to be arrested.”

Prak Khan often recognised old friends among the people taken into S-21. “When I heard the names of people I knew, I pretended I didn't know them,” he said. “If I showed I recognised them I would be killed too.”

After the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, Duch disappeared into the jungle. In 1996 he met a group of American missionaries and converted to Christianity. A journalist discovered him working as a medical orderly in 1999 and he was arrested, at last, by the Cambodian police. On Tuesday Bou Meng, Chum Mey and the S-21 guards will be among the scores of Cambodians who will crowd into a courtroom to see their tormentor brought to trial.

Duch has since apologised to the survivors of S-21 but it is not enough. “He asked my forgiveness,” said Bou Meng. “I could not give it to him.”


In 1975 the army of the Khmer Rouge, a Maoist guerrilla force, took Phnom Penh. Their leader, Pol Pot, claimed he wanted to create a Utopia of radical egalitarianism in which money was abolished, possessions were banned and private property was destroyed in favour of rural collectives

He unleashed a reign of terror which converted a peaceful, sleepy country into a huge concentration camp. Cambodians became slaves in a new Stone Age, likened to oxen and exhorted by their leaders to admire the beast who eats “where we tell him to eat” and “never thinks of wife and children”

1.7 million people, a quarter of the population, died of famine and disease or were executed for “counter-revolutionary crimes”

Thousands were killed for wearing spectacles, which marked them out as intellectuals. Knowing a foreign language became a death sentence; babies and the elderly were murdered because they were useless for work

The mass graves in which the victims were thrown are still being uncovered; it is estimated that a minimum of 20,000 killing fields are scattered through Cambodia.

No other country has lost so great a proportion of its population in such a short period in the pursuit of an ideal

Pol Pot's rule ended in 1979 when Cambodians opposed to his regime joined Vietnamese forces to overthrow the Khmer Rouge. He and a substantial number of troops retreated to the Thai-Cambodian border, set up a new headquarters and continued a civil war for the next decade

After Pol Pot ordered the murder of a loyal deputy he was tried by a “people's tribunal” of his own colleagues and sentenced to life imprisonment. He died in his own bed shortly afterwards

The Use of Agricultural Chemical Pesticides Is Still Popular despite Knowing that They Are Dangerous - Friday, 13.2.2009

Posted on 14 February 2009
The Mirror

“Phnom Penh: Even though there are reminders from officials of the Ministry of Agriculture to be careful when using agricultural chemical pesticides, at present, many farmers at different places said that they still cannot give it up. Farmers in Kandal said that the use of agricultural chemical pesticides is still a crucial method that cannot be given up so that their crops provide good yields to meet the markets and their needs. In the meantime, experts found that there are up to 147 types of agricultural chemical pesticides sold on markets, and among them between 40 and 50 types strongly harm the health of consumers.

“Mr. Nob (name provided by the writer), 48, a farmer in a commune of Kandal S’ang district, said that so far, he still uses agricultural chemical pesticides, although he knows that they can affect his health and that of the consumers, because there is no choice.

“Kandal borders on Phnom Penh, and it is a province which supplies agricultural products, such as vegetables and fruits to the markets in Phnom Penh and in other provinces. Some districts along the lower Mekong and Basak rivers are also sources of vegetables.

“Mr. Nob is a farmer growing many kinds of crops, such as cabbage, salad, and [edible] Khatna flowers in his village, in order to supply them to the markets in Phnom Penh. The method he uses to take care of his crops until they provide yields is to use agricultural chemical pesticides that he can buy easily from different places in his locality.

“He said, ‘I must use them so that my crops grow well, and if I do not use them, worms will eat all the crops.’ According to his description, he and his villagers have so far not seen any official experts in agriculture coming to instruct them and to explain the impact of the use of agricultural chemical pesticides, and to start to produce natural poison or natural fertilizer, although nowadays, the Minister of Agriculture and some organizations are encouraging citizens to cut down on the use of agricultural poison or chemical fertilizers, saying one can change to natural fertilizer and natural methods of pest control.

“Responding to this problem, the Svay Prateal commune chief in S’ang, Kandal, Mr. Nuon Soeun, said that agricultural officials did never come to explain the impact of the use of agricultural chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizer, but previously, there were organizations coming to help educate farmers some time, but the farmers seemed not interested in it. He added that natural pesticides are likely more difficult to produce and more tiring than to use chemical pesticides.

“He went on to say, ‘I also used to produce poison to prevent insects from destroying some types of crops, it takes half a month at least to find the resources and to mix them. As for chemical pesticides, I just go to the market to buy them, mix them with water, and apply it on crops; that’s all.’

“According to his experience, to produce natural poison to prevent insects, farmers need to find many different resources such as the bark of the Sdao tree, the poisonous fruit of the Sleng tree, and the poisonous bark of the Kantuot tree, and soak them in water that is then used to apply to the crops. He said that doing so is complicated and can make farmers get tired of it. According to information from him, among more than 3,000 families, most of them take up cropping, and up to 90% of them use agricultural chemical pesticides or chemical fertilizer.

“At present, the Ministry of Agriculture, especially the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Chan Sarun, who always goes directly to different localities countrywide, appeals to farmers to change their habits from using agricultural chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizer to using natural poison and natural fertilizer. The change, that the Ministry of Agriculture wants, is to ensure the health of the farmers themselves and also of the consumers; that is to care for the quality of soil and water - without any poison. Many hazards might happen because farmers use chemical pesticides without proper instruction from experts. Also, the ministry encourages its officials to go to educate farmers at their localities about these problems.

“The S’ang district governor, Mr. Khim Chankiri, and the director of the Kandal Agricultural Department, Mr. Bun Tuon Simona, denied what residents had mentioned: that expert officials never reach out to them to instruct them about the impact of chemical pesticides, and they said that these problems are what they actually are focusing on.

“Mr. Chankiri added that before, district officials went to instruct them about these problems, and moreover, the department had sent officials. He continued to say, ‘Most of them thought it was wasting their time, instead of working on cropping, but they did take part. This is why they said that there was never any official going to educate them regularly.’ As for Mr. Tuon Simona, he said that so far, the agricultural department went to educate them regularly about how to create natural fertilizer and many different measures to protect crops and prevent impacts of the use of agricultural chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizer.

“However, according to another farmer in another province and some other people, they said the same about the presence of agricultural officials. They said that they rarely saw agricultural officials going to meet farmers, except when there were ceremonies to accompany their higher officials. Actually, relating to this problem, obviously there should be more active outreach by experts than before, rather than pointing to the statements of higher officials. They often assume that lower officials are inactive for different reasons, or they create just project expenses about non existing tasks. Therefore, farmers cannot receive what the Minister wants.

“Regarding this problem, the director of the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture [CEDAC], Dr. Yang Saing Koma, said that generally, the use of agricultural chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizer has become already a habit of the farmers. Thus, to change them, takes time and needs participation.

“He added, ‘If the use of chemical products has already become their habit, it is most difficult to change.’

“By now, there are hundreds of types of agricultural chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizer on the local markets - according to a study by the Cambodian Center for Study and Development in Agriculture .

“The project coordinator of CEDAC, Mr. Keam Makarady said that in 2008, the center found there were up to 147 types of agricultural chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizer at the markets all over Cambodia, among which 53% were imported from Vietnam and 37% from Thailand. Among them, from 40 to 50 types can enter into vegetables and fruit, when pesticides are administered on them.

“He emphasized, ‘Talking about chemical substances, we found 147 types, but talking about commercial names of pesticides, there are up to 606 types.’

“According to the findings of the center in 2007, there were only 132 agricultural chemical pesticides on the market, and 472 commercial names. Therefore, within one year, all his increased greatly.

“He said that that those kinds of pesticides are harmful to the health of users, particularly farmers, who use and touch them directly.

“Based on Mr. Makarady words, those pesticides can directly affect farmers, for example they cause getting dizzy and having to vomit, they can damage the stomach and the bladder, cause skin diseases, and weaken the health. They indirectly affect also consumers who eat their products, especially chemical pesticides that can enter into vegetables and fruit.

“Relating to the use of agricultural chemical pesticides and chemical fertilizer, a farmer in Kandal, who grows banana, said (by not mentioning his name), that - in order to meet their demands - farmers use those chemical pesticides. He added that if they grow and their products depend only on the nature, farmers cannot harvest enough to meet the demands of the market.

“He emphasized, ‘After a banana tree loses its flowers, it takes three months for bananas to ripe. But if chemicals are applied, they can make it ripe within two months. Just apply chemicals one or two times, and small bananas grow really big, and they look as if they had been pumped up like a balloon.

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.17, #4820, 13.2.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Friday, 13 February 2009

Political interference at the tribunal?


Posted by Elena in ECCC, Duch
Fri 13 Feb 2009

Although she has been a relatively understated figure at the court, Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang is attracting a good deal of attention at the moment. Her stand against additional investigations at the ECCC puts her at odds not only with her foreign counterpart, Robert Petit, but also with court watchers who suspect her decision is not wholly independent.

"The nature of Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang's opposition to investigation of additional suspects beyond the five already charged has raised concern that she may not be free to act independently in determining appropriate targets for prosecution," tribunal monitor the Open Society Justice Initiative writes in its most recent report. "Her objections seemingly acknowledge the sufficiency of the evidence and legal basis for proceeding with the investigations, yet she refused to agree for reasons which are not factually supported and appear as pretext."

In its February 2009 report, the watchdog group highlights funding shortfalls, unresolved corruption allegations and the disagreement between prosecutors as to whether the court should pursue additional suspects. Petit filed an official "Statement of Disagreement" in early December and Chea issued a public response saying she feared additional investigations would jeopardize Cambodia's stability.

While I do not want to underplay the importance of resolving corruption allegations at the tribunal, it is this issue surrounding additional suspects that strikes me as the most critical measure of the court's legitimacy.

As OSJI points out, the funding problem will most likely be addressed when the corruption allegations and prosecution dispute are resolved. Although the court must develop stronger anti-corruption mechanisms, anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in Cambodia knows how entrenched corruption is in all institutions here. If staffers do indeed have to pay kickbacks to higher ups, the practice needs to stop. But does it undermine the court's judicial integrity in the way a politically manipulated roster of defendants would?

I don't think so.

Even when negotiations for the court were underway, parties worked to create potential safeguards against political interference. The dispute resolution process that was finally adopted was meant to address concerns that prosecutors might disagree either based on the "merits of any particular individual being charged" or "because one of the co-prosecutors appears politically influenced and the other seeks the ruling of the Pre-Trial Chamber to ensure the integrity of the ECCC," according to OSJI.

"'Obviously, during the negotiations, concerns about political influence were dealt with delicately, but everyone knew we were building a dispute settlement mechanism to overcome either merits or political disagreement,'" David Scheffer, former US Ambassador for War Crimes and a key negotiator, told OSJI.Â

The Justice Initiative report continues: "The reasons put forth by the Cambodian prosecutor justifying her decision not to proceed are not related to the merits of the evidence and so suggest that the political motivations that worried the drafters of the Agreement are the basis for her decision."

Now, the decision over additional prosecutions rests with the Pre-Trial Chamber. How the chamber rules will, most likely, be a defining moment for the court. For some, it will be the ultimate test of the tribunal's judicial independence -- and an indicator of whether the court is to be taken seriously.

Despite all the hype leading up to the trial of "Comrade Duch," as scholar Peter Maguire pointed out in a recent commentary, "Duch is a garden variety war criminal who could be quickly and easily convicted by a basic military tribunal for his well documented violations of basic human rights norms."

It is how the complicated cases of more senior leaders are handled that will make or break the tribunal. And "some speculate that the Cambodian government is serving up this easily convicted thug as a sacrificial lamb in the hopes that the other over-80 defendants won't live long enough to see the inside of the courtroom," Maguire continues.

While he's not convinced of the practicality of pursuing additional defendants, Maguire concedes that the decision handed down by the Pre-Trial Chamber will be a crucial test of the court's integrity:

"It did not take the Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang (niece of Deputy Prime Minister Sok An) long to reject the move on both practical and political grounds. If nothing else, the UN's attempt to broaden this criminal inquiry will serve both as a test of the mixed tribunal's legitimacy and its ability to function as a court.

"For many years, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen was firmly in control of these proceedings, but by opening further criminal investigations, the UN has challenged his control. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Cambodian prime minister has the political will to try the Khmer Rouge political leaders." Â

Khanh Hoa’s Command strengthens tie with Cambodia’s Stung-Treng

Voice of the Armed Forces and People, Vietnam
Friday, 13/02/2009

PANO – Military Commands of two provinces of Vietnam and Cambodia have agreed to continue increasing their cooperation to protect the social security in their localities.

This agreement was reached during the first meeting between the military authorities from the two commands to review their cooperative tasks in 2008, and to sign a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) for cooperation this year.

The Cambodian military partner also agreed to continue help Vietnamese teams in their search for the graves of Vietnamese soldiers who sacrificed their lives in Cambodia during military campaigns there.

Earlier, Khanh Hoa’s Military Command asked the Provincial People’s Committee to help support Cambodia’s Stung-Treng Province’s Military Command in building an 200 square-metre office for the unit and to provide other needed equipment.

Translated by Ngoc Hung

Civil service in Cambodia: magistrates in their sixties are resisting

Kampong Som (Cambodia). 28/08/2007: Provincial court of Kampong Som
© John Vink / Magnum


By Duong Sokha

It is retirement time for the sixty-year-old. The order given to all ministries in Cambodia in the directive issued on January 12th 2009 by prime Minister Hun Sen cannot be clearer. Once the fateful retirement age - sixty years - is reached, civil servants are required to leave their positions. The measure is officially aimed at improving “governance” and “efficiency” in the management of the administration. But it is not to the liking of all those concerned, little inclined to exchange their small salary for a most hypothetical pension. In order to avoid being forced to leave, some have requested more or less successfully the intervention of high officials, while others have not hesitated to falsify civil status documents to make themselves a few years younger. In the Ministry of Justice, the administration proves even more understanding with its old magistrates, who are allowed “extensions” due to staff shortage.

A difficult replacement
In the January 12th directive, which actually only aims to remind ministries of their obligation to implement the Law on the common statute of civil servants promulgated on October 24th 1994, Hun Sen stresses that any false age declaration and any delay in making civil servants retire are formally prohibited. But has this call really been heard by the judicial power, which neutrality has been so often questioned by the population? Heard, undoubtedly. Implemented, that is a different story.

Without taking a stance on the legitimacy of the measure, Keo Sophal, Under-Secretary of State to Justice in charge of the personnel and administration section, simply recalls that the appointment, reassignment, sanction and retirement of magistrates do not fall within the competence of the government, but of the Supreme Council of Magistracy (SCM) of Cambodia, an institution comprised of eight members and presided by King Norodom Sihamoni. “Some judges who have reached retirement age have submitted a written request to the SCM to delay the start of their retirement. The Council is the one who will allow it or not,” he declares.

But the high official still wonders, “If old magistrates were all forced to retire, would there remain enough judges to rule on the disputes of citizens?” He then shares some evocative figures: there are only 188 judges and 91 prosecutors today in Cambodia, for a population of 13.4 million people.

Sympathetic attention
The SCM is empowered to rule in favour – or not – of those judges who intend to keep their functions beyond their 60th summer. And it can only be noticed that the Council has not refrained from doing so. For instance, in a royal decree signed on January 31st 2009 by King Sihamoni, that is 19 days after the publication of the prime Minister's directive, the SCM decided to allow four 60-year-old judges to continue working for one year, thereby giving a favourable response to their request. Recently contacted by telephone, two of the four concerned judges, Thong Ol, vice-president of the provincial court of Kampong Cham and reserve co-investigating judge at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in charge of judging former Khmer Rouge leaders, and Pol Vorn, president of the provincial court of Pursat, flatly refused to comment the decision and explain their motives.

Henrot Raken, SCM member and general prosecutor of the Cambodian Court of Appeal, justifies the conciliatory attitude of the Council on the grounds of a lack of available human resources to ensure the replacement of the retiring magistrates. According to him, until now, the SCM has reportedly forced only one magistrate to retire. “Magistrates make a request [to the SCM] to delay the date when they have to retire and the SCM generally gives its agreement,” he explains.

Training established since 2002
If a shortage of magistrates exists, it is to be imputed to a delay in the training of young recruits, explains the Under-Secretary of State to Justice Keo Sophal. During the second term of the government (1998-2003), there was no selection of candidates to the positions of magistrates. It was only in February 2002, the high official recalls, that initial training and continuing vocational training for future judges and prosecutors were set up and mandated to the new Royal School of Magistracy. Fifty future magistrates were recruited upon exam on the first year and every year since 2004. They must follow specific courses for two years. “At the end of their comprehensive training, they must complete internships in a court, for one year minimum with ordinary judges before they are allowed to take office,” he specifies. “Until today, only the magistrate students of the first and second promotions were confirmed in posts. We are therefore faced with a shortage,” Keo Sophal argues.

Henrot Raken adds that the magistrates fresh from school are unable for now to replace the judges and prosecutors who have reached retirement age. “In principle, if a statute on magistrates existed [in Cambodia], magistrates would have to report ten years of experience before they can be appointed prosecutors or court presidents,” the general prosecutor explains. “Presumably, [at the end of their training] they can be appointed judges or deputy prosecutors.”

For several years, Cambodian civil society has called for a law on the statute of judges and prosecutors, which they hope will include a guarantee for the independence of the judicial branch. In its absence, some uncertainty prevails as magistrates are theoretically subject to the Law on the common statute of civil servants. A draft law on the statute of magistrates is reported to be currently “in the process of review,” according to the Secretary of State to Justice Hy Sophea, who gives no further details.

Retirement of 13 magistrates
However, the human resources shortage have not prevented some sixty-year-old magistrates from retiring, willy nilly. But voluntary retirement remains rare. A royal decree signed on September 3rd 2005 by King Sihamoni instructed the Ministry of Justice to order into retirement 13 magistrates (nine judges and four prosecutors) who had reached their sixties. It is reportedly the first group of Cambodian magistrates made to retire by a royal decree, upon suggestion from the Ministry of Justice. Thus, twelve were meant to leave their functions on October 1st 2005 and the 13th one on March 1st 2007. In contrast, the letter sent by Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng to request the issuance of pension books for the 13 retired magistrates was dated August 31st 2007 only, that is two years after the royal decree was signed... The Justice Minister could not be reached to explain the delay and provide further information on this case.

8 months of salary for magistrates
Indeed, the issue of the payment of pensions is a cause for concern. Eight days before the publication of the government directive ordering the retirement of civil servants over the age of 60, prime Minister Hun Sen was careful to specify - in a sub-decree dated January 4th 2009 - the amount of pensions and bonuses for retiring magistrates. According to the sub-decree, retired judges and prosecutors must receive the equivalent of eight months of salary at the time of their retirement, then from the following month, the pension must match their last salary.

Until today, the payment of pensions appears to have been random. Chan Huon, aged 65, former judge of the province of Koh Kong, who was part of the group of 13 magistrates ordered to retire “over three years ago”, affirms that he has never received his pension from the Ministry of Social Affairs and he does not know which authority to turn to. When he was in post in Koh Konh from 2003 to 2005, he earned 1.4 million riels (350 dollars) every month. “If the government asks me to come and get [my pension], I will go. Otherwise, I do not know how to receive it,” the former magistrate deplores, who also used to be Secretary of State to Justice at the end of the government's third mandate. He adds that he too would have liked not to among the group of the 13 retired ones. But his request to the SCM for a delay - through the intermediary of the Ministry of Justice - was rejected, unlike others...

At Last, Justice Comes to Cambodia

Justice delayed, but not denied: Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, once presided over the Tuol Sleng extermination center in Phnom Penh, inset; now he faces a special court. (Photo: AFP. Inset: courtesy Ung Pech, from Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime.")

Cold War politics overlooked genocide and other atrocities

Yale Center for the Study of Globalization
Benny Widyono
YaleGlobal, 13 February 2009

NEW YORK: Nearly 12 years after the UN initiative to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide that took the lives of approximately 1.7 million people, the first preliminary hearing will be held in Phnom Penh on February 17. After years of talk and proclamations, but little action, Cambodians and people all over the world will watch how the justice is delivered.

The first person to be tried is Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, accused of crimes committed in the secret prison S-21 ( Tuol Sleng) S-24 (Prey Sar) and the killing ground of Choeung Ek., Four other defendants in prison awaiting the tribunal with him are four remaining top leaders still alive: Nuon Chea, now 82, the former second in command of the Khmer Rouge movement; former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith; and former Minister of Social Affairs Khieu Samphan. Pol Pot, the former head of state and supreme leader of the movement, died 11 years ago.

Why did it take so long for justice to come to Cambodia? The answer can be found within the international political dynamics during the Cold War and later in protracted negotiations between the Cambodian government and the UN for setting up the court. Because of the Cold War, a long period of international amnesia followed the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II. In 1993-94, this amnesia was broken when the UN established the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and later by the establishment of the permanent International Criminal Court in 2002 to deal with serous human rights abuses worldwide.

In Cambodia, Cold War diplomatic maneuvers swept Khmer Rouge atrocities under the carpet. On 7 January, 1979, Vietnamese Army and Cambodian defectors from the Khmer Rouge ended the Khmer Rouge rule. The People’s Republic of Kampuchea, which soon gained control over 90 percent of the country, was established.

In a great irony, as the battle shifted to New York, the United Nations in a resolution spearheaded by the US and China, awarded Cambodia’s seat in the General Assembly to the exiled Khmer Rouge terror regime; the actual government in Phnom Penh that ended the killing was turned into an international pariah. This travesty continued for 11 more years thereby prolonging the suffering of the Cambodian people. Throughout the 1980s, bringing the Khmer Rouge criminals to court was far from the minds of the powers that be. The PRK did try Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, but few in the outside world paid attention.

Finally, the international aspects of the Cambodian problem were settled with the elections sponsored by the United Nations in May 1993 and the establishment of a new government, a new Royal government of Cambodia headed by two prime ministers Prince Ranariddh and Hun Sen. In June 1997, following a strong suggestion by UN special representative on Human Rights in Cambodia Thomas Hammarberg, the co-premiers requested UN assistance to bring the Khmer Rouge to trial. A UN expert group recommended establishment of a hybrid tribunal such as that for Sierra Leone. However, the Cambodian government, which after violent clashes in July 1997, was headed by one prime minister, Hun Sen, who quickly rejected the idea and insisted on a Cambodian tribunal with international assistance.

One can only surmise that the government feared that some UN personalities, donor and human-right organizations would broaden the scope of the tribunal to favor adding more defendants, including senior ex-Khmer Rouge officials now serving in the government, while the Cambodian side insists that the trials should be limited to the five surviving top leaders. The Cambodian concern is on principle, not just numbers, as they fear that spreading the net would result in more instability. This proved to be true when most recently, in 2008, the UN Representative on Human Rights Yash Ghai went so far as stating in his March 2008 report to the UN Human Rights Council that “The real test will be if a suspect in or close to the Government is investigated and brought before the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in Courts of Cambodia].”

Control of the tribunal was the main issue over which the Cambodian government and the United Nations argued at every twist and turn. It was no surprise that the negotiations were protracted and acrimonious, even suspended in February 2002, as the UN walked out. The government's foot-dragging may have also contributed to improved relations between Hun Sen and China which, as erstwhile supporter of the Khmer Rouge, could be embarrassed by an international tribunal. In June 2003, the UN and the Cambodian government signed an agreement that established the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. It started functioning in 2006.

Since then, achievements of the tribunal include the arrest of top surviving leaders and the participation of highly regarded international judges and prosecutors. The addition of a unit in which victims can participate in the process is widely acclaimed. By July 2008 it was announced that the first trial would commence in September. In the end, it took four more months. Proponents argue that the tribunal can be a tool to improve the judicial system in a transitional state ravaged by war and political upheaval, as well as political interference and control.

On the negative side, the lack of an independent and trained Cambodian judiciary, continuing yet unspecific accusations of corruption, and budgetary woes serve to mar the progress, and in practice protracted negotiations continued during implementation of the agreement. As of February 2009, the international prosecutor continued to argue that five more defendants should be tried, while the Cambodians insisted five is enough,

As the tribunal is financed from voluntary contributions, individual donors influence the process. Donors were concerned when accusations of corruption surfaced. It's reported that the US, which has not contributed to the tribunal, and perhaps others as well, favor a court with a top international personality overseeing the Cambodian director of administration and the UN deputy.

To placate the donors, new UN appointments were made in June, including David Tolbert, an ex-Yugoslavia tribunal prosecutor was named special expert to the UN secretary-general, with particular mandate over the budget. Knut Rosandhaug, veteran from the UN Kosovo mission took over from Michelle Lee as coordinator of UN assistance and deputy director of the tribunal administration; UN sources reportedly considered Lee, a Chinese national, as too lenient on the Cambodians. It remains to be seen how the new balance of power will play out in the court's day-to-day operations. At the end of 2008, the UN conducted an investigation of corruption in the tribunal, but the findings have not been published.

The trial, though late, still heralds a long-awaited process of healing and national reconciliation that require full accounting of what went on. A successful conclusion of the trials would include recognition of denial of justice imposed on Cambodia during the 1980s, a leftover obligation to be borne by donor countries. Such a successful conclusion for the tribunal would put an end to a dark chapter of history and exorcise the curse of the Khmer Rouge hanging over Cambodia.

Benny Widyono is author of “Dancing in Shadows: Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge and the United Nations in Cambodia,” published by Rowman Littlefield in 2008. Click here to read an excerpt.

Tigers' latest hope: Maggie the dung-sniffing dog

Hannah O'Kelly, a technical advisor for the Wildlife Conservation Society, plays with a German haired pointer named Maggie, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Tuesday Feb. 10, 2009. A dog trained to sniff for tiger droppings will help conservationists determine if the big cats still roam one of Cambodia's largest nature reserves. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A German haired pointer named Maggie jumps as she plays with an officer of the Wildlife Conservation Society office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Tuesday Feb. 10, 2009. Conservationists say a dog trained to sniff out tiger droppings has been flown to Cambodia in a last ditch effort to confirm the big cats still roam one of the country's largest nature reserves. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Hannah O'Kelly, a technical advisor for the Wildlife Conservation Society, plays with a German haired pointer named Maggie, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Tuesday Feb. 10, 2009. A dog trained to sniff for tiger droppings will help conservationists determine if the big cats still roam one of Cambodia's largest nature reserves. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A German haired pointer named Maggie is seen at the Wildlife Conservation Society office in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Tuesday Feb. 10, 2009. Conservationists say a dog trained to sniff out tiger droppings has been flown to Cambodia in a last ditch effort to confirm the big cats still roam one of the country's largest nature reserves. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Maggie the German wirehaired pointer has arrived in Cambodia with an unusual task — sniffing out tiger droppings in one of Cambodia's largest nature reserves.

The unorthodox move to employ a dog trained in Russia to search for signs of the big cats is part of a campaign to boost a tiger population in Asia that has plummeted to as few as 5,000 from 100,000 a century ago.

Starting next week, the salt-and-pepper, 6-year-old will begin scouring the undergrowth and sniffing for tiger scent on trees at the 1,158 square mile (3,000 square kilometer) Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area in northeastern Cambodia.

It is unclear how many tigers are even left in Cambodia, where — like in much of Asia — poaching and habitat encroachment are blamed for decimating the population.

The turn to dogs comes after camera traps and field surveys failed to find the big cats last year. The last sign of a tiger was in 2007, when a paw print was spotted in the park.

"We think this is the best method when we have a large area and not that many tigers," said Hannah O'Kelly, a wildlife monitoring adviser for the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

WCS and the wild cat conservation group Panthera, also based in New York, are spending about $30,000 to bring Maggie and a second dog from Russia to Seima later this year.

The effort to find tiger droppings is part of a larger campaign by conservationists worldwide to mine animal droppings for genetic information such as DNA that can save endangered species.

Elephant dung, for example, was used two years ago to calculate the population of pachyderms in Malaysia's Taman Negara National Park.

Now, researchers are hoping the tiger scat will help determine the existence of tigers in Seima along with their sex, age and whether any are pregnant or even under threat.

"As we gain the technology to extract things from scat like DNA and hormones, all of sudden scat becomes a gold mine of information," said Linda Kerley, a WCS consultant who trained the dogs in Russia.

O'Kelly said the data from the dung would allow researchers to establish a baseline population of tigers for the reserve and then develop a conservation plan based on the numbers and the potential threats.

Bringing in the two dogs is part of a $10 million, 10-year initiative launched in 2006 by WCS and Panthera called "Tigers Forever." It aims to increase the number of tigers by 50 percent in Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Russian Far East and Thailand through a range of measures that include better monitoring, assessments of threats and efforts to minimize the dangers facing the big cats.

Men Soriyun, a project manager for Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, said he feels dogs offer the best hope of finding the tigers and that the method could be used by other national reserves.

"The best way to find tigers in the jungle is to use dogs because they can find tigers by their smell," Men Soriyun said.

Cambodia is the first country in Asia to employ dogs to search for tigers, a method pioneered in Russia's Far East that led to an accurate count of the hundreds of tigers spread across the region's several thousand miles (kilometers).

Since then, dogs have been used to search for jaguars in South America and leopards in Africa.

All six dogs taught to search for tigers were trained by Kerley in Russia's Lazovsky Nature Reserve. The best dogs for the task, she said, are hunting or sheep herding dogs that can easily detect the musky smell of the tiger's scat, excrement left by a wild animal.

"We don't want a dog that will hunt tigers," said Kerley, who accompanied Maggie to Cambodia. "We want a dog that wants to hunt for the scent of the scat."

The fear, O'Kelly said, is that the dogs don't find any droppings.

"If we cover the whole area and we don't find any tiger scat, then we can be reasonably confident there are no tigers," O'Kelly said. "That would be very disappointing and I hope that doesn't happen."

Cambodian political opposition struggles hard to obtain proper parliamentary recognition

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 24/09/2008. Mu Sochua, deputy Secretary-General at the Sam Rainsy Party, on her way out of the National Assembly after the investiture of the new government.© John Vink / Magnum


By Duong Sokha

Cambodia's main political opposition coalition, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), was hoping to obtain better legislative recognition through the allocation of an active role within the National Assembly but saw its ambitions shattered as Prime Minister Hun Sen declared his views on the matter on Monday 17th November as he was away for business in the Kandal province. Hun Sen was quite straight forward in his approach and even called “stupid” the party's demands about the amendment of the National Assembly's internal rules, which was meant to provide the opposition party with official recognition and therefore important positions and roles within the institution. Despite being prevented from leading the executive and legislative powers, the SRP does not yield and is willing to continue the struggle to obtain a proper parliamentary status.

Hun Sen: no parliamentary positions for the opposition
The Prime Minister counter-attacked after having received criticism from representatives of the opposition, accusing him of having deceived them into taking part to the first parliamentary session on 24th September. The result is that from now on, SRP deputies will be refused important positions within the National Assembly, he declared, thus promising to stand in the way of any important appointment.

“I did not fool you. You [Sam Rainsy] tried to get hold of me over the phone through ohnha Kith Meng. I refused to talk to you. Whether you do take part or not [in the first parliamentary session] was your own business!”, the country's “strong man”, in power since 1985, said, irritated.

The SRP won 26 seats at the outcome of the July 27th legislative elections and warned several times that it would boycott the deputies' swearing-in ceremony before going back on its decision on the very day of the ceremony. The day before, the SRP and Kem Sokha's Human Rights Party (HRP) had sent a statement to the head of government, requesting that the lower chamber officially acknowledges the role of the opposition parties who lack representation within the government and made this acknowledgement the sine qua non of their future participation in parliamentary projects.

“You asked for the modification of twenty-six articles out of eighty-two [of the National Assembly's internal rules] among which the ones relating to the position of vice-President of the Assembly, the presidency of several commissions and a specific budget [for the opposition parties]! These requests are major. You must wait till you reach your after-life [to have access to these]!”, the Cambodian People's Party vice- chairman retorted. Landslide winner of the July 27th elections with 90 seats, Hun Sen did not hesitate to dub the proposition “stupid” and asked Sam Rainsy, who was actually away for business in France, to “give better advice to the members” of the party.

For a real political equilibrium between powers
The SRP is nevertheless intending to continue fighting for parliamentary recognition and several important positions within the Assembly, which would be split according to the number of seats they won after the elections. Opposition deputy Yim Sovann, for his part, did not think the request was “excessive”. “Our demands comply with the principle of pluralism. We want to reach a balance between the executive and the legislative powers”, the former chairman of the parliamentary commission of Interior and National Defence explained, quoting the example of foreign political systems: “In the United States or Germany, if the ruling party is in charge of the Ministry of Economy, then the opposition must be in charge of the parliamentary commission of Economy and Finance”.

The Phnom Penh deputy also deplored the fact that the lower chamber commissions were too weak in numbers- nine in total – whereas the government has twenty-four ministries. Some of the commissions are in charge of controlling five to eight ministries on their own. “The system is stupid”, Yim Sovann estimated. “Each of the commissions should only control one ministry or two, at most”.

Cheam Yeap, CPP chairman of the parliamentary commission of Economy, Finance, Banking and Audit, looked at the example of his own commission, which is “only” in charge three institutions (the Ministry of Economy, the central Bank and the National Audit Authority) and reckoned the argument used by the SRP was specious, reminding that the current procedure does not prevent the lower chamber from creating new commissions.

A budget for the parties present within the National Assembly?
Yim Sovann stressed the fact that the issue was also a financial one and argued in favour of the strengthening of the budget available to the parties present in the National Assembly. The budget would then be proportionally split between representatives according to their number in the Assembly, thus following the rule stipulating that opposition parties are allowed to enjoy enough public funding and are therefore able to play their part in every respect. And there again, foreign political patterns, especially European ones, are a source of inspiration for the SRP. “In Germany, the budget is split according to the number of votes gained by every party. In order to be in a position to give constructive advice to the government, the opposition parties, which act as a mirror in which the government would see itself, must have financial resources available”, Yim Sovann considered. “These funds are not meant for deputies to grow rich or buy cars, but will be used to buy computers, stationary and pay for the electricity and water bills”, he precised.

Opposition weakened but still hopeful
The opposition, deprived of any important posts within the National Assembly, declared itself under pressure. Opposition representatives denounce the difficulty of access to any information relating to the lower chamber, especially concerning permanent committee meetings. “We cannot debate on the proposed bills and we do not have our say when it comes to modifying them before they are presented in a parliamentary session. Serving the interest of citizens is therefore difficult.” And as long as the role of the opposition is not guaranteed, SRP deputies will continue to boycott meetings and seminars organised within the Assembly, including those initiated by NGOs or the international community, with the exception of parliamentary sessions, as a direct response to the ostracism they claim to be the victims of.

The main opposition party's elected representatives claim they have now gone onto a new strategy: working out of the parliamentary system by directly visiting inhabitants and “inform them of the country's evolution”. “The word 'despair' does not exist in the SRP dictionary. We are still breathing. We will continue our struggle, with hope. One day, success will come to us because everything has to come to an end and nobody is immortal”, Yim Sovann concluded with a touch of philosophy in his words...

Court lowers penalty for Swedish girl's Cambodia abduction


Published: 13 Feb 09

An appeals court in Sweden has reduced the sentence of the father of a now six-year-old girl whom he abducted and took to Cambodia, hiding the girl for more than a year.
- Alicia's father jailed over Cambodia abduction (14 Oct 08)
- Swede in Cambodia held for kidnapping (24 Jul 08)
- 'Day and night I think of Alicia' (17 Mar 08)

The Court of Appeal for western Sweden on Friday shortened by three months the sentence previously handed down to 48-year-old Torgeir Nordbo.

Nordbo will now serve one year and two months in prison on a conviction for unlawfully separating the child, Alicia Elfversson, from her legal guardian (egenmäktighet med barn).

The ordeal began in June 2007 when Nordbo told the girl’s mother, Maria Elfversson, that he was taking his daughter on a two week vacation. He ended up taking the girl first to Thailand, then Cambodia, disguising Alica by cutting her hair to make her look like a boy.

After more than a year on the run, Nordbo was arrested in Cambodia in July 2008 and brought back to Sweden to stand trial.

The appeals court also lowered the level of damages to be paid by Nordbo to Alicia’s mother from 87,900 kronor ($10,460) to 69,404 kronor.

Even though the appeals court agreed with the lower court’s ruling regarding the seriousness of the crime, it made another assessment regarding the appropriate level of punishment.

Cambodia puts Khmer Rouge on trial. First defendant is "Comrade Duch"


Proceedings begin on February 17 against the commander of the S-21 prison. More than 17,000 Cambodians died there between 1975 and 1979. The main witness is one of the seven survivors of the massacre: in his paintings, he has depicted the atrocities he witnessed. It is the first trial against figures of the regime, but the outcome is unclear.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - On February 17 in Cambodia, the first trial against a member of the Khmer Rouge will begin. On trial is Kaing Guek Eay, better known as "Comrade Duch," one of the five leaders of the old regime now in prison and awaiting judgment. One of the main witnesses will be Vann Nath, one of the seven survivors of the S-21 prison (the infamous Security Prison 21, renamed Tuol Sleng), where more than 17,000 people died between 1975 and 1979. Only three of the seven survivors are still alive.

"Comrade Duch," 66, will have to answer to charges of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity." He is accused of commanding the S-21 in the period from 1975-1979, presiding over all sorts of crimes: torture, rape, and more than one hundred murders a day. It is the first trial ever against a Khmer Rouge leader, and will be held at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, created and maintained by the United Nations, and entrusted with the task of trying crimes committed by the followers of Pol Pot during the 1970's.

The story of "Comrade Duch" is linked, for better and for worse, to the fate of Vann Nath, whose life inspired a film about the massacres carried out by the Khmer Rouge; now, for the first time, his testimony will be heard in a courtroom, during the trial against his tormentor. Nath still remembers clearly that day in April of 1977, when he was arrested by a Khmer Rouge squad, tied up, and shoved onto an ox cart, without being given a chance to say goodbye to his wife and two children. They would never meet again, because his family was among the victims of the murderous insanity of the "revolutionaries." He is anxious to see the beginning of the trial, but has no desire for revenge: "I was angry. But my angry period has passed. This is the period for finding solutions."

Vann Nath was born in 1946 in Battambang, in the northwest part of Cambodia. He is still one of the country's most important artists today, and it is thanks to this "gift" that he was able to survive the terrible years in prison. He was chosen by "Comrade Duch" as the artist to paint portraits and create sculptures of Pol Pot. In 1979, following the invasion of the Vietnamese army and the fall of the regime, he was able to escape the S-21; when the secret prison was turned back into a museum of "commemoration," he again passed through the doors of the prison to work on its reconstruction and to testify in first person to the massacres and torture. Through his paintings (in the photo), the artist has depicted the scenes that he witnessed; today, they are hanging on the walls of the prison-museum.

In 2010, four other leading figures of the regime are scheduled to go on trial. They are: Khieu Samphan, 77, former head of state; Ieng Sary, 83, foreign minister; Ieng Thirith, 76, Sary's wife and minister for social affairs; Nuon Chea, 82, an ideologue of the regime and nicknamed "Brother No 2." Pol Pot, the bloody dictator known as "Brother No. 1," died on April 15, 1998, without ever having to answer for the atrocities he committed.

The court responsible for judging crimes in Cambodia was created in May of 2006, after years of negotiations between Phnom Penh and the United Nations, which brought into doubt the government's intention of allowing the court to operate. The Supreme Council of the magistrature has approved the appointment of 17 Cambodian judges, and 13 from other countries. In 2008, the special tribunal faced a severe financial crisis: the original funding of 56 million dollars for the first three years turned out to be insufficient, because costs went up with the many preliminary hearings called by the judges. The danger still remains that all of the effort exerted so far to put the regime's leaders behind bars will be in vain.

Cambodia's drama remains an open wound in the country: according to a recent survey, 80% of people feel that they are "victims of crimes" committed by the Khmer Rouge, although some of them - especially second-level representatives, and leaders of the old regime - still occupy an active role in the country's political life. They have no interest in carrying out investigations over past crimes, for the sake of coexistence, out of fear, or because they are convinced adherents of the revolutionary folly of Pol Pot, who did not hesitate to exterminate almost two million people for the sake of creating "the new man" in Cambodia. The defendants are also of advanced age: some of them are seriously ill, and there is a concrete risk that they will not live to see the end of the trial.

This adds insult to injury for those who, like Vann Nath, are not looking for revenge, but only for justice, in the name of a quarter of the Cambodian people. "What happened cannot be restored. I just want justice," he concludes. "Justice for me is having the perpetrators admit their guilt. I hope that the judges can find justice for us."