Sunday, 22 March 2009

Rota team visits Cambodia camp

Children at a Rota-supported centre in Cambodia

Gulf Times

Qatar-based NGO Reach Out To Asia (Rota), in partnership with Education City, has organised a week-long volunteers trip to Cambodia, from March 19-25.

“It is another effort to enhance access to quality education in Cambodia – one of Rota’s priority countries – by removing barriers for school-going children,” a spokesperson said.

The team includes 18 students from Education City, two teachers from Qatar Foundation and Rota representatives who will visit the city of Siem Reap to support an ongoing project for Working for Children (WFC) orphanage in Pouk district.

“Encompassing educational activities and cultural events, the trip will offer a unique opportunity to students from Education City to work with less-privileged children of Cambodia and assist them in the improvement of their educational and living conditions.”

Cambodia suffers from a high drop-out rate in schools. On average, for every 100 students that starts Grade 1, only 15 will get to Grade 12, of which only seven students will pass the exams and become eligible to pursue higher education.

Commenting on the volunteers visit, Reem al-Dagma, volunteer programmes manager at Rota, said: “We are involving students in volunteerism and helping in conquering educational challenges in developing countries. The trip is part of our objective to play a pivotal role in community development in our priority countries.”

At the orphanage, the volunteers will be painting the library, equipping it with bookshelves, books and learning material and they will also assist in building a fence around the orphanage.

The students will also deliver educational workshops.

A cultural element will complement the trip.

Fatema al-Mohalal al-Doha from VCU, a student volunteer, is excited to be part of the trip. She said: “I will see another part of the world and get to experience a new culture and all this while I will be helping other people.”

ROTA team to work in Cambodia


DOHA: Following several successful volunteer trips across Asia, Qatar-based NGO Reach Out To Asia (ROTA) is organising a Volunteer Trip to Cambodia.

The trip, being conducted in partnership with Education City, will last seven days (March 19-25) and is another effort to enhance access to quality education in Cambodia — one of ROTA’s priority countries — by removing barriers for school-going children.

Eighteen students from Education City, two teachers from Qatar Foundation and ROTA representatives will visit the city of Siem Reap to support an ongoing project for Working for Children orphanage in Pouk District.

Encompassing educational activities and cultural events, the trip will offer an opportunity to students from Education City to work with less-privileged children of Cambodia and assist them in the improvement of their educational and living conditions.

Cambodia suffers from a high drop-out rate in schools. On average, for every 100 students that start Grade 1, only 15 get to Grade 12, of which only seven students pass the exams and become eligible to pursue higher education.

Reem Al Dagma, Volunteer Programmes Manager at ROTA, said: “We are involving students in volunteerism and helping in conquering educational challenges in developing countries. The trip is part of our objective to play a pivotal role in community development in our priority countries.”

Trial of war criminals a tough task

The Daily Star
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Says expert from Cambodia, suggests govt to seek UN help

Staff Correspondent

Dr Helen Jarvis, an expert on trial of war criminals, said yesterday if the nation is united on the issue, it is possible to bring to trial the war criminals committing genocide and crimes against humanity during the Liberation War of Bangladesh.

Noting that it is a very difficult job requiring a long time, she suggested that Bangladesh approach the United Nations for its assistance to put the perpetrators of war crimes on trial.

Speaking at a 'meet the press' at the Liberation War Museum in the capital, the expert from Cambodia stressed that political parties and other organisations concerned should extend support and cooperation in trying the war criminals.

And Bangladesh could use the experience of Cambodia in this regard, said Helen Jarvis, chief of public affairs of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Three important elements -- memorisation, documentation and investigation -- are very pertinent factors for trial of the masterminds of genocide, she said.

Helen Jarvis is visiting Bangladesh on invitation of the Liberation War Museum authorities on the occasion of its 13th founding anniversary.

Trial of war criminals can strengthen the rule of law by making them accountable for their crimes, she said.

On the trial of the war criminals in Cambodia, Helen Jarvis said the ECCC is 'a new hybrid court' for trying these criminals, which was created three years ago and became fully operational in June 2007. It can try only crimes committed in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge period between April 1975 and January 6, 1979.

She mentioned that the ECCC has started trying the main accused. A small number of people culpable and most responsible for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge will be tried under the law governing it.

Cambodia first sought UN assistance in 1997 for trial of war criminials. Since the civil war ended in 1998, the government and the UN have worked together to set up a 'new type of mixed national-international tribunal'. It took some time to work out details of such court, she said.

The expert said Cambodia had serious lack of legislation, prosecutors, lawyers and experts to carry out this complicated job, but Bangladesh's position is 'much better in these areas'.

Museum Trustee Akku Chowdhury said there are sufficient evidence of offences of the war criminals in Bangladesh for bringing them to trial.

International War Crimes Tribunal Act 1993 is good enough for trial of war criminals, he said.

From Canada to Cambodia, with love

Sayla McCowan (left) and her Grade 5/6 class at Jack MacKenzie School in Regina, along with University of Regina education professor Buryl Bernard (at board), talk about life in Cambodia.
Photograph by: Don Healy, Leader-Post

Regina Leader-Post

By Pamela Cowan, Leader-Post
March 20, 2009

Buryl Bernard is a man whose feet are in two diverse worlds — Canada and Cambodia — but the land of the golden smiles is never far from his heart.

The University of Regina education professor's four trips to Cambodia in the past two years kindled his passion to improve the country's educational system, which continues to feel the effects of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

His passion led him to develop a project called the Cambodian-Canadian Classrooms for Change, which partners Canadian classrooms with those in the developing nation. He hopes the project will encourage Canadian kids to get involved in global issues by developing a personal connection with Cambodian students and raising funds to improve their educational opportunities.

"My job here is very satisfying, but working in Cambodia to try and co-ordinate things to help the people over there has been so enriching," Bernard said recently. "My life and the lives of these students/projects have become intertwined and I am continually reflecting and thinking about my day-to-day life through a lens which has been forever impacted by what I have experienced in Cambodia."

His plan includes developing a database of Cambodian classrooms, teachers and schools.

"It will be almost like a Foster Parent plan, where you get a picture of a kid," Bernard said. "In this case, it'll be a picture of a school and a biography about the school. That's how I envision it to be sustained beyond the period of the pilot."

The project began at Jack MacKenzie School last September because of the elementary school's previous partnership with the university.

"We usually do several things back and forth with the university — the students come out and teach lessons and we go there for tours," said Grade 5/6 teacher Sayla McCowan. "Last year, I had my class there with several others on a tour and Buryl was talking about some supplies that he was taking to Cambodia, and I said, 'It sounds like a wonderful thing for my class to be involved in.' "

Her enthusiasm was contagious. Teachers Laura Rhead and Karen Marchuk quickly got on board and the pilot project was set up between Jack MacKenzie School and Aknuwat Primary School in Achalak Village Commune.

On two visits to McCowan's classroom, Bernard has shown students exquisite pictures he's taken of Cambodia and explained why the land of golden smiles keeps calling him back.

"I was impressed by the kids that I met — they are just so happy — 'the land of the golden smiles' is what they say," Bernard said. "The children are always laughing and are very welcoming."

He hopes other schools in Saskatchewan, and across the country, get involved because funds are vital to upgrading educational opportunities in Cambodia. He feels great empathy for classroom teachers, who find it increasingly hard to stretch their monthly salary of $40.

"That used to be enough to feed families, but rising fuel costs, production costs and the cost of rice has really cut into what $40 does for a family," Bernard said. "Often, teachers are forced to cancel classes to do other work to subsidize their classroom wage. They've been known to take bribes to pass kids — and this all stems from the time of the Khmer Rouge."

He said when the Khmer Rouge came to power, it was viewed as liberating. That changed under the brutal Pol Pot regime.

"Pol Pot was fond of saying that the classrooms will be the fields and the pencils will be hoes so everyone was forced out of the major cities into the countryside and they were informed that they were going to grow rice," Bernard said.

An estimated 1.7 million people were massacred on the "killing fields" of Cambodia or worked to death through forced labour.

"They killed anybody who wore glasses, anybody who was an intellectual and anybody who taught," Bernard said. "As a result, the school system lost a generation of teachers and Buddhist monks, as well. Largely, the people who survived were peasants and uneducated people."

The country's devastating losses have resulted in too few teachers to instruct the growing number of students who want to be educated. Since Cambodia doesn't have the financial resources to train teachers, classes are held in shifts.

"A Grade 3 teacher might have 40 kids in the morning and another 40 in the afternoon," Bernard said.

His proposal to help the Cambodians captured the hearts of Kindergarten to Grade 8 students and the staff at Jack MacKenzie School.

Younger students brought bags and containers of pennies to school while Grade 5 to Grade 8 students competed in a Pennies for Cambodia challenge. Not only were students eager to win a pizza party — the prize for the classes who raised the most money — but they relished trying to outdo each other and their teachers.

Since getting involved in the project, students in the southeast Regina school have been counting their blessings and the massive mounds of change they collected to help effect change for kids in southeast Asia.

"The whole school raised $2,663.08 and that money will buy stuff for Cambodia like school supplies," explained Troy Treslan. "It's good to help poor people."

Grade 5 student Amber Thompson is proud her class raised the most money and that the entire school helped to exceed the original goal of raising $500.

"Our reading buddies, the Grade 2 classroom, won for their penny group so we're going to have a pizza party with them in the gym," Thompson said.

Bernard's Powerpoint presentation was an eye-opener for many children including 10-year-old Berfin Tunc.

"The pictures were really sad, but now we can send money and that will help a lot," Tunc said.

Andy Luu has a greater appreciation for his life in Canada after seeing and hearing about conditions in Cambodia.

"Their schools have dirt floors!" he said. "I'm really glad to have the stuff that we have. Here, we take pencils and pens for granted and there it's like treasure. And Mr. Bernard said there were landmines there, and if you step on them they explode."

Sydney Broghen, 11, was amazed that all of Bernard's photos showed people smiling despite enduring daily poverty.

"They have to cook over an open fire with pots to heat their water — they don't have all the fancy technology that we have that does everything for us," she said. "I hope they'll get school supplies or another outhouse or something to help the teacher — like another blackboard or chalk.

"I think that everybody in the school who participated was really generous. Bringing the pennies, knowing that they were going to Cambodia, made me feel really good because I knew we were helping people in need and I knew that pennies sitting in drawers here are just junk but in Cambodia they are a big deal."

Grade 7 students did a lot of research about Cambodia and regularly share their findings with the school body during morning announcements.

Shea Greggains was intrigued to learn that kids who live a world away don't celebrate their birthdays.

"They are so poor, but they are so happy," she said. "The entire school shares three outhouse toilets and they don't have many school supplies so they have to share."

Just as students have been learning many lessons about Cambodia, so is McCowan. She, too, is incredulous that people who have so few material possessions appear to be so rich in spirit.

"Maybe it's because they have so little that they're so happy with what they have," she said. "We kind of get caught up in, 'We need, we need,' and really it's just what we want."

She's pleased Bernard will deliver every dollar raised by Canadian classrooms to Cambodian teachers so they can purchase student supplies, teaching materials and play equipment.

"There will be no middleman because Buryl will take the money there and they will be accountable for the money that they spend, but they will be able to pick and choose what they want to use the money for at the school," McCowan said. "So as Syndey said, perhaps they'll want a new outhouse because they only have three."

As for Bernard, he's thrilled by the school's response to the pilot project.

"The money these kids raised is huge because when you're looking at $100 — that is 2 1/2 months wage for a teacher," he said. "What you can do with that in the classroom really changes the possibilities."

The United Nations ranks Cambodia 131 of 177 countries on the Human Development Index, which is based on life expectancy, education level and standard of living. In comparison, Canada ranks fourth.

At Aknuwat Primary School, two kids sit at each desk and they use old slates and chalk to copy material from the blackboard at the front of the classroom. Despite its few resources, Bernard grades Aknuwat Primary School, which is located in central Cambodia, as an "above average" school.

"Typically, what you find is that towards the larger centres in each of the provinces they'll have better schools because they're more visible and there seems to be more affluence in the central parts of Cambodia. But as you move out towards the villages the quality deteriorates," he said. "Some places have minimal structures as far as bricks and mortar. It might be a tin roof and open elements. The typical Cambodian classroom is a cement structure — it almost reminds me of a bomb shelter ... There's no electricity, no running water and they use outhouses — the schools that have them. A lot of schools in the villages don't even have an outhouse."

Bernard is gratified Regina kids have a greater understanding about conditions in Cambodia and a desire to help.

"What I really wanted was students to recognize that it doesn't have to be Cambodia — it can any neighbourhood where they see a wrong that needs to be made right and that they do have the power to effect a change if they want to," he said. "We talk about this idea of transitioning between first understanding there is a problem, empathizing (not sympathizing) with the people, being hopeful that you can make a difference, find some way to rectify the issue and then taking some action. It's just reinforced my belief that this is attainable. We live in a socially constructed world with all kinds of inequities. I think we all have the power to make a change."

His vision to bring about change in Cambodia has been supported by the Centre for International Education and Training in the U of R Faculty of Education.

"I have to be thankful for the position that I have here in the faculty — not only do they provide me with opportunities to pursue some of these things, but they actively support me," Bernard said.

When he takes a sabbatical from the university next year, he plans to implement a project that will promote play in Cambodian classrooms — many of which lack a physical education component in their curriculum.

"Over the 10-week period that I'm in Cambodia in December 2010 and January 2011, I'll meet with (teachers) twice a week for two hours and we'll just go through some activities that they can do with things like Frisbees and beachballs. Then they'll take the kit and it will be a classroom resource for all the participants in the program," Bernard said.

He credits Rhead, Marchuk and McCowan for being instrumental in rallying the students and staff at Jack MacKenzie School.

"So often you raise money and you give it to an organization and that's it — you don't see any end results. This way we will," McCowan said. "What the students have learned is phenomenal. It's a different way of life."

The school will continue to raise money for Cambodia and has applied for $500 from a charitable foundation set up by retired educator Jack MacKenzie.

Bernard greatly respects the school's namesake whom he describes as a man "who has ensured through his actions that kindness and effort are more than words, but a spirit which the school embodies and practices."

Anyone interested in further information or donating to the CCCC project can contact Bernard by e-mailing him at or calling 585-4526.

SoPo doctor helps Cambodian native see again

South Portland Sentry

By Nate Jones
Staff Writer

Since 2004, Ny Tim has lived in a world of shadows.

Six months ago, the 45-year-old man left the small Cambodian village where he spent a lifetime raising his family and working the nearby rice fields. It was the first time he had ever left his five children or traveled beyond the village border.

And he couldn’t see a thing.

“He can count fingers from three feet away with his right eye, but in his left he can only pick up shadows,” said Optometrist Dr. David Heward. “He has maybe 5 percent of his vision.”

Heward, of Harbor View Eye Care in South Portland, said Tim’s eyes are affected by Pterygium, a benign growth of the conjunctiva that appears as a cloudy film over the eye. Tim’s condition is a symptom of overexposure to harmful ultraviolet rays, he said.

“It’s like the brain is trying to protect your eyes,” Heward said. “[Pterygium] blocks out the light, but then you can’t see, which doesn’t do anybody any good.”

Heward said Tim’s condition is common among people who spend large amounts of time outside without wearing sunglasses or clothing to shade their eyes, particularly in regions such as Cambodia, where ultraviolet rays from the sun are stronger than most locations in the U.S. Tim said he worked outdoors every day until five years ago, when his sight deteriorated to the point where he was no longer useful in the rice fields.

“If you or I had worked outside in a field as long as [Tim] has, we’d have the same thing,” he said.

One year ago, Paula Chim – a 26-year Portland resident– mentioned that one of her siblings had “some kind of eye problem” during a routine visit to Heward’s office. She wasn’t speaking of Tim, but their sister, who was having trouble seeing clearly.

“I didn’t know what was wrong, just that it had something to do with her eyes,” Chim said.

It was all Heward needed to hear.

He contacted the local Lions Club and asked if they could help pay to bring Chim’s sister from her home in Cambodia to the U.S., where doctors could perform a surgical procedure to remove the overgrown Pterygium, effectively restoring her eyesight.

Heward said the procedure, which costs between $2,000 and $3,000, is fairly straightforward for a qualified surgeon.

“For [surgeons] it’s standard but to us, it’s a miracle,” he said. “I just thought, ‘That isn’t right that people should be blind.’ It’s unnecessary blindness, really.”

The Lions Club agreed to foot the bill, and before long Chim’s sister was on a flight back to Cambodia with near perfect vision, Heward said.

“[Heward] made it happen. We were so grateful,” Chim said. “Words cannot express my gratitude.”

Heward said it was gratifying to help Chim’s sister, and when he heard she had another sibling with the same condition, he was eager to help.

“It would almost make more sense to send a medical team [to Cambodia] to set up some kind of clinic rather than bringing them over here one by one,” he said. “If they can do one of these procedures in a half an hour, imagine how many they could do in a day.”

In September, Heward, Chim and the Lions Club all agreed it was Tim’s turn to come to the U.S. for the same procedure. For the first time in his life, Tim found himself boarding an airplane – one that he could barely see the inside of – with a niece as his guide.

Chim translated her brother’s words during an interview with the Sentry.

“I never thought I would ever sit in an airplane seat,” Tim said. “It was not something I would have dreamed of. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t scared, but I had a lot of questions. I couldn’t ask anyone what was going on because I knew they didn’t speak Cambodian.”

Tim arrived in Portland – a city Chim said would seem massive to him, if only he could see it – and the unthinkable happened.

The Lions Club, like many other charitable organizations, changed its priorities in light of the decline in the economy and could no longer afford to help Tim, Heward said.

“We’re trying to do more local things,” Lions Club President Richard Connolly said. “For something like this the international Lions Club would have to be involved.”

For nearly four months, Heward and his staff sought assistance from other charities, but none was able to help. Tim, who could have fully recovered and returned home in the time since he has arrived, struggled with the possibility that the surgery may not happen at all.

“I am always wishing that I can see. Right now I can’t do anything, not even work in the rice field,” he said. “I was hoping somebody would help me.”

Entertaining the thought of paying for the procedure out of his own pocket, Heward called Vision Service Plan, a national insurance company specializing in eye care, to request a $600 “discretionary fund.”

“They asked what it was for and I said I was going to use it to help pay for [Tim’s] surgery,” Heward said. “They said ‘No, you can’t really use it for that,’ and I thought ‘Oh, great.’ Then they told me that they wanted to pay for the whole thing.”

It took another month for the company and Heward to work out the details; it was time Chim and Tim spent keeping their fingers crossed.

“Maybe there’s a happy ending to all this,” Chim said. “You have to just keep hoping and the end will be there.”

For Tim, the thought of being able to see again was surreal.

“This is the first time in my life someone has taken interest in my eyes,” he said. “[In Cambodia] they just say ‘Beyond fix,’ and offer to take my eyes out. I would rather be blind this way than lose my eyes.”

On Tuesday, at the company’s expense, Dr. Charles Zachs, an ophthalmologist at Portland’s Maine Eye Center, operated on Tim’s right eye. Heward said Tim’s left eye is treatable but recovery would require regularly scheduled follow-up treatments, a luxury unavailable once Tim returns home to Cambodia.

“We might as well do what we can, it’s sort of like having money in the bank,” Heward said.

Tim is expected to fully recover from the procedure in the next few weeks, after which he will return to his family in Cambodia.

For the first time in five years, he will be able to see them as more than mere silhouettes.

“I want to see what’s out there,” Tim said while peering at a nearby window before the operation. “I will see the world clearer.”

When he returns, Tim said he will share his story with other locals who are affected by the same condition, including his son. He said his 14-year-old is already showing signs of Pterygium.

“He’ll be the next one to come over,” Chim said.

Book Review: The Disappeared by Kim Echlin

National Post

Posted: March 21, 2009

by Mark Medley

Hamish Hamilton Canada

224 pp; $29

Reviewed by Frank Moher

If all goes well, and there is no reason to suppose it will, the first of the trials for genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s will commence March 30. This will be 13 years after the establishment of the UN-assisted tribunal, and fully 30 years after the end of the four-year period during which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died.

The tribunal has been wracked by procedural delays and charges of corruption. Most recently, its chief judge warned that money is running out and much of its staff may depart before the trial begins. Meanwhile, the first of the defendants, Kaing Guek Eav, who ran a secret torture facility and has confessed to being responsible for 15,000 killings, has expressed remorse for his deeds. It is entirely possible that is as much satisfaction as the world will get.

The impossibility of closure after great crimes, no matter how many tribunals and truth-and-reconciliation commissions we may launch, is the subject of Toronto author Kim Echlin’s absorbing new novel, The Disappeared. Echlin, one of Canada’s finest prose stylists, approaches her subject with the delicacy and solemnity it deserves. In the end, though, it begs the question: Is a beautiful work of art, which The Disappeared certainly is, the appropriate response to a holocaust?

Echlin’s narrator is Anne Greeves, a middle-aged Montreal language instructor remembering her still raw-in-the-mind love affair with a Khmer exile 30 years before. She recalls Serey in the enraptured manner of the 16-year-old she was when she met him: besotted, helpless, aroused. The Disappeared takes its place with such other chronicles of female desire as Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept or Pauline Reage’s The Story of O, here yoked to a history that makes it both larger and more keen.

When Serey returns to Cambodia, after the Vietnamese invasion and the fall of Pol Pot’s regime, he disappears into a quagmire of political upheaval and continued killing, as the transitional government mimics democracy even while it suppresses dissent. Galvanized by what she is sure is a glimpse of her lover on TV, Anne forsakes “the liberties of the times, music and drugs and separatism,” and travels to Phnom Penh to find him. She does, but, like a ghost darting around corners, he is soon gone again, among the missing after a grenade attack at an opposition rally.

“You cannot disappear,” she laments, in the second-person voice that gives the novel the intimacy of whispered conversation. “Please do not disappear. No one can mend my sorrow. I love what I lost.”

Echlin successfully links the void in Anne’s heart with the void left in the lives of millions of mothers, widows and children, as well as with the erasure of cultural memory that was not only the intent of the Khmer Rouge but wholly embraced by those who followed. “What purpose to revisit the past?” asks an official charged with resisting Anne’s effort at answers. Brian Fawcett covered similar territory 20 years ago in his odd duck of an essay/fiction collection, Cambodia: A Book For People Who Find Television Too Slow. “Most of the victims of the Khmer Rouge were killed merely because they could remember a different kind of world,” he wrote.

Anne remembers a world in which she had love. Because of the circumstances of her childhood, raised by a maid and a distant father after the death of her mother, she is particularly desperate to have it back; love is, for her, a long, cool drink of which she can’t have enough. And, unlike those around her on her journey of reclamation, she is not circumspect in the face of violence. Pure eros drives her, in a society that has largely lost its animating will.

The Disappeared is an expert novel, which manages to penetrate to the aching core of the Cambodian tragedy. Eventually, though, its solemnity comes to seem more tragic pose than due regard for the dead, especially when it tips over into tendentiousness: “Get past the golden rule. Make the enemy inhuman. Call the enemy dog, snake, ***, gook, ***, cockroach, slut, all that ugly talk.” And there is something odd about a well-wrought treatment of chaos. Dark comedy or silence may be the only vehicles that can contain a genocide without reducing it.

Still, its heroine’s fell sexuality is a force for life not only in the extinguished world in which she finds herself but in the novel itself. The Disappeared presents desire as an antidote to despair. We may need one, if those who committed the crimes that make memorials like this one necessary continue to, all these years later, elude karma.

The Goya Of The Cambodian Genocide


Lawrence Osborne

How painter Vann Nath reveals the truth of what happened.

It doesn't take very long living in Phnom Pehn before a 10-year-old boy with dog-dark eyes slips a plastic-wrapped book into your hand as you are sitting at an outdoor cafe and says, "Genocide, sir, genocide book. Five dollar."

The child hustlers here are so charming in that Oliver Twist way that you always give in and buy a genocide book and, even more depressingly, you open it. There are certainly many of them being touted by the kids working the Sisowath Quay alongside the Tongle Sap river. There are the works of the American scholar Ben Kiernan, or the harrowing war memoirs of Jon Swain and Fran├žois Bizot, or various other memoirs with titles like Pol Pot Killed My Sister or A Year in Hell.

Genocide is big business in Cambodia; even the set price destination menus inside the tuk tuks feature the "Killing Fields"--the former Khmer Rouge extermination camp at Cheong Ek--as their No. 1 Phnom Penh attraction, followed closely by Tuol Sleng, the secret prison known as S-21.

For the last few years, the UN has been sponsoring a weary, bickering, increasingly fruitless war crimes tribunal to condemn the last five senior members of the Pol Pot regime. In the summer of 2008, I watched in disbelief as Leng Sary, the former foreign minister, was judged "unfit" to stand trial for mental health reasons. This year, it has been the turn of the sinister Ta Duch, the commandant of Tuol Sleng ("Ta," meaning "uncle," was a term used by the Khmer Rouge to designate senior regime officers).

The others on trial are Khieu Samphorn, the former nominal head of state; Noun Chea, Pol Pot's deputy, and Chea's wife, Ieng Thirith. But this month in Phnom Pehn I noticed that the papers were also filled with rumors that the UN was threatening to pull out of a trial seen as being manipulated by the nervous President Hun Sen. The slippery Hun Sen is an ex-Khmer Rouge himself, after all, and he has many skeletons in his capacious cupboards.

On the streets, meanwhile, the most ubiquitous genocide book by far is a slender volume with the modest title, A Cambodian Prison Portrait: A Year in the Khmer Rouge's S-21. Unwrap the plastic and you enter the most harrowing memoir of them all, a first-person account of the Khmer Rouge years by a naive country painter named Vann Nath: one of only seven men to survive Tuol Sleng. Sixteen thousand others were not so lucky.

Some have called Vann Nath the Goya of the genocide, which was contrived by the Maoist regime of Democratic Kampuchea between 1975 and 1979. It was a period in which the strange, secretive dictator Pol Pot--whose real name was Saloth Sar--tried to create what the British historian Philip Short has called "the first modern slave state." Upon emerging victorious from a long guerrilla war against the U.S.-backed government of Lon Nol, Pol Pot's militant Khmer Rouge emptied the cities and drove millions of people into the countryside to work in collective farms.

Twenty thousand died on the road in the first few days of the regime and during the next three years and 10 months, 200,000 were executed as "traitors." In total, between 1.5 million and 2 million died. When the Vietnamese army finally drove Pol Pot back into the jungles of western Cambodia, the country was strewn with the remains of the so-called killing fields.

But the Khmer Rouge did not cease to terrorize Cambodia. Supported by China, Thailand and the U.S., Pol Pot himself fought on in the wild Cardamom Mountains near the town of Pailin, on the border with Thailand. Atrocities continued. In 1994, Khmer Rouge units attacked a train on the Phnom Pehn-Kampot line and executed dozens of people, including three westerners. In 1997, the former Khmer Rouge propaganda minister Son Sen was murdered with his wife and children on Pol Pot's direct orders--a lurid crime that led to the dictator's downfall inside his own movement. Only with Pol Pot's death in 1998 did the movement begin to peter out, and the almost supernatural fear he inspired begin to recede.

Vann Nath's electrifying, primitivist images inspired by Bollywood movie posters and drawn directly from memory, are the only testimony to what happened inside S-21, a former French school in the heart of the city where thousands were tortured and murdered under the eye of the psychopathic Duch. It's a paradox of torture (and genocide, for that matter) that it can rarely if ever actually be photographed as it happens. But it can be painted.

Like Ta Duch, Vann Nath is quite a well-known character in Phnom Pehn. He owns a large Khmer restaurant on Czechoslovakia Street with a dark dining room walled with bamboo and filled with the kind of miniature red-lit Chinese shrines that look like shrunken porn stores. He wasn't difficult to find in the end. A slightly stooped, white-haired man with a kindly, beaten-up face, he is to be found in his restaurant almost every day, self-effacingly holding court with a trickle of visitors and playing with his grandchildren.

You see at once the wounded, hunted eyes and the slight sense of bemusement--it's a face older than its years and yet somehow also younger. When you are one of only seven people who emerge alive from a killing machine that exterminated thousands, you inevitably wonder why it was you and not someone else. As Vann Nah explains in his book, he was only spared because he was a reasonably competent artist. Ta Duch plucked him from the execution lists because he thought he might be able to produce a few decent propaganda portraits of Brother Number One, as Pol Pot was known. (The execution orders still survive, with Ta Duch's signature at the bottom of a long list of Vann Nath's fellow prisoners and a red line under Vann Nath's name with a comment to one side suggesting that he be spared.)

We sat in the gloom of the dining room in the middle of the afternoon, under plastic vine leaves on trellises, while he ordered me a Khmer feast: mo-cou kroeung, a fiery sour soup, and spiced omelettes called pong teair. Vann Nath has his painting studio upstairs above the restaurant and, for all his odd celebrity, it's a quiet life now, by his own admission--daily painting, family and the business. Like most Khmers, he is reticent, refined, never raising his voice or making emphatic gestures. But from time to time he covers his face with a hand in a gesture of apparent nervousness.

He said that he had never dreamed his life would turn out this way, that his work would become the most instantly recognizable icon of a surreal state crime. "I thought I would be painting landscapes. Indeed, I have now gone back to painting landscapes." On Jan. 7, 1978, the 33-year-old painter was arrested. As usual with the Khmer Rouge, there was no explanation, no credible charge; the whole process was somewhat mysterious.

Equally inexplicably, Vann Nah was tortured by electrocution. The questions were always the same. Was he a member of the CIA? The Vietnamese sympathizers? The KGB? He had never heard of any of them. He was then bundled into a convoy bound for Phnom Pehn, still with no idea what he had been arrested for. Instantly, he was catapulted into a Dostoyevskian world of secrecy, paranoia and terror. None of his fellow prisoners knew what they had been arrested for either. It hardly mattered. Decades later, many Khmer Rouge cadres freely admitted that most of the people they had murdered were innocent. Killing innocents was as important as killing the guilty. "Better to kill a thousand innocent people than let a single guilty one go," was one of the Khmer Rouge's cryptically absurd slogans.

In the converted classrooms of S-21, prisoners were shackled together with iron bars. They were not permitted to talk, urinate, stand or even turn their bodies without asking permission from the ferocious teenage guards. If they ate cockroaches to supplement the appalling food, they were beaten savagely--sometimes to death. The guards knew, even if the prisoners didn't, that everyone there was doomed to die anyway.

Vann Nath's gripping paintings show many of these scenes: prisoners being flogged, water-boarded, their nails ripped out, their throats cut (it was rumored that blood was collected in this way and peddled to Phnom Pehn hospitals). In a 2003 documentary made by Rithy Panh, Vann Nath re-visited Tuol Sleng with some of the former guards, who were outwardly unrepentant. With demented enthusiasm, they re-enacted their cruelties--revolutionary children tormenting their elders. They stormed up and down the corridors for the cameras, screaming at the ghosts of long-dead prisoners. Vann Nath and Chum Mey, another survivor, watched them in stupefaction.

"Pol Pot was always obsessed with the Cambodians disappearing as a race," Van Nath said in the restaurant. "There was this racial hysteria about the Vietnamese, about the Khmers being conquered and assimilated. But during that whole time I kept wondering if the Khmers were simply destroying themselves. I wondered, how can we do this to ourselves? Is it self-hatred? Are we trying to wipe ourselves from the face of the earth?"

Australian Envoy Visits Cambodian Ambassador

Bandar Seri Begawan - The ambassador of Cambodia to Brunei Darussalam, Mr Nan Sy, received a courtesy visit from the Australian High Commissioner-Designate to Brunei Darussalam, Mr. Mark Sawers yesterday.

Both countries have shared a long and illustrious history together.

Mr. Mark Sawers said the visit was to further strengthen the well-established relations between both countries.

Cambodia and Australia have worked together and cooperated in various fields including economic development, security matters like people and narcotic smuggling and many others.-- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

US Senator Issues World Water Warning

By Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
20 March 2009

An influential US senator has warned that a worldwide water crisis is quietly claiming millions of lives in developing countries and poses a threat to stability and the global economy.

Sen. Dick Durbin’s warnings come days before the world prepares to mark World Water Day, on Sunday. Durbin is introducing the Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2009, a bill he hopes will put water at the forefront of US development priorities.

“The global water crisis is a quiet killer,” Durbin said Tuesday at a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill, attended by VOA Khmer. “In the developing world, 5,000 children die every day from easily preventable, water-related illnesses, such as cholera, typhoid and malaria, diseases that have been all but eradicated in wealthier nations. Most die silently.”

In Cambodia, unsafe drinking water kills some 10,000 people every year, half of whom are children. Nearly 80 percent of Cambodians live in rural areas, but less than four out of ten have access to improved water.

“Our rural water supply is not yet up to safe water supply,” Mao Saray, director of the Ministry of Rural Development’s rural water supply, told VOA by phone Wednesday. “It is only at what we call ‘improved water supply’...and there is still a long way to go before we can make it safe.”

Mao Saray added that the main sources of water that rural people use come from wells, rain water reservoirs, filtered reservoirs, and community ponds.

People need 50 liters of water per day to meet basic needs, while, according to Johns Hopkins researchers, the average American uses 578 liters of water per day.

Sen. Durbin, who is from the midwestern US state of Illinois, said that in some countries people do not meet the basic requirements, while women are the ones left to bear the hardship.

“Unless people have safe drinking water to start with, you can’t really hope for good health outcomes, enough food for them to eat, liberating women from being slaves carrying water back and forth everyday, and giving the chance for education and the future,” Sen. Durbin told a handful of reporters as he left Tuesday’s meeting “This to me gets to the basics. I want to get the basics, right, so a lot of money that we are spending today may be saved.”

Web Site Offers Solutions for Women

Chhim Manavy, director of the Open Institute.

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
20 March 2009

answer questions posed by Cambodian women has been increasing in popularity since its launch in 2007, a founder said Monday.

“We have had more than 1,000 people visit our Web site since the beginning, and more than 100 people visit the Web site each day,” said Chim Manavy, director of the Open Institute, which sponsors the site, as a guest on “Hello VOA.”

The portal was set up to spread information on women’s issues and rights and to build communication. The site, at, leads to information on legal documents, discrimination laws, domestic violence, rape, trafficking, networks and organizations, and other discussions.

“We have information discussing women’s issues, their difficulties, and visitors can share their comments or give their views on the question,” Chim Manavy said. “Surely women can discuss their problems through the Web and can put their problems [on the site].

A Doctor’s Advice for Cholesterol, Fat

By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
20 March 2009

Proper nutrition, exercise and quitting smoking are the best ways to raise good cholesterol and become healthier, a physician said Thursday.

“A smarter way of looking at the cholesterol risk is by looking at LDL, or bad cholesterol, which is very responsive to good nutrition and exercise,” said Dr. Hong Taing Tek, as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “Stopping smoking is the best way to raise your good cholesterol, or HDL.”

To eat healthier, he said, limit food high in saturated fat, replacing that with grains, vegetables, fish, legumes and nuts. “Good fat,” including from canola, olive, peanut, sesame, corn and sunflower oil, should be used.

Cholesterol should be limited to 300 mg per day, he said, or 200 mg for those with heart disease or risk factors. Trans-fatty acids, found in packaged cookies and crackers and other baked goods, especially commercial fried foods, French fries, cakes, pies, doughnuts and margarine, should also be avoided.

To avoid diabetes and other health risks, he said, lower triglycerides, “the chemicals from which most fat exists in food and in the body,” he said. “They are present in blood plasma and in association with cholesterol.”

“High triglycerides put you at risk for diabetes,” he said. “This means that if you have diabetes, you have the same risk of dying from cardiovascular problems as someone who already has coronary heart disease.”

To lower triglycerides, limit all sugars, such as those found syrup, jam, candies, cookies and other foods, and limit alcohol intake. Cut down on red meat, especially fried, and change to broiled or roasted poultry, he said.

Japan Provides Emergency Tribunal Funds

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
20 March 2009

The Japanese government on Friday announced urgent funding to the Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which had been facing a money crisis.

Japan will provide $200,000 in funds to keep the side of the court going, as the tribunal approaches its first trial, for prison chief Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Duch, on March 30.

The trial will be a hallmark for the tribunal, which took years of negotiation before it was started in 2006 and has yet to try any of five detained former leaders of the ultra-Maoist regime.

The funds were a grant in response to a request from the Cambodian government, the Japanese Embassy said in a statement.

The national side of the UN-Cambodian hybrid tribunal saw funds frozen from other donor countries in the wake of corruption allegations in 2007.

The contribution will specifically fill funding needs for operations of the Cambodian side of the courts, to encourage peace, democracy, the rule of law and good governance, the embassy said.

Japan “hopes strongly that the trials will provide justice for serious crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime and [that the funds] will be applied fairly and urgently without any delay, because former leaders of the Khmer Rouge in custody are very old.”

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said the courts appreciated the funds, and hoped that Cambodian staff within the court will avoid any eventual problems from an end of funding.

“This contribution arrived at the moment when we are preparing to try Duch,” he said.

Ministry To Tighten Broadcast Control

By Pich Samnang, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
20 March 2009

The Ministry of Information will strengthen controls on broadcasting in 2009, officials said Thursday.

In 2009, the ministry plans to continue to monitor and control the publishing of newspapers and the broadcasting of radio and television to ensure media outlets follow ministry guidelines and the Cambodian Press Law, officials said at an annual ministry assessment for 2008.

“The arrests of journalists and rising complaints against journalists has occurred so far, because some journalists did not follow a journalistic codes of conduct,” Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who is also the spokesman for the Cambodian government, said on the sidelines of the meeting.

According to its 2008 report, the Information Ministry called in editors in 27 cases of print and three cases of broadcasting to advise them to follow ministry guidelines and not to publish or broadcast stories against the good culture and tradition of the nation.

The ministry also ordered the permanent closure of Angkor Ratha FM105.25, in Kratie province, shortly after the station leased air time to four political parties (and not the ruling Cambodian People’s Party) in the run-up to 2008 elections.

The closure of the station, together with the arrest of an opposition editor, Dam Sith, and the murder of one of his journalists, Khim Sambo, drew much criticism from national and international press freedom defenders last year.

Um Sarin, president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, said monitoring and control of broadcasts did not affect freedom of expression in Cambodia. However, he said, the ministry should better control its media passes and licenses to ensure quality journalism.

“The problems arising so far come from the ministry itself, which just issues press cards to those who are not professional journalists,” he said, adding that there are hundreds of newspapers in Cambodia, but only a few that regularly appear in newsstands.

According to the ministry’s 2008 report, nearly 600 print media outlets exist nationwide. Among those, national newspapers and magazines account for more than 500; the rest are bulletins and foreign papers and magazines. Of more than 200 broadcast media, more than 80 are live and relay radio stations; the rest comprise local and cable television.

Abhisit Government Sails Through No-confidence Vote

BANGKOK, March 21 (Bernama) -- The Democrat Party-led government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva sailed through several day of stormy debate and contention easily won Saturday morning's no-confidence vote after a two-day censure bid in Parliament, Thailand News Agency (TNA) reported.

Prime Minister Abhisit himself, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, Deputy Finance Minister Pradit Phataraprasit, Interior Minister Chavarat Charnvirakul and Deputy Interior Minister Boonjong Wongtrairat were targeted in the Opposition Puea Thai Party-led censure debate.

The Opposition accused Abhisit and five Cabinet ministers of malfeasance and with violating the Constitution.

The vote of confidence started at 11am chaired by House Speaker Chai Chidchob with some 30 minutes being taken to complete the voting process.

The Abhisit team, which took office in December, won the vote by comfortable margins.

The prime minister's vote count was 246 to 176; Pradit was 246 to 174; Korn 246 to 174; Kasit 237 to 184; Chavarat 246 to 167 and Boonjong 246 to 168.

Foreign Minister Kasit, grilled for his role in supporting the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) action in seizing the airports and for his lambasting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during the disputes over the Preah Vihear Temple, received the least number of affirmative votes.

The much-criticised foreign minister still had a comfortable margin of 53 supporting votes. He said that he would not lose heart and would continue to work harder.


Kasit bears brunt of criticism

Putting on a brave face After pondering the opposition’s allegations and resting his head to shake off tiredness, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya manages a smile before standing to defend himself. Photos by THITI WANNAMONTHA.

Bangkok Post

Published: 21/03/2009

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was given a particularly rough ride during the two-day censure debate, but the Democrat-led coalition government appears to have emerged largely unscathed prior to the House vote today.

But political analysts say it will likely give momentum to the pro-Thaksin Shinawatra alliance's street protests.

Political observers and academics did not believe the two-day censure debate would lead to a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and the ministers who were targeted.

Academic Narong Boonsuayfan, of Walailak University, said the opposition Puea Thai party hoped to use the debate to draw people to join a planned rally of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) next Thursday at Sanam Luang.

''The opposition needs to justify its political campaign against the government. The information from the debate is likely to be used and expanded in its street protests,'' he said.

Political scientist Chaiyan Chaiyaporn, of Chulalongkorn University, said the debate failed to touch upon the government's handling of the country as it should have.

Puea Thai repeated the ''same old story'' which had been circulated within the pro-Thaksin community, but this time the story went out via the public media outlets, he said.

''With this debate the opposition managed to incite hatred using the public media outlets,'' he said.

At the focus of the second day of the debate was Foreign Minister Kasit for his ''personality issues'' and his support for the People's Alliance for Democracy's storming of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports late last year.

It is reported that certain government MPs are considering withholding a vote of confidence for him.

Puea Thai MP for Chiang Rai Wisaradee Techatheerawat said Mr Kasit was not fit for the foreign affairs portfolio because he had created enemies and caused disunity during his terms as Thai ambassador to several countries.

''He even quarrelled with a Thai scholar in Russia,'' she said.

Ms Wisaradee then accused Mr Kasit of demanding 50 tickets from Thai Air ways International, saying they would be used for promoting tourism. Instead, the foreign minister's relatives were seen taking free flights to Japan, she said.

Another woman Puea Thai MP debating against Mr Kasit yesterday was Chachoengsao MP Thitima Chaisang.

She presented a video clip of Mr Kasit speaking at a PAD protest following the Suvarnabhumi airport seizure.

Ms Thitima also played a voice clip of Mr Kasit talking to the foreign media, saying that it was fun with excellent music and food joining the group's rally at Suvarnabhumi airport.

Another clip showing Mr Kasit denouncing Cambodia leader Hun Sen as a bad guy. Puea Thai MP Jatuporn Prompan, also a core member of the UDD, said Mr Kasit's earlier hostile stance toward Cambodia put him in an awkward position as foreign minister.

He accused Mr Kasit of failing to protest against Cambodia's construction of a road in the disputed border area in exchange for securing Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's attendance at the recent Asean summit.

The foreign minister was also accused of acting like an ''international terrorist'' for his support of the airport seizures. Mr Kasit responded aggressively to the opposition MPs. He said he joined the PAD's rallies to fight against the corruption of the Thaksin regime and he was not ashamed of it.

On the border dispute with Cambodia, the minister denied allegations that he allowed Cambodia to encroach on Thai soil.

Mr Kasit said he had cooperated closely with the Thai military and that negotiations to settle the disputes with Phnom Penh were under way.

''We do our best to protect our sovereignty. There is no conflict of interests.'' On the Hun Sen issue, he said that the Cambodian leader threatened to give Thailand an ultimatum to pull out troops from the disputed area near the Preah Vihear temple. He made his remark about Hun Sen's character at the time to protect Thailand's sovereignty.

But later he learned that Hun Sen made his comment because he was misinformed about the situation.

''My verbal attack was meant to protect Thailand's benefits,'' Mr Kasit said, ''but it was a misunderstanding.''

On the alleged disunity among civil servants, he said he took strong action against those who committed irregularities and corruption so he was disliked by the people affected.

About the THAI tickets, Mr Kasit conceded that he contacted the carrier about the possibility of reducing ticket prices to support Thai students in Japan.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also spoke in support of Mr Kasit saying that he was not a PAD leader but only invited to speak at PAD rallies.

''However, if authorities concerned charge that he is guilty, I will not protect him,'' said the prime minister.

''I appointed Mr Kasit [as foreign minister] based on his qualifications, not in return for the kindness

[of the PAD],'' he said.

Japan donates $200,000 to Khmer Rouge tribunal

Taiwan News

Associated Press

Japan has injected $200,000 into the Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal, which has been beset by funding shortages and delays, a court official said Saturday.

The money will be used to offset a shortfall in March salaries for 251 Cambodian court employees, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said.

The U.N.-backed tribunal is tasked with seeking justice for atrocities committed by the communists during their four years in power in the late 1970s. The Khmer Rouge's radical policies caused an estimated 1.7 million deaths.

Five former Khmer Rouge leaders, aging and infirm, are being held for trial by the tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity and war atrocities.

"The fund comes at a time when the Cambodian side of the court is having difficulties in disbursing salaries," the spokesman said, adding he hoped other donors would help meet payroll costs in coming months.

The tribunal operates under the joint administration of Cambodia and the U.N., which have separate budgets. In January, Japan gave $21 million to the U.N. side of the operation.

The court has been troubled by political wrangling and allegations that some Cambodian officials were demanding kickbacks from people trying to secure jobs with it.

The Japanese Embassy said in a statement Friday that it hoped the trials would render justice and be carried out properly and promptly, noting those on trial are already old.