Saturday, 9 January 2010

CMAC chalks up three-year high in 2009 demining efforts


(CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- The area cleared of land mines and unexploded remnants of war reached 31 square km for the first 11 months of 2009, surpassing the combination of the previous years, which hovered at around 27 square km, local media reported on Friday.

data from the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) said the increase was due to a combination of training in new methods of mine clearance and a flexible application of clearance tools, the Cambodia Daily quoted Oum Sang Onn, CMAC's director of operations and planning, as saying.

After years of practice, including a burst of training in 2008,CMAC teams are now skilled at using everything from mine-detection dogs to bulldozer-like bush cutters that unearth and safety detonate mines and UXOs, Oum Sang Onn said.

Although the amount of land demined increased last year, the number of mines that were actually cleared fell from 26,206 separate mines in 2008 to 18,046 for the first 11 months of 2009. Oum Sang Onn said this may be because most of the heavily-mined areas of the country have already been cleared.

In contrast, the number of cleared UXOs increased from 114,101 in 2008 to 122,557 in the first 11 months of 2009, which Oum Sang Onn attributed to efforts to teach villagers to report locations of mines and UXO, and of more UXO-clearance teams being deployed beginning in 2008.

The northwest is the country's most heavily mined region, with Battambang province having the most, Oum Sang Onn said. UXO are spread across the country, he said, a result of bombing in the east and ground fighting in the west.

Casualties of mines and UXO have declined steadily in recent years, according to the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System, falling from 450 in 2006, to 352 in 2007, to 271 in 2008. Figures for 2009 have yet to be published.

Editor: Lin Zhi

Cambodia begins using own Unicode


(CAAI News Media)

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 8 (Xinhua) -- The long-awaited Unicode in Cambodian language has been allowed to use in all government's institutions and private sectors, a government spokesman said on Friday.

Phay Siphan, spokesman of the Council of Ministers said that the Khmer Unicode, the only standardized encoding of the Khmer script has been allowed to be used nationwide.

He said the government already announced the use of this Unicode last month by a decree dated Dec. 24.

He said most of the government's institutions and ministries, especially, the Council of Ministers have already used this Unicode for about two months.

So far, many Cambodian computers users have complained about the changeable computer script and time constraint once they type in Cambodian language.

According to the legal procedure and law, the decree on the official use across the country will come into effect 60 days after the official announcement is made.

Editor: Fang Yang

Cambodia boosts border troops to stop civilians entering Thailand

Posted : Fri, 08 Jan 2010
By : dpa

(CAAI News Media)

Phnom Penh - The Cambodian military has stationed extra troops in a western border province to prevent people from crossing illegally into Thailand to fell trees, local media reported Friday. A senior military officer in Oddar Meanchey province told the Phnom Penh Post newspaper the move came after a four-month period in which a number of Cambodian civilians had been shot, allegedly by Thai troops, after crossing illegally into Thailand to fell trees.

"We took this measure because we don't want to see Cambodian people shot or arrested and sent to Thai prisons," said Nuon Nov, a regional deputy military commander.

Poverty is widespread in Cambodia and drives thousands to work in Thailand, often illegally, to earn money for their families back home.

In the most infamous case, a 16-year-old died in September after he was shot and wounded, then allegedly tied to an ox-cart while alive and burned to death by Thai soldiers. The Thai government later insisted the teenager had already died from gunshot wounds when troops burned his body.

Nuon Nov said troop numbers were bolstered this week and on the first day alone 60 civilians had been stopped from crossing the border.

"We brought these people back to be re-educated [about the dangers], and we also punished them to dig trenches for one week," he said. "Otherwise, they will not be afraid."

Last month, the Cambodian government instructed provincial authorities to do more to stop people crossing illegally into Thailand.

The relationship between the two nations has been tense for more than a year with a number of clashes reported between troops from both countries over a disputed piece of land near the Preah Vihear temple in northern Cambodia.

Ties worsened late last year when Cambodia appointed Thailand's fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra as an adviser to the government.

DAP News ; Breaking News by Soy Sopheap

(CAAI News Media)

US Congressmen Appeal for Cambodia’s Debt to Be Dropped

Friday, 08 January 2010 02:00 DAP-NEWS

US Congressman Eni Faleomavaega on Thursday said that he will appeal for the US drop about US$300 million debt Cambodia has owed the US since in 1970s.

“I will ask my side to consider about that debt,” he told reporters at Phnom Penh airport before departure back to the US.

Yesterday morning, Faleomavaega met Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Eang Sophallet, assistant to PM Hun Sen, said that Faleomavaega came to Cambodia to strengthen bilateral cooperation and both sides discussed the debt.

Faleomavaega is chairman of the Committee of International Relations for ASEAN Affairs. He said that he try improve the relationship between the US and Cambodia, a relationship that has been improving in recent years.

Better relations will help to build peace in the region and the world, he said.

Congressman Eni Faleomavaega joined by his colleagues Congressmen Joseph Cao and Mike Honda all of whom arrived in the capital yesterday after a short trip to Siem Reap. They joined the January 7 Victory Day at the office of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

The diplomatic ties between US and Cambodia were established 60 years ago.

Cambodian-UN Prison Initiative Improves Conditions

Friday, 08 January 2010 02:01 DAP-NEWS

More than 1,000 inmates at the Siem Reap prison now have more water for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene thanks to an innovative partnership between the UN human rights office and the Cambodia Government aimed at prison reform, said a press release from the UN obtained on Thursday.

The Office of the High Commis- sioner for Human Rights in Cambodia (OHCHR-Cambodia) worked with authorities at the country’s third largest prison to install a rain-water harvesting system that provides water free of charge and helps to preserve the underground water resources, it said.

Before the system was introduced, the 1,300 detainees had to rely on limited underground water for drinking, preparing meals, washing and sewage disposal. However, now with the new system, the prisoners have access to an average of over 8,000 litres of additional water per day.

The project is just one of several carried out by OHCHR-Cambodia’s Prison Reform Support Programme, which since its launch in 2008 has also helped to achieve an almost doubling of daily food ration per detainee, from the equivalent of US$0.37 to US$0.70, in all the 24 prisons across the country, it noted.

“The programme takes a holistic approach. It’s about human rights monitoring and at the same time working with the General Department of Prisons (GDP) to tackle the root causes of problems,” said Marie-Dominique Parent, OHCHR-Cambodia Human Rights Officer in charge of the programme. “Detainees’ rights are much broader than civil and political rights. So we look at all aspects of life in prison including food, health, sanitation and water, and help the prison authorities to find practical solutions to address these issues.”

OHCHR-Cambodia is also supporting the drafting of a new law on the management of prisons consistent with international human rights standards, and works to facilitate cooperation between Cambodian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the prison authorities.

“We also raise difficult issues such as torture, corruption and food with the Government but do so in a manner that is not perceived as hostile. We discuss issues of concerns and we find solutions together,” said Christophe Peschoux, head of OHCHR-Cambodia.

Cambodian officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Govt marks liberation from KR

Photo by: Dc-CAM
The extraordinary events of January 7, 1979, are celebrated by people in Siem Reap in the early 1980s in this file photo.

(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:04 Vong Sokheng and Sebastian Strangio

Opinions again divided over Vietnam’s role in toppling the Pol Pot regime in 1979

THOUSANDS turned out on Thursday morning for celebrations marking the 31st anniversary of the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime, reigniting an annual debate about the meaning and legacy of the event.

During an official ceremony at the headquarters of the Cambodian People’s Party, party chairman Chea Sim paid tribute to the Vietnamese offensive that led the overthrew of Pol Pot in 1979.

“We celebrate the 31st anniversary of the great victory on January 7, 1979, which saved our nation and people from the genocidal disaster caused by the regime of Democratic Kampuchea,” he said in an address.

“At the same time, Cambodia forever carves in its heart [the] invaluable services of the voluntary army and people of Vietnam, under the leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam, for their effective and timely mannered response to the call of the people of Cambodia.”

Chea Sim also took the opportunity to laud the achievements of the Vietnamese-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) – the forerunner to the CPP regime of today – and castigate those local and international forces that opposed it during the civil war of the 1980s.

“All of their actions have failed one after the other in face of the national forces in great solidarity, with support and assistance provided by friends from near and far,” he added.

But the implications of January 7 and the ensuing civil war between the Phnom Penh government and resistance groups camped on the Thai border continue to cast a long shadow over Cambodian politics. Some critics maintain that the liberation from Pol Pot merely ushered in a new form of domination from communist Vietnam.

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior officials from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party release doves to mark the anniversary of the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

“Cambodian sovereignty has been transferred to Vietnam over the past 30 years,” said Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. He said the party welcomed the fall of the Khmer Rouge, but that January 7 had brought with it a host of problems, including illegal Vietnamese immigration, political repression and the routine violation of Cambodian sovereignty.

“People living along the Cambodia-Vietnam border are losing their land because of a border demarcation process based on a 1985 treaty,” he said. “This is what January 7 left behind.”

Former resistance fighters, who opposed the PRK regime with international backing throughout the 1980s, agreed that the fall of the Khmer Rouge was no excuse for the problems that resulted from the Vietnamese presence.

“When we were in the jungle, we were against January 7. We were happy about the end of the Khmer Rouge, but our duty was to look to the future,” said Pol Ham, the former information minister of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Front, which opposed the PRK.

“The 7th of January brought the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, but the start of the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia.”

A day less divisive
Lu Laysreng, the deputy president of Funcinpec and a former resistance figure, proposed October 23, 1991 – the date of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords – as a more unifying national event.

“Some day, when democratic political parties are able to rule the country, we will have the ability to eliminate the January 7 [holiday] and replace it with October 23 … as an anniversary of reconciliation,” he said.

But others said that the overthrow of the “genocidal” Khmer Rouge – and preventing their return – justified the involvement of Vietnamese assistance and made January 7 a worthy celebration.

“In order to save the lives of Cambodian people [and prevent] the return of the Khmer Rouge regime, we needed Vietnamese soldiers to remain in the country to fight against the KR,” said Ros Chantraboth, a professor of political science and deputy director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia.

The country owed a debt of gratitude to the Vietnamese army and the National Front for the Salvation of Kampuchea, he said, referring to the resistance group established by Khmer Rouge defectors in Kratie province in December 1978.

But despite opposing the event in principle, Pol Ham added that both sides repeating the same statements year after year only detracted from the national challenges still remaining. “I don’t care about the celebration – if many people are happy about it I don’t mind,” he said. “We must look to the future of our country.… January 7 is history.”


Chea Sim warns KRT against 'ill intentions'

(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:04 Vong Sokheng

A SENIOR government official has again warned the Khmer Rouge tribunal not to threaten national reconciliation and development, echoing earlier government concerns about additional prosecutions of former regime figures.

“We oppose any attempts to use the chamber for ill-intentions that would have an impact on peace, national reconciliation and development, which are our hard-won achievements,” said Chea Sim, president of the Cambodian People’s Party.

Speaking at an official ceremony marking the anniversary of the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, Chea Sim pledged the party’s continued backing for the court.

The CPP would support the tribunal “in trying crimes committed by senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea regime”, he said.

Chea Sim’s comments were an apparent reference to disagreements between the government and the UN-backed court over whether to proceed with more prosecutions of former regime figures.

In October, the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges also summoned six senior government officials to testify in the upcoming trial of four former regime leaders. None has so far expressed any willingness to appear before the court.

In response to Chea Sim’s comments, tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said the court was independent and makes its decisions “independently in accordance with the law”.

“We do not seek approval or advice from lawmakers or people from the executive branch in our work,” he said.


US caucus meets with PM

Photo by: Sovan Philong
US Congressmen Eni Faleomavaega (left) and Mike Honda field questions Thursday during their three-day visit to Cambodia.

(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:04 James O'Toole

A VISITING delegation of three American congressmen met Thursday with Prime Minister Hun Sen, during which they offered encouragement for the Kingdom’s business community while also raising concerns over the government’s controversial deportation of a group of Chinese Uighur asylum-seekers last month.

Joseph Cao of Louisiana, Mike Honda of California and Eni Faleomavaega, a non-voting Congressional delegate from American Samoa, arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday after visiting Vietnam.

The discussion with Hun Sen, Faleomavaega said, focused largely on financial concerns. Cambodian garment manufacturers are currently seeking duty-free access to the United States, the largest market for Cambodian exports. Government officials, meanwhile, want the US to cancel US$300 million in debt accrued during the Lon Nol era.

Though the congressmen made no specific commitments, the three men – members of the US Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus – said they would advocate on Cambodia’s behalf when they returned to Washington.

“In studying the history of the debt, it seems like it’s something that we as a caucus can deal with in Congress ourselves,” Honda said during a press conference following the meeting.

The discussion with Hun Sen also touched briefly, Faleomavaega said, on Cambodia’s controversial deportation of the 20 Uighur Chinese back to China last month, where activists say the group may face arrest or persecution in connection with riots between Uighurs and ethnic Chinese last July.

“The feeling of the international community is that they will likely be executed if they were to return to China, and this has been our very serious concern,” Faleomavaega said.

The US State Department released a statement last month saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the incident, which came just days before Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and senior Cambodian officials signed 14 economic aid agreements totalling US$1.2 billion, adding that it would “affect Cambodia’s relationship with the US and its international standing”.

Cao questioned whether China had “imperialistic intents”, while Faleomavaega noted the country’s “tremendous influence” in the region, acknowledging questions about the timing of the aid package.

“I don’t know if this was a quid pro quo ... but a lot of people would take that as there seems to be a connection,” he said, adding that the Cambodian government deserved the chance to publicly explain its decision to the international community.


KR Tribunal: Civil party increase for Case No 2

(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:03 Robbie Corey Boulet

KR Tribunal

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has so far approved 246 civil party applications for its second case, up from 93 for the case against Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, UN court spokesman Lars Olsen said Thursday. The tribunal had received 3,533 civil party applications along with 3,598 complaints as of the end of December. All applications are to be processed by the time co-investigating judges issue their closing order against Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith. The deadline for applications is two weeks after the investigation in the case concludes, which is expected to happen next week, Olsen said.

Trafficking suspect to be questioned in Battambang court

(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

A 35-YEAR-OLD man arrested in Battambang province this week on human trafficking allegations was due to appear in court for questioning Thursday evening, officials said.

Police say Chum Chong is believed to have been behind the illegal transportation of at least 80 people into Thailand, where they were reportedly given jobs as day labourers.

Pich Saraen, police chief for Battambang’s Sampov Loun district, said police had been investigating Chum Chong “for several months” before arresting him on Tuesday evening while he was allegedly driving six adults and three children, aged between 1 and 4 years, to the Thai border.

“My police officers ambushed and arrested the suspect while he was taking nine victims and preparing them to illegally cross over the Cambodia-Thailand border,” Pich Saraen said.

“The suspect confessed that he had sent more than 80 people to work as labourers on 15 different occasions, but the police believe he has done even more than this,” he added.

My police officers ambushed and arrested the suspect [on tuesday evening].

Pich Saraen said Chum Chong reported having transported both adults and children in groups of between six and 10 to a Thai broker who waited at the border, and that he had received a combined total of between 1,200 and 1,600 Thai baht (US$48) for each person.

Court appearance
Provincial police Chief Sor Thet said Chum Chong was due to appear in provincial court late Thursday evening, where he was to face questioning in connection with possible charges under the 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking.

“We have sent the suspect late this evening for further investigation of the primary charge of illegal cross-border transfer of persons under the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking,” Sor Thet said.

As for the nine people Chum Chong was allegedly attempting to drive to the border at the time of his arrest, Pich Saraen said they had been “re-educated” and returned to their home villages in Sampov Lun district.

The “re-education”, he said, had consisted primarily of stark warnings that the majority of Cambodians who head to Thailand to work as labourers either head back with no money or are deported.

SRP petitions King to drop Rainsy case

(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:03 Meas Sokchea

THE opposition Sam Rainsy Party has been collecting thumbprints for a petition calling on King Norodom Sihamoni and the National Assembly to urge the dropping of a criminal complaint against Sam Rainsy, who faces charges of destroying public property and racial incitement in connection with an October border protest in Svay Rieng province, SRP lawmaker Ho Vann said Thursday.

Ho Vann said the petition had more than 200,000 thumbprints, and that it would also be sent to King Father Norodom Sihanouk. He said he did not know when the petition would be finalised.

This is not a request for amnesty because sam rainsy has not been found guilty yet.

King Norodom Sihamoni has the formal authority to grant pardons, though Ho Vann stressed that the petition was not a pardon request.

“This is not a request for amnesty because Sam Rainsy has not been found guilty yet,” he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Tuesday that he would not ask the King to pardon Sam Rainsy if the Svay Rieng provincial court were to hand down a guilty verdict in his upcoming criminal trial.

The charges against Sam Rainsy stem from an October 25 incident in which he joined villagers in uprooting six wooden border markers in Svay Rieng close to the border with Vietnam, which they said were planted in their rice fields by Vietnamese authorities.

Senior Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap on Thursday dismissed the petition as irrelevant, saying that any decision to drop the criminal complaint would need to be made by the provincial court.

“If the court doesn’t agree to this, then the complaint will continue,” he said. “The National Assembly would not think to intervene because it is up to the court.”

Kite festival keeps traditions alive

Children fly kites on Thursday, the last day of the Koh Kong International Kite Festival.

(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:03 Khouth Sophakchakrya

THE clear blue sky above Koh Kong was filled with vibrant fabric Thursday – a poignant celebration of a resurgent Cambodian tradition nearly lost to history just a few decades ago.

Colourful khleng ek kites soared high overhead Thursday as the Koh Kong International Kite Festival came to a close.

Participants came from across the Kingdom, as well as from countries as distant as Sweden and France.

The tradition, involving intricately decorated kites sent whistling through the sky – a sound caused by the ek, a type of kite that emits a whistling tone as it soars into the air – predates even the Angkor era in Cambodia, when people flew kites at the start of the rainy season to encourage rainfall.

The festival was an opportunity to share Cambodia’s traditions with the world, said the festival’s organiser, Ouk Lay, the deputy director of international cultural relations and Asean affairs at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

“We have the chance of showing our culture,” Ouk Lay said. “All the people in the world can learn about the culture.”

The ornate decoration on a kite could be seen at the Koh Kong International Kite Festival Thursday.

Reviving the tradition
But the tradition was nearly devastated during the turmoil under the Khmer Rouge regime, said Roeung Sareth, a khleng ek artisan.

For years after, the khleng ek tradition lay dormant until the early 1990s, when a handful of elderly Cambodians cautiously flew their kites in an open field.

The first official festival came in 1994; authorities have held festivals every year since 1999.

“When the kite flies in the sky, it shows the many colours and happiness of Cambodians,” Roeung Sareth said.

Summit may see return of artefacts

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A bronze reclining Buddha from the Angkorian period on display in Cambodia’s National Museum in Phnom Penh. Cambodia is hoping to recover similar artefacts stolen from the nation over the years.


(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:03 Sam Rith

CAMBODIA will likely take part in a conference in Egypt later this year demanding the return of stolen antiquities that are on display in museums worldwide.

The Kingdom would be one of 30 countries worldwide invited to the conference, which is scheduled to be hosted by Egypt in April.

Cambodian officials applauded the initiative.

“This will be a gathering to send a message to the world, as well as individuals, to return antiquities to their origin countries,” said Hab Touch, director of the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

Besides Cambodia, other countries participating in the Cairo gathering include Greece, Mexico, Peru, Afghanistan, Iraq and China, officials with Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities announced.

“Officials from these countries will discuss taking action internationally to support efforts to return stolen antiquities to their countries of origin,” Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, said Wednesday.

The conference will look at existing international laws on the subject and provoke discussion on how they can be used to “protect the rights of the countries to recover their cultural and archaeological property”, Hawass said.

It is hoped that each country involved in the conference will draw up a list of antiquities it claims.

Cambodia has worked with UNESCO and cooperated with other countries to urge the return of its ancient artworks.

Many significant pieces have been lost over centuries, particularly during periods of war, said Hab Touch. Many pieces are on display in international institutions in France, Britain and the United States, as well as in private collections.

Hab Touch said there was no figure available on how many Cambodian antiquities are currently residing in foreign countries.

But at the same time, individual pieces long ago removed from the Kingdom have also been returned.

Treasures restored
In 2009, Cambodia received antiquities from the United States, Germany and Thailand, he said, including a statue of a headless four-armed deity dating back to the 11th century. The statue had been missing since the 1970s, until a German man encountered the object for sale by a private collection. He purchased it on the Kingdom’s behalf and donated it to the National Museum in December.

The work to repatriate Cambodian antiquities, however, remains an uphill battle.

“It is not an easy job,” Hab Touch said. “It is a complicated task that needs further work.”


Soldiers crack down on border crossings

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Logs cut from illegally felled trees litter the side of a road in Kampong Thom province. The authorities in Oddar Meanchey have announced new measures to combat illegal logging.

We have educated them in the villages, but they do no listen to us.

(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:03 Uong Ratana

SOLDIERS in Oddar Meanchey province have ramped up their presence along the Thai border this week to prevent Cambodians from crossing over, a move military officials said was in response to an increase in attacks by Thai soldiers on Cambodians participating in illegal logging forays.

“We took this measure because we wanted to avoid these incidents, because we don’t want to see Cambodian people shot or arrested and sent to Thai prisons,” said Nuon Nov, deputy military commander for Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Region 4.

He said the increased military presence was first implemented on Tuesday, and that the soldiers had stopped 60 Cambodians looking to cross the border illegally on that day alone.

“We brought those people back to be re-educated, and we also punished them to dig trenches for one week,” he said. “Otherwise, they will not be afraid.”

Officials in Oddar Meanchey have reported a string of incidents in which Thai soldiers have allegedly opened fire on illegal loggers since September 11, when Thai soldiers allegedly shot and burned alive 16-year-old Yon Rith.

In December, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a note to the Interior Ministry instructing it to urge villagers not to risk crossing into Thailand illegally.

Van Kosal, the governor of Trapaing Prasat district, the home of many of the loggers who have been involved in the reported incidents with Thai soldiers, said local officials were having little success deterring illegal trips across the border.

“We have educated them in the villages, but they do not listen to us,” he said. “I am glad that they have started this policy along the border. All the people that are brought back are being educated about the dangers of crossing the border illegally.”

Srey Naren, Adhoc’s coordinator in Oddar Meanchey, said authorities should also attempt to crack down on the businessmen financing illegal logging operations. “If they want to prevent this 100 percent, then they need to arrest the businessmen,” he said.

Challenges of teaching a brutal past

Cambodians in Phnom Penh hold signs that read "Hooray, Cambodia has been completely liberated", and "Hooray, the People’s Advisory Council, Revolutionary Kampuchea", on January 17, 1979.


(CAAI News Media)

Friday, 08 January 2010 15:02 Robbie Corey Boulet

DC-Cam hopes that its history lessons about the Khmer Rouge can promote reconciliation, but pushes teachers to use new techniques.

Takeo Province

ON a recent Thursday, a classroom full of high school teachers in Takeo province sat in groups of five sharing survivors’ recollections of 20th-century mass atrocities.

In one group, the first teacher to speak delivered a five-minute summary of the Holocaust structured around the account of a Jew who fled the ghetto in Horochow, Poland, to forage in the forest. “It’s an amazing thing,” the teacher said, reading from the survivor’s account. “When one is hungry and completely demoralised, you become inventive. When I even say it I don’t believe it – I ate worms, I ate bugs, I ate anything that I could put in my mouth. And, I don’t know, sometimes I would get very ill.”

Another told the group about the killing of more than 8,000 men and boys during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, relating the story of a 17-year-old, identified as Witness O, who survived and later testified in court about his experience. “The soldiers tied Witness O’s hands behind his back with a kind of very hard string, and then put him in another classroom, where he could feel clothes under his feet,” the teacher said. “When all the men’s hands were tied, the soldiers took them out of the building and put them on a truck.”

A third teacher told the group about the Iraqi government’s 1988 campaign against the Kurds, reading aloud the account of a labourer who was nearly buried alive in a mass grave. “When I sat down, I was hit on the back of the head,” he read. “I fell down inside the hole. I saw one of the guys inside the hole, and I lost my consciousness.”

And then it was Yeb Dodon’s turn. The 55-year-old teacher from Kep was tasked with providing a brief history of the Khmer Rouge regime. It was this history that was the focus of the training programme, organised by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, in which the teachers had been participating for the past two weeks.

Photo by: DC-CAM
High school students in Pursat receive copies of A History of Democratic Kampuchea.

The training was one of six held in November and December that covered A History of Democratic Kampuchea, the first government-sanctioned textbook about the regime. Between now and the end of 2010, the 186 teachers who participated will, in turn, help to train 3,000 of their peers.

DC-Cam is hopeful that, 31 years after the regime fell from power, the curriculum can help Cambodia along the difficult road to national reconciliation, though doubts remain about whether the teachers will be able to successfully implement the innovative methods it prescribes.

Beginning his presentation, Yeb Dodon said: “Khmer Rouge was the name the King gave to his communist opponents in the 1960s. April 17, 1975, ended five years of foreign interventions, bombardment and civil war in Cambodia. On this date, Phnom Penh fell to the communist forces.

But under Democratic Kampuchea, all the people were deprived of their basic rights.”

He went on from there, eschewing the survivor’s narrative he had been given and instead reciting facts about the leadership structure of the Khmer Rouge, its 1977 four-year plan and its construction projects. He touched on Norodom Sihanouk’s support of the regime, and how the King was later placed under house arrest on the Royal Palace compound. But just as he began to tell of the abolition of religion, Christopher Dearing, who was helping to run the training for DC-Cam, told the teachers that time was up.

Yeb Dodon closed his book and laughed. “I think there is too much,” he said.

Written by DC-Cam researcher Khamboly Dy and published in 2007, A History of Democratic Kampuchea offers a straightforward and thorough account of the regime’s rise, reign and legacy, though one that skirts several points of contention, such as whether the 1979 overthrow by the Vietnamese amounted to liberation or an invasion.

Photo by: DC-CAM
A student speaks at a textbook distribution event in Takeo in October 2009.

The teacher’s guidebook has been more controversial. During the approval process, members of a Ministry of Education review committee occasionally clashed with DC-Cam staff members over how the material should be taught, objecting to some of the more interactive lessons.

The guidebook calls for, among other things, an in-class lecture by a survivor of the regime, an interview with a former cadre and a role-play in which students pretend to be both victims and perpetrators of Khmer Rouge crimes.

Teachers who participated in the Takeo training said they were apprehensive about the interactive and small-group activities, many of which differ markedly from the traditional lecture-style teaching methods commonly employed in Cambodia. Several said, in fact, that they were far more concerned about the format of the lessons than their content.

“Dividing in groups is new for me, and I have never really done this before,” said Sam Rethy, 55. “Usually I just have my students read and answer questions, without any activities.”

Yeb Dodon said he was grateful for the exposure to new techniques, though he added that he was worried about the prospect of having to actually use them on his own. “I think this guidebook and the foreign instructors taught me how to teach more effectively,” he said, “but it is going to be very difficult to follow these instructions because my teaching style has never been to divide people in groups and have discussions like this.”

Though DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang said he believed the teachers had adapted to the methods, the organisers of the Takeo training indicated that there could be obstacles down the road.

“In relation to history teaching, the differences in pedagogy are not great or insurmountable: the main difference relates to a greater emphasis on organised student participation and collaboration,” Laura Summers, a Cambodia expert at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom who served as a training monitor, said via email.

However, she added, “Most classrooms will not have the space that we had in the training centre, or the easily moveable chairs with writing arms.

Most schools have heavy, wooden desks and no assembly hall or spare teaching rooms.”

Beyond resource limitations, Dearing said, some of the teachers might lack the confidence to try the new techniques outside the context of the training.

“The idea is to increase the teachers’ competency and confidence in these methods so they will be comfortable using them in large classes. Many are ready to do this now,” he said. “However, I expect that not all teachers would readily implement these methods on their own.”

Youk Chhang defended the interactive teaching methods, citing as an example the comparative history exercise, which he said would contextualise the Khmer Rouge years for students unfamiliar with mass crimes in other countries.

“I want to show that, yes, these are crimes against humanity, but we’re not the only victims,” he said.

The inclusion of a wide range of voices in the lessons, he added, would help to establish a balanced, authoritative narrative of Democratic Kampuchea.

This would be a welcome change from years past, some teachers said. Because the Ministry of Education has never before endorsed a textbook specific to the Khmer Rouge, what little classroom instruction students have received until now has been informal, often drawing heavily from teachers’ personal experiences – or, in the cases of younger teachers, those of their families – rather than peer-reviewed academic material.

For example, Eng Bo, a 39-year-old teacher who travelled from Kampot to take part in the Takeo training, said during a break that, in previous years, he had often told students of being separated from his parents and of being ordered, at the age of 5, to retrieve clothes from the dead bodies of cadres at the cooperative to which he was sent. But he said he had been unable to relate those experiences to broader crimes committed by the regime because he himself had known little about the scale of its destruction.

“I was alive during the Pol Pot time, so some of this is not news to me,” he said. “But this week I have been very shocked to learn about all of the people that Pol Pot killed.”

Reaching for reconciliation
Youk Chhang is convinced that the teaching of Khmer Rouge history can promote national reconciliation – in the acknowledgments of the teacher’s guidebook, he goes so far as to assert that DC-Cam’s Genocide Education Project “has become the truth commission of Cambodia”.

But even among teachers participating in the trainings, he said, there remains a tendency to demonise former cadres, particularly regime leaders.

“The teachers want to see who these people were. They always ask for photographs,” he said. “They want to see their faces. But when they see the pictures, they’re not satisfied because the faces look so human. They don’t see the cruelty. They want to confirm what they already know, and so they keep asking for more pictures.”

He added: “We need teachers to recognise that half of their students are the children of former Khmer Rouge. The regime was bad, but not every individual who joined the regime was bad.”

Historian David Chandler, who has consulted on the Genocide Education Project, said this idea was central to attempts at reconciliation. “I think understanding that human beings are human beings rather than monsters from outer space is crucial for coming to terms with a phenomenon like the Khmer Rouge,” he said.

To this end, even those most deserving of condemnation are presented in a nuanced manner. The guidebook, for example, includes a photograph of Pol Pot, taken in the 1980s near the Thai border, sitting in a chair with his daughter in his lap, smiling, while five other children gather around him.

Photo by: DC-CAM
Pol Pot near Thai border in the 1980s.

“I want to humanise him,” Youk Chhang said of the image. “Pol Pot was obviously a bad leader, but I don’t want to create hate.”

The curriculum has been designed to strike a balance between laying bare the atrocities for which the regime is responsible and defusing any tension that knowledge might spark.

Asked to give an example of how such tension might manifest itself, Youk Chhang recalled a textbook distribution event at Phnom Penh’s Youkunthor High School involving Norng Chan Phal, a child survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, and Him Huy, who worked there as a guard.

Though the event was intended to demonstrate the potential for reconciliation between victims and perpetrators, the question-and-answer session went in a different direction.

“At first, the whole class was silent,” Youk Chhang said. “You could tell they were preparing questions. But they were undecided on who to ask.

Finally, one of the students got up and asked Him Huy: ‘Did you join the Khmer Rouge because you wanted power?’ And then the whole class started clapping. The whole class! They did not stop! And Huy tried to answer politely, but the students wouldn’t accept the answer.

“And that kind of question can make a teacher uncomfortable,” he added.

Though the wounds of the regime are far from healed, those who organised the Takeo training said they believed that, by the end, the teachers were capable of presenting the period in a manner that downplayed individual wrongdoing, thereby limiting the potential for similar incidents.

“The teachers recognised that they were not only teaching the history of [Democratic Kampuchea] in terms of raising students’ historical understanding of the period, but also their historical empathy with people who lived during the period,” Dearing said.

Summers noted that many of the teachers at the Takeo training were Khmer Rouge survivors – “so they knew many party, army or co-op cadres as human beings”.

“The teachers were interested in promoting reconciliation through the teaching of history and in preparing their students for life in the rapidly changing social and economic circumstances of today,” she said.

“One teacher stated during a general discussion that a greater knowledge of history would not ensure that all students would become good citizens, but he said ‘we must aim for that’ and then hope that ‘at least some of them will be better citizens’.”