Saturday, 17 April 2010

Red Shirt leaders surrounded in Thailand

Anti-government protesters gather in a Thai shopping district

via CAAI News Media

Friday, 16 April 2010

An anti-government protest leader staged a dramatic escape from a hotel surrounded by police on Friday, scaling down a rope ladder and dashing into a getaway car after the government vowed to hunt down "terrorists" responsible for deadly clashes with troops
Arisman Pongruanrong scaled down the facade of the hotel in downtown Bangkok into a waiting crowd of Red Shirt supporters who then helped him into a car that drove away. A second protest leader was seen climbing out of a hotel window and down a tree. It was not immediately clear if he escaped.
Arisman's escape was a major embarrassment to the government. Minutes earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban announced on national television that a unit of special forces had encircled the SC Park Hotel in the Thai capital where Arisman and other "Red Shirt" protests leaders were holed up.
"As I speak, a special force unit has been sent to SC Park Hotel, where some of these terrorists and leaders are staying."
The crackdown signalled the government was willing to risk another confrontation with the anti-government protesters who are campaigning to oust Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, a dissolution of Parliament and new elections.
Thousands of Red Shirts, mostly rural poor, have congregated in Bangkok since March 12. They occupied two areas, one of which troops tried to clear last weekend, leading to clashes that left 24 people dead and more than 800 injured.
The Red Shirts withdrew from that area on Thursday and consolidated their forces at their second encampment in Rajaprasong, the main business and hotel district of Bangkok.

Suthep said there were "clear terrorist elements within the demonstration ... the terrorists within the demonstrators used war weapons.

"I would like to ask innocent protesters to leave the demonstration area, in order to avoid being used as human shields," Suthep said. "The government from now on would like to carry out decisive legal measures against the Red Shirt leaders. We're worried that the terrorists would intentionally harm protesters to create chaos and incite unrest," he said, adding that the government is co-ordinating with various security agencies to arrest the Red Shirt leaders.

The crisis has deeply divided this Southeast Asian nation into colour-coded factions, threatening to sink an economy that had recently started to revive. The Red Shirts are bitterly opposed by the Yellow Shirts who support the government but have over the past few months stayed on the sidelines.

Thai protest leader flees police out hotel window

Anti-government leader Arisman Pongruanrong, in red, is helped by others as he flees arrest Friday, April 16, 2010, at a downtown Bangkok, Thailand.

via CAAI News Media

TASANEE VEJPONGSA, Associated Press Writer

BANGKOK – A leader of anti-government protesters escaped from Thai commandos Friday by sliding down a rope from his hotel and then vowed to hunt down the prime minister, raising fears the nation's political crisis could spark more bloodshed.

Arisman Pongruangrong drove off in a getaway car with two senior police officers taken hostage by his supporters, in the latest humiliation for the government, which less than 30 minutes earlier had announced on national television that police commandos had surrounded the hotel to arrest Arisman and other protest leaders.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva delayed a scheduled televised statement later Friday — his first in four days — after the botched raid.

Authorities have tried without success to end a month of demonstrations by tens of thousands of "Red Shirt" protesters in some of Bangkok's most popular shopping and tourist districts. At least 24 people were killed last week when troops tried to clear one group of protesters.

Friday's failed crackdown signaled the government was willing to risk another confrontation with the Red Shirts, who are mostly rural supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. They are campaigning to oust Abhisit, dissolve Parliament and hold new elections.

But it only served to anger the Red Shirts, who immediately declared a "war" on the government.

"From now on our mission is to hunt down Abhisit. ... This is a war between the government and the Red Shirts," Arisman, a charismatic pop singer-turned-activist, told supporters after his escape.

Arisman, one of the more radical protest leaders, is wanted by police for leading an invasion of Parliament by hundreds of supporters on April 7 that forced lawmakers to scale a back wall to escape. VIPs were evacuated by helicopter. He had also led the storming of a Southeast Asian summit last year in the beach resort of Pattaya that forced the conference to be canceled.

On Friday, with a rope looped around his waist, Arisman climbed down from a third-story ledge at the hotel — owned by Thaksin's family — into a waiting crowd of cheering Red Shirt supporters.

Arisman then announced that the Red Shirts had seized two police officers — a colonel and a major general — as hostages to ensure his safety.

"I would like to thank all of the people who saved me — you have helped save democracy," Arisman said.

A second Red Shirt leader was seen climbing out of a hotel window and down a tree. It was not immediately clear if he escaped.

Tens of thousands of Red Shirts have protested in Bangkok since March 12. They accuse the country's traditional ruling elite — represented by Abhisit and his allies — of orchestrating Thaksin's ouster in a 2006 military coup on corruption allegations. Thaksin is living in overseas exile to avoid a two-year prison term.

The protesters occupied two areas, one of which troops tried to clear last Saturday, leading to clashes that left 24 people dead and more than 800 injured in the worst political violence in nearly two decades.

The Red Shirts withdrew from that area Thursday and consolidated their forces at their second encampment in Bangkok's main upscale shopping and hotel district.

Earlier Friday, Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban announced on television that a crackdown was being launched on the Red Shirts. He accused "terrorist elements" of infiltrating the protesters to orchestrate Saturday's violence.

"The terrorists within the demonstrators used war weapons," Suthep said.

"I would like to ask innocent protesters to leave the demonstration area, in order to avoid being used as human shields," Suthep said. "The government from now on would like to carry out decisive legal measures against the Red Shirt leaders."


Associated Press writers Kinan Suchaovanich, Jocelyn Gecker and Vijay Joshi contributed to this report.

Long Beach's Cambodians to remember beginning of Killing Fields

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By Greg Mellen, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/15/2010 03:50:56 PM PDT

LONG BEACH - On April 17, it will be 35 years since Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and embarked on a genocidal reign that became known as the Killing Fields.

On Saturday, members of the Cambodian community will solemnly remember the anniversary. Some will do it privately with prayers and meditation. Others will gather at several events around town.

The Killing Fields Memorial Center, which has commemorated the date since 2005, is playing host to a daylong series of events at multiple sites and the United Cambodian Community will also recognize the date for the second time.

Although not all Cambodian groups attach particular significance to the April 17 date, for many it is a day of intense mourning for the upwards of 2 million victims of executions, starvation, disease and deprivation during the Khmer Rouge's 45-month reign.

Paline Soth, of the Killing Fields Memorial group, says the 35th anniversary as such doesn't hold particular significance.

"For us (every year) is still the same. For us, this generation of the Killing Fields, they still have the same pain and they still think of the loved ones lost and the tragedy. It never goes away."

In keeping with the tradition established in 2005, there will be a Killing Fields Buddhist requiem prayer at Wat Vipassanaram, 1239 E. 20th St. from 8:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., which will be followed by lunch.

The Memorial group will stage a slide show and documentary film at the Mark Twain Library, 1401 E. Anaheim St. between 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

The group's events close with an interfaith ceremony and candlelight vigil at the proposed future home of the Killing Fields Memorial Garden, 1501 E. Anaheim St. from 5 p.m. until dark.

UCC is moving its event this year. Last year, the group held its first commemoration as a fund-raising dinner at New Paradise Restaurant. Executive director Sarah Pol-Lim also invited members of the Jewish community, because of the history of suffering the two cultures share.

This year, UCC is moving its event to its own offices at 2201 E. Anaheim St. between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Among special guests to the event will be U.S. 29th District Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents the Pasadena Area.

Schiff, who has spoken forcefully on genocide issues in Congress, most notably about the Armenian genocide, will speak at about 2:30 p.m.

Members of the community will also be invited to tell their stories about the Killing Fields and the documentary film "New Year Baby" by Socheata Poeuv will be shown in the UCC offices.

Pol-Lim said she hopes community members will come forth and tell their stories and help continue to raise genocide awareness. There will also be Census information available because, according to Pol-Lim, that provides another avenue for people's voices to be heard.

All the events are open to the public and free.

Khmer Rouge legacy lingers 35 years after Phnom Penh's fall

via CAAI News Media

Posted : Fri, 16 Apr 2010
By : Robert Carmichael

Phnom Penh - Thirty-five years ago, Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, fell to the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot's ultra-Maoist movement, which over the preceding years had taken control of most of the country.

Many in the capital were relieved, believing now, after years of war, they could rebuild their lives. But as history has shown, they were terribly wrong.

The Khmer Rouge immediately began emptying the cities of their inhabitants and putting them to work in rural agricultural collectives, a policy that had deadly consequences.

Up to 2 million people died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork under the four-year Khmer Rouge state known as Democratic Kampuchea.

Youk Chhang, who heads the Documentation Centre of Cambodia genocide archive, remembers well April 17, 1975, the day the capital fell.

"I was 14 and at home alone when the Khmer Rouge came," he said. "My mother was so worried about one of my sisters who was pregnant at the time [and was visiting her]."

Youk Chhang said his mother had hoped to get home in time to fetch him, but the Khmer Rouge blocked the road. The movement had ordered the evacuation of the city.

"I had no idea of where to go, so I just followed the crowd," he said. "But I remembered the name of my mother's home village in Takeo province. I had been there once before when I was a child."

Thinking he would meet his mother there despite the fact she had left the village in the 1930s, Youk Chhang headed south along roads in pouring rain together with hundreds of thousands of people.

By the time he had travelled 30 kilometres, or about a third of his journey, he was alone. "I was the only person on the road because the others had got off and gone to their homes," he said.

Youk Chhang eventually found the village, but it was another four months before he was reunited with his mother.

Emptying the cities was the first step in the Khmer Rouge's bid to refashion Cambodian society. The movement outlawed family and religion, and its paranoid nature meant that class enemies - intellectuals, politicians, those in the military - were swept away. Most were killed.

When the regime had eliminated its perceived external enemies, it turned inward and began to consume itself in a rage of paranoia and blood.

Important enemies were tortured at a former school in Phnom Penh known as S-21. For most of its four-year existence, it was under the command of a man named Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch.

Last year, Duch stood trial at the joint UN-Cambodian war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh for the deaths of 12,380 people who passed through S-21. Judgement was expected in June.

Duch's is the first international trial of anyone from the Khmer Rouge regime. Much of the documentation used as evidence against Duch came from the Documentation Centre of Cambodia.

The movement's senior surviving leaders have yet to stand trial: Khieu Samphan, the former head of state; Ieng Sary, the foreign minister; Ieng Thirith, the social affairs minister; and Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two, reckoned to be the movement's chief ideologue.

All four are in pre-trial detention and are likely to appear in court early next year. Whether the elderly detainees would survive until the end their trials is another matter.

But the fall of Phnom Penh is not the only anniversary this week: 12 years ago, Pol Pot died in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng in the far north-west.

Brother Number One was cremated on Dangrek Mountain, which straddles the Thai-Cambodian border about 300 kilometres from Phnom Penh. It is about as far from the capital as you can get in Cambodia.

Today, his cremation site - a waist-high, rusting tin roof held up by aging wooden posts on a scrubby piece of land - is remarkable only for its sheer ordinariness.

The legacy that he and the other members of his regime left is a deeply damaged nation, still struggling to recover from serious physical and psychological wounds. It is a legacy some are trying to redress.

Last week, the Centre for Justice and Reconciliation, a local non-governmental organization, held a reconciliation meeting of 150 former Khmer Rouge in Anlong Veng.

Daravuth Seng, a Cambodian-American lawyer who fled to the United States as a boy and heads the NGO, said bringing the movement's former followers back into society is vital.

Understanding what drove them to follow that path is essential, too, as it is the surest way to avoid future tainted anniversaries, he said.

"If we are to say never again, we really need to understand both sides, to understand the way these folks perceive the world," he said. "In one sense, we are all victims."

Rape on the rise in Cambodia: Amnesty

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Victims of rape suffer from stigma while perpetrators are rarely, if ever, held accountable.

By Joel Elliott — Special to GlobalPost
Published: April 16, 2010

Meas Veasna. (Joel Elliott/GlobalPost)

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – For Meas Veasna, as with many survivors of sexual violence, rape brought only the beginning of the horror.

Veasna, a 20-year-old married mother of two, was allegedly raped by a monk in her home province of Prey Veng in June 2009. Her life since that time has fallen apart; because of the stigma Cambodian culture attaches to being raped, her husband’s family will not allow her to see him or her children. She has been forced to move to Phnom Penh on her own to find work. Meanwhile, the monk remains free, never having been tried in court because he refuses to appear.

All across Cambodia, this sort of impunity enables rapists and victimizes women over and over, according to a recent report from Amnesty International that found that incidents of sexual violence — especially the rape of children — have increased in recent years. Police documented 468 cases of rape, attempted rape and sexual harassment between November 2008 and November 2009, a 24-percent increase over the previous year, Amnesty reported. The portion of rapes reported to human rights organization ADHOC that involved children jumped from 67 percent in 2008 to 78 percent in 2009, and many more rapes go unreported, according to Amnesty.

ADHOC, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, is an NGO that lobbies for better policies for providing health and education services, improving labor and food condition, reducing poverty and preventing land-grabbing.

The incident involving Veasna occurred a few weeks after she had given birth to her second child and went to Wat Kaley pagoda for a ritual involving holy water. While she was there, a monk allegedly drugged and raped her, fleeing only when Veasna’s husband came to her rescue.

Police took her statement, but since then nothing has happened, Veasna said in an interview last week. She wants justice, but is beginning to despair, as the monk refuses to appear in court and investigations have ground to a halt. Amnesty’s report suggests that a guilty verdict might vindicate Veasna and allow her to return to her family, but she has her doubts.

“I want the police to arrest him, but I think it’s useless for me to continue with the case; every time I go to the police, they question me, but then there is just silence,” Veasna said. “I think my husband cannot take me back, because in his eyes I am dirty.”

Her husband continues to be supportive, exerting what little pressure he can to urge police to investigate and the courts to act.

That a rape survivor would emerge from the incident with her reputation in tatters is not unique to Veasna, according to Sina Vann, team leader for Voices for Change, a program of the Somaly Mam Foundation. The Somaly Mam Foundation is an NGO that seeks to combat human trafficking through advocacy, education and by empowering survivors to tell their stories to the world.

Vann herself, now 26, was taken from her home in Vietnam at the age of 12 and sold into sex slavery in Cambodia before being rescued as a teen by AFESIP (Acting for Women in Distressing Situations), another organization co-founded by Somaly Mam. Young girls or women who are raped often turn to sex work because they see no other option given the stigma that accompanies rape, she said.

Ironically, convicted rapists who gave interviews to Amnesty International said they experienced no stigma for their crimes.

“I haven’t heard of anyone looking down on me in the village, and not here in the prison either; there are so many here who have done bad things,” one man named Meng, who was convicted and sentenced to 14 years for the rape of two girls, ages 9 and 10, told Amnesty International.

The report urged the Cambodian government to publicly condemn rape and other sexual violence, and to end the complacency that contributes to the impunity rapists enjoy. The government must change its policies to ensure that police investigate allegations of rape and that the courts hold rapists accountable, the report said. Cambodia, it said, also should address the government’s failures to provide victims with adequate reparations, including health and psychosocial services.

For now, NGOs such as ADHOC are trying to pick up the slack. When she found herself essentially homeless, Veasna went to the organization, which agreed to represent her in court, and helped her find a job in Phnom Penh working with needy children.

But Veasna longs for her old life.

“It’s hard for me now, because I used to have my children. I used to have my husband with me,” she said. “But now, I am all alone, and lonely.”