Cambodia rejects Thai information on plan by Cambodian "MIB (Man In Black)" of Viet origin to assassinate Thai PM

Club of MIB (Men In Black)?

18 Sept 2010
Rasmei Kampuchea
Translated from Khmer by Komping Puoy

A high-ranking Cambodian official categorically denied information published by a group of Thai officials indicating that there are men in black trained in Cambodia to create turmoil in Bangkok. This alleged group of men is composed of Cambodians fighters of Vietnamese origin who are classified as “Dac Cong” or the group of cross border suicide attackers from Cambodia traveling to Bangkok to attempt to assassinate Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Thai PM.

On 17 September 2010, Tith Sothea, a government advisor and mouthpiece of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit (PQRU) of the Council of Ministers, considered this news as baseless fabrication which Thai officials use in an attempt to link unrest in Thailand to Cambodia.

Tith Sothea added that there is no reason for Cambodia to provide training ground to oppose other countries and Cambodia does not hide any force inside its territories with the aim of conducting assassination attempt on the Thai PM as claimed by this group of Thai officials. Furthermore, due to this baseless accusation leveled by the Thai officials, Cambodia must demand that the Thai government brings out an urgent correction to this issue because it could affect the planned meeting between the PMs from the two countries during the US-ASEAN meeting which will be held on 24 September 2010 in the US.

Nevertheless, Tith Sothea pointed out that Cambodia never authorized any foreign military presence on its territories, nor does it allow any Cambodian military bases overseas with the exception of peacekeeping missions requested by the UN. However, Cambodia still reserves the right to accept military aid and training in order to protect its territorial integrity.

Tith Sothea’s reaction came immediately Panitan Wattanayagorn, the deputy secretary of the Thai PM cabinet, said on Thursday that there is a group of men reportedly living in a building near Abhisit Vejjajiva’s house and who are being closely watched by the Thai police.

At the same time, Suthep Thaugsuban, the Thai deputy-PM, also said that these men could be linked to the “men in black” behind the April 10 clashes in Bangkok.

Cambodian Soldiers Use Tattoos To Protect Them From Bullets

Cambodia Soldier

Cambodian soldiers believe certain tattoos can protect them from bullets and landmines, and even make them invisible.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Magic tattoos begin with a magic man. Typically a Buddhist monk or adjar (essentially a deacon) and known for great piety, this Khmer magic man can draw scripts and images into another's skin, granting with the person supernatural armor against all kinds of harm. Understandably, such body art became popular with soldiers.

Reut Hath is one such magic man. He first learned the art of inking magic from his father, a farmer and martial arts trainer in northwestern Cambodia who was himself a "powerful magic man," according to the 52-year-old former soldier.

"Many people came to [my father], so he gave some of the work to me," Reut Hath said. "So, I had to learn magic."

Wherever Cambodian soldiers cluster, charms and amulets abound, from cloths scrawled with protection spells to bags of Buddha figurines to boar tusks -- anything to gain a magically endowed edge over the enemy. And there is perhaps no more explicit display of belief in mystical powers than magic tattoos, geometric patterns of written spells and images that crisscross the bodies of many older soldiers.

The list of powers that supposedly come with the tattoos is long and includes: imperviousness to bullets, anti-landmine protection, invisibility, an amplified voice to address troops and "great gravity" magic to make one's fists into heavier, deadlier weapons.

The intricate arrangements of some tattoos and the folk-like quality of others are often beautiful artworks in their own right. However, it's also a fading art, a system of belief that is disappearing from a military looking to recruit younger soldiers in place of aging veterans of the country's recent decades of civil war.

Reut Hath started tattooing soldiers in 1977 after himself fleeing executioners from the murderous Khmer Rouge to join the resistance against the Pol Pot regime. (In its effort to create a Maoist agrarian utopia, that regime was ultimately responsible for the deaths of more than 1.7 million people. In early 1979, the Vietnamese military toppled the Khmer Rouge government, sparking a 20-year civil war in Cambodia.)

Reut Hath joined the Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), one of the main resistance groups that battled it out with the Vietnamese-backed Phnom Penh government throughout the 1980s. It is mostly former fighters from resistance groups like the KPNLF that have the magic tattoos.

The method

Magic men punch tattoos into the skin by hand, using a thin handle about 30 centimeters long with two syringe needles at one end. According to Reut Hath, any old ink will suffice, but during the civil war, when ink was often in short supply, he would create his own by mixing the material inside alkaline batteries with rice wine.

It only takes a few seconds to punch a single letter into the skin, though some soldiers have veritable essays written on their bodies, which require days of painful prodding.

Casting the spell

The spells are written in two ancient Indian languages -- Sanskrit or, more commonly, Pali, which is the liturgical language of Cambodia's dominant religion, Theravada Buddhism. Reut Hath admits he can't actually understand any of the spells because they aren't written in his native tongue of Khmer.

"I cannot read the Pali, but I know what letter is what letter, so I know what to write according to the formula," he said. "I learned it, but even I don't understand why the magic is so powerful."

The soldiers' stories

Sgt. Maj. Boung Thoeun is covered from head to toe in protective tattoos, his arms almost black from the dense web of Pali spells running up and down them.

The 50-year-old soldier, a former KPNLF captain, said that his tattoos twice saved him from landmines, which merely fizzled when he stepped on them. He also recalled getting caught in a nighttime ambush that should have meant certain death, but he came away unscathed.

"The enemy sprayed a lot of bullets at us," he said. "It was a dark place but there were so many [tracer bullets] flying about that it looked like the daytime."

Cambodian army Maj. Gen. Lay Virak, formerly a KPNLF senior commander, said he knows of magic that prevents a person from getting lost in the forest. He also met a monk who knew magic that allowed one to walk through fire.

"During the war, we believed in the magic. We knew a lot, including magic that prevents you from being tied up or hurt by torture," Lay Virak added.

With so much power supposedly at their fingertips, it would seem like a half-dozen tattooed soldiers could take on an army. But when it comes to magical tattoos there's still a catch -- several, actually.

"It is a question of your belief, your nationalism and your devotion to the rules," said Reut Hath of how one keeps their magic potent.

The basis of belief

These rules are typically based on morality and religiosity: Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, regularly burn incense and pray, recite magical mantras, etc. The rules establish a Buddhist grounding for the magic, taking what could be thought of as a selfish act to empower oneself and changing it into a promotion of moral behavior and faith. Of course, to the more cynical-minded, the rules also provide reasons why a man covered in protection spells might be killed on the battlefield: "If only he hadn't been so forward with his neighbor's wife," for example.

However, some of the rules might appear more arbitrary. Reut Hath forbids the men he tattooed from eating dog meat. In addition to dog, Lay Virak must also shun snake, turtle and pork, and in perhaps the most unusual limitation, he will sacrifice his protection if he urinates and defecates at the same time.

In addition, former resistance fighters say, the end of warfare in Cambodia has done much to reduce both the strict morality and magical potency associated with the tattoos -- with easy living comes temptation.

"During the fighting, most of the fighters were powerful -- the magic worked," Reut Hath said. "But with peace, many came to the cities and starting drinking, sleeping with girls and the magic has faded away."

This perceived decline in morality has driven Reut Hath to vow to never tattoo anyone ever again. "I decided to stop giving the tattoos because I cannot trust the young people these days. If they had tattoos they'd probably fight. Before, we thought about the liberation of our country. We had a good spirit."

He said he does know of some magic men who continue to tattoo people, but their numbers are dwindling. "Many soldiers have [tattoos] but they don't know how to pass them on," he added.

Though not in any way prohibited, tattoos are now an increasingly rare sight in the Cambodian military. Even among those who fought in the 1970s and '80s, it was only in the resistance groups based along the Thai border that it remained a prominent tradition. Resistance fighters who joined the military after the war have also typically found themselves relegated to positions with little authority or influence.

"Usually it's the fighters from the border that have tattoos," said Maj. Gen. Chap Pheakdei, commander of Brigade 911, the army's elite paratrooper unit, adding that few of his soldiers have sought the protection of magical body art.

"On the Phnom Penh side during the [civil] war maybe two out of 100 would have [tattoos]," said one Brigade 911 officer who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press. "Some guys go out with tattoos all over them and get killed, and a guy with nothing comes back fine -- I believe in luck, not magic."

"But maybe," he added, "that's because our side has tanks."

Combing Cambodia for Missing Friends

Seth Mydans

Tim Page, a photographer, during the latest of many fruitless trips to find the remains of his friend Sean Flynn, who disappeared during the Vietnam War.

Terry Khoo, courtesy of Perry Deane Young

Dana Stone and Sean Flynn, riding motorcycles into Communist-held territory in Cambodia on April 6, 1970

“LET’S rock ’n’ roll,” said Tim Page, once one of the wild and daring young photographers of the Vietnam War, strapping himself into the front seat of a four-wheel-drive van.

“Like Flynn and Stone, three intrepid journalists left Phnom Penh on a hot morning headed for Kampong Cham,” he said, narrating his departure recently with two colleagues.

He settled back for the long ride, past the town of Skun, known for its fried spiders, past hypnotic rows of rubber trees, out to this dusty village near the Mekong River where he believed the bones of two missing war photographers, Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, were buried.

It was not an unusual journey for Mr. Page. Now 66, he has been on this hunt for years, determined to find answers and to come to terms with the war that has dominated his life.

Forty years ago, Mr. Flynn and Mr. Stone headed down an empty road with their cameras in search of Khmer Rouge guerrillas. They were never heard from again.

Their disappearance has become one of the enduring mysteries of the war, two young journalists — like movie adventurers — riding their motorbikes into no man’s land and losing a bet against fate.

Mr. Flynn, the dashing and glamorous son of the movie star Errol Flynn, had in fact briefly been an actor, and he brought an aura with him to Vietnam that gave his disappearance at the age of 28 a mythic quality.

“Sean Flynn could look more incredibly beautiful than even his father, Errol, had 30 years before as Captain Blood,” wrote Michael Herr in his classic book about the war, “Dispatches.”

“But sometimes he looked more like Artaud coming out of some heavy heart-of-darkness trip, overloaded on the information, the input!”

Mr. Page had shared some of those journeys into darkness, and his visit to Pkhar Doung was the latest of many searches in what he called “a 25-year madness” in pursuit of the bones of the man he calls his brother.

Weeks earlier two bounty hunters made a false claim to have found them, reviving interest in the disappearance and spurring American investigators to step up the search for the missing journalists.

Mr. Page said, “I don’t like the idea of his spirit out there tormented,” a wandering ghost that could find rest, as many in Asia believe, only after proper funeral rites. “There’s something spooky about being M.I.A.”

Mr. Page is also seeking a measure of peace for his own soul, scarred like his body from the traumas of combat, from nearly fatal wounds and from the loss of friends, trying to put together what he calls “an enormous jigsaw puzzle, bits of sky, bits of earth.”

“I don’t think anybody who goes through anything like war ever comes out intact,” he said. “I suppose the closure of Sean’s fate also has to do with closure of the whole war experience.”

Theirs was an intimacy forged by shared danger and by what Mr. Page calls the magnetic pull of two only sons searching for a bond.

“We could have been brothers, and felt as though we were,” Mr. Page wrote in a memoir, “Derailed in Uncle Ho’s Victory Garden.” “We would sit for hours in the same room, hardly speaking yet in total communication, a vibration as intimate as between lovers.”

FOR Mr. Page a lonely intimacy has continued, and he hears what seems to be the voice of his friend from time to time, the voice of a tormented spirit.

“We have conversations in strange moments, and often enough to remind me of the presence of his spirit,” Mr. Page said on his recent drive to Pkhar Doung. “It’s there but not there, and you’re aware that there’s something somehow lurking, just out of reach.”

As he drives past the rubber trees, whose rapid regular repeated rows create the illusion of some ghostly shifting world in the distance, he said, he often hears his friend’s voice: “What are you doing, man? What are you doing, boy? What are you doing, mate?”

Mr. Flynn’s lost bones and wandering soul are not alone in Cambodia, where as much as a quarter of the population died in the late 1970s during the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge. Many of their remains, like those of Mr. Flynn, are still unidentified in killing fields around the country.

Female factory workers injured in Cambodian riot police clash

At least nine female factory workers were injured on Tuesday in clashes with Cambodian riot police who used shields and electric shock batons to try to end a week-long strike.

Riot police try to force workers  back into their factory in Phnom Penh
Cambodian riot police used shields and electric shock batons to try to end a week-long strike. Photo: REUTERS

More than 100 police, at least 50 in riot gear and carrying assault rifles, tried to force an estimated 3,000 female workers back into their factory, pushing several to the ground and stunning them with batons, according to a witness.

The clashes, sparked by the suspension of a local union official, were the latest setback for an industry that was badly hurt by the global economic slump from 2008 and more recently has been plagued by strikes over low pay and working conditions.

The factory on the outskirts of the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, is owned by a Malaysian firm and produces garments for companies including Gap, Benetton, adidas and Puma.

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Srey Kimheng, a secretary-general of the Free Trade Union (FTU), said at least nine workers were injured when police with a court order tried to clear roads and force them back to work.

The demonstration was brought to an end, and union leaders were talking to the workers about calling off their action aimed at forcing the company to give the union official his job back.

Local Police Chief Mok Hong insisted there had been no injuries and told Reuters the operation had gone smoothly.

The sector, Cambodia's number three currency earner behind agriculture and tourism, shed almost 30,000 jobs in 2009 after a drop in sales to the United States and Europe.

Industry data showed the country exported garments, textiles and shoes to the value of $2.3 billion last year, down from $2.9 billion in 2008. More than half go to the United States.

An estimated 300,000 of Cambodia's 13.4 million people work in the garment manufacturing sector and send vital cash to impoverished rural villages where many people live on less than $1 a day.

In Scarred Land, a Haven for Victims of Acid Burns

TRAPAENG VENG, Cambodia — Touch Eap stroked her husband’s scarred and discolored back as she described the night six years ago when she poured a tub of acid over his head, burning off his eyes and ears and lips and leaving him as dependent on her as a child.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

An acid burn victim had her blood pressure checked at the Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity while recovering from a skin grafting operation.

“I wanted to kill him,” she said. “I didn’t want to injure him. He said he would kill me, and I thought, better to kill him first so that I can take care of the children.”

She smiled ruefully as she talked; his drunkenness and threats were an old memory. Her husband, Phoeung Phoeur, 45, opened his mouth in what may also have been a smile.

“I’m sorry for him,” said Ms. Touch Eap, 46, who grows vegetables to support her husband and three children, “and I try to take care of him.”

It was a moment of domestic tranquillity here in Cambodia’s only shelter for acid burn victims, where a dozen other mutilated residents napped or sang or hung their heads backward in an exercise to help keep their scarred necks flexible.

Cambodia, along with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, has a history of acid attacks — a rare and extreme form of revenge or punishment.

An increase in the number of reported attacks in Cambodia, with 17 so far this year, has drawn attention to this shelter, the nonprofit Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The center has been advising the government in drafting a law that is making its way slowly through the legislature. The proposed law would restrict sales of acid — now widely and cheaply available — require warning labels and impose sentences of up to life in prison for the most severe attacks.

The center’s residents, who receive medical and psychological care, physical therapy, and occupational training, are just a few of the more than 280 known victims in Cambodia of a form of revenge that illustrates an undercurrent of violence that courses through this wounded society. Experts say the true number is certainly far higher.

“This is a traumatized culture,” said Pin Domnang, chief of programs and administration at the center, referring to decades of mass killings and civil war. “When something happens, the only response is violence. Violence can solve their problems. Violence can make them feel better.”

Short of murder, advocates say, an acid attack is the most devastating form of aggression, transforming the victim into a figure of horror and an outcast in a society that often sees disfigurement as a form of karmic justice.

That thought is an unexpected comfort to one of the survivors here, Soum Bunnarith, 41, a former salesman whose wife blinded him with acid five years ago in a rage of jealousy. “I ask myself, ‘Why me?’ ” he said. “But then I think maybe I did terrible things in a past life, and that thought helps me to accept this.”

Some, rejected and without family members to care for them, take their lives in despair, Mr. Pin Domnang said. “Their identity changes, their whole life changes,” he said. “It is difficult to control the food in their mouths. Sometimes it spills out.

“Their families don’t want to see them, don’t want to come to visit them,” he said. “The trauma in their spirit is like they are gone. They don’t want to live on this earth any more.”

Others, spurred by anger, try to pursue their attackers in court. Under current laws, acid attacks are generally treated as civil assault cases in which the victim must press charges. In a system governed by power, money and influence, there have been few convictions. Nevertheless, the center’s medical and legal manager, Dr. Horng Lairapo, has been encouraging victims to file new cases and revive old ones.

One of those victims is Mean Sok Reoun, 35, who was attacked and blinded by her husband’s former wife 15 years ago. Until recently, she said, her attacker had lived freely after paying a bribe to the police, while Ms. Mean Sok Reoun endured 40 operations.

“I saw her clearly running away,” said Ms. Mean Sok Reoun, whose eyes moved rapidly behind a curtain of skin as she talked. “But then I saw only shadows. And then I was blind.”

Ziad Samman, the center’s project manager, said, “The attacks are not always the products of jealous rage; some grow out of other personal or business disputes.”

Acid is widely available for uses like maintaining machinery, clearing drains and polishing jewelry. It is used in the processing of rubber, and a high proportion of attacks have come in areas near plantations, according to the center. In rural areas where there is no electricity, acid fuels the car batteries that are used to power television sets.

It was battery acid that Ms. Touch Eap said she poured over her husband’s head as he sat drinking in their home six years ago, a large knife by his side.

“ ‘Do what I say or I’ll kill you’ — those were the last words I said to her,” said Mr. Phoeung Phoeur, joining his wife in the narrative as their 13-year-old daughter, Per Srey Ai, looked on.

If he was going to live, Mr. Phoeung Phoeur said, he realized he needed his wife. As soon as he reached the hospital, he begged a friend to pay the police to set her free. Ms. Touch Eap returned to him, and she has nursed and supported her husband ever since she tried to kill him.

She was with him at the hospital when doctors told him he had only hours left to live, and she walked alongside him as neighbors carried him home in a hammock to die. She lighted incense and prayed beside him as he slipped in and out of consciousness until, defying the doctors’ predictions, he returned to life.

“We called all the family around him,” she said, remembering that dark evening. “We were all waiting around him, waiting for him to die. I was so afraid he was going to die.”

Cambodian censors axe 'love for auction' TV series

(AFP) – 19 hours ago

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia on Thursday cancelled a TV mini-series about a beautiful woman whose suitors have to bid for her hand in marriage at auction -- with a starting price of one million dollars.

The Ministry of Information ordered the Cambodian Television Network (CTN) to stop showing the popular film series "Strange Lovers" because it was "totally opposite to good Cambodian tradition."

It "seriously affects the reputation and dignity of Cambodian women as well as drawing a lot of reaction from the audience," a statement from the ministry read.

The story revolves around a young, wealthy woman called Nuon Neang Lom-orng, who has all the qualities of the ideal modern wife: she is smart, comes from a good family, has studied abroad and knows all about art and music.

She is inundated with marriage proposals until her mother, after agonising over who should be allowed to wed her daughter, decides to auction her off at a starting price of one million dollars.

The story of "Serial Lovers" was to be told over 60 episodes, but the government intervention means viewers are left hanging after just 13 episodes.

The show's writer Poan Phuong Bopha said she regretted the decision, describing the ban as a threat to the movie makers. "This feels like we are being beaten with a stick," she said.

It is not the first time Cambodia has outlawed entertainment it considers harmful to the country's traditional values.

In 2004, the government banned a pop song that showed scenes of a Buddhist monk hugging and kissing a girl while bathing in a pond near a pagoda.

Last year, the country?s first rock opera 'Where Elephants Weep' was axed after monks said it was insulting to see actors dressed as clergy breaking into song and dance.

Facing Double Discrimination: Cambodian Lesbians Are Breaking the Silence

Meghan Lewis

by Meghan Lewis

Pride Poster designed by Amy Sanford for RoCK.
“Feelings, oh feelings, please accept this. I have not wronged - even in law. We wish to have a place in this world and to love one another freely.” -Noy Sitha, 58, Women’s Network for Unity

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people exist in all countries yet in many places they remain largely invisible and subject to discrimination and human rights violations. In more than 80 countries homosexuality is punishable by law and in several of those countries the punishment for same-sex love may be death. Even in “progressive” countries like England or the United States, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are still fighting for equal rights including the right to employment, to marry, and to have a family.

Since I came to Cambodia in 2008, I have been part of the formation of a small group of local and international LGBT volunteers who organized Cambodia Pride 2009 and 2010 – two week-long Pride events in Cambodia emphasizing love, diversity, and acceptance. These events included workshops on Lesbian sexual health and family acceptance as well as a community day, an art exhibition, and a film festival. The group, Rainbow Community Kampuchea, is still young but very active. Furthermore, my work at the Khmer HIV/AIDS Alliance is an advocacy role focusing on raising awareness about gender and sexuality in the response to HIV and AIDS in Cambodia. Through this work, I am friends with many Cambodian LGBT and we are working closely together to change the way LGBT are viewed in society. In Cambodia, lesbians are subject to double discrimination – they fight first for their rights as women and then for their rights as lesbians.

As a result of Pride, a local human rights NGO recently initiated a three-year project focusing specifically on LGBT rights. The LGBT community is strengthening organically and for the first time in Cambodia it is inclusive of lesbians, who until now have remained largely invisible. Lesbians are breaking free of the shackles of shame that have kept them silent for so long and are speaking out against the misconception that only heterosexual relationships are valid or natural.

As part of the HIV response, Cambodia, like many developing countries, in recent years started providing services for men who have sex with men (MSM). Although this helps raise visibility of non-heterosexual people and provides much needed health education, this focuses attention entirely on men and thus lesbians remain invisible. In addition, MSM refers to a behavior rather than an identity, so the term can be problematic as it does not address other aspects of sexuality such as love, communities, and feelings.

Gender and Sexuality Art Exhibition, New Art Gallery, Phnom Penh. Photograph by Nick Sells.
The lack of visibility for Cambodian lesbians often leaves them feeling isolated not only from heterosexual society, but from the more visible gay and MSM communities as well. An LGBT workshop facilitated in March by Rainbow Community Kampuchea, sought to redress this issue and invited lesbians to anonymously submit questions to a female health advisor about sexual health.

Their questions included, Can lesbians get STDs and how? If we have a lot of sex does it affect our health or not? How can we protect ourselves from diseases? And, If MSM are at high risk from HIV, does that mean lesbians are too?

The basic nature of these questions indicates an overwhelming lack of information and advice about lesbian sexual health. There is confusion as lesbians are often forced to look at information tailored for heterosexual couples and MSM and then draw conclusions about their own health.

Cambodian society places a high value on family. Because of this, most gay men, lesbians, and transgender people feel pressured to marry a partner of the opposite sex. Society deems it acceptable for men to keep their autonomy and independence after marriage; they can go out at night, drink, stay out with their friends, and even have other sexual partners.

In this way, many gay men who are married to women are able to have relationships with men outside the marriage. For women however, this is not the case. Women are expected to bear children, carry out housekeeping duties and often have less freedom to go out alone and meet friends.

When lesbians do make the brave decision to come out publicly, they face discrimination from friends and family. Lesbians who are more masculine in appearance often have difficulties finding and keeping employment and housing.

Noy Sitha, 58, is an outreach volunteer for Women’s Network for Unity, a collective of sex workers, lesbians, and garment workers in Phnom Penh. Sitha shares with me how she was discriminated against at her workplace, “I worked at the Department of Classical Arts and they would only let me speak on the radio. One of the reasons they did not let me perform visually is because of my masculine appearance. I did not wear skirts.”

Pheang Sanh, 57, identifies as a lesbian, but like many Cambodian lesbians believes she is both male and female. “In my previous life, I was a girl and I died at age seven. My previous parents did not love me as a daughter, so when I died, they wrapped me with a red mat and left me on the base of Rang (name of tree), located in a stream. My spirit cried silently and wished that if I could be born again, I would be a boy whom my parents love,” she says.

Pheang Sanh and Noy Sitha with a colleague from Women’s Network for Unity. Photograph courtesy of Khmer HIV/AIDS NGO Alliance, Cambodia.
The main religion in Cambodia is Theravada Buddhism, and the teachings influence a wide range of beliefs in Cambodia. It is not unusual for queer sexual identities to be explained through past lives lived as the opposite gender, as illustrated in Sanh’s beliefs. It has also been said by some who are critical of homosexuality that it is karmic retribution for an individual’s past life. There are conflicting opinions within Khmer Buddhism as to the morality of homosexuality. While some texts condemn homosexuality as immoral, there are others that say it does not conflict with Buddhist ideology. During a recent workshop for LGBT people and their families, a highly regarded monk explained that Buddhist teaching simply asks that people live good lives, regardless of who they loved.

Although as a teenager, Sanh wore men’s clothes and had a girlfriend, her parents arranged for her to marry a marine officer in 1969. She was deeply unhappy about it, but she had to honour her parent’s wishes.

Sanh and her husband had a daughter before he was killed during the Pol Pot regime, “I was happy because I finally had my freedom, yet I pitied him. He used to be a monk, he was kind and he knew about my true identity.”

Sanh has lived her whole life experiencing discrimination from her family and her community. Speaking about one relationship with a woman she said, “We were so afraid, we contemplated committing suicide.” Now she is trying to promote acceptance of lesbians in Cambodia so that the next generation does not have to suffer as she did.

Women like Sanh and Sitha are taking action to change the way that Cambodian society views lesbians. “I have educated fellow lesbians to be aware of their rights. I persuade them to be brave and to take control of their lives,” says Sitha. “We ourselves must be conscious of who we are. We must make society recognize us as human beings even though we are lesbians. Our hearts are created by blood and flesh as all others are. We do not destroy our country and do harm. We only want to live our lives with our families. Why does society discriminate against us?”

It will take a long time for Sanh and Sitha to reach their goal of a society that does not discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, but small changes are already visible and they remain hopeful that more change is on the way.

Srun Srorn, who has organized several Pride events in the Kingdom, says, “Pride is all about love, and demonstrating that we are the same as everyone else and have the right to have everything that straight people have. Sometimes gays and lesbians are seen as almost sub-human by many people in our society but we want to tell those people that we are human beings- and we love who we are.”

About the Author:
Meghan Lewis
is the Policy, Advocacy and Communications Officer for the Khmer HIV/ AIDS NGO Alliance and works to reduce discrimination against marginalized groups in the response to HIV and AIDS. She has been a key actor in the formation of Cambodia’s first LGBT group, Rainbow Community Kampuchea (RoCK). Throughout her personal, academic and professional life, her primary passion has been to reduce the inequalities that exist in so many areas of society and work towards a future where opportunities are accessible to all people regardless of ethnicity, economics, gender or sexuality.

Revisiting Haing Ngor's murder: 'Killing Fields' theory won't die

Haing Ngor in the "Killing Fields" movie (Photo: AFP)

The Cambodian refugee and Oscar-winning actor was slain in Los Angeles in 1996. Gang members were convicted, but some still see a darker plot involving genocidal dictator Pol Pot.

January 21, 2010
By My-Thuan Tran
Los Angeles Times (California, USA)

On a rainy night nearly 14 years ago, Haing Ngor parked his gold Mercedes in a graffiti-lined alleyway behind his apartment on the edge of Chinatown.

The Cambodian refugee-turned-actor had won an Academy Award for his role in 1984's "The Killing Fields," but he still lived in a tiny apartment where he kept his Oscar next to a large Buddha statue.

As he stepped out of his car, gunshots echoed off the alley walls. A neighbor rushed outside to find Ngor slumped on the pavement of his carport. He was dead.

In the Cambodian community, there was immediate speculation that Pol Pot or a member of the Khmer Rouge had ordered a hit on Ngor, an outspoken critic of the dictator. The Los Angeles Police Department launched an international investigation, only to conclude that Ngor was killed by three members of an Asian American gang, part of a random street robbery gone wrong. Two years later, the suspects were convicted and the case appeared to be closed.

But over the last few months, Ngor's death has again captivated Cambodians on both sides of the Pacific, with many raising questions about who killed the beloved actor who had so superbly portrayed their pain on the big screen.

The renewed debate was sparked by the testimony of a former Khmer Rouge prison chief at a major United Nations-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh aimed at assessing the crimes committed by Pol Pot and his supporters.

"Haing Ngor was killed because he appeared in the film 'The Killing Fields,' " Kang Kek Ieu, known as Comrade Duch, told the court last year.

The claim was met with skepticism from authorities in the United States but stoked new theories about Ngor's death, which among Cambodians has become something akin to the assassination of President Kennedy. Many remain convinced of a conspiracy despite the insistence of authorities that it was a street crime with no ties to Cambodia.

"I believe this 100%," said Thommy Nou, 62, of Long Beach, a third cousin of Ngor. "This was a homicide set up by the communists or possibly the Khmer Rouge. That's what I had thought all along."

Ngor's death brought tributes from around the world, including Hollywood. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote a heartfelt appreciation, and director Oliver Stone called him "a man of great strength and courage." At his funeral, Cambodian refugee friends and admirers offered tear-filled remembrances.

LAPD detectives were under tremendous pressure to solve the murder.

At first, officials ruled out robbery as a motive. The key to the Mercedes-Benz was on the floor of the car, $2,900 in cash was found in Ngor's jacket on the back seat and $800 in cash was found in his pants pocket.

Ngor had escaped death countless times during the Khmer Rouge regime that killed 1.7 million of his countrymen. It was ironic, officials and observers said at the time, that he'd be a victim of random violence in Los Angeles.

The feeling was particularly strong in Long Beach's large Cambodian community, where many refugees were still scarred by memories of Khmer Rouge guards who rampaged through their country. They shuddered at the thought of the Khmer Rouge's long arm reaching their new homes.

Because of Ngor's reputation as a critic of Cambodian politics, LAPD officials consulted with FBI agents and U.S. State Department and Secret Service officials, said Adalberto Luper, a former LAPD detective who worked on the case.

"Knowing that this man was a human rights guy and deeply involved in Cambodia, the logical place to look would be to see if there is any Khmer Rouge link," he said. "If we didn't do that, then it would open up the case for speculation."

But the international dragnet failed to come up with much evidence, and officials said they could find no link to Cambodia or Pol Pot.

The first major break in the investigation came when Ngor's niece, Sophia,inquired about his $6,000 Rolex watch and his 24-karat gold locket that held a picture of his late wife -- items not found in his apartment.

Eventually, several witnesses came forward saying they had seen three men running from the scene. Police found graffiti nearby that they believed indicated a gang-related robbery.

Two months after the murder, police arrested Tak Sun Tan, Jason Chan and Indra Lim, all in their late teens and members of the Oriental Lazy Boyz.

Not finding any ties between the suspects and Pol Pot sympathizers who might have ordered a hit, detectives dropped the Cambodian conspiracy angle. "We had to reduce all the potential tentacles that may or may not be true," Luper said. "The investigation ultimately showed this murder was gang-related."

During the 1998 trial, prosecutor Craig Hum argued that the trio robbed Ngor for money to buy cocaine and shot him after he refused to part with the locket because it held the photo of his dead wife.

Ngor's friends were skeptical. Ngor's survival instincts had kept him alive during the Khmer Rouge regime. He would have done anything to protect himself, they believed, even given up the locket.

During the genocide, Ngor, a gynecologist, became one of millions targeted by an extremist band of Maoists led by Pol Pot in their attempt to wipe out modern society. His wife, Huoy, died during childbirth as Ngor stood by helplessly, knowing that hewould have been killed had he given away his profession.

In 1979, Ngor escaped across the Thai-Cambodian border and eventually settled in Los Angeles. He was working at the Chinatown Service Center when he was plucked for the part of New York Times interpreter Dith Pran in "The Killing Fields," which earned him an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1985.

During the murder trial, Joy Wilensky, the alternate public defender assigned to the case, alluded to a Khmer Rouge connection.

Ngor's murder "looked like a political hit," Wilensky said recently. "We believed that the entire time."

Wilensky pointed to several defense witnesses who testified that they had heard a car drive up, heard shots and then heard the car pull away quickly, which she said sounded suspiciously like a political execution. Wilensky theorized that political assassins may have grabbed the Rolex to make the crime look like a robbery.

Before the trial, Wilensky said she had wanted to travel to Cambodia with an investigator to search for evidence of a political tie, as well as to look into Ngor's business dealings there. But she ultimately decided against the trip.

Wilensky argued in court that the evidence was circumstantial. The handgun was never recovered; neither was the watch or locket. Although witnesses said they'd heard a car, the defendants were on foot. And several witnesses recanted their accounts during the trial, though Hum, the prosecutor, told jurors this was common in gang cases where witnesses feared retaliation.

Ngor's relatives were convinced of a Cambodia connection.

Before Ngor's death, the actor's cousin, Nou, had become increasingly concerned for Ngor's safety. After winning his Oscar, he spent much of his time publicizing the plight of refugees in his travels from London to Bangkok to raise funds for Cambodian relief. He also criticized Khmer Rouge leaders who were reestablishing forces in Thailand.

"When he exposed himself like this, too far beyond his own safety, he created enemies," said Nou, who sometimes traveled with Ngor. "I talked to him privately. I said, 'Please, slow down,' because something can happen and we don't know who is coming from the dark, whether it's possibly the Khmer Rouge, or China."

In the end, however, little evidence of an international conspiracy was introduced in court.

Jurors convicted the trio the day the world learned Pol Pot had died in a tiny jungle village, never having faced charges for his crimes.

By 2009, much in Cambodia had changed. With greater international recognition of the Khmer Rouge's atrocities, the U.N. and the Cambodian government began tribunals in hopes of bringing top members of Pol Pot's regime to justice.

One of the defendants was Kang Kek leu, who allegedly had run a prison where 14,000 people were killed. He took the stand in late November and made stunning allegations.

"Haing Ngor was killed because he appeared in the film 'The Killing Fields,' and they wished to kill me and my wife in order to shut us up," he said, according to a transcript provided by the Cambodian Tribunal Monitor, which oversees the hearings.

The prison warden said Pol Pot "used a kind of trick used by Stalin when he killed Trotsky in order to kill Haing Ngor." Joseph Stalin ordered secret police operations in 1940 to assassinate his political nemesis Leon Trotsky in Mexico City.

For some partisans in the U.S. Cambodian community, this was the proof of a conspiracy they were looking for. Some of Ngor's friends, however, wondered whether they could believe the prison warden.

"The first thing that went through my heart is, good grief, is this the long arm of the Khmer Rouge?" said Jack Ong, a longtime friend and head of the Dr. Haing S. Ngor Foundation, which oversees Ngor's nonprofit projects in Cambodia. "But you can't prove this. . . . In my heart, it will always be an unsolved mystery, one that causes me great emotional grief to this day."

The warden did not offer any evidence of a plot to kill Ngor, and the tribunal didn't delve further into the accusations because it was not part of the mission.

Some, including Ngor's cousin Nou, would like authorities to examine the warden's claims. But the FBI and law enforcement officials said this month they remained convinced that the gang members had acted alone and there is no need to reopen the case.

"I'm sure that people in the regime weren't sorry to see him go, but I'm not sure if that equates to having a prominent critic murdered in the U.S.," said Hum, the prosecutor in the Ngor trial.

Added Luper, the former LAPD detective: "I don't think any jurist reviewing it on appeal -- since it's already been appealed -- would find any justification of this . . . I wouldn't waste my time."

The continuing mystery of his cousin's death has left Nou wondering if he will ever close the book on the slaying.

"Sometimes, I am so exhausted from this matter," he said. "The truth will have to come out eventually."

Number of striking workers reaches 100,000: Union

Ean Vichara (R) stands with her colleagues Hun Try (C) and Pov Nub during a strike at the Chinese-owned Pine Great Cambodia Garment Co. Ltd. in Phnom Penh September 13, 2010. Cambodian labour activist Moeun Tola blames the Gap Inc, Nike Inc and other big Western brands for sinking Cambodian workers in low wages. Moeun Tola and thousands of Cambodian garment workers began a five-day walkout on Monday to demand better wages and benefits, a sign recent labour unrest in China may be spreading to factories elsewhere in Asia that supply the world with low-cost goods. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

14 Sept 2010
By Pech Bandol
Free Press Magazine Online

Translated from Khmer by Ko Theak
Click here to read the article in Khmer

Ath Thun, President of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, told reporters on Tuesday morning that, at least 50 factories in Cambodia are facing strike and that the total number of workers who walked out of their jobs reaches about 100,000.

Ath Thun said that there will be additional workers who will strike in other factories because they understand the aim of this strike.

The strike which started on 13 September is aimed at demanding for a wage raise to provide a decent salary for the workers, i.e. between $75 and $93 per month. The demand is counter current to the decision issued by the labor council which set the minimum wage to $61 per month in July of this year.

Nevertheless, the strike was not joined by Chea Mony’s Free Trade Union of Workers in the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC). Chea Mony claimed that he already sent the request to the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) to ask for a resolution on the workers’ demand. Nevertheless, the FTUWKC leader, who in the past led intense strikes and demonstrations, did not prevent workers from his union from joining the current strike.

Ellen Gets Ryan to Come Clean on Dating Details

Ryan Seacrest, Julianne Hough EVA/

Our pal Ryan Seacrest gave us plenty to talk about today, and the briefest hint about what's been going on between him and Julianne Hough.

During an onair conversation with Ellen DeGeneres about interviewing Lady Gaga in the meat dress, leaving American Idol and loving Portia de Rossi, Seacrest reluctantly revealed some personal dating deets today on his radio show, even while claiming, "This makes me uncomfortable."

After Ellen described how her feelings for de Rossi grow stronger every day, Seacrest slyly shared, "I love that feeling, and I know what that feeling might be like."

And that was all it took for DeGeneres and Ryan's cohost Ellen K. to press him for more, so Ryan reluctantly elaborated.

"She's great," he said, never actually naming Hough. "This one's even better than you could build if you went to a factory to build one."

Aww, we totally believe him...and hope he'll let us know where that factory is.

Britney Spears "More Than Ready" to Take Care of Herself?

Britney Spears, Jason Trawick Flynet Pictures

Britney Spears may be master of her own domain again by the end of the year.

While lawyers kept mum on the details after spending more than two hours in judge's chambers this afternoon, a source close to the Circus attraction tells E! News that the court is gearing up to end Britney's conservatorship, in place since February 2008.

"Everyone involved believes she has the necessary proof that she is competent to be in charge of her affairs," says the source, and "she's more than ready."

But while the consensus appears to be that the 28-year-old divorced mother of two deserves to hold her own purse strings once again, new tawdry lawsuit hurt her chances?

"One has nothing to do with the other," attorney Andrew Wallet, who's been overseeing Britney's affairs along with her dad Jamie Spears, tells E! News, referring to the sexual harassment suit filed by Britney's former bodyguard, who also claimed he witnessed her being abusive to her children.

Spears' legal camp has thumbed its nose at the allegations, and today conservatorship attorney Geraldine Wyle told E! that the singer is doing extremely well. (Neither Britney nor her pops was in court today.)

"She went on a wonderful vacation and is doing great things with her kids," Wyle says.

Britney & Co. celebrated 4-year-old Jayden's and 5-year-old Sean's birthdays at Disneyland over the weekend.

"I can't believe my boys are getting so big!" she tweeted yesterday.

As far as todays' closed hearing went, Britney's court-appointed lawyer Samuel Ingham did confirm that he requested permission for the pop star's bond holdings to be reduced from $25 million to $5 million.

The assets of the conservatorship are stable, he explained, but all money matters, including fund transfers between accounts, require the court's approval. L.A. Superior Court Commissioner Reva Goetz has been overseeing the case since Day 1.

Speaking of money matters, Britney's Beverly Hills home, where all the ambulance-and-cop craziness went down in '08, is still on the market after more than two years. The asking price has dropped more than $3 million since and now all that luxe lore can be yours for $4.85 million.

Another hearing to address more Spears-centric issues was set for Sept. 30.

Lady Gaga says she's "not a piece of meat"

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Lady Gaga said the controversial "meat" dress she wore at the MTV Video Music Awards was intended to make a statement.

Winning eight prizes at Sunday's ceremony, the glam pop performance artist chose to accept one of her statuettes wearing nothing but a raw, red meat dress with a matching purse, that became one of the most talked about moments of the televised show.

"If we don't stand up for what we believe in and if we don't fight for our rights, pretty soon we're going to have as much rights as the meat on our bones," Lady Gaga, 24, told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres on her TV program broadcast on Monday.

"And, I am not a piece of meat," she added.

Sunday's outfit comes on the heels of a meat bikini Gaga donned for the cover of Vogue Hommes Japan's September issue. It was one of several different costumes the singer wore on Sunday, including one that looked like a large black trash bag.

Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said that "wearing a dress made from cuts of dead cows is offensive enough to bring comment."

Lady Gaga told DeGeneres she meant no disrespect to anyone that is vegan or vegetarian, and called herself "the most judgement free human being on the earth."

Singer Cher, whom Gaga asked to hold her meat purse while accepting her award on stage, defended the 24-year old songbird.

In a series of several tweets regarding the meat dress, Cher wrote on Monday that as an "art piece it was astonishing!" and that the meat purse was "genius."

Continuing on Twitter, Cher added: "modern art elicits discussion, introspection & conflict! Everyone's talking about it! BINGO!"

Lady Gaga's eccentric outfits, string of hit records like "Bad Romance" and "Paparazzi" and startling live stunts including setting her piano on fire, have made her a worldwide pop culture phenomenon over the past two years with more than 10 million album sales.

(Editing by Jill Serjeant)

"Gods of Angkor" at the Sackler Gallery Tuesday, September 14

So, you know nothing about Buddhism or Hinduism, and can’t tell the names of temples or Cambodian cities apart from Magyar and Finnish. No worries! Your sparse knowledge of Christian symbolism and hand gestures doesn’t prevent you from enjoying Renaissance painting, so why should your ignorance of Eastern religions prohibit you from appreciating multiple statues of Vishnu and Shiva? As evidenced in the “Gods of Angkor” exhibition, there’s more to the cultural traditions of Cambodia than the Khmer Rouge in the late ’70s, and they are found—in part—within the design, ornamentation, and intricacies of the 36 master bronzes on view. To impress your friends, talk about the statuary breaking the frontal plain, the conventions of contrapposto, or the influence of Hellenism—Eastern and Western art share more in common than you might think.


Secret titanium mine threatens Cambodia's most untouched forest

Although the mining consortium, United Khmer Group, has been drawing up plans to build a massive titanium mine in a Cambodian protected forest for three years, the development did not become public knowledge until rural villagers came face-to-face with bulldozers and trucks building access roads. Reaction against the secret mine was swift as environmentalists feared for the impacts on wildlife and the rivers, local villagers saw a looming threat to their burgeoning eco-tourism trade, and Cambodian newspapers began to question statements by the mining corporation. While the government has suspended the roadwork to look more closely at the mining plans, Cambodians wait in uncertainty over the fate of one of most isolated and intact ecosystems in Southeast Asia: the Cardamom Mountains.

Cardamom Mountain Range waterfall popular with ecotourists. Photo courtesy of the Wildlife Alliance.
Spreading over some 2 million hectares (5 million acres) the Cardamom Mountains contain a startling biodiversity, including some 250 bird species, half of those recorded in Cambodia. Rare species such as Malayan sun bears, Indochinese tigers, pileated gibbons, and Siamese crocodiles inhabit the region. The largest population of Asian elephants in Cambodia, numbering about a hundred individuals, also roams this region.

If built, the titanium mine will stretch some 15,000 to 20,000 hectares (37,000 to 50,000 acres) of the Cardamom Mountains. Construction of the pit will require deforestation and burial of vast amounts of waste; such waste often results in the destruction or pollution of important waterways.

Michael Zwirn, head of Wildlife Alliance's US operations, described the impact to wildlife in the region as "very serious", adding that the mine would particularly imperil freshwater species, such as the Siamese crocodile, which is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List. In addition, the mine will sit right in the middle of an elephant migration route, endangering a quarter of Cambodia's wild elephants.

Map of the mining area. Click image to enlarge.
For locals the announcement of a mine in their backyard could not come at a worse time. The village of Chi Phat has spent years developing sustainable eco-tourism in the region. Many of the locals have left off poaching and logging for tourism and their efforts had begun to pay off: Lonely Planet, one of the most recognized travel guide companies in the world, named the area, known also as the Koh Kong Conservation Corridor, among the "World’s Top 10 Regions for 2010".

American tourists on birdwatching tour led from Chi Phat

Spoonbills in flight photographed from helicopter. Photos courtesy of the Wildlife Alliance.
Villagers are currently working with Wildlife Alliance on a new lodge to attract even more tourists to the once little-visited site. The conservation organization has spent over half a million US dollars to build an eco-tourism base in the area.

According to Zwirn, the town of Chi Phat is "almost universally opposed to the mine" since "communities have staked their economic development on environmentally friendly tourism". Seven hundred and sixty-six villagers, including the village chief, have already signed a petition against the mine for Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In face of opposition it has become increasingly unclear as to the status of the mine. Zwirn says that in Cambodian "ministries have sent very contradictory signals".

"It's not clear who's making some of these decisions, and it's not even clear what some of these decisions are. It's not clear how the process is being made."

Zwirn adds that a significant portion of the government appears to oppose the mine, but that may not be enough to stop it. According to reports the mine was initially approved by the Ministry of Industry, Mines, and Energy, yet the ultimate decision rests with the Ministry of Commerce.

"This is a perfect example of unplanned and uncoordinated development," Suwanna Gauntlett, CEO of Wildlife Alliance, said in a statement.

Not only the government, but the mining corporation has also faced criticism. The CEO of United Khmer Group, Chea Chet, stated that the mine would raise revenues of 2,500 US dollars a ton. However, the Phnom Penh Post, which calls Chet's assertion "frankly absurd", reports that titanium has been selling for less than a third that amount.

"Even if the ultimate revenues are far less than they promised they are still making money," Zwirn explains. No matter what profits the company makes it's not certain those funds would stay in Cambodia: Zwirn says that the project is being backed by Vietnamese and Chinese interests, but the company has refused to disclose the names of the private investors involved in the project.

Khmer burial jars (300-500 years old) in one of 12 known archaeological sites in the Cardamoms. Photo courtesy of the Wildlife Alliance.
In addition, questions have been raised as to the amount of ilmenite, which is the mineral mined for titanium production, in the area. Chea Chet has stated that United Khmer Group expects to pull up 120 million tonnes. Yet, Wildlife Alliance counters that the area was explored by another mining company, Omsaura, which estimated that only 2.5 million tonnes would be available, about 2 percent of Chet's claim.

Zwrin says that the company is playing "classic bait and switch". By "vastly overstating the [expected] revenues" United Khmer Group is using visions of riches to pressure the government for approval.

Map of the mining area. Click image to enlarge.
Conservationists fear that if this titanium mine is approved it will open the door to a variety of industrial projects in the region ultimately devastating one of Southeast Asia's last pristine forests. The Phnom Penh Post reports that if the titanium mine is successfully approved, China is planning three to four more mines covering 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) in the Cardamom Mountains.

Population of Asia's rarest waterbird 30% higher than previously thought

A record-breaking 429 White-shouldered Ibis (Pseudibis davisoni) were recorded in a new survey in Cambodia, dramatically expanding the known global population of the critically endangered bird species, reports BirdLife International.

The discovery, which exceeds the previous estimate of 330 birds by 30 percent, was welcomed by conservationists.

"Discovering so many White-shouldered Ibis really improves our chances of saving the species," said Hugh Wright, a doctoral student at University of East Anglia and an expert on the species, in a statement. "During this record-breaking count, one of our main sites actually had far fewer birds than in previous surveys. I don’t believe these birds move very far and they were probably still present at that site. Considering previous counts, this means that the actual population could even exceed 500 birds."

White-shouldered Ibis. Photo: Hugh Wright/UEA
However despite the positive news, the species—which is considered the most endangered waterbird in Southeast Asia due to habitat loss and hunting—is still in dire need of help.

"The species is still very close to extinction so we are continuing our efforts to understand and protect the ibis," said Sum Phearun of the People Resources and Conservation Foundation, which together with the Cambodian Forestry Administration and General Department for Administration of Nature Conservation and Protection, BirdLife International in Indochina, the Wildlife Conservation Society and Worldwide Fund for Nature, conducted the survey.

Cambodia calls for $1.4bn in aid

Cambodians light incense sticks during a ceremony commemorating the victims of the Khmer Rouge
The country is still recovering from Khmer Rouge rule
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for overseas money to help push for a successful trial of Khmer Rouge leaders.

Opening an annual conference of foreign aid donors, he said Cambodia was "fully and unequivocally committed" to pursuing justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died under the 1976-79 Marxist regime.

Cambodia is seeking $1.4bn in aid over the next three years.

But international donors meeting in the capital Phnom Penh have demanded Cambodia clean up its judiciary in exchange for further cash.

The overall human rights situation has changed little since last year

European Union
Negotiations between Cambodia and the United Nations to set up an international tribunal broke down in February after UN officials said they were concerned the planned hearings would not meet international standards of justice.

Hun Sen on Thursday said there was still hope for UN involvement in a future trial and asked donors for "understanding and tolerance" - as well as money.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen
Hun Sen: Criticised for lack of reforms
"Your excellencies will surely agree that the work to rebuild the legal and judicial system is titanic. To succeed, it will require colossal administrative capacity and resources," he told donors.

But the donors said they had seen few reforms so far, and made a list of demands, including a crackdown on corruption, political violence and human trafficking.

"The overall human rights situation has changed little since last year," said the European Union.

The US delegation said Cambodia's local elections held earlier this year had fallen short of being free and fair while the court systems favoured the wealthy and well-connected.

Previously no conditions had been attached to annual aid handouts.

Poverty line

Cambodia is one of the world's poorest countries, with more than a third of its 12 million people living on less than $1 a day.

About half of the national budget comes from foreign aid. Major donors are the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Japan and France.

Following the UN decision to pull out of the Khmer Rouge talks, Cambodia has not yet announced whether it will proceed with trials without UN involvement.

Hun Sen has for years pledged to try Khmer Rouge leaders for their "killing fields" regime but no-one has appeared in court.

Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch found guilty

The BBC's Guy De Launey says Duch may serve only 19 years of his 35-year prison sentence

Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch has been found guilty of crimes against humanity by Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal.

Duch, 67, whose full name is Kaing Guek Eav, was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

He had admitted overseeing the torture and execution of thousands of men, women and children at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, and asked for forgiveness.

This is the tribunal's first verdict.

Prosecutors had asked the judges for a 40-year prison sentence.

However, Duch will not serve the full 35 allotted years as judges reduced the sentence by five years because he had been held illegally, and reduced it by a further 11 years for time already served behind bars.

Wearing a blue shirt, the former Khmer Rouge jailer looked pensive and slumped in his chair as proceedings were held behind a floor-to-ceiling bullet-proof screen which separated the public gallery from the rest of the court.

Reading out the sentence, the president of the five-judge panel said it reflected the "shocking and heinous" nature of the offences.

Crowds of Cambodians attended the specially built court on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh, to hear the verdict, which was also broadcast live across the country.

Some said they wanted a tougher sentence. "There is no justice. I wanted life imprisonment for Duch," said Hong Sovath, whose father was killed in Tuol Sleng.

"I can't accept this," Saodi Ouch, 46, told the Associated Press news agency. "My family died... my older sister, my older brother. I'm the only one left."

At the scene

A sense of justice after 30 years mingled with disappointment at the sentence handed down to Duch.

The judges deducted 16 years from the time the former prison chief must serve after being found guilty of crimes against humanity. Some for time already served, the rest because they ruled Duch had been held in pre-trial detention too long.

It was received as an insult by some people who had lived through the horrors of the Pol Pot era. At least one man left the court in disgust.

Others at least found satisfaction that after three decades a significant member of the Khmer Rouge had at last been brought to account. Now they hope that other trials will follow.

Members of some of the groups that were specifically targeted by the Khmer Rouge were in court. Orange-robed Buddhist monks and Cham Muslims wearing white skull caps gathered round a big screen TV outside the main chamber.

But Chea Leang, one of the co-prosecutors, said the sentence showed that those who committed crimes during the Khmer Rouge era would be punished.

"Those who have taken many lives cannot avoid justice," she said.

Summary execution

Duch ran Tuol Sleng prison, where "enemies" of the Khmer Rouge regime were sent.

Up to two million people died because of the policies of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979.

Their policies included the evacuation of cities, forced labour in the rice fields and the summary execution of those considered enemies of the revolution.

The group's top leader, "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Duch, the first of five surviving senior figures of the Khmer Rouge to go on trial, was widely expected to be found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the court.

Despite acknowledging the role he played at Tuol Sleng, codenamed "S-21", he insisted that he had only been following orders from his superiors, and on the trial's final day in November shocked many by asking to be acquitted.

But prosecutors said the former maths teacher ordered the use of brutal torture methods to extract "confessions" from detainees - including pulling out toenails and administering electric shocks - and approved all the executions.

A meticulous record-keeper, Duch built up a huge archive of photos, confessions and other evidence documenting those held at Tuol Sleng.

Who were the Khmer Rouge?

  • Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979 - also known as Angkar
  • Founded and led by Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot
  • Abolished religion, schools and currency in effort to create agrarian utopia
  • Up to two million people thought to have died of starvation, overwork or were executed
  • Defeated in Vietnamese invasion in 1979
  • Pol Pot fled and remained free until 1997 - he died a year later

In one memo he kept, a guard asked him what to do with six boys and three girls accused of being traitors. He replied: "Kill every last one."

After the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, Duch disappeared for almost two decades, living under various aliases in north-western Cambodia and converting to Christianity. His chance discovery by an Irish journalist led to his arrest in 1999.

Only about a dozen people who were held at Tuol Sleng are thought to have survived, three of whom are still alive. Up to 17,000 people are believed to have died there.

The other Khmer Rouge leaders awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, former foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, the minister of social affairs.


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