Aung San Suu Kyi to be released days after Burmese election

Junta bans Nobel laureate from standing and deregisters her National League for Democracy, then offers to work with them 'for the betterment of our country'
Aung San Suu Kyi poster
Members of the National Democratic Force put up a poster of Aung San Suu Kyi at the gate to the party's headquarters in Rangoon. Photograph: Khin Maung Win/AP

The most famous name in Burmese politics will not be on any ballot paper this election, but she remains in the hearts and minds of the Burmese people.

Since 1990, when her National League for Democracy humiliated the junta by winning more than 80% of parliamentary seats, Aung San Suu Kyi, has spent a total of 15 years under house arrest or in jail. The Nobel peace laureate and Burma's best-known champion of democracy was never allowed to take power.

New laws written for Sunday's poll exclude her, or anybody serving a custodial sentence, from participating. The NLD called for a boycott and has been deregistered as a political group.

The Lady, as she is known, is due to be released six days after the election, and there is speculation about whether the junta will allow her to leave her home on the banks of Rangoon's Inya lake.

Military officials have been quoted confirming the release date of 13 November. "November will be an important and busy month for us because of the election and because of Aung San Suu Kyi's release," an unnamed official said.

One election candidate, a long-time friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, believes she will be released because the junta has run out of reasons to keep her locked up.

"If they could find just one reason, they would keep her under arrest, because they don't like her, they don't like that the people love her. But will she really be free? Will she be able to meet with her friends, her supporters, can she talk to the media? I don't know," the candidate said.

What role, if any, Aung San Suu Kyi will be allowed to play in Burma's post-election political landscape is unknown. The general secretary of the junta's political wing, the Union Solidarity and Development party, was quoted this week as saying the military would work with anyone interested in fostering progress. "We want to co-operate with [the NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi] for the betterment of our country," U Htay Oo said in the Myanmar Times.

Few observers believe the sentiment is genuine. The anti-junta independent candidate Yuza Maw Htoon, whose grandfather was a colleague of Aung San Suu Kyi's famous father, Aung San, said a democratic Burma needed its most visible champion.

"She needs a place too. We need to be inclusive, we cannot just say to the NLD 'you are out', because they did not participate in this election. Aung San Suu Kyi is in people's hearts, she has suffered for many years for the people, they love and they respect her, and she can help our country."

Aung San, the general who founded Burma's national army during the second world war and who, post-war, later negotiated with Britain for Burma's independence. He never lived to see it. He was assassinated by a political rival in 1947, aged 32. His daughter was two years old.

He remains Burma's most revered hero. His boyish likeness, in full military uniform, is everywhere across the country. In the west, he is known as Aung San Suu Kyi's father. In Burma, she is known as his sondaughter.

Opinion: Cambodia leader tries to end Khmer Rouge trials

Will the UN-backed court be able to stand up to Hun Sen?

Joel Brinkley
Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks to the media at Phnom Penh international airport, Nov. 8, 2009. (Chor Sokunthea/Reuters)

PALO ALTO — Hun Sen, Cambodia’s prime minister, told the United Nations Secretary General while he was visiting Phnom Penh the other day that he would not allow any more Khmer Rouge war-crimes trials after the second one that’s now underway.

“The prime minister clearly affirmed that case three is not allowed,” his foreign minister reported.

What’s so strange about that? All of the remaining defendants, four surviving leaders of the genocidal regime, are on trial right now. One of the most notorious Khmer Rouge jailers has already been convicted and was sent to prison in July.

Well, Hun Sen’s declaration to Ban Ki-moon runs afoul of two serious problems. First, the Khmer Rouge trial, administered by a joint U.N.-Cambodian court, is supposed to be completely independent of government or U.N. interference.

As Ban put it, Hun Sen needs to “provide full cooperation and fully respect the independence of the court.”

But then this is Cambodia, and Hun Sen is essentially an elected dictator who wields full control of everything that happens in his country — except the Khmer Rouge trial. He has been interfering in the court since the day it opened its doors. In fact, it’s a miracle that the court has managed to carry out a trial and issue a conviction, given Hun Sen’s public animus toward the proceedings.

Hun Sen is worried. He is a former Khmer Rouge commander, and while no one has pinned any particular atrocity on him, numerous members of his government and military were Khmer Rouge officers, too. Hun Sen fought the U.N. over the trial for many years but, under pressure, finally agreed after the U.N. allowed his courts to share jurisdiction.

Right now, down in the basement of the court’s international side, criminal investigators are at work looking for even more villains to put on trial for the deaths of 2 million people killed during the Khmer Rouge reign from 1975 to 1979. It’s like finding trees in the forest because these people live openly in Cambodian society, with little to worry them — until now.

Many of the possible future defendants are Hun Sen’s friends and compatriots. And while there is absolutely no evidence of this now, I wonder whether he worries that one or another of them, to save his own skin, might tell damning stories of the prime minister’s past once he is put on the stand.

The other problem is Hun Sen’s fatuous explanation for trying to forbid more trials.

“We have to think about peace in Cambodia,” Hun Sen told Ban. Last year, when the court said it was opening new investigations. Hun Sen warned: "If you want a tribunal, but you don't want to consider peace and reconciliation and war breaks out again, killing 200,000 or 300,000 people, who will be responsible? Finally, I have got peace in this country, so I will not let someone destroy it.”

More than a decade ago, before the Khmer Rouge insurgency finally collapsed in 1999, some Cambodians officials openly worried that aging Khmer Rouge soldiers living in the jungle might come out and cause trouble if their colleagues were put on trial. But that was a long time ago, and the politics of today are entirely different.

I spent much of the last two years reporting in Cambodia, and most Cambodians told me they aren’t even watching the trial. It’s televised, but 75 percent of Cambodians have no electricity and have to power their TVs with car batteries. Reception is not very good. Interest is even less. During the day, while the trial is on, Cambodians have to work. They are generally more concerned about survival than justice for a regime that left power before most of them were even born.

So where’s all this trouble Hun Sen worries about going to come from? The first trial, against the jailer Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, provoked not a single recorded incident of civil unrest. Hun Sen’s is a totally baseless claim. But he doesn’t care. He is a living definition of the word “impunity.” That enabled him also to order the secretary general to close the U.N.’s human rights office in Cambodia. Inconveniently, that office has been pointing out that Hun Sen’s government is depriving its citizens of one human right after another as the prime minister consolidates his dictatorship.

The trial has been a most interesting exercise for Cambodia. It exposed the state’s way of doing business — incompetent, rapacious, corrupt — to everyone in the world. Since half of the court is staffed by United Nations employees, mostly from Western nations, Cambodian business as usual, generally practiced behind locked doors, is now exposed for the world to see — like a doll house with no back wall. The scene inside isn’t pretty, but I have confidence the court will find a way to stand up to Hun Sen once again.

Where democracy is a curable disease

Burmese military

Burmese head of state Than Shwe reviews a parade on Armed Forces Day last March; Burma's generals are keen on a democratic veneer for military rule. Picture: AFP Source: AFP

This weekend's Burmese election will entrench the military in another Asian country under dictatorial rule

BURMA'S oppressive military regime has tomorrow's elections stitched up. The generals want no surprises; they want a solid victory for themselves, with the democratic veneer of a few seats won by marginalised and circumscribed opposition politicians.

Regardless of the results, the military will automatically be allocated 25 per cent of the seats in the national and local assemblies.

Nevertheless, in a belt-and-braces layer of electoral security, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, and her party, the National League for Democracy, has been formally dissolved. Campaign materials and speeches have been rigorously censored and observers and foreign journalists banned.

The two regime-backed parties are flush with funds and candidates, in stark contrast to the small and mostly struggling opposition parties.

Just to make doubly sure, many voters in Burma's conflict zones will be completely disfranchised by the junta's decision to keep certain towns out of the poll for "safety" reasons.

As a result, the first elections in 20 years have been roundly condemned as a sham, in keeping with the tenor of military regimes and military-aligned governments across Southeast Asia.

In Vietnam, democracy advocates are hounded and jailed, and the large army is the iron fist of the communist government.

In Thailand, the military coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 began a renaissance of uniformed power, burgeoning military budgets and increasingly vocal army chiefs.

In Cambodia, it seems unlikely the hounded and belittled opposition will ever win an election, and in Laos the communist government quashes all dissent.

In Indonesia, the despotic general Suharto was finally pushed out of the presidency in 1998, after the Asian economic crisis brought simmering discontent with his military regime to a head.

Since then there have been three democratic national elections, a free press has flourished and Indonesia has been hailed as a beacon for the region. But although the Indonesian military no longer has a quota of seats in parliament, the army maintains its territorial command structure and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a former general who derives at least some of his authority from his military past.

Some years ago Yudhoyono offered to help Burma make the difficult transition to democracy, but the Burmese generals seem more interested in the Suharto version of government, which includes blatantly rigged polls, a savagely censored press and overwhelming military dominance.

Burma's planned model echoes Suharto's dwi fungsi (dual function) military doctrine, which encompassed parliamentary seats and high-ranking bureaucratic positions for the military.

Paul Chambers, a senior research fellow at Heidelberg University, is deeply pessimistic about prospects of democracy in the region. He has written widely on demilitarisation in Asia, and he believes it will begin to take hold only in two circumstances.

"First, when the armed forces as an institution becomes so tarnished and fissured that a political vacuum allows for other institutions (for example, civilians) to assume more control," he says.

"In such circumstances, after a period of time the military will most probably come back as a powerful force. This can be seen in what happened in Thailand [in] 1992-2006.

"Second, when the armed forces find it more in their interest to operate as a powerful force behind the scenes. In an age when overt military control is not in vogue, such a situation becomes more likely for polities with powerful militaries. It is exemplified in Thailand and Pakistan."

Even though Burma has resisted all persuasion, hectoring and threats from the West in the past, Chambers believes it is now in its interests to establish at least a veneer of democracy, while reinforcing military power behind this facade.

Others believe rumblings within the military's rank and file helped to push the regime to stage an election. Toe Zaw Latt, the Thailand bureau chief for the exiled Democratic Voice of Burma media network, says his reporters have a number of informers in the Burmese military, or Tatmadaw.

He believes soldiers had begun to ask about progress along Burma's so-called road map to democracy that was originally mooted decades ago.

The impetus for elections likely came from a combination of internal and external pressure. Certainly Than Shwe, chief of the ruling State Peace and Development Council, embarked on a series of high-level diplomatic meetings before the elections.

He was feted in China and India (much to the disgust of democratic Indians), and he received Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in Burma.

Abhisit duly announced the multi-billion-dollar joint Burma-Thai development of a deep-sea port and economic zone on Burma's Tavoy coast.

Outside Asia, some observers regard the imminent emergence of this wafer-thin democratic veneer as a sign of progress in a nation with one of the worst human rights records, where more than 2000 political prisoners have been locked up, and where divergent ethnic aspirations have been ruthlessly suppressed. Some constrained civil space, they argue, is better than nothing, and engagement appears to produce more results than force.

Yet Maung Zarni, a scholar at the London School of Economics, a dissident and a scion of a Burmese military family, is deeply pessimistic about Burma's future.

"We are not heading to a democratic space, we are heading to a political and economic twilight zone," he said at a recent seminar in Bangkok.

The SPDC regime, he added, was a toxic mixture of "neo-totalitarianism with feudalistic characteristics". The new constitution simply expanded and encoded military rule and "entrenched military apartheid", he said, pointing out that photos of bureaucrats bowing to generals illustrated the social divisions.

Burma's generals have enriched themselves at the expense of ordinary people. "They're not interested in changing the political system," Maung Zarni said. "They're too fat."

All of Burma's leading corporations are either owned by generals or have strong links with the military, and the country is ranked on Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index as the second most corrupt in the world.

Than Shwe's daughter was roped in a stunning array of what seemed to be diamonds for her wedding in 2006, and luxury cars on urban streets are more often than not owned by military chiefs or their cronies.

Meanwhile, electricity flickers on and off in Rangoon; in eastern Burma, one child in seven dies, mostly of preventable diseases, before reaching the age of five; and everywhere civilians scheme to afford the necessities of life.

The 2007 Saffron Uprising in Burma, when monks marched in the streets and the world focused on the nation, was first inspired by sharp hikes in fuel prices.

The generals seemingly have good reason, then, to improve Burma's economic performance. The Saffron movement was brutally crushed, but the potential remains for popular revolt, especially if hunger and want increase.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an internationally respected political scientist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, notes that in Thailand, economic development took decades to promote. He says the withdrawal of the military from politics is always possible, if not inevitable, but it is a gradual process. He points to South Korea, where democracy is flourishing, to Indonesia and to South American nations such as Argentina and Chile. But it's a difficult and muddled process.

"It's too easy to focus on doomsday scenarios, there has to be some hope of political progress," he says, referring to Burma.

"At one point we thought Thai democracy was being consolidated . . . but now the consolidation is lost."

Thailand has endured 18 attempted military coups, 11 of them successful, since 1932. The most recent effort, in 2006, began a cycle of bitter protests that culminated in this year's fiery red-shirt uprising, which left 91 dead and as many as 1900 wounded.

The army budget has doubled since the coup and the military boasts more than 1000 generals.

Even so, Thitinan sees some hope. The Thai military, though sorely tempted, has refrained from launching further coups. The international community, including investors and tourists, tends to look askance at blatant military dictatorships.

International credibility is considered important, and Thailand can drape itself in a cloak of democracy.

Cambodia, to Thailand's east, is ruled by the semi-authoritarian Cambodian People's Party. There, too, the facade of democracy is in place; elections are duly held, and the CPP always wins, largely because it brooks no opposition.

Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which investigates war crimes, concedes there's no democracy in Cambodia, yet he continues to negotiate with the government, because there's always hope for change. He says it took him nine years to get approval for a 98-page school textbook setting out the nation's history under the Khmer Rouge.

Thitinan notes that the democratic tide can ebb and flow before it becomes self-sustaining and reaches the point of no return. "Twelve years ago, we [Thailand] were going up and Indonesia was going down. Now it's reversed. Is 10 years enough to entrench democracy, or could Indonesia's military come creeping back?"

Ed Aspinall, head of the department of political and social change at the Australian National University, and an Indonesia specialist, says military interference in Indonesian political affairs ebbed dramatically after Suharto's fall. "The problem is that I don't think this military retreat has been matched by a reform of the military infrastructure," he says. "Many of the [military] structural mechanisms [that] allowed the control remain intact."

He points to the territorial command structure, which has been justified in terms of defence: the military is stationed throughout the nation to mobilise the population in case of dire need.

"As always during the Suharto years, there is a military administration shadowing the civilian government," Aspinall says. "Were the civilian side of things to become more fragile, that structure is there to be used."

The Indonesian military, now known as the TNI, was greatly feared during the Suharto years, particularly in rebel provinces. There is concern the pervasive culture of military impunity has basically survived intact; in recent weeks, footage emerged of Indonesian soldiers torturing a Papuan with a fiery stick in the genitals. Other Papuans were kicked.

These acts were admitted by Security Minister Djoko Suyanto, who said the soldiers had "overreacted" and were "unprofessional". But it remains to be seen whether they'll be punished.

Aspinall says the Burmese generals would like to build a regime that's patterned to some degree on the old Suharto model, with the military at the centre and a limited amount of civilian parliamentary participation via controlled political parties.

The tightly controlled system was oriented towards economic development and lacked interest in human rights. Suharto introduced the controlled parliamentary system early in his rule, and the regime survived for decades.

Senior Indonesian military officers have apparently visited Burma. But Aspinall says Burma is far more combustible than Indonesia was, and he doubts the regime's ability to successfully introduce an Indonesia-style system.

"That's the model they have in mind," he says.

"Whether they can pull it off is questionable."

Security tight as Clinton touches down in Melbourne

Hillary Clinton is greeted by Kevin Rudd after arriving in Melbourne.

Hillary Clinton is greeted by Kevin Rudd after arriving in Melbourne. Photo: AP

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Australia, making her first ever visit to Melbourne amid tight security.

Ms Clinton's arrival in the Victorian capital today called for the assistance of men in dark suits and saw scores of Federal and Victorian police officers in the air, on motorbikes and pacing the tarmac.

Tight security meant at least 14 vehicles - including an armoured van - were waiting to transport an entourage of press, diplomatic security and members of the Secretary of State's private office from the 757 US aircraft that touched down at Tullamarine just after 1.30pm (AEDT).

Ms Clinton eventually jogged down the steps to be greeted with a kiss from Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.

Other dignitaries on hand to welcome her to Australia for talks at the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) included Australian Ambassador to the US Kim Beazley and US Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey Bleich.

US embassy spokeswoman Judy Moon said the Australian visit had been in the pipeline since January but meticulous preparations were stepped up when a date was announced during Mr Rudd's Washington meeting with Ms Clinton in July.

Ms Clinton's two-day visit is the final leg of her 10-day Asia-Pacific tour which has taken in Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.

Shortly after she was ferried away in a black BMW, a jovial Mr Rudd told reporters Ms Clinton was a welcome guest for the AUSMIN talks in Melbourne.

"She just said to me just now how much she's looking forward to spending time here, never having been in this city before," Mr Rudd said.

The foreign minister emphasised that Australia's alliance with the US remained as important as ever.

"Throughout life there are friends who stick with you through thick and thin," Mr Rudd told reporters.

"Our American friends have done that for 70 years.

"That's why this alliance has been important in the past and why it will be important in the future."

Ms Clinton is expected to enjoy some leisure time in Melbourne before her formal engagements on Sunday.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard promised to show Ms Clinton a good time in Melbourne when the pair spoke briefly at the 16-nation East Asia Summit in Vietnam last week.

Speaking to reporters in Melbourne on Saturday, Ms Gillard said there was a range of ways the most powerful woman in the US could spend her time enjoying Victoria's capital.

"Melbourne is a very good place to have a good time.

"So, whether it's sauntering on Melbourne's streets, grand boulevards, or in our back lanes, whether it's shopping, whether it's talking to our great sporting identities, or just enjoying beautiful Victorian weather, there's a lot for Secretary Clinton to do here in Melbourne."

Ms Clinton will be joined by US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates for AUSMIN with Mr Rudd and Defence Minister Stephen Smith on Monday.

But before she meets the federal ministers, Ms Clinton will take questions from an audience of under 35s at a public forum for ABC television on Sunday.

In Cambodia, Clinton Advocates Khmer Rouge Trials


BANGKOK — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited a former Khmer Rouge torture house in Cambodia on Monday and urged the nation to proceed with trials of the former regime’s surviving leaders in order to “confront its past.”

Chor Sokunthea/Reuters

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Tuol Sleng prison, where more than 14,000 people were held before being sent to their deaths in a killing field.

On a visit to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, during a seven-country tour through Asia that has already taken her to Vietnam and China, Mrs. Clinton called for the strengthening of democratic institutions and for greater tolerance of opposition views.

“It’s a very disturbing experience,” she said after a visit to Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng prison, where more than 14,000 people were held before being sent to their deaths in a killing field. “And the pictures — both the pictures of the young Cambodians who were killed and the young Cambodians who were doing the killing — were so painful.”

The commandant of that prison, Kaing Guek Eav, was sentenced to 19 years in prison last July in the first part of a United Nations-backed trial of leading figures of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979.

A second trial involving the four most senior surviving leaders has been expected to follow, after they were formally indicted in September. But Prime Minister Hun Sen, who once said that Cambodia should “dig a hole and bury the past,” has said that he would not allow any additional prosecutions beyond those four.

Mrs. Clinton repeated an argument that has been used by proponents of the trials, saying that “a country that is able to confront its past is a country that can overcome it.”

“Countries that are held prisoner to their past can never break those chains and build the kind of future that their children deserve,” she said. “Although I am well aware the work of the tribunal is painful, it is necessary to ensure a lasting peace.”

She also urged Mr. Hun Sen not to follow through on a threat to close the United Nations human rights office in Cambodia, which has been critical of the country. “We think the office is important,” Mrs. Clinton said, “and we would like to see it continue.”

Speaking to a group of students, she said, “We hope that democratic institutions become stronger in Cambodia and that the space for political expression is big and that people have the right to be critical of the government.”

Mrs. Clinton also said that the United States would send a team to Cambodia to seek repayment of a $445 million debt to the United States owed by the government that preceded the Khmer Rouge. Mr. Hun Sen has asked America to forgive the debt, but Mrs. Clinton said the debt could be settled in various ways.

“You could have some repayment; you could have debt for nature; you could have debt for education,” she said. “There are things that the government of Cambodia could do that would satisfy the need to demonstrate some level of accountability, but more importantly to invest those funds in the needs of the people of Cambodia.”

UN Secretary-General Says Khmer Rouge Tribunal Plays Vital Role

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) is escorted around the former security prison known as S-21 with a guide (right). The commandant of S-21, Comrade Duch, was convicted by the war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh earlier this year.
Photo: VOA - R. Carmichael

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) is escorted around the former security prison known as S-21 with a guide (right). The commandant of S-21, Comrade Duch, was convicted by the war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh earlier this year.

The U.N. Secretary-General says the Khmer Rouge tribunal plays a vital role in Cambodia's search for justice for victims of the 1970s government. But Ban Ki-moon is encountering resistance to the tribunal from Cambodia's current government.
During a tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Ban endorsed efforts to bring the Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.

"The conviction of Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was a milestone in Cambodia's journey for justice," the U.N. secretary-general said. "We know it is difficult to relive this terrible chapter in your history, but I want you to know that your courage has sent a strong and powerful message to the world that there can be no impunity, that crimes against humanity shall not go unpunished."

Tuol Sleng was a prison known as S-21 under the Khmer Rouge government in the 1970s. The international tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity sentenced its commander, known as Duch, in July.

Next year the U.N.-Cambodian tribunal will start its second case - against four former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which is blamed for as many as 2 million deaths during its rule.

But the message from Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen - delivered bluntly to Ban on Wednesday - was that the second case would be the tribunal's last.

It is not entirely clear if the Cambodian government can prevent new cases, as the tribunal is supposed to be free from political interference. It is investigating five more suspects.

Ban sidestepped questions on whether there will more trials.

"I had a good discussion on this matter twice with the Prime Minister Hun Sen, and also [the] deputy prime minister this morning, and I can tell you that the government of Cambodia is committed to completion of the process," he said. "The United Nations will discuss this matter with the international community members, particularly donors. That is what I can tell you at this stage."

The U.N. secretary-general closed his speech at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum by praising Cambodian efforts to find justice.

"I will never forget my visit here today. In this place of horror, ladies and gentlemen, let the human spirit triumph. Wars cannot do justice, but we can. Thank you people of Cambodia for leading the way," Ban said.

Later Thursday, Ban flew to Vietnam, where he will meet with the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. After that, he travels to China.

A coment for khmer Ruge trial



29-10-2010 NMK(USA) 10-29-2010 (USA)

The whole world is aware of how the Khmer Rouge, their leaders and their comrades have committed acts of atrocities against their own people. They are simply murderers, cold blood killers, no matter what they claimed who they are. Whoever continue to defend those foolish devils are just as criminal as themselves.

Cambodian Premier says No More Khmer Rouge Trials

Cambodian President Hun Sen, left and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon inspect honor guard in Phnom Penh, 27 Oct 2010
Photo: VOA - R. Carmichael

Cambodian President Hun Sen, left and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon inspect honor guard in Phnom Penh, 27 Oct 2010

awaiting trial next year would be the last to be prosecuted.

Unilateral decision

Hun Sen put not one, but two, shots across the bow of the United Nations, during a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived late Tuesday on a two-day official visit.

The first shot was that he was against allowing the international war crimes court in Phnom Penh to prosecute any more former Khmer Rouge members.

The court is a hybrid U.N.-Cambodian tribunal, funded mainly by donations from U.N. member states.

The second shot - the prime minister wants the United Nations to shut its local human rights office, after firing the office's country head, Christophe Peschoux.

UN reaction

Ban is not scheduled to speak to the media until Thursday, but his spokesman, Yves Sorokobi spoke to VOA.

He says matters of staffing are purely the preserve of the United Nations, and the organization stands by all of its staff, including Peschoux. But when it comes to the matter of the office itself, that is a matter of bilateral cooperation. And that means if Cambodia no longer wants a U.N. human rights office, then in the long term there is not much the United Nations can do about that.

"This has been a matter of bilateral cooperation," noted Sorokobi. "The secretary-general in his meeting with the prime minister today discussed this matter. There was no decision made there by the secretary-general, and I believe that now that the government has made its position clear, the secretary-general will consult."

Tribunal's work

The Khmer Rouge tribunal began its work in 2006, and earlier this year sentenced Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch, the defendant in the first case, to 30 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

It is scheduled to begin the second case, against four former leaders of the movement next year.

International investigators had opened dockets into another five unnamed former Khmer Rouge, and those five constituted Cases Three and Four.

But today Prime Minister Hun Sen effectively shot those down.

Reasoning behind decision

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith told VOA that Hun Sen is against those cases for several reasons.

He says the prime minister believes those being investigated were not high-ranking members in the Khmer Rouge and their prosecutions would fall outside the deal between the United Nations and Cambodia to establish a tribunal in the first place.

"The second reason [is] he said that the primary goal of setting up this court, is first to find justice for the Cambodian people, and two is to preserve the peace and political stability in the country," Kanharith said.

Despite the prime minister's declaration the second trial will be the last, Sorokobi says the United Nations stands committed to the idea of judicial independence at the court.

"Again, this is a matter for the court officials, for the independent councilors to decide, and we have to give them the space that they need to make the proper decision. There should be no political interference with their work," Sorokobi said.


Later, Mr. Ban told the staff at the war crimes tribunal headquarters outside Phnom Penh he is firmly resolved those kinds of acts the Khmer Rouge is accused of should never happen again.

He said accountability, justice and the fight against impunity were the standards during his tenure as secretary-general.

Hillary Clinton Endorses UN Human Rights Office in Cambodia

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looks at a wall of faces of those killed by the Khmer Rouge regime, during a tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, formerly the regime's notorious S-21 prison,  in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 01 Nov 2010
Photo: AP

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looks at a wall of faces of those killed by the Khmer Rouge regime, during a tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, formerly the regime's notorious S-21 prison, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 01 Nov 2010

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has thrown her support behind the U.N. human rights office in Cambodia, and also addressed the issue of Cambodia's debt to the United States during a visit to Phnom Penh as part of two-week long tour of Asia.

The Cambodian government wants the United Nations to close its human rights office here. But Secretary Clinton defended the office Monday, calling it "a valuable resource."

"It provides technical assistance to the government," Clinton said. "It also works with these NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that are in Cambodia, both Cambodian NGOs and international NGOs on a variety of concerns including human rights, trafficking in persons, and the rule of law." Clinton added, "So, the High Commissioner's office is active in ways that we think are very complementary to what the Cambodian government is committed to doing, and we think the work is important and we would like to see it continue."

While she endorsed the work of the U.N.-sponsored tribunal prosecuting the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, Clinton said her immediate priority is to ensure there is sufficient money to fund the next trial. This second case of four Khmer Rouge leaders is set to begin next year, and she estimates will cost up to 50 million dollars to complete.

But the Cambodian government has said it wants the international tribunal to shut down after that case and not pursue more. Clinton noted the government's concerns about political instability should the tribunal prosecute more cases, a concern many human rights groups do not share.

"That is something that we in the international community should consult closely with the Cambodian government on," said Clinton. "But the first piece of business is getting 002 to trial. And I want to see that happen as soon as possible. So I will be personally reaching out to help raise the money to get that done," she said.

More than a million Cambodians died of starvation, illness and execution when the Khmer Rouge ruled the country in the 1970s. The tribunal concluded its case, against a prison commandant, a few months ago.

Clinton indicated the United States is willing to consider different options regarding $445 million that Cambodia owes it from the 1970s. The debt stemmed from U.S. support for the Lon Nol government, which ran Cambodia from 1970 to 1975 before the nation fell to the Khmer Rouge.

Phnom Penh says the debt should be canceled. But talks on resolving the debt have not been held since 2006.

"We have agreed that the United States will send a team of experts as soon as possible to resume discussions over ways to settle this debt," said Clinton. "The discussions as you know ended in 2006. We very much want to see this matter resolved."

She added, however, that the United States would be interested in seeing the money spent in Cambodia on improving education or environmental protection, instead of taking a direct repayment.

Hillary Clinton pledges to deepen partnership with Cambodia

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (front R) waves when she arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 1, 2010. Hillary Clinton on Monday morning arrived in Phnom Penh from Cambodia's northen city Siem Reap for her last day visit to Cambodia. (Xinhua/Phearum)

By Meng Bill

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 1 (Xinhua) -- The visiting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged Monday that her country will broaden and deepen partnership with Cambodia with an aim to help its development.

Speaking to reporters at a joint press conference with Hor Namhong, Cambodia's deputy prime minister and minister of Foreign Affairs, Hillary Clinton said the United States and Cambodia will "broaden and deepen our partnership".

"This is my sixth trip to Asia as secretary of state, but my first trip to Cambodia. It represents the commitment that President Obama and I have made to restoring America to high level of engagement to Asia-Pacific region, and in particular, to work with the government and the people of the country such as Cambodia, " she said.

"We can work even more closely together to help meet the challenges facing Cambodia and all Southeast Asia. Cambodia is doing more than ever before to improving health system, in particular, on HIV/AIDS. We will be helping the people of Cambodia mounts a comprehensive fight against the hunger by raising agricultural productivity and making nutrition foods more widely available," she added.

Speaking at the same press conference, Hor Namhong said the United States has helped Cambodia in many sectors including health, education and demining.

And now, he said, Cambodia is requesting the United States to provide more tax exemptions for Cambodian goods exporting to U.S. market, saying the United States is a huge market for Cambodia with the total trades of nearly 3 billion U.S. dollars.

He said such volumes are helping Cambodia in social and economic development.

Both Hillary Clinton and Hor Namhong have shared some other points during the discussions including the Cambodia's debt to the United States, the Office of the UN Human Rights in Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge trial.

Clinton said a team of experts will come and resume talks with Cambodia on the debt issue.

Cambodia has asked the United States to cancel the debt that it has owed since 1970s which is now amounting to around 445 million U.S. dollars.

Cambodia has blamed the present country's representative of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia as a spokesman of the country's opposition party and wants him to be removed or the office closed, but Clinton is suggesting the office to continue and work with Cambodian government.

Hor Namhong said there are more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations, and more than 100 of which are working on human rights issues in Cambodia.

For Khmer Rouge trial, Clinton said the United States will continue to help it, especially on the shortage of fund to proceed with the case for the trial of four aging leaders.

Clinton is making a two-day visit, the first visit to the country by a U.S. Secretary of State since Colin Powell visited Cambodia to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2003.

Clinton spent the whole day on Sunday in Siem Reap and toured Angkor temples.

During her stay in Phnom Penh, Clinton met with several government leaders including Prime Minister Hun Sen and Hor Namhong as well as having an audience with King Norodom Sihamoni.

Clinton leaves Cambodia late Monday for Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and Australia.

Editor: Wang Guanqun

Clinton urges Cambodia to strike balance with China

By John Pomfret
Tuesday, November 2, 2010

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday called on Cambodia to maintain an independent foreign policy and avoid relying too much on China.

Clinton is on the second leg of a seven-country swing through Asia. The trip is designed to reinforce a central plank of foreign policy in the Obama administration: that the United States views Asia as key to the future and that the United States must act in this region to balance China's influence. President Obama also heads to Asia this week for meetings in India, Indonesia and South Korea.

"You don't want to get too dependent on any one country," Clinton said Monday in response to a question about China's influence during a meeting with Cambodian students. "There are important issues that Cambodia must raise with China," she continued, pointing to a string of Chinese dams on the upper Mekong River that risk lowering the flow of the river as it courses through Cambodia.

Clinton came to Cambodia from talks in Vietnam and China. Her trip to Vietnam marked the U.S. accession to the East Asian Summit - a group of 18 Asian nations that the United States joined as a way to balance China's heft.

Clinton has been to Vietnam twice in the past four months, and this is her sixth trip to Asia as secretary of state. Her visit to Cambodia marked the first time since Colin L. Powell came here in 2003 that a U.S. secretary of state has held meetings in this country.

U.S. officials acknowledge that countering China's growing influence here will not be easy. China is the top provider of aid to Cambodia, giving more than $200 million a year. It has built bridges, roads and power plants all over the country, and China also trains and supplies Cambodia's military.

One issue that divides the United States and Cambodia is the more than $400 million that Cambodia owes to Washington. The debt was incurred during the Lon Nol regime in the 1970s.

Clinton announced that Washington would send a team to resume talks with the Cambodian government over the issue.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters that his country wanted the debt to be diverted into development assistance and education.

Another issue involves the international effort to bring to justice members of the Khmer Rouge regime, thought to be responsible for killing up to 2 million people from 1976 to 1979. Cambodia has indicated that it wants the prosecutions to stop after four senior regime officials go to trial, perhaps next year.

Hor Namhong said Monday that if the prosecutions were expanded to include lower-ranking Khmer Rouge officials, "it could jeopardize peace and stability." Clinton responded that her first priority was raising the $50 million needed to prosecute the existing cases against Nuon Chea, Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan.

The United States isn't the only country seeking to balance China's rise. Vietnam, which is worried about China's influence in Southeast Asia, announced Saturday that it is reopening its naval facilities at Cam Ranh Bay to foreign navies. The United States used the bay as a naval base during the Vietnam War. The Soviet Union took over use of the facilities after Vietnam was united under a communist government in 1975.

Japan also moved this weekend to diversify its sources of rare earth minerals following China's decision to cut exports of the minerals, which are critical in high-tech manufacturing. Over the weekend, Japan and Vietnam agreed to jointly mine and process the minerals in Vietnam. China began blocking the export of rare earths to Japan last month after a Chinese fishing vessel collided with two Japanese coast guard ships near the Senkaku Islands. China claims the islands as its own territory.

Chinese officials said recently that China, which accounts for 97 percent of the world's production of rare earths, was committed to responsibly exporting the minerals.

Cambodia is back on rails...

Cambodia is back on rails...

By Luc Citrinot, eTN | Nov 05, 2010

PHNOM PENH (eTN)- Two weeks ago, Cambodia officially reopened its rail network, a first step into an ambitious trans-Asian rail network which is due to connect in the future Singapore to the city of Kunming, in China's Yunnan Province. Cambodian rail networks was built during the French colonial time and was in used for 75 years. All lines were discontinued last year due to their poor condition.

The reopened section is 110 km long and links Phnom Penh to the town of Touk Meas in the southern part of the country. Once fully completed in 2011, the Southern Line will again be able to see trains circulating between Phnom Penh and the resort city of Sihanoukville, distant of almost 250 km.

The first phase in the overall rehabilitation and modernisation of Cambodia's raitracks was completed at an estimated cost of US$ 141.6 millions,including US$84 million financed by the Asia Development Bank (ADB) as well as various grants from Australia, France and Malaysia. The Cambodian Government invested also over US$20 million into the project.

Speaking at the opening at Phnom Penh's central railway station, Minister of Finance Keat Chhon said rehabilitating the country's railways, devastated after decades of conflict, also marked an important step in the drive to boost the economy. 'This will improve and develop Cambodia's economy by integrating it better with the region and the world, and will ensure greater competitiveness in transportation within Cambodia and outside,' Keat Chhon said.

In a first step, Cambodia will only have freight rail services in operation. The Northern Rail Line from Phnom Penh to Poipet/Battambang up to the Thai border is due to reopen by 2012/2013 (390 km length). Cambodian State Railways will then look at the possiblity to relaunch scheduled passengers services on all its lines. A new rail link is also planned from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City as part of the Trans-Asia rail network and has already received the backing of the Royal Government which declared the project " a priority". According to ADB Southeast Asia Department Director-General Kunio Senga, railways in Cambodia should by 2013 return to its full, original state and reconnect Cambodia with its neighbors. Concession to the line has been granted for 30 years to Toll Royal Railway, a subsidiary of Australian firm Toll Holdings.

Viet Nam gives books on friendship to Cambodia

(VNA-4/11/2010)- The Vietnamese Embassy in Cambodia held a ceremony in Phnom Penh on Nov. 4 to present Cambodia with 500 books on bilateral friendship, in both Vietnamese and Khmer languages.

Vietnamese ambassador Ngo Anh Dung said the 600-page collection of poems and music pieces on Viet Nam-Cambodia friendship is expected to revive the atmosphere of a difficult period of time which connected two nations together.

He also stressed the significance of the event, which took place in the context of increased bilateral friendship, cooperation and exchange activities, following Viet Nam-Cambodia Culture Week 2010 in Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam On said the bilingual books will help young generations of both countries to understand the history of the two nations.

The same day, the embassy also held a talk on investment and business activities of Vietnamese enterprises in Cambodia, drawing the participation of more than 20 Vietnamese businesses./.

Vietnam listed among top ten investors in Cambodia

The Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Association has co-ordinated with the Vietnamese embassy to hold talks in Phnom Penh on investment and business activities of Vietnamese businesses in the Cambodia market.

Representatives from more than 50 local and overseas businesses in Cambodia have exchanged ideas on investment, laws, payment methods, and consumers’ habits in Cambodia.

Currently, Vietnam ranks ninth among the top ten foreign investors in Cambodia. According to Cambodia’s consul general in HCM City, Sam Samouth, on November 5, economic relations between Vietnam and Cambodia have increased strongly over the past ten years with trade turnover in the first half of this year reaching US$862 million.

In the first seven months of 2010, Vietnam’s investment in Cambodia reached US$150 million, focusing on such fields as transportation, aviation, banking, trade, agriculture, hydroelectricity, rubber, oil and gas, and health.

Clearing out danger in Cambodia

Click to play
A path to redemption
  • As a child soldier in Cambodia, Aki Ra planted land mines for the Khmer Rouge regime
  • Decades later he is clearing those same mines and trying to make his country safer
  • There is still much work to be done, he says: "People are being injured all the time"

Editor's note: CNN Heroes received more than 10,000 nominations from 100 countries, and a Blue Ribbon Panel selected the Top 10 CNN Heroes for the year. Voting for the CNN Hero of the Year continues through November 18 (6 a.m. ET) at The winner will be announced at "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," which airs Thanksgiving night, November 25, at 8 ET.

(CNN) -- Aki Ra is helping to make his native Cambodia safer by clearing land mines -- many of which he planted years ago as a child soldier.

Since 1993, he and his Cambodian Self Help Demining organization have cleared about 50,000 mines and unexploded weapons.

Below are his thoughts on being chosen as a Top 10 CNN Hero.

Q: Where were you when you got the call that you'd been selected as a Top 10 CNN Hero?

Aki Ra: When I got the call, I had spent the day working in Siem Reap. I spend much of the week in the minefield with our team. I was very excited to be recognized for the work our [organization] does. I'm very happy and very surprised. I didn't expect this. I have never been chosen by anyone for anything. I am very grateful to be recognized by CNN.

Q: What do you hope it will mean for you to be a Top 10 CNN Hero?

Aki Ra: I hope that it will bring more help to Cambodian Self Help Demining and Cambodia to clear the many land mines and unexploded ordinance that is left in our country.

Q: What you want people to know most about your work?

Aki Ra: Our organization is run by Khmer people, working for our country. We want people to know that the land mine problem in Cambodia has not gone away. People are being injured all the time, and we are working to make Cambodia safe.


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