Posts Tagged ‘Khmer Rouge’
ANLONG VENG DISTRICT, Oddar Meanchey Province – In a different world, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) might have banked on Anlong Veng to form the heartland of its campaign to win this month’s national election.
The most steadfast of the Khmer Rouge’s former strongholds, Anlong Veng’s leaders waged a guerrilla campaign against the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen for almost two decades.
Troops from the district were also accused of triggering the July 1997 fighting in Phnom Penh by moving to join forces with Prince Ranariddh’s Funcinpec in an ostensible putsch against Mr. Hun Sen.
Fighters in the area only completed their surrender to Mr. Hun Sen’s government in 1999.
But on Saturday, as the CPP opened its campaign in Anlong Veng with a parade through town that drew thousands of supporters, the closest the opposition CNRP came to receiving any public attention was a brief mention that came from a loudspeaker attached to a billboard featuring a glowing image of Mr. Hun Sen.
“Please fellows, remember that if you vote for Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, it’s like you’re voting for the Khmer Rouge to come back,” trumpeted a voice from a CPP speaker.
The speaker was located opposite the town’s central roundabout—a tawdry faded-yellow obelisk donated by Mr. Hun Sen in 2000, now plastered with white and blue CPP flags.
With the CNRP’s own campaign being launched in Anlong Veng on Saturday, Khlaing Sam Oeun, the CNRP’s district executive head, said that even making the public aware of the opposition party’s existence was proving difficult.
“We don’t have radio and TV, and that makes it extremely hard for us,” he said, adding that the CNRP’s campaigning that morning had consisted of himself and a few other activists walking along dirt roads and talking to people about party policies. Mr. Sam Oeun said he had just 60 volunteers helping his campaign from the 25,000 people who are expected to vote in the district on July 28.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the opposition’s main strategy in Anlong Veng was to distribute campaign leaflets from door to door to spread the party’s policies.
“We don’t have a big army… [but] we also have a loudspeaker to broadcast our political message—to broadcast our voice from village to village.”
“These are our two main strategies,” he said.
The loudspeaker Mr. Sovann was talking about is attached to Mr. Sam Oeun’s house on the winding dirt streets of Anlong Veng’s outskirts. Over the weekend, the CNRP’s message was being blurted out over empty fields rolling away into the distance.
Anlong Veng district governor Yim Phana said Friday that about 18,000 of the 25,000 voters in the district registered to vote were dedicated CPP supporters, but acknowledged that not everyone in the district was a sure vote.
“Most of the people [who don’t support the CPP] are the people who had problems such as land issues,” he said.
But Mr. Phana was still optimistic that most of the other 7,000 voters would vote for the CPP come election day. He also had plans in place to draw the 400 to 500 people truly dissatisfied with the government back into the CPP fold.
To that end, General Chea Dara, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces based in Preah Vihear province, had been called in to speak for the CPP.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen has this great plan having students giving out land titles to the people,” Gen. Dara said Friday. “We will tell the people that since 1998, we have had peace here, and roads and bridges. The CPP is the one that has built all of these things.”
Indeed, for some, Gen. Dara’s message resonates.
Prom Thy, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, said that while he had briefly joined the opposition CNRP after being evicted from his land, he had since reconsidered his political allegiance.
“I was with the opposition party, but now I am with the CPP,” he said. “Before I had a problem with some land in the jungle, but now the land is mine.”
The successes of the ruling party’s land-titling scheme and its apparent development successes have not been the only reasons the CNRP has failed to make inroads in Anlong Veng.
For Anlong Veng pagoda’s chief monk, Soum Sarorn, the main explanation for the opposition’s inability to gain a foothold in the once instinctively anti-government area has been its simple failure to campaign.
“People don’t know them because they haven’t seen them here,” he said.
Now, one year after the CNRP was formed in a merger between the SRP and the Human Rights Party, nobody from the opposition has come to visit Mr. Sarorn.
This was a message echoed in half a dozen other interviews conducted with former Khmer Rouge soldiers in the area.
“Ninety-five percent of the people in this district vote for the CPP,” said one, 60-year-old Loen Ban, who turned out to Saturday’s parade proudly sporting a white CPP shirt and hat, despite having lost his left eye during fighting against the government of Mr. Hun Sen in the 1980s.
“The hospitals, schools and pagodas are built by the CPP,” Mr. Ban explained. “We have not seen an opposition party doing anything here.”
In the rural outskirts of town, one solitary house displays a billboard with the image of CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha holding raised hands.
Suon Samnang, the deputy commune chief of Anlong Veng district’s Trapaing commune, and the owner of the billboard, said that he joined the opposition in 2007 after his land was taken from him by military police.
“After the CNRP wins, they will take the land and return it to the people,” he said, noting that most members of the opposition party in Anlong Veng were land-grab victims.
Still, some voters in the area echoed concerns—raised often by Mr. Hun Sen in the run-up to the election—that the country would fall into a state of civil war if the ruling party does not win the vote.
“I am afraid that change could cause me hardship. It would not be the same; it could cause turbulence and people will be in trouble,” said 34-year-old Theb Thuy.
Another neighbor, 41-year-old Chhun Eng echoed Mr. Thuy’s worries.
“When there’s change, there is always chaos,” he said. “Though I like them [the CNRP], I don’t know what to do. [Voting for the CPP] is to avoid turbulence. Change could cause more hardship.”
Living nearby, Khieu Odom, the son of former Khmer Rouge head of state and current Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal defendant Khieu Samphan, said he was in strong support of the ruling party.
“I am voting for the CPP,” he said, explaining that most people in the area had moved on from the days when the locals fought a fierce armed conflict against the government of Mr. Hun Sen.
“Now people have land for farming, and jobs. I have my own job. If we let other people take over, it might be difficult,” he said.
Mr. Sarorn, the Anlong Veng pagoda’s chief monk, felt much the same. Far from being resentful of the government, he said he believed the CPP should be credited with allowing them to live normally after their surrender.
“People here used to be under the Khmer Rouge—they had fought with the government for such a long time. They now always think that, had the CPP not let them live, they all should have been killed,” Mr. Sarorn said. “The people know that their leaders are with the CPP now, so they dare not betray their leaders.”
PHNOM PENH, June 13 (Xinhua) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday urged protesters to suspend demonstrations against Kem Sokha, vice-president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), for his alleged denial of crimes during the Democratic Kampuchea, or Khmer Rouge regime.
“I’d like to appeal to protesters to suspend demonstrations against him at least until the general election (on July 28) in order to ensure the smooth atmosphere during the one-month election campaigns,” the premier said during the inauguration of the new headquarters of the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia in Phnom Penh.
He also advised local authorities not to give permission to anyone who asked to protest against Kem Sokha before the election.
Last Sunday, a nationwide protest, organized by the association of Khmer Rouge survivors, was held to demand Kem Sokha to apologize for his alleged denial of crimes committed at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison during the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.
The ex-prison was the main torture center during the regime, and around 14,000 people were killed at that detention center.
In February last year, the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia sentenced former chief of Tuol Sleng prison Kaing Guek Eav to life in prison for overseeing the deaths.
However, Kem Sokha said that he would not apologize upon the protestors’demand because he had not denied the existence of the atrocities committed during the regime.
He said his audio-recorded remarks had been edited in a misleading fashion to cause turmoil ahead of the election.
Kem Sokha’s alleged remarks prompted the National Assembly of Cambodia to pass a Law on the Denial of Crimes Committed during the Period of the Democratic Kampuchea on Friday.
Under the law, individuals who deny the existence of crimes committed during the regime will be jailed from six months to two years and fined between 250 U.S. dollars and 1,000 U.S. dollars.
14-3-2013 PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Decades after Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge movement oversaw the deaths of 1.7 million people by starvation, overwork and execution, the regime’s imprisoned top leaders are escaping justice one by one. How? Old age.
Thursday’s death of 87-year-old Ieng Sary, foreign minister under the Khmer Rouge, is fueling urgent calls among survivors and rights groups for the country’s U.N.-backed tribunal to expedite proceedings against the increasingly frail and aging leaders of the radical communist group, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.
Ieng Sary’s wife, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to stand trial last year because she suffered from a degenerative mental illness consistent with Alzheimer’s disease. Now, only two people — ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, who is 81, and the movement’s former chief ideologist, Nuon Chea, who is 86 — remain on trial for their alleged roles in some of the 20th century’s most horrific crimes.
There are growing fears that both men could die before a verdict is rendered. Both are frail with high blood pressure, and have suffered strokes.
“The defendants are getting old, and the survivors are getting old,” said Bou Meng, one of the few Cambodians to survive Tuol Sleng prison, known as S-21, where up to 16,000 people were tortured and killed during the Khmer Rouge era. “The court needs to speed up its work.”
“I have been waiting for justice for nearly 40 years,” Bou Meng, 70, told The Associated Press. “I never thought it would take so long.”
When the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in April 1975, they began moving an estimated 1 million people — even hospital patients — from the capital into the countryside in an effort to create a communist agrarian utopia.
By the time the bizarre experiment ended in 1979 with an invasion by advancing Vietnamese troops, an estimated 1.7 million people had died in Cambodia, which had only about 7 million people at the time. Most of the dead were victims of starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions and execution under the Maoist regime. Their bodies were dumped in shallow mass graves that still dot the countryside.
The tribunal, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was tasked with seeking justice for crimes committed during that era.
The court, which was 10 years in the making, began operations in 2006. But despite some $150 million in funding, it has so far convicted only one defendant: Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, the commandant of S-21 prison.
Duch was sentenced in 2010 to 35 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The sentence was reduced to a 19-year term because of time previously served and other technicalities, a move that sparked angry criticism from victims who said it was too lenient. Cambodia has no death penalty.
Several other major Khmer Rouge figures died before the court even existed, including supreme leader Pol Pot in 1998.
Ieng Sary’s death was no surprise given his age and ailing health, said Ou Virak, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. But “given the fact that the other two defendants are also in their 80s, it should act as a wake-up call to all concerned — the Cambodian government, the U.N., the international donors and the tribunal itself — that these cases need to be expedited urgently so that justice can be served.”
“The whole future of the tribunal is currently in limbo, and the possibility that hundreds of millions of dollars will have been wasted is now a very real threat,” Ou Virak said. “Most importantly, though, if all three die before their guilt or innocence can be determined, then the Cambodian people will quite understandably feel robbed of justice.”
The court has been criticized before for the sluggish pace of proceedings. But William Smith, one of the court’s prosecutors, said the trial has taken time because the indictments themselves have been lengthy, and the list of alleged crimes to be proven long.
The tribunal has been dogged by other problems, including funding shortages from international donors. Earlier this month, Cambodian translators angry that they had gone without pay for three months went on strike just before the court was to hear testimony from two foreign experts.
Tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said Thursday that the interpreters would all return to work this week after the court administrator promised that they would get paid. But he added that the translators have threatened to strike again if they are not paid by month’s end.
In recent years, the tribunal has also been hit by infighting and angry resignations by foreign judges over whether to try more Khmer Rouge defendants on war crimes charges. Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia since 1985, has warned that no more trials will be allowed. Many former members of the Khmer Rouge, including Hun Sen himself, hold important positions in the current government.
The trial against Ieng Sary, his wife and the last two accused senior Khmer Rouge leaders alive began jointly in 2011. All have denied guilt for their roles during the radical communist movement’s rule.
Lars Olsen, another tribunal spokesman, said Thursday that “we understand that many probably are disappointed with the fact that we cannot complete the proceedings against Ieng Sary, and therefore we cannot determine” whether he is guilty or innocent of the charges against him.
But it’s important to remember, he said, that the case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan “is not over.” He said it would not be affected by Ieng Sary’s death and proceedings will continue on schedule.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group gathering evidence of the Khmer Rouge crimes for the tribunal, said Ieng Sary’s death “carries little value for the regime’s victims, who patiently wait to see justice done.”
Ieng Sary died early Thursday under the care of doctors at a Phnom Penh hospital, where he was admitted earlier this month suffering from weakness and fatigue. He suffered fatal cardiac failure, said one of the prosecutors in his case, Chea Leang, who added that under Cambodian law, all charges against him will now officially be dropped.
Yim Sopheak, a 47-year-old street vendor who said the Khmer Rouge regime had executed her parents, said Ieng Sary “deserved to die in prison, not in a hospital. He should have died in the same way as he executed my parents and other people.”
Yi Chea, a 72-year-old flower seller who says her husband and other relatives were also killed during Khmer Rouge rule, said she was happy Ieng Sary was gone. But, she added that “he did not deserve to die naturally like this.”
Tribunal hearings resume on March 25, said Neth Pheaktra. Foreign medical experts are due to testify on the health status of Nuon Chea, to determine whether the ailing ex-leader is still fit to continue to stand trial.
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Ieng Sary, who co-founded the communist Khmer Rouge regime responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians in the 1970s, and who decades later became one of its few leaders to be put on trial, died Thursday morning before his case could be finished. He was 87.
The brother-in-law of late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, Ieng Sary died before any verdict was reached in the trial, which began in late 2011 with four defendants and now has only two.
His death dashed hopes among survivors and prosecutors that he would be punished for his alleged crimes against humanity during the darkest chapter in his country’s history.
Lars Olsen, a spokesman for the joint Cambodian-international tribunal where Ieng Sary had been on trial, confirmed his death. Chea Leang, a co-prosecutor for the tribunal, told the press that he died of “irreversible cardiac failure.”
Ieng Sary had suffered from high blood pressure and heart problems and been admitted to a Phnom Penh hospital March 4 with weakness and severe fatigue. His body was being taken Thursday by ambulance from the hospital to Malai in western Cambodia, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold where his family lives, for his funeral.
Ieng Sary was being tried along with two other former Khmer Rouge leaders, both in their 80s, and there are fears that they, too, could also die before justice is served. Ieng Sary’s wife, former Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, had also been charged but was ruled unfit to stand trial last year because she suffered from a degenerative mental illness, probably Alzheimer’s disease.
“We are disappointed that we could not complete the proceeding against Ieng Sary,” Olsen said, adding that the case against his colleagues Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist, and Khieu Samphan, an ex-head of state, will continue and will not be affected.
Ieng Sary founded the Khmer Rouge with leader Pol Pot. The communist regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, claimed it was building a pure socialist society by evicting people from cities to work in labor camps in the countryside. Its radical policies led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.
Ieng Sary was foreign minister in the regime, and as its top diplomat became a much more recognizable figure internationally than his secretive colleagues.
The Khmer Rouge came to power through a civil war that toppled a U.S.-backed regime. Ieng Sary then helped persuade hundreds of Cambodian intellectuals to return home from overseas, often to their deaths.
The returnees were arrested and put in “re-education camps,” and most were later executed, said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group gathering evidence of the Khmer Rouge crimes for the tribunal.
As a member of the Khmer Rouge’s central and standing committee, Ieng Sary “repeatedly and publicly encouraged, and also facilitated, arrests and executions within his Foreign Ministry and throughout Cambodia,” Steve Heder said in his co-authored book “Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge.” Heder is a Cambodia scholar who later worked with the U.N.-backed tribunal.
Known by his revolutionary alias as “Comrade Van,” Ieng Sary was a recipient of many internal Khmer Rouge documents detailing torture and mass execution of suspected internal enemies, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
“We are continuing to wipe out remaining (internal enemies) gradually, no matter if they are opposed to our revolution overtly or covertly,” read a cable sent to Ieng Sary in 1978. It was reprinted in an issue of the center’s magazine in 2000, apparently proving he had full knowledge of bloody purges.
“It’s clear that he was one of the leaders that was a recipient of information all the way down to the village level,” Youk Chhang said.
In 1996, years after the overthrown Khmer Rouge retreated to the jungle, Ieng Sary became the first member of its inner circle to defect, bringing thousands of foot soldiers with him and hastening the movement’s final disintegration.
The move secured him a limited amnesty, temporary credibility as a peacemaker and years of comfortable living in Cambodia, but that vanished as the U.N.-backed tribunal built its case against him.
Ieng Sary was arrested in 2007, and the trial against him started in late 2011. He faced charges that included crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.
He denied any hand in the atrocities. At a press conference following his defection, he said Pol Pot “was the sole and supreme architect of the party’s line, strategy and tactics.”
“Nuon Chea implemented all Pol Pot’s decisions to torture and execute those who expressed opposite opinions and those they hated, like intellectuals,” Ieng Sary said. He claimed that he was a secondary figure excluded from Pol Pot’s secret security committee, which decided policy and who would be executed.
“Do I have remorse? No,” he said in 1996. “I have no regrets because this was not my responsibility.”
Only one former Khmer Rouge official has been tried and convicted: former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, who was sentenced to life in prison.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has openly opposed additional indictments of former Khmer Rouge figures, some of whom have become his political allies.
Pol Pot himself died in 1998 in Cambodia’s jungles while a prisoner of his own comrades.
Ieng Sary declined to participate in his trial, demanding that the tribunal consider the pardon he received from Cambodia’s king when he defected in 1996. The tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, previously ruled that the pardon does not cover its indictment against him.
Ieng Sary was born Kim Trang on Oct. 24, 1925, in southern Vietnam. In the early 1950s, he was among many Cambodian students who received government scholarships to study in France, where he also took part in a Marxist circle.
After returning to Cambodia in 1957, he taught history at an elite high school in the capital, Phnom Penh, while engaging in clandestine communist activities.
He, Ieng Thirith, Pol Pot and Pol Pot’s wife eventually formed the core of the Khmer Rouge movement. Pol Pot’s wife, Khieu Ponnary, also was Ieng Thirith’s sister; she died in 2003.
Pol Pot was known as “Brother No. 1″, Nuon Chea as “Brother No. 2″ and Ieng Sary was “Brother No. 3.”
In August 1979, eight months after the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge by a Vietnam-led resistance, Ieng Sary was sentenced in absentia to death by the court of a Hanoi-installed government that was made up of former Khmer Rouge defectors like Hun Sen, the current prime minister. The show trial also condemned Pol Pot.
Since he was in charge of the Khmer Rouge guerrilla movement’s finances, Ieng Sary was believed to have used his position to amass personal wealth.
On Aug. 8, 1996, a Khmer Rouge rebel radio broadcast announced a death sentence against him for embezzling millions of dollars that reportedly came from the group’s logging and gem business along the border with Thailand. But the charge appeared to be politically inspired, recognition that he was becoming estranged from his comrades-in-arms.
He struck a peace deal with Hun Sen and days later led a mutiny of thousands of Khmer Rouge fighters to join the government, which was a prelude to the movement’s total collapse in 1999.
As a reward, Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia almost unchallenged for the last two decades, secured a royal amnesty for Ieng Sary from then-King Norodom Sihanouk, who himself had been a virtual prisoner of the Khmer Rouge and lost more than a dozen children and relatives during its reign of terror. The government also awarded Ieng Sary a diplomatic passport for travel.
Between his defection and arrest, Ieng Sary lived a comfortable life, dividing time between his opulent villa in Phnom Penh and his home in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in northwestern Cambodia.
He and some of his former aides in the Khmer Rouge, intellectuals who were in a second generation of the group’s leadership, made a short-lived attempt at forming a legal political movement.
28-01-2013 PHNOM PENH (The Cambodia Herald) – The Khmer Rouge tribunal said Friday it would hear new witness testimony next week following the discharge of former head of state Khieu Samphan from hospital.
A statement by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia said the testimony on Monday had been scheduled for the whole day.
“The trial chamber will then continue to hear submissions on documents the co-prosecutors seek admitted as evidence on Wednesday 30 Jan and Thursday 31 Jan,” it said.
The statement said Nuon Chea, the former deputy to Pol Pot, had waived his right to be present during testimony.
Why does someone join a revolutionary movement?
For Suong Sikoeun, a slim, elderly man who began testifying at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, it had to do with the way his mother dressed. “I was born into a poor peasant family,” Sikoeun told the prosecution. “I thought of my mother, who didn’t even have proper clothing for going to the pagoda, and our living throughout the year, and we couldn’t even afford our living and eating, we had to borrow it from other people.
“That kind of anger is still burning in my heart, and it started from my childhood,” he added. “This hatred, this anger, made me think of trying to find a way in order to contribute to liberating my country.”
Sikoeun was describing a bygone era, a period of his childhood that dated back to the pre-independence days when Cambodia was still a French colony. Independence came in 1954, and three years later Sikoeun was in Paris studying civil aviation on a scholarship.
In France, he became further involved in the student resistance and the so-called Marxist-Leninist circle in which co-accused former regime head of state Khieu Samphan participated.
He studied communist doctrine while going to school, and his connections at the time later earned him positions with The National United Front of Kampuchea, the government-in-exile in the early 1970s that Norodom Sihanouk led out of Beijing.
The front came about in the aftermath of the coup d’etat by General Lon Nol in 1970, and “it was established to free ourselves from the Lon Nol yoke”.
He worked in security and information and took trips abroad with Case 002 co-accused Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan as part of foreign delegations. He remembers visiting far-flung countries. Egypt. Algeria. The former Yugoslavia. Romania.
“The visits were to inform our friendly countries about the Cambodian resistance movement,” he said.
After the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975, he worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the command of Ieng Sary.
Earlier in the morning, the defence team for Khieu Samphan finished questioning witness Rochoem Tun, who was head of administration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Tun became testy at having to answer what he deemed repetitive questions: “I already made my response,” he said at one point. “And if you could not understand it, it’s your problem.”
4/8/2012 PHNOM PENH (Cambodia Herald) – Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has indicated that Khmer Rouge tribunal witness Rochim Ton is ‘stirring up controversy’ by reviving claims that he collaborated with the Khmer Rouge regime while imprisoned between 1975 and 1979.
The veteran diplomat has already successfully sued those who have accused him of being a Khmer Rouge prison chief at the Boeung Trabek re-education camp during the period.
“It is unfortunate that those who continue to defend the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime seek, in the interest of their defense, to deflect attention from themselves and their cases, by way of stirring up controversy around public figures like myself,” he said in a statement dated Thursday.
“The Khmer Rouge regime is an epic tragedy that continues to haunt Cambodia’s people today.
“As a prisoner at Boeng Trabek re-education camp where I lost two sisters, their husbands, children and a niece as well as countless colleagues, I have nothing but sorrow and empathy for the victims and their families.
“Cambodians continue to suffer from the crimes of the Khmer Rouge even today. The Khmer Rouge not only destroyed a generation of Cambodian people but also, in many ways, a civilization. We are still rebuilding this civilization today.
“The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia is a court of law, and not a political forum, and I believe attempts to politicize the court or stir up controversy are inappropriate,” the foreign minister said.
“My greatest hope is that one day justice is done and the legacy of the Khmer Rouge is given its proper place in the dustbin of history — without defense or controversy.”
ANLONG VENG, Cambodia – Want to see Pol Pot’s grave or his broken toilet seat? How about a visit to the house of a feared Khmer Rouge commander known as “The Butcher”?
Welcome to the town of Anlong Veng, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold which hopes to become the next must-see destination on Cambodia’s dark tourism trail, but which faces calls not to glorify its role in the country’s bloody past.
A rectangular mound of earth lined with half-buried glass bottles and protected by a corrugated iron roof marks the spot where Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot was hastily cremated in 1998.
Aside from a sign asking visitors to “please help to preserve this historical site” there is no information on offer, leaving Cambodian tourist Pov Dara, 27, to ponder the significance of the low-key grave.
“I feel sad for the people but not for him,” she decides, after snapping a photo of her relatives flashing the peace sign.
Up to two million people died from overwork, starvation or execution when the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, attempted to create a communist utopia in the late 1970s.
His cremation site, which attracts some 10 visitors a day, is one of 14 tourist spots the government intends to “preserve and develop” in northern Cambodia’s Anlong Veng.
Other places of interest include leaders’ old homes and a rusty radio truck used to broadcast Khmer Rouge propaganda.
Impoverished Cambodia is no stranger to genocide tourism, with the Tuol Sleng torture centre in Phnom Penh and the nearby Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where thousands died, among the nation’s most popular attractions.
But while the focus at those sites is on victims of the 1975-1979 regime, Anlong Veng is populated by one-time loyal Khmer Rouge followers, giving it the feel of a town that has found itself on the wrong side of history.
‘Cambodia’s memories are not for sale’
As locals relish the lucrative prospect of welcoming more tourists to the once isolated area, observers stress the need to educate guests about Cambodia’s history — and avoid turning the destination into a Khmer Rouge nostalgia tour.
To that end, the tourism ministry has teamed up with the esteemed Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities.
The centre is preparing to publish a guidebook based on the stories of long-time residents and it is training tour guides to provide meaningful information about “what happened and why during the Khmer Rouge regime’s final days”, said the group’s director Youk Chhang. A museum is also planned.
But it is important not to exploit the country’s tragic past, he told AFP.
Cambodia’s memories are “not for sale”, he said.
“We have the responsibility to ensure that Anlong Veng is a historical and responsible site to educate the public.”
The Khmer Rouge was ousted by Vietnamese forces in 1979, though regime leaders and supporters continued to wage a low-level guerrilla war against the government.
Anlong Veng, near the Thai border, was the Khmer Rouge’s last rebel centre before the movement disintegrated in the late 1990s.
One of the best-preserved visitor sites in town is the lakeside home of late military commander Ta Mok, known as “The Butcher” for allegedly orchestrating brutal massacres that killed thousands, although locals remember him as a generous leader who gave the town a road, a bridge, a hospital and a school.
Ta Mok, who briefly led the Khmer Rouge in its final days, was the only rebel who refused to surrender or strike a deal with the government after Pol Pot’s death. He was arrested a year later and died in prison in 2006 awaiting trial.
His airy house is little more than a shell today, its furniture looted long ago. But several walls are still adorned with colourful yet amateurish murals of temples and a map of Cambodia — symbols of Ta Mok’s patriotism, according to the site’s caretaker San Roeung, himself an ex-Khmer Rouge soldier.
“A lot of people here liked Ta Mok. When the enemy came, he took people to safety,” said the 60-year-old, who helped build the house as well as the two cages outside used to hold Ta Mok’s enemies.
He added that he hoped an influx of visitors would improve living standards for locals, who could “grow mangoes or jackfruit to sell to tourists”.
‘I’d call it the killing camera’
Few are more excited about the town’s tourism potential than Anlong Veng district deputy governor Nhem En — who was the chief photographer at Tuol Sleng, where he endlessly captured images of inmates awaiting certain death.
A Khmer Rouge insider until he defected in the mid-1990s, Nhem En has built up a huge archive of photos, as well as a bizarre collection of keepsakes such as Pol Pot’s sandals, his uniform and his shattered toilet seat.
Now he is looking for a partner to help set up a private museum to display his treasures, he said, having apparently given up on the idea of selling key items in the hope of earning hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“These items might not be worth much financially but, in historical terms, they’re invaluable,” he told AFP at his home, after showing some of his favourite possessions.
“This camera, if I put it in a museum, I would call it the killing camera,” he said, as he held up a vintage Rolleicord, “because all of the people in Tuol Sleng who came before it died.”
Nhem En insists he was not in a position to help any prisoners, all he could do was “follow orders” and “mind his own business”.
Tuol Sleng prison chief Duch was in February sentenced to life in jail by Cambodia’s UN-backed war crimes court, the first person to face justice for horrors committed under the regime.
The court is now trying the three most senior surviving Khmer Rouge members, but Nhem En has little interest in the proceedings, preferring to muse about Anlong Veng’s nascent tourism industry.
The ancient temples of Angkor, which attract more than a million visitors a year, are a mere two-hour drive away, and Nhem En believes that if a fraction of those visitors added Anlong Veng to their itinerary, his town, with its plentiful guesthouses and restaurants, would benefit considerably.
“Anlong Veng will not go backwards,” he said, though he emphasised that his own collection of memorabilia is about more than just profiting from his time with the Khmer Rouge.
“I’m doing this to make the world understand more about the Khmer Rouge regime,” he said.
Tokyo (AFP) – Cambodia’s UN-backed court on Khmer Rouge atrocities may be “a battle against time” but it is paving the way for national reconciliation, the outgoing Japanese judge in the tribunal said Thursday.
The court, set up in 2006 to seek justice for the deaths of up to two million people under the 1975-1979 hardline communist Khmer Rouge rule, has so far settled just one case.
It sentenced former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, in February to life in jail for overseeing the deaths of some 15,000 people.
“Although it has finished only one case so far, I think it has provided something that can be a prerequisite for national reconciliation,” Motoo Noguchi told a news conference in Tokyo.
The 51-year-old Japanese is one of three foreign judges in the seven-member top panel in the Khmer Rouge tribunal, formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
“Tens of thousands of people have observed the trial so far” and it has been widely reported, said Noguchi. “People are beginning to talk in an open manner about the Khmer Rouge days with the younger generations listening,” he said, adding that the Khmer Rouge was now mentioned in Cambodian school textbooks after a blackout that lasted decades.
Noguchi will formally leave his judge’s post on Sunday to work as a senior official at a research institute of the Japanese justice ministry. He admitted that the court was now proceeding with its second case at “what the people may regard as a stressfully slow speed”.
“It is literally shaping up as a battle against time as the victims and the defendants are getting older,” Noguchi said, attributing the delay to “technical” reasons, rather than any political inteference.
The second case involves former Khmer Rouge leaders “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, and ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary.
All in their 80s, they face charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ieng Sary’s wife Ieng Thirith, the regime’s former social affairs minister, faces the same charges but she has been ruled unfit to stand trial because she has dementia.
Top Khmer Rouge leader “Brother Number One” Pol Pot died in 1998.
Apart from the age problem, Noguchi said there was a funding bottleneck for the court amid a global economic slowdown, even as Japan remained its top donor.
“There seems to be no magical solution to it.”
Noguchi said his decision to leave the post had nothing to do with the resignation of two international judges in the court in the six months to March.
They resigned over difficulties investigating two new cases involving lower-level officials due to strong opposition from the Cambodian government.
The tribunal was set up in 2006 and the second trial only started in late 2011.
“It may take a few more years for the second case to reach the appeal court,” Noguchi said. “I thought it was timely to leave the post now.”
AFP, 23 June 2012
Health and funding woes are threatening a flagship Khmer Rouge trial, experts say, kindling fears that the elderly defendants may never answer for the worst of Cambodia’s “Killing Fields” era.
The three most senior surviving leaders of the brutal regime stand accused of some of the gravest crimes in modern history for their roles in up to two million deaths in the late 1970s.
Worried the octogenarians would not live to see a verdict, judges at a UN-backed court in Phnom Penh split their complex case into smaller trials, saving the most serious atrocities for later proceedings.
But seven months into their slow-moving first “mini-trial”, concern is mounting that the court — faced with a worsening funding crunch and fresh fears over the accused’s health — will be unable to finish the entire case.
“This is it, this is the trial. Nobody believes there’s going to be a second phase,” said Anne Heindel, a legal advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge atrocities.
Led by “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist movement dismantled modern society, abolished money and religion and forced the population to work in huge labour camps in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia.
“Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary and former head of state Khieu Samphan deny charges including war crimes and genocide.
The first trial segment focuses mainly on the forced evacuation of city people to rural work sites, listed as a crime against humanity.
Yet for most Cambodians, far greater horrors than that took place under the 1975-1979 regime, including torture, mass purges and forced marriages — events the court may never shed light on.
“I’m not happy. The truth is not being revealed,” said prominent Khmer Rouge survivor Chum Mey, 82.
His comments were echoed by Heindel, warning against settling for a “narrow judgement” that does not “tell the story of what happened under the Khmer Rouge”.
“It would greatly diminish the legacy of this court,” she said.
The prosecution has twice asked judges, so far in vain, to widen the scope of the first trial by including more crimes, such as the killings of thousands of perceived “enemies” shortly after the evacuations.
“We believe that it is important that if this trial is the only trial against the accused that it is viewed to represent the most horrendous and prevalent crimes committed,” co-prosecutor William Smith said.
Their demands took on greater urgency after Ieng Sary, 86, who has heart problems, was hospitalised for five days for bronchitis last month, forcing hearings to be postponed for a week.
Since opening statements began in late November, the court has held trial hearings on 78 days. On Thursday it adjourned for almost a month.
The court’s funding problems are another major obstacle, according to observers.
The tribunal, paid for by voluntary contributions from donor nations, has cost more than $160 million since it was set up in 2006 and faces a $22 million budget shortfall this year.
Observers blame much of the donor fatigue on the court’s controversial investigations into possible new Khmer Rouge cases, which are dogged by claims of government interference.
So far, the troubled tribunal has completed just one case, sentencing a former prison chief to life in jail for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.
For the elderly accused currently in the dock, any kind of sentence would be “a death sentence essentially” meaning donors might have little appetite to spend money on further trial phases, Ieng Sary’s defence lawyer Michael Karnavas said.
“The question from the donors’ point of view is: is it good value? Probably not,” he said.
Karnavas said he does not expect judges to expand the scope of the first segment of the current trial but added they would have to show “flexibility” to defence teams if they did, including recalling witnesses.
“I’d rather have a nice clean trial,” he said. “You invited me to the party, now let’s dance. But you can’t be changing the rules in the middle of the party.”