Archive for March 2009
GhostNet is an electronic spying operation based mainly in the People’s Republic of China which has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to banks, foreign embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, and the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London, and New York City.
GhostNet was discovered by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for International Studies in collaboration with the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory after a 10-month investigation, and its workings were reported by The New York Times on March 29, 2009. Investigators focused initially on allegations of Chinese cyber-espionage against the Tibetan exile community, but led to a much wider network of compromised machines.
The system disseminates malware to selected recipients via computer code attached to stolen emails and addresses, thereby expanding the network by allowing more computers to be infected. Once infected, a computer can be controlled or inspected by its hackers.
Compromised systems were discovered in the embassies of India, South Korea, Indonesia, Romania, Cyprus, Malta, Thailand, Taiwan, Portugal, Germany and Pakistan and foreign ministries of Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Barbados and Bhutan were also targeted. No evidence was found that U.S. or U.K. government offices were infiltrated, although a NATO computer was monitored for half a day and the computers of the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C. were infiltrated.
The researchers could not conclude that the Chinese government is responsible for the spy network, and noted alternative possibilities such as an operation run by private citizens in China for profit or for patriotic reasons, or intelligence agencies from another country. The Chinese government has denied any involvement.However, an independent report from researchers at Cambridge University says they believe that the Chinese government is indeed behind the attacks.
Phnom Penh Post
By George McLeod
Friday, 27 March 2009
Linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky speaks to the Post’s George McLeod about the ‘farcical’ shortcomings of Cambodia’s war crimes court.
Top Khmer Rouge leaders are now in detentionat the war crimes tribunal. Is a UN-backed trial the best way forward, or should it be left to the Cambodian people?
I think it should be left to the Cambodian people. I can’t imagine a UN international trial. But then, it shouldn’t be limited to the Cambodians. After all, an international trial that doesn’t take into account Henry Kissinger or the other authors of the American bombing and the support of the KR after they were kicked out of the country . That’s just a farce – especially with what we now know about the bombing of Cambodia since the release of the Kissinger-Nixon tapes and the release of declassified documents during the Clinton years. There has been a very different picture of the scale and intensity of the bombing and its genocidal scale. For an international trial to omit this would be scandalous.
How far down the chain of command should prosecutions go?
I think that’s a decision for Cambodians to make. The questions should be: Should [the prosecutions] be limited to KR criminals, or how about criminals from the Lon Nol regime, or later, but those are decisions the Cambodians need to make. You can make a case for an internationally run trial, but as I said, it would be absolutely farcical if it was restricted to Cambodians. The records say that the US wanted to “use anything that flies against anything that moves” [during the bombing of Cambodia], which led to five times the bombing that was reported before, greater than all bombing in all theatres of WWII, which helped create the Khmer Rouge. So to try to excuse their crimes from the broader picture may be sensible for Cambodians who are trying to find some internal justice and reconciliation, but for the broader picture, it’s simply farcical.
So you think US leaders should be tried in connection with the DK regime?
Not just in the context of the DK regime – that’s afterwards. I think supporting the KR after the DK, after they were kicked out – or supporting the Chinese invasion to punish Vietnam for the crime of driving them out – that’s a crime in itself. But the much worse crime was by Kissinger-Nixon, and it’s pretty hard to disagree with analysts like Ben Kiernan … who released the documentation during the Clinton years. Their conclusion was that this bombing, which really had genocidal intent – anything that flies against anything that moves – essentially changed the KR from a small group into a mass army of what they call enraged peasants bent on revenge.
How could you omit that when you are discussing the Khmer Rouge atrocities?Are you saying the KRT is a show trial?
These trials altogether have a very strange character – the most serious of all the tribunals since WWII was the Nuremburg trials, and that was a well-designed, carefully executed legal proceeding.
“An international trial that doesn’t take into account Henry Kissinger … that’s just a farce.”
But if you look at it closely, it was a farce. That was implicitly conceded to allow the Nazi war criminals to be tried. They were some of the worst monsters in history – and there is no doubt they were guilty. They had to define a notion of war crime, and it was post-facto – they were being tried for crimes after they committed them. The trial had a very clear definition of war crime – it was crimes that you committed and that [the Allies] didn’t. So, for example, the bombing of urban centres was not considered a crime and the reason is very explicit: The Allies did more of it than the Germans. The bombing of Japan frankly levelled the country and was not considered a crime because [the Allies] did it – in fact, German war criminals were able to exonerate themselves if their defence was able to demonstrate that their counterparts in the West did the same thing. For example, a German submarine admiral who did commit war crimes by normal standards was freed from those charges when he brought into evidence testimony from an admiral in the British and American navy saying, ‘Yeah, that’s what we did, too’. This was recognised, and chief prosecutor Jackson, he made a very eloquent speech to the tribunal where he said we were handing the defendants here a poisoned chalice, and if we sip from it, we must suffer the same punishment or else the trial is meaningless. Well, we have sipped from that chalice numerous times since. The chief crime was the crime of aggression – the supreme international crime – and count the times the US and Britain have been guilty of outright aggression. Have they been tried? It’s a farce – victor’s justice – and if you run through the rest of the trials, they pretty much have the same properties. In fact, I can’t think of one that has been honest in this respect – the only ones I can think of that have been honest are the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions like in South Africa, El Salvador or Guatemala, where they brought out what happened and identified the perpetrators. And in many cases, it was done very honestly, and by the victims – they’re the ones that testified.
Why are the KR on trial and not other leaders? Some Israeli generals, for example, have been accused of crimes against humanity.
An Israeli general would never be tried because they are backed by the US. These things reflect power systems. Very often, the people that are tried deserve to be tried and sentenced, but the structure of the trials has exonerated the powerful. The position is extreme. The US is the most powerful country in the world, and it’s also the most extreme in rejecting any form of judicial control. It is the only country that rejected a world court decision…. And that’s why an Israeli general can’t be tried. If an Israeli was brought to The Hague, the US might invoke what Europeans call The Netherlands Invasion Act. The US has legislation authorising the president to use force to rescue any American brought to The Hague.
So you’re saying that this trial is not about justice?
There is an element that is about justice. You take Nuremburg again. There is no doubt that the accused were guilty – but is it justice? You take [executed Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von] Ribbentrop – one of the crimes for which he was sentenced was that he supported a pre-emptive strike against Norway. Well, at a time, Norway was a threat to Nazi Germany, of course, and he ordered a pre-emptive strike. But what did Colin Powell do? Iraq was no threat.
Some have accused you of writing favourably about the Khmer Rouge. Were you unfairly criticised?
It’s ridiculous. In fact, there has been a massive critique of some of the things that Edward Herman and I wrote, and my view is that they were some of the most accurate things that were written in history. Nobody has been able to find a missed comma, which is not surprising. Before we published the chapter, we had it reviewed by most of the leading specialists on the topic, who made some suggestions, but basically nothing. Our main conclusion was: You have to tell the truth – don’t lie about our crimes by denying them, and don’t lie about their crimes by exaggerating them. In fact, what we actually did … the main thesis is a comparison between Cambodia and East Timor. And it’s a natural comparison: massive atrocities going on in the same part of the world – the same years. East Timor went on for another 25 years afterwards, and relative to population, they were about at the same scale. And what we found was that there was massive lying, but in opposite directions.
In the case of East Timor, it was ignored and denied. In the case of Cambodia, it was wild accusations without a particle of evidence. So what was the fundamental difference? In Indonesia, we were responsible, and we could have done something. But in the other case, an enemy was responsible.
A major Israeli delegation visited Cambodia recently. Should Cambodia be embracing trade with Israel, or do you back a boycott?
It’s the same moral issue that arises all the time – even with the trials. Yes, Israel is doing terrible things. Why? Because the US is supporting it. It’s like Indonesia and East Timor. As soon as Clinton told the Indonesians that it’s over-they didn’t have to bomb or boycott – they just told them it’s over. They withdrew instantly. If the US stopped providing military, economic, ideological support, Israel couldn’t do what it’s doing. Well, why doesn’t anyone talk about boycotting the US?
Because it’s too powerful.
You seemed to defend the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1979, despite UN resolutions passed against the Vietnamese. In contrast, you criticise the Israelis for their occupation on the grounds of UN resolutions passed against the Israelis. Why were you able to look the other way with the Vietnamese?
I didn’t defend it, I criticized it. If you look at that same book that Herman and I wrote in 1979 – it criticizes the invasion. It’s not a very harsh criticism because it did have a very positive consequence – it got rid of the KR, and if you look at it, the Vietnamese had plenty of provocation – the KR were attacking across the border and killing Vietnamese. By our standards it was fully justified, nevertheless, we did criticize it. If you want to look at humanitarian interventions since the war – I mean interventions that had a humanitarian consequence whatever their motive was – there are really only two major examples. The Indian invasion of East Pakistan in 1971 and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. And they are never touted because the US was against them.
You have obviously been one of the top critics of US policy – do you think the Obama administration marks a change from past administrations?
I can’t see anything – I mean he is escalating the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I mean Bush started it in 2004, but he is continuing it – there is no indication that I can see. I mean the Bush administration was kind of off the spectrum – they were extreme in their arrogance and brazen contempt for the world. But the second Bush term kind of moderated it – they kicked out the more extreme people – Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and it sort of went more towards the centrist position.
And Obama is moving forward toward the familiar centrist position – he is very misinterpreted. I mean, you can’t blame him – for example, it is claimed that he was a principal opponent of the Iraq war – but was he? His criticism of the war was that it was a strategic blunder – you could have read that in Pravda [newspaper] in 1985 about the invasion of Afghanistan.
What do you think the Obama administration is up against with the economic crisis? How bad do you think it will get?
Nobody really knows – a lot of the sophisticated money managers think it may level off by the fall and start recovering. On the other hand, there are sensible economists that think it will go much deeper. And the Obama administration is being very delicate in the moves it is making. It is moving in ways that don’t interfere with the basic structure of the system that created the crisis. You can see with the bonuses that are enraging everyone. I mean there is a way to deal with the bonuses – the way that congress is dealing with it to tax them, it’s probably unconstitutional.
But there is a very simple way of doing it – the government basically owns AIG by now – it has controlling shares. It could simply divest the financial section that is responsible for the crisis and separate it from AIG, and keep the functional part going. And the other part can just fend for itself, and the executives can try to get their bonuses from a bankrupt section – that ends that problem. But that would interfere with the corporate structure, which Obama won’t do.
Do you believe it turn will turn into another great depression?
I think that’s very unlikely it would go that far – for one thing, there are built-in safeguards from the New Deal period. However, it’s not certain. This morning in the financial press, China is calling for replacement of the dollar as the reserve currency.
Nobody really knows what is going to happen.
In a paper released Monday, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People’s Bank of China, said a new currency reserve system controlled by the International Monetary Fund could prove more stable and economically viable.
A new system is necessary, he said, because the global economic crisis has revealed the “inherent vulnerabilities and systemic risks in the existing international monetary system.”
While few analysts believe that the dollar will be replaced as the world’s dominant foreign exchange reserve anytime soon, the proposal suggests that China is preparing to assume a more influential role in the world. Russia recently made a similar proposal.
China’s bold idea, released more than a week before world leaders are to gather in London for an economic summit meeting, also indicates that Beijing is worried that its huge dollar-denominated foreign reserves could lose significant value in coming years.
China has the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves, valued at nearly $2 trillion, with more than half of those holdings estimated to be made up of United States Treasuries and other dollar-denominated bonds.
On March 13, China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said he was concerned about the safety of those assets, particularly because huge economic stimulus plans could lead to soaring deficits in the United States, which could sink the dollar’s value.
Should China lose its appetite for Treasuries, the United States’ borrowing costs could rise, making it more costly for Washington to carry out economic stimulus packages and for Americans to pay off their mortgages.
Nicholas Lardy, an economist and China specialist at the Peterson Institute in Washington, said that through its proposal, China was indicating that the dollar’s long dominance was unfair, allowing the United States to run huge deficits by borrowing from abroad, and that the risks to holders of Treasuries were growing.
“Chinese are quite concerned that the large U.S. government deficits will eventually lead to inflation, which will erode the purchasing power of the dollar-denominated financial assets which they hold,” Mr. Lardy said. “It is a legitimate concern.”
The timing of the Chinese announcement, analysts said, could also be aimed at giving Beijing more leverage to negotiate with the United States and other nations in London on trade and on proposals about how to stabilize the global economy.
But China is cautious when it discusses buying or selling Treasuries, for fear of sending a signal that could significantly affect currency markets. So in a separate announcement on Monday, China said it would continue to buy Treasuries, something the United States has encouraged.
In Mr. Zhou’s essay, published in English and Chinese on the central bank’s Web site, he said the international community should consider expanding the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights.
Such a proposal has been suggested before by developing countries. But the United States has always been wary that this could be inflationary and affect the central role of the dollar.
Special Drawing Rights are based on the value of the dollar, euro, pound and yen, but have been little used except as an accounting entry by international organizations.
Mr. Zhou said the goal of reforming the international monetary system was to “create an international reserve currency that is disconnected from individual nations and is able to remain stable in the long run.”
By Kok Sap – 18 March 2009
In Phnom Penh both left and right elites had known Lon Nol was unquestionably loyal to Sihanouk as he was elevated to be a point man in charge of government and overseeing Sihanouk trails in transport arms from Sihanoukville port to Viet Cong sanctuaries. But 18 March 1970 was a breaking point between the two old friends and traditional regime. To be clear this day Cambodia has not declared as a Republic yet .The sitting monarch was Sisowath Nearyroth Kosamak and all governmental institutions left untouched. So Cambodia remained a kingdom until October 9, 1970 when Cambodia was officially pronounced a Republic.
Too panic and deeply concerned for the people and nation security, Lon Nol asked the National Assembly to vote no confidence (92-0) on Sihanouk leadership on 18 March 1970 so the government can proceed with its national affairs. Meanwhile the Royal Armed Forces made up of old 22,000 personnel with outdated weaponries and no training. The nation treasury was in bankruptcy long ago. As Lon Nol was torn inside over decision of whom to side with, but his friend Sihanouk while on vacation abroad had already sided with Viet rebel, NLF- Viet Cong, and sworn to fight Lon Nol government to the ashes. In that period, Sihanouk had already nodded for US to normalize relations while green light was given for US carpet bombing. Several correspondences between Sihanouk and Nixon cited in Shawcross’ book, Sideshow.
In his scheme, Sihanouk designed Cambodia false politic to suit his egos. He had gone too far off national interests to insure personal interest above his Nation. He had used vocal leftist MPs Khieu Samphan, Hu Nim, Hou Youn to monitor Lon Nol government. In same stroke under death threats and public intimidations from the ruthless national police boss Om Manourin, one of Sihanouk suitors’ half-brother, the three fled to jungle where Viet Cong awaited to welcome them.
Also at this time Sihanouk agreed for US to secretly bomb the hell out of Cambodia eastern region. His hypocrisy was to steal from his government during day and load up his enemy trucks at night. In the end all his actions were to ensure Viet people destiny to occupy WHOLE Cambodia on 7 January 1979.
In this blind spot, I had conferred two sources to shed lights over the infamous day as the disoriented Hun Sen keeps boasting in his every awaken second to date for sure that it was Lon Nol who started the genocide and year zero regime.
First in Henry Kissinger book titled White House Years p.433 reveals,
• ” In March the North Viet began to break out of the sanctuaries along Cambodia’s frontier with South Viet, which they had been occupying without a shed of legality since 1965. They started cutting communications and harassing Phnom Penh with a view to overthrow the Lon Nol government, which had replaced Sihanouk without our knowledge and participation.” (Lon Nol government was set up on August 6, 1969 under Sihanouk, Head of State).
• Author sarcastically vented “Yet the inflamed condemnation for the tragedies that ensued fell not on Hanoi but on the United States. In my talks in Paris with North Viet emissary Le Duc Tho, he rejected neutrality for both Cambodia and Laos, and he emphasized that it was his people destiny not to take over South Viet but dominate the WHOLE Indochina. The boasts were made in secret but the military moves that expressed these ambitions were plain to see. From an inexhaustible national masochism there sprang the folklore that American decisions triggered the Cambodia nightmare, and the myth survives even today when the Viet, without the excuse of American provocation but barely a whimper of world protest, have finally fulfilled the ambition of conquering the WHOLE of Indochina. “
Second in Dr. Punnee Soonthornpoct’s book’ From Freedom to HELL’ p.123 showed how Le Duc Tho played words in the same subject,
• “that Wilfred Burchett, an Austrian journalist was a designated liaison person between Sihanouk and NLF, presented a text of interview to both Sihanouk and President de Gaulle during his visit in Phnom in 1966,” Le Duc Tho, stating that the NLF recognized the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Cambodia within the limits of its present frontiers that included 6 small isles off of Kep and Sihanoukville municipality.” Sihanouk had asked President de Gaulle to include in his speech on September 1,” the war in Indochina was in itself a struggle for national liberation and that America was trying to take over what France had left as he called for a US troop withdrawal from Indochina.”
To bail himself out of Viet conquest web, Sihanouk was again made to believe Le Duc Tho tactical rhetoric as he had told Henry Kissinger in Paris, otherwise. In the same pretext of war with Cambodia and self-defense in his peace negotiation, he had used his people destiny not NLF to dominate whole Indochina. I believe Le Duc Tho had chosen careful words in his conversations with Kissinger.
In records, it’s the Viet disguise within Hanoi top priority since 1930 to indoctrinate and foster Khmer nationalists like Siv Heng, Achar Mean alias Son Ngoc Mien, Son Ngoc Thanh and Sihanouk to buy in the Indochina Communist movements as a common front to fight French Protectorate Government. Achar Mean, Viet Minh recruit, was a Khmer Buddhist monk of no kinship to Son Ngoc Thanh as Viet Cong propaganda said other wise. Siv Heng, Vet Minh recruit, had returned from the Viet Cong camp to join Lon Nol with proofs of Hanoi real intent to absorb Cambodia via Viet civil war drama. Siam and South Viet manipulated Son Ngoc Thanh, Free Khmer Movement leader, to be an enemy to Sihanouk rule. After recognizing dangers from both Viet schematic, Son Ngoc Thanh rejoined Lon Nol after 18 March 1970 to defend Cambodia sovereignty.
So the event of 18 March 1970, in fact, was a ploy that Hanoi waited for a long time to turn Sihanouk from Khmer traditional king to be the Lord of desecration and destruction in order for Viet to divide Cambodia to achieve its dreamed Indochina Empire. We can see Le Duc Tho successfully disoriented Cambodia and its nationalists to look away while both Viet slowly made Cambodia its satellite state.
1. Le Duc Tho played Sihanouk against his most loyal General Lon Nol and US who, in other hand, despised the Viet arrogance and colonialism. Such entrapment set by communist state, Viet, to lure Cambodia into battling with both hands with Viet camps from the North and South.
2. Hanoi set up Viet Cong Front (NLF) sanctuaries on Cambodia soil disregarding the Geneva Conference and International Control Commission. Through this plot, it established a South Viet de facto consulate in Phnom Penh to fool the world and pursue its Indochina conquest.
Also another evidence showed after 1976 Koh Tral fatally squabble with Viet, in his first address to People Representatives Congress in early 1977, Pol Pot had alluded to his struggle with Viet dominance in revealing Communist Party of Kampuchea was the one that fought all forms and shapes of imperialists. Hanoi was displeased with Pol Pot changing name of The Worker Party of Kampuchea to Communist Party of Kampuchea. The rift between Viet Cong and Pol Pot CPK had persisted since Pol Pot had a dispute with Le Duan back in 1973. In his last interview in 1998, Pol Pot bitterly said,” Viet was the ingrate like crocodile that would bite feeding hands. No word from Viet shall be trusted.”
In appearance, Sihanouk had failed to recognize his true enemy, Viet Minh, plot since 1954 Geneva Conference. In fact the NLF –Viet Cong and Viet Minh were the same people were sent from Hanoi to incite and recruit Cambodians included young ignorant and low-esteemed Hun Sen. Obviously, it was Sihanouk fault in failing to straighten out his problems with Viet like Le Duc Tho at the international table. Yet he shamelessly accuses those who fought Viet Cong as the infidels to Cambodia.
In Kissinger view,” in Cambodia a rabble of murderous ideologues appear, it is true, to have been supplanted by an organized Communist state, but it has been done by the same force of alien arms that first attempted to do so in 1970.Hanoi’s insatiable quest for hegemony-not America’s hesitant and ambivalent response-is the root cause of Cambodia ‘s ordeal.” For so many words Kissinger implied,” it’s Viet people who’re responsible for Cambodia tragedies and nightmare that stemmed from 18 March 1970 and afterward.”
By Kok Sap
Fact Khmer Republic was pronounced in October 9,1970 and its war was against the neoclonialists,Viets aka Viet Cong who occupied its territory. Fact Viet Cong was the identity of the Communist Viets who had wanted to annex Cochinchine post 1954 Geneva Conference.
Fact Viet Cong is nothing derogatory at all as it cited in Viet Communist party documents.
Fact was April 17,1975 not 1978 when Sihanouk’s Khmer Rouge armed and trained by Viet Cong took control of Cambodia. Fact Sihanouk’s FUNK GRUNK assumed its new identity as Democratic Kampuchea after the Holocaust survivor Henry Kissinger had secretly agreed with Hanoi in 1973 in France to bail out on the Khmer Republicfighters who , in fact,defended Cambodia sovereignty and fought the aggressors,Viet Cong, since 1970.
Fact April 17,1978 was the third annual celebration of the Kampuchea Communist Party (founded in 1960) not the Indochina Communist Party nor the Viet Minh predecessor of Viet Cong victory anniversary in boasting its brilliant revolutionary Comrade Pol Pot not Sihanouk.
Fact Vietnam War led by US to stop Communism and defend South Viet Nam that ended in April 30,1975. This domino war had drawn Laos’s minority people involvement in a covert war in the 60’s. Lastly Cambodia was drawn in as the US tactical safety and widrawal back door.
To achieve such plot,Nixon-Kissinger secretly bombed Cambodia.They eventually encouraged Cambodia Parliament to do away with Sihanouk who staunchingly opposed US led war. Pointedly US wanted Cambodia to be modeled after Ngo Din Diem’s South Viet Nam Republic in order to achieve its Domino strategic defense and collaboration beside Thailand and Philippines. Note during the war,Thailand and Philippines profited from serving as holidays rest up and recuperation bases for US fighters. Prostitution mushroomed from Cochinchine toThailand, and then Phillipines. At the end, hundreds of thousand of Amerasian as Viet Cong named “the children of dust” grew up without seeing and knowing who their fathers were.
Wikipedia owes a diligence to correct page on Cambodia Civil War as it appears libelous and incredulous. Please see Wikipedia original below:
The Cambodian Civil War was a conflict that pitted the forces of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (known as the Khmer Rouge) and their allies the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) and the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF, or, derogatively, Viet Cong) against the government forces of Cambodia (after October 1973, the Khmer Republic), which were supported by the United States (U.S.) and the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).
The struggle was exacerbated by the influence and actions of the allies of the two warring sides. People’s Army of Vietnam (North Vietnamese Army) involvement was designed to protect its Base Areas and sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia, without which the prosecution of its military effort in South Vietnam would have been more difficult. The U.S. was motivated by the need to buy time for its withdrawal from Southeast Asia and to protect its ally, South Vietnam. American, South and North Vietnamese forces directly participated (at one time or another) in the fighting. The central government was mainly assisted by the application of massive U.S. aerial bombing campaigns and direct material and financial aid.
After five years of savage fighting that brought about massive casualties, the destruction of the economy, the starvation of the population, and grievous atrocities, the Republican government was defeated on 17 April 1978 when the victorious Khmer Rouge proclaimed the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea. This conflict, although an indigenous civil war, was considered to be part of the larger Vietnam War (1963–1978) that also consumed the neighboring Kingdom of Laos, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam.
IHT article By Sally McGrane
13 March 2009
Phnom Penh: In Cambodia’s Takeo Province, night fell on a field across from the village pagoda. Women cooked crispy cakes over open fires to sell to the crowd. By the time the lights came on, several hundred villagers had assembled in front of a portable stage. The Cambodian actors, dressed in street clothes, began speaking in Khmer. “So many stories. We have to tell our stories,” said one.
Another said, “How did it happen that Khmer killed Khmer?”
“You must try,” said a third, “To help us think this through.”
The audience in this heavily former Khmer Rouge area watched with attention as “Breaking the Silence,” the Phnom Penh-based Amrita Performing Arts’ new play, proceeded on Sunday night. Written by a Dutch director, Annemarie Prins, “Breaking the Silence” is based on oral testimony from Khmer Rouge members and victims who had taken part in interviews at the Documentation Center of Cambodia. The play tells the stories of seven perpetrators and victims in a series of short vignettes.
But it is not just a play. Performing concurrently with the Khmer Rouge tribunals, “Breaking the Silence” is an appeal to Cambodians on both sides of the divide to speak up about what happened to them. “We want this to be in the service of the community,” the Amrita’s program director, Suon Bun Rith — whose grandmother lives in Takeo, just down the unpaved road from the performance space — said on a recent weekend. To this end, after each show, Suon or an emissary invited audience members to come forward and tell their stories. After the performance Sunday night, a man took the microphone. “Those who killed should come and see this show,” he said, going on to say that he lived near a man who had killed several members of his family. He cited a scene in the play in which a former Khmer Rouge nurse apologizes for not helping a woman’s dying father, explaining that she was trapped by circumstances.
“Sometimes I try to talk to this man who killed my family,” said the speaker. “But he just turns away.”
The play is very sympathetic to the perpetrators whose stories it tells, portraying them as victims in their own right. “We don’t blame anyone,” said Suon. “We want the community to start a dialogue.”
The play premiered in Phnom Penh in late February, and then toured the provinces for eight performances, the last of which was Wednesday. This is unusual in a country in which nearly all cultural events take place in the capital or in Siem Reap (and was the cause of some pre-performance confusion for a food vendor in Takeo, who asked Suon if this was going to be a magic show put on by traveling medicine salesmen).
The fact that it reaches isolated areas is part of what makes the play so powerful, according to Youk Chhang, who runs the Documentation Center of Cambodia and collaborated with Prins in the early stages of the project. “People talk about the tribunals, and of course that’s good for the victims,” he said. “But these people can’t go to the trials.” He was referring to the United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal that began Feb. 17th in Phnom Penh. “This is something for them in the village. This is their stage and their court.”
Chhang, who recently proposed to the minister of education that the play be included in school curriculums, dismissed the idea that a Western director might impose a Western understanding of trauma on the actors and audience.
“Genocide is a crime against humanity,” he said. Prins “isn’t Dutch, she’s human.” He reconsidered, then said, “The title — ‘Breaking the Silence’ — that’s foreign. But we don’t call it that, in Khmer.” While Amrita translates the title more or less directly, Chhang said that only a handful of educated city dwellers refer to it that way. “The villagers call it ‘Khmer Rouge Stories’ or ‘Pol Pot Stories,'” he wrote in an e-mail message.
For Chhang, the play holds up a mirror for the audience — something, he said, that was important for the victims’ process of healing from the trauma they have experienced. He also cited the play’s emphasis on Buddhist philosophies of forgiveness. Then he added, “I think of myself as a strong person, a bone collector. A relentless genocide investigator. But the first time I saw this, I cried.”
The four main actresses were all victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. Morm Sokly, in her 40s, plays a 7-year-old girl in one vignette who, famished, steals the family’s rice. “My own experience gives me a depth of understanding for what we play on the stage,” she said. “The girl who steals the rice — I have that guilt in myself.”
The younger members of the production said that they learned from the play, as well. “Before, as a Cambodian, I knew my mom and her family had had very sad experiences and lost family members,” said Chey Chankeytha, 24, a classically trained dancer who choreographed the show.
“But I had never heard from the people who worked in the killing fields. From the play, you see how it felt to be a Pol Pot child soldier. We should know both sides.”
The play’s current run ended this week under a full moon in a field across from a rice paddy in Kandal Province with a small but rapt core audience (several middle aged women had returned for a second night in a row). Barring funding problems, the performance will resume in November after the rainy season with another eight shows in the Battambang and Siem Reap regions.
Given the reactions of those who choose to speak after the performances, “Breaking the Silence” seems to hit a nerve. After the Saturday night performance in Takeo ended, a gray-haired woman took the microphone. Crying softly, she said, “This was my story I saw on the stage. The kids might not believe it, but it’s true.”