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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Film recalls Cambodia's Killing Fields

Socheata Poeuv once asked her father what was the worst part about living under the Khmer Rouge. He told her it was the silence.

Today, Ms. Poeuv is breaking that silence. Her film, New Year Baby , is giving a voice not only to her father's story, but to the estimated 1.7 million to 2 million people who died in Cambodia's Killing Fields.

Her film, which captures the heart-wrenching story of her family's survival, is being screened at 5:30 tonight and again at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Angelika Film Center as part of the AFI Dallas International Film Festival.

Ms. Poeuv and her parents are scheduled to be at the Saturday screening. It will be the first time her parents have seen the completed film.

"My parents didn't talk much about that period of their life in Cambodia," the filmmaker said from New York, where she now lives.

She said she had read only a few passing references about the Killing Fields.

"But I never heard my parents talk about it," she said. "I would ask questions once in a while, but they would always find ways to dodge answering. I think it was too painful for them to talk about it. I think they were desperately trying to forget the past."

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge communist group came to power in Cambodia. Its goal was to create an agrarian utopia. Instead, under the leadership of Pol Pot, between 1975 and 1979 an estimated 1.7 million to 2 million Cambodians were killed or died of starvation.

To this day, not a single member of the Khmer Rouge has been put on trial for crimes from that period. Of the hundreds of thousands who survived the Killing Fields, many left their homeland and escaped to makeshift refugee camps along the Thai border.

Many, like Ms. Poeuv and her family, would be relocated to the U.S. In 1982, Ms. Poeuv, her parents, two older sisters and a brother were resettled in Carrollton. Ms. Poeuv was just 2 years old.

Because she was born on the Cambodian New Year in the refugee camp, Ms. Poeuv said, her family always considered her the lucky one. But, she said, she had not fully realized how lucky she was.

Growing up in Carrollton, Ms. Poeuv became fully assimilated in the American lifestyle. Sometimes her parents, who tried to maintain some of their old Cambodian customs in their new homeland, embarrassed her.

"I thought they were 'old country,' " Ms. Poeuv said. "My parents would make us go to temple on Saturdays and Bible study on Sundays. My mother stored stinky fermented fish under the sink, and my father watched Cambodian videos."

"There were times when I felt like an outsider in my own family," she said. The R.L. Turner High School graduate used school to escape.

Ms. Poeuv graduated cum laude from Smith College in 2002 and studied for a year at Oxford University. She settled in New York, where she worked for NBC and ABC.

However, during a family reunion a few years ago, Ms. Poeuv's parents revealed a painful secret that would change her life.

"My mother said that my two older sisters, Mala and Leakhena, aren't actually my sisters but that they were my cousins," Ms. Poeuv said. "She said that they were the children of her sister and brother-in-law who had been killed by the Khmer Rouge. Then she said my brother, Scott, isn't my full brother, but that he is my half brother. She said Scott is from her marriage to another man. My mother's first husband and a daughter had died in the genocide."

According to Ms. Poeuv, Mala and Leakhena seemed to be relieved that the truth was now out in the open. Her half brother was just as surprised as Ms. Poeuv.

Her parents' revelation raised more questions than it answered. She was also haunted by the fact that there are many others like her who don't know the story of the Killing Fields.

"Everyone seemed determined to sweep it under the rug, as if they had done something wrong, or that they were to blame for what happened. So I became determined to document the full story," Ms. Poeuv said.

After the family secret was revealed, their parents invited Ms. Poeuv and her brother to go back to Cambodia for the first time.

Her film documents the trip, which traced her family members' journey from their homes to forced labor camps – and their escape on foot through the jungle to Thailand.

"Somewhere along the way, I discovered that the secrets they held in shame also proved their great heroism," she said.

Today, Ms. Poeuv is determined that the world not forget what happened in Cambodia.
Pol Pot died before he could be brought to trial, but Ms. Poeuv wants the Khmer Rouge brought to justice.

She is developing an archival project to document the testimonies of Cambodian Khmer Rouge survivors.

New Year Baby, which marks Ms. Poeuv's directing debut, has already won several awards, including Amnesty International's Movies That Matter Human Rights Award and the best documentary prize at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. The film has also been selected for inclusion in PBS' Independent Lens series.

Ms. Poeuv's documentary is one of 190 features and short films that will be shown during the AFI Dallas International Film Festival, which continues through Sunday. For a complete schedule, see www.afidallas.com or call 214-720-0555 . Read more!

Cambodia prohibited its workers from South of Thailand

Cambodia has banned its migrant laborers from working in insurgency-plagued southern Thailand due to safety concerns, an official said Thursday.

Thailand's southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have been the scene of an Islamic insurgency that has led to more than 2,000 deaths in the past three years. The three provinces form the only Muslim-dominated area in the Buddhist-majority country.

In a letter to Cambodia's Labor Ministry, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong asked that all labor-exporting companies not send any workers to the Thai provinces that are currently "experiencing insecurity problems, including many killings."

A copy of the letter, dated March 19, was obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
Um Mean, a deputy labor minister, said there are more 70,000 registered Cambodian workers in Thailand's provinces along its southeastern border with Cambodia.

Although there are no companies that export workers to Thailand's deep south, the ministry has instructed all 13 of Cambodia's licensed labor-exporting companies to comply with the ban, Um Mean said by telephone Thursday.

Um Mean described the ban as a "precaution we had better take" now rather than later.
"The main reason behind it is safety concerns for the lives of our workers. In addition, a dangerous incident could produce difficulties for both countries," he said.
Read more!

Cambodia still needs $36m for TB elimination project

PHNOM PENH, March 29 (Xinhua) -- Cambodia is negotiating with donors for 36 million U.S. dollars to support a five-year national project to eliminate tuberculosis, local media reported on Thursday.

Between 11 and 20 percent of the budget, not including financial assistance for food rations from the World Food Program (WFP) and spending for technical experts and community tuberculosis project expansion, is needed for the provision of medicines and salaries respectively, said Mao Tan Eng, Director of the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control (NCTLC).

"The need of budget for food and other supplementary is very important for the national tuberculosis elimination project," he said, noting that the project is being funded by the Global Fund, the World Bank, and the Japanese government, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the World Health Organization and other NGOs.

As TB patients are generally poor in Cambodia, the supply of food under WFP sponsorship is a vital factor for the project's success, he was quoted by Cambodian daily newspaper the Rasmei Kampuchea as saying.

According to NCTLC, the rate of lung tuberculosis incidence in Cambodia has experienced a slight decrease from 241 out of 100,000 in 1979 to 226 at current times. Read more!

Human rights group urges FBI to re-investigate Cambodia grenade attack

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: A New York-based human rights group urged the FBI to reopen a probe into a grenade attack that killed more than a dozen Cambodians and wounded an American a decade ago.

Human Rights Watch made the appeal Thursday, a day ahead of the 10th anniversary of the grenade attack on a peaceful demonstration led by opposition leader Sam Rainsy on March 30, 1997.

"This brazen attack carried out in broad daylight ingrained impunity in Cambodia more than any other single act in the country's recent history," Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director, said in a statement.

The statement also "urged the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to reopen its investigation of the attack."

No one has been arrested over the assault that killed at least 16 people and wounded 114 others, when four grenades were tossed into a crowd of anti-government demonstrators outside the Cambodian National Assembly in the capital, Phnom Penh.

No official death toll was ever released.

Sam Rainsy, who led the demonstration, escaped unharmed.

U.S. citizen Ron Abney was among the wounded, prompting an FBI probe. However, the FBI has never released the final version of its report on the case.

In the Human Rights Watch statement, Adams said "the FBI launched the only investigation into the attack, but the U.S. has inexplicably dropped it.".

"The U.S. government should insist that the FBI return to complete its investigation. Family members of the victims are still waiting for justice," he said.

Sam Rainsy had previously accused Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen of being behind the attack, but later recanted the allegation.

The Human Rights Watch statement said that on the day of the attack the Cambodian police force — which had routinely kept a high profile at opposition demonstrations to discourage public participation — had been unusually absent, and that officers had grouped around the corner from the park where the rally was held.

However, Hun Sen's personal bodyguards had been "for the first time" deployed at a demonstration, the statement said, implying they were there to help the attackers escape.

Hun Sen has repeatedly denied any involvement in the attack. Read more!

Cambodia to join regional exercise against human influenza pandemic

Cambodia will join an exercise designed to test the response of regional organizations against preliminary signs of human influenza pandemic from April 2 to 3, a statement said on Wednesday.

The exercise, known as PanStop 2007, will test the procedures necessary to dispatch the ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) stockpile of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and personnel protective equipment (PPE) from the storage site in Singapore to a country experiencing early warning signs of human influenza pandemic, said the joint statement by the Cambodian government and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The deployment of the stockpile is a strategy known as "rapid containment," which intends to stop or at least slow down human influenza pandemic before it has the opportunity to spread, said the statement.

Cambodia has been chosen as the country facing a mock outbreak and it will work closely with ASEAN and WHO to test risk assessment capabilities, communication procedures and decision making among all the partners, it said.

This will be a simulated exercise scenario and no drug or other materials will actually be moved, it added.

"PanStop is rare opportunity for Cambodia to rehearse the rapid containment strategy with international organizations," said Eng Huot, secretary of state at Ministry of Health of Cambodia.

The exercise also offers Cambodia a way to test its capabilities while gaining important experience that can only be achieved through practice, he added.

WHO's regional office in Manila, Philippines, will facilitate the two-day exercise, said the statement, adding that ASEAN, WHO and Japan will arrange the participants for it.

Source: Xinhua . Read more!