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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Will Justice serve cold blood Million lives lost in The Maoist Khmer Rouge regime?

It has taken decades to set up an international tribunal investigating Khmer Rouge war crimes and the process remains fraught.

The Khmer Rouge nightmare that terrorised Cambodia during the 1970s ended nearly 30 years ago. In Rwanda and Sierra Leone, the wheels of justice turned quickly, with tribunals investigating events that kicked off within a few years of the mass killing.

For Cambodians, it has been an agonisingly long wait for justice. Since the Khmer Rouge tribunal was finally established in Phnom Penh in 2006, they have been kept waiting again, with legal squabbles over rules of evidence delaying the indictment stage, when some senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge would be formally charged under international law with crimes against humanity and genocide.

This hybrid tribunal, with international and Cambodian judges sitting together as co-prosecutors, was also adopted by the Sierra Leone tribunal. A special UN mission is in charge of legal assistance to the tribunal.

The final hurdle - the legal fees to be paid by foreign lawyers defending the accused (senior Khmer Rouge leaders) to the Cambodian bar council, has just been sorted out.

The original demand, that foreign defence lawyers should pay around $4,900 a year for the privilege of addressing a "Cambodian court", has been knocked down to a reasonable $500 fee. The international judges threatened a boycott against "extortionate" fees that might have undermined the right of the accused to choose foreign counsel (the prosecution is led by a Canadian lawyer with a Cambodian co-prosecutor).

French lawyer Jacques Vergès, who has made his mark with his energetic defence of notorious clients including Klaus Barbie and Carlos the Jackal (Ilich Ramírez Sánchez), has promised to appear at the tribunal on behalf of Khieu Samphan, president of the Khmer Rouge regime and, as it happens, a former student classmate of Mr Vergès in Paris.

Why such monumental procrastination over Cambodia? In the aftermath of the Pohl Pot bloodbath, international lawyers were largely silent, when, in 1979 and the early 80s, Cambodian survivors publicly called for an international tribunal.

The US and some western governments preferred to support the bloody credentials of the Khmer Rouge - keeping them in the Cambodia seat at the UN - rather than the cause of international justice. Many observers in the 1980s and even the 90s predicted that a Cambodia tribunal would never happen.

It was only in 1997 that the UN belatedly recognised that these terrible crimes should be addressed. Even then, UN-Cambodia negotiations dragged on for six years until a final agreement in 2003.

Certainly no other tribunal has endured so many obstacles and so many governments vehemently opposed to the cause of justice.

Finally, a tribunal was announced (officially known as ECCC - the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia*) and set up last year. But even this glimmer of justice is under threat from many quarters.

The purveyors of doom and gloom have cast a pall of pessimism over proceedings. Rumours abound of international judges about to walk out, the tribunal on the verge of collapse, or speculation that Prime Minister Hun Sen's government is hell-bent on sabotaging the whole thing.

But the Phnom Penh reality is far more complicated and nuanced. The decades of cynical neglect during which time several Khmer Rouge leaders have died, including Pol Pot, and the tortured history of negotiations has made this a uniquely complicated tribunal from the outset.

No one is more deeply committed to a tribunal than Khmer Rouge victim Chhang Youk, who today heads the internationally respected Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) the genocide research centre set up in 1994 after US Congress passed the Cambodian Genocide Justice Act.

Mr Chhang told the Guardian: "I am very satisfied with the prosecution with both Cambodian and international lawyers. They are working just fine together there is no conflict here. They are a model of cooperation for the rest of the tribunal." DC-Cam has released more than 58,000 documents to the prosecution, including vital telegrams and communications sent by top leaders.

Unfortunately, arguments over legal fees and rules of evidence have obscured the impressive progress made by the joint prosecution team led by Canadian Robert Petit.

Mr Petit, an international prosecutor who served in war crimes tribunals in Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone, is among the most positive. "We've made a lot of progress, more than other tribunals [at this stage]. We have a pretty good record, especially considering the limited resources we have."

The prosecution team is ready to proceed with indictments. The tribunal has not run aground, but it continues to sail through turbulent waters. As one insider who is trying hard to make the tribunal work describes it: "Some international judges seemed to have a hard time understanding anything about Cambodia, [and] more than a few Cambodian judges do not understand much beyond the borders of Cambodia." This is a recipe for acute misunderstanding.

It has been suggested that keeping this tribunal on the rails and on time to deliver justice requires a special UN envoy. The existing UN body is headed by Michelle Lee, a UN coordinator who runs the administration of the international component.

In most UN missions, New York appoints a credible diplomat to head the mission and mediate any conflict with the host government.

The history of UN-Cambodia negotiations over the tribunal has often been acrimonious. In 2002, the UN legal affairs team staged a unilateral walkout over the negotiations, which delayed the formation of the tribunal by at least a year.

The tribunal has also faced hostility from China, who, it seems, never wanted it to happen in the first place. Flip-flops from Prime Minister Sen and his tribunal task force are partly explained by intense pressure from Beijing to save face from damning facts that will come out in the trial concerning their complicity and support for the Pol Pot regime.

The struggle to ensure this tribunal abides by international standards and solves conflicts quickly is crying out for dynamic mediator. The UN needs to appoint an outstanding diplomat or former statesman to help both sides avoid further deadlock.

This tribunal will continue to be plagued with bottlenecks and problems until the UN finds a respected mediator, acceptable to both sides, to expedite the process.

• The 2003 treaty between the Cambodian government and the UN specifies a tribunal based around the Cambodian legal system but also incorporating international law and international standards.
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Royal cows predict poor harvest in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH - Cambodia's royal cows signaled a drought and poor harvests in an ancient ceremony Saturday to mark the beginning of the kingdom's planting season.

King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen joined thousands of Cambodians for the annual ceremony as royal astrologers fed the cows seven dishes -- rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and rice wine -- laid out on trays.

Hun Sen, who rebuked royal astrologers for failing to predict the deadly floods in 2001 that claimed 59 lives, said he was hopeful that the kingdom would be blessed with good harvests.

"We hope all spirits will help Cambodian farmers to get good agricultural production," the prime minister said at the start of the traditional ceremony held at a park near Phnom Penh's Royal Palace.

But the cows only ate corn, meaning Cambodia, one of the world's poorest nations struggling after three decades of civil war, could suffer this year.

"The royal cows ate only 45 percent of the corn, which means Cambodia could suffer a severe drought and bad harvests," chief astrologer Kang Ken told onlookers.

Cambodia frequently suffers from drought and flooding, threatening the livelihoods of millions in the impoverished nation.

While still taken seriously by many rural Cambodians, the ploughing ceremony predictions have been called into question in recent years. AFP
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Cambodia stops to watch royal oxen predict the future

Phnom Penh - Cambodians celebrated Royal Ploughing Day Saturday, with thousands watching with baited breath to see what foods two royal oxen would choose in a colourful ceremony designed to predict the future of the new farming season.

The result was mixed as the two fractious beasts, bedecked in red head cloths and golden silk rugs, turned their noses up at the majority of the seven golden dishes laid out before them, signaling a lean if mostly peaceful year ahead for the overwhelmingly agricultural country.

Six oxen ceremonially ploughed a field located adjacent to the Royal Palace, watched intently by thousands of Cambodians and some of the most important people in the land in a ceremony presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni and carried live by every national television station.

Two chocolate brown oxen were finally brought forward to choose from a feast including fresh grass, wine, water, corn, rice and sesame, but one refused to eat altogether and the other ate just 45 percent of a dish of corn before turning his back on the proceedings.

If they had eaten the grass or drunk the wine, Cambodia would have braced itself for war, chaos and turmoil. However their refusal to touch the water signals scarce rains for the coming rice season, according to palace Brahman priests present for the ceremony.

Corn growers will enjoy an average season, but the untouched dish of rice sends an ominous sign of tough and mostly dry times ahead for a nation which relies heavily on paddy rice as its staple crop, soothsayers predicted.

The ancient ceremony is held annually and signals the end of the dry season and the time to begin preparing the fields for the rains which herald the new rice season.

It was reintroduced by former king Norodom Sihanouk after his return from exile in 1993 as part of an effort to return Cambodia to its cultural history after years of civil war and the destruction of so many ancient traditions under the brutal 1975 to 1979 Khmer Rouge regime.
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Vietnam eyes $1.6 bln export value to Cambodia by 2010

Vietnam’s trade ministry has set its sights on the high-potential neighboring market of Cambodia, with annual targets of US$1.6 billion in export revenue by 2010, and up to $5.2 billion by 2015.
To achieve the high targets, Vietnam’s shipments to the neighbor should grow by 30 percent annually, said Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan deputy minister of trade at a seminar yesterday to collect views on the trade ministry-initiated plan.

Export earnings from Cambodia in past years have grown nearly 30 percent a year, topping $770 million in last year.

Cambodia is the 16th largest export market for Vietnam, while Vietnam is currently the fourth largest exporter in to Cambodia.

Exports to Cambodia have been increasing steadily on the back of good political ties and similar culture between the two countries, she said.

According to Pham Hoang Ha, director of the Ho Chi Minh City’s Department of Trade, Vietnam is currently faced with stern competition from Thailand and China in the market.

Initial statistics by the ministry showed that Vietnam lags behind Thailand in the race to tap the high potential and easy-to-please market.

For example, Vietnam-made cosmetics account for just 23 percent of the market share while Thailand makes up 42 percent.

Representatives from enterprises which do business with Cambodia said drawn-out customs procedures dull the competitive edge of Vietnamese exports.

They urged a one-door policy at Vietnam-Cambodian border gates, to facilitate domestic business.

Goods transport, which now depends on roads and waterways, limits export volume.

Trade officials said a poor distribution system caused Vietnamese exporters to lose the lion’s share of sales in the market.

Vietnam now has 15 outbound investment projects in Cambodia with total registered capital of US$33 million, according to the planning and investment ministry.

The largest of those, the Vietnamese military telecom giant Viettel is set to provide mobile service in Cambodia by the end of this year.

Viettel accounts for some 25 percent of the market for international Voice-Over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) and over 50 percent of international channel leasing in Cambodia.
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