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Saturday, May 19, 2007

'Killing fields' ghosts offer treasure to destitute Cambodian peasants

SRÉ LIEV, Cambodia: Pheng Chea was just another poor Cambodian peasant until a ghost came to his rescue.

In a recent dream, he recalls, the spirit of a long-dead Khmer Rouge victim showed him a gold necklace and instructed him to dig it out from her grave.

"The ghost told me her grave was near a dead big tree stump, so I dug down half a meter (1.6 feet) and found the gold," he says.

The 29-year-old man is now known as the luckiest man in Sré Liev village. He found US$240 (€177) worth of gold chains earlier this month when he and other villagers ransacked one of Cambodia's many "killing fields," the mass graves where the Khmer Rouge government dumped victims during its brutal rule from 1975 to 1979.

The pillaging highlighted the extreme poverty faced by many Cambodians — so poor that they would disturb a burial ground — as well as the role of ghosts and superstition in their lives.

The incident also worried researchers trying to preserve a historical record of the Khmer Rouge, blamed for the death of 1.7 million people through hunger, illnesses, overwork and execution. By the time the researchers learned about Sré Liev, the bones had already been piled up in the open.

Cambodia's mass graves could be useful evidence for planned genocide trials of Khmer Rouge leaders, though it remains unclear whether the Sré Liev killing field would have played a part.

Srey Noeurn, who took a pair of earrings from the skeletal remains of what appeared to have been a woman, had other concerns.

"When I arrived home, I did not keep them in the house because I was afraid the ghost would come to ask for them back," the 48-year-old mother of four said. "So, I rolled them in a plastic bag and hid them in a tree in front of the house."

She organized a Buddhist ceremony to show her gratitude to the original owner of the earrings and lit incense sticks to pray to the owner and ask for forgiveness. She sold one of the earrings for 150,000 riel (US$37.50; €28), a big sum in a country where 35 percent the people survive on less than 50 U.S. cents (€37 cents) a day.

Pheng Chea, the "luckiest man," had more worldly fears. Other villagers told him that local police were looking for him to demand a cut from his gains. And he hid for three days at his mother's house 20 kilometers (12 miles) away because he feared robbers.

The farmer sold the gold for one million riel (US$240; €177), which he used to purchase his first-ever cow. At a recent Buddhist ceremony, he offered a bowl of rice noodles to the female ghost of his lucky dream and asked for her forgiveness.

"I thanked the spirit for giving me the gold," Pheng Chea said.

Not all the villagers raided the grave.

"I told the grave diggers we ought to feel pity for (the dead)," Srey Bouy, 51, said. "They died painfully through execution and starvation."

Located in Kampot province, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the capital of Phnom Penh, Sré Liev village is tucked away in a forest. The 100 residents live in ramshackle thatched houses and eke out a living planting rice or cutting wood for sale.

For years, the villagers left the nearby grave site alone. But recently, a team of Vietnamese soldiers mistakenly excavated the site looking for the remains of comrades who had died after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 and drove the Khmer Rouge from power.

When the Vietnamese soldiers left, curiosity among the villagers turned into wild speculation that the pits held jewelry. The onslaught of the graves began.

The villagers acted out of desperate poverty, says Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group collecting evidence of the regime's atrocities.

The looting of the killing fields was common shortly after the Khmer Rouge lost power, he said. His center has documented about 20,000 mass graves across Cambodia; the vast majority of them have been disturbed, mostly by poor rural people, he said.

Peter Foster, a spokesman for a United Nations-backed tribunal created to conduct genocide trials, described the looting of the Sré Liev graves as "unfortunate." He suggested that Cambodian authorities try to protect such sites in the future.

The trials have yet to start. Years of negotiations to form the tribunal, including bickering over procedures and legal fees for foreign lawyers, have delayed them for so long that many of the potential defendants have died. Three decades after the Khmer Rouge's terrifying rule, many Cambodians wonder whether they will ever see justice done.

The seemingly endless wait may have influenced the villagers too, Youk Chhang said. "When we see a piece of bone now," he said, "we have no more tears to drop."
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Cambodia, Vietnam plan to plant another 118 border markers

Cambodian and Vietnam have decided to start installing another batch of 118 border markers on May 24, local media reported on Saturday.

Both sides agreed recently to conduct a ceremony on May 24 for installing the markers along the border at Komgpong Cham province, where the main crossing between the two countries is situated, Lon Lim Thay, Chief of Cabinet of the province, was quoted by Cambodian daily newspaper the Raksmey Kampuchea as saying.

"Both sides have also agreed on the architecture of the makers and the Vietnamese side will pay for the construction," he added.

In September 2006, both countries began the first phase of border marker installation at the Bavet-Mocbai international border checking point.

Cambodia and Vietnam plan to install altogether 353 border markers along their land border of 1,270 kilometers and the whole process is expected to end in December 2008.

Source: Xinhua
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Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam discuss policy for development triangle

Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam reached unanimity in developing mechanism and policy to give incentive to their development triangle at a meeting wrapped up yesterday in the Central Highland province of Gia Lai.

The two-day conference was jointly chaired by Cambodian Senior Minister and Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh, Head of the Lao Committee for Planning and Development Sulivong Dalavong, and Vietnamese Minister of Planning and Investment Vo Hong Phuc.

The discussions focused on creating favorable conditions for people's activities, transport, business and trade as well as investment in the triangle, which must go hand in hand with other regions in the process of international integration.

The three co-chairmen agreed on preferential tariff imposed on many kinds goods essential for daily life and production of the people in the three countries, facilitating cross-border transport by applying simple procedures for products produced by in the region.

They also placed importance to calling for investment from outside into the triangle and promoting cooperation in various fields.

The three co-chairmen agreed to convene the 2nd meeting of the coordination committee between the three countries in Cambodia in February 2008.

At the conference on investment promotion in the triangle held in Kon Tum province also in Vietnam’s Central Highlands last month, Japan pledged US$20 million to build infrastructure facilities in the region.

Source: VNA
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