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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Angkor Study a Wake-Up Call for Cambodia

By Ker Munthit

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A new study of the demise of the ancient city of Angkor is a wake-up call for Cambodia to be more vigilant in its efforts to conserve the site, an official said Wednesday.

The study in this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that Angkor was far larger than previously thought, incorporating an elaborate water management network of nearly 400 square miles and rice paddies to feed more than 1 million people.

Researchers discovered, however, that the complex was too vast to manage and could have contributed to the civilization's decline. The extending rice fields resulted in serious ecological problems, including deforestation, topsoil degradation and erosion.

Soeung Kong, deputy director-general of the government agency managing the site, said that what happened to ancient Angkor "appears to be repeating itself now" due to over-exploitation from tourism, highlighting the current challenges in managing and conserving the temples.

"The findings are eye-opening for us. They awake us to a greater need for safeguarding (the ancient city)," he said.

The study, led by Damian Evans of Australia's University of Sydney, revealed that Angkor was "the world's most extensive preindustrial low-density complex" during its zenith between the 9th and 14th centuries - far larger than previously thought.

Using airborne imaging radar data acquired in 2000 by NASA, the researchers produced a "comprehensive and up-do-date" digital map of the area, which has been long obscured by jungle. They detailed tens of thousands of individual features of the site across nearly 1,200 square miles, Evans said in a statement on his university Web site.

"It shows conclusively that Angkor was a vast and populous network of agricultural and settlement space covering much of the Siem Reap area, and stretching far beyond the well-known temples of the central archaeological park," he said.

But the complex's size led to ecological problems that could have doomed the civilization, the researchers found. That conclusion supports a theory in the early 1950s by Bernard-Philippe Groslier, a prominent French archaeologist, that the collapse of Angkor stemmed from over-exploitation of the environment.

Soeung Kong said similar problems exist today.

Impoverished Cambodia has relied heavily on the Angkor temples to earn much-needed tourism revenue. But in recent years, conservationists have expressed concerns about stress to the monuments, including the famed Angkor Wat, from the ever-increasing number of visitors.

They also fear that the unrestricted pumping of underground water to meet the rapidly rising demand of hotels, guesthouses and residents in the provincial town may be undermining Angkor's foundations, destabilizing the earth beneath the temples so much that they might sink and collapse.

Evans said the mapping of the area found delicate traces of great archaeological significance, such as ponds, occupation mounds, field patterns and signs of local shrines, still remaining on the ground surface today. But he warned that they "are under serious threat from uncontrolled development in the Siem Reap area."

He said his group has recently given the digital mapping database to Cambodia's government to use in taking appropriate and effective measures to safeguard the archaeological landscape.
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Cambodia Puts Khmer Rouge Reign of Terror on Trial

By Rory Byrne
Phnom Penh
15 August 2007

Thirty years after the brutal Khmer Rouge governed Cambodia, efforts to punish those considered most responsible for the deaths of nearly two million people have entered a new phase. A former leader of the ultra-Maoist group has just been charged with crimes against humanity while cases against four others are pending. But as Rory Byrne reports from Phnom Penh, doubts remain whether the Khmer Rouge tribunals will deliver justice.

A monument outside Phnom Penh shows some of the enormous scale of the killing in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Almost two million people, a quarter of the populations, died under the Khmer Rouge from overwork, starvation and execution.

The ultra-Maoist group wanted to create a rural socialist utopia. It executed political opponents, the educated and ethnic minorities. Many died brutal deaths.

Kaing Khek Iev, commonly known as "Duch," was the commander of S-21 prison in Phnom Penh where thousands were tortured and killed.

He is the first member of the Khmer Rouge to be indicted in connection to the regime's reign of terror.

Almost 30 years after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power, a joint international and Cambodian court is preparing to try those accused of being most responsible for the deaths.

Five former leaders are scheduled to be tried at a new court outside Phnom Penh, although more may follow later.

Civic groups warn that because Cambodia's judiciary is weak, the tribunal may be subject to political interference.

Attorney Theary Seng, whose parents were killed by the Khmer Rouge, is the director of Cambodia's Center for Social Development. "The concern, first and foremost, is political interference because some of the current leadership of the current government were members of the Khmer Rouge over a certain rank. There may be information that they do not want to surface within the trial so there are concerns that there could be political interference and we have been given indications that there are."

Helen Jarvis is the spokeswoman for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. She says that, despite their limitations, the trials are an important part of coming to terms with the past. "Certainly, it can't meet everybody's expectations, it can't tell the whole story, it can't do everything that Cambodia needs but it's a very important piece of what is required."

Civic groups see the tribunal as part of a wider process aimed at helping the country come to terms with its traumatic past.

Lawyer Theary Seng says, "The core benefits of a trial are becoming the ancillary benefits and the side benefits of outreach, engaging the Cambodian people, of disseminating information, of talking about history, of human rights abuses, of rule of law -- those issues are now becoming the core values of having this tribunal."

This annual re-creation of Khmer Rouge atrocities aims to help Cambodians remember the past and to heal the wounds of that era. Rights activists hope the Khmer Rouge tribunal will play another part of that healing process.
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Ex-Cambodia cop fails to get officers cited for contempt

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court dismissed a contempt of court application by a former Cambodian police chief against a senior Immigration officer and a deputy public prosecutor.

Judge Tan Sri Richard Malanjum said the applicant, Heng Peo, failed to discharge the standard of proof required in bringing the action against Immigration enforcement chief Datuk Ishak Mohamed and deputy public prosecutor Hanafiah Zakaria.

"The standard of proof in a contempt proceeding is beyond reasonable doubt and the applicant failed to discharge that burden."

He said it was also an undisputed fact that the two did not breach any order of the Federal Court or Court of Appeal.

He said the complaint against Hanafiah was that he received a "thank you" telephone call from an Immigration officer as Heng Peo was taken to the Subang Airport.

"We have considered the grievances and are not satisfied that it amounted to contempt of court," Malanjum said.

He said Ishak had not only acted speedily but in accordance with the Immigration Act because the Court of Appeal did not make a prohibition order against his department.

"His (Ishak’s) act did not amount to contempt of court," Malanjum said in the unanimous decision. Sitting with Malanjum were Datuk Hashim Yusoff and Datuk Azmel Maamor.

At the outset of yesterday’s proceeding, Heng Peo’s counsel A. Sivananthan withdrew the action against Immigration director-general Datuk Wahid Mohd Don because he was overseas when the deportation took place. Wahid was earlier named in the application.

On Dec 21 last year, the Court of Appeal set aside the order of the High Court that Heng Peo be sent to Singapore, his last point of disembarkation.

Following the order, Heng Peo was immediately taken to the Subang Airport and sent back to Cambodia, despite his lawyers’ attempt to stay the deportation pending their appeal to the Federal Court.

Hanafiah appeared for the department at the Court of Appeal.

While Sivananthan and Abdul Shukor Ahmad filed their appeal documents with a certificate of urgency at the Federal Court registry, they were informed that Heng Peo had left Malaysia by a private plane at 12.35pm, an hour after the Court of Appeal delivered its decision.

On Feb 2 this year, Heng Peo, 52, obtained leave from the Federal Court to initiate committal proceedings against Ishak and Hanafiah.

In his submission yesterday, Sivananthan said the two had committed contempt because they had deprived Heng Peo of the opportunity to ventilate his appeal to the Federal Court.

He said a call at 11.45am by Immigration officer, Kasturi, to Hanafiah was questionable.

"Why say ‘thank you’ to him? It must be that she was informing Hanafiah that Heng Peo was being taken to the airport," he said, adding that an inference should be drawn that the DPP had knowledge of the deportation.

He said Ishak did not check with Hanafiah on the consequence of the Court of Appeal decision and instead acted on his own to hand over his client to Cambodian authorities.

Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, who represented the two officers, said there was a misunderstanding as to what transpired that day.

"It was a comedy of errors and the two had no intention of interfering in the administration of justice," he said.

Gani said the "thank you" call was normal and that he, too, had received such calls from accused persons in the past.

He said Sivananthan did not indicate to the prosecution that he was appealing to the Federal Copurt.

"He delayed in filing his appeal soon after the Court of Appeal decision as he was busy entertaining reporters."

Gani added that the department was right to deport Heng Peo because the Cambodian authorities had revoked his passport and Singapore had refused to accept him.

"Ishak was right to rely on a provision in the Immigration Act to deport him to Cambodia since he no longer had a passport," he said.

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