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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cambodian royal shirks Khmer Rouge trials

By Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK - Cambodia's colorful former king Norodom Sihanouk has emerged as the central figure in the latest controversy to plague the special tribunal established to prosecute the surviving members of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

The 85-year-old royal, who has carved a name for himself as a man who relishes the spotlight, has waded into the dispute in his own inimitable way. He chose to reveal his thoughts on the question that has gripped Phnom Penh: whether Sihanouk should or should not be called to appear before the United Nations-backed war-crimes trial.

On August 30 he made his first thrust by issuing an unusual invitation to the UN officials associated with the tribunal, including its international spokesman, Peter Foster, to visit the palace for a conversation on "the affairs of the Khmer Rouge and Sihanouk". The method of communicating the invitation was typical Sihanouk: it was posted on the personal website that he maintains. The rendezvous in the royal court was set for September 8 and scheduled to last for three hours.

Sihanouk - who stepped down as monarch in October 2004 in favor of his son, Norodom Sihamoni - took the liberty on the Web posting to reveal how he views the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), as the tribunal is officially called.

"After this [meeting] it will no longer be necessary for me to present myself before the UN's ECCC," Sihanouk stated in his invitation. And if the UN officials failed to show up, he noted, he "will not accept to see, speak or correspond with the UN's ECCC".

As was expected, the UN officials did not participate in this royal conversation on the tribunal.

"I was not authorized to participate in this meeting, nor were other UN officials," Foster said during an interview from Phnom Penh. "We responded by saying that only the judges involved in the trial will be able to determine who will be a witness. The judges will do so based on procedural rules."

But like a character from a Shakespearean drama, Sihanouk continued to protest. In standing up for his cause, the former monarch ''complained that the ECCC wanted him to 'take an oath to tell the truth [and] nothing but the truth on the subject of arch-criminals'", the English-language Phnom Penh Post newspaper reported last Friday. "'I do not have to swear an oath after [the one I swore] with Buddha, to debase myself to take an oath in front of the ECCC.'"

Those familiar with Sihanouk's penchant for grand gestures and a life peppered with drama are hardly surprised by this latest offering. After being crowned monarch in 1941 at the tender age of 18 years, he abdicated twice, served as king twice, held the post of prime minister twice and served as president once. His record in the world of the arts and entertainment has been as varied, dabbling as a filmmaker, songwriter, painter, saxophonist and crooner of ballads.

What is equally well known is the link Sihanouk maintained with the Khmer Rouge, which was responsible for an orgy of death from 1975, when it took control of Cambodia after a prolonged battle with a pro-American puppet regime in Phnom Penh, to 1979. The extreme Maoist group killed close to 1.7 million Cambodians, nearly a quarter of the country's population at the time. The victims were executed or died from forced labor or starvation as the Khmer Rouge tried to turn the country into an agrarian utopia.

Sihanouk himself lost family members to the Khmer Rouge and was kept under house arrest by the genocidal regime between 1976 and 1979. Yet against those details are the roles he played in the four years up to the Khmer Rouge triumph in 1975 - urging the Cambodian people to join the group, in addition to serving as the head of state for the regime in the first year it held power. And when the Khmer Rouge was driven from power by invading Vietnamese troops, Sihanouk fled to the forests with the ousted rulers and took on a new role as the global defender of the regime-in-exile.

It is this phase of Sihanouk's life that has been brought into focus and raised the possibility of him going before the ECCC, which officially began work this July after long delays and hurdles placed in its way, including regular challenges posed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The push to get Sihanouk to appear before the ECCC was triggered by a relatively unknown non-governmental organization based in the United States, the Cambodian Action Committee for Justice and Equity. Late last month, it made a request to authorities in Phnom Penh to strip Sihanouk of his immunity as a former monarch so he could be called before the tribunal.

The Hun Sen administration rose to Sihanouk's defense by delivering a harsh rebuke. The prime minister called the request to strip Sihanouk "very barbaric" and one that "could have the result of jeopardizing the peace and unity" of the country. But rights groups questioned the government's motives, arguing that war-ravaged Cambodia's quest to create a society governed by the rules of law and justice will be undermined if the former monarch is placed above the law and insulated from the ECCC.

"This could set a bad precedent, since the ECCC is expected to set new and high standards of justice for Cambodia," said Lao Mong Hay, senior researcher on Cambodia at the Asian Human Rights Commission, a regional rights lobby. "The request does not mean he has to face trial as a defendant or as an accused, but it is to remove an unconstitutional clause in the constitution and make the former king available if the judges need him to appear.

"This is very important for the trial, since many Cambodians who lost family want to know about the past - how and why the Khmer Rouge pursued their murderous policies," Lao Mong Hay said. "It is a chance for the former king to clear his name if he did nothing wrong. And he has been on the record in the past saying that he would be willing to face the trial like the former Khmer Rouge leaders."
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Colombo awaits confirmation of top LTTE arms procurer's arrest

The Sri Lankan government is awaiting official confirmation of the arrest of top LTTE arms procurer and smuggler, Kumaran Pathmanathan, better known as KP, in Bangkok on Monday.

"We have only seen media reports about his arrest. We are yet to get confirmation," the Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary, Dr Palitha Kohona, told Hindustan Times on Tuesday.

Sri Lankan officials say that if indeed KP has been arrested, it is "absolutely certain" that a "major dent" has been made in the LTTE's multi-million dollar arms procurement network.

This is bound to affect the LTTE's military capability both in the short and the long run. KP, after all, has for decades been the kingpin of the illegal and clandestine racket and is also one of the most trusted men in Tiger chieftain Velupillai Prabhakaran's inner circle.

"If he has been arrested, it shows that the Sri Lankan government is succeeding in its efforts to get other countries to crackdown on the LTTE financial and arms procurement networks. Due to our intense efforts, 17 LTTE operatives were arrested in the US, 14 in France, three in Australia and two in the UK .Last week three LTTE operatives were extradited to Sri Lanka from Thailand," Foreign Secretary Kohona said.

The 1955 born KP from Jaffna in North Sri Lanka, is said to have had over 20 passports in at least five different names. A globe trotter, he is said to have operated with ease from Bangkok, London, Frankfurt, Athens, Australia and Cambodia.

He is believed to have been in Mumbai at the time of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991.He escaped within five days of the event when he got wind of the manhunt for him.

However, KP was not directly linked to the assassination. He was not among the 41 persons against whom the Special Investigating Team filed a charge sheet. Later, the CBI had wanted him for arms smuggling, and Interpol's assistance was sought to arrest him.

Since 1991, the Indian Navy and agencies had been keeping a tab on KP and the LTTE's arms procurement and smuggling activities and had helped the Sri Lankan government destroy some gun running ships with timely intelligence.

In one case in 1993, the Indian Navy intercepted an arms ship with the top leader Kittu on board off the Indian coast. When challenged, Kittu ordered the blowing up of the ship and went down with it.

KP has been using Thailand as a major transshipment point for weapons acquired from war-torn Cambodia and other places across the globe. He is in charge of the LTTE's fleet of ships, which transport the arms apart from legitimate cargo. He has been adept at exploiting rampant corruption in Third World countries like Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia to feed the LTTE's gargantuan appetite for sophisticated arms.

However, three to four years ago, there were reports that Prabhakaran and KP had fallen out. Media reports said that the seizures and destruction of arms vessels had come for adverse comment from the Tiger chieftain.

But in 2003 there were reports that Prabhakaran was trying to rehabilitate KP by making him a member of the LTTE's team for the peace talks with the Sri Lankan government. The LTTE had tried to push a person called Shanmugam Kumaran Tharmalingam, who, the Sri Lankan government suspected, was none other than KP. KP's real name is Tharmalingam Shanmugam Kumaran!

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Bec, Lleyton in TV spotlight

FORMER Channel 7 golden girl Bec Hewitt will tonight become the network's target subject when Today Tonight airs a report examining her and husband Lleyton's commitment to their Cambodian orphanage project.

Confidential can reveal that Today Tonight producer Phil Goyen and reporter Marguerite McKinnon have spent the past several days in Cambodia trying to expose the "truth'' behind the Hewitts' pledge to house AIDS-affected children two years ago.

"We will be involved from scratch, starting off with the land, the building and then feeding the kids. It will be unreal,'' Bec said in February, 2005.

The Hope for Children home is now up and running, but - without the approval of the Hewitts - TT has set out to find if the celebrity couple did properly oversee the project with the AIDS Trust of Australia.

While a Seven spokeswoman would not reveal the outcome of the "investigation'' when quizzed by Confidential yesterday, it's clear the gloves are off when it comes to the glamorous tennis mum -now signed to Channel Nine's magazine arm ACP as a weekly columnist on Woman's Day.

"We've come to Cambodia to see exactly what's been done and who's done it,'' Goyen said yesterday.

"Basically, we're going to put all the facts and financials out there and people can make up their own mind.''

However, AIDS Trust boss Terry Trethowan said the Hewitts had given what they had committed to - a figure believed to be about $65,000 - mainly from Bec's prize money from her winning performance on Seven's reality show Dancing with the Stars.

"They have done nothing wrong and gave exactly what they said they were going to give,'' Mr Trethowan said.
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Cambodia smashes international human trafficking ring

Police from the Cambodian Ministry of Interior have smashed an international human- trafficking ring led by prominent expatriates which has allegedly been responsible for the illegal transit of hundreds of South Asians through Cambodia to first-world nations, local media said on Tuesday.

The ring, reportedly led by Sri-Lankan and Pakistani expatriates, had planned to transport over 200 people through Cambodia to several developed nations including Australia and destinations in the European Union, according to Chhay Sinnith, director of the department of information at the ministry, reported Cambodian-language newspaper the Rasmei Kampuchea.

There were three ringleaders in the case, all of whom managed to flee Cambodia before the police could arrest them, he said.

The first was Mariam Pillai Lerins Ranni, the 40-year-old Sri Lankan owner of the Raani Curry Leaf Restaurant in Phnom Penh. The second is Lipton Lerins, a relative of Ranni, and the third Mohammed Nadim, the Pakistani owner of the Taj Mahal Restaurant in Siem Reap, reported Chinese-language newspaper the Commercial News.

A further three suspects including two more Sri-Lankan nationals and a Pakistani were detained, and subsequently expelled from Cambodia for the crime over Sept. 1 and 2, said Sinnith.

The crackdown was the culmination of a months-long investigation conducted jointly by the Cambodian police, the Interpol and the police from other concerned nations, he said, adding that the traffickers had established a network in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Kampot and Sihanoukville.

The ministry cracked a similar case in 2002, which resulted in the rescue of 248 illegally trafficked persons and the arrest of the ringleaders involved, he added.

Source: Xinhua
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