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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Bail denied in Cambodia war crimes trial

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—A U.N.-backed genocide tribunal ordered a former Khmer Rouge prison chief kept in detention Monday on charges of crimes against humanity.

After an hour of deliberations, the tribunal said Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, might try to flee or threaten witnesses.

Defense lawyers had demanded his release last month, arguing his rights were violated because he has spent more than eight years in jail without trial.

Duch was arrested in 1999 and detained at a Cambodian military prison on war crimes charges before his transfer to the tribunal's custody in July.

The five-judge panel presided over by Chief Judge Prak Kimsan ordered Duch kept in detention, saying that if he were released, his life could be in danger or he might try to flee and could pose a threat to witnesses.

The decision by the panel made up of three Cambodian judges and two U.N.-appointed foreigners was unanimous, said Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's public affairs chief.

Canadian prosecutor Robert Petit had told the judges at a Nov. 21 hearing that if Duch was released, he could be harmed by both "accomplices wishing to silence him and by the relatives of victims seeking revenge."

Chea Leang, a Cambodian prosecutor, said Duch's trial may begin in mid-2008 but gave no specific date.

Francois Roux, Duch's lawyer from France, said the defense team plans to raise the custody issue again during the trial.

Duch, 65, oversaw the S-21 prison, which has since been converted into the popular Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.


As many as 16,000 men, women and children were tortured at S-21 before being transported out of Phnom Penh and executed. Only 14 people are thought to have survived.

The Khmer Rouge has been blamed for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people during their rule from 1975 to 1979. Some observers fear the group's surviving leaders might die before being brought to justice. The movement's notorious chief, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Duch is one of five former Khmer Rouge leaders held in connection with the Communist regime's brutal rule of Cambodia. He became the first defendant to appear before the tribunal's judges.
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Cambodia, UN launch project to save dolphins: UN

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Cambodia and the UN have launched a joint project aimed at saving endangered Irrawaddy dolphins from extinction, the international body's World Tourism Organization said Tuesday.

The Mekong River Discovery Trail Project encourages local fishermen to work in dolphin-watching tourism instead of fishing, the UN agency said in a statement. Fishing nets often cause the death of Irrawaddy dolphins.

"Local authorities believe fishing is depleting the dolphins' food supply. Fishermen will be encouraged to take visitors to see the dolphins and sell food and drinks instead," it said. It did not give financial details.

Conservationists estimate that fewer than 100 Irrawaddy dolphins exist in the wild, but the Cambodian government has said the number could be around around 130 and could rise to 170 within the next five years.

Thousands of the Irrawaddy dolphins, which have blunt, round heads and are almost white in colour, once swam in the Mekong -- which flows from Tibet to the South China Sea and has tributaries in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

The project, which begins this month, will teach fishermen about tourism activities, the UN agency said, adding it hopes to draw tens of thousands of visitors.

The Cambodian government said it would help build hotels in a bid to draw visitors.

"No dolphins means no tourism. No tourism means no development," Tourism Minister Thong Khon said in the statement.

Tourism is one of the few sources of foreign exchange for impoverished Cambodia, which is still recovering from decades of conflict.

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Cambodia: off the beaten track


Revisiting a much-changed Cambodia, Philip Sherwell explores the glories waiting to be discovered away from the tourist track.



The temple complex of Angkor and the nearby town of Siem Reap were very different places the last time I visited. That was in 1996 on assignment for The Sunday Telegraph to cover the kidnapping of a Briton by the Khmer Rouge, the murderous Maoist movement that had inflicted the horrors of the Killing Fields on Cambodia. Sadly but predictably, Christopher Howes, who had been working with a British organisation clearing landmines, was murdered by his captors.

Siem Reap in those days was a dusty backwater, its potholed streets best negotiated on the back of spluttering motorbike taxis that rarely got up enough speed to pose any danger of bodily harm.

Angkor was being rediscovered by the first intrepid visitors after nearly two decades in Khmer Rouge hands. By early 1996, the main cluster of temples was safe, but outlying sites remained off-limits unless one wanted to risk being blown up by mines or suffering the sad fate of Mr Howes.

In delightful solitude one early morning, I set off to explore the remarkable main temple of Angkor Wat, followed by the glorious bas-reliefs of Bayon and the barely touched remains of Ta Prohm, then the ultimate in Indiana Jones adventures.

How things change. Siem Reap is now a boisterous hive of activity, while the marvels of Angkor are thoroughly on the tourist track. The temples are still one of the wonders of the world, no less stunning for the crowds, but I hankered after the glorious loneliness of my previous visit.

So I headed 50 miles north, past paddy fields and villages of wooden huts on stilts little changed by the rapid development that has swept Siem Reap. Eleven years ago, this would have been a suicidal journey into Khmer Rouge territory, but my return offered new possibilities: outlying temples, cut off back then by minefields, were now accessible.

My destination was Beng Melea, a 12th-century temple built to the same design as Angkor Wat. For visitors disappointed by the busloads of camera-toting tourists at Ta Prohm, these largely undiscovered jungle ruins are a treat.

With the help of a young guide, I scrambled through the site to the chirupping chorus of cicadas in the same stunned reverie I felt when I first wandered around Angkor Wat.

First he showed me a sign on a mound next to the overgrown moat enumerating the 21,000-plus mines cleared from this site alone.

Inside the compound, thick, gnarled trunks and roots thrust through the masonry with such abandon that the stone and wood seemed indivisible; branches and vines stretched, embraced and bent around the ancient masonry like tentacles.

Back in Siem Reap, I found another compelling reason to embrace rather than bemoan the changes of the past 11 years - the award-winning glories of the chic new Hôtel de la Paix. Its art deco façade - think South Beach Miami transported to South-East Asia - graced the cover of Architectural Digest magazine last year.

The original hotel served as a rice storage depot during the era of genocidal communist purdah under Pol Pot. The elegant new structure is a mix of traditional Khmer, art deco and contemporary influences. The rooms have polished Makha-wood floors, woven rugs, platform beds and terrazzo tubs. Fountains and ponds fill the open spaces.

But although La Paix is an enticing oasis, the last thing the hotel wants is for you to insulate yourself from your surroundings.

It offers guests the chance to support community-based activities and good causes and the revival of Cambodian arts and culture. Options include a sewing training centre, rice sponsorship, educational support, hospitals and children's centres.

As the recipients of the book, bikes and other items from the hotel scheme can vouch, progress is not all bad.

Kuoni Travel (01306 747 008; www.kuoni.co.uk) offers tailor-made trips across Indochina. Three nights at Hôtel de la Paix (www.hoteldelapaixangkor.com), in Siem Reap, Cambodia, two nights at the Shangri-La in Bangkok and four nights in Laos cost from £1,488 per person, including flights.
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