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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cambodia urges unity among poor nations on trade

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday poor countries like his must continue speaking with one voice in the Doha round of global trade talks to ensure their competitiveness with developed countries.

He also lashed out at wealthy nations for maintaining trade barriers that hurt poor countries, such as farm subsidies and high food safety standards.

"Poor countries are always open to products from developed countries, but when we try to enter developed countries, we often are faced with very strong trade barriers," Hun Sen said.

He spoke in a speech opening a two-day conference of industry and trade ministers from 49 so-called least developed countries in Siem Reap province, Cambodia's tourist hub.

Hun Sen called on the countries "to bind together in solidarity and a united voice to lead us to our common success in negotiating" a revival of global trade talks.

The World Trade Organization's Doha Round talks that began in 2001 broke down in July because of a dispute among India, China and the U.S. over tariffs to protect farmers in developing markets.

Hun Sen called for a "win-win" solution to all but said poor countries "must send another clear message" to key players in the negotiation process to ensure "the principle of free and fair trade of the WTO, which is the heart of the development."

Protectionism will only cause more pain to the development prospects of poor countries that are now facing "profound and possibly prolonged effects" from the global financial crisis, WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy said at the conference.

"They will be left with no means to resort to, especially after the initial squeezes of a general economic slowdown," he said in a speech.

He urged WTO members to agree by the end of the year on methods for settling disagreements on agriculture and industry in order to provide "a stepping stone" toward the conclusion of the Doha Development Round in 2009.
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Khmer Rouge photo exhibition opens in Cambodia

In Cambodia, a unique photography exhibition is touring the provinces. The photographs were taken by Sweden's Gunnar Bergstrom in 1978, when he was a guest of the Khmer Rouge. At the time Mr Bergstrom was a committed Maoist who believed Pol Pot was embarking on a project to create a perfect society. It was only after he arrived home that Mr Bergstrom decided he'd been used as a propaganda tool and, far from creating social perfection, the Khmer Rouge was systematically destroying Cambodia's people.

In 1978 Gunnar Bergstrom thought the Khmer Rouge represented a glorious future. One in which inequality and injustice would be eradicted. When he and four colleagues from the Sweden-Kampuchea Friendship Association were invited to visit Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea he saw happy villagers and a flourishing society. But he also saw things which caused him disquiet. It took him six months to talk about them and thirty years before he could return to the country and fully face his mistake.

GUNNAR BERGSTROM: In Sweden and some of these countries the Maoist faction of the left was quite strong. I guess all leftist people had this vision but especially for me the Maoist version of equal society, no oppressors, we were told that the leaders were a cooperative group and no personality cult like Mao Tse-Tung took or Kim il-Sung because we didn't like that. They were the persons that we had worked for to support during the whole war with the Americans and when Khmer Rouge won the war I didn't think it came to our minds that they could become the new oppressors.

BILL BAINBRIDGE: So then you went to Cambodia in 1978, what did you see there?

GUNNAR BERGSTROM: Well, we were taken on the tour that I think today was a fake, arranged propaganda tool. At the time I think I was impressed. We were taken on a 14-day trip to cooperatives, farming, factories, we were taken to exceptions and fakes and given a positive picture of this period.

BILL BAINBRIDGE: You've said though that you did have some what you called forbidden thoughts at the time. What were those?

GUNNAR BERGSTROM: For instance, when we were forbidden the first day to go outside of the room in Phnom Penh, except for a few areas, we complained and then they let us moved around but I thought at that time that maybe the whole, all the rumours maybe are true, this is a concentration camp. So those thoughts crept around in my mind but I didn't share them with the rest of the group. They didn't fit the Maoist picture.

BILL BAINBRIDGE: And so at what point did you begin to realise that you'd been so wrong about the Khmer Rouge?

GUNNAR BERGSTROM: Six months after we came home, maybe eight months. I wrote an article in a paper in Sweden that we had been wrong. It's just that I thought that I could write that article and then move on to other things. I didn't realise the magnitude of the misjudgment, I didn't realise the whole gigantic picture, that took a longer time, but I left the group and the movement there about half a year after I came home.

BILL BAINBRIDGE: So now you're exhibiting some photographs that you took at the time. What is it that you can see in those photographs that you couldn't see in 1978?

GUNNAR BERGSTROM: I think you have to realise that some of the things I see in the photographs are because I have information now that I didn't have then. I know that masses of killings occurred - that colours the pictures today. But I can also let some of the forbidden thoughts come up now and some of these things I can see just because, you know, the mind is liberated from Maoist glasses.

BILL BAINBRIDGE: And so this is your first trip back in 30 years?

GUNNAR BERGSTROM: Yes.

BILL BAINBRIDGE: What have you found? What kind of reception have you had there?

GUNNAR BERGSTROM: The reception has been mainly positive, you know. But I think that I have to tell Cambodian people I'm sorry and then another part is talking about that period again and learning from it and I hear that there are young Cambodians who don't believe that it was that bad. So I think I had, you know, for these three days mostly positive reactions. There are also other reactions, you know, it wakes memories for survivors of Tuol Sleng and people who lost everyone during this period but I'm still prepared for someone who would maybe be very angry at me or upset or something, but so far it has it's been quite OK. And more than OK.
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