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Thursday, April 30, 2009

From the Female Paul Revere to Nixon’s Drive into Cambodia

This Week in American Military
History:
Apr. 26, 1777: Just after 9:00 p.m., 16-year-old Sybil (also Sibbell) Ludington – “the female Paul Revere” – begins her 40-mile, all-night ride (much of it in the rain) across an isolated circuit of New York–Connecticut backcountry, warning villagers of a British attack on nearby Danbury, Connecticut.

The daughter of a militia colonel, Ludington will be recognized for her bravery and patriotism by Gen. George Washington.

Apr. 26, 1865: Just over two weeks after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders his Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrenders the once-vaunted Army of Tennessee to U.S. Army Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham Station, N.C.

Apr. 27, 1805: Following an extremely difficult march across a 500-to-700-mile stretch of North African desert; U.S. Army officer and Naval agent to the Barbary regents William Eaton,U.S. Marine Lt. Presley Neville O’Bannon and seven American leathernecks – leading an unlikely and often near-mutinying Christian-Muslim army of Arabs, Western European adventurers, and Greek mercenaries – attack and seize the fortress at Derna commanded by the ruling pasha Yusuf Karamanli, on “the shores of Tripoli” (Yes, that’s where the line comes from in the Marine Corps Hymn.)

Supported by the offshore guns of USS Argus (the first of two so-named U.S. Navy vessels), USS Hornet (the third of eight so-named U.S. Navy vessels), and USS Nautilus (the first of six so-named U.S. Navy vessels), O’Bannon’s men storm the enemy’s works in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, turn the enemy’s guns on the pasha’s palace, and ultimately raise the stars and stripes over the “Old World” for the first time.

So-impressed with O’Bannon’s leadership and heroics, newly installed pasha Hamet Karamanli (Yusuf’s pro-American brother), will present O’Bannon with a Mameluke sword. U.S. Marine officers today still carry the Mameluke sword, whereas Marine NCOs carry the traditional Naval infantry saber.

Apr. 28, 1965: Almost 160 years to the day after the storming of Derna, U.S. Marines land in the Dominican Republic.

Apr. 30, 1798: The U.S. Navy Department – parent company of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps – is established.

Apr. 30, 1945: German leader Adolf Hitler and his new bride, Eva Braun, commit suicide in Hitler’s Berlin Bunker. German Army forces will surrender to the Allies within days.

Apr. 30, 1970: Pres. Richard M. Nixon announces, “In cooperation with the armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border. … This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which these attacks will be launched are completely occupied and controlled by North Vietnamese forces. Our purpose is not to occupy the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.”

May. 1, 1898: The Battle of Manila Bay opens when U.S. Navy Commodore George Dewey utters his now-famous words, “You may fire when ready, Mr. Gridley [speaking to Capt. Charles Vernon Gridley, commanding Dewey’s flagship USS Olympia].”

Within a few hours, Dewey's Asiatic Squadron – several cruisers including Olympia (the first of two so-named U.S. Navy vessels), gunboats, and supporting vessels – will destroy the Spanish fleet in the Philippines.

May. 1, 1960: Francis Gary Powers, a former U.S. Air Force officer now flying high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft for the CIA, is shot down over the Soviet Union and captured (see Military Milestones, Feb. 11, 2009. ).

May. 2, 1863: During day-two of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates appear out of nowhere, smashing into Union Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s right flank and literally rolling up the encamped Federal force. But the Confederate victory proves bittersweet, as Jackson will be wounded – his left arm shattered – that night in a friendly fire incident during a leaders-recon mission.

Following the amputation of Jackson’s arm, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will lament, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.” Worse for Lee, Jackson will develop pneumonia and die within eight days.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: “This Week in American Military History,” appears every Wednesday as a feature of HUMAN EVENTS.

Let's increase awareness of American military tradition and honor America’s greatest heroes by supporting the Medal of Honor Society's 2010 Convention to be held in Charleston, S.C., Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, 2010 (for more information, click here).
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Cambodia confronts its past with war crimes tribunal

By Dan Rivers CNN


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- Cambodia is a country that throws up the most staggering barbed facts that catch the mind and should stick inconveniently in our conscience.

As I put together "Killing Fields: The Long Road to Justice" for CNN, I kept tripping across breathtaking statistics that seemed too incredible to believe.

Like, for example, a Yale University history professor's analysis of declassified military data that showed during America's bombing campaign over Cambodia from 1965-1973, the United States dropped more tons of ordnance on this tiny nation than the Allies dropped during the whole of World War II.

A total of 2,756,000 tons of explosives was dropped on Cambodia, compared with 2 million tons dropped during the Second World War, worldwide.

It goes some way to explain how and why the vicious, bloodthirsty and unstoppable phenomenon that was the Khmer Rouge came to power.

Simply put, faced with utter destruction by the United States or the promised utopia offered by Pol Pot and his ultra-communist henchmen, many Cambodian peasants chose the latter.

But that was before the killing started. Another head-spinning fact: After the Khmer Rouge swept to power in 1975 they killed a greater proportion of their own compatriots than any other regime in the 20th century. Watch a preview of "Killing Fields: Long Road to Justice" »


It's facile and pointless to make some sort of genocidal league table, but what happened in Cambodia in just three years, eight months and 20 days was certainly as awful and unfathomable as events in Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Darfur.

I decided to revisit this terrible period, because it's now 30 years since the Khmer Rouge regime fell and finally a handful of its leaders are being put on trial at a special U.N.-backed war crimes court. It's garnered few headlines internationally. Perhaps Cambodia is just too remote, too forgotten, and too insignificant in many peoples' minds to warrant attention. But that is exactly why I felt it was vital to shine a spotlight on what happened.

Another remarkable fact: Pol Pot's men remained a potent force in Cambodia's power struggle that verged on civil war for almost 20 years after they were forced out of power by the invading Vietnamese -- a sinister culture of impunity that has strangled Cambodia while countries around it grew and prospered.

Even more incredible, the Khmer Rouge was backed by the United States, Britain, and other Western powers during the 1980s, despite the nightmarish mass-murder perpetrated by so many of the Khmer Rouge's Cadres. The United States viewed the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge as a useful counterweight to Soviet/Vietnamese influence in Indochina. The U.S. doctrine seemed to follow the maxim "My enemy's enemy is my friend."

The impunity enjoyed by the top Khmer Rouge leaders is something the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia is trying to address. But it's taking a very long time. And as I found out in making our program, the trial process itself is mired in corruption allegations, which some think may mean the entire process may collapse.

The United Nations is in a terrible bind over the issue. It's been forced into accepting a hybrid court system with the Cambodian government, which means the U.N. is not free to alone root out corruption quickly and surgically. Instead, as one defense lawyer told me, the corruption has been allowed to fester like a "cancer" eating away at the credibility of the trial. The prosecution, clearly worried about the court's credibility, also is pushing for the corruption to be addressed.

Already the costs for the proceedings are spiraling out of control: The budget will have swollen to more than $100 million by the end of this year, about $20,000,000 per defendant. Or to look at it another way: The trial is costing a mere $59 per victim.

What is also worrying is that the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a junior figure in the Khmer Rouge, has said that the trial should be limited to the current five defendants -- and no more. He has said that expanding the circle of prosecution risks the stability of the country. But that means in practice that many of those involved in the slaughter during the Khmer Rouge period would remain unpunished.

The most notorious camp in Phnom Penh, called S21 or Tuol Sleng, was set up in a former school. The camp was designed to extract confessions from internal enemies of the regime, using whatever means deemed necessary. The result, according to meticulous Khmer Rouge records and survivor accounts, was the most brutal and sadistic torture camp imaginable: More than 14,000 prisoners were killed after enduring horrendous torture.

The chief interrogator at S21 was a man called Ta Chan, who led a team of interrogators. He has never officially been charged with any crime.

After quite some effort, we found out where Ta Chan lives. When we arrived at his modest wooden house in the far west of Cambodia, I got a glimpse of him. But he was apparently too scared to face our cameras, leaving his son to do the talking. His son said Ta Chan was old, and his health was bad, and that none of the family wanted to talk about the past.

By a stroke of luck we obtained and salvaged an old, barely functioning tape, shot by a Thai cameraman 10 years ago, that had never been broadcast. It contained the grinning image of Ta Chan showing off another prison he ran for the Khmer Rouge after they'd been forced to abandon S21. Here he was -- one of the most notorious figures of one of the most bloody regimes in the world -- and after twenty years, he was still in the prison business.

Now, finally Ta Chan's face will be known to the world. The question is, will he ever face trial for the heinous crimes that survivors say he committed?
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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Trouble With the 'Genocide' Label

The Current Discussion: Today is "Genocide Remembrance Day "in the Armenian community, a particularly strained time of year for Turkey and Armenia. What's a realistic first step forward toward reconciliation for each of these countries?

By Salil Tripathi


Turkey and Armenia have begun the slow, tentative waltz of rebuilding relations, after President Obama spoke in Istanbul, but did not use the G-word.

That was perhaps a wise decision, notwithstanding the strong emotive reason that propelled many to call a spade a spade, a machete a machete, and a genocide a genocide, leading to the Congressional Resolution. The truth is that ultimately only communities themselves can make the decision to leave the past behind. International leaders - even one as gifted as Barack Obama - can only play a limited role. (Sudan's conflict didn't stop when Colin Powell called the killings in Darfur a genocide, and few countries joined him in condemning the Sudanese leadership.)

This is a peculiar period in the world annals of our coming to terms with genocide. Cambodia is trying to account for genocide and killing fields by indicting Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch. India's ruling party withdrew a candidate for Parliament, partially in response to a shoe-throwing incident. (Credible human rights groups allege that the candidate was involved in the 1984 Sikh massacre, after two Sikh bodyguards assassinated former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.) Tamils in Britain accuse the Sri Lankan army of committing genocide in Sri Lanka. Bangladesh's newly-elected government sets its sights on bringing to justice those accountable for the Pakistani Army's widespread killings of Bangladeshis in 1971.

And then there is Rwanda. This month is the 15th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. In a recent issue of Paris Review, the French writer Jean Hatzfeld recalls the uneasy aftermath of dealing with released prisoners who had at one time massacred a community's loved ones. Hatzfeld's books - The Machete Season (2005), Life Laid Bare (2007), and The Antelope's Strategy (2009) -- are required reading for anyone who wants to understand the psyche of the perpetrator and the victim, of what makes a killer, and, as Hannah Arendt observed in the context of Eichmann, the banality of evil.

The fixation with the word 'genocide' comes from its emotive power. Among human rights abuses, genocide is arguably the worst, which is why governments fight tooth and nail to prevent others from calling their heinous acts as genocidal. The definition, developed after we discovered the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, is written bearing in mind the Nazi atrocities against the Jewish community. Those abuses made every preceding abuse seem less significant. With the definition was so precisely drafted, what were we to call Stalin's purges - or even Pol Pot's bloody rule - where a single ethnic group wasn't targeted, and where the masterminds of those genocides did not always get around to implementing policies that would prevent future generations from being born? These were mass killings, massacres, crimes against humanity. But they weren't quite like the Holocaust - just as the Holocaust wasn't quite like what happened in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity are extremely powerful terms, which is why governments resent such characterization. The sad consequence is that diplomats then perform the delicate dance of defining the term more precisely, and argue whether a particularly horrendous abuse was genocide. Lost, amidst all this, are human impulses - of ethics, morality, revenge, justice, redemption, and compassion.

What happened in Turkey nearly a century ago - as indeed in Rwanda, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Sudan - must never happen again. And yet Obama and other world leaders can only nudge governments to do the right thing. Ultimately communities and nations must develop the confidence and face the past, apologize where necessary, and forgive as appropriate. That requires a moral core, not legalism alone. The law helps and is of course necessary. But genocide is wrong not because the law says so, but because it is against our conscience.



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Khmer Rouge prison chief denies waterboarding

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The former Khmer Rouge prison chief on Wednesday denied he waterboarded or suffocated detainees as he detailed his torture techniques to Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes trial.

Duch -- whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav -- apologised at the start of his trial last month for overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the regime's Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21.

But he said he had not used the simulated drowning technique called waterboarding, and had not put plastic bags over prisoners' heads because of the danger they could suffocate to death.

"The kind of waterboarding technique was not employed and the plastic bag was also not a kind of technique," Duch said.

Duch said he discussed interrogation tactics with Khmer Rouge cadres soon after he began working at the prison.

"There were two techniques. The normal beating technique and the electrocution technique with use of a telephone (line)... which was connected to an electric current to electrocute prisoners. That was true," Duch said.

The United States has been heavily criticised for using waterboarding to interrogate suspected Al-Qaeda prisoners, with many commentators citing it as a brutal method of the Khmer Rouge.

Duch told the court that he picked children as young as 12 years old to work as special security guards at S-21 because they were easy to train.

"I regarded those children as a clean piece of paper on which we could draw anything, write anything with communist political tendency," Duch said.

Besides Vietnamese prisoners of war and Cambodians being purged from the Khmer Rouge, Duch said an American, a Briton, an Australian and a New Zealander were also tortured and executed at S-21 on suspicion of espionage.

Duch is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder over the extermination of thousands of people between 1975 and 1979 at Tuol Sleng and the nearby "Killing Fields."

However, he has denied prosecutors' claims that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule, and maintains he only tortured two people himself and never personally executed anyone.

"The people who were detained had to be smashed. Everyone who was arrested and sent to S-21 was presumed dead already," Duch told the court Wednesday.

"S-21 dared not to release anyone, otherwise we would be beheaded," he said, adding that even those mistakenly arrested could never be let out of the prison.

Duch faces life in jail at the court, which does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

Many believe the UN-sponsored tribunal is the last chance to find justice for victims of the regime, which killed up to two million people through starvation, overwork, torture and execution.

The Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979 by Hanoi-backed forces who discovered Tuol Sleng and established the facility as a museum to display the regime's crimes.

The tribunal was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the United Nations and Cambodian government, and is scheduled to try four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

But the court has been marred by corruption claims and talks between UN and Cambodian officials ended earlier this month without agreement on anti-graft measures.

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Justice won't be served by KR trial

The wounds inflicted on so many in Cambodia by the radical Khmer Rouge in 1975-1979 are too deep to be effaced by a U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge Trial of five Khmer Rouge leaders, all in poor health.

More than half of Cambodia's current population of about 14 million were born after the Khmer Rouge regime collapsed, following the invasion of Cambodia by some 200,000 Vietnamese regular forces in January 1979. In general, young Cambodians today know little of their country's dark history, and some have shown no interest.

With hardly a Cambodian family anywhere untouched by Khmer Rouge's atrocities, the trial of those responsible for the deaths and the suffering of so many, and the destruction of so much, is long overdue.

The trial now underway may have achieved an objective by putting Kaing Khek Eav, alias Duch, commandant of the gruesome S-21 Tuol Sleng torture center, on the stand in February to answer for his actions. His trial is to be followed by the trial of four others: Brother No. 2 Nuon Chea, chief ideologue, who was granted a pardon by Premier Hun Sen; Brother No. 3 Ieng Sary, former foreign minister, who was granted a royal pardon; Ieng Thirith, Sary's wife and former minister of social affairs, a founding member of the Khmer Rouge; and Khieu Samphan, former president of Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Still there are serious questions how the trial will attain its goals to achieve justice, promote peacebuilding, encourage reconciliation and begin healing, as a tribunal should.

Many Khmer Rouge personalities and cadres are still walking free; some are in Cambodia's leadership today.

New York-based Human Rights Watch's Asia Director, Brad Adams, said, "It's a ridiculous proposition that only five people should be held accountable" in the mass killings; Amnesty International's Brittis Edman said, "Many more need to face the court to really deliver justice to the millions of victims of these horrific crimes." Old Khmer Rouge suspects could die before facing justice.

Justice, or the rendering of what is due to the victims, or what is due to the accused, is far from being met. Many will never face justice: Brother No. 1 Pol Pot died in 1998; the feared "butcher," Ta Mok, died in 2006 while in prison; Son Sen died in 1997; Ke Pauk in 2002; among others.

In "Little closure for Cambodia," the Bangkok Post editorializes, "It is misleading for the Cambodian government and its supporters to claim that the Khmer Rouge leadership is being brought to the tribunal."

Besides Duch, the Post says, "None seems close to the courtroom steps. All are approaching the natural end of their lives. The reasons why they will escape justice are varied. Among them, long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen was himself a senior Khmer Rouge military officer, who does not want to be mentioned in defense testimony."

The Post posits, "It is a pretense of justice to claim that the trial of Duch is an accounting for that regime."

In the April 1 Cambodia Daily's "No More KR Prosecutions, Hun Sen Says," Yun Samean quoted Cambodian Premier Hun Sen's "absolute stand" not to allow prosecution of more Khmer Rouge because he fears another civil war: "I will allow this court to fail, but I will not allow Cambodia to have another war."

Thus, Sen, the chief executive, decides the judiciary's functions, tramples the principles of a democratic system, the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers and their checks and balances, created to combat dictatorial rule.

Cambodian prosecutor Chea Leang's parroting of Sen's view -- that further indictments risk political instability -- raises questions of the court's credibility, independence and competence. U.N.-appointed prosecutor Robert Petit called for further investigations.

The mandate of the KRT is to try Khmer Rouge leaders and those most responsible for the atrocities.

Radio Free Asia of Mar. 22 reported Sen's anger at charges of "alleged corruption" of KRT employees and of his interference in the KRT. He declared: "If there is a judgment, the U.N. should be sentenced first ... including all those countries that supported Pol Pot at the U.N. between 1979 and 1991."

More than 70 countries, including China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, defended the right of the Khmer Rouge to their seat in the world body.

So how will justice be served, and how would the trial hope to bring the victims of brutalities and the accused to reconcile and be no longer at variance, and allow the nation to move on? And how to heal a wound inflicted so deeply, physically, emotionally and spiritually? Peacebuilding follows peacemaking.

In the final analysis, the Khmer Rouge trial may help Cambodians turn the country's dark history pages, but a process of long-lasting national reconciliation and healing will require both the victims and the accused to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness in extraordinary measure.

This may seem like a tall order, but these ingredients exist in Lord Buddha's precepts. Cambodians are Buddhists and can move on, with time and effort to make peacebuilding possible.

A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years.
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Cambodia installs scanner at airport to spot swine flu contamination

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia installed a thermal scanner at the Phnom Penh International Airport on Tuesday to monitor travelers over possible contamination of swine flu.

The equipment, which was provided by Singapore, can spot passengers whose body temperature exceeds 37 Celsius degrees, saidKet Sovanna, official at the Anti-communicable Disease Department of the Ministry of Health (MoH).

"We also have an ambulance to transport suspected patients from the airport to the Calmet Hospital in downtown Phnom Penh for emergency treatment," he said, adding that another scanner will be installed at the Siem Reap International Airport in Siem Reap province on Wednesday.

These two terminals are the only international airports in the kingdom. A third airport is situated in Sihanouk province, but only serves domestic flights.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and MoH issued a joint statement late Monday, saying that there were no reports of swine flu cases in Cambodia.
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Long Beach woman helped create library in Cambodia

LONG BEACH - One sign came when she couldn't enter the existing library because the floor was covered with six inches of rice that had been put there to dry during harvest season.

Another was the selection of volumes, such as the organic chemistry textbooks, in English, that a well-meaning but obviously clueless charity donated to the rural school in the poor farming community.

Still another was the abundance of books in French and English, but the paucity of books in Khmer.

So, Peace Corps volunteer Emi Caitlin Ishigooka from Long Beach jumped at the opportunity to create a new library when approached with the idea by the director of the Cambodian school where she was teaching high school English.

A 26-year-old UCLA and Poly High graduate who will attend USC graduate school in public administration in the fall, Ishigooka recently returned from a two-year stint as one of the inaugural group of Peace Corps volunteers assigned to Cambodia.

While she has come back to the U.S. with the usual bucketful of stories about life in a village with no running water, strange encounters with the local fauna and edible delicacies such as fried tarantulas, it is the library she built in her second year abroad that has the most meaning.

In the truest of the people, by the people and for the people tradition, Ishigooka says that from the outset she wanted the students to be the driving force.

"From the beginning they had major say," Ishigooka said. "They gave me the titles and subjects that interested them. I did keep one Norton Anthology, though."
Ishigooka applied for a grant from the Peace Corps, eventually raising about $3,500, including $300 or $400 from the students and the families themselves.

Once a new non-produce storing building was found, students began cleaning and decorating the new facility, including painting a large mural of the world on the wall.

"With the grant money, we were able to get books for all grade levels," Ishigooka said. And they were able to get them in Khmer: novels, history, poetry, even an edition in translation of Harry Potter.
The library was also outfitted with a listening center to help students with languages and other learning areas.

For Ishigooka, as important as getting the actual volumes, was giving the students a sense of ownership and responsibility for the library.

This included students volunteering to staff the library, setting schedules and actually be there during operating hours, along with maintaining the facility.

"This was built by an incredible group," Ishigooka says.

The best part, was "to see students make it their own. Now the student librarians are leaders and role models. And in the process we were promoting volunteerism, which for a Peace Corps volunteer is pretty phenomenal."

As she sits at a Starbucks near the Traffic Circle and begins to renew her relationship with coffee, finds a job, visits with friends, checks text messages, prepares for graduate school and negotiates with her mom for use of the car, the 26-year-old is very much back into the hectic flow of life of an young American woman on the upward career and educational track.

But a part of Ishigooka will always be in Cambodia, beyond the retainer a rat absconded with.

When Ishigooka looks back, she hopes she left something lasting and tangible.

"The kids are are so proud and took such good care of (the library) that I'm confident years from now it will still be there and be a big part of the school and community," Ishigooka says.

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291
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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

League Delegation Visits Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam

AMERICANS ACCOUNTED FOR: There are still 1,742 US personnel listed by the Defense POW/MIA Office (DPMO) as missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War. There have been no recent announcements of Vietnam War personnel identified since December 15th. The number of US personnel accounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 is 841. 90% of the 1,742 still missing were lost in Vietnam or areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam's wartime control.

LEAGUE DELEGATION VISITS LAOS, CAMBODIA & VIETNAM: Executive Director Ann Mills Griffiths, Senior Policy Advisor Richard Childress and Vice Chairman of the Board Mark Stephensen recently returned from meetings with senior officials in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. All three US Ambassadors, JPAC, Stony Beach, the Defense Attaché and other USofficials participated, thus demonstrating a unified effort by the families and the US Government. As promised, letters received from family members were delivered to designated officials. In the order visited, following are brief summaries; however, a full Trip Report will be issued shortly and sent to League members, plus posted on the League's website.

Thailand: The morning after arriving in Bangkok, the delegation received a Country Team briefing at the US Embassy, hosted by Ambassador Eric John, and appreciated the current information that was presented. A good session was held with retiring JPAC Detachment 1 Commander LtCol Pete Huddle, USAF, incoming Commander LTC Craig Tippins, and Deputy Commander Major Marc Geller, USAF. The scope of their responsibilities is large, including primary logistics support for all Vietnam War-related joint field operations, plus command responsibility for operations in Cambodia and WWII operations in India and Burma. All were especially helpful in last-minute preparations for departure the next day for Laos.

Laos: The delegation was met on arrival by Ambassador Ravic Huso, Detachment 3 Commander LTC Brandt Deck, USA Special Forces, and other Detachment 2 personnel who facilitated arrival requirements. The Ambassador hosted a Country Team briefing, followed by a session at Detachment 3 before the delegation and Ambassador Huso were guests at a dinner hosted by Minister in the President's Office Soubanh Srithirath, a pioneer in US-Lao cooperation since 1981. We met with Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Somsavat, DPM/Foreign Minister Thongloun, Deputy Minister of Defense Major General Somphet and many other Lao officials. Ambassador Huso hosted a dinner in the delegation's honor at his residence. Changes in Lao leadership attitudes and receptiveness to engagement and cooperation were visible and welcome. The evolving bilateral relationship - including the long-sought exchange of Defense Attachés - is very positive for broader US-Lao cooperation and POW/MIA accounting, central to the relationship since the early 1980s. A small increase in airlift funding would likely go a long way to expedite field operations in Laos.


Cambodia: After being met by Defense Attaché COL Frank Matheson, USAR, and the two Stony Beach specialists permanently assigned in Phnom Penh, Pete Loverde and Mary Dinh, a lot was scheduled into the two days in-country. US Ambassador Carol Rodley participated in high level meetings and hosted a small dinner at her residence honoring the League delegation.


Importantly, General Pol Saroeun, Chief of the Royal Cambodian Army, has retained his position as Chairman of the Cambodia POW/MIA Committee. He was joined at the dinner by Secretary of State for Interior Sieng Lapresse and Major General Kem Chan Nee. Discussions at the dinner, plus meetings with DPM/Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong, DPM/Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, Secretary of State, Ministry of Defense, General Neang Phat and others reinforced Cambodia's already outstanding cooperation and provided insights into the current political and economic conditions. The delegation also met with a group of university students, sponsored by Sar Sithan, former Royal Cambodian Air Force and head of a nonprofit organization working to provide educational assistance to Cambodians.

Vietnam: JPAC Detachment 2 Commander LTC Todd Emoto, USA Special Forces, and some of his staff met the delegation at the airport and took us to the hotel where we were greeted by Stony Beach Vietnam Specialist Mike Najim. Following a JPAC briefing the next morning, we met with the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP) and senior officials in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense and Public Security. US Ambassador Mike Michalak participated in all senior level meetings, as did the Defense Attaché, Detachment 3 Commander and Casualty Resolution Specialist, and Stony Beach.


At each meeting, the Vietnamese made a proposal to increase the pace and scope of investigations and excavations, based on the stated need to avoid destruction of incident sites being lost to increasing development projects. This proposal warrants serious consideration by the US Government.


Comments: The need for increased funding and personnel was raised at the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee by the League Executive Director and is being brought to the attention of executive branch officials. The League is not in a position to suggest the number of additional personnel required, but recognizes the need for 4-5 more field teams to prevent an adverse impact on recovery of losses from earlier wars. JPAC funding is not adequate in the current FY09 budget, nor does it include funding for operations in North Korea, if it happens to open up as hoped. An increase of at least $20+ million would likely be needed, with a plus-up of forensic anthropologists and other scientific staff. More linguists and trained Stony Beach specialists would also be needed to expedite in-country research and investigations.

Vietnam has repeatedly announced agreement that a USN ship could be used for underwater surveys and recoveries, a decision most visibly announced by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung during his visit to Washington in June, 2008. The League had hoped that the announcement by the Prime Minister would overcome any remaining obstacles, but the mission was planned for March, 2009, and again postponed due to regulatory obstacles raised by Vietnam. It is now tentatively scheduled for June/July of this year. The League is cautiously optimistic that it will go forward, but there is no guarantee, and obstacles continue to be raised by Vietnam. As always, we'll have to wait and see.


EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TESTIFIES ON CAPITOL HILL: The need for additional JPAC and Stony Beach funding was raised, as was the need to "fence" the funds to protect them from use on other issues, as before. Also raised was the League's opposition to centralized control of the issue by DPMO, a concept being advocated by some that would be very destructive at this critical juncture. Anyone wishing to have a copy of the oral and written testimonies can obtain them by contacting the League office.


JPAC OPERATIONS: The 108th JFA in Laos concluded on April 7th. It was ongoing in Houa Phan and Xieng Khoang Provinces during the League visit; thus, the delegation was privileged to again visit JPAC excavations and witness firsthand the professionalism, dedication and commitment of all involved, led by JPAC Detachment 2 Commander LTC Deck and his Lao counterparts, some of whom have worked the POW/MIA accounting effort for nearly three decades. Joint operations were also ongoing in Vietnam, but well outside the Hanoi area; the delegation was unable to get to them within time constraints. There was also one underwater effort along the northern coast of Vietnam, though using US divers from a Vietnamese platform, not a US Navy ship. No SEA operations are now ongoing, but the JPAC Commander led technical talks this week.


STATUS OF THE LEAGUE: The referendum sent to all League members - family and associate - to determine the level of interest in and commitment to the League's continuation was distributed during the last two weeks of March, with the March 12, 2009 League Newsletter. The results will be tabulated before the next meeting of the Board of Directors, scheduled for May 1-3rd. At that time, the Board will decide whether an election will be held to seat a new Board for 2009 - 2011. Every possibility is being exhausted to ensure the League's continuation, despite the worldwide economic recession. In addition to family members and veterans, many former and current US officials have contributed generously, recognizing the importance of the League's role to advocate continuing priority on accounting efforts. Members and supporters are urged to be imaginative in trying to raise funds and to contribute to the extent possible to sustain League efforts.


40TH ANNIVERSARY ANNUAL MEETING JULY 22-25, 2009: This year's annual meeting promises to be special, including commemoration of over 35 years since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and 40 years since the League was formed, then incorporated on May 28, 1970. Governmental transitions are taking place, and there will be much to discuss and decide in terms of the League's and the issue's future in this first year of the Obama Administration. Plan to attend, arriving early if you wish to call on Members of Congress and visit meaningful sites in our nation's capital before Opening Session begins on Thursday, July 23rd, at 9:00 a.m. ADM Tim Keating, USN, Commander, US Pacific Command (PACOM), has agreed to Keynote. The Deputy Secretary of Defense has again authorized COIN Assist travel. Reservations can now be made at the Hilton Crystal City Hotel. Call 1-800-HILTONS (800-445-8667), noting affiliation with the League's 40th Anniversary Annual Meeting, or go to www.hilton.com, and use Group Code "POW" to get the special rate of $149 per room night, single/double. Deadline to secure the special rate is June 19th.


CHECK THE LEAGUE'S UPDATED WEBSITE: www.POWMIALeague.org

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Cambodia on alert for swine flu

PHNOM PENH, The Health Ministry of Cambodia on Tuesday will equip scanners at the Phnom Penh and the Siem Reap international airports to check travelers' body temperature against possible entry of swine flu, said an official.

"We will equip scanners to target people who have temperature and breath problems related with the deadly swine flu," said Sok Touch, director of the Anti-communicable Disease Department of the ministry.

"We also observe all the people who once traveled to the infected areas of this outbreak," he added.

In addition, "we appeal to the people who catch (traditional) flu to go to hospital for diagnosis and treatment," he said.

Cambodia has noted that swine flu is danger for all of us, as it can be transmitted from human being to human being now, he said.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry of Cambodia will use the existing equipment and system for combating bird flu to monitor swine flu, he said.

The ministry will cooperate with the World Health Organization to take actions on the pig-farming industry if necessary, but the very next step will focus on travelers from the infected areas, he said.

So far, there has been no sign of swine flu contamination on human and pigs in the kingdom, he added.

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AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers: Myanmar Thrash Macau; Bangladesh Edge Cambodia

The White Angels are on course to qualify for next year's eight-nation tournament...

Myanmar scored a thumping start to their campaign in the AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers when they beat Macau 4-0 at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka.

Myanmar head coach Tim Myint Aung, who had expressed confidence that his side would win the group, could not be more than pleased with the result as his charges scored two goals in each half for the win.

Khin Maung Lwin gave Myanmar the best of starts with the lead as early as the third minute, before Yaza Win Thein then added the second goal of the afternoon on 15 minutes.

The break failed to slow Myanmar down as they then grabbed their third goal of the competition just three minutes after the restart, before captain Myo Min Tun then rounded off a fine afternoon with the fourth goal in the 59th minute.

In the meantime, Cambodia did not fare as well as their ASEAN neighbours when they fell to a 1-0 loss to hosts Bangladesh.

The score at the end of the first half was 0-0.

But buoyed by more than 8,000 screaming fans, Bangladesh upped the tempo of the game after the break and duly scored the winner through Mohamed Enamul Hoque in the 73rd minute.
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Monday, April 27, 2009

Australia in controversy over Khmer Rouge trials

By Robert Carmichael for Radio Australia


Australia is mixed up in a controversy surrounding the credibility of the Cambodian tribunal hearing the trials of former Khmer Rouge officials.

Allegations that Cambodian court employees paid kickbacks to senior staff of the hearings in return for their jobs have simmered for some time.

Most international donors have declined to release more funds to the tribunal until the Cambodian government resolves the issue.

But Australia has bucked the trend, announcing earlier in April that it would release funds.

Heather Ryan, a trial monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program it was "inexplicable" that the Australian Government would take such a step.

She said the move undermined the negotiating position of the United Nations and others committed to trying to eliminate or reduce corruption in the court and in Cambodia in general.

The Australian embassy in Phnom Penh refused to comment, saying the matter was too sensitive.

But a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Canberra said the decision was based on what he called "broad progress" in the Cambodian government's efforts to address corruption concerns, and to ensure the court could continue its work.

At present, the court is hearing the case of Comrade Duch (Kaing Guek Eav), the former commander of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, who is charged with crimes against humanity.

The Foreign Affairs Department says Australia consulted with other donors and the UN before making its decision.

Funds blocked

But the UN Development Program (UNDP) - which holds the money in trust - has refused Australia's request to release the funds.

"We are the ones accountable for the proper use of what at the end of the day is taxpayers' money," UNDP country manager Jo Scheuer said.

"We have said for the last nine months that we need to see allegations resolved and mechanisms put up before we can resume our role, and that today is still the same position."

Lawyers for some of the defendants have used the corruption issue to argue their clients will not get a fair trial.

There have been some media allegations that Cambodian judges paid kickbacks to get their positions - a potentially fatal flaw for the tribunal.

Mr Scheuer says the UNDP has seen no evidence that happened.

"From the work we have done with the court we have no information whatsoever that anything happened on the judicial side of the national side of the court," he said.

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Cambodian foreign minister recovering after almost collapsing in US

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's foreign minister was recovering in hospital after almost collapsing Sunday during an opening ceremony for a new consulate in the United States

, a government spokesman said Monday.

Hor Namhong was rushed to hospital after he almost fainted while giving a speech at the new Cambodian consulate in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said.

'The doctors in the emergency department said he was suffering from fatigue and was recovering well,' Koy Kuong said.

Lowell is home to about 30,000 Cambodians, many of whom fled the South-East Asian country during the 1975-1979 rule of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime and the subsequent two decades of civil war.

Cambodia has an embassy in Washington DC and consulates in Seattle, New York and Los Angeles.
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Cambodia Trenching and Drilling

Cambodia Exploration Update : Trenching and Drilling JOGMEC JV Projects

Current Exploration Highlights ·Multiple veins sets up to +900m long in trenching over gold soil anomaly,

Big Toe Prospect (Kratie South JV)

·Gold mineralisation is consistent over 1.3km of trenching and open at both
ends, Preak Khlong Prospect (Kratie South JV)

·Trenching and RC drilling completed over 3km x 1km gold/silver/lead soil anomaly, Oh Tron Prospect (Kratie North JV) .

Currently awaiting results from:

·660 metre Phase 1 RC drilling on Kratie North JV with JOGMEC ·15 trenches on Kratie North for 2,600m ·28 trenched in Kratie South for 4,700m Southern Gold Limited (ASX code "SAU") has completed its first exploration programme of the 2009
field season in Cambodia.

A substantial program of drilling and trenching exploration work has been completed with a large number of assay results expected to be received in respect of this work during May.

Exploration on three of Southern Gold's seven tenements in Cambodia, is being fully funded by the Japanese Governmentbacked JOGMEC pursuant to a Joint Venture agreement whereby JOGMEC can fully fund exploration activity to a total of US$4.5 (~A$7) million over 3 years to earn a 51% interest in these tenements ­ Phnum Khtong (Kratie North Project), and two adjoining blocks, Preak Khlong and O'Kthung (Kratie South Project), all to the northeast of Phnom Penh.

All three tenements are to the northeast of Phnom Penh (Figure 4).

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Khmer Rouge survivors speak out

Um Sath (left), 89, of Long Beach, Calif., a Khmer Rouge survivor who lost her husband, three sons, and other relatives, at a Cambodian New Year celebration this month. She is one of many submitting testimony for a tribunal in Cambodia. (Barbara Davidson/ Los Angeles Times)


LONG BEACH, Calif. - At night, the old woman hears the voices of her children crying out for her. She knows they will never stop.

Um Sath is 89, and three decades have passed since the Khmer Rouge laid waste to Cambodia. But she shuts her eyes and taps her temples to show where the genocidal regime still rules with impunity.

"We miss you, Mama," the voices cry.

Sath spends much of her day sitting in silence. For years, she rarely left her house in Long Beach. Although she now finds peace chatting with the other haunted figures at a senior center, she has kept the echoes of the "killing fields" sealed tightly inside her head.

In March, she let them out - joining dozens of survivors at a recreation center in Long Beach to face their memories. They longed to see a reckoning for perpetrators of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

Since February, a UN-backed tribunal in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh has put on trial the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders charged with crimes against humanity, for the brutal experiment in communism that took at least 1.7 million lives between 1975 and 1979.

Activists in the United States want refugees outside Cambodia to submit testimony in an effort to spur a judicial process beset by delays, limited funds, and allegations of corruption. They hope, along the way, to relieve the emotional torture of survivors.

"I'm hoping it will allow them to tell the world what happened," said Leakhena Nou, an assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach who is leading the outreach effort in southern California, home of the world's largest Cambodian refugee community.

In the recreation center at a park, Nou explains to Sath and other victims the importance of submitting written testimony.

Nou understands this tribunal has problems. She knows it won't touch even a fraction of the era's killers. She knows political forces in Cambodia want to limit the tribunal's reach. She knows survivors' memories are fragmented and muddled. Asking them to condense incomprehensible horrors of that time into a few lines on a government form borders on cruel farce. And Nou hasn't even been assured that prosecutors will read the forms. But she still hopes this could be a starting point for Cambodians around the world to rally for justice.

She asks the survivors if they want to tell their stories to the group first. Sath stands up.

Sath and her husband were farmers and merchants along the Mekong River, south of Phnom Penh. In the middle class, with enough money to own a modest brick house, they were targets when the Khmer Rouge swept into power in 1975, brutally turning the country into a collective society of farm peasants. Intellectuals, teachers, doctors, bureaucrats, and soldiers were executed.

Khmer Rouge soldiers showed up at Sath's home with rifles, took her husband and told her to walk with her eight children. They had nothing but their clothes. Sath held her 6-year-old boy's hand. For days they wandered, following orders. Anyone who complained was dismissed by a bullet to the head.

One day, soldiers locked Sath in chains and took her husband. Days later, she overheard soldiers mention his execution.

Other stories poured out. One woman gets paper towels to hand around to wipe the tears.

When they get to the government forms, 21 people fill them out. No one remembers dates. Only one victim names a perpetrator. The rest do not remember their tormentors' names, never knew them, or are still scared.

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Pakistan in danger of falling to Taliban

Joel Brinkley


As everyone knows, President Obama inherited a multitude of domestic and international problems. But of all the foreign dilemmas right now, none rivals Pakistan. It is in serious danger of falling to the Taliban.

Can you imagine - a large, nuclear-armed state in Central Asia, ruled by cousins of the people who governed Afghanistan when it served as a congenial home for Osama bin Laden and all his murderous minions?

But the warnings are coming fast and thick from the highest officials, including Gen. David Petraeus, commander of American forces in that part of the world. The Taliban and allied extremists, he told the Senate this month, "could literally take down their state." Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, reflecting on American proposals for saving his nation, told a group of reporters: "It's a long walk. And in that long walk, I am losing the people of Pakistan."

In February, Taliban extremists fought the Pakistani army to a draw and won agreement to establish a safe haven in the Swat Valley, just 100 miles from Islamabad, the capital. At that time, I.A. Rehman, head of Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, said the Taliban and their militant allies were poised to take over the Punjab province, home to 60 percent of the population. That has begun. Militants are taking control, one by one, of poor villages in northwest Punjab - beginning the spread of an insidious fungus that could eat the state.

On Wednesday, Taliban militia took control of the Bunar district, just 70 miles from Islamabad, prompting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to warn: "I think that we cannot underscore the seriousness of the existential threat posed to the state of Pakistan by the continuing advances" of the Taliban.

The Pakistani police and military seem powerless to stop it. They lack the will to take on this fight, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has been arguing in recent days.

"They're in denial," said Marvin Weinbaum, a former State Department intelligence analyst for Pakistan and Afghanistan. "There's no sense of urgency," even though Pakistan is staring down the barrel "of a full blown, indigenous insurgency."

Even now, with the state's very existence at stake, military leaders continue their feckless debate over whether their central mission should be to prepare for a war with India - or take on these domestic threats. At the same time, American officials have begun urgently warning (what everyone already knew) that Inter-Services Intelligence agency officers are actually aiding the militants.

Meantime, Zardari provided a powerful symbol of his government's impotence. Earlier this month, a cell-phone video showed a Taliban enforcer flogging a 17-year-old girl lying face down in the dirt. Her crime: refusing a marriage proposal. The video made its way onto the Web and spawned outrage across the nation and the world; Pakistan's Supreme Court opened an investigation.

Well, amid all of this, Zardari signed an order codifying the Taliban's right to extend Islamic law across the Swat Valley. A Taliban spokesman said that if the order had been signed earlier, the Taliban would not have merely whipped that unfortunate girl. They would have shot her.

Haven't we seen this play before - in Cuba, Cambodia, Nicaragua? In all three states, richly corrupt governments that were ill-serving the people still received unqualified support from Washington. American patronage of corrupt leaders fed enthusiasm for Fidel Castro's guerrilla army in Cuba, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Sandinista rebels in Nicaragua.

Certainly each of these previous revolutions had its own unique dynamics, but in each case Washington and the threatened foreign leaders remained in denial until it was too late.

This time, Washington is waking up. But there's not much the United States can do. As Weinbaum put it, "if we put our hands on it, it's not helpful." He also told me that he used to discount the doomsayers who prophesied Pakistan's downfall. "This is not Afghanistan," he would say. "Pakistan has institutions and people advantaged by them who won't let Pakistan fall apart."

But he has changed his mind. "It's a feudal conflict now, class warfare. We weren't thinking of it in the terms that we are today."

At a conference in Tokyo this month, a dozen nations pledged $5 billion in aid to Pakistan. At the same time, a prominent radical leader in Islamabad made a loud public call demanding imposition of Islamic law nationwide. Which, I wonder, had the greatest impact inside Pakistan?

Pakistan's oligarchy is beginning to realize it cannot rely on the military for protection; the generals now know that they cannot assume all of their men are on their side. Soon, as the situation deteriorates, we could begin to see wealthy political and business leaders pack up and move out of the country. The Pentagon may have to pull up its contingency plans for safeguarding Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cambodian break-dancers to visit Philadelphia

By Robert Moran
Inquirer Staff Writer



They are being called the first generation of hip-hop stars in Cambodia. Some were street kids from homeless families. Others were abandoned or orphaned.

They are Tiny Toones, a troupe of break-dancers - B-Boys and B-Girls in street lingo - and seven representatives are to arrive in Philadelphia today as part of their first tour of the United States.

How they got to Philly is a story with roots in Phnom Penh and in Long Beach, Calif., and involves a notorious street gang, YouTube, and the Cambodia Association of Greater Philadelphia.

Tiny Toones was founded by Tuy "KK" Sobil, 30, a Cambodian who was born in a Thai refugee camp and grew up in Long Beach, where, as a teen, he became a popular break-dancer.

He also became a member of the Crips gang, and eventually was incarcerated on an armed-robbery conviction.

Afterward, he was deported to Cambodia. He found himself living in a poor country he had never been in before.

As he tried to find his way in Phnom Penh, his western apparel and many tattoos captivated local youths.

"The word got out with the kids that KK knew how to break dance and that he was a famous break-dancer," said Mia-lia Kiernan, 25, youth advocacy program coordinator for the Cambodia Association of Greater Philadelphia.

KK told them he wasn't interested.

"He was already pretty depressed about being in Cambodia in the first place, as he had to leave his family and everything, but eventually gave in," she said.

"The Cambodian kids are finding hip-hop as a voice to express their feelings and their stories," said Vyreak Sovann, 28, a Cambodian American who helped organize the Philadelphia part of the tour.

Sovann, who like Sobil was born in a Thai refugee camp and came to United States as a toddler, discovered Tiny Toones on YouTube while doing Internet research about his Cambodian heritage.

"I was so moved by it, because I saw these kids break dance in Cambodia without shoes, and I was like, 'Wow!' " said Sovann, a former break-dancer.

At first, Sobil taught a handful of children in his apartment. As Tiny Toones gained recognition, it got funding from an international aid organization called Bridges Across Borders to open a multi-service center.

"We have helped Tiny Toones develop a child-protection and education program that has benefited thousands of vulnerable children and youth in Phnom Penh," said David Pred, director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia, in an e-mail from Cambodia.

"It is a shame and somewhat ironic that KK was unable to obtain a U.S. visa to be there with the kids," Pred wrote.

The Tiny Toones multi-service center offers classes in English and Khmer, HIV/AIDS awareness, and job and computer skills.

And, of course, lessons in break dancing.

Kiernan has been following KK and Tiny Toones for four years, and she got to meet Sobil on one of her annual trips to visit her mother in Cambodia.

In fall, she saw an article in the New York Times about KK and Tiny Toones. It mentioned simply that the club had been invited to the United States.

"I e-mailed KK right away and said, well, if you're going to be in the U.S., why don't you come to Philly?" Kiernan recalled.

Kiernan was paired with Sovann, and they have helped to organize a series of performances, fund-raisers and workshops with local break-dancers.

Tiny Toones' first appearance will be at a fund-raiser at noon today at the Khmer Art Gallery at 319 N. 11th St.

The troupe of teenagers includes (using their B-Boy names) Fresh, Homey, T-boy, Khay, Suicide, and K'dep, a rapper. The lone B-Girl is Diamond.

Kiernan yesterday planned to pick up the Tiny Toones in New York and bring them to Philadelphia today on a Chinatown bus.

During their visit here, which will last until Wednesday morning, the dancers will be staying at Kiernan's South Philadelphia home.

"My whole living room is going to be one big air mattress," she said, laughing.


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Friday, April 24, 2009

Canada to close embassies in Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Diplomatic relations with countries maintained

The Canadian government said Thursday it will be closing its embassies in Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, citing changing international priorities.

Both decisions come after a "serious examination of Canada's current diplomatic representation abroad," said a news release posted on the websites of both embassies.

"The Government of Canada continually monitors its representation abroad and periodically shifts resources to meet Canada's needs in an ever-changing world," said the statements.

Neither of the releases provided further details as to why the offices are being closed.

The office in Cambodia will be closed in May, the embassy statement said. Canada will continue to provide development aid to Cambodia, which is still battling serious crime, drugs and human rights violations.

A UN-backed war crimes commission is grilling members of the Khmer Rouge regime for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.

Sambo Chhom, executive director of the Canadian Cambodian Association of Ontario, said closing the embassy will have an adverse affect on the lives of Cambodians.

"The Cambodian government feels it's being watched by the Canadian government," Chhom said. "They wouldn't do anything harsh while they're there because they fear an international outcry."

Canada says it will keep a humanitarian aid office operated by Canadian International Development Agency open in Pnomh Penh, Cambodia's capital.

The Australian embassy will now provide consular services for Canadians in Cambodia, the government says. Those seeking passport services, however, will be directed to the embassy in Thailand.

Sarajevo Embassy to close in August
The embassy in Bosnia-Herzegovina, located in the capital city of Sarajevo, will be closed in August.

Canadians seeking emergency assistance in the country will be directed to the embassy in Budapest, an embassy release said.

A consular official, "whom we intend to hire as soon as possible following the embassy’s closure," will help Canadians living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the statement said.

Canada will continue maintain diplomatic relations in Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. For both countries, a Canadian ambassador in a nearby country will take over diplomatic duties, the statements said. It is not immediately clear which ambassadors will be recruited.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cambodian, Thai defense ministers to meet for easing border tension

Tea Banh, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense, said here on Thursday that he and his Thai counterpart will hold a meeting to find a solution to the border tension between the two countries.

"I and my Thai counterpart will meet with each other in Siem Reap province on April 27 and 28 in order to find ways to ease the border tension, and avoid new armed clash near the Preah Vihear temple and other places along our border," he said.

The meeting has been delayed twice since February, and "we are waiting for the Thai side to deal with the issue peacefully and without military confrontation," he added.

Tea Banh was unsure whether the next meeting will be conducted as scheduled, as Thailand is still obsessed with internal instability.

On April 3, Thai and Cambodian troops exchanged fire near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple, killing two Thai soldiers.

Since July 2008, troops from both sides have stationed near the temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and two armed confrontations last year sparked brief concerns of war.

The two neighboring countries have never fully demarcated their disputed 800-km-long border, mainly due to their different interpretation of historical maps and the landmines left over from decades of civil war in Cambodia.
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The Mekong, Vietnam and Cambodia

Pandaw Cruises
The trip: Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap over seven nights
The fare: $5,137 for two in a main-deck room during peak (high-water) season, from October to March. The shorter trip from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh in peak season costs $2,640 for a couple. The fare covers meals, bus transportation, excursions and some alcoholic drinks such as local beer and basic cocktails.



From the barren Tibetan highlands, the Mekong river rumbles south through China's Yunnan province and winds its way along the Myanmar, Laos and Thai borders. Then it powers through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying in the South China Sea. At 4,350 kilometers, it is the seventh longest river in Asia and, arguably, Southeast Asia's most important natural resource.

Dams built along the upper parts of the river by China in recent decades have wreaked havoc on the river's flow, lowering water levels and damaging its ecology. Still, the river's fertile delta region -- called cuu long or nine dragons in Vietnamese -- is one of the world's largest producers of rice.

Though steep descents and swift rapids make the upper reaches of the Mekong difficult to navigate, its lower part in Cambodia and Vietnam is a gentle ride. It is this section of the river that I travel on the Orient Pandaw, a Pandaw Cruises boat.

Pandaw operates six boats in Asia with a seventh under construction. They ply the Mekong and the Irrawaddy as well as rivers on Borneo, and from later this year, in India. All the boats are built from a late-19th-century design of a paddle steamer operated by the Irrawaddy Flotilla Co. that was once a common sight in Burma. The boats carried everything from tamarind to rice to elephants -- and people.

In the mid-1990s, Paul Strachan found a 1947 version of the steamer called the Pandaw, originally part of the Flotilla fleet, in Mandalay. It was ferrying locals and goods, but badly in need of restoration. He had it repaired and launched Pandaw Cruises on the Irrawaddy. Mr. Strachan's company has gone on to make six replicas, each one hand-finished. Two of those boats, the Tonle Pandaw and the Mekong Pandaw, now ply the Mekong. (The Orient Pandaw has just been moved to Borneo.)

On a Pandaw "steamer" -- the four deck-high boats are actually engine-powered -- there is no mistaking it: You are on a river boat. There are the knob-end metal light switches, an old-fashioned horn that blows before departures and the polished brass and teak throughout. Each of the 30-odd state rooms -- Pandaw boats can carry about 60 passengers -- has a ship-like efficiency that displays more river-boat charisma than five-star hotel lavishness. Still, the navy blue bedding and wood walls and floors make it cozy.

On the Orient Pandaw, the sun deck on top -- shaded by a cheerful yellow awning -- is so inviting that it's tempting to skip some of the land excursions, which some passengers did on my trip. Lounge chairs with navy blue cushions face the shore, so you can enjoy a drink and watch the banks as you coast by. Comfortable rattan sofas take up the deck's middle space, a perfect spot for reading.

Next time, though, I'll make sure the boat I'm on has plenty of indoor common space, as the Mekong Pandaw and Tonle Pandaw do. Unlike the Orient Pandaw, both have a saloon bar, a large indoor area with comfortable sofas where you can read or socialize in air-conditioned comfort yet still see outside.

I boarded at My Tho, a trading hub west of Ho Chi Minh City. As we headed toward Cambodia, one of our first stops was the town of Cai Be, where we visited floating markets, local rice-paper makers, an elegant historic residence known as the An Kiet house and An Binh, an incongruous French-Gothic church.

The next day, we stopped at Chau Doc, a pleasant Vietnamese delta town where we walked through a bustling market and were pedaled around on rickshaws. We also visited a Muslim neighborhood inhabited by the Cham, a group that traces back to the Champa kingdom that ruled the area centuries ago.

During the early part of the trip, the Mekong delta was so vast I couldn't see land. But as we neared Cambodia, the river narrowed and the shores drew nearer, affording glimpses of local life, like kids playing in the water and cattle cooling off in the mud.

Unfortunately I had to disembark in Phnom Penh and missed the rest of the cruise up to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. I now regret not clearing my schedule -- three days on the Mekong is not enough.
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Judges grill Khmer Rouge prison chief

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Judges at Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court grilled the former prison chief of the Khmer Rouge regime Thursday about his notorious jail, where thousands of people were tortured and killed.

Sitting in the dock, Duch -- whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav -- politely answered questions from judges about the organisation and structure of Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21.

He told the court his duty was to train his young staff to torture confessions from prisoners, which would then be used to implicate and arrest more suspected enemies of the paranoid regime.

"I had to indoctrinate them (staff) to make them absolute, to make them dare to interrogate and this was not a good thing. This was the duty that I performed," Duch said.

The court showed a chart illustrated by Duch which outlined the chain of command at S-21 and he recounted the daily duties of those who worked under him to interrogate and inspect prisoners.

He added that he would annotate confessions from tortured prisoners and then send the documents on to his superiors.

"S-21 was under the supervision of (Khmer Rouge defence minister) Professor Son Sen," Duch said.

"All security offices, including the S-21 office, had the duty to detain and interrogate and finally to smash -- that is to kill," he added.

Former military commander Son Sen was murdered by his comrades in 1997, and Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died of old age a year later.

Although there were some 195 Khmer Rouge torture centres around the country, Duch said he had known of only two other such Khmer Rouge security offices, including one supervised by his brother-in-law.

Duch, 66, is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder over the extermination of around 15,000 people between 1975 and 1979 at Tuol Sleng.

The former maths teacher said that, when he was given the job as the chief of Tuol Sleng in March 1976, he brought along some staff from the secret jungle prison M-13, which he ran 1971-75.

Most cadres brought from M-13 were assigned to interrogate prisoners, Duch said, adding that he kept two staff close to him to interrogate Vietnamese prisoners of war and high-level detainees.

Duch apologised last month when his trial started, accepting blame for overseeing the extermination of 15,000 people who passed through Tuol Sleng.

However he has denied prosecutors' claims that he played a central role in the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule, and maintains he never personally executed anyone.

He faces life in jail but the court does not have the power to impose the death penalty.

Many believe the UN-sponsored tribunal is the last chance to find justice for victims of the regime, which killed up to two million people through starvation, overwork, torture and execution.

The tribunal was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the United Nations and Cambodian government, and is scheduled to try four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

The tribunal was formed in 2006 after nearly a decade of wrangling between the United Nations and Cambodian government, and is scheduled to try four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

But the court has been marred by corruption claims and talks between UN and Cambodian officials ended earlier this month without agreement on anti-graft measures.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cambodian hotel is a poster child for responsible tourism

By Michael Wuitchuk, For the Calgary Herald


Think of Egypt, and the great pyramids come to mind. With France it is wine and the odd surly waiter, while London and Big Ben go together like a pint and fish and chips.

OK, now think of Thailand and Cambodia; do you think of beaches and the Angkor temples? Perhaps, especially if you stay within the tourist bubble. Look a little closer and it's not difficult to get the impression that Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have an apparently endless supply (and demand) for massage parlours and poorly disguised brothels.

The Calgary-based NGO, Future Group, has reported that the most conservative number of prostitutes and sex slaves in Cambodia alone is between 40,000 and 50,000, and higher estimates range between 80,000 and 100,000.

Many of the children are from communities so poor that girls and boys as young as six are actually sold to brothels by their own families.

The dark underbelly of southeast Asia is all the more reason to take responsible tourism seriously. If you go, consider taking a proactive approach.

On a recent trip to Cambodia, my son Daniel and I discovered that you can be an active witness to the magnificence of the region and still leave a positive footprint. Amazingly, we accomplished this not by joining an aid organization, but by staying at a hotel.

The Shinta Mani Hotel and Hospitality Institute is a lovely 18-room boutique hotel in Siem Reap. Facilities include spacious and well-appointed rooms, an atmospheric outdoor restaurant and air-conditioned indoor dining room, and a spa with the elegance and serenity one would expect of a five-star property.

Although the Shinta Mani is loaded with class and charm, there is a heart and soul to this place that was apparent from the moment we were greeted by the smiling young staff.

As responsible tourism goes, this hotel is a poster child.

Owner Sokhoun Chanpreda founded the Hospitality Training Institute in 2004 -- the first class of 21 young people selected from the poorest of families graduated in 2005.

Students, all of whom were considered "at risk" due to extreme poverty, can choose between cooking, serving, housekeeping, reception and spa services -- each are taught in nine-month modules.

The school is funded entirely with hotel funds and donations from guests and others from overseas.

We were so impressed with the Hospitality Training Institute that we extended our stay to accompany Theany, the hotel's "community liason officer," on one of her forays into the many poor villages around Siem Reap.

We drove in the hotel pickup truck loaded with treadle sewing machines, backpacks filled with school supplies, bags of rice, vegetable seeds and a bicycle -- and watched Theany and her staff do aid work, Shinta Mani style.

The model is simple -- use the labours of salaried hotel staff (who are dedicated to giving their time -- the communities are, after all, their own communities), donate $5 from every guest night to the community program, and provide an opportunity for guests to both see the program in action and donate to specific projects. Among the range of options, guests can contribute a mechanical water well ($100), a pair of pigs ($80) or even a small concrete house ($1,250).

We visited villages that had been working with the Shinta Mani staff for some time, and some that were new to the community program.

The villages that had received water wells had well maintained vegetable plots and a few small concrete houses -- in these communities the women and children turned out in numbers, their hands extended in prayerful thanks.

In a village new to the Shinta Mani program, we met a family that had been recently chosen to receive a well -- their entire worldly possessions were the clothes on their backs and a tired set of cooking pans.

These people and their neighbours seemed both desperate and skeptical -- they were clearly not used to receiving aid or good news of any kind.

Later, while sitting in the hotel's lovely outdoor restaurant, general manager and Sri Lankan ex-pat Chitra Vincent told us that Shinta Mani means "the gem that provides for all" in Sanskrit -- the place could not be better named.


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Cambodia’s Coastal Revival

In Cambodia, where a decade-long tourism boom has been driven almost entirely by safe and easy access to the ancient Angkor Wat temples, the rebirth of a seaside resort town is helping to lure visitors to the country’s long-neglected coastline.

The sleepy town of Kep on the south-east coast has been earmarked as Cambodia’s first boutique tourism destination, but for now, it bares few of the characteristics of the countless backpacker meccas and resorts scattered throughout Southeast Asia.

Tourist numbers have surged in recent years, but this town of just a few thousand people has maintained its unhurried, pastoral character.

Unlike Sihanoukville, a lively huddle of guest houses, bars and nightclubs on the central coast, Kep seems to be taking a relaxed path toward developing its tourism sector.

But with its alluringly lush rainforests, crystalline waters and bountiful seafood, Kep is finding that the tourists don’t need much encouragement.

A three-hour drive from the capital Phnom Penh, Kep has become a favorite weekend retreat for expatriates and Cambodia’s burgeoning middle class.

The town is only 20 minutes from a recently opened Vietnamese border crossing, making it a perfect place to say hello or goodbye to Cambodia.

“They told us to expect fewer tourists in Cambodia this year,” a local taxi driver says. “But more and more come here every week, to see the mountains and the caves, and of course, to eat.”

Kep’s famous crabs were among the many treasures that helped the town become a playground for Cambodia’s French rulers in the early 20th century. Along with former king and independence leader Norodom Sihanouk, the French elite built dozens of mansions in the hills along the coastline and sailed their yachts in the calm, protected waters in the Gulf of Thailand.

But like many regions in Cambodia, Kep was ravaged by the United States’ secret bombing campaign during the Indo-Chinese War and was forcibly evacuated during the Khmer Rouge’s rule.

The ultra-communist group considered the town a symbol of bourgeois hedonism and colonial oppression, and destroyed most of its infrastructure.

Kep lay dormant for more than a decade, and the scars of its troubled past are still visible among the poor local population and neglected amenities.

The seaside villas left standing have become overgrown with vines and tree trunks and now only the smallest of fishing boats can dock in the once-bustling port.

But Kep’s striking beauty has not paled despite years of conflict, neglect and civil war. Guesthouses and hotels catering to all budgets have been built along the coast, including the exclusive Knai Banh Chatt hotel, which boasts views of the imposing Bokor Mountain from its infinity pool.

While the town has no beach and is separated from the sea by a strip of coarse red stones, a cheap 30 minute boat ride to Koh Thonsay, known as Rabbit Island, reveals one of Cambodia’s unspoilt, pristine beaches.

Budget accommodation is compulsory, as the island’s only available beds are housed in palm-wood bungalows, which can be rented for between $7 and $10 per night. The bungalows’ power generators are switched off at 10 p.m. and as the fluorescent lights along the beach fade, a spectacular night sky is revealed.

But Kep’s greatest attraction may well be the variety of seafood on offer in the restaurants and stalls downtown. Crabs cooked with local pepper sell for between $3 and $10, and grilled fish on skewers cost less than $5. For the more adventurous, or rather less eco-conscious, grilled sea horse is also available.

Driving past the various building sites, road workers and bulldozers on the road out of town, one gets the impression that the place is on the verge of a tourism storm.

A good road now runs straight to the nearby riverside town of Kampot, which is enjoying its own tourism rebirth, and there are signs of a coastal tourism trail emerging.

So as travellers look for cheaper tropical escapes in Southeast Asia, now might be the time to experience Kep and beat the rush.

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Cambodia, Vietnam re-affirm their vows

By Stephen Kurczy


PHNOM PENH - In 1977, a low-level Khmer Rouge cadre entered Vietnam from Cambodia
during a cross-border raid. He was captured, detained and interrogated by Vietnamese military intelligence. With information gleaned from the skinny, young communist, Vietnam began planning a major counterattack on Cambodia after a series of Khmer Rouge massacres on its territory.

His name was Hun Sen, and he was soon joined in Vietnam by other Khmer Rouge cadres fleeing the internal purges led by Pol Pot, then the radical Maoist group's leader. Heng Samrin, who headed the Khmer Rouge's Eastern Zone Fourth Division, defected and brought with him some 2,000 to 3,000 troops, while Chea Sim, an Eastern Zone district chief, is known to have escorted some 300 people across the Vietnamese border.

All three men assumed control of Cambodia on January 7, 1979, after Vietnamese forces sacked Phnom Penh, ousted the Khmer Rouge and installed them as the leaders of a puppet government. They ruled during a subsequent decade-long Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia that heightened the traditional animosity between the nations.

Thirty years later, Chea Sim is president of the Senate and number one in the ruling and dominant Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Hun Sen, the country's long-running prime minister, is the party's second highest-ranking member. Heng Samrin is president of the National Assembly and number three in the CPP.

Despite Cambodia's transition from a single-party Leninist state to multi-party constitutional monarchy, members of the CPP currently assume every ministerial position and control three-fourths of the National Assembly's seats. The CPP maintains close ties with Vietnam, bonds that have strengthened as Cambodia looks east for a political ally and trade partner while links to Thailand come under strain from a border conflict and political protests that have targeted Hun Sen's government.

"Politically speaking, it is a very unique, special relationship," said Cambodian political observer Chea Vannath. "Vietnam still plays big brother whenever the CPP needs it."

In recent months there has been a flurry of bilateral exchanges. Vietnam announced its intention to strengthen ties during a January visit by Heng Samrin to Hanoi, where he met with Vietnamese Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh and President Nguyen Minh Triet. Both Vietnamese leaders said that they prioritized relations with their smaller neighbor.

"Vietnam and Cambodia were side-by-side with each other in the past struggle for national independence, therefore it is necessary for today's generation to continue this solidarity to ensure further development," Triet said, according to the government-run Vietnam News Agency (VNA).

In February, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung highlighted recent collaboration between the two countries across many disciplines, including politics, diplomacy, economics, trade, culture, arts, technology, security and defense. That same month, Vietnamese military-owned mobile phone company Viettel inaugurated its cell phone service in Cambodia after giving away some one million free SIM cards to Cambodia's students and armed forces.

According to VietNamNet, Viettel has already signed up 500,000 subscribers, making it Cambodia's third largest mobile phone provider. On February 21, Vietnam's defense minister paid a visit to Hun Sen and pledged to continue to provide training for Cambodian soldiers in Vietnam, including over 100 in residence at Vietnam's infantry academy.

Hun Sen on Sunday applauded 21 high-ranking officers of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, including Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun and Deputy Commander-in-Chief Kun Kim, for earning degrees in military science from Vietnamese military institutes. According to VietNamNet, Hun Sen also thanked Vietnam for helping to protect Cambodia's national defense and economic development.

Hun Sen in February also met twice with a Thai military delegation, but their meetings focused on the heated border dispute and Thailand's supposedly accidental firing of artillery into Cambodia earlier that month, rather than collaborative opportunities.

In early March, Cambodia and Vietnam quietly planted the 281st border marker at the edge of Cambodia's Takeo province, reflecting Hun Sen's ongoing policy to quickly demarcate the two countries' contentious eastern border. That marks a difference from the political opposition, which has frequently criticized Hun Sen as being Hanoi's puppet. In 1996, bilateral tensions flared when then-first prime minister Norodom Ranariddh said a military solution "may be found" to Vietnam's alleged annexing of Cambodia's eastern lands.

Shifting borders
Hun Sen has insisted that border problems with Vietnam would be solved through peaceful means. Controversy erupted in 2005 when under a veil of secrecy the CPP-controlled National Assembly ratified a supplement to Cambodia's 1985 border treaty with Vietnam. At the time, Hun Sen threatened to sue anyone who accused him of ceding land to Vietnam. Criticism of the treaty earned several persons, including a prominent opposition radio host, jail time on charges of defamation and incitement.

Soon after the recent border agreement, Vietnam's parliamentary vice president met in mid-March with Hun Sen, Chea Sim and Heng Samrin to call for stronger economic ties. In that vein, on March 16, Hun Sen met with Vietnam's Minister of Industry and Commerce and Cambodia announced that its citizens no longer need visas to enter Vietnam and vice-versa. The next day, Vietnamese Minister of Public Security Le Hong Anh and Cambodian Minister of Interior Sar Kheng signed a 2009 cooperation accord.

Anh also visited Hun Sen and laid a wreath at the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship Monument, a prominent structure in the center of Phnom Penh that abuts Hun Sen Park. No similar Thai-Cambodia friendship monument exists in Phnom Penh. On March 30, Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith visited Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in Hanoi, where the two pledged to "promote the dissemination of information, helping to boost bilateral cooperation and refute hostile forces' slanderous allegations".

"We are trying to strengthen the bilateral cooperation that we've had since long ago," said Koy Kuong, an undersecretary of state at the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "Between Cambodia and Vietnam, we have a long [history of] friendship and cooperation." Koy Kuong dismisses suggestions that Cambodia's current border dispute with Thailand over land surrounding the ancient Preah Vihear temple has prompted Cambodia to replace declining trade and diplomatic relations to Thailand with more robust ties to Vietnam.

A skirmish between Thai and Cambodian troops last October at Preah Vihear temple left two Cambodian troops dead. Another flare-up in early April this year resulted in the death of one Thai soldier. Fanning those flames, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya in March referred to Hun Sen as a "gangster" in the local media. When Hun Sen demanded an apology, Kasit re-phrased his insult by calling Hun Sen "a gentleman who has the heart of a gangster", but he later issued a written formal apology.

Relations have been strained due to Hun Sen's perceived close friendship with deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is in self-imposed exile and was instrumental in stirring the recent street chaos caused by his anti-government supporters. Asia Times Online broke the news last week that pro-Thaksin groups had for the past two years funneled arms through Cambodia to Thaksin-aligned supporters in Thailand's northeastern provinces.
Democracy at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, said recently by e-mail. As a result, he added, Cambodian businessmen are reluctant to invest in and trade with Thailand.

Trade between Vietnam and Cambodia jumped 31% compared to the previous year in 2008, to nearly $1.7 billion. Bilateral trade with Thailand is still larger, but only increased 17% to $2 billion in 2008. Vietnamese goods dominate Cambodian markets, and in 2007 and 2008 Cambodians bought more Vietnamese consumer goods than they did products from any other country, VNA reported in early April. Sales of Vietnamese products to Cambodian consumers totaled $988 million in 2008, compared to $674 million of Thai goods.

"All the local investors here want to do business with Vietnam, and all the Vietnamese businesses want to do business here," said Cambodia Chamber of Commerce President Nguon Meng-Tech. "If relations are good from one government to another, that's better than with another government with problems at the border ... I don't think [Cambodian] businesses will do much business with Thailand."

Opportunistic diplomacy
Vietnam is bidding to take competitive advantage of Thailand's internal political upheaval and simmering border conflict to replace it as Cambodia's primary trade partner, said parliamentarian Sam Rainsy, the leader of Cambodia's largest opposition party and a frequent critic of Hun Sen's ties to Hanoi.

"This is part of a larger geopolitical play in this region - the current tension with Thailand benefits Vietnam, as Vietnam can increase its influence over Cambodia," said Rainsy, who likens the situation to 2003 when Hun Sen's comments alleging that a Thai actress had claimed the Angkor Wat temple belonged to Thailand prompted anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh.

Cambodians burned the Thai Embassy and vandalized Thai businesses, causing millions of dollars in damage. "Trade from Thailand declined [in 2003] and Vietnam got a stronger political influence over Cambodia ... The armed conflict at the border is having the same effect, but more prolonged," said Rainsy. He believes pro-Vietnam elements within the CPP inflamed anti-Thai sentiment to "weaken relations with Thailand, including commercial relations, and boost relations with Vietnam".

Cambodian government officials aligned with the CPP downplay those criticisms. The recent flurry of diplomatic and commercial agreements is "nothing special", said Cambodia's Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan. Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith also disputes this is an unusual trend. "If there was increased cooperation with Vietnam, it would bring suspicion from China and the United States," Kanharith said.

Scholar Kheang Un counters that neither the US nor China, nor even Thailand, are particularly concerned by stronger Cambodia-Vietnam relations. "None of these three countries see Vietnam as a threat to their national security as they did during the Cold War era, during which they viewed Vietnam as Moscow's agent in Southeast Asia," he said. "[A]s soon as Thai politicians put their house in order, Thai-Khmer relations will normalize."

Some human rights groups remain apprehensive about Cambodia's shift east, as the country's alleged mistreatment of ethnic Montagnard and Khmer Krom minorities has shown that Cambodia is willing to take instruction from its larger, wealthier neighbor. The Montagnards, ethnic hilltribe people living in the highlands of central Vietnam, have for years entered Cambodia seeking asylum with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees only to be forced back into Vietnam by Cambodian authorities.

In addition, the six million ethnic Cambodians living in Vietnam's southern Mekong Delta area, known as the Khmer Krom, have been targeted and in some cases imprisoned by Vietnamese authorities for practicing Buddhism. They have also faced oppression from the Cambodian government for protesting their treatment in Vietnam. Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights advocacy group, said Hanoi has an active agenda to monitor, infiltrate, and silence Khmer Krom activists.

"Our government would like so much to please the Vietnamese government," said Kek Galabru, the founder of local human rights advocacy group LICADHO. She first met Hun Sen in 1983 in Angola, where her late husband was serving as the French ambassador. She invited Hun Sen to her home, and the then young foreign minister convinced her he "was not a Vietnamese puppet", she told journalist Elizabeth Becker in the book When the War was Over.

"Now, my opinion is different," Galabru recently told Asia Times Online. "Since I came to Cambodia in 1992, I can see that things are run differently."

Rights groups point to the case of Tim Sakhorn, a Khmer Krom monk who distributed bulletins and organized protests demanding Vietnamese authorities compensate Khmer Krom for allegedly stealing their farmland. He was defrocked by Cambodian authorities in 2007 and deported to Vietnam, where he was jailed on charges of "undermining solidarity" between the two countries. He has since sought asylum in Buddhist-majority Thailand.

"Who gave the order to disrobe Tim Sakhorn? What wrong did he do but to shout when there were violations of the Khmer Krom?" said Son Soubert, a member of Cambodia's Constitutional Council and the son of former Cambodian premier Son Sann. The gag on public demonstrations against Vietnam, he said, is one clear marker of Hanoi's 30-year supervision of the CPP. "You don't see [Vietnam's] presence, but they're present ... You can accuse me of being biased or paranoid, but in the eyes of Cambodians, that's the reality."

While the Cambodian army defends against Thai soldiers crossing into territory near Preah Vihear temple, Son Soubert said in comparison that 89,000 square kilometers of Mekong Delta land is occupied by Vietnam that arguably belonged to Cambodia until 1949, when the colonial French National Assembly formally ceded it to Vietnam. He said the current border skirmish with Thailand distracts from Vietnam's more serious border infringements, which as a matter of policy are overlooked by Hun Sen's allegedly Vietnam-aligned government.

Real or imagined, Soubert contends that sentiment is spreading, evident in a joke now making the rounds in Phnom Penh. Spoken in the voice of a Vietnamese, the nationalistic jab goes: "The Thais are stupid because they try to steal a stone," referring to the Preah Vihear temple. "We are smarter, we just steal the land."

Stephen Kurczy is an Asia Times Online contributor based in Cambodia. He may be reached at kurczy@gmail.com.
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