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Friday, February 22, 2008

Former Khmer Rouge leader to 're-enact' crimes for judges

Ian MacKinnon, south-east Asia correspondent

Images of genocide victims are displayed on the walls of the Tuol Sleng Musuem of Genocidal Crime, formerly the Khmer Rouge torture centre run by Kaing Guek Eav. Photograph: Corbis

The Khmer Rouge's chief interrogator who headed the notorious prison where 14,000 Cambodian men, women and children met their deaths is to return to the scene of his alleged crime next week to stage a ghoulish "re-enactment".

The extraordinary scene will see 65-year-old Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, guide investigating judges from Cambodia's UN-backed genocide trial through the Tuol Sleng torture centre almost three decades after he fled the advancing Vietnamese troops that ended the Khmer Rouge's four-year reign of terror.

Several of only seven people who survived their incarceration in the former school in Phnom Penh's suburbs will join the party next Wednesday.

Afterwards they will give taped evidence in a "confrontation" with their Khmer Rouge jailer at the tribunal's headquarters.

A day earlier, Duch, who is charged with crimes against humanity along with four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders, will be taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek on the capital's outskirts where most Tuol Sleng inmates were murdered and buried in shallow graves.

Duch, who was a maths teacher before joining the revolution to establish a peasant utopia, will explain to the French co-investigating judge, Marcel Lemonde, and his Cambodian counterpart, You Bun Leng, the details of what happened there in the years after 1975, when up to 1.7 million people died.

The first war crimes trials are due to begin later this year, confounding the fears of many of the Khmer Rouge's victims that the communist ideologues responsible for killing a quarter of the population through torture, execution, disease and starvation might never be brought to justice.

Almost a decade of wrangling over the ground rules governing the tribunal and many petty disputes between the Cambodian judges and lawyers and their international counterparts had threatened to kill off the process before it started.

But the arrests of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders, and the detention by the tribunal of Duch, who was already in military custody, has seen the process move swiftly forward.

The defendants have unsuccessfully appealed their detention orders and have even been confronted by their victims in emotional court testimony.

The re-enactment is part of the judges' investigative process to gather evidence against Duch, who has acknowledged his role in the Killing Fields after finding Christianity.

However, he contends that he was merely following Pol Pot's "verbal orders from the top".

Duch will be accompanied by his lawyers as he walks the judges around the two sites in private. Both serve as a memorial and museum to the dead but will be closed to the public during the re-enactment.

The Killing Fields memorial at Choeung Ek is a glass tower of piles of victims' skulls discovered in the surrounding shallow pits. Duch allegedly sat under a tree watching as Khmer Rouge executioners murdered their victims.

Classrooms at Tuol Sleng remain much as they were left in 1979, with metal-framed beds to which victims were chained before being electrocuted to make them confess to non-existent crimes, invariably of being CIA agents.

Paintings by one Tuol Sleng survivor, Van Nath, graphically portraying other tortures carried out there, adorn the walls of some rooms. The vividly-coloured oils sit beside the stark black-and-white photographs of the thousands brought to the prison.

"For the re-enactment Duch will be assisted by his lawyer," said Lemonde. "This is a normal investigative action, the aim of which is to clarify the declarations by each of the participants, using photos, audio-visual recordings and 3D reconstructions."
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Faber Sees a Holiday in Cambodia for Investors: William Pesek

Feb. 22 (Bloomberg) -- If you want to learn about Cambodia's economy, you can peruse government data and a small mountain of aid-agency reports. Or you could go trekking in the jungle near Mount Kbal Spean.

There, 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of the temples of Angkor, you'll find a small nature preserve. The Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity is one of a handful of efforts to protect Cambodia's wildlife that sprang up during the last nine years of peace.

It's mostly a breeding facility for critically endangered animal species. There, you will come face to face with gibbons, lemurs, turtles, scores of local birds and even native bees. The scene may offer one of the best reasons for investors to pay more attention to Cambodia.

When most think of Cambodia, extreme poverty springs to mind. While stability since 1998 is raising living standards, a third of the nation's 14 million people live on less than 50 cents a day. Much of the blame goes to lingering fallout from the mass killings by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.

There's a cruel irony to the fact that Cambodia's No. 2 tourist attraction is the infamous ``Killing Fields,'' one of the sites where an estimated 1.7 million died under dictator Pol Pot. Nearby, hawkers still sell Dead Kennedys T-shirts, a nod to their 1980 song ``Holiday in Cambodia.''


Yet waves of tourists are making their way to Cambodia, pumping up its $7 billion economy. Until recently, most made a beeline for Siem Reap, where Angkor's magnificent temples rise defiantly from dense forests. These days, more are exploring the nation's capital, Phnom Penh, and the fast-growing selection of beach resorts.

In 2007, tourist arrivals topped 2 million. For an economy that depends largely on the garment sector -- it accounts for 80 percent of exports -- increasing tourism is a big plus. It will help sustain the roughly 10 percent growth of the past four years.

Together with efforts by conservationists around the country, strong growth explains why investors such as Marc Faber are bullish on Cambodia. Both show that after decades of struggling to survive, Cambodians are getting serious about preserving their heritage and competing in the globalization age. Cambodia, in other words, is becoming a normal country.

``Cambodia offers an enormous potential for future capital gains,'' says Faber, the Hong Kong-based investor and publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report. ``It may take some time, as was the case for Vietnam and India, where stocks languished for a number of years before huge upward trends in asset prices developed. But patience was amply rewarded.''

Contrarian Bet

The Asian Development Bank continues to pump fresh aid into the economy. ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda was in Cambodia this week to christen a project to rebuild decades-old railway tracks to spread the benefits of growth.

More importantly, the government is stepping up efforts to attract foreign capital. It plans to set up a stock market in 2009 and officials are working to diversify the economy. Prime Minister Hun Sen recently visited India and appealed to technology firms to invest in Cambodia.

Of course, Cambodia is a contrarian investment with a capital ``C.'' For every positive trend cited in this column, one can find a reason, or two, to avoid the place.

While Cambodia has great promise, says Simon Ogus, chief executive of DSG Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong, it has a long, long way to go before many investors are willing even to consider putting money there. For one thing, he says, ``the monetary system is 95 percent dollarized'' and the country lacks a bond market.


Cambodia's challenges run deeper. Crushing poverty means all too many aren't being educated to compete globally. Good roads, bridges, and power systems are in short supply. The export-dependent economy is vulnerable to a U.S. slowdown and rising fuel costs.

Corruption means double-digit growth doesn't get very far anyway. In Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia ranked 162nd -- behind Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Tajikistan.

Cambodia also is sitting on a discovery that will either attract investors or have them aggressively avoiding the country: oil. While deposits are still being estimated, the potential of Cambodia's petroleum industry is attracting interest from BHP Billiton Ltd. and Chevron Corp.

Next BRICs

The question is what happens to billions of dollars of oil revenue. Corruption-prone governments have a poor track record of using such wealth wisely, too often suffering the ``oil curse.'' Since weak institutions oversee its underdeveloped economy, Cambodia's odds aren't great.

Then again, what if Cambodia surprises skeptics? That's a big ``if,'' given the prime minister's failure to eradicate corruption and crack down on illegal logging.

Yet investors are searching for the next generation of developing-market stars now that the ``BRIC'' economies -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- and Vietnam have been discovered. Watching neighboring Vietnam thrive also may inspire Cambodia's government.

If oil profits are used to improve education, reduce poverty and upgrade infrastructure, investors who took a chance on Cambodia will be, in Faber's words, amply rewarded.

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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