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Monday, August 25, 2008

Rice For Cambodia Campaign Launched

Today, a new charity was launched to provide rice for Cambodia, and its organisers cleverly called it Rice For Cambodia.

The charity aims to encourage Cambodians to grow and harvest rice, and then send it to America and Australia, where Americans and Australians can then buy it and send it back to Cambodia for the people there to eat. Spokesman Paddy Field said: 'For too long Cambodians have suffered by simply eating their rice, now thanks to Rice For Cambodia they can watch the rice fly all around the world at huge expense, before it returns home for dinner, with a few bottles of duty free whisky and a sun tan. And my $125,000 salary and luxury Manhattan office will also help hungry Cambodians.'

But former US Secretary for State Henry Kissinger denied that America had deliberately bombed thousands of Cambodian rice fields in the 1970s, to starve the people there. 'I deny eet', he said, trying not to raise his arm in a fascist salute, 'now please goes away. Rice For Cambodia is a just cause, as long as zere's no pinko commies working for eet, otherwise eet's B-52 party time again!' And President George 'Dumberthanagrainofrice' Bush added: 'The Cambozolans need American and Austrian help. Heck, if I can fly thousands of miles so I can get a decent chicken karma and ricicles then we must let no stoner be upturned in our quest for a just rice, a fair and peaceful price, at a fair and decent rice, which would be rather nice. No ice thanks, Laurelai. Where is Condi, anways?'

Current US Secretary for State Condoleezza Rice was at home, reading the newspapers and flipping through the charity adverts in them, including Guiness For Ireland, Whisky For Scotland, Lederhosen Und Swastikeinen Fur Deutschland, Fromages Pour La France, and of course Bob Geldof's charity African Dictator Aid. The coal delivery train is leaving for Newcastle in 20 minutes.
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US to fund Khmer Rouge trial

THE United States will give its first donation to Cambodia's cash-strapped Khmer Rouge genocide trial as soon as the UN-backed court resolves corruption allegations, the US ambassador said today.

The tribunal faces a funding shortfall of more than $US40 million ($46.1 million). Officials travelled to New York in June to petition UN members for more funds.

"The United States government is right now on the threshold of making its decision to directly fund the tribunal,'' outgoing Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli told reporters at his farewell press conference at the US embassy.

"I think in Washington now everyone is very much looking forward to finding funding to help directly assist the tribunal if we can just work this last thing out,'' he said.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal this month launched a new ethics monitor to grapple with ongoing claims of corruption within the court after the UN Development Program made fresh allegations of kickbacks on the Cambodian side of the court, forcing international donors to withhold funding for July.

International backers have appeared hesitant to pledge more money to the process after earlier allegations of political interference and mismanagement, including that Cambodian staff paid money in exchange for their jobs.

But tribunal officials have said the allegations last year were "unspecific, unsourced and unsubstantiated.''

The court is preparing for its first trial against Kaing Guek Eav, who ran a notorious torture centre in Phnom Penh.

He is expected in the dock in October, once the court has dealt with the prosecution's appeal of his indictment, which it said failed to present a "full and truthful account'' of his crimes.

In all, five top Khmer Rouge leaders are now facing charges before the tribunal for crimes committed by the regime.

Up to two million people died of starvation, overwork and execution as the communist Khmer Rouge dismantled modern Cambodian society in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia during its 1975-1979 rule.

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Exposing the CIA's 'most secret place'

By Andrew Nette

PHNOM PENH - It was known as the "secret war", a covert operation waged by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) throughout the 1960s and early 1970s against communist guerrillas in Laos. The most secret location in this clandestine conflict was the former CIA air base of Long Chen, in central Laos, which remains off limits even today. A film exploring this little known conflict, The Most Secret Place on Earth, will be released in cinemas across Europe this year.

The film, which was previewed in Phnom Penh in mid-August, includes images of Long Chen shot by the first Western camera crew to enter the base since the communists took control of the country in 1975.

"I first got the idea to do the film when I visited the Plain of Jars in Laos in 2002," recalled Marc Eberle, 36, the film's German director. "You could still see the craters from the air bombing and unexploded ordnance was everywhere. Then I heard about Long Chen and the fact that no one had got there since the war and I thought, how do I visit and how do I make a film about it?"

Much is unknown about the Lao conflict despite it remaining the largest and most expensive paramilitary operation yet run by the US. It was completely run by the CIA using largely civilian pilots from the agency's own airline, Air America, and mercenaries recruited from the Hmong, an ethnic tribe living in mountainous areas in central and northern Laos.

As the center of the covert operation, Long Chen's location was never marked on any map even though, at its peak, it was one of the world's busiest airports and was home to 50,000 people. "I found it bizarre that at one time this was the second-biggest city in Laos and it was completely secret," Eberle says.

Long Chen is still off limits to foreigners and most Lao due to clashes between government forces and remnants of the formerly CIA-backed Hmong army. Until recently it formed part of a special administrative zone under the direct control of the Lao army.

Interest in the secret war in Laos was rekindled in 2003 when two Western journalists made contact with members of the Hmong resistance, the first Westerners they had seen since the CIA abandoned them 27 years earlier. Upon seeing the white faces, hundreds of the tribe dropped to their knees weeping, believing in error that former CIA sponsors had returned to rescue them from the communists.

Pictures from the encounter were printed in Time Asia and won a world press award, but US media showed little interest. The decades-old conflict again made headlines last year when US authorities arrested 78-year-old Vang Pao, the head of the CIA's Hmong forces in the 1960s and early '70s, and indicted him on terrorism charges relating to his alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow the Lao government.

Eberle believes events in Laos in the 1960s have strong parallels with the present conflict in Iraq. "Laos was the progenitor of the way America fights wars in the 21st century," he says. "Outsourcing the war to private companies, gathering public support by falsifying intelligence and documents, embedded journalism and automated warfare including the use of so-called 'smart weapons', all these methods were first tested in Laos."

The conflict began in the late 1950s, as Washington sought to counter communist Pathet Lao forces and their North Vietnamese allies who had begun building the Ho Chi Minh trail through the jungles running down the eastern border of Laos. The operation was placed under CIA control to get around the supposed political neutrality of Laos and the conditions set by the 1954 Geneva Accords that marked the end of French rule in Southeast Asia and covered the cessation of hostilities for Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Vang Pao, then an officer in the Royal Lao Army, was recruited in 1960 to lead the Hmong troops drafted by the CIA to fight the communists. Long Chen was established soon thereafter, the largest of hundreds of airstrips built by the CIA throughout Laos.

Actors of a secret war The film examines the conflict through the stories of players involved in its covert, diplomatic and military aspects, including former diplomats, CIA officers and Air America pilots. It also draws on critics such as Alfred McCoy, author of The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade and a reporter at the time in Laos, and Fred Branfman, an aid worker turned anti-war activist who worked to help expose the conflict.

Ordinary Lao people at the receiving end of the world's most technologically sophisticated military machine also get a chance to tell their story. Although there is a short interview with Vang Pao, the one aspect of the story not adequately dealt with is the plight of the Hmong, who bore the brunt of some of the most savage fighting.

With the exception of senior officers like Vang Pao and their families, support for the Hmong forces was unceremoniously dumped when the US abandoned fighting operations in the region after the fall of Saigon to communist forces in 1975. Complicity with the CIA during the secret war is still punished by the government, say the Hmong, who claim that executions by of collaborator's family members by government troops continue.

One of the most interesting aspects of The Most Secret Place is that it incorporates previously hitherto unused footage Eberle managed to collect, including film of actual combat missions as well as day-to-day life at Long Chen, gathered from myriad sources including the US National Film Archive and television stations from across Europe.

"The CIA had just declassified a whole lot of material so that helped as well," he says. "The most important source was the guys who were over there filming with their little Super 8 cameras, often illegally."

The film's analysis sets it apart from other books and documentaries on the subject, many of which actually seek to justify the conflict, lauding the CIA operatives and their Air America pilots as heroes. The reality, as Alfred McCoy says towards the end of the film, was very different.

"We destroyed a whole civilization, we wiped it off the map. We incinerated, atomized human remains in this air war and what happened in the end? We lost."

The covert nature of the conflict meant that US forces were able to ignore virtually all the rules of engagement operating in Vietnam. Every building was a potential target and the civilian death toll was huge.

The situation grew worse in 1970 when US President Nixon authorized B-52 bomb strikes on Laos, which remained classified information until many years later.

American planes dropped an average of one planeload of bombs on targets in Laos every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for nine years, making it the most heavily bombed country on earth per capita in the history of warfare.

Eberle remains cagey about exactly how he managed to gain access to film at Long Chen. "It was a matter of having the right contacts," he says. The last film crew to try and get there were caught and convicted to 15 years prison, although they were eventually freed after four weeks due to international pressure. "After we went another UK crew tried to get there but they were caught and deported," he adds.

The film, which contains aerial footage of the base as well as shots from the ground, shows Long Chen today as an overgrown airstrip surrounded by heavily forested mountains. "It's just an army outpost now: a small village, a couple of hundred people, soldiers and their families."

Even so, "there are some places in the world that have a different energy and Long Chen is one of these. You look down the runway and think this is the place were it all happened. The planes took off from here and bombed all those people."

The buildings, including Californian-style bungalows and a number of other structures designed in a 1960's style, largely lie vacant and derelict. "The golden age of Long Chen is over. It used to be the high-tech oasis for spooks in Laos. There were allegedly more antennas there than trees. Now they do not even have power."

The 2007 arrest of Vang Pao in California, along with eight other Hmong and a former US army ranger who served in Vietnam, on charges of allegedly plotting to topple the Lao government, has highlighted the current state of Hmong resistance inside Laos.

Eberle believes, as do many other observers in Laos, that the resistance is on its last legs. "There are still some groups but they are not organized. They are certainly not politically or militarily organized. They are remnants, the children and grandchildren of those involved in the war who are scared to come out of the jungle because they have never known anything else."

"Whether Vang Pao is guilty or not of the charges he is facing, one thing that is true is that he and other expatriate Hmong have used these people as pawns," maintains Eberle. The decline in the resistance has been accompanied by talk of opening up Long Chen and the area around it to tourism.

"I do not see that happening in the next few years. It is still far too sensitive on the part of the Lao government," says Eberle. "They are also keen not to risk unsettling relations with the Americans by opening it up. It is the last chapter of the Vietnam War and both governments have an interest in making sure it is forgotten."
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Foreign leaders hail successful Beijing Olympics

Beijing, Foreign leaders recently conveyed their appreciation of the just-concluded Beijing Olympic Games to Chinese leaders President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping, hailing China's efforts in hosting a successful and wonderful event.

King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia said the 2008 Beijing Games was of profound significance and revealed China's great achievements to the whole world.

The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, lavishly praised the marvelous opening ceremony and said the Beijing Games was a milestone in Chinese history.

Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo described the Beijing Olympics as a big event and said the people of her country were celebrating the grand occasion along with the Chinese.

Malawi's President Bingu Wa Mutharika said China has been committed to promoting world peace and mutual understanding among people across the globe for a long time, and the people of Malawi were proud of the successful Games.

Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires, the president of the Republic of Cape Verde, said China had set an example for the world in promoting world peace and unification by proposing the slogan "One World, One Dream".

James Alix Michel, president of the Republic of Seychelles, said China had successfully hosted the Olympic Games despite the Sichuan earthquake, which reflected the country's perseverance and its ability to deal with difficulties and challenges.

The three concepts of "Green Olympics, High-tech Olympics and People's Olympics" were in accordance with the development view of Seychelles, he added.

Sierra Leonean President Ernest Bai Koroma lauded the Beijing Olympics and wished the Paralympic Games all success.

Omer Hassan Ahmed Elbashir, the president of Sudan, described the well-organized Beijing Olympics as a high point in the Games' history. The opening ceremony was fantastic, he added.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of the Democratic People's Republic of Algeria, also expressed admiration for the well organized Olympics and expressed the belief that Algeria-China ties would continue its healthy development.

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said China had made great efforts to provide opportunities for the athletes all over the world to compete and communicate.

Bharrat Jagdeo, president of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, heaped praises on the Chinese people's national pride and their efforts in hosting a successful Games, which he believed would boost their country's development.

Ratnasiri Wickramanayaka, the prime minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, said China had overcome natural disasters and stood before the world like the Great Wall.

The Beijing Games showcased China's long and splendid history to the world, which has strengthened cooperation and friendship among the international community, he added.

Myanmarese Prime Minister Thein Sein said the opening ceremony showcased not only Chinese traditional culture but also the image of modern China as well.

Nikola Spiric, the president of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia-Herzegovina, said China had successfully hosted the Olympics and steadily stepped forward to a prosperous and peaceful future.

Lee Kuan Yew, minister mentor of the Singaporean cabinet, said the opening ceremony fully revealed the 5,000-year history of China, and touched the hearts of audiences worldwide. Beijing is a green city now which reflects China's achievements in economy, society and technology innovation, he added.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and Javier Solana, the European Union Council's secretary general and high representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, also send letters to Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to congratulate China for its successful hosting of the Games.
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