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Sunday, August 02, 2009

Cambodians begin to learn of bloody past

ANG SNUOL, Cambodia (AFP) - It plunged their country into a communist "Year Zero" in the late 1970s and killed about a third of the population, but most young Cambodians shrug when asked about the Khmer Rouge.

"I don't know who are the Khmer Rouge. I never learned about the regime and my parents never told me about it either," says 15-year-old Si Phana.

Her schoolmate Ang Pheaktra, 17, knows only a little more about that bleak time which traumatised a generation.

"My parents only told me that the Khmer Rouge were very cruel," Ang Pheaktra says.

Even though there's a war crimes tribunal for senior leaders of the 1975-79 movement, most here are unaware the regime killed up to two million people, emptying cities and enslaving the population on collective farms.

The country is pocked with bone-strewn memorials and mass graves but Hang Chhum, principal at Hun Sen Ang Snuol High School, says many young people do not even believe Khmer Rouge atrocities occured.

"Cambodians rarely tell the bitter history to their children," Hang Chhum says. "Many young Cambodians nowadays do not believe the regime happened because its tragedy was too extreme."

More than 70 percent of Cambodia's 14 million people were born after the Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979 and, as the topic has been sensitive among elites who were involved with the regime, little about it has been taught in schools.

But this year, three decades after the fall of the reign of terror, the Cambodian government has agreed to include a text on the Khmer Rouge -- "A History of Democratic Kampuchea" -- in its 2009 high school curriculum.

Some half a million copies are being distributed to more than 1,300 schools across the country for grades nine through 12.

"We want students to know that this event did happen in Cambodia and it is not fabricated," Hang Chhum says.

"So when they learn and understand what happened under the regime, they will in the future tell their children so that this regime will never reoccur," he adds.

The 100-page text on the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge was reviewed by Cambodian and foreign scholars. It also includes lessons from Nazi and Rwandan genocides.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which produced the text, says students studying the Khmer Rouge past will "help heal the wounds of their parents and help build a reconciled society in Cambodia".

Cambodia's bloody history was briefly included in 2002 high school social studies classes, but the book was cut from the curriculum after it caused tension between Premier Hun Sen and his then rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The text failed to mention that Ranariddh defeated Hun Sen in the country's 1993 election, the first democratic polls after the premier participated in a Vietnam-backed invasion force which ousted the Khmer Rouge.

Hun Sen forced a coalition after that UN-backed poll, and the two men served as co-prime ministers until he ousted the prince in 1997. The rejected textbook glossed over those details, while highlighting Hun Sen?s 1998 national election victory.

Students appeared pleased to get the new textbook and promised to study hard during a recent ceremony unveiling the book at Hun Sen Ang Snuol High School, some eight kilometers (five miles) from the first UN-backed Khmer Rouge court.

The tribunal is currently dealing with the trial of Duch, the former head of the regime's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, which is now a genocide museum.

At the start of proceedings in March, 66-year-old Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, begged forgiveness from victims after accepting responsibility for overseeing the torture and execution of around 15,000 people.

But as the trial continues, it remains to be seen if many Cambodians will learn more about their brutal history.

Knowledge here about the Khmer Rouge has been so dismal that a University of California, Berkeley study showed last year, before Duch's trial began, that nearly 40 percent of Cambodians had no knowledge of the war crimes court.

Court officials assert that number has changed drastically as 12,000 people so far have visited Duch's trial, and compelling testimony has been broadcast on national television.

"With your own eyes, you can see people in this country are very thirsty for information about this tribunal," says court spokesman Reach Sambath.

"It's important to get people engaged in the process. We think it will help Cambodians finally settle with peace in their hearts."
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Kuwait Energy aims to go public in 2010-CEO

NEW YORK - Privately held Kuwait Energy Co is on track to go public and quintuple its oil production from its fields around the world by the end of next year, Chief Executive Sara Akbar told Reuters in an interview.

Akbar, known in some energy circles for her role fighting well fires after the first Gulf War, said that she expects KEC to lift output to 50,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from about 10,000 bpd at the end of 2008.

The company, formed in August 2005, expects to list within the same time frame.

"We're looking at London and Kuwait exchanges. A dual listing is an option," said Akbar, who bills herself as one of just a handful of Arab female CEOs in the Middle East. Akbar said KEC, which posted net profits of $30 million in 2008 from $18 million 2007, would likely shun U.S. exchanges because of onerous U.S. reporting requirements.

"Why would you want to subject any company to excessive regulation," she said.

The company's strategy is focused on development of smaller fields, especially in the Middle East, where it can use its regional expertise and where many fields needing enhanced recovery methods are overlooked by large state-run firms.

"A lot of fields are really aging and they don't have time for the attention needed," Akbar said.

On Thursday, state-run Kuwait Oil Co invited interest from contractors for services to enhance oil recovery, part of the country's plans to boost output potential.

KEC has projects in Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Pakistan and Cambodia.

In 2007, KEC signed a memorandum of understanding to develop several projects in Iraq, including developing the small Siba gas field.

Last week, Iraq's oil ministry removed the Siba gas field from the list of fields to be offered in a second bidding round. The first round produced just one deal out of eight fields on offer, the large Rumaila field to BP (BP.L) and China National Petroleum Corp.

Akbar said it was difficult for the Iraqi government and oil companies to agree on terms for oil field development in the war-torn nation, still roiled by instability.

"Iraqis need to be more flexible. Eventually they will get there," she added.

Last August, KEC signed a partnership agreement with the Somali government and Indonesia's PT Medco Energi Internasional Tbk to set up a state oil firm in Somalia.

But a bid round to open up acreage to international companies set for 2010 has been delayed by ongoing turmoil in the East African country, Akbar said.

Elsewhere, KEC intends to divest by the end of 2009 its one exploration license it holds with Medco in Cambodia.

As for oil prices, Akbar said she was encouraged by the recent data showing Chinese second-quarter growth accelerating to 7.9 percent.

"As long as the Far East and China are still growing at those rates, the fundamentals should show the price of oil in the range of $60 to $70 is sustainable."

Akbar previously worked for Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Co and Kuwait Oil Company and gained much attention for her role in fighting oil well fires after the first Gulf War.

"I remember we had a birthday party for Red Adair, his 76th, while he was in Kuwait fighting the fires in 1991. He was a legend. But when you have 700 wells on fire, you have to be heroic. You have to do something."

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Cambodia rejects landmine beauty contest

The Cambodian government has urged the cancellation of a beauty pageant in which landmine victims will compete to win a prosthetic leg, organisers say.

In the Miss Landmine Cambodia contest, 20 competitors from around the country are due to appear in a photo exhibition opening on Friday in Phnom Penh, followed by an internet voting campaign to select the best candidate.

But in a letter to organisers, the Ministry of Social Affairs has called on them to cancel the contest - although the Cambodian Mine Action Authority said in 2007 it fully supported the event.

"The ministry asks the people who organise this contest to stop this action ... for protecting ... the honour and dignity of people with disabilities," the letter said in English.

But Norwegian pageant director Morten Traavik said the contest, which offers as the top prize a custom-made prosthetic leg, would increase awareness about the victims of landmines.

"I have asked to meet the Cambodian officials to clear up our misunderstanding, and I hope once they know about our project details, they will welcome this," he said.

He explained that the pageant aimed "to raise awareness of what landmines have done to the people", adding that it would be a "big shame" if people could not see the exhibition.

The first Miss Landmine contest was held in Angola last year, drawing protests from rights activists who viewed it as exploitative and racist.

Cambodia remains one of the world's most heavily mined countries, along with Afghanistan and Angola.

Hundreds of people are killed or maimed every year by the millions of landmines and other unexploded ordnance still littering the countryside after decades of conflict.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen cancelled a Miss Cambodia beauty pageant in 2006, saying he would not allow such a contest until poverty in Cambodia was reduced by more than half.

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Sex tourism and Canada's weak response

If you had asked anyone to describe Donald Bakker they would likely have said he was just an ordinary Canadian -- a loving father and husband who lived a middle-class lifestyle, working regular hours at Vancouver banquet halls and donating part of his modest salary to an international children's charity.

No one would have called him a child predator, but in 2005 Bakker became the first Canadian to be convicted under the country's sex tourism law after an investigation found that he paid seven young girls in Cambodia to have sex with him.

Canada has had laws in place since 1996 that allow Canadian authorities to prosecute citizens who have committed sex crimes against children overseas. However, in the last decade, Canada has only convicted three people under its sex tourism law, a new study out of British Columbia has found.

The study's author, Benjamin Parrin, a law professor and Canadian expert on sex tourism, says that Canadian men are actively contributing to the problem of child exploitation in troubled countries such as Cambodia and Thailand.

And although Canadian authorities have all the legal tools they need to go after the offenders, they are lacking an enforcement strategy to effectively tackle the problem, he said. The result is that offenders can travel to these troubled countries knowing that they likely won't be investigated.

Several countries around the world have investigators stationed overseas, actively pursuing their nationals who travel to sex tourism hotspots looking for young prey.

Australia is perhaps the best example of a country proactively pursuing offenders. Southeast Asia is the number one vacation destination for Aussies, and as a result the country has stationed Australian officers in several countries in the region and officials have forged a working relationship with the foreign police.

Canadian officials are not ignoring the issue, Parrin says, but their resources are being spent on tracking drug trafficking networks, terrorism links and sales of weapons.

"What's clearly missing is the political will," he tells in a recent interview. "More resources should be allocated to administer these laws."

Parrin calls the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's approach to the issue "accidental prosecution" -- because authorities often stumble upon the evidence rather than actively pursue the perpetrators, like the Australians do.

In Bakker's case, it was Vancouver's police force that stumbled upon video footage of the man having sex with Cambodian children. Local authorities were probing Bakker's past after he was charged with assaulting Vancouver prostitutes. The videotape was accidentally discovered when police executed a search warrant on his property.

Challenges to police

The RCMP did not return messages left by but a Toronto sex crimes police officer who has travelled to Cambodia for work says that Canadian authorities have a number of issues that challenge their ability to go after sex offenders overseas.

A big part of the problem is that the police forces in most impoverished countries where children are part of the sex trade lack the resources to build an effective network with international authorities, says Det. Const. Janelle Blackadar.

In some cases the police forces are on such a tight budget they don't even have enough gasoline in their cars to respond to a call.

Corruption is also a big problem for law enforcers as it is quite common for suspects to bribe authorities to drop the charges. Because money is so scarce, bribes are often accepted.

"People are very poor, so of course money is going to influence them," Blackadar says.

"It's not the same police society we have here," she continues. "It's not good business to investigate the (wealthy) businessmen who contribute to the country's economy."

Blackadar says money is also the reason why families push their children into the sex trade.

"Children there realize at a very early age how life is going to be for them," she says. "Families will sell their daughter's virginity. Families profit from this."

"It's been part of their society for so long, it's part of their culture almost," she adds.

NGO's to the rescue

The difference in attitudes towards children and sex is probably the biggest challenges international authorities face. Acceptance and widespread corruption make it difficult for investigators to collect evidence.

Most of the time, Blackadar says, evidence is collected by people who work at non-governmental organizations who have made it their mission to stop child trafficking and exploitation.

They collect evidence and pass it on to the appropriate authorities in hopes they'll be able to prosecute the offender.

Rosalind Prober is one such activist whose work has helped put Canada on the right track.

She is behind the "Prober amendment" to Canada's child sex tourism legislation, which was introduced in 1996. The amendment allowed authorities to prosecute Canadians who have committed crimes against children in other jurisdictions.

Today, the Winnipeg resident is arguably Canada's most influential lobbyist in the issue of sex tourism and has co-founded an organization called Beyond Borders, which helps tackle child exploitation

Prober was in Toronto on July 30 to launch a campaign with the Body Shop and the Somaly Mam Foundation, which fights human trafficking.

In an interview, Prober tells that Canada has simply not made the issue of sex tourism a priority.

Aside from stationing more RCMP officers in troubled countries, changes also need to be made to Canada's national sex offender registry, she says.

Prober and several other organizations including World Vision Canada have called for the government to issue travel warnings for people who have been convicted of sex offences in Canada and who travel abroad after serving their sentence.

"They can take their passport and say goodbye to Canada and get right back to business," she says.

Part of the solution, Prober suggests, is to make the registry public.

"These people are put right back into society anonymously," she says. "The registry is inadequate."

She admits that issuing travel advisories would be a "bureaucratic nightmare" as lawyers would have a field day arguing for the individual's right to freedom of mobility.

"It's just a matter of whose rights are going to trump whose rights," Prober says with a sigh.

For Somaly Mam, a Cambodian woman who was brutally raped as a child and sold into a brothel, the issue has never been about rights. It has been about survival.

Tired of talking

Mam was also in Toronto this week, visiting from Cambodia to share her experience and to persuade the Canadian public to take action.

She tells that speaking engagements are how she helps raise funds for the shelters and foundation she helps run, but that in truth, she is tired of all the talking.

"I don't understand what we are doing by talking," Mam says. "Talking is great but we need more reacting. While we keep talking, pedophiles are going into our country and killing our children.

"I'm so fed up, I've spent so much time writing letters." she says.

Her frustration is palpable and when she explains her current life in Cambodia, it becomes easy to understand why she is so angry.

Her shelters, scattered throughout southeast Asia, have saved about 6,000 girls. Each houses about 200 girls, some as young as five, all of whom call her "mommy."

She never turns anyone away despite the fact that sometimes there is not enough money to feed everyone. Her goal is to keep them safe and away from predators, 30 per cent of whom are tourists, she says.

The efforts have resulted in her being named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2009. Nonetheless, she realizes her limitations and says while she helps girls get out of the sex trade, she alone can't stop the problem.

"Only political power has the power to stop it," she says. "Not me."

Part of the problem Mam sees with international authorities is their lack of co-ordination across borders. By comparison, criminal organizations tend to be extremely organized.

She says the general public must put pressure on their governments to act, if a solution is to be found.

"I do this because this is my life, but you have a great life and yet you are all here," she tells a crowd of about 50 people gathered at a human trafficking rally in Toronto on July 31.

Mam says despite the frustrations and tribulations she continues to face in Cambodia, she is in no hurry to move from her home.

Her suffering as a child has driven her to help other children survive the same atrocities she faced at the hands of pedophiles.

"Those little girls teach me everyday to stand up and love," she says at the rally, choking up with emotion. "Being a victim is your whole life. You never forget it."

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