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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Japan commits to assist Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam

Japan remains strong commitment to providing assistance to the Development Triangle Area of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (CLV), the Lao newspaper Vientiane Times reported Wednesday.

The commitment was made by Ishikane Kimihiro, deputy head of the Southeast and Southwest Asian Department of Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the third CLV-Japan working level meeting held in Vientiane.

The meeting was to review the implementation of cooperation activities funded by Japan and draw up future direction to attract more direct investment of Japan to the triangle area, said the newspaper.

Kimihiro said that his country's assistance would contribute to stability and prosperity of the CLV countries in particular and that of Asia in general.

Japan has so far provided 20 million U.S. dollars for development related to the triangle, said Ya Seng, an official from Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The development triangle area is located in the border areas of the three CLV countries that share many common factors. These include untapped natural resources, potential for economic development and similar socio-cultural conditions.

Source: Xinhua
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Khmer Rouge official wants 'harshest punishment'


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - The former chief of the Khmer Rouge's main torture center, being tried by a U.N.-backed tribunal on genocide charges, asked the Cambodian people Wednesday to give him "the harshest punishment."

The statement from Kaing Guek Eav, who headed the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, came as a widow wept before the court, demanding justice for the death of her husband and four children during the communist regime's reign of terror.

"I accept the regret, the sorrow and the suffering of the million Cambodian people who lost their husbands and wives," the defendant told the tribunal. "I would like the Cambodian people to condemn me to the harshest punishment."

Kaing Guek Eav _ better known as Duch _ is being tried for crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture. Up to 16,000 people were tortured under his command and later killed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule. Only a handful survived.

Duch (pronounced DOIK) later became an evangelical Christian and worked for international aid organizations after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge.

He noted Wednesday that Jesus Christ was stoned before his death by crucifixion.

"If Cambodians followed this traditional punishment, they could do that to me. I would accept it," he said.

Duch is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge figures scheduled to face long-delayed trials and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. His trial, which started in March, is expected to finish by the end of the year.

He could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Cambodia has no death penalty.

Cambodia and the U.N. also announced Wednesday the appointment of a corruption watchdog for the tribunal, whose credibility and funding has been threatened by allegations of wrongdoing _ notably that some Cambodian personnel paid kickbacks to get their jobs.

During Wednesday's court session, Bou Thon, 64, said her husband was a driver at the Khmer Rouge's Industry Ministry when he was accused of being a traitor and sent to S-21. She was assigned as a cook.

Her husband and four children vanished, and Bou Thon said she believed all were killed at Choeung Ek, better known as the Killing Fields, outside Phnom Penh where S-21 prisoners were dispatched for execution.

With tears in her eyes, Bou Thon said she tried to forgive and forget but could not.

Duch, asked by the judge to speak about the Khmer Rouge killings, said they were "like the death of an elephant which no one can hide with only two tamarind tree leaves."

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Cambodia: A land up for sale?

Romam Fil is moving rapidly through a dense patch of forest. Every few metres he pauses and points to edible plants and roots that the Jarai people of north eastern Cambodia have relied on for generations.

Then suddenly the trees come to an end. In front of us is a vast clearing, the red earth churned up and dotted with tree stumps.

Beyond that, stretching as far as we can see is a rubber plantation, the young trees are still thin and spindly and sway gently in the breeze.

This is the scene of a battle the Jarai people of Kong Yu village have been fighting, and losing for the past five years.

It started when local officials called a meeting and said they needed some of the forest.

"They told us they wanted to give part of our land to disabled soldiers," said Mr Fil.

"They said if you don't give us the land, we'll take it. So we agreed to give them a small area, just 50 hectares."

The villagers say they were then invited to a party and when many of them were drunk they were asked to put their thumbprints on documents.

"Most of us don't know how to read or write, and the chiefs did not explain what the thumbprints were for," said Mr Fil.

The villagers later found they had signed away more than 400 hectares - and the land was not for disabled soldiers, but a private company who began making way for the rubber plantation.

"They cleared areas where our people had their farms, and they destroyed our burial ground," said Mr Fil.

Political connections?

Lawyers for the owner of the plantation company, a powerful businesswoman called Keat Kolney, insist she bought the land legally.

But groups advocating for local land rights in Cambodia say part of the reason she was able to acquire the land is because she is married to a senior official in the ministry of land management.
It is not the only case where those closely connected to senior government figures are alleged to have taken land from poor Cambodians.

Five years ago, in north-western Pursat province a large grazing area was turned into an economic land concession - land the government grants to private firms for investment in large-scale agriculture.

It was allocated to a politically well-connected company called Pheapimex.

"They just came one day with their bulldozers and started clearing the land straight away," said Chamran, a farmer in the area.

"So we organised a demonstration but then a grenade was thrown among us - we don't know who by. Nine people were injured. The military police pointed a gun in my stomach and said if you hold another demonstration we will kill you."

Transparent process

Under the law, land concessions granted by the government should not exceed 10,000 hectares but the Pheapimex concession, although much of it is so far inactive, covers 300,000 hectares.

Global Witness, an environmental pressure group, estimates Pheapimex now controls 7% of Cambodia's land area.

The organisation says the company's owners, a prominent senator and his wife, have strong links to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Pheapimex did not reply to requests for a response to these allegations, but the Cambodian government maintains that the process by which private companies acquire land is both transparent and legal.

"The requirement is not to be close to the prime minister," said Phay Siphan, spokesman for Cambodia's Council of Ministers.

"The requirement is that you have enough capital, you have the technology to develop the land."
'Kleptocratic state'

It is not just in rural areas that people complain of losing land.

Cambodia's recent stability, following decades of violence, has attracted a rapid boom in tourism and a race among foreign and local entrepreneurs for prime real estate on which to build new resorts.

Many of the country's beaches have already been bought up.

And rights groups estimate that 30,000 people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in the capital Phnom Penh over the past five years to make way for new developments.

The roots of the problem date back to the 1970s when the brutal Khmer Rouge regime abolished private property and destroyed many title documents.

A land law passed in 2001 recognises the rights of people who have lived on land without dispute for five years or more, but in many cases it is not being implemented.

The UN estimates hundreds of thousands of Cambodians are now affected by land disputes.

But land is not the only state asset being sold at an alarming rate.

Beginning in the 1990s, large swathes of the country's rich forests were bought up by logging companies.

Now sizeable mining and gas concessions are also being granted to private enterprises.

Eleanor Nichol of Global Witness believes individual members of the Cambodian government, right up to the highest levels, are benefiting.

"Essentially what we're dealing with here is a kleptocratic state which is using the country and its assets as their own personal slush fund," she said.

The Cambodian government rejects these allegations.

"They could accuse [the government of] anything they like. Cambodia operates under a modernised state of law. Everyone is together under one law,” said Phay Siphan.

Back in Kong Yu village, the Jarai people are waiting to hear the result of suit filed in a local court to try to get their land back.

"If the company gets the land, many of our people will starve," says Mr Fil.

"If we lose the land, we have lost everything.”
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Anti-corruption watchdog to join UN-backed genocide court in Cambodia

12 August 2009 – The United Nations and Cambodia have announced an agreement to establish an anti-corruption watchdog to oversee the tribunal set up to bring to justice the perpetrators of the country’s notorious ‘killing fields’ genocide over three decades ago.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), set up in 2003 by the UN and Cambodia and staffed by local and international employees, is tasked with trying senior leaders and those most responsible for serious violations of Cambodian and international law committed during the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 and 1979.

Designating an Independent Counsellor “represents a further step to help strengthen the human resources management in the entire ECCC administration, including anti-corruption measures,” according to a joint statement issued today in Phnom Penh, the capital, by UN Assistant-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taks√łe-Jensen and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

The new office will “ensure the requirements of due process of law, including full protection of staff on both sides of the ECCC against any possible retaliation for good faith reporting of wrongdoing,” the statement added.

“In this context, the Independent Counsellor will be available to all staff to bring forward any concerns confidentially, and will be empowered to address such concerns.”

The tribunal is staffed by a mixture of Cambodian and international employees and judges, and there are two prosecutors: Robert Petit, who is stepping down as International Co-Prosecutor on 1 September, and Chea Leang, who is Cambodian.

Estimates vary, but as many as 2 million people are thought to have died during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, which was then followed by a protracted period of civil war in the impoverished South-East Asian country.

Currently there are two cases before the court, including the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, also known as “Duch,” who is charged with crimes including torture and premeditated murder while he was in charge of the renowned S-21 detention camp. Nuon Chea faces charges of having planned and ordered the murder, torture and enslavement of civilians.

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'Killing fields' tribunal to be monitored

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, The United Nations and Cambodia said Wednesday they will create an anti-corruption watchdog to oversee the so-called "killing fields" genocide tribunal.

The Cambodian tribunal, called the Extraordinary Chambers, was set up in 2003 to try senior leaders and others allegedly most responsible for serious violations of Cambodian and international law committed during Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1979.

Designating an independent counselor "represents a further step to help strengthen the human resources management in the entire (tribunal) administration, including anti-corruption measures," said a joint statement issued in Phnom Penh by U.N Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksoe-Jensen and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

The statement went on to say the watchdog would help protect court staff "against any possible retaliation for good faith reporting of wrongdoing. In this context, the independent counselor will be available to all staff to bring forward any concerns confidentially, and will be empowered to address such concerns."

The tribunal is staffed by Cambodian and international employees, prosecutors and judges.

As many as 2 million people may have died in the Southeast Asian nation during the Khmer Rouge rule, which was followed by civil war.

Defendants before the court include former S-21 detention camp commander Kaing Guek Eav, also known as "Duch," who is charged with torture and premeditated murder, and Nuon Chea, who is charged with planning and ordering the murder, torture and enslavement of civilians.

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Cambodian Sentence Upheld

Rights groups condemn an appeals court ruling against a newspaper editor who reported alleged corruption.

PHNOM PENH—A Cambodian appeals court has upheld the prison sentence of a newspaper editor and publisher jailed for "disinformation" after he ran articles alleging high-level government corruption, and his lawyer is vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Hang Chakra, former editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok, was sentenced to a year in jail on June 26 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and was fined 9 million riel (about U.S. $2,250).

He has been held in a cell with 50 other men at Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison since his conviction. On Aug. 11, a three-judge appellate panel upheld the sentence.

Hang Chakra's lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, is vowing to appeal to the Cambodian Supreme Court.

“There has been no unrest resulting from this publication—the Appeals Court decision is unfair,” Choung Chou Ngy told reporters here.

Hang Chakra refused during the hearing to identify sources for the article, citing protections under Cambodia’s 1995 Press Law. He was tried under the tougher 1992 UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia) Criminal Code.

Prosecutor attorney Suong Chanthan said he was pleased with the ruling.

Ruling denounced

Opposition MPs, human rights groups, and staff from the U.S. Embassy here attended the appellate hearing and denounced the ruling.

“This judgment constitutes a threat to freedom of expression,” Sam Ath, chief investigator at the local human rights group LICADHO, said.

Son Chhay, an MP from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, also condemned the ruling.

“The court’s judgment shows the ruling party’s stance to condemn those who dare to express opinions critical of the government,” he said.

Sara Colm, country specialist for Human Rights Watch, said the Appeal Court decision was "more than disappointing."

"This is yet another indication that the space for opposition journalists and NGOs and human rights defenders in Cambodia is shrinking," Colm said.

"The fact that this was upheld on appeal will only solidify the control of the ruling party over the press and dissenting voices."
Cambodia’s government has brought several defamation and disinformation lawsuits this year in what rights activists regard as a significant crackdown on freedom of expression.

‘Campaign of harassment’

Human Rights Watch has urged Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to end what it called a “campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action aimed at consolidating its rule by silencing the political opposition and peaceful critics.”

The New York-based organization cited “at least nine politically motivated criminal defamation and disinformation cases against journalists, opposition members of parliament, lawyers, and government critics,” including the case against Hang Chakra.

Human Rights Watch also urged Cambodia’s international donors to press the government to stop what it called its heavy-handed harassment of opposition members.

Cambodia's National Assembly meanwhile voted to lift the parliamentary immunity of two of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party's most active members, paving the way to try them on criminal charges of defamation against Hun Sen and 22 military officials, respectively.

All the recent lawsuits were filed under the UNTAC Criminal Code's Articles 62 and 63, laws addressing disinformation and defamation and libel, Human Rights Watch said.
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