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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Cambodia PM accuses other countries of stirring unrest

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s prime minister accused foreign judges and prosecutors at the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal of seeking to arrest new suspects as part of a plot by foreign governments to incite unrest.

Hun Sen’s accusation was the latest in a series he has launched against the tribunal and its ruling last week to allow foreign prosecutors to pursue more suspects.

On Monday, Hun Sen said such action could lead to civil war. He has repeatedly spoken out against expanding the list of defendants beyond the one currently on trial — Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, — and four others in custody.

He elaborated Wednesday, saying foreign governments want war in Cambodia, a former French colony that was later wracked by decades of civil war.

“I know that some foreign judges and prosecutors have received orders from their governments to create problems here,” Hun Sen said while inaugurating a Buddhist pagoda south of the capital. “There is no doubt that they have received advice from their government to do so.”

Hun Sen did not name specific countries. The tribunal includes 12 foreign judges and two foreign prosecutors from countries including Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Zambia.

“What Cambodia needs is peace,” Hun Sen added. “If Cambodia has peace, they (foreign governments) are not quite happy with us — but if Cambodia has war, they are happy because then we’ll be easy to occupy.”

A tribunal spokesman, Lars Olsen, said Hun Sen’s comments were being verified before a comment could be issued.

Critics accuse Hun Sen of trying to limit the tribunal’s scope to prevent his political allies from being indicted. Hun Sen once served as a Khmer Rouge officer and many of his main allies are also former members of the group.

On Tuesday, the tribunal’s acting international co-prosecutor, William Smith of Australia, formally recommended that five more suspects be investigated for possible crimes against humanity and other offences.

The tribunal’s Cambodian co-prosecutor opposed further indictments, but the tribunal ruled last week that his international counterpart could seek them. The tribunal, created last year under an agreement reached in 2003 between Cambodia and the United Nations, employs joint teams of Cambodian and international court personnel.

The tribunal is seeking justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died in Cambodia from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition as a result of the ultra-communist group’s radical policies while in power in 1975-79.

The Khmer Rouge took control after a bitter 1970-75 civil war, and after being ousted from power in 1979, fought an insurgency from the jungles until 1999.

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UN says Khmer Rouge tribunal must be independent

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures at a ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Monday, Sep. 7, 2009. Hun Sen renewed his criticism of the country's U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal Monday, warning that arresting more suspects could spark civil war. (AP Photo/Khem Sovannara) (Khem Sovannara - AP)

The Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The U.N. administrator for the Khmer Rouge tribunal issued a blunt reminder to Prime Minister Hun Sen that the panel is independent, after the Cambodian leader suggested that arresting more suspects for trial could spark a civil war.

The U.N.-backed tribunal ruled last week that prosecutors could pursue further arrests beyond the five Khmer Rouge leaders already indicted, in a decision opposed by the panel's Cambodian co-prosecutor but supported by his international counterparts.

Hun Sen said Monday that he had devoted several years to persuading Khmer Rouge leaders and their soldiers to stop fighting, so he could not allow anyone to drag the country back into a new civil war by putting additional suspects them on trial.

Knut Rosandhaug, Coordinator of the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials, subsequently issued a statement that he expects the tribunal to continue to work independently.
"It is a clearly established international standard that courts do not seek approval of advice on their work from the executive branch," he said.

The tribunal is seeking justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died in Cambodia from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition as a result of the communist regime's radical policies while in power between 1975-79.

Critics accuse Hun Sen of seeking to limit the tribunal's scope because other potential defendants are his current political allies. Hun Sen served as a Khmer Rouge officer, before changing sides, and many of his major political allies are also former members of the group.

Brad Adams, Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said he believes Hun Sen was seeking to protect members of his own Cambodian People's Party, who could be targets for prosecution. But he said it was unlikely more arrests would be made.

Adams pointed out that the Khmer Rouge have been defunct for a decade, and that its former leaders are now more interested in business than war.

The tribunal's long-awaited first trial - of the Khmer Rouge's chief jailer for war crimes and crimes against humanity - opened in March. A joint trial of the four other senior officials - the only others currently in detention - is expected within the next two years.

The Khmer Rouge came to power after a bitter 1970-75 Civil War, and after being ousted from power in 1979, carried out an insurgency from the jungles until 1999.

Hun Sen has dominated Cambodian politics for more than two decades. He ousted his former co-prime minister in a 1997 coup and has since ruled virtually unchallenged.
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Cambodia's Phnom Penh Post goes daily in Khmer

PHNOM PENH — The Phnom Penh Post, one of Cambodia's leading newspapers, launched its first-ever Khmer language edition Wednesday, stepping up competition in the country's burgeoning media market.

Australian publisher Ross Dunkley said the paper, which will have a daily print run of 15,000 copies, would focus its reporting on Cambodia's changing economy and business climate as it leaves behind decades of conflict.

"Ultimately a newspaper is a reflection of the society we live in so you can expect the paper to be much more in tune with the new realities of this country," Dunkley said.

The majority of publications in the country's large and lively Cambodian-language press are accused of being aligned with political parties, however Dunkley promised independent reporting.

Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith welcomed the paper, the first full-colour Khmer tabloid in the kingdom's media market, as a "good thing" that would help "widen our free press".

The English version of the Post launched its first daily edition in August last year, after Australian businessmen with stakes in Yangon's The Myanmar Times weekly took a controlling interest in the paper.

The Post, founded by American journalist Michael Hayes 18 years ago, had published every two weeks but Post Media Ltd, the company now behind the paper, has invested heavily in expanded editions.

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U.S. Citizen Arraigned on Charges of International Sex Tourism

WASHINGTON, Richard David Mitchell was arraigned yesterday on sex tourism charges in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, after being deported from Cambodia, announced Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division Lanny A. Breuer and U.S. Attorney
for the District of Hawaii Edward H. Kubo, Jr.

Mitchell, 61, a U.S. citizen and resident of Hawaii, was charged in a criminal
complaint filed on Aug. 26, 2009, in U.S. District Court for the District of
Hawaii with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place. According
to the affidavit filed in support of the complaint, witnesses reported seeing
Mitchell engaging in sex acts with a female child on the curbside of a street
in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in August 2008. Mitchell was initially arrested in
August 2008 by the Cambodian National Police on local charges related to the
same incident.

Mitchell returned to Hawaii on Sept. 5, 2009, following his removal from
Cambodia. Upon his arrival at Honolulu International Airport, he was taken
into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. At
yesterday's hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren ordered Mitchell held
without bond pending a detention hearing.

Mitchell is the fourth American arrested by ICE in the past two weeks for
sexually exploiting minors in Cambodia. On Aug. 31, 2009, three Americans
were taken into custody by ICE at Los Angeles International Airport following
their removal from Cambodia on sex tourism charges. The four cases are the
result of unprecedented cooperation among U.S. authorities, the Cambodian
government and non-governmental organizations to target American sex tourists
in Cambodia.

Mitchell faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if
convicted of the charges.

Charges in a criminal complaint are merely accusations, and a defendant is
presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Olson of the U.S.
Attorney's Office for the District of Hawaii and Trial Attorney Anitha Ibrahim
of the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. The case
was investigated by ICE.

SOURCE U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs, +1-202-514-2007, TDD
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A ticket to somewhere

Deborah Groves with local Cambodian villagers, outside the temple district of Angkor Wat where Ms Groves has established an aid organisation. Picture supplied.

Four years ago, Australian photographer Deborah Groves walked into a small village in the Cambodian countryside and met a man who would change her life.

Just 25 minutes away was the town of Siem Reap, the stopping-off point to the world famous Angkor Wat temple, a formerly modest town now flourishing with Western-style pubs, designer shops and luxury hotels driven by the influx of tourist money.

But lying in a primitive hut in the outlying village was 52-year-old man Mr Som - skeleton-thin, his ribcage clearly visible and emaciated legs resembling long strands of licorice.

Despite being gravely ill with tuberculosis for more than 18 months, he had not received any medical care mainly due to his family’s poverty Ms Groves was horrified.

"Morally I thought, ‘I have an obligation, this man is going to die, I need to stand up and offer some help’," she said.

Enlisting the help of family and friends, Ms Groves raised the money needed for Mr Som to be carried out on a stretcher to medical care.

But it was too late; Mr Som died 10 days later.

For Ms Groves, a wedding photographer from Queensland, Mr Som’s death was an enormous “wake-up call” that not everything could be fixed easily.

Shaken by the village’s desperate poverty, she vowed to stay on and help.

The result has been Helping Hands Cambodia, an aid organisation formed Ms Groves to support Mr Som’s village and three others near Angkor Wat.

The idea behind Helping Hands is to give the local villagers a 'hand up,' rather than straight charity. For instance, recently when it gave away 1000 bicycles, each recipient agreed to work at least three days to fix local roads.

The organisation, which now has 10 Cambodian staff and up to two volunteers at a time, has also helped build bridges, a school, provided agricultural training and hundreds of free breakfasts.

The latest project will see drop toilets installed in the four villages. Fifty neighbours a day queued up to use the first one when it was installed in March, and another 15 have since been built.

To help fund Helping Hands, Groves sells photographs, magnets and bookmarks at hotels, airports and the night market in Siem Reap.

It is a long way from snapping excited brides on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

In 2004 Ms Groves fell love with the country following an Intrepid Travel tour, and feeling unfulfilled and burnt out, decided to quit her business and move to Cambodia.

But making the leap to live in one of the world’s least developed countries wasn’t easy, with many friends advising caution about leaving her business and safe life behind. "(But) I thought ‘surely I’m more than just a business’," Ms Groves said.

In the ensuing years, Ms Groves says she has developed a thick skin after four years of dealing with sometimes terrible situations.

One of her worst experiences was a man who received terrible eye injuries after a landmine exploded in his face near the Thai border.

"He was sent back to the village he was originally from without seeing a single eye doctor... I thought it was so unfair that no one cares," she said.

Helping Hands paid for his treatment, although the man’s eyes couldn’t be saved. They were later removed to stop his pain. To Western ears this may sound horrific, but Ms Groves said the man was "unbelievably grateful".

As well as the lows, there have also been incredible highs, such as a man in his 60s, blind since he was 15, regaining his sight in one eye following surgery sponsored by Ms Groves' organisation.

Another woman with cataracts regained her vision after 20 years. Ms Groves says the woman told her the thing she was most excited about was now being able to find the best food at communal dinners.

"I get a big kick out of stories like that, when you’ve had a radical impact," Ms Groves said.

However, the economic crisis has made life harder for everyone this year. Figures from the Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism say although Vietnamese tourists increased by 40 per cent in the six months to June because of new visa exemptions, Australian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and South Korean visitors fell sharply.

Cambodia’s two main industries, garment manufacturing and construction, have been crippled as US clothes orders fell and tourists stayed at home.

According to the United Nations Development Program, the garment sector lost 60,000 jobs by April and the construction sector 25,000.

UN resident co-ordinator Douglas Broderick warned: "it’s not just people’s livelihoods at risk – it’s people’s lives".

The effect on Ms Groves’ photography business has also been dramatic.

"Last year was a boom year, then the Australian dollar crashed. It made a big impact because a lot of our customers are Australian,” she said.

In June this year, her photo sales had fallen 50 per cent from the same period in 2008.

Donations to Helping Hands have also dropped, although fundraising efforts such as a US$23,000 (about $27,500) donation raised by a young Irishwoman who rowed 250 kilometres down the Shannon River- Ireland's longest river - have helped.

Ms Groves radical life-change has meant many personal sacrifices, including sleepless nights, long work hours, lack of a social life and being unable to regularly see her family and friends.

She is working towards spending more time in Australia, but continues to manage Helping Hands and run her photo business full-time from wherever she is at any given moment.

Back home, Ms Groves says her standards of living will probably be different to last time she lived there. She believes that might be a good thing.

“Most of my staff have never had a hot shower, most of the people in the village don’t even have a shower, they use a bucket. Hot water now I consider a luxury,” she says.

“Even the poorest in Australia are still better off than the people here.”
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