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Friday, April 23, 2010

Cambodia, ETimor move on

President Ramos-Horta praises reconciliation efforts, warns of oil dependency

East Timor President Jose Ramos-Horta speaks at the University of Cambodia on Wednesday as part of his three-day visit. In an interview Thursday, he spoke about similarities between his country and Cambodia.

Jose Ramos-Horta, the president of East Timor and co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, spoke to the Post on Thursday about the challenges of nation-building and development, and similarities in the evolution of democracy in East Timor and Cambodia. He is visting Cambodia on a three-day trip as part of the International Peace Foundation’s event series “Bridges – Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace”. The programme is intended to foster dialogue between Nobel laureates and students.

Cambodia and East Timor share the challenge of having to “move on” after enduring years of mass atrocities, despite the fact that many of those responsible for the mass atrocities have yet to be held accountable. How has East Timor worked towards reconciliation domestically, and with its former occupier, Indonesia?

Rather than pushing for trials of everybody involved in past violence, we pursued different avenues through the mechanism of truth and reconciliation.

This absence of prosecutorial justice as seen from the perspective of the UN or other Western countries has no bearing with the reality on the ground in [East Timor] or [between East Timor] and Indonesia.

You don’t see in my country a single act of conflict between the pro-independence and the pro-Indonesia factions.

In the terms of the relationship with Indonesia, even though there has not been a serious effort to try anyone in Indonesia responsible for the violence in [East Timor], this has not constituted an obstacle for [East Timor]and Indonesia to normalise relations and today to have an excellent relationship.

What parallels do you see between the reconciliation processes in East Timor and Cambodia?

I am very impressed with the fact that in spite of the huge tragedy that befell the Cambodian people … and the lack of a trial not only of senior [officers] but middle-level and junior cadres of the Khmer Rouge … that there is no street violence, there is no indiscriminate persecution and killing of past enemies.

The Cambodian people have shown an extraordinary ability to let the past go. It is not a question of forgetting the past, but [of] not becoming totally obsessed and hostage to the past, particularly when the past is a very tragic one.

It is a situation that should actually be a lesson to many other post-Civil War/post-conflict countries.

The Cambodians have been able to transition from the tragedy of the past into, today, a very dynamic, robust economy with a functioning democratic system, with all its imperfections, like any democracy, particularly emerging democracies.

How are Cambodia and East Timor similar in terms of their oil and gas resources?

From what I’ve read, Cambodia also has tremendous potential oil and gas, and other minerals, [which could] significantly transform this country into an economic powerhouse in Southeast Asia. Cambodia is very fortunate that it has hard-working, resilient people … and if on top of it, it has oil and gas revenues soon, it will completely transform Cambodia.

But what is critical in [East Timor] and critical in Cambodia [is to] not allow oil and gas wealth to destroy all other areas of the economy, particularly agriculture. Oil and gas, as such, do not create jobs. We must use oil and gas revenues to invest more in agriculture to guarantee food security, as well as using the revenues to invest more in education, in health. The best investment that we can do in the long term is investment in the people … as well as in job creation to eliminate poverty.

Look at Venezuela – extremely rich in oil and gas – but the people are poorer in spite of the [government’s] efforts … and the same in Mexico,
Nigeria and a few other countries. Never fall into the trap of getting flooded with money from oil and gas and forget the rural areas, agriculture, small industries, and so on.

East Timor has a largely rural, poor population, and most of its people survive on subsistence farming. What kinds of initiatives has East Timor undertaken to create jobs and develop industry?

[East Timor] has expanded investment in the agriculture sector … expanded in the area of cultivation with the provision of hundreds of new tractors [given] to small farmers.

We are also working toward increasing productivity because up to now productivity [has been] extremely low. We produce no more than 2 tonnes per hectare, compared with Cambodia [and] Vietnam where the average is 5 to 8 tonnes per hectare. But with the new technology introduced – new seeds, new techniques – in some areas [productivity] has gone up.

Cambodia has a track record of frequently granting economic land concessions to private businesses and high-ranking government officials, some of which lead to forced evictions. As development picks up in East Timor, how will your government work to avoid these same kinds of problems, given that many people in East Timor do not possess land titles?

The government and parliament are discussing a land and property law. We hope that it will address many of the problems that we face. I do not think that [East Timor has] a huge problem of the government granting land in an arbitrary fashion. From my honest understanding, it is actually the opposite [in East Timor].

It is actually a very tedious process for any investor to try to get land for a project. Some land has been granted to some dubious individuals in my country, local [people], but these are issues that are easily overcome ... with a new law [implemented by] the Minster of Justice.

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Cambodian war correspondents mourn ex-colleagues


KANDOUL, Cambodia — The bodies were dumped in a shallow grave amid the untilled earth of rice paddies: five journalists who had been ambushed by Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong guerrillas on May 31, 1970.

Om Pao, then 12, remembers the stench of decay for days after. He helped his father heap more earth on top of the remains to keep the smell down, the pigs out and the bodies from floating away.

In all, nine journalists — American, Indian, Japanese, French and Cambodian — were attacked that day near this dusty village south of the capital, Phnom Penh. All are believed to have been killed. It was one of the deadliest incidents for reporters in the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, in a year that remains one of the deadliest anywhere for journalists.

This week, 40 years later, two dozen aging colleagues trekked to Kandoul to mourn and remember. They honored the dozens of reporters, photographers and cameramen who died covering the five-year war, which ended in 1975 with the takeover by the brutal Khmer Rouge.

"It's not only sadness for our colleagues, but also for our Cambodian friends," said Elizabeth Becker, who covered the war for The Washington Post, "but the biggest sadness is that it's taken so long for this country to recover."

Impoverished Cambodia, already roiled by the fighting in neighboring Vietnam, plunged into open war in March 1970 when Gen. Lon Nol overthrew Prince Norodom Sihanouk and seized power in a CIA-backed coup.

Two months later, as Lon Nol's forces battled Khmer Rouge insurgents and their Vietnamese allies, a six-man crew from CBS News was ambushed on the morning of May 31 as the team drove south of Phnom Penh, looking for a battle. Three men from NBC News, rushing after their competitors, were also captured.

According to former CBS cameraman Kurt Volkert, who compiled a detailed reconstruction based on witness accounts, four of the CBS employees were killed instantly. The five others are believed to have been taken to Kandoul in the days after and executed. They had their hands bound and possibly were clubbed to death.

In 1992, Volkert helped a U.S. military forensics team locate the grave just outside Kandoul. Four bodies were recovered and identified as the three NBC employees and one from CBS. The fifth body was never found.

In all, more than three dozen foreign and Cambodian journalists were killed or listed as missing during the 1970-75 war. As many as 26 were killed in the war's first year, according to tallies compiled by former Associated Press correspondents.

Earlier this year, amateur searchers digging northeast of Phnom Penh unearthed what they believe to be the remains of war photographer Sean Flynn — son of Hollywood star Errol Flynn. Sean Flynn went missing nearly two months before the U.S. television crews were ambushed.

After the Khmer Rouge took over in April 1975, dozens of other Cambodian journalists — mainly freelancers for foreign media — were executed or simply disappeared.

On Thursday, reporters, photographers and cameramen who covered Cambodia's upheaval joined throngs of curious villagers, huddling from the scorching heat under an orange and yellow tent in the middle of a rice paddy.

The smell of burning incense and the chants of Buddhist monks mixed with the sound of passing ox carts. Several visitors wept as the names of the dead reporters were read aloud. Children, naked and barefoot, begged for handouts, sipped coconut juice being sold by a vendor and splashed in the nearby puddle where the four bodies had been exhumed in 1992.

"We remember those who have died seeking both truth and reality in Cambodia," said Chhang Song, the minister of information in the Lon Nol government who worked closely with many of the reporters and helped organize the reunion.

Om Pao, whose father's paddy was just yards away from the grave in 1970, said: "To hold a Buddhist ceremony like today is good for dead people, to show the gratitude to the dead and to offer their souls a chance to rest in peace."

Former AP correspondent Carl Robinson said covering Cambodia's turmoil was much more dangerous than Vietnam. Journalists were more often on their own, without the protection of the U.S. military. And, he added, he was troubled by the U.S. role in Cambodia.

"It was nightmarish to cover it all," he said. "It's too hard to look back upon. The whole thing had been a disaster. I left feeling guilty and bitter, as a reporter, as an American, it was just shameful and the Cambodians suffered."

For Jeff Williams, a former correspondent for AP and CBS, the trip was a chance to remember the collegiality of the foreign press corps at the time.

"I don't believe in closure. Maybe it's just me, but nothing ever closes," he said. "You just move ahead."

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BHP chief plays down Cambodia fallout

BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers has effectively pre-empted the findings of two investigations into its Cambodian bribery scandal by saying he expects only modest fallout for the company.

Rather than wait for the findings of an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and an internal report being conducted with the help of a US law company, Mr Kloppers jumped the gun in an interview this week with the Financial Times, said by BHP to have been planned months ago.

"We think the potential issue we've got in the total scale of the company is very modest," Mr Kloppers is reported to have said.

The report quoted the chief executive as saying the potential wrongdoing needed to be put in context, which he said was why BHP limited its disclosure of the SEC probe and its own investigations to the bottom of its March-quarter exploration report, released on Wednesday.

"If there was any view that this was something that would have had a material impact on the company - and I'm not talking about financial-only terms, I am talking about overall reputational damage, all of the things that we weigh when we look at a disclosable event - you can clearly see we thought of this in one way," he said.

But Mr Kloppers also seemed to want an each-way bet.

"I don't want to detract from the seriousness of these issues at all because there is absolutely nothing more important in life than our reputation, as events at Toyota and Citibank show. So even if there was 50¢ that had changed hands to a government official, it would have been an unbelievably big deal."

BHP has so far refused to disclose where the bribery scandal took place, but nor has it bothered to deny widespread reports that it involved a $US1 million payment by the company to the Cambodian government in 2006 to secure bauxite leases.

There has also been speculation that there could be lingering issues for BHP from an aborted nickel project in the Philippines, with a Catholic Church aid agency saying in 2008 that the company needed to be more careful in picking its local joint-venture partners.

The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development alleged that BHP's Filipino partner in a nickel joint venture had offered bribes to community leaders to buy support for the project and silence opposition to the mining.

CAFOD said that while there was no evidence that BHP was involved, the company had a responsibility to ensure that partners and contractors it had chosen to work with did not partake in bribery or corruption.
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