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Monday, April 26, 2010

Thai king speaks out for first time in crisis, tells judges to work faithfully to bring peace

Thai king speaks for 1st time in political crisis

BANGKOK — Thailand’s ailing king spoke Monday for the first time since his country descended into political chaos, but the man seen by many as the best hope for securing a peaceful resolution failed to address the deadly crisis that has shut down parts of Bangkok.

Speaking from the hospital, where he has been for more than seven months, King Bhumibol Adulyadej told newly appointed judges that they should faithfully carry out their duties and help keep the country stable.

“In the country, there might be people who neglect their duties, but you can set an example that there are those who perform their duties strictly and honestly,” the 82-year-old king said.

His vague comments could be seen as a possible reference to accusations that the government has failed to keep order when faced with the militant protesters who have taken over part of central Bangkok.

The king’s lack of clear statement, however, signaled he was not prepared to take an active role in resolving the crisis, as he did in 1973 when he stopped bloodshed during a student uprising and again in 1992 during antimilitary street protests.

The U.S.-born Bhumibol, the world’s longest reigning monarch, has been hospitalized since Sept. 19, when he was admitted with fatigue and loss of appetite. The palace has said he is recovering from a lung inflammation, but not explained why he has been hospitalized for so long.

At least 26 people have been killed and nearly 1,000 wounded since protesters called Red Shirts began occupying parts of the capital, closing down five-star hotels and shopping malls and devastating the country’s vital tourism industry.

The government said it hoped to resolve the problem peacefully, despite a breakdown in negotiations, but added it could not allow the protests to go on indefinitely.

“We’re required to keep peace and return the area to normalcy,” government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

The Red Shirts consist mainly of poor, rural supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed the military coup that ousted him in 2006. They believe that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government — backed by the urban elite — is illegitimate.

The conflict has been characterized by some as class warfare, and a pro-establishment group known as the Yellow Shirts have demanded that authorities crack down on the demonstrators — even implying they might take matters into their own hands.

“The government has the responsibility to protect the people, but instead shows its weakness and inability to enforce the law,” said Suriyasai Katasila, a leader of the Yellow Shirts.

Thousands of “Red Shirt” protesters have shed their signature crimson attire as their leaders warned they should be prepared to blend in if the government cracks down on their enclave. Many Red Shirt supporters outside the capital have tried to prevent police reinforcements from moving into Bangkok.

In at least six places around the country, Red Shirt supporters scattered nails along roads, set up checkpoints and searched vans and buses for police officers headed to the capital.

Some police heading to Bangkok were forced to return to their bases, while police in the central province of Phitsanulok, impatient after a 5-hour standoff with the Red Shirts, broke through a cordon of protesters who hurled rocks and wooden sticks at them, Thai media reported.

While there was no violence in the central Bangkok shopping area where protesters remained camped for a 24th day, an explosion injured eight people late Sunday near the home of former Prime Minister Banharn Silapa-archa, who is allied with the ruling coalition.

Thaksin, who fled Thailand ahead of a conviction on corruption charges, said Monday that he is in contact with the protesters and he defended their cause.

“We just fight for democracy. Let them fight for democracy and justice,” he said in Montenegro, one of a handful of countries that have offered him a passport. Others, such as Germany and Britain, have barred him.

Meanwhile, the government appeared to have left itself few immediate ways out of the crisis.

Panitan, the government spokesman, said the government could not tolerate the protesters’ camping out in the city anymore, but appeared to rule out sending in security forces anytime soon because that would likely lead to violence.

He also said political negotiations to resolve the crisis peacefully would remain on hold until the government had arrested Red Shirt leaders accused of inciting violence. Warrants have been issued for two dozen leaders.

Over the weekend, Abhisit rejected a compromise offer by the Red Shirts, dashing hopes for a peaceful end to the standoff.

“There will be no negotiations until shadowy elements are contained,” he said.

Associated Press writer Predrag Milic in Podgorica, Montenegro, contributed to this report.
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On Island of Massacre, Chams Remember

On an island in the Mekong River in Krouch Chhmar district, about 50 km from Kampong Cham provincial town, lies a Cham village that is little more than a few bamboo, thatched-roof houses.

On an island in the Mekong River in Krouch Chhmar district, about 50 km from Kampong Cham provincial town, lies a Cham village that is little more than a few bamboo, thatched-roof houses.

The village is on Koh Phal, or “Island of Harvest,” where Cham Muslims resisted the Khmer Rouge in an uprising in September 1975, just five months after the radical Maoists took power in Cambodia.

“The reason for the rebellion was that there was no more Islam,” Chet Sman, a 75-year-old widower and the head of one of the four families living here, told VOA Khmer in an interview recently. “The Khmer Rouge collected our Quran for burning and cut women’s hair, including my mother’s. This is the reason.”

Chet Sman sat in front of an old black-and-white TV in his cottage, smoking tobacco and describing the uprising, which led to a massacre of the Chams on the island. These killings, and others like them, will be a part of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s upcoming trial against four jailed leaders of the regime.

The Khmer Rouge shut down mosques, forbid prayer and abolished head-covering for women, he said. They also forced the Chams to raise pigs and eat the pork, a deeply offensive act to the traditional Muslims.

Before the Chams of Koh Phal were pushed to rebellion, the Khmer Rouge went house to house, collecting swords, knives and other tools that might be used as weapons, Chet Sman said. But many villagers hid theirs, or quickly constructed new ones, as they decided to resist.

“The desperate villagers who dared fight against the Khmer Rouge with their swords or bamboo wanted to die as our religion disappeared,” he said, his own long knife and axes lying nearby.

In response, the Khmer Rouge surrounded the island with artillery and weapons. Within a week, they had killed the rebellious villagers, burned down their homes, religious schools and mosques and then turned the name of Koh Phal to Koh Phes, or “Island of Ashes.”

Then, two weeks later, Cham villagers in Svay Klaing, 10 kilometers away, rose up as well, after their teachers and religious leaders were arrested by the Khmer Rouge. Many more were killed in a single day and night.

Ysa Osman, author of “The Cham Rebellion,” which chronicles the uprisings, said the Khmer Rouge then sent survivors to four prisons in Kroach Chhmar district, in areas prone to malaria.

“At that time, there were not enough prisons to put people in, as there were thousands of people both young and old,” he said in an interview last week. “So the Khmer Rouge used schools and pagodas as detention centers for the rebellious villagers.”

Among an estimated 1.7 million people who were killed or died of starvation, overwork or torture under Democratic Kampuchea, an estimated 500,000 are believed to be Chams, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

In late 2009, the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal added the charge of genocide for four former Khmer Rouge leaders awaiting trials. The four, Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, had previously been charged with crimes against humanity, murder, torture and religious persecutions.

As part of the trial, which could begin next year, Yusos Pinyamin, a survivor of the Svay Klaing massacre, was among those who have filed complaints as civil parties, and he said recently he wants justice done more quickly.

He worries the old leaders will die before they see trial.

“I knew that I could not win, but it was not worth living any longer,” the 56-year-old “hakim,” or village elder, said of the 1975 rebellion. “I was so desperate that I could not wait to be killed.”
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Remembering 'Year Zero' when Beijing-backed regime rammed socialism through

UNITED NATIONS — Thirty-five years ago this week, the guns fell silent in Cambodia. The capital city Phnom Penh was captured by the Khmer Rouge communists and the war was finally over. Then an unfathomable reign of terror commenced pulling Cambodia into yet lower levels of the Indochinese inferno. Now a generation later, an UN-backed tribunal is trying key Khmer Rouge leaders “accused of mass killings and other crimes during the country’s genocide.”

During the rule of the Beijing-backed Pol Pot regime between 1975-1979, nearly two million Cambodians were killed by their own people in the name of communist utopianism. The Year Zero as it was called, was to forcibly transform Cambodia into a socialist state, which rivaled the radicalism even of Mao’s Cultural Revolution in Mainland China.

Neighboring Vietnam’s invasion of its old ethnic rival, Cambodia and the instillation of a puppet regime in 1979, interrupted the sanguinary rule of Democratic Kampuchea. Despite the illegality of the invasion and the dubious legitimacy of the rulers, (many of them former Khmer Rouge defectors), from a human rights perspective, and for the average Cambodian, the situation improved.

Yet Democratic Kampuchea was still the UN-recognized representative holding the seat of Cambodia. An annual political General Assembly debate brought together representatives of the Pol Pot regime, genuine nationalists, and the mercurial if bizarre Prince Sihanouk. The People’s Republic of China backed the Khmer Rouge, the U.S. Administration of Jimmy Carter had just recognized Beijing and thus was playing the China Card, and most developing countries opposed Hanoi’s invasion too. Thus there existed the political clout to produce resounding majorities contemning Vietnam’s illegal occupation of Cambodia.

In light of the condemnations of Vietnam, it almost became an afterthought that the Khmer Rouge had presided over the infamous Killing Fields, an indisputable genocide which tore the once gentle heart from this Indochina land, making the very name Cambodia synonymous with forced starvation, torture and death.

Given massive international political pressures, Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia and allowed a UN peacekeeping and political process with led to free and fair elections in the early 1990’s. Not surprisingly the old Kingdom of Cambodia was reestablished. By 2003 the UN and Cambodia agreed to a joint judicial Tribunal, tasked with trying leading Khmer Rouge figures. The Tribunal is composed of both Cambodian and foreign judges.

Recently the UN’s Chief Legal Counsel, Patricia O’Brien, visited the Phnom Penh-based Tribunal, officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, (ECCC). After holding discussions with Cambodian officials, she stressed the continuing importance of the Tribunal, but called on donor countries to provide funding to support the ongoing judicial process.

The ECCC budget for 2010 stands at $45 million and is paid by both the Cambodian government and foreign donors. The Tribunal provides a full and proper legal frame- work with Trial and Appeals Chambers.

A trial of the notorious leader Kiang Guek Eav also known as “Duch” has finished and he is awaiting sentence. He was charged with crimes of torture and premeditated murder at the infamous S-21 camp. There will be at least a few more trials before the Tribunal winds down its mandate in 2015.

According to a statement, “The ECCC has confirmed its ability to conduct complex international criminal trials to international standards.” Yet the obvious question arises; with so many of the perpetuators of the Khmer Rouge genocide still alive, and many living openly in Cambodia, why is the Tribunal’s mandate so narrow?

Clearly there are large numbers in Cambodian society who are willing to turn the page on the past, or who more likely, fear returning to that past. Confronting the living ghosts of the Pol Pot regime raises fears and a specter of a Cambodia which existed before probably most of the current population was even born. The fragile peace, fractious democracy, and fluctuating economic development have moved forward but could quickly wilt in the hot-light of recriminations or perhaps worse. Revenge for the crimes of the genocidal regime is not the issue, but justice should be the indisputable goal.

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US Embassy in Cambodia Says Remains Are Not US Photographer

The surviving journalists and photographers who covered the war in Cambodia between 1970-75 gathered in Phnom Penh last week. They are seen here at a memorial to mark the 37 local and foreign colleagues who died during that time.

Last month, amateur excavators unearthed human remains they claimed were those of U.S. war photographer Sean Flynn, who disappeared in Cambodia 40 years ago. But the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh says the remains are not Flynn's.

In 1970 war photographer Sean Flynn, the son of legendary Hollywood actor Errol Flynn, was in Cambodia covering the country's drift into civil war.

On April 6th that year he rode out of Phnom Penh with U.S. journalist Dana Stone. The two were not seen again, and were presumed captured and killed by the Khmer Rouge.

But last month two amateur excavators said they had found Flynn's remains in southeastern Cambodia.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh said that military scientists tested the remains and found they are not Caucasian, and therefore could not be Flynn or Stone.

"And limited analysis suggests that they may be indigenous. Further testing is underway," embassy spokesman John Johnson said.

The excavation of the remains caused controversy. It came just weeks before a group of 27 journalists and photographers who covered Cambodia in the 1970s arrived here for a reunion, the first since Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975.

Some of the journalists, many of whom knew Flynn and Stone, were angry at the way the excavators recovered the bones, especially their use of heavy earthmoving equipment.

The Embassy's Johnson says the use of a backhoe - a mechanical digger - caused problems.

"The remains are badly fragmented due to the manner in which they were recovered," Johnson said.

During their visit here last week, the group of returning journalists unveiled a memorial to the 37 Cambodian and foreign colleagues who died or disappeared during the war.

Among the names read out at the ceremony were those of Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, whose fates still remain unknown.
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