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Friday, July 30, 2010

Cambodia claims win in UNESCO tussle over temple


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia declared victory Friday in a diplomatic standoff with Thailand after the U.N. cultural agency agreed to consider its plan for managing a temple that is on land claimed by both countries.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said that Cambodia had achieved its goal when UNESCO's World Heritage Commission agreed on Thursday to consider its plan for the Preah Vihear temple on the border with Thailand.

However, UNESCO's decision to defer the matter to its meeting next year takes pressure off both countries.

Thailand, which claims the plan jeopardizes its claim to disputed territory, had threatened to quit UNESCO if the plan was endorsed at Thursday's meeting in Brazil. Thai officials said they viewed the postponement of the plan's consideration as progress.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled the 10th-century border temple belongs to Cambodia, rejecting Thai claims. UNESCO — over Thai objections — named Preah Vihear a World Heritage site in 2008, after Cambodia applied for the status. Cambodia's World Heritage bid reignited Thai resentment over the earlier ruling, and there have been small and sometimes deadly armed clashes in the area during the past few years.

Leaders of both countries have used the issue to stir up nationalist sentiment and shore up domestic political support. In Thailand, nationalist pressure groups demonstrated this week for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to take a hard line against Cambodia and UNESCO. The two sides' military leaders spoke about strengthening their respective forces at the border in preparation for any incursions from the other side.

Sok An led the Cambodian delegation at the UNESCO meeting, and spoke by satellite from Brazil live on television.

"UNESCO has officially accepted our management plan documents, so there is no need to have a further discussion or voting," Sok An said. "The result of the meeting is a big victory for Cambodia, a result we have been waiting for."

Thai officials insist that demarcation of the disputed land must come before UNESCO endorses any management plan.

"How we're going to move forward is a matter to be discussed by both sides," said Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova released a statement earlier this week calling for dialogue between the two countries. "It is our common responsibility to make these sites emblems of peace, dialogue and reconciliation," she said.

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CNN Heroes: Aki Ra Disarmed Land Mines in Cambodia He Placed Decades Earlier

Aki Ra, leader of the nonprofit Cambodian Self Help Demining team, works to make his country more safe by clearing land mines on a daily basis. He estimates that he and his team have cleared more than 50,000 land mines -- some of which he planted himself.

At around age ten, Aki Ra was selected by the Khmer Rouge to lay land mines in and around his village. Over the next three years Aki Ra must have planted some 4,000 to 5,000 land mines in a single month.

"I had [bad] feelings, because sometimes we were fighting against our friends and relatives," Aki Ra said. "I felt sad when I saw a lot of people were killed. A lot of people were suffering from landmines. [But] I did not know what to do, [because] we were under orders."

The CNN Hero nominee formed the Cambodian Demining Self Help team in 2008 and continues to work with local Cambodians, former soldiers and war crime victims.

CNN's "Heroes" series honors individuals who make extraordinary contributions to helping others. In November, one CNN Hero will be chosen to receive a large sum of money to continue his/her work. Last year's winner was Efren Pe<&>#241aflorida.

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From Cambodia's Killing Fields to New York, a new film confronts Khmer Rouge

By Jared Ferrie, Correspondent

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
In the new film "Enemies of the People," the highest-ranking Khmer Rouge leader still living promises to disclose at his war crimes trial details of the mysterious inner workings of the regime.

"I will talk about it at the court to open their eyes," says the notoriously secretive Nuon Chea, pledging to explain the 1970s mass killings that still confound Cambodians.

The documentary won the 2010 Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and began a series of US screenings July 30 in New York (see trailer below).

Mr. Nuon is expected to go on trial next year, following up on the court's initial July 26 verdict against a Khmer Rouge chief jailer, Kaing Guek Eav, or "Duch," who ran a torture facility. Duch was sentence to 19 years for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Unlike Duch, who was not a member of the ruling clique, Nuon was second in command only to Brother No. 1 Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

Observers say Nuon's case will be more revealing and satisfying for Cambodians who seek to understand better why the Khmer Rouge killed 2 million countrymen in the 1970s, including the brother of Thet Sambath.

Mr. Thet, for one, didn't wait for a court to tell him what he wants to know. Over the past two decades, while the international community negotiated with the government to establish the United Nations-backed tribunal here, Thet was venturing into the jungles of western Cambodia to pose his own questions to Nuon and other Khmer Rouge.

"I want to know what went on inside the Khmer Rouge – why the starvation, why the killing," says the journalist, who teamed up with British coproducer Rob Lemkin for "Enemies of the People." In the film, slated to air on PBS next year, Nuon and other former Khmer Rouge reveal a previously unheard history that contradicts the government narrative.

In the national myth of the liberation, the Khmer Rouge was a monolithic organization that massacred those it imagined to be enemies until regime defectors and their Vietnamese benefactors charged to the rescue. Nuon suggests that the enemies were, to some extent, real. According to Nuon, the Communist Party was engaged in an internal struggle – his group against a powerful pro-Vietnamese faction. Both factions killed enemies, real and perceived.

If Nuon is to be believed, then his court testimony could implicate Khmer Rouge defectors who remain in the highest seats of government today. This may be why the government has been stonewalling the court, say observers. They point to, for example, the refusal of six top politicians to testify despite legally binding orders. Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a regime defector, has said he'd rather see the court fail than prosecute more people.

Even if this version of history brings the viewer closer to the truth, Thet is careful to point out that none of this absolves Nuon of killing innocents. In the film, Nuon admits publicly, for the first time, that he ordered the killing of thousands of political opponents, which is probably evidence enough to convict him for war crimes – if he ever makes it to trial.
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