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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lao deported Uighur asylum seekers: report

Laotian authorities reportedly deported an ethnic Uighur asylum seeker and his family to China in March, three months after 20 of his compatriots were forcibly deported by Cambodian authorities.

The new information – contained in a recent media report – comes a year after Cambodia’s controversial deportation of the Uighurs, which triggered a firestorm of criticism from rights activists and foreign governments.

Last week, Radio Free Asia reported that Memet Eli Rozi, 34, his 28-year-old wife Gulbahar Sadiq and their five children were expelled from Laos in March.

Rozi was reportedly one of the 22 Uighurs who entered Cambodia in search of asylum in late 2009, after fleeing ethnic rioting in China’s Xinjiang province in July.

The report claims he was one of just two of the group who managed to escape before their deportation from Cambodia on December 19.

After his escape from Cambodia, Rozi secretly entered Laos and later asked his family to join him from Guangzhou in southern China, according to an interview with Gulbahar Sadiq.

The family were apprehended by Laotian authorities upon arrival, she told RFA, and were deported to China where they were interrogated by Xinjiang officials for 32 days.

The article claims Memet Eli Rozi’s current location is unknown, while his wife and children have been released to their hometown in the west of the province.

The news falls close to the first anniversary of Cambodia’s deportation of the 20 Uighurs, a move which many rights groups have linked to Beijing’s approval of US$1.2 billion in loans and investment to Cambodia the same week.

In a statement on Friday, Human Rights Watch called Chinese officials to account for the whereabouts of the Uighurs, saying the government had “consistently refused” to provide information about their status and well-being.

“Uighurs deported to China are at clear risk of torture,” Sophie Richardson, HRW’s Asia advocacy director, said in the statement. “China’s failure to account for any of those asylum seekers a year after their forced return is extremely worrying.”

She said the case was “a stark reminder that no country should deport Uighur asylum seekers back to China” the full story in tomorrow’s Phnom Penh Post or see the updated story online from 3PM UTC/GMT +7 hours.
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Postcards show Cambodia, sunny side up

WELLESLEY —"Postcards are, of course, artifacts ... They are clouds of fantasy and pellets of imagination." Susan Sontag, "On Photography"

Joel Montague isn't your typical tourist who stays in 5-star hotels, visits a few landmarks in the capital and buys some gift shop postcards before flying home in business class.

A frequent expatriate, the Wellesley resident has spent much of the last 30 years in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, directing health and development programs for relief organizations and local governments.

"Over the years, I've got to know my way around," said Montague, relaxing in his home decorated with Buddhist statues, African carvings and paintings from the Middle East.

In Cambodia where he runs a malaria control program for Partners for Development, he traveled in September to a remote mountainous area, still peppered with land mines, to visit the cremation site of dictator Pol Pot whose Khmer Rouge regime killed millions of its own people.

Montague has brought to light a sunnier side of Cambodia's tormented history in his recently-published second book, "Picture Postcards of Cambodia, 1900-1950."

He has chronicled the people, culture, arts and architecture of one of Asia's most exotic jewels as portrayed by French colonizers via inexpensive postcards created for domestic consumption.

In the early 1900s, Montague observed, 18,000 postcards were produced depicting Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos, which France ruled under the popular name Indochina.

Montague, whose resume lists 20 countries where he's worked, observed French colonizers used postcards as a sort of "marketing tool" to justify their self-proclaimed "civilizing mission" in Cambodia.

Published by White Lotus Press in Thailand, his 327-page book provides a rare visual archive of Cambodian history as revealed through about 650 black-and-white and color postcards in 16 categories such as "The Mekong River," "The Monarchy" and "Khemer Dance and Music." Montague believes his collection of about 1,700 colonial-era postcards, purchased in flea markets and over the Internet, is the largest of its kind in the world.

During a century in which Cambodia's true history has been erased by colonization and revolution, Montague wrote in his book's introduction that picture postcards provide "an ephemeral record of early twenty-century Cambodia."

Since first visiting Cambodia in 1991 after the Khmer Rouge's overthrow and withdrawal of the invading Vietnamese, Montague began acquiring postcards that depicted the nation's visual history as seen through Western eyes during the first half of the 20th century.

The postcards depict life there as the kind of Indochinese paradise that has excited Westerners' imagination since Marco Polo -- and still does.

Viewers will see very little genuine interaction between French and Cambodians in the postcards which seem, instead, to show two distinct worlds.

"In the eyes of the French, Cambodians were like infants who needed their protection," said Montague. "Some postcards made a pretense at pseudo-science that saw Cambodians as 'types' for anthropological study."

In the postcards the French built stately mansions while locals lived in picturesque villages. French administrators built schools, hospitals and roads while monks in robes lounged in temples.

French children wear costumes to catch butterflies or perform in plays while bare-breasted Cambodian women bathe or pose with a casualness not found in France.

Born in New York, Montague graduated from Oberlin University in 1956, earned his masters degree from John Hopkins University and served in the U.S. army. Since 1990, he has been trustee and chairman of the board of Partners for Development which operates several health programs in Cambodia.

He is married to Dr. Shahnaz Montague, a Framingham-based specialist in internal medicine whom he met while working in Iran. They have two adult children.

Several years ago, Montague wrote with Michael Vann "The Colonial Good Life: A Commentary on Andre Joyeux's Vision of French Indochina," about a French artist whose cartoons about turn-of-the-century life in Saigon were remarkably insightful.

In addition to postcards, Montague also collects pharmaceutical labels and shop signs which he has exhibited in the Wellesley Library.

For historians, the most striking postcards in Montague's book feature photographs from 1905 of the majestic temple complex at Angkor Wat, which was then being recovered from the jungle, and photos of considerable artistry by French photographer Pierre Dieulefils who captured many scenes of everyday life.

Montague is working on a book project about Scotsman John Thompson who was the first man to photograph Angkor Wat in 1866.

Since first visiting Cambodia 20 years ago, Montague has been intrigued by the question of how people in such a devout Buddhist country degenerated into such violent chaos.

"I looked at postcards all those years until I had a sort of gradual awakening that helped me understand why they show Cambodia they way they do and not the way it really is," he said. "Cambodia went through a horrible stretch of history, including the bombing along the border by the U.S. during the Vietnam war. I hope this book could be helpful in its small way by filling in some of its history."

"Picture Postcards of Cambodia 1900-1950"

By Joel G. Montague

White Lotus Co., Bangkok

327 pages, $67.50
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