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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vietnam veteran's remains coming home to southwestern Illinois after 40 years

GLEN CARBON, Ill. — Told that Randy Dalton was killed during the Vietnam War, his family in southwestern Illinois wondered for decades if their loved one, killed with an Army pal when their helicopter was shot down in Cambodia, would ever make his way home.

On Sunday, 40 years to the day since Dalton died, that cloud — and the serviceman's remains — finally will be laid to rest.

Dalton will be buried next to his parents with full military honors at a Glen Carbon's Sunset Hill Cemetery, ending his long journey home after years of painstaking efforts to identify the Army specialist's remains.

"It puts closure to this," Dalton's stepmother, Collinsville City Council member Liz Dalton, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "No longer will we wonder, 'Is he still alive?' Even though the (medic) said he was dead, you always wonder."

Dalton was from Collinsville, where his late dad served as mayor in the early 1990s. He was just 20 when the scout helicopter he was occupying with two other men was shot down and made a crash landing in Cambodia during a reconnaissance mission near the South Vietnam border.

A medic who arrived on a rescue helicopter found one of the first helicopter's crewmen to be dead and tried to revive Dalton, who stopped breathing during the resuscitation efforts. Rescuers had to leave the bodies of the two dead men behind because of enemy fire.

When U.S. troops returned the next day to retrieve the bodies, the bodies were gone.

In 1989, officials in Hanoi turned over three boxes of remains to the U.S. government, though it took years to go through the remains and secure identifications before Dalton's relatives were asked last winter to submit DNA samples.

In March, Dalton's family learned that his remains had been identified.

"Somebody worked very hard at this," another of Dalton's sisters, Karen Dalton Kloster of St. Louis, told the Post-Dispatch. "And I'm just flat-out amazed. Somebody was very diligent. We're very, very happy."

Patty Hopper, a founding member of the Arizona-based POW/MIA nonprofit group called Task Force Omega Inc., said there are about 1,700 Americans from the Vietnam War listed as prisoners of war or missing and unaccounted for.

The Belleville News-Democrat reports that the Defense Department lists more than 83,000 military personnel still accounted for as of last week, the vast majority from World War II.

"In Randy's case, we knew he was gone because a medic was taking care of him when Randy died," Hopper said. "You know he didn't spend years in captivity being exposed to God knows what."

Liz Dalton, the stepmother, said the Department of Defense kept the family informed and sent packets every three months about the search efforts.

"We felt they were doing as much as they could," added Dalton, who was married to Randy Dalton's father for 30 years before he died in 2005 at age 80. "I would have loved for my husband to know they found Randy."

The family was given the option of burial at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington or Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery near St. Louis, but it decided it would be more fitting for Randy Dalton to be laid to rest beside his parents.
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Cambodia Awaiting Monitors for Border Withdrawal

A July 18, 2011 sketch-map by the International Court of Justice shows an area around Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple and surrounding territories claimed by Thailand, which the Court identifies as a 'Provisional Demilitarized Zone.' The July 18 ruling is the first ruling pending the Court's final decision on its interpretation of its 1962 ruling.

Cambodian officials say they are prepared to comply with an international court order to demilitarize an area surrounding Preah Vihear temple, but not until third-party monitors arrive.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague on Monday ordered troops from both sides to clear a provisional demilitarized zone around the temple, which has been at the heart of a deadly military standoff since July 2008. It also ordered that both sides allow observers to have access to that zone. Indonesia, as head of Asean, has offered to provide observers.

The court decision was in response to a Cambodian request for the court to clarify a decision it made in 1962 over not only the temple, which it awarded to Cambodia, but surrounding lands that both sides still lay claim to.

Chhum Socheath, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, told VOA Khmer on Tuesday Cambodia was willing to withdraw from the area but would implement the court order “step by step.”

“When there is a presence of Indonesian observers to monitor a permanent ceasefire in the provisional demilitarized zone, we must withdraw from the border area,” he said.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who chaired a national security council meeting Tuesday, was quoted saying he has assigned officials to map out talks with Cambodia to implement the international court order.

He said he believe a General Border Committee between the two sides was the best channel for implementing the order, the daily Nation reported. The court order had no bearing on border demarcation, he said, according to the Nation.

Chhum Socheath said Cambodia is not opposed to talks with Thailand, under the framework of Asean.
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Armed Forces Recruit Thousands To Fill Ranks

An army official stands in front of a group of new recruits in Kandal province on Sunday, July 17, 2011. The army is hoping to add thousands of soldiers to its ranks.
The Cambodian military has added 3,000 new recruits to bolster its ranks, and to replace retiring soldiers.
Recruitment efforts are underway to select soldiers for four separate divisions, along with a special unit based in Kratie province, said Chhum Socheat, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.

Chhum Socheat said the recruitment drive was looking for volunteers, not conscripts. “We need quality, not quantity,” he said.

The recruitment drive comes amid a tense border standoff with Thailand that is now more than three years old. The standoff over land near Preah Vihear temple prompted an outpouring of public support for the Cambodian military, but the International Court of Justice ordered a provisional demilitarization zone on Monday.

The border conflict has meant little opposition to a growing military, despite persistent problems in public health, education and other sectors.

“We should have soldiers to protect the border, because neighboring countries always have an ambition to invade Cambodia,” Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, told VOA Khmer.

Lao Monghay, an independent analyst, said the new recruits should not be taken all at once.

“This is a new strategy to protect national security, and we don’t have the number of military soldiers,” he said. “It is difficult to support the soldiers.”

On Sunday, military officials in Kandal province oversaw a recruitment drive there for a special unit. Po Samdy, a two-star general and deputy commander of the unit, thanked the youths and their families “for helping protect our country.”

Sem Sokleng, 22, who stood among other freshly crew-cut youths, said he had joined to protect Cambodia from “invasion.”

“I’m brave, and I want to share that with all Cambodian people,” he said.

“If neighboring countries invade our country, we would be destroyed,” said Bok Sinat, 24. “That why we have to volunteer.”

Bres Leng, 53, said he had a son who was volunteering for the unit.

“Former soldiers have allowed their sons to be soldiers,” he said.

Neang Khen, a two-star general and commander of the infantry for Region 41, told VOA Khmer he needed to add 1,000 more soldiers to his ranks to protect the border.

“A while ago, we modernized, but we don’t have enough soldiers because of aging soldiers,” he said. “So we have to replace the retired soldiers only.”
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Cambodia’s Metamorphosis during the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

By Mark Johanson

Children's laughter wafts over the fence from a prismatic schoolyard in the distance as I stand in the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. It eases the tension of this haunted place to know that, through it all, life carries on. Choeung Ek looks no different than any other field. Before the Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia upside down, Choeung Ek was an orchard of longan fruit. Even today, butterflies buzz about the rolling fields, belying the horror that lies beneath.

They say that every time the rains pound Phnom Penh, bones rise from the ground at Choeung Ek.

In order to save bullets, The Khmer Rouge beat their victims to death. After placing the bodies in mass graves, soldiers poisoned the ground to ensure that no one survived. So, while the Killing Fields may look like any other field, the ground itself is toxic.

Babies were beaten to death at the mammoth bashing tree. Women were shaved bald and disposed of. Other burial sites reveal piles of decapitated skeletons. The crimes against humanity that occurred at Choeung Ek are unfathomable.

A white stupa stands tall in the center of the field, shelving the bones from excavated sites at Choeung Ek. The sheer amount of skulls glowering out of the structure gives weight to its exclamatory form.

The majority of these sad souls arrived from Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, a torturous institution that no high-ranking Khmer Rouge official claims any knowledge of. Before the Khmer Rouge stormed into Phnom Penh "liberating" the people and evacuating the city, Tuol Sleng was S.21, an unassuming three-story schoolhouse in the heart of the town. Within weeks, it was made-over into the most notorious prison in Cambodia. Pull-up bars became torture devices as school rooms were converted to cells. Locked inside S.21 were the rich and the famous, the élite and the educated, the opposition and the ethnic - anyone who was anything in the old Phnom Penh was a threat.

A movement that arose in the countryside, the Khmer Rouge distrusted anyone from the city. Feeding on anti-American sentiment over bombings that bled across the border from Vietnam, they ousted the pro-American regime of Lol Nol. Making their final ascent into Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge claimed that the entire country was liberated and marched Cambodia back into the Stone Age. Abolishing religion, education, and government, they imprisoned every citizen. Families were torn apart and sent to work in camps, manning the fields of rice.

Cambodia's cities became ghost towns and its people wandering spirits.

Pol Pot and his men effectively orchestrated the most horrific genocide in living history. Starved, beaten, and killed, over the next four years, the Cambodian population was reduced by one-third at the hands of its own countrymen.

As I pace though the ground floor of S.21 (Tuol Sleng) the pleading eyes of its former residents search for justice. Photographed and documented at intake, the haunting black-and-whites are organized in overwhelming checkerboard displays on schoolroom bulletin boards. The women appear stripped of their sexuality with cropped hair and vacant eyes. The men, with gaunt, angular faces, gaze out in wild-eyed frustration. Of the thousands who slept in this schoolhouse jail, just seven survived. The men and women on these walls are the faces of Cambodia's ghosts.

In the late 1970s, the people of Cambodia were split and torn against each other. The Khmer Rouge preyed on the rural poor who, uneducated and with little alternatives, turned to the rising movement. Their stories find a voice in S.21 as well. In a series of then-and-now photos of former Khmer soldiers, those who survived speak of returning to their villages to piece together the life they lost to the movement.

S.21's top floor explores the continued search for justice for the Cambodian people. Remarkably, Pol Pot was never held accountable for his crimes against humanity and died in 1998 a free man. The Khmer Rouge even held Cambodia's UN seat for twelve years after the Vietnamese invasion ended their rule.

The end of the Khmer Rouge period in 1979 led to a civil war that finally ceased in 1998 when the Khmer Rouge's political and military structures were dismantled. Yet, even today, the party remains in remote pockets of the rural north.

As I return to S.21's courtyard, the blazing afternoon sun shoots past the former prison's elegant palms. I step back out into Phnom Penh's chaotic streets to the cries of disfigured and destitute beggars. A one-legged man is selling his survivor story. A blind woman pawns hers. My tuk tuk driver ushers me away, recommending a side trip to Thunder Ranch, a shooting range near the Killing Fields where eager tourists fire AK47s or rocket launchers and chuck grenades at local livestock. He opens up the pamphlet with an earnest smile, oblivious to how I might react to this proposition after leaving his country's most brutal prison.

Most Cambodians would rather move on than dig up their ugly past. Some don't acknowledge anything happened at all. In 1997, the government requested that the United Nations assist in establishing a trial to prosecute the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge. In 2001, the Cambodian National Assembly passed a law to create a court for trying serious crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime 1975-1979. This court is called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea (or ECCC). In 2006, the ECCC organized a trip for all Cambodians to visit S.21, the Killing Fields and other sites to come to terms with their past and give invaluable testimony for the trial.

Last July, in the tribunal's first case, Khmer Rouge official Kaing Guek Eave was sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for running the notorious S.21 prison. As you read this, case 002 is under way. In total, there will be four hearings. Justice for the Cambodian people is, at long last, a possibility.

A walk through Phnom Penh is a tornado trip through dark alleys and pools of light, stoic monasteries and lavish gardens, riverside flair and backstreet fear. Some parts of the city, with seedy flophouses, rampant drugs and prostitution, feel like a heroin nightmare. Others offer a glimpse of the country to be. The city itself cuts abruptly to rice fields at the edge of town, a stark reminder of Cambodia's dueling personas

The Khmer people were once at home in one of the world's greatest civilizations. Now, they live in the poorest country in Southeast Asia. It's amazing what four years in the hand of an evil regime can do to a country.

Phnom Penh is bleeding bones, but it is also swarming with butterflies.

These fluttering rainbows mark the beginning of a magnificent metamorphosis. Their flashy coats offer a glint of beauty - a welcome change, masking the wormy scent of a foul past.
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