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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cambodia agrees to talks on troops

Icy relations between Thailand and Cambodia are showing signs of thawing after the countries agreed to hold talks to discuss troop withdrawals from the area around Preah Vihear temple.

Both sides are scheduled to attend a Regional Border Committee (RBC) meeting on Aug 23 and 24 in Nakhon Ratchasima province.

The RBC meeting will be chaired by commanders from Thailand's Second Army Region and Cambodia's Divison 4 following weeks of warming diplomatic relations since the Pheu Thai Party won the election last month, unseating the Democrat-led government.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's elder brother, former prime minister Thaksin, served a brief stint as economic adviser to Cambodia, riling the former government.

See also: Sukhumbhand says, be careful
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday said the bilateral talks would end an atmosphere of "nightmarish cooperation" between the two nations, the Phnom Penh Post reported.

Hun Sen said the talks would pave the way for both the deployment of unarmed Indonesian observers and troop withdrawals from a demilitarised zone created by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in July.

The ICJ ruling that created the zone followed deadly border clashes between the two countries earlier this year.

"I declare a new era of cooperation between the government of Cambodia now that Thailand is ruled by the Pheu Thai Party," Hun Sen said.

"What was going on in the last few years, which I considered nightmarish cooperation between the two countries, is now over.

"Now, we have to start negotiations at a bilateral level in order to ease the tensions."

He said he had suggested that Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh, and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, work with their Thai counterparts to set up a long-awaited General Border Commission (GBC) meeting, a mechanism established to settle disputes.

Both Hun Sen and Hor Namhong have written to their Thai counterparts expressing their support for renewed ties between the two peoples.

Hor Namhong invited his Thai counterpart, Surapong Towijakchaikul, to visit Cambodia to strengthen ties.

In Thailand, Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa said he had assigned the Supreme Command, which acts as secretary-general to the GBC, to consider when and where the next GBC meeting would be held.

He said Gen Tea Banh had invited him to visit Cambodia and wanted the GBC meeting to take place soon.

Gen Yutthasak said the GBC meeting would be held by the end of this month.

Meanwhile, Ms Yingluck said she had confidence in Mr Surapong's ability to serve as foreign minister because he was knowledgeable in several fields.

The appointment of the Pheu Thai MP from Chiang Mai has drawn criticism from ministry officials due to his lack of experience in international affairs.

A foreign ministry source said former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama might be asked to serve as an adviser to Mr Surapong.

Mr Noppadon, Thaksin's legal adviser, will help Mr Surapong choose foreign ministry officials who will work with the minister's secretariat team. Former foreign ministry staff will also be invited to join the team.

The source said that shortly after Mr Surapong was named foreign minister, Mr Noppadon phoned ministry officials who worked with him during his ministerial stint in 2008.

Mr Noppadon invited them to join Mr Surapong's secretariat team as Mr Surapong was still new to the ministry and he did not know anybody, the source said.

Mr Noppadon denied reports he had been offered an adviser's role.He said he was still banned from politics and could not assume any political positions. But, considering his prior Foreign Ministry experience, he was willing to render his advice if asked.
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City Begins Construction on Memorial Stupa on ghost Island

Cambodian flags flutter near a bridge where an accident took place last year during a ground breaking ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia,Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. At least 353 people were killed and 395 injured when thousands of festival-goers crammed onto a two-lane suspension bridge over the Bassac River and stampeded in panic when it began to naturally sway

Phnom Penh authorities broke ground on a memorial stupa on Thursday to honor victims of a deadly bridge stampede at last year’s Water Festival.

The Diamond Bridge stampede was the worst disaster in Cambodia’s modern history, leaving 354 dead and 393 seriously injured after a crowd panicked during festival revelries in November 2010.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema said at a ceremony Thursday the city was erecting the stupa in remembrance of the dead and to help their souls find peace.

“This was as lesson of great suffering that no one can forget,” he said. “The authorities themselves must seriously think about this problem when national festivals take place and when crowds of people join the festivals.
No public officials were ever held accountable for the disaster, which was caused when thousands of people crowded onto the bridge leading to Diamond Island in the midst of festivities. A government inquiry said no one was to blame for what it called an accident.

The stupa, which sits near the foot of the bridge, is planned to be 33 meters wide at its base, 5 meters high and made of sandstone. Kep Chuktema said it would cost more than $120,000 and will be completed before Nov. 22, the one-year anniversary of the tragedy.

Chek Bophy, 49, who lost her daughter, Duch Srey Mom, said she was happy the stupa was being built.

“The city is building the memorial stupa for people killed on the Diamond Island bridge, to preserve history for younger generations and not let us forget that the place was crowded with people,” she said. “That place is dangerous.”

Kep Chuktema said the city had learned lessons from the tragedy and was taking serious measures to improve its crowd control.

“Now we are constructing two more bridges connecting the island to the mainland, to make traffic more comfortable,” he said. “We experienced a deadly accident on the night of Nov. 22, 2010. It was an experience of great suffering, and we must record it and take necessary measures in human management.”
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Atrocities Suspect Says He’s ‘Not Fearful’ of Tribunal, Hell

Ta An, a former Khmer Rouge commander speaks during an exclusive interview with VOA Khmer on July 27, 2011 at his house in Kamrieng district of Cambodia's northwestern Battambang province. He is among those being investigated by the Khmer Rouge tribunal for the controversial case 004 but has denied overseeing atrocities of the former regime
 In an exclusive interview, Ta An, a former Khmer Rouge commander whose name is among those up for investigation by the Khmer Rouge tribunal, denied overseeing atrocities of the regime and said he is practicing Buddhism and good deeds to pay for past sins.

Ta An is among three former cadre cited by prosecutors at the UN-backed court as worthy of indictments under controversial Case 004, which is opposed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and is currently in the hands of the court’s investigating judges.

According to the prosecution’s introductory submissions for cases 003 and 004, obtained by VOA Khmer from a source close to the court, Ta An is a suspect for investigation by the tribunal, along with mid-level Khmer Rouge commanders Meas Muth, Sou Met, Ta Ith and Im Chaem.
Prosecutors say a number of atrocities were committed by the Khmer Rouge under the oversight of Ta An, also known as Oam An, who rose to deputy secretary of the Central Zone under the regime’s political structure.

As such, he was second in command in the area, based in Kampong Cham province, where up to 150,000 people died under the Khmer Rouge, including a large number of Cham minorities.

Now 78, Ta An lives in a village in Kamrieng district, Battambang province. He was formerly a monk, and participated in the Khmer Rouge after the ouster of then-prince Norodom Sihanouk, by the US-backed regime of Minister Lon Nol.

In an exclusive, rare interview with VOA Khmer in July, Ta An said he was unafraid of the UN-backed court and unafraid to face Yama, Buddhism’s god of the dead, who oversees Hell and determines the fate of a person based on his acts.

“At present, I am not fearful of the court, and in the future, when I die, I won’t be afraid of Yama,” he said. “Not fearful. I am now doing good deeds. I practice religious art. I did not commit killings. But am I afraid of Yama? I am not afraid.”

Ta An denied overseeing major purges, claiming he had been transferred from the Southwest Zone, around Kampot province, in 1977, after mass killings occurred.

“Not at all,” he said. “When I arrived, that was finished already, from the bottom up to the higher levels.” He was tasked with re-organizing new villages and communes, he said. “I wasn’t involved in anything at all.”

In their original court submission, prosecutors accuse Ta An of a joint criminal conspiracy, along with Ta Tith and Im Chaem, in Case 004, for purges that took place under the Khmer Rouge.

The prosecution charges that Ta An was responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, homicide, torture and religious persecution of the Chams.

“In addition to the elimination of the existing cadre, following the arrival of Ta An and the Southwest cadre in the Central Zone, there was a dramatic increase in the number of arrests, killings and disappearances, and a worsening of general living conditions, amongst the general population,” the prosecutors wrote. “A clear pattern exists throughout the Central Zone—after Ta An and the Southwest cadre arrived, more work was required, less food was provided, and large numbers of people were arrested and never seen from again.”

Prosecutors implicate Ta An in the purge of the Central Zone, which “was organized and systematic, starting with the top level cadre and working down.”

They implicate him in atrocity crimes at the security centers at Wat O Trau Kuon; Wat Batheay; Met Sop; Wat Phnom Pros; and Chamkar Svay Chanty; as well as the Kok Pring execution site and Anglong Chrey dam forced labor site.

At Wat O Trau Kuon, in Kang Meas district, a mass execution of the Chams took place “a mere 10 days” after Ta An visited a nearby worksite and “ordered the unit chiefs to identify the number of remaining Cham and gather them up ‘so that they could be taken to their local bases.’”

“In the events that followed Ta An’s orders, victims were killed solely because they were Cham, the executions were accompanied by statements of genocidal intent, and the killings resulted in the destruction of a substantial part of the Cham population living in that area,” prosecutors wrote.

Ta An’s fate is currently in the hands of the investigating judges, who must now determine whether the charges against him warrant an indictment even as the court prepares for its largest trial to date, of four already jailed Khmer Rouge leaders.

Critics say they worry the investigating judges will not indict him and others named by prosecutors, given the political opposition to the case.

In the July interview, Ta An told VOA Khmer he was a new leader to the area and could not be prosecuted by the court. He called the charges against him “a mistake.” He said even though he had been ordered by Khmer Rouge military commander Ke Pauk to kill supporters of Lon Nol’s regime, he hid them in the fields of the collectives.

“There was saving,” he said. “But killing, executing, I don’t understand.” He told his superior he had “cleaned,” or killed, them, “but they were on the farm.”

“What should I have done more than that?” he said. He laughed, and said, “So I am not frightened, not frightened at all.”
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