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Thursday, November 03, 2011

‘Enemies’ Gathers Audience at Maryland Temple

“In ‘Enemies of the People,’ I couldn’t figure out who was really behind the killing.”

Thet Sambath, filmmaker of the 'Enemies of the People', talking to former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea.

“Enemies of the People,” an award-winning documentary that follows one journalist’s search for answers about the Khmer Rouge, screened at a pagoda in Maryland this weekend, prompting many questions from the audience, some of them yet unanswered.

The film follows journalist Thet Sambath as he interviews former low-level cadre and the regime’s chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, who is now facing atrocity crimes charges at the UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh.

The film screened at the Buddhikarama pagoda in Silver Spring, Md., on Sunday.

In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, a former soldier re-enacts what it was like to cut the throat of a victim. The knife he uses on a reluctant demonstration partner is plastic, but the scene is chillingly real.

“I could imagine the frightening killings of the Khmer Rouge,” said Chhun Chhoammana, secretary for the Cambodian Buddhist Society. “It was horrifying.”

Thet Sambath and co-producer Rob Lemkin answered questions from nearly 50 people in the audience after the film. Some said they’d asked questions they had never brought up before. Others said they had still more.

“We screened it here because a pagoda is where people come together,” said Thet Sambath, who had come to the Washington area to collect a prestigious Knight International Journalism Award, for the years of reporting he undertook before the film was made. “I believe that all Cambodians are still wondering why and how the massacre of Cambodia’s people took place between 1975 and 1979.”

In another scene in the film, Thet Sambath questions Nuon Chea over the decisions that led to so many deaths. Nuon Chea and the other main cadre in the film, soldiers Khuon and Suon, “talked very honestly, frankly, openly, truly for the first time,” Lemkin said. “So this is history, history in the making.”

For viewer Kong Heng, who lost 12 relatives to the regime, the film raised questions about the Khmer Rouge tribunal under way.

“The government and the UN decided in their agreements to try only the top leaders and most responsible persons,” he said. “If the trial expands to small cadre, like these killers in the film, there will be too many of them to try.”

An expansion of the court’s work could also cause “insecurity,” he said. “It is good enough.”

The producers said they were now trying to raise money for a second film, which would explore the political motivations behind the killings.

“In ‘Enemies of the People,’ I couldn’t figure out who was really behind the killing,” Chhum Chhoammana said. “Sambath said those who ordered the killing would be revealed in the second film.”
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Cambodia deluge leaves a million desperate

Isolated … a man waits for help on a small strip of land surrounded by waters in Tapon village, outside Battambang. Photo: International Herald Tribune

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia: The high water is devastating even for a country inured to monsoon rains and waterlogged rice fields. Wide swathes of Cambodia's countryside have become giant lakes, with villagers and livestock marooned on scattered patches of dry land.

The United Nations estimates floods have affected three-quarters of the country's land area. They have been overshadowed by similar troubles in Cambodia's wealthier neighbour, Thailand, where the government is scrambling to protect central Bangkok from inundation.

In Cambodia, though, aid workers describe a more Darwinian struggle and a generally higher degree of desperation among villagers.

''This is the worst I've seen in my career,'' said Soen Seueng, 58, a doctor who tended to a long line of flood victims on Wednesday, most of them women and children, who were camped on a strip of land accessible only by boat.

Dr Seueng grasped the limp arm of a girl, Lor Chaneut, 6, who received a diagnosis of dengue fever, the mosquito-borne disease that can be fatal without close medical attention. ''You must take her to the hospital,'' Dr Seueng urged the family.

The girl's mother, Jeok Kimsan, said the family's savings were wiped out by the floods. ''We will go to the hospital when we get some money,'' she said, as her husband built a fish trap.

Flood victims, many of whom begged a foreign visitor for help, took shelter here under plastic sheeting, like refugees from a civil war.

Cows, pigs and chickens shared the strip of dry land, which was covered with animal and human waste.

''The toilet is everywhere,'' said Henry Sophorn, a Cambodian-born American who represents a charity, Disadvantaged Cambodians Organisation, which is part of a syndicate delivering aid to flood victims.

In Thailand, the government has used helicopters, military vehicles and equipment to reach and assist flood victims, but in Cambodia the work of providing basic necessities has been largely left to private organisations.

''The government can only help a small number of people - they don't have the capacity,'' said Mr Sophorn, whose organisation has supplied 3400 families with medical care, rice, instant noodles, canned fish and bottled water, using money from a donor in Hong Kong who has asked to remain anonymous.

With little or no government assistance, many villagers have been left to fend for themselves. ''The big impact is just starting,'' said Sen Jeunsafy, a spokeswoman in Cambodia for Save the Children. ''What we have done is provided immediate relief. But collectively, we have not been able to reach every family.''

Aid workers say the full scope of the crisis in Cambodia is not yet known, because many affected areas are remote and out of communication. The UN estimates that 1.2 million people out of a population of 15 million may have been affected.
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