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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cambodia’s genocide tribunal finds Khmer Rouge defendant Ieng Thirith unfit to stand trial

(Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Mark Peters, File/Associated Press) - FILE - In this Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2011 file photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Ieng Thirith, former minister of social affairs, reacts during a hearing of former Khmer Rouge top leaders in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Cambodia’s U.N.-backed tribunal ruled the former senior member of the Khmer Rouge is unfit to stand trial 

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, November 17, 6:24 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s U.N.-backed tribunal on Thursday ruled a former senior Khmer Rouge leader unfit to stand trial for genocide and other crimes because she has Alzheimer’s disease.

The tribunal said the illness diminishes Ieng Thirith’s mental capacity and ordered the 79-year-old defendant freed from detention. She behaved erratically at earlier court appearances, and her lawyers had requested the medical exams.

The ruling came just four days before the start of her trial with three co-defendants, one of whom is her husband, Ieng Sary, foreign minister in the late 1970s Khmer Rouge regime. He informed the tribunal last month that he intends to exercise his right not to testify.

Ieng Thirith was minister for social affairs and is accused of involvement in the “planning, direction, coordination and ordering of widespread purges” and has been charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, homicide, torture and religious persecution.

The U.N.-backed tribunal is seeking justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died of starvation, exhaustion, lack of medical care or execution during the communist Khmer Rouge’s rule.

Ieng Thirith has said the charges against her are “100 percent false” and said she always worked for the benefit of the people.

She is the sister-in-law of Khmer Rouge supreme leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998. Pol Pot married Ieng Thirith’s sister, Khieu Ponnary, who died in 2003.

The other defendants were also part of the ruling inner circle: head of state Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who was second in command to Pol Pot and the group’s chief ideologist.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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The Face of Modern Slavery

Somaly Mam, left, helped Srey Pov after she escaped from a brothel.

When I write about human trafficking as a modern form of slavery, people sometimes tune out as their eyes glaze over. So, Glazed Eyes, meet Srey Pov.

She’s a tough interview because she breaks down as she recalls her life in a Cambodian brothel, and pretty soon my eyes are welling up, too.

Srey Pov’s family sold her to a brothel when she was 6 years old. She was unaware of sex but soon found out: A Western pedophile purchased her virginity, she said, and the brothel tied her naked and spread-eagled on a bed so that he could rape her.

“I was so scared,” she recalled. “I was crying and asking, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ ”

After that, the girl was in huge demand because she was so young. Some 20 customers raped her nightly, she remembers. And the brothel twice stitched her vagina closed so that she could be resold as a virgin. This agonizingly painful practice is common in Asian brothels, where customers sometimes pay hundreds of dollars to rape a virgin.

Most girls who have been trafficked, whether in New York or in Cambodia, eventually surrender. They are degraded and terrified, and they doubt their families or society will accept them again. But somehow Srey Pov refused to give in.

Repeatedly, she tried to escape the brothel but she said that each time she was caught and brutally punished with beatings and electric shocks. The brothel, like many in Cambodia, also had a punishment cell to break the will of rebellious girls.

As Srey Pov remembers it (and other girls tell similar stories), each time she rebelled she was locked naked in the darkness in a barrel half-full of sewage, replete with vermin and scorpions that stung her regularly. I asked how long she was punished this way, thinking perhaps an hour or two.

“The longest?” she remembered. “It was a week.”

Customers are, of course, the reason trafficking continues, and many of them honestly think that the girls are in the brothels voluntarily. Many are, of course. But smiles are not always what they seem. Srey Pov even remembers flirting to avoid being beaten.

“We smile on the outside,” she said, “but inside we are crying.”

Yet this is a story with a triumphant ending. At age 9, Srey Pov was able to dart away from the brothel and outrun the guard. She found her way to a shelter run by Somaly Mam, an anti-trafficking activist who herself was prostituted as a child. Somaly now runs the Somaly Mam Foundation to fight human trafficking in Southeast Asia: She’s the one who led the brothel raid that I recounted in my last column.

In Somaly’s shelter, Srey Pov learned English and blossomed. Now 19, Srey Pov can even imagine eventually having a boyfriend.

“Before I didn’t like men because they hit me and raped me,” she reflected. “But now I think that not all men are bad. If I find a good man, I can marry him.”

Somaly is creating an army of young women like Srey Pov who have been rescued from the brothels: well-educated and determined to defeat human trafficking. Over the years, I’ve watched these women and girls make a difference, and they’re self-replicating.

In my last column, I described a frightened seventh-grade Vietnamese girl who was rescued in a brothel raid that Somaly and I participated in. That raid in the town of Anlong Veng has already had an impact, for six more brothels in the area have closed because of public attention and fear that they could be next. And the seventh-grade girl is recovering from her trauma at a shelter run by Somaly, where a girl named Lithiya has taken her under her wing.

Lithiya, now 15, is one of my favorites in “Somaly’s army,” perhaps because she wants to be a journalist and has taught herself astoundingly good English. Trafficked at age 9 from Vietnam, Lithiya was locked inside a brothel for years before she climbed over a wall and escaped. Now a ninth grader, she is ranked No. 1 in her class.

Srey Pov, Lithiya and Somaly encountered a form of oppression that echoes 19th-century slavery. But the scale is larger today. By my calculations, at least 10 times as many girls are now trafficked into brothels annually as African slaves were transported to the New World in the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

So for those of you doubtful that “modern slavery” really is an issue for the new international agenda, think of Srey Pov — and multiply her by millions. If what such girls experience isn’t slavery, that word has no meaning. It’s time for a 21st-century abolitionist movement in the U.S. and around the world.
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Thailand, Cambodia agree to withdraw troops on border

Yutthasak says soldiers to be replaced by police

Thailand has agreed in informal talks with Cambodia that both sides will withdraw their troops from the overlapping border near the Preah Vihear temple site after the General Border Committee meeting in December.

The talks on the replacement of troops in the 17.3 square kilometre area along the border, marked as the demilitarised zone, is among five issues the two countries will finalise at the next soldier-to-soldier meeting of the GBC, Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa said.

He was referring to recent negotiations with Cambodian Defence Minster Tea Banh.

"We've talked about the five issues and informally agreed to approve them all at the meeting," Gen Yutthasak said.

"There are some details for further discussion, but I believe we'll agree on all of them."

More than 700 Thai soldiers and up to 1,000 Cambodian soldiers are stationed in the area.

But the two countries must withdraw their troops to comply with the International Court of Justice's order on July 18 that the disputed border should be free of soldiers to avoid more skirmishes following cross-border fighting this year.

In their recent talks, neither country finalised how many soldiers they will withdraw, but Gen Yutthasak insisted all must move out and be replaced by police. He suggested each country deploy 400 officers.

Gen Yutthasak wants to hold the GBC meeting this month, but if the two countries cannot agree on a date, negotiations on the five issues are expected to start next month.

Other issues include the formation of an observer team in the disputed area, border checkpoint management, coordination with Unesco officials and what to do with people living in Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara.

The temple is on the overlapping border of the 4.6 sq/km area near the Hindu temple ruins. Both countries claim ownership of the area.

Gen Yutthasak said either Cambodian people must leave the temple or Thai people must be allowed to settle in the area in equal numbers.

Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia should form a team made up of nine representatives from each country. Members would not have to be soldiers.

Gen Yutthasak suggested three areas serve as border checkpoints: the entrances to Preah Vihear and Wat Kaew Skha Khiri Sawara, and an area near Chong Ban Dai Hak.
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