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Friday, November 25, 2011

French lawyer takes centre stage in Cambodian court

French lawyer Jacques Verges has defended some of the world's most notorious figures, including Carlos the Jackal (AFP/ECCC, Mark Peters)

By Didier Lauras (AFP)

BANGKOK — Lawyer Jacques Verges has defended some of the world's most notorious figures, from Carlos the Jackal to Slobodan Milosevic. Now at 86 he has added a Khmer Rouge genocide suspect to his resume.

The elderly Frenchman appeared at Cambodia's war crimes trial this week to defend his long-time friend Khieu Samphan, the former head of state of the communist regime.

Khieu Samphan, 80, has denied charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide at the UN-backed court, over the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule.

Prosecutors spent two days detailing the horror the country suffered under the Khmer Rouge's reign, during which up to two million people died through starvation, torture and execution.

Verges' response was short and striking, and showed he still revels in taking centre stage as history is made.

"It sounded like a novel written by Alexandre Dumas about what happened in Cambodia," said Verges, condemning the prosecution's "fantastical view of reality".

"Remember what monsieur de Talleyrand, Napoleon's foreign minister, another bandit... said: 'Everything that is excessive is vain'," he told the prosecutors.

"Everything you said was excessive and therefore vain. May the tribunal remember that. I hope I haven't wasted your time, thank you very much."

The short, bespectacled Verges's 10-minute speech, delivered with a hint of irony and the occasional suppressed smirk, was typical of a man best known for taking on the clients no one else wants.

Born in Thailand in 1925 to a father from Reunion island and a Vietnamese mother, he was a communist as a student and later supported the Algerian National Liberation Front in its fight for independence from France.

After securing the release of Algerian anti-colonialist militant Djamila Bouhired, he married her.

Verges went on to become a high-flying lawyer, making headlines around the world thanks to a client list that includes some of the most infamous names of modern times: Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, Venezuelan revolutionary Carlos the Jackal, former Iraqi deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz and ex-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Verges' life story reads like a novel, but there is one chapter that he prefers to leave unopened: from 1970 until 1978, when he left his wife and children and disappeared.

He has referred to this period as "the dark side" of his life, leading to much speculation about these missing years.

Among the more persistent theories are suggestions that he fostered ties with Palestinian militants, that he passed through Congo -- or that he lived in Khmer Rouge Cambodia.

Sitting in the packed Phnom Penh courtroom this week, his thinning white hair carefully coiffed, Verges seemed deep in concentration before delivering the speech that set the tone for his latest legal battle.

Afterwards, he mingled with court officials outside the building, smiling and joking.

"At the age of 86 he still has the fire in the belly," said lawyer Michael Karnavas, who is defending former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, calling Verges a "virtuoso".

"What he did say showed that you don't have to speak a lot to convey a lot."

Verges' detractors have called him a megalomaniac and in 2008 he successfully starred in his own play in France, called "Serial Defender".

But he stands by his duty as a lawyer to represent clients, no matter what they have been accused of.

Quoting lawyer Albert Naud, a former resistance hero who defended Pierre Laval, the prime minister of the collaborationist French Vichy government, Verges said in his play: "All our clients, we must defend them."
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Opening Statements Conclude in Khmer Rouge Leaders Trial

People attend a hearing for former Khmer Rouge leaders at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, November 21, 2011.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia wrapped up its opening hearings this week. Prosecutors laid out their case against three individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed while serving in top leadership positions in the movement.

It took the prosecution one and a half days to put its argument against the Khmer Rouge leaders to the court.

International co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley said the leaders of the Communist Party of Kampuchea - or CPK - believed they had discovered the secret to waging a successful communist revolution, a solution that other revolutions had failed to grasp.

“The accused believed that previous communist revolutions had failed because class enemies had infiltrated and corrupted those revolutions. The solution the accused seized upon was simply to liquidate all class enemies in their entirety,” Cayley stated.

Cayley went on to explain who those perceived enemies were, and how that drove the mass killings that have come to characterize the time. “The truth, Your Honors, is that the persons the accused considered to be enemies of the CPK were an ever evolving and ever expanding group,” he said.

In the days immediately following the Khmer Rouge’s victory in 1975, enemies were those people associated with the defeated Lon Nol regime, as well as students, teachers, doctors and lawyers, and the residents of urban areas.

By the time the movement was driven from power in 1979, its paranoia meant it saw those enemies everywhere, even - and especially - deep within its own ranks.

In the process the Khmer Rouge purged vast numbers of its own people too.

“And as the DK regime progressed and the paranoid leaders of the CPK convinced themselves that their failures must be due to the CIA, KGB or Vietnamese agents, the focus of their enemy witch hunt shifted from class enemies to internal enemies who had infiltrated the ranks of the party,” Cayley explained.

For their part the defendants and their lawyers described the prosecution’s case as untrue, a fairytale full of generalizations, and “like a novel by Alexandre Dumas”, the creator of the Three Musketeers.

Eighty-five-year-old Nuon Chea, who read for 90 minutes with surprising vigor, showed why he is considered the movement’s chief ideologue, with a lengthy diatribe against the Khmer Rouge’s perennial enemy Vietnam.

Cambodia’s eastern neighbor, he told the court, had long plotted against his nation and wished to exterminate its people.

Nuon Chea said he joined the revolution to defend Cambodia.

Patriotism was a theme taken up by former head of state Khieu Samphan as well. He told prosecutors he had became interested in communism while studying for his doctorate in economics in Paris.

“Today you may see it as a joke. However I shall remind you that at that time communism is the one movement that gave hope to millions (of) youths around the world," Khieu said. "What I actually wanted at that time is the best experience for my country.”

Khieu Samphan also talked about the huge bombing campaign that the United States illegally unleashed on Cambodia in 1969.

The bombing is widely considered to have propelled support for the Khmer Rouge, but it falls outside the strict timeline that the politicians prescribed for the court.

“Could you imagine what my country faced after such a bloody killing? Regardless (of whether) you like or dislike it, the majority of Cambodian people gave their support to us for our opposition against the Lon Nol regime," Khieu stated.

Former foreign minister Ieng Sary spoke only briefly to complain that the court would not take into account the royal pardon and amnesty he had been granted in 1996 in order to get him and thousands of followers to defect.

The three leaders are accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity; subsumed within that list are the crimes of murder, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, persecution and willful killing among others.

In essence they are on trial for devising the policies that led to the deaths of around two million people between 1975 and 1979.

They deny all charges.
The response from Cambodians watching proceedings varied from sympathy for the elderly defendants, to outrage that they continued to deny any responsibility for what took place on their watch.

Tribunal observer Clair Duffy, who monitors proceedings for the Open Society Justice Initiative, says the prosecution and the defense performed well.

And while Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary failed to address the essence of the allegations against them, Khieu Samphan did respond to the allegations the prosecution made, and attacked some of its evidence.

Duffy says the week has allowed a glimpse into the tactics the defendants will employ.

Nuon Chea’s statement focused on the broader political landscape of the time, and the bitter relations between the communist parties of Vietnam and Cambodia.

“For Khieu Samphan his line was: Even though I was in this role I wasn’t a member of the Standing Committee; I wasn’t an effective decision maker; there was chaos in this country at the time and we had no control over this,” Duffy explained.

The trial of the three leaders has been divided into a series of mini-trials, and this week saw the start of the first of those. It will largely examine alleged crimes against humanity in the context of the Khmer Rouge’s forced movement of people.

That charge refers to two events in 1975, when Pol Pot’s troops took control of Cambodia and forcibly evacuated every city and town. Later that year they forced vast numbers to move across the country into work camps.

The prosecution says tens of thousands died during those moves, which turned out to be the first in a series of horrific experiences. In his opening statement Cayley put the scale of what happened in context.

One in four Cambodians died, Cayley said. “A loss of life unknown to any nation since the slaughter of all adult men and the enslavement of the women and children of the island of Milos by the Athenian state 2,400 years ago. When judged in relative terms by the proportion of a national population who died or were murdered, the scope of the human catastrophe unleashed by these accused on this country has no parallel in the modern era.”

The court is scheduled to start hearing evidence on December 5.
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Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam to develop border region

Vientiane (Vientiane Times/ANN) - Laos will host the 7th Meeting of the Joint Coordination Committee on the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam (CLV) Development Triangle Area to boost cooperation for the development of their respective economies.

The meeting will be held in Attapeu province from December 6-10, Minister of Planning and Investment Somdy Duangdy announced yesterday.

The meeting will be a good opportunity for Attapeu province to encourage investors from the private sector to consider potential developments in the province, he said.

"We are holding the meeting in Attapeu as the provincial border connects with both Vietnam and Cambodia, which is the best area for facilitating joint development efforts," Somdy said.

Attapeu province has considerable potential in terms of natural resources such as hydropower, agriculture and tourism, as well as being a possible base for industry due to its proximity to Vietnam.

The cooperative meeting will help to develop the triangle area and boost the efforts of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam to attract investment and funding, especially through partnerships with the private sector, he said.

At the meeting, participants will review the implementation of the socio-economic development plan in the triangle area, consult on future cooperation and prepare for the 8th CLV summit in Vietnam next year.

The CLV summit was held for the first time in Laos in 1999. Since then the meeting has been held every two years, with the three nations taking turns to be CLV Joint Coordinator of the Committee and to host the event, Somdy said.

The aim of the summit is to develop the triangle area, and promote peace, stability and socio-economic development. Officials will focus on all areas for improving people's livelihoods and develop their relationships with each other.

The summit has already proved profitable for Laos, which has received US$7.5 million to implement 18 projects in the transport, education and health sectors, he added.

"We are now successfully completing 17 projects in those areas," Somdy said.

"Now we are 100 percent r eady to host the meeting. The government has helped Attapeu province to build conference facilities and has encouraged the private sector to build an international standard hotel and improve roads in the provincial capital."
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China's tax free provides impetus for Cambodian producers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodia's commerce officials said Thursday China's tax exemption for 418 items of Cambodia's products to its market is an impetus for Cambodian producers; however, the country has still not taken the maximum advantage of the offer.

"The China's tax exemption is the open of the market for Cambodian products and is an encouragement for Cambodia's producers to increase their production," Ok Boung, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce, told Xinhua in an interview.

"The provision is very useful to reduce Cambodia's reliance on only the European markets, or the United States."
However, the country is still unable to maximize the benefits from the bilateral cooperation due to the shortage of resources, quality products, and market information.

"Cambodian producers need to learn more about Chinese market in terms of product characteristic and qualities," he said. "It's important to know about the needs of Chinese consumers."

Ok Boung said among the 418 tax-free items, Cambodia has exported to China mostly garment and textile, footwear, some agriculture and forestry products, and food products.

"Our export to China is still in small amount, but, in the future, we see China as the largest market for our products," he said.

The tax-free products the government of China provided to Cambodia include garments, textiles, shoes, food products, living animals such as cattle and swine for breeding, according to the list of tax exemption items, provided to Xinhua by Cambodia's Commerce Ministry on Thursday.

Also, a number of agriculture and forestry products include cashew nut, cane sugar, fruits, coffee, furniture, vegetations for using in pharmacy, rattans, crude maize oil, castor oil, sesame oil and other fixed vegetable fats.
Rice, cassava, rubber and corn, which are mostly grown in Cambodia, have not been included in the tax exemption list.

Kong Putheara, director of the Commerce Ministry's Statistics Department, said the tax exemption was very good for Cambodia to boost production and to diversify Cambodia's export destinations.

"We see China as a stable and huge market for us -- unlike the European markets that now are facing debt crisis," he said.

He said the exemption also helped boost Cambodia and China bilateral trade relations.

According to the Commerce Ministry's reports, the two countries ' trade volume was $912.76 million in the first six months of this year, up 82 percent from $501 million in the same period last year.

During the period, Cambodia's exports to China was $66.31 million, increased 275 percent from $17.68 million, and Cambodia's imports from China reached $846.45 million, up 75 percent from $483.37 million.

The two countries expected that the trade volume in 2011 would hit $2 billion.
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