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Friday, December 16, 2011

Nuon Chea Denies Khmer Rouge Intended To Destroy Buddhism

“He demolished Buddhism when he was in power.”

In this photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Nuon Chea, center, who was Pol Pot's No. 2 and the group's chief ideologist, sits during the second trial of the top leaders of Khmer Rouge in the court hall of the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, file photo.

Jailed Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea continued to defend the regime’s policies in a major trial on Thursday, saying the movement was not bent on destroying Buddhism, despite the systematic destruction of pagodas across the country.

Those who accuse the Khmer Rouge of seeking to destroy the religion “do not understand Buddhism,” he said in testimony before the UN-backed tribunal. Buddhism resides in the heart, and in meditation, he said, not in temples.

Thousands of pagodas were destroyed, along with the banking and education systems, after the regime came to power in 1975.

“The party had no measures to eliminate Buddhism,” Nuon Chea told the court under questioning.

However, tribunal attendee Lay Sochea, a monk from Wat Neakvoan pagoda in Phnom Penh, disagreed.

“It’s just his pretext,” he said. “He demolished Buddhism when he was in power.”
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Cambodia's future rests on punishing past sexual crimes, argue campaigners

Gender violence in Cambodia owes much to the Khmer Rouge, many feel – yet the trial of the regime's leaders ignores the issue

By Hanna Hindstrom

Relatives of Khmer Rouge victims take part in an emotional prayer ceremony in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photograph: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Net Saveoun was 18 when she was gang raped by Khmer Rouge soldiers. She was one of 30 women selected to "carry salt" and taken to the forest in Pursat province, western Cambodia in 1978. Each of them was beaten, brutalised and had their throat slit before being tossed into an open grave.

"I was the last one," said Saveoun. "I was hit with an axe and my clothes were torn off and then they raped me. They hit me three times with an axe. Then I was thrown into that hole full of blood. Everyone else was already dead."

But Saveoun is not a witness in the proceedings that began last week in the extraordinary chambers of the courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Instead she addressed a separate hearing last Thursday, held on the other side of the city as part of the Cambodian 16 days of action on violence against women to highlight sexual crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge.

To the frustration of both victims and campaigners, rape and sexual violence have been broadly excluded from the UN-backed trials. The investigating judges have maintained that the regime punished perpetrators of so-called moral offences, and that rape did not form part of official policy. So only forced marriages have been included in the indictments.

But rights activists say the ECCC has failed to investigate fully allegations of rape. "Through our research we have seen that a lot of rapes were carried out, especially by guards in prisons, and rapes before killings were common," said Duong Savorn, co-ordinator of the gender based violence project, part of the Cambodian defenders project, which organised the hearing.

There is also evidence to suggest that perpetrators were not punished and that the Khmer Rouge deemed rape an acceptable retribution against "enemies of the state".

"I heard of only one case where the Khmer Rouge soldier in power who repeatedly raped women was sent to a re-education camp," said Kasumi Nakagawa, who has interviewed more than 1,500 people in a research project on sexual violence under the Pol Pot regime.

The hearing's panel of experts called for the ECCC to hold senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge to account for the widespread sexual violence inflicted on the Cambodian people.

"Sexual violence is the only crime against humanity that is routinely dismissed as 'collateral damage'," said Nancee Bright, chief of staff to the UN's special representative on sexual violence in conflict.

Organisers hope the event will encourage victims to speak out and help end the culture of impunity that still haunts Cambodia today.

"[The brutalities of the Khmer Rouge regime] may have happened a long time ago but the legacy of those crimes lives on," said Bright. "We see sexual violence including trafficking of girls as young as six, we see forced prostitution and gang rape, oftentimes via people within their communities, and we see very little protection of migrant workers."

This violence can also have devastating impacts on the social and economic rights of Cambodian women, including access to education. "I heard recently about a case of a man going into a house and raping four students," said Sam Noeun, executive producer at Women's Media Centre of Cambodia. "This can put parents off from sending their daughters to study, especially in the countryside, where it is difficult to travel."

There are no comprehensive statistics on sexual violence but, according to rights groups, rape is on the rise, especially among young people. While rape is illegal and punishable by law – Cambodia introduced a new penal code last year that clarified the definition of rape – enforcement is a problem. So too is a culture of blaming victims, which ensures few women speak out. Poor women and sex workers are the worst affected.

A 2010 Amnesty International report highlighted the endemic corruption and discrimination in the judicial system that prevents women from accessing justice. Many cases are "settled" out of court with the assistance of corrupt civil servants. Cambodia recently fell 10 places on Transparency International's annual corruption perceptions index; of 182 countries, it now ranks 164th.

"I have no hope at all in the legal system of this country," said Kong Vanna, who witnessed his sister's rape more than 30 years ago and still lives in the same village as two of the perpetrators. As the statute of limitations under Cambodian law has passed, he has no legal recourse.

Rights activists are adamant the ECCC must end the legacy of impunity and send a clear message that rape is unacceptable. "If we don't address issues of violence in the past, the violence of the present will continue to happen," said Duong Savorn. Read more!

Gunfire hits Thai Chopper

By Cheang Sokha

Cambodia military forces shot at a Thai military helicopter yesterday after it flew into Cambodian airspace in Koh Kong province.

Major General Dy Phen, chief of Cambodian-Thai border relations office, said the helicopter made an emergency landing after about 100 bullets were fired at it as it crossed markers in Koh Kong’s Mondul Seima district at about 1:30pm.

“They have abused the air territory of Cambodia, so we had to fire at them,” Dy Phen, who was recently promoted to the position of adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, said.

The rear of the helicopter was damaged and could not fly, so it landed at the border between Koh Kong and Pursat provinces, he said.

“If we flew into their territory, they would also shoot at us, but so far we have not received any reaction from Thailand.”

Dy Phen said he believed the encroachment was deliberate and related to Thai soldiers wanting to erect a Buddhist statue along the border so they could deploy their military officials in the area.

“They did it on purpose,” he said. “Our soldiers are now following the situation.”

Attempts to place statues along the border had been made in the past, but Cambodian soldiers had always removed them, he said.

A high-ranking military official in Koh Kong province also confirmed to the Post that they fired at the helicopter after it flew into Cambodian territory.

“They tried to land, but we did not allow it,” he said.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Thani Thongpakdee and Defence Ministry spokesman Thanatip Sawangsaeng could not be reached for comment, but a government source in Trat, Thailand, who did not wish to be named confirmed that a Thai military helicopter on a mission to supply a border post had suffered damage to its tail but had landed safely without anyone being injured.

At the Preah Vihear temple, on the border, Cambodian border-relations officials yesterday received a letter from their Thai counterparts saying Cambodian officials had brought a group of heritage experts to see the temple of Preah Vihear, damaged from shells during the clashes earlier this year, without prior permission, Chan Chhorn, official for the Preah Vihear National Authority, said.
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Thai chopper shooting caused by misunderstanding: Thai navy

BANGKOK, Dec 16 - The commandant of the Royal Thai Marine Corps on Friday said Cambodia's firing on a Thai helicopter on a border mission was caused by a misunderstanding but said that Cambodian and Thai agencies would meet Saturday to discuss measures to prevent any repetition of the incident.

Vice Admiral Pongsak Phureeroj spoke in his capacity as commander of the Chantaburi-Trat border defence forces following media reports that Cambodia's firing at a Thai Bell 212 helicopter while it was on mission to survey the border area and transport food to army personnel stationed along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Adm Pongsak said the Royal Thai Navy already submitted a protest letter to Cambodia's Military Region 3 commander after the attack.

"I definitely affirm that the Navy's helicopter did not trespass Cambodian territory but we were flying to transport food for Thai and Cambodian troops which were deployed only 50 metres away from each other and this is a regular mission," he said.

Adm Pongsak said he was surprised after being informed of the attack as military ties between the two neighbours were considered "very good" and both troops had lunch together every day.

"The Cambodian commander will come to talk with us about this tomorrow (Dec 17) and lay out measures to prevent any repeated incident," Adm Pongsak stated. "What happened must have been caused by misunderstanding and there was no ulterior motive."

The Thai commander said his troops did not return fire on the Cambodian troops after the shooting but the pilot landed immediately as irregularities were detected after the shooting.

Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Towichakchaikul on Friday commented in correspondence with the Royal Thai Marine Corps chief that the firing at the Thai chopper by Cambodian troops was caused by "misunderstanding", and said he is waiting for more details on the matter. (MCOT online news)
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