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Friday, February 24, 2012

Kuwait ambassadors to Cambodia, Gabon present credentials

CAPITALS, Feb 24 (KUNA) -- Dhrar Nasser Al-Tuwaijri presented his credentials to King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni, as Kuwait's first resident ambassador to the Southeast Asian country.

The handing over of Al-Tuwaijri's credentials was carried out during a ceremony at the Royal Palace in the capital Phnom Penh, the Kuwaiti Embassy said in a statement Friday.

During the ceremony, Al-Tuwaijri conveyed the regards of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah to the Cambodian King Sihamoni.

Al-Tuwaijri also presented a memorial to King Sihamoni on this occasion.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Khalid Al-Askari presented his credentials to President of Gabon Ali-Ben Bongo Ondimba as Kuwait's first resident ambassador to the West Africa nation.

The ceremony was held at the Presidential Palace and attended by a large number of state officials, the Kuwaiti Embassy said in a press statement.

Al-Askari conveyed to Ondimba the greetings of His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and His Highness the Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

For his part, Gabon President sent his greetings to Kuwaiti leaderships and people, calling for more efforts to develop and strengthen bilateral relations in all fields.
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Tsongas reflects on visit to Cambodia

By Kristin Lynch

PHNOM PENH -- U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas sets off on the last leg of her Cambodian journey tomorrow, when she departs for the fabled Angkor Wat complex, a World Heritage Site that's considered to be among the most important archaeological locations in Southeast Asia.

For the past four days, Tsongas has been meeting with government leaders and civil-society organizations inside this steamy cauldron of Phnom Penh, a pulsing, buzzing capital filled with mangos, markets and motos on the banks of the mighty Mekong.

"My desire to come here was fueled by the fact that I represent Lowell, which is home to the second-largest Cambodian-American community in the United States," Tsongas said yesterday during a press conference facilitated by the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. "So many of my constituents remain very connected to this country, and I wanted to be more familiar with what their concerns are."

During yesterday's press conference, Tsongas alluded to some of these concerns, but was careful not to deliver too harsh a rebuke.

"My real intent is to learn," she said. "I didn't come here with a personal agenda."

"My real intent is to learn," she said. "I didn't come here with a personal agenda."

Corruption is a sore subject for Cambodia, which continually ranks near the bottom in international measures of government transparency. But Tsongas talked in general terms about the importance of "a system of laws that are open and transparent."

While acknowledging the strides Cambodia has made in the past several years to make its political system more democratic -- this is a country where less than 15 years ago, the current prime minister was publicly and violently battling with his main opponent on the streets of the capital -- Tsongas said she met with opposition leaders "who felt their voice wasn't given ample room."
Those would-be officials of the Sam Rainsy Party, Cambodia's main opposition party, with whom Tsongas met on Tuesday.

After that meeting, SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he encouraged the congresswoman to pressure the U.S. to help ensure that Cambodia's upcoming national elections, slated for June, are "free and fair."

He also discussed human-rights abuses with Tsongas, "especially the use of violence by armed forces over people," in reference to cases of military officials firing on protesting civilians. One such incident occurred as recently as Monday, Tsongas' second day in Cambodia, when an unidentified official shot into an unarmed crowd protesting Puma factory workers in a province near Phnom Penh.

Tsongas promised to take what she heard "home to Washington."

A day after her meeting with SRP leaders, on Wednesday, Tsongas met with Ouk Borith, secretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a member of the ruling Cambodian People's Party. In addition to bilateral issues, the two focused on ways Cambodia and Lowell could foster closer economic ties, Tsongas reported.

"For example, we talked a little about how to bring agricultural products to the city of Lowell because there are Cambodian-Americans who would like to purchase particular foods that cannot be grown in the U.S.," Tsongas said.

In addition to her meetings with government officials, Tsongas met with several nongovernment organizations, including the Wildlife Alliance, an environmental conservation NGO, and the Returnee Integration Support Center, an organization that helps American refugees who have been deported to Cambodia integrate into life. She also met with the American Cambodian Business Council.

"I've learned a lot and as I deal with these issues, my viewpoints will be shaped by much of what I've heard here, so in every instance where there's something relevant to Cambodia, I'll be better informed because I've simply been here," Tsongas said at yesterday's press conference.

Beyond the policy details, the Pearl of Asia still held some surprises for Tsongas, who marveled at the frenetic nature of its roads, bubbling with whizzing moto drivers and tuk tuks brimming with passengers and supplies.

"People travel up and down these streets without getting in any accidents, despite the fact that I see very few stop lights or stop signs. It's remarkable," she said.

And most importantly, she said, "it's nowhere near as hot as I thought it was going to be."

Kristin Lynch is a staff reporter on the national desk at the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia. A native of Rancho Santa Margarita, a small town in Orange County, Calif., she covers most U.S.-related stories and has been following Tsongas' visit.
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Reporter recalls rare trip to Pol Pot’s Cambodia

The outside world understood little about what was going on in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the closed-off country at the time. (File photo)

By Michelle Fitzpatrick

When the Khmer Rouge invited a pair of American journalists to Cambodia in the late 1970s for a rare glimpse of the revolution, they found empty streets and schools in a city with no laughter.

“There was nobody there. It was like walking into the Twilight Zone,” recalled one-time Washington Post correspondent Elizabeth Becker.

Invited by the hardline communist regime to visit the capital Phnom Penh in 1978, she jumped at the rare chance to see the secretive revolution in action and meet its leader Pol Pot.

But after a tense two-week trip, peppered with numerous staged photo opportunities in a filmset-like atmosphere, Becker left convinced of the regime's insanity. And her British travel companion was dead.

More than three decades later, the now retired journalist has returned to put her photographs and recorded interviews with Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders on display in Cambodia for the first time.

She is also preparing to testify before Cambodia’s U.N.-backed court in a landmark trial against three top leaders ̶ including ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, who arranged her visa for that fateful trip.

The three deny charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for their roles in the 1975-1979 regime, which is blamed for the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork or execution.

Led by “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, the hardline communist movement emptied cities, abolished money and religion and forced millions to work in huge labor camps in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

But the outside world understood little about what was going on in the closed-off country at the time.

By December 1978, in the final days of the regime, a Vietnamese invasion was imminent and the Khmer Rouge belatedly sought support to fend off the enemy ̶ starting with positive press about the revolution.

“They had isolated themselves from the world and desperately needed friends or help,” Becker, now 64, said in a recent interview with AFP.

Becker, who began her career as a war reporter in Phnom Penh in the early 1970s, was invited with U.S. journalist Richard Dudman, who had covered the Vietnam War.

The third guest was Malcolm Caldwell, a Scottish Marxist academic who had written a favorable book about the revolution.

That Becker was granted a visa is somewhat remarkable since she had already published several critical pieces about the Khmer Rouge, based on the horror stories that were trickling in from Cambodian refugees.

“Do not presume they were all-seeing and all-wise,” Becker said about the Khmer Rouge leadership. “The one thing people keep forgetting is how incompetent these people were. They were cruel and ruthless and incompetent.”

Throughout their stay, Becker said the three foreigners were “under the equivalent of house arrest,” escorted by armed guards at all times.

But the intrepid reporter “snuck out a couple of times” and behind the facade of freshly painted buildings and manicured parks in the capital, “they just left everything to rot.”

Outings to model cooperatives in the countryside, where well-fed villagers were working in seemingly idyllic surroundings, proved no less surreal.

“I was alarmed by what I didn’t see,” she recalled. “You kept thinking you’re going to turn a corner and real life would show up but it never did.

“There were never kids playing on the street, there were never kids at school, there were never people at the pagoda, there were no markets, no laughing, nothing.”

On the final day, Becker and Dudman became the first and last Western journalists to interview Pol Pot during the Khmer Rouge's reign.

“He was much more charismatic and handsome than I’d expected,” she said.
Pol Pot lectured them about the threat of war with Vietnam, saying he wanted NATO troops to fight alongside Khmer Rouge soldiers.

“That’s how desperate it was, that Pol Pot would imagine NATO would join him,” Becker said.

Caldwell had a private meeting with the Khmer Rouge supremo. Hours later, he was shot dead in his guesthouse.

Mystery surrounds the murder to this day although Becker, who briefly encountered the Cambodian gunman in the guesthouse where Caldwell was killed, simply blames the madness of the Khmer Rouge.

“To find some rational reason why Caldwell would be murdered when this was a regime that was irrationally killing its own people... I don't know that that makes sense.”

On December 25, 1979, two days after Becker and Dudman left Cambodia with Caldwell’s body, Vietnamese forces invaded. By January 7, they had taken the capital and ousted the Khmer Rouge.

Pol Pot fled to the jungle from where he would continue to fight a guerrilla war. He died in 1998 without ever facing justice.

When her turn comes to take the stand, Becker does not expect to suffer from the recollection problems that have plagued some elderly defendants and witnesses.

“I don’t have to rely on my memory,” she said. “I kept my notes, I kept my recordings. That’s the writer’s advantage.”
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