Thursday, November 22, 2007

Business as usual

It’s all gone a bit quiet this week in the run up to the water festival – known locally as Bon Om Tuk - which officially starts on Friday. I plan to be at the riverfront in the early evening to see the fireworks and the illuminated large floats and then return on Saturday to watch some of the actual dragon boat races, where crews of up to seventy people from villages all over Cambodia take part in hotly-contested races along the Tonle Sap River, in front of the Royal Palace. If I’ve enjoyed it, I’ll return on Sunday. I’ve never been in Cambodia during the water festival celebrations, so I’m looking forward to the experience. Everyone has warned me about the crowds that flock into Phnom Penh and particularly along the waterfront, and to be wary of pickpockets, etc, so I will. The authorities here are expecting upwards of four million people to be in the capital for the festival and will close off parts of the city near to the river to motorized traffic. Bring it on.
The world’s media has focused on Cambodia again this week, with the first public hearing in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, albeit to hear a plea by the defence counsel for Comrade Duch, that he should be released on bail, having already spent more than eight years in custody. Duch was the commandant of the Khmer Rouge prison and execution centre called Tuol Sleng, or S-21 and quote of the week goes to his sister who said, ‘My brother was a gentle man.” For goodness sake the man has more blood on his hands than most. With five of the surviving top echelon of the Khmer Rouge hierarchy now in custody and awaiting trial, that in itself is a considerable achievement, nearly thirty years after they were ousted from their reign of terror by the invading Vietnamese in 1979.
On a lighter note, I was handed another wedding invitation this week, my third in as many weeks, but this one is a bit special. It’s an all-Hanuman affair with our top tour guide in Phnom Penh, Eak due to marry one of our finance team, Nearyrath on Monday 3 December. They make a lovely couple and it’ll be another chance for the youngsters in the office to let their hair down and enjoy themselves. They don’t need to be asked twice.
I spoke to a friend of mine in Siem Reap last night, who is working for the brand new Angkor National Museum and was told that for their opening month promotion, the cost of entry is $8 for foreigners and a dollar for Khmers, though the prices will go up in early December to the set price of $12 and $3 respectively. They told me that very few Khmers have been through the doors as yet and the $3 price-tag will act as a barrier to most Khmers I know from going. At the National Museum in Phnom Penh, and of course at places like the Angkor complex of temples, Khmers are allowed in free of charge and with $3 representing more than the normal daily income of most Cambodians, you can see why they will stay away in their droves.
Finally, I stayed awake til 5am this morning to watch the England international footy match on Star Sports. I really, really wish I hadn't bothered. They perpetually fail to deliver and their 3-2 home defeat by Croatia means they are out of the European Championships at the group stage. What a shambles.


Wanna said...

Water Festival, people flock in Phnom Penh. Unlike other ceremonies which people go out of the city. This causes even walking meet difficulty from the huge crowd.

Enjoy the holiday, Andy!

Andy said...

An interesting look back to the view of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng in 1983.

Archive: Display of bones ghoulish testament to torture
From Globe and Mail Archives (Toronto, Canada)
May 18, 1983

CHOEUNG EK, Cambodia — About 15 hot and bumpy kilometres southwest of Phnom Penh, the Cambodian Government is carefully tending a ghoulish testament to torture, execution and mass burial.

This is where the victims of the Pol Pot regime which ruled Cambodia for four years were buried, after being held and tortured in a converted Phnom Penh high school.

Seeing one skull, and one set of limbs, is bad enough. Seeing thousands stacked in layers in a huge outdoor display stall, beside grave sites still littered with human remains, is gut-wrenching.

That is precisely the reaction the Heng Samrin Government and its Vietnamese backers, who overthrew Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge in 1979,want to induce.

The museum that Choeung Ek has become is designed not only to remind the world of the atrocities, in the way of former Nazi concentration camps in Europe, but also to help legitimize Cambodia's continuing civilian and military dependence on Vietnam.

Tens of thousands of Vietnamese soldiers are stationed in Cambodia, many along the western border with Thailand where a guerrilla coalition including the Khmer Rouge is fighting to oust the occupiers.

Despite the staged withdrawal of several thousand troops this month, tens of thousands remain - ostensibly to guard against the return of Pol Pot, who is denounced at every opportunity by the Government as a genocidal scourge unleashed with the help of Chinese expansionists.

Pol Pot's brutal legacy was a recurring theme in a recent two-day visit to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, organized by Vietnam to mark the troop pullback. Vietnam says that by the end of this month more than 10,000 of its soldiers will have left. Cambodia says a withdrawal is possible because the country is more stable.

Traditionally Vietnam and Cambodia were antagonists, but slogans like “Long live the militant solidarity between Kampuchea (Cambodia) and Vietnam” abound in Phnom Penh. “The Kampuchean-Vietnamese bond is an exceptional weapon,” Cambodian Foreign Minister Hun Sen writes in a propaganda booklet, “and it is the only one which allows us to live, and in the future to live in independence, peace and happiness.” The number of Cambodians bludgeoned, worked to death or starved in forced transfers to the countryside during Pol Pot's rule is given by Cambodian officials as three million, of a total population of seven to eight million.

This is impossible to verify, and sorting out direct slaughter from indirect killing brought on by forced marches and labour is difficult. But Choeung Ek has 129 mass graves, and the 86 that have been opened yielded 8,985 skulls.

Officials say each of Cambodia's provinces has three or four mass grave sites.

The chief monument to the barbarity of the Khmer Rouge is the former Tuol Svay Prey secondary school, which was a political prison, torture chamber and execution site. It too is now a museum.

Classrooms on the first and second floors were used for individual interrogation and confinement, those on the third for mass detention. Dried blood, crude iron manacles and a single steel mat remain in each of the concrete-floored interrogation rooms. A plastic can and a rusting ammunition box served to collect urine and feces.

One room contains a topographical map of Cambodia, made of human skulls. Books kept by the torturers document the victims in alphabetical order. Filing cabinets bulge with photographs of the dead. Pictures of emaciated people, some with their throats slit, line many of the walls.

The instruments of torture are various: vises, steel pincers, whips; tongs and pliers for pulling out fingernails. The gallows were designed to hang prisoners by their feet, hands tied behind their backs and heads submerged in water troughs.

Tiny brick cubicles served as cells for the victims, who were chained to the floor. Some died during their confinement and torture, but most were eventually taken alive to Choeung Ek, where they were told to kneel at the edge of mass graves and then clubbed to death.

According to graphs depicting the choking of life and culture under Pol Pot, between 1974 and 1978 the number of primary school teachers in Cambodia was cut from nearly 12,000 to about 8,000; the number of journalists from 300 to five; the number of functioning Buddhist pagodas from 2,800 to none.

Of more than 20,000 Cambodians who entered the gates of Tuol Svay Prey, only a handful survived. One of these was museum director Ing Pech, 56, imprisoned for 14 1/2 months after being accused of working for the U.S.Central Intelligence Agency.

He shows a visitor his hands, where the nails have been ripped out, and says he lost six children while the Khmer Rouge were in power.

Why does he work at the museum, when it can only prolong the memory? “To tell people what it was like. If there were no survivors, no one to tell the story, then what?”

Andy said...

There are some articles in the wake of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal being written, that are worth reprinting here.

Justice too long delayed Wednesday, November 21, 2007
By Elizabeth Becker
Posted by The International Herald Tribune (France)

On a clear tropical morning last week, the police arrived at a villa here in Phnom Penh and arrested Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, carefully explaining legal procedures to the elderly Khmer Rouge leaders.

It had been nearly 30 years since the overthrow of the regime of the infamous "killing fields," in which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians perished. Yet in all those years no one had been held accountable for one of the worst crimes against humanity of the last century.

Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, died a free man in 1998. Ieng Sary, the former foreign minister, and Ieng Thirith, the former minister of social affairs, both close associates of Pol Pot, had lived openly under an amnesty granted them in 1996 - one likely to be raised in their trials for crimes against humanity.

They are among five Khmer Rouge leaders, regarded as the most culpable for the killing fields of those still alive, who are to be tried by a special court created with United Nations assistance. The tribunal held its first open hearing this week.

But this trial comes far too late. The decades of impunity have already taken a heavy toll on attitudes toward law and justice.

I covered the rise of the Khmer Rouge and was in Cambodia for two harrowing weeks once they were in power. In the years that followed, I was appalled at the ability of the leaders to avoid prosecution.

There was more than enough evidence against them. But in the final days of the Cold War, China and the United States needed the Khmer Rouge to oppose the Soviet Union. After that, the regime of Hun Sen, himself a former low-level Khmer Rouge leader, resisted a trial, saying it was not necessary to open old wounds.

In fact, the last thing Hun Sen wanted was a fair trial. His regime had cemented its own power and wealth by ignoring justice and the rule of law.

The legacy of that lawlessness will make it difficult to render justice at the Khmer Rouge trial, and even more difficult to translate it into the betterment of Cambodian society.

In today's Cambodia, justice goes to the highest bidder. Cambodian and foreign monitors have chronicled countless examples of clerks openly accepting large stacks of dollar bills before the judge renders a verdict. Political rivals of the government have been murdered and their assailants never arrested. Police officers take handsome payoffs to look the other way as young Cambodian girls and boys are sold as prostitutes to foreign men.

"In many ways, I think Cambodian justice is going backwards," said Naly Pilorge, the director of Licadho, a human rights organization that has documented many of these abuses.

The special Khmer Rouge tribunal is based on Cambodian law, enhanced to international standards, and a majority of the judges and lawyers are Cambodians. That was the only way the government would agree to the trials.

Robert Petit, the foreign co-prosecutor, admits that Cambodian law "is very sketchy." He is also worried about the way the trials will be perceived in Cambodia. Since the court will try only the most senior surviving officials, Cambodians will never know who actually killed their relatives, nor will they receive any compensation.

"The courts will not convict those who killed my parents, my five sisters or my two brothers," said Roland Eng, a former Cambodian ambassador to the United States. "At best, the trial will help future generations understand their country's history."

Those born since the Khmer Rouge period seem to agree. For them, there is a direct connection between the corruption they see in their daily lives and the silence and half-truths they had been told about the Khmer Rouge.

Solyn Seng, a recent accounting graduate of the country's leading business school, told me: "Khmer people have to know what is right and what is wrong. It begins with who made the Khmer genocide - Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan."

Her classmate Chirattana Leng, a graduate in finance, said a successful tribunal "would show the world that there can be justice in Cambodia, and that would mean more foreign investment."

Not that there's any shortage. At a recent conference for foreign investors it was standing room only. The word is out: Cambodia has cheap labor and lots of empty land.

The country is booming. The economy is growing at 10 percent a year. Apartment buildings and skyscrapers are rising all over the capital. Golf courses and zoos are planned for islands off the southern coast. Oil has been discovered and rigs will soon appear in Cambodian waters of the Gulf of Siam.

But much of this new wealth has gone straight into the pockets of a small group tied to the regime. They have razed nearly one-third of the forests, evicted countless peasants from their land to make way for huge plantations of rubber, palm oil and acacia nuts and evicted poor homeowners to raise new apartment complexes.

When the peasants and urban poor have tried to bring their cases before the courts, they have nearly always lost.

That is the unbroken chain of impunity.

When the Khmer Rouge can escape responsibility for the death of almost two million people, it is hardly surprising that those who follow them act as if they are free of legal restraints. If the tribunal succeeds in convicting a few of the old Khmer Rouge, that could finally start to change.

Elizabeth Becker is a fellow at the German Marshall Fund and author of "When the War Was over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution."

Andy said...

The bitter end in Cambodia
by James Fenton
Published 22 November 2007

Taken from The New Statesman 25 April 1975

As a young foreign correspondent, James Fenton wrote an article for the New Statesman on the eve of the Khmer Rouge's final victory in Cambodia in 1975. Fenton wondered why so many Cambodian men continued to fight against the Khmer Rouge despite facing inevitable defeat. This sadly prophetic piece conveys an ominous feeling of impending doom, but still does not foresee the scale of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Selected by Robert Taylor

I went back, on Tuesday of this week, to visit the remains of the Khmer Republic — at least all that seems to remain of it (and by the time you read this it may have succumbed as well). It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, a temple complex predating Angkor Wat, set on top of a 1,500-foot cliff, commanding a view which would rival even the Malvern Hills.

The only easy access is through the Dongrek mountains from Thailand. This is why the place has not yet been taken. To enter it, the Khmer Rouge are going to have to scale the cliff, which is possible although the approach has been well booby-trapped. On both occasions that I have visited the Temple of Preah Vihear, some sure-footed mountain creature has stepped on a mine and blasted itself into another existence. These occasional exploding animals must act as a disincentive to the Khmer Rouge. Perhaps when the communists enter they should drive a herd of goats before them across the minefield.

The temple still holds out and the tattered flag of Lon Nol’s Republic still flies over the ruins. About 130 soldiers defend the place and intend to go on doing so until their ammunition runs out. Or so they say. When you ask them why they continue to fight (exchanging small arms and mortar fire at night) they say it is because they do not want communism. But then they say that perhaps in a few days they will move off to Thailand.

They don’t know what to do, it is clear. They heard the old government’s call for surrender but they say (rightly) that it was not read out by the On the other hand they know that their commander-in-chief is now in Thailand. They’ve lost contact with their own headquarters in Siem Reap. They have no money and no supplies. But they don’t give up. They say: ‘If the Khmer Rouge were of good heart, we would join them. But they are not of good heart.’

It doesn’t matter, I suppose, since one way or another their futures are going to be sorted out very soon. But it makes me think of one feature of Lon Nol’s army which the Left has tended to ignore. The fact is the soldiers of the Republic continued fighting their losing battle until the very end. Is this remarkable? Well, I seem to remember reading, before I first went to Indochina, a lot of articles about how appalling FANK (the Forces Armées Nationales Khmères) and its Vietnamese counterpart, ARVN, were, how they would collapse as soon as the Americans left, how it was impossible for Thieu and Lon Nol to find anyone to fight for them.

These views were regularly expressed in the NEW STATESMAN, and continue to appear. Last year, for instance, this paper referred in a leader to ‘the mere fact’ that Phuoc Binh was abandoned without a struggle (a mere fact for which one would be interested

to know the mere source). And two weeks ago Simon Head was declaring that the collapse in the Central Highlands of Vietnam was ‘completely predictable’, and putting it down to the malaise in the army. But the Central Highlands fiasco was at least partly a result of a disastrous top-level decision, which set off a chain reaction of surprising speed — surprising, surely, even to Mr Head.

If the events of the past weeks were completely predictable, the events of the previous weeks and months, during which time thousands and thousands of men have sacrificed their lives for Thieu and Lon Nol, were not. Obviously it is the duty of the Left to take a look at why so many workers and peasants died for causes that the Left so much despised.

The notorious thing about FANK, then, was not its cowardice but its bravery. Having previously been nothing more than the Prince’s plaything (called FARK) it went first into battle against one of the most sophisticated and energetic armies in the world, the NVA (how would the British Army do against the NVA, I wonder, at home or away? Come to that, how would the Brits do against ARVN?). By the time that the Khmer Rouge had really been established FANK had already lost considerable ground, but it picked up considerably (as did ARVN) after direct American support had been withdrawn; and it went on, in last year’s dry season, to hold its own and defeat the attack on Phnom Penh.

During the course of its history, it also suffered several long and bitter sieges, until by the end it was everywhere besieged. Under the worst of such conditions it invariably showed itself at its best. At Kompong Cham in 1973 and Kampot in 1974 it surprised most ‘military experts’ by outlasting a strong and determined attack. In Kompong Seila, during a siege which lasted 11 months, the soldiers lived off Khmer Rouge flesh in order to survive. It is said that they used to send out foraging parties1 in order to bring back a few chaps for lunch. In Neak Luong, which became the lynch-pin of the war, the Khmer Rouge, made it their top priority that the town should be taken before Phnom Penh. Until that time they had never succeeded in over running an important town in which FANK had chosen to fight. The siege began in’ early January and continued, with heavy fighting until 1 April, the day Lon Not left The evidence is that the defenders fought I until the bitter end. Meanwhile the rest of FANK continued until not only Lon Nol had left, but also his replacement had gone, the Americans had gone, every other em bassy had gone long since, the money had almost gone, the ammunition was clearly running out, the airlift had turned to air drops and the Khmer Rouge had forced their way into the centre of town. At this point, on orders, they surrendered. Or rather they did in Phnom Penh. In the rest of the country it is taking a little longer, as we have seen.

Why should it take so long? Why did thel average soldier not throw away his arms and surrender long before? There was littie enough to induce him to fight. The pay was insufficient and usually late; he knew th government to be corrupt and incompeten He knew, or should have known, that he had nothing to gain from the war. I believe that part of the explanation comes from the nature of the Khmer Rouge. For behind the1 military victory . of last week — remarkable though it was — lies a political failure. What the Cambodian communists never succeeded in doing was carrying their revolution to th cities. The conditions, one might have thought, were there. The police apparatus was relatively weak. The Government unpopular. The radical students were allowed to say more or less what they wished, and did indeed do some quasi.revolutionary sabre.rattling. But no move seriously made to propagandise to the anlel Khieu Samphan made some radio broad casts, calling on the troops to surrender, ai yet I think that in two years army changed sides on only two occasions.

The popular image of the Khmer Rouge, encouraged by government propaganda, me F have been a caricature. Towards the end at the war people gave up talking about d! ‘ Khmer Rouge as if they were simply murd. erous maniacs. But there remained a certai notion of the communist movement whid may well correspond to the truth, a notiun of an authoritarian, austere, cruel society where a terrifying justice was meted out I all alike.

What is known about Khmer Rout society? What concepts are particul attached to it? The concept of poverty a way of life, of uniformity (forced haircs for women), of secrecy (secrecy about I Khmer Rouge government and about l outside world — enforced by such measul as the ban on dry batteries), of hard wo as virtue, and the concept of nationalisea Because of the last of these, they came to respected by Phnom Penh, both by tt’ government and the people. But the othea make an unattractive list. Why not! What have they to do with socialism? V/haL have they, indeed, to do with communism? It will be said that the Khmer Rouge had no choice. Working from the direst poverty, they had to achieve a great degree of regirnentation and discipline throughout society j order to win the war. I say that their 0rdering of society was the greatest stumbling block and hindrance to their winning of the war. Nor do I believe that the methods hitherto adopted will now be abandoned, even though society will no doubt eventually become less rigorous.

A certain euphoria came over Phnom Penh just towards the end of the war at the thought that the fighting was soon to be over. And many people seemed almost ready to welcome the communist troops (which is what eventually happened after the surrender). There were some who went into a panic, however, or wondered whether they should leave if possible. One of these was a friend who had previously been in the Khmer Rouge, and who had always hitherto been prepared to speak frankly in their favour. As the ‘Liberation’ forces came nearer to victory, his attitude changed to fear; and when he saw that there was no possibility of his leaving he seemed to sink into dejection. When I reminded him of his previous remarks, he said pathetically that he had only been joking. Why else did I think he had left the Khmer Rouge? Of course he disliked communism.

Nobody knew what to expect but this man knew something more than the rest. He seemed to have just remembered it — and I wondered what it was.