History is revisited with this report from Scotland's Sunday Herald newspaper.
Pol Pot murdered Scot in Cambodia : Report shows dictator ordered shooting of academic
More than 1.5 million people died in the killing fields of Cambodia, but one of the most puzzling footnotes in the slaughter and destruction of that country is the unsolved murder of the only British victim - the first Westerner caught up in the violence. Gunmen burst into Scottish academic Malcolm Caldwell's Phnom Penh government guesthouse and shot him repeatedly in the chest and leg, killing him instantly. He was found with his apparent assassin slumped by his body and also riddled with bullet holes. At the time, the BBC reported he was killed by Vietnamese agents to discredit Pol Pot, but 30 years after the murder documents newly obtained by the Sunday Herald under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the genocidal dictator himself ordered the assassination, early in the morning of December 23, 1978. Just hours earlier, the 47-year-old father of four had met the despot, demanded to see deposed leader Prince Sihanouk and had asked about missing Cambodians and ministers, most of whom, it transpires, were already dead.
According to the classified documents, journalist Wilfred Burchett had seen an official Cambodian report a year later which said: "Caldwell was murdered by members of the National Security Force personnel on the instructions of the Pol Pot government." An unnamed British civil servant adds: "Caldwell told Burchett he had every intention of asking some pointed questions and that he was absolutely determined to see Sihanouk. It is likely, therefore, that he upset his hosts, who were probably concerned that a prominent supporter/apologist of the Pol Pot regime might report in a critical vein on his return home. Matters probably came to a head after a private interview which Caldwell had with Pol Pot." The papers also reveal a chilling account of the murder from eyewitness Richard Dudman, made five days later at the British embassy in Washington. The journalist for the St Louis Dispatch told officials of the moment a young gunman shot at him and Caldwell in the Khmer Rouge VIP guesthouse at 12.55am.
Born in Stirling into a middle-class Tory-voting household, Caldwell went on to get a double first at Edinburgh University by the time he was 21. He became a Marxist academic at London University's School of Oriental and African Studies and a left-wing activist, serving as head of CND in 1968-70. A supporter of the Khmer Rouge, he was one of the first Westerners allowed into the country after 1975, and travelled to Cambodia with Dudman and fellow American journalist Elizabeth Becker just as the true horror of the genocide was becoming apparent.
Caldwell had spent three weeks touring the country surrounded by Khmer Rouge minders but had seen and surreptitiously photographed the impoverished peasants. Dudman reported that in Phnom Penh he knocked on Caldwell's door as a young uniformed man appeared in the corridor with a machine gun on his shoulder and a pistol in his hand and fired at the two men. Dudman ran into his room and two shots were fired into the door. Then he heard more shots. 90 minutes later, a Cambodian security officer told Dudman that Caldwell was OK and he had to stay in his room. But, Dudman then said, "An hour later a high ranking foreign office official told me Malcolm Caldwell was dead and asked me to witness the scene."
Dudman went to look and saw the open door of Caldwell's room and saw his dead body "supine, eyes wide open and body soaked in blood". He estimated Caldwell had been hit at least three times. The official told Dudman that the dead gunman had shot Caldwell and then shot himself.
Becker's account indicates that the murder scene could have been staged. The Washington Post journalist found herself face to face with the killer and ran back into her room and hid in her bath. After the shots, she then heard bodies being dragged up and down stairs on three different occasions. Dudman and Becker later noticed that there were bloodstains on the stairs and corridor. The Foreign Office officials speculate that because of the time lapse and Becker's account, it was very possible that Caldwell's murder scene had been stage-managed.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
History is revisited with this report from Scotland's Sunday Herald newspaper.
Tim Pek's directorial debut, The Red Sense, will get it's world premiere at a gala event in Australia at The Drum Theatre, Dandenong, Victoria, Melbourne on Saturday 8 March. Shot in Australia, the story centres around a young woman who discovers that the Khmer Rouge soldier who killed her father, is alive and well and living closeby. She is torn between wanting to take revenge or if in forgiving her father’s executioner, she could bring healing to herself and her people. The film features a Khmer cast, all of whom have their own connection to the Khmer Rouge genocide. Following the film's premiere in Melbourne, Tim Pek (right) will bring the film to Cambodia - very timely of course with the Khmer Rouge Tribunal currently occupying everyone's attention in Phnom Penh.
I spoke to the film's director Tim Pek by email today for an update:
Q. We spoke in Dec 2006 about your debut film The Red Sense, what's been happening to it, and you, since that time? A. Hi Andy, Nice to hear from you again. That was a long time since we spoke, yeah I did recall that since that Christmas time we’ve been really busy in post production, from editing, music composing, scene swapping and ADR (Audio Dialogue Replacement) which we weren't so happy about, and of course, heaps of fine tuning.
Q. What have you learnt about the film-making process in that time? A. It was the most eye-opening experience I ever had, its a mixture of fun and headaches. It was slow and very time consuming, if you really love your work and want to get it right. My principle in this nature is that the audience will give you one shot only when you are making your debut film, so you must follow the guidelines as close as possible. These are the experiences and knowledge I have adopted with my film and I will learn from them.
Q. Do you think the Khmer Rouge Tribunal taking place in Cambodia, will give the film a real currency for the audience? A. It’s hard to say, but I am sure for the western audiences this will be their cup of tea as well as Khmers living abroad.
Q. When's your target date for a Cambodian Premiere for the film? As 80% of the film's dialogue is in Khmer, do you believe this will encourage high audience interest in your homeland? A. I have lodged the paperwork for the film with the Cambodian Culture department for more than a month now, and am awaiting their approval. Once I have their approval then it shouldn't be too long and a month’s promotion will be enough. The dialogue in the film is still that figure, there will be English and Khmer subtitles, so everyone can understand it easily. As this film is classified as an Arthouse film, I hope this will prove popular.
Q. I see you have also produced two more films, Bokator & Annoyed, what are your future film plans? A. Well they are not yet released - Bokator is still in post production, while Annoyed will be out later this year. Talking about my future film plans, I have heaps in mind and already have a few film productions that have given me scripts though I haven't made any decisions yet, but I can assure you that Khmer history and heroes, legendary artists and singers are top of my priority list. Let’s see how The Red Sense goes first, and we take it from there.
Today's Cambodia Daily, the popular English-language newspaper, carries this advert for new staff at Hanuman. We are finding it very difficult to recruit suitable people possessing the necessary qualities to flourish in a go-ahead company like ours. There's a wealth of people leaving the universities armed with degrees for this and that but few are able to convert those degrees and the knowledge they've amassed into convincing me at interview that they have what it takes. Working in our environment, written and spoken English is absolutely paramount but the absence of practicing their English with native English speakers leaves many of the applicants struggling at the interview and testing stage.
Monday, February 25, 2008
The top Neak Ta can be seen at Wat Salong, in Samrong Tong town, where he's highly-regarded and is called Neak Ta Ang Chey. The two monks I spoke to at this pagoda said their Neak Ta was very popular amongst the local people. The second photo is from Wat Kambol, on the main highway between Phnom Penh and Kompong Speu, and I nicknamed it 'ma, pa and sonny' Neak Ta. It was in an overgrown corner of the pagoda, which is undergoing extensive renovation.
On my way to Kompong Speu, I called into a few pagodas that are highlighted on the new Ministry of Culture/EFEO archaeological maps that I bought recently and at one such stop, at Wat Salong in the town of Samrong Tong, I met these two old monks, Preak Meah (on the left) and Vysuan. We chatted about the history of the pagoda and surrounding sites - more on that in future posts - but it also gave me the opportunity to hand them some copies of a book that I have begun distributing on my travels. It's called Buddhist Ethics in Daily Life and it's written by Ven Dr Dhammapiya. I was given a supply of the books by a monk at Wat Langka in Phnom Penh and in my small effort to try and keep Buddhism at the forefront of people's thoughts and in their daily lives, I have asked the older monks at some pagodas to read the book themselves and if they feel its suitable, to pass it onto the younger monks and others living at the pagoda. I've also handed out the book to other individuals I've met along the way. The book is written in the Khmer language and has been donated by a Buddhist society in Malaysia. You may've read my anti-Christian missionaries posts a while ago and this is my 'direct action' to counteract their influence. It's a drop in the ocean I know but it's better than simply moaning on my blog.
Tonight at Pannasastra University on Street 370 will be the next round of the panel discussions organised by Meta House and Konrad-Adenauer Foundation on the Legacy of the Khmer Rouge. It'll kick-off at 7pm, its titled 'Cambodia After UNTAC and a New Genocide Diplomacy' and the panel will include United Nations staffer Benny Widyono who has recently published his warts and all book on his time in Cambodia, called Dancing in The Shadows. Benny was the UNTAC Siem Reap shadow governor in the early 90s and returned later in the decade as the envoy for the UN secretary general, so he knows the inside-story of the UN and Cambodia at that time. I'm in the middle of reading his new book and I'm kicking myself that I haven't managed to finish it before tonight's forum. Joining him will be two more very well-informed individuals, Tom Fawthrop, author, filmmaker and journalist, who knows Cambodia extremely well, having written Getting Away with Genocide with Dr Helen Jarvis, and the DC-Cam deputy director, Peou Dara Vanthan. Moderation will come from Ray Leos.
This weekend's Sunday outing was to Kompong Speu. In fact it was my first proper visit there, rather than just passing through en route from Sihanoukville. I'll post a lot more from my jaunt over the next few days. In the meantime, here's a photo of me with a lovely nun by the name of Reung, who was incredibly frail though came and sat with me to tell me what she knew about the genocide memorial at Wat Ampe Phnom, a few kilometres outside of Kompong Speu town and popular with the locals at weekends. Reung moved there to become a nun at the pagoda after the Khmer Rouge era from a neighbouring commune and gave me the background and history of the wat, which was used as a prison, while the riverbank area around the memorial had been the site of many burial pits, from which the remains in the stupa had been taken. She was 81 years old, her few teeth were stained red from chewing beetlenut and she was still full of life. If you visit the pagoda at the Ampe Phnom 'resort' make sure you seek out Reung for a chat.
In the bottom photo, I was joined at the Rising Sun for my Sunday dinner by my good friend Sophoin who was introducing her neice, 17 year old Phana and her nephew, 14 year old Phano to a whizz around the sights of Phnom Penh. Both of them were making their first-ever trip to the capital from their home in the rubber plantation center of Chup in Kompong Cham province and their auntie was doing the honours by moto. I was the first foreigner they'd ever spoken to and their extra English lessons came in handy, though like most Khmers in the sticks who learn English, their lack of practice is a real inhibitor. Nice kids though and I hope to see them again at a wedding in Kompong Cham in April.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
I crossed the Mekong River on the local boat ferry from Koh Sotin island and passed through the busy market area to locate the pagoda at Wat Chy He, close to the riverbank. The memorial that I expected to find was nowhere to be seen. I asked a couple of young monks but they looked at me with blank stares. Then an old man appeared and told me that the memorial stupa that stood in front of the wat had been demolished many years earlier. I asked what happened to the remains of the Khmer Rouge victims that had been held in the stupa and he took me to a cemetery just outside the grounds of the pagoda and pointed to a series of holes in the ground, where one large burial jar could be seen. He told me that there were four such jars, containing the bones of the victims, that were buried here at the beginning of the decade. The original killing sites in the area were at the prison at Wat Chumnik, which I blogged recently, and at Neak Ta Chen, where remains from the killing pits there had been kept at the Chinese school near Chy He market. However, in 1993 the Chinese comminity took back the site as a school and the four jars were brought to the pagoda as their final resting place, though the stupa they were originally housed in was later destroyed. Today, few people know of the jars' existence and the estimated 1,500 victims who perished at Neak Ta Chen (it means Chinese spirit altar).
The beautiful teak supporting columns
More on Stein: Rick owns and runs four restaurants in the small Cornish fishing village of Padstow with his ex-wife, Jill. He has written 11 cookery books, recorded several cookery series and a couple of one off documentaries. His passion is still for seafood; as he says, “nothing is more exhilarating than fresh fish simply cooked.” It is the daily bounty of local fishermen of perfectly fresh fish which is the reason for the success of The Seafood Restaurant. He has cooked for many famous people including the Queen and Prince Philip Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac.
Still no progress on regaining access to my original blog, so for the time being it looks like this will be my Blog home. As you might imagine, there is steam coming out of my ears!
The Governor of Phnom Penh 'opened' two new statues in the city yesterday, both near the riverside and close to Hun Sen Park. Both are celebrated Cambodian scholars and display a sense of pride in their national identity that I like. If it means that more Khmers ask about their culture and history by asking 'who's that?' then I'm all for it. The statues are of the Buddhist Patriarch Chuon Nath, the foremost scholar of Khmer literature and Buddhism in the 20th century - and - famed 19th century Khmer poet Phirum Pheasa Ou, also known as Ngoy. The statue of Nath is on the roundabout opposite the Khmer Buddhist Institute building, whilst Ngoy is in the garden opposite the Cambodiana Hotel.
Also opening soon will be the first Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, at the Asia Hotel on Monivong Boulevard. That's more of an international identity crisis.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Lazy days and sunset views