Sunday, 24 August 2008

Sacravatoons : " CPP & Its Tools "

Courtesy Sacravatoon at

Painting Pol Pot

Cambodian artists of all ages depict the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime in vastly different ways.

By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop NEWSWEEK
Published Aug 23, 2008
From the magazine issue dated Sep 1, 2008

Cambodian artist Oeur Sokuntevy, 25, was born after the atrocities of Pol Pot's regime. So when she was asked to produce an artwork for an exhibition looking back at that period, she struggled; Pol Pot and the legacy of his rule are not discussed much by her generation. "It's sad, but it's in the past," she says. "Everybody has a sad story. It's time to move on."

In the end, Oeur painted "I Am Too Young to Understand These Words," a watercolor of a young girl in a bathing suit talking on her mobile phone beside a phrase reproduced from Pol Pot's "Little Red Book," extolling the regime's aims. Her painting stands in sharp contrast to "The Khmer Rouge Leader," a painting by Hen Sophal, 50, who depicts a grinning Pol Pot seated like an emperor atop a mountain of bones and skulls. Amid the macabre pile, a monk's torn saffron robe represents the regime's destruction of religion, and an Angkorean-carved stone its disregard for the country's ancient culture.

These two works represent the divergent perspectives of different generations of Cambodians on Pol Pot and his killing fields, and lie at the heart of "Art of Survival," a group exhibition at the contemporary art space Meta House in Phnom Penh. The exhibit is a "long-overdue dialogue through art" that seeks to address modern memories of Cambodia's painful past, says Meta House director Nico Mesterharm. The two-part exhibition began in January with 21 artists and expanded this month to include a total of 40 artists, who were each given a blank canvas to document their reflections on the Khmer Rouge period. The show was scheduled to coincide with current efforts to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice through a U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal, which is preparing for its first trial—of Kaing Guek Eac, the former commander of the notorious S-21 prison and torture center—next month.

The exhibit includes international artists such as Vietnamese-Khmer painter Le Huy Hoang, who painted a portrait of his father, a Cambodian military doctor who died in one of Pol Pot's detention camps, and the American Bradford Edwards, who has regularly traveled to Cambodia over the past 12 years. "We're trying to show the impact of the genocide not just on Cambodia but on the region as well," says Lydia Parusol, art manager of Meta House.

Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge presided over the deaths of almost 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979. But their presence was felt long after they were overthrown 10 years ago. The Southeast Asian nation's culture was nearly wiped out during that time, and though the new government sought to rebuild the arts, it placed more emphasis on traditional dance and theater than on contemporary art. Indeed, most artists have been extremely reluctant to confront the past, notes Hen, admitting that he painted "The Khmer Rouge Leader" in 2000 but was afraid to show the work in public for fear of "retribution." "Everybody knows this happened to Cambodia, so actually, some artists feel they don't need to paint [it]," he says. "But I think about the Khmer Rouge all the time. It's in my head; it's an obsession."

The works on display are clearly skewed by age. Older artists who survived the regime, like Hen, Chhim Sothy and Vann Nath, tend to show more graphic depictions of the Khmer Rouge, with skulls and death crowding canvases. Vann's untitled oil painting, which depicts a group of blindfolded prisoners with ropes around their necks being led inside the S-21 prison, is made more poignant by the knowledge that the artist is only one of a handful of remaining survivors from the torture center, where nearly 20,000 people are believed to have been tortured and killed. Since the end of the Khmer regime, Vann is probably the only painter to have continuously depicted in great detail the atrocities of the regime. Some of his works are on permanent display at the Phnom Penh prison, which has been turned into the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

The younger generation favors more abstract works. Tith Veasna's "Blind Pins" is a mixed-media installation using pins and black fabric—a Cambodian symbol of mourning for a relative who dies. Vandy Rattana's "Going Fanatic" is a photograph of squares of light around a hammer and sickle. "It's not that the younger generation is forgetting," Vandy says. "It's just that we don't know much about it. After 12 years of school, I'd never heard about the Khmer Rouge."

Perhaps the most powerful painting is by the rising contemporary-art star Leang Seckon, whose "My Shadow" depicts a half-naked man whose mirrored reflection shows a skeleton. The man, which the artist imagines as part of Pol Pot's regime, is throwing a punch at his shadow as if wrestling with his own demons. "This man knows his guilt," says Leang. "He can hide it outside, but the mirror shows his true self." In the same way, "Art of Survival" is an unflinching reflection of Cambodia's attempts to reconcile the past.

Opposition Party Asks to Meet the King to Report about Irregularities during the Elections

Posted on 24 August 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 574

“The president of the Human Rights Party said that a request will not be made to the King to delay the meeting for the new National Assembly swearing-in ceremony, thinking that such a request would not be successful. The president of the Human Rights Party, Mr. Kem Sokha, reported to Radio Free Asia, broadcast on Thursday night, that, considering the situation realistically, asking for help from the King hardly could get results.

“The president of the Human Rights Party, an ally of the Sam Rainsy Party, together rejecting the election results on 27 July 2008, said, ‘We will not make a request disturbing the King, because we know that previously, although we had made requests to him many times, he has no possibility to help us much, since everything depends on decisions by the government.’ In the meantime, the Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party still retain the position to boycott the first session of the parliament, where the swearing-in of the parliamentarians should happen in late September 2008, if there is no proper solution for the complaints lodged by both parties.

At present, the complaints of the Sam Rainsy Party are in the hands of the Constitutional Council, which is known as a tool of the ruling party, like the National Election Committee [NEC].

“Mr. Sam Rainsy, a well-known opposition party president in Cambodia, said that so far, both allied parties considered not to attend the meeting of the fourth term parliamentary swearing-in ceremony, and are seeking solutions for the complaints about the irregularities of the elections. He added that the opposition party is waiting for permission from the King to meet him and to report to him the problems that happened during the previous elections.

“Mr. Sam Rainsy said also, ‘We wrote to the King to ask for permission to meet him, but there is no response from the Royal Palace yet; however, we will directly report to him when we have the opportunity to meet him.’ Regarding to this problem, a source close to the King said that the King will, sooner or later, agree with the request of the opposition party to meet him. As for the word ‘sooner or later,’ it is not known in how many days, while the NEC plans to announce the official results of the fourth term elections on 7 September 2008.

“According to the temporary results announced by the NEC on 9 August 2008, the Cambodian People’s Party will receive 90 seats, the Sam Rainsy Party will receive 26 seats, the Human Rights Party 3 seats, the Norodom Ranariddh Party 2 seats, and Funcinpec also 2 seats. Early in August, Prime Minister Hun Sen, the vice-president of the Cambodian People’s Party, had warned Mr. Sam Rainsy, the opposition party president, that the opposition party cannot prevent the meeting to form a new National Assembly by boycotting it, and that if it dares to boycott, this will result in invalidating its parliamentary seats gained. This warning caused Mr. Sam Rainsy to react immediately, because they first stole the ballots, and then they want to grab the seats of the Sam Rainsy Party in the National Assembly without any feeling of shame.

“However, legal experts said that, according to Article 76 of the Constitution, the supreme law of the nation, a new National Assembly cannot hold its inaugural meeting, unless there are at least120 parliamentarians attending, otherwise that new National Assembly cannot function, and a new government cannot be formed. Therefore, if the Cambodian People’s Party of Hun Sen’s group dares to hold a session of he new National Assembly, claiming that it won the majority of votes in the National Assembly, it is against Article 76 of the Constitution – it would mean that the Cambodian People’s Party unreasonably violates the supreme law of the nation.

“Relating to the plan by the NEC to announce the official results of the elections on 7 September 2008, legal experts commented to the NEC that it should finish solving the many complaints of the opposition parties about irregularities during the election day and days before the elections.

To finish solving complaints lodged by the opposition parties before the announcement of the fourth term national election result is to disregard criticism from national and international observers. Obviously, national and international observers had clearly criticized that the elections on 27 July 2008 did not reach international standards and were not fair and just, clearly shaming the NEC, which is using every means to hide its bad face.

“According to high ranking officials of the NEC, they said that although there are complaints to the NEC or to the Constitutional Council, the announcement of the fourth term parliamentary election results will be made officially as planed on 7 September 2008 at the latest, and all complaints will have been solved before the day when the election results will be announced.

However, officials of civil society organizations said that the official results of the elections cannot be announced, unless the Constitutional Council has solved all complaints by political parties; if all complaints have not been solved, the election results cannot be announced on the date set by the NEC.

“The Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party had announced to boycott attending the first meeting of the National Assembly on 24 September 2008, demanding a new vote, in order to provide justice to more than one million Khmer citizens who had lost their right to vote.

Moreover, the presidents of both parties have collected many documents as proof regarding the irregularities of the elections to be sent to the United Nations and the European Community, to help to seek justice for Khmer citizens. Because the fact that one million of Khmer citizens lost the right to vote is a serious irregularity. If the results are to be announced by the NEC on 7 September 2008, it is not in line with the will of the Khmer citizens.”

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.15, #3556, 23.8.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:Saturday, 23 August 2008

Fallen soldiers’ remains repatriated

Thanhnien News
Sunday, August 24, 2008

Servicemen from Military Zone 7 in the south have repatriated 5,588 sets of remains of Vietnamese war combatants in Cambodia since they began in 2001.

A conference in Ho Chi Minh City Friday to review the search and repatriation operation reported that only 340 of the sets had been identified.

According to Military Zone 7, there has been seven search phases in 10 cities and provinces so far.

During the seventh phase in the 2007-08 dry season, search teams found 403 sets of remains from six provinces in Cambodia which were returned to Vietnam and buried in martyrs’ cemeteries in Tay Ninh, Binh Phuoc and Long An provinces.

The search will continue in the 2008-09 dry season, the Military Zone 7 officers said.

Tourists endanger Angkor Wat

Fragile temples threatened by erosion and instability

By Paul Watson Los Angeles Times
August 24, 2008

ANGKOR, Cambodia - The ancient sandstone temples of Angkor have stood up to endless assaults down the centuries, from medieval raiders armed with clubs and spears to genocidal looters laying land mines.

These days, the onslaught begins in the early morning darkness, when invading columns of buses, taxis and sputtering tuk-tuks converge on a dirt parking lot across from Angkor Wat's broad moat.

They disgorge hundreds of camera-wielding tourists, who march through the gray light toward the awesome gates of the world's largest religious monument.

Hindus constructed it in the 12th century, with a gilded central tower representing Mount Meru, mythical home of the gods and the center of the spiritual and physical universes. They built it facing west, perhaps in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu, preserver of all things.

For today's tourists, the alignment has a more mundane appeal. It's a great place to snap a picture of the sunrise behind sprawling Angkor's best-known temple.

When the shutters stop clicking, tour guides herd their groups into the monument all at once. Tourists jostling for space bump, scrape and rub their fingers against exquisitely carved stone, adding to centuries of damage to the friezes of soldiers depicted in epic battle atop chariots and elephants.

By dusk, the mob of sightseers has moved to Phnom Bakheng, where buses drop off hundreds of people who then scramble for position on large, delicately balanced stone platforms at the small temple, Angkor's oldest.

Obscured from the road by dense forest, it was safely off the regular tour routes until sappers cleared land mines that Khmer Rouge guerrillas had placed to defend the strategic hilltop.

"Now it's suddenly become the destination where everybody wants to be at the end of the day to see the sunset, and to see the views, which are spectacular," said Bonnie Burnham, president of the New York-based World Monuments Fund.

The nonprofit group helps conserve historic sites around the world.

Many of Phnom Bakheng's 108 shrines stand on platforms that have shifted over the centuries as water trickles in and loosens sand and dirt, and the tourists are gathering where they shouldn't.

So many people have clambered up stones next to the crowded stairs that erosion is accelerating, with loosened sections poised to tumble, Burnham said.

"The platforms where people stand are not really stable," Burnham said. "They're eroding very rapidly. The magnificent sculpture on the shrine at the center of the temple is in very fragile condition and has not been treated for conservation yet.

"People shouldn't really be touching it, or going anywhere near it."

Burnham's fund received almost $1 million recently from the U.S. State Department for a project to stabilize the eastern side of Phnom Bakheng, the temple's most endangered section.

As night falls, the tourists feel their way back down the hill and onto air-conditioned buses. They're delivered to their hotels in nearby Siem Reap, where they rinse off the sweat of a long day's touring with a dip in the pool or a soothing shower before dinner.

As the taps open up, more of the dwindling groundwater is drained. UNESCO has warned that the receding water table could undermine Angkor Wat's fragile foundations, causing the temple to gradually sink.

There hasn't been enough research to say how much the heavy demand for water affects Angkor Wat's stability, said Dougald O'Reilly, a Canadian archaeologist who heads HeritageWatch, a nonprofit group working to protect Cambodia's historic sites from looters and overuse.

A decade ago, about 300,000 tourists visited Angkor Wat each year. It was possible to have a quiet, spiritual moment alone in nearby temples that had been swallowed up by the jungle.

But peace, after decades of civil war and upheaval, opened the tourism floodgates.

More than a million people are expected to file through Angkor Wat's narrow stone corridors this year, and the government hopes to draw 3 million annually to the site by 2010.

With more hotels and resorts on the drawing board, conservationists are pushing hard to prevent a destructive free-for-all of development and tourism.

"It's going to mean some sacrifices," Burnham said. "People aren't going to be able to do some of the things, in an unregulated way that they've been permitted to do in the past."

Angkor's temples aren't new to the indignities of visitors with sharp elbows.

Numerous armies have barged through the city-state founded 1,200 years ago. Its temples were abandoned to the jungle during almost half that period. Angkor Wat suffered its worst damage when Khmer Rouge fighters looted it in the late 1970s as they were committing mass murder in the name of an agrarian revolution.

Foreign donors and governments, led by the United States, France and Japan, have spent as much as $50 million over the past 15 years to repair the scars of time and abuse.

But the work is far from finished, and new threats are building.

Sokimex Group, which has used its connections with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to become the country's biggest company, plans to build a 900-room hotel and spa, with shopping mall, water park, slot machines and conference center, on a 56-acre site in Siem Reap.

Sokimex also controls the ticket concession to Angkor. Passes cost $20 a day, $40 for three days and $60 a week.

It's small change for a company that deals in oil, gas stations, pharmaceutical products, garment making, property development and luxury hotels and resorts, in addition to running an airline.

Sokimex's share of the admission take is set by a contract with the government, and Burnham said it leaves most of the profit in the company's hands. One-third of the revenue is supposed to go to Apsara, a Cambodian agency set up by royal decree to preserve the Angkor sites and manage development.

But some people dispute the ticket sales figures, saying Apsara, which takes its name from the heavenly nymphs of Hindu and Buddhist mythology whose bare-breasted figures adorn the Angkor temple walls, gets enough only to cover basic expenses.

"Apsara has virtually no money for conservation," Burnham said. "All of the conservation at Angkor is being done through international assistance.

"The effect of millions of feet pounding on Angkor Wat's steps and floors has already led officials to close some areas.

The towers, the tallest of which rises 213 feet, are off-limits because the constant wear and tear made the structures unsafe.

A first step toward reducing congestion could be as simple as insisting that visitors walk through Angkor Wat in the same direction, from beginning to end, Burnham said.

She also wants to see Cambodian officials set time constraints on tickets for the busiest of Angkor's temples, to limit pressure during peak hours.

The day may come when a strict quota is placed on the number of visitors allowed at certain monuments, Burnham said.

But O'Reilly hopes to avoid that by persuading tourists and their guides to make better choices.

O'Reilly is deputy director of the Greater Angkor Project, a team of researchers at Australia's University of Sydney who in recent years have discovered how vast ancient Angkor was by studying images taken by NASA satellites and an ultralight plane.

Their theory is that the city's 15th-century collapse occurred largely because people neglected their environment, cutting down too many trees to expand rice paddies, causing waterways to fill with silt.

If they're right, it's a cautionary tale for the 21st century, as overdevelopment threatens the magnificent buildings and art that ancient Angkor left behind.

Opinion: corruption as a popular culture

San Francisco Chronical
Joel Brinkley
Sunday, August 24, 2008

PDT Phnom Penh, Cambodia -- Hun Chea, a nephew of Cambodia's prime minister, was speeding along a busy downtown street a few days ago when he ran down a man on a motorbike.

Phnom Penh's streets are teeming with motorbikes, hundreds of them, crisscrossing busy traffic without seeming to look or care where they are going. Collisions are inevitable. But that's not the point of this story.

Hun, 24, was tearing down the street at high speed when he hit the biker, witnesses reported, and his car ripped off an arm and a leg. The biker, Sam Sabo, was killed. Hun began to drive off, but running over the motorbike had shredded a tire. He had to pull over, so there he sat in his big black Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle.

Now, listen to how the Phnom Penh Post newspaper described the events that followed.

"Numerous traffic police were seen avoiding the accident scene, but armed military police arrived. They removed the SUV's license plates and comforted Hun Chea" while Sam Sabo lay bleeding to death in the street. A military police officer was overheard telling Hun: "Don't worry.It wasn't your mistake. It was the motorbike driver's mistake."

A few days later, Hun gave the dead man's family $4,000 in hush money, the paper reported. Case closed.

It's no secret that Cambodia is thoroughly corrupt. As an indirect result, the rich and the powerful can commit, well, murder and face few if any repercussions.

A primary rule of foreign correspondence is to avoid applying the values of your own country on the nation you are covering. But then, some events appear so outrageous that the rule does not apply. Police actually removed the car's license plates, to conceal the driver's identity?

So I asked Khieu Kanarith, Cambodia's information minister, about the case. He fumbled about for a moment and then explained, "I understand he had his wife in the car, and I don't think he was paying attention to what he was doing."

OK, but the police removed the license plates?

Khieu had to think about that for a moment but finally managed to say, "you try to cover the plates because it's harder to sell a car if it's been in an accident."

As a reporter, sometimes it's hard to keep a straight face. But then, being Cambodia's information minister is a tough job.

Later I asked Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia, about this, and he shook his head.

"This goes to the whole culture of impunity here. Who you are, who you know, is more important than following the law. And the police are too intimidated, too deferential, to the wealthy and powerful."

Why else would the traffic police assertively avoid the scene of the accident, even with a dying man lying in the street? They knew full well that the owner of a Cadillac Escalade SUV in this exceedingly poor country is quite likely to be well connected.

Impunity is a word that comes up over and over in Cambodia. Last month, two men speeding by on a motorbike shot and killed Khim Sambor and his 21-year-old son as they walked down the street. Khim was a reporter for Khmer Conscience, an opposition newspaper, and not surprisingly the paper had been writing critically about the government.

No one has been arrested. That is true for dozens of apparent contract killings in recent years just like that one. No one has proved that government officials are behind them. But then, why else would the police make no effort to solve any of these crimes?

Cambodia has come a long way in the last several years. Phnom Penh is teeming with tourists. The economy is growing. The nation has been stable for more than a decade now, which is no small accomplishment.

Over the years, I have worked in many corrupt states - Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, among others.
But in none of them is the corruption so pervasive, even pandemic. Prime Minister Hun Sen just won re-election to a new five-year term. For a decade, the United States and many other countries have been pressing him to pass a comprehensive anti-corruption law. Hun continually promises but never delivers.

Cambodians deserve better. If Cambodia hopes to join the ranks of the world's prosperous and respected nations, it must enact - and enforce - an anti-corruption law. With that, in time, the shiny mantle of impunity resting softly on the shoulders of the rich and well connected will begin to fall away.

Joel Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former foreign policy correspondent for the New York Times. E-mail Insight at E-mail Brinkley at These and future columns from Southeast Asia were made possible by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting.

Aussie finds spiritual enlightenment with Cambodia's poor

Paget Sayers has established informal schools near the local rice fields for poor children. (Photo Contributed: Photo Contributed)

ABC News

The dirt poor nation of Cambodia is providing spiritual richness to an Australian man.

Paget Sayers was in the import-export business, until he retired a few decades ago.

But now, pushing 80 years of age, he has found a new career and a new journey that fits with his Buddhist beliefs.

At the Kbal Romea school near the town of Kampot in southern Cambodia, young students are reciting their three-times tables.

It is the kind of scene you would expect to see at almost any school across the country. But there is something that sets this school apart - Paget Sayers is visiting.

The 78-year-old is a hero here after building rainwater tanks. Today he is on a mission to ensure that every child has his or her water bottle, and he is making sure the bottles are filled.

"We say it's just as important to wash your inside as your outside. So we've got to get them enthusiastic, and I hope they're gradually getting a taste for clean water," he said.

He was prompted to act when he discovered there was arsenic in the local wells.

"Some of the mothers were a bit nervous about 'Ooh, rainwater. Pond water is what we've been using. You know, boiled pond water, but a bit murky'," he said.

"We got a letter from the Pasteur Institute which said the water is fine, so the mothers are feeling pretty relaxed now about this nice clean water."

This part of Cambodia is not on any tourist trail. Mr Sayers was brought here in 2005 on a spiritual path. A practising Buddhist for 30 years, he was visiting temples and monasteries.

During his journey he came across so many that were locked up and neglected by the abbots. But here Abbot Chay Nhu was different.

"For me he's a fulfilment of what the Buddhist story is all about; being satisfied with life; being happy. You can tell he's happy because he's always laughing and smiling," said Mr Sayers.

"That's something that you don't always see in abbots around South East Asia and even Australia. Sometimes they're a bit grumpy.

"But he's never grumpy, are you? You're never grumpy, particularly when you get two lots of cement out of me, two tonnes."

"Yes, yes, to build the kitchen," said Abbot Chay Nhu.

"When it's finished I will thank you," he tells Mr Sayers.

"Always cheer me up. Always cheer me up you do. When I think it's too hard, or too hot, you cheer me up," said Mr Sayers.

Mr Sayers' Sydney-based not-for-profit charity, The Buddhist Library and Meditation Centre, initially raised money to build water tanks.

There were three to begin with at one school, and now there are well over 1,000 in 170 schools.
His project, Cambodia Now, runs Khmer language classes, English language classes; and helps older students develop job skills.

He has also established informal schools near the local rice fields for children who cannot afford to attend or cannot make the journey to the local school.

Each time he visits this region there is a new school or a new program, and many new demands. But his focus never waivers from his Buddhist aims.

"You see a lot more monks now than you used to; there used to be not too many monks around cause a lot of them were killed. And now you see monks going out on their dhyana rounds in the morning," he said.

"So there's endless things we can do to take advantage of the synergy we've already created."
Based on a report by Karen Percy for Correspondents Report.