Saturday, 18 April 2009

Should Asean go the way of the EU?

The Edinburgh Journal

Nazry Bahrawi
Saturday 18 April 2009, journal-online.co.uk

RARE are high-level meetings of minds ever hijacked or world leaders evacuated en masse. Yet this happened in mid April (Apr 12) at the island resort of Pattaya in Thailand after supporters of its ousted former leader Thaksin Shinawatra over-ran a regional summit.

That Thailand saw red is regrettable. But there is more to this than a mere domestic political dispute. At stake is the viability of the regional grouping known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, for instance, had expressed disappointment that the Asean Summit had to be cancelled.

Perhaps what the grouping sorely needs is a shadow cabinet that is not beholden to any member state’s interests.

This could certainly enhance Asean integration especially when it comes to cross-border spats. A case in point is the Preah Vihear Temple spat between Cambodia and Thailand. The standoff between troops from both sides that began last year culminated in the death of three Thai soldiers after shooting broke off at the borders where the temple is situated. Even as Asean is plagued by such bilateral spats, it needs to rise above cross-border spats within the grouping.

In the past, such disputes were settled at international institutions such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN Security Council. But seeking outside intervention may not always work for Asean. Although the ICJ has ruled in 1962 that the temple belongs to Cambodia, Thailand has till today not fully accepted this decision.

If spats could be solved internally, then a shadow cabinet could possibly make Asean even stronger. After all, the idea of a shadow cabinet is not untested. The European Union (EU) – hailed by Asean leaders as a model for regional integration – has such a set-up in the form of the European Commission.

In a sea of competing national interests, the EU’s 27 commissioners - who mirror ministers in a national government - is the only body “paid to think European”, as the Commission’s secretary-general Catherine Day once described it.

Learning from their European counterpart, should Asean embrace a similar institution to think Asean?

Doing so would mean re-configuring the grouping’s founding pillar of non-interference of internal politicking from other states. After all, unstable domestic politics is fast emerging as a challenge in some of Asean’s member states such as Malaysia, Myanmar and most importantly, Thailand that is currently chair of the grouping.

In the EU, member states’ interests are forwarded through the Council of European Union whose members represent governments. Along with members of the European Parliament (akin to parliamentarians representing the European peoples), they provide some form of check and balance by voting on proposals made by the European Commission.

Asean may also find another aspect of the EU model useful – that is, a strong Secretariat. It made good progress last year by adopting a Charter that accords more resources to its Secretariat. For instance, it now has four – instead of two –Deputy Secretary-Generals.

But Asean also needs to address what is perceived as a serious lack of leadership and political vision. Who is in charge? Its chair or the Secretary-General?

Cracks may already be showing. In June 2008, for instance, then Asean chair Singapore quickly issued a statement to distance the grouping away from a comment by Secretary-General Dr Surin Pitsuwan who had expressed interest to know more about Mr Rudd’s suggestion for an Asia Pacific grouping.

In its push for greater integration, Asean may do well to consider beefing up Dr Surin’s role to one that goes beyond lobbying members to certain causes. And to do so is perhaps to hold an election for the post. Until that day, the eloquent Dr Surin - and his successors – certainly needs to brace for more "clarifications" from future Asean chairs.

Remembering a shadowed April

Kruy Nop, left, and Pang Thoerm pray during an April 17 vigil at Wat Vipassanaram in Long Beach. The annual observance commemorates the Killing Fields genocide.
(Carlos Delgado/For the Press Telegram)


By Greg Mellen Staff Writer
Posted: 04/17/2009

LONG BEACH - Many years ago, April was a happy month for Chantara Nop. Now it comes with shadows.

The Cambodian New Year in the middle of the month with its spring blossoms and spirit of renewal has forever become colored by the memories of April 17, 1975, for Nop and many other Cambodians.

That was the last day Nop saw his five brothers alive. That was the day darkness came to his home with the onset of the Killing Fields genocide, that would leave millions dead in less than four years under the brutal Khmer Rouge reign.

Nop, a small, thin, unimposing man, is one of the pre-eminent poets of his country. And every April 17, he pours out his soul and his tears onto the page as he remembers.

The small, frail survivor of the atrocities of 34 years ago recited one of his newest poems, titled simply "April 17, 2009," to a gathering of fellow Khmer Rouge victims and younger Cambodian-Americans on Friday night.

The event, in its fifth year, is an annual occurrence started by the Killing Fields Memorial Center to commemorate the dead, remember the past and teach the young about the darkness that enveloped Cambodia.

At Wat Vipassanaram, where Friday's event was held, monks prayed

for the dead, with the venerable Kruy Nop, no relation to Chantara, reciting the requiem.
Kruy Nop, who recently returned to the temple, said the memorial prayers are important.

"This is a problem we all share," Kruy Nop said of survivors, including himself. "It's something we have to do because a lot of people died in this regime."

By praying and doing good deeds, Kruy Nop said the living can send good wishes to the lost souls of family members and other victims.

In addition to the prayers, there were testimonials by victims and a candlelight vigil.

While the memorial was held, the United Cambodian Community was staging its first commemorative day with a dinner, prayers and talks.

Sara Pol-Lim, executive director of UCC, also invited a number of members of the Jewish community to her event to highlight their shared histories with holocausts.

This week also marks Yom HaShoah, when Jews remember the Nazi holocaust.

Deborah Goldfarb, executive director of the Jewish Federation in Long Beach, said it is important for communities that have experienced genocide to have dialogue, "so we can learn from each other and heal together."

For Chantara Nop, who has written more than 4,000 poems and has been published and translated worldwide, the process of "throwing my feelings onto paper" as he calls it, is not without cost.

"Most of the time in April I'm sad," Chantara Nop says. "It used to be fun - the New Year, spring. Now it's really mixed."

In his newest poem, Nop writes about April 17 being written into his heart and the hearts of all Cambodians and about "the darkness, the devilish darkness" it brings.

In the poem he remembers how Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, killed people with any implement he could find. Nop remembers the screams of his people at dusk when the killings occurred, of mountains of bones and not being allowed to cry, of becoming a human ox who had to carry a cart around town and of an all-encompassing hunger.

The tale is all the more harrowing because it is true. Chantara Nop says it is vital that young people understand what their forbears endured and to never forget.

Rabbi John Borak of Amud Ha-Schachar looked to the future when he spoke at the UCC event.

"What matters most is what we do with our freedom," Borak said, adding that it is important not to live in the past or let it dictate a course. "Once we are free of tyranny, who do we become?"

greg.mellen@presstelegram.com, 562-499-1291

Haunted by the 'killing fields'

BARBARA DAVIDSON/LOS ANGELES TIMES
Born Pach, now 40, was just a child when her parents were murdered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. She now lives in Long Beach, Calif.


thestar.com

Survivors of Khmer Rouge slaughter in Cambodia speak out about the ghosts that still torment them

Apr 18, 2009

Joe Mozingo
LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONG BEACH, Calif. – At night, the old woman hears the voices of her children crying out for her. She knows they will never stop.

Um Sath is 89, and three decades have passed since the Khmer Rouge laid waste to Cambodia. She shuts her eyes and taps her temples to show where the genocidal regime still rules with impunity. "We miss you, Mama," the voices cry.

Sath spends much of her day in silence. For years, she rarely left her clapboard house in Long Beach. Although she now finds peace chatting with the other haunted figures at a seniors centre, she has kept the echoes of the "killing fields" sealed tightly inside her head.

Recently, she joined dozens of survivors at a recreation centre in Long Beach to face their memories. They longed to see a reckoning for perpetrators of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

Since February, a United Nations-backed tribunal in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh has put on trial the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders charged with crimes against humanity, for the brutal experiment in communism that took at least 1.7 million lives between 1975 and 1979.

Activists in the United States want refugees outside Cambodia to submit testimonies to the tribunal in an effort to spur a judicial process beset by delays, limited funds and allegations of corruption. They hope, along the way, to relieve the emotional torture of survivors who rarely speak about what happened.

"I'm hoping it will allow them to tell the world what happened 34 years ago," said Leakhena Nou, an assistant professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach who is leading the outreach effort in Southern California, home of the world's largest Cambodian refugee community. "The Khmer Rouge leaders are getting old; the victims are getting old. This is their chance to have their voices be heard before it's too late."

Sath stands up. Her eyes crinkle before she speaks.

Sath and her husband were farmers and merchants in the rich land along the Mekong River, south of Phnom Penh. In the middle class, with enough money to own a modest brick house, they were targets when the Khmer Rouge swept into power in 1975, brutally turning the country into a collective society of farm peasants. Intellectuals, teachers, doctors, businessmen, government bureaucrats and army soldiers were executed en masse.

Khmer Rouge soldiers showed up at Sath's home with rifles, took her husband and told her to walk with her eight children.

For days they wandered, following orders. Anyone who complained or asked questions was dismissed with a bullet to the head.

The soldiers barked questions about her husband: Why did he travel to Phnom Penh so often? Did he work for the national police?

Sath told them they were just poor people, doing nothing.

They let Sath and her children return to where she had lived. The family reunited with her husband and stayed for a month. Their house had been burned to the ground – just a pile of bricks and the skeleton of a stairway. They slept on the ground. There was no food, and they nearly starved, eating only watery rice soup.

The soldiers forced them back on the road, this time to a work camp near Pursat, where they lived in a straw hut with a dirt floor. The family worked to exhaustion in the rice fields day after day.

One day, soldiers locked Sath in chains and took her husband. Days later, she overheard soldiers mention his execution.

Soldiers came again to the rice paddy. This time they took her three sons.

Some time later, Sath heard that other villagers had seen the boys' clothes in the plowed-up field where bodies were routinely buried. Soldiers came for Sath next. They took her to the same field and beat her unconscious. She woke up naked, amid decaying bodies and the smell that, decades later, could bring the horror back to life.

She made it back to her hut, surviving several more near-death moments before Vietnamese soldiers ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

"I lost my sons, my grandson. They took my husband away right in front of me. They killed my husband. They took my brothers and sisters away. They were all killed by the Khmer Rouge," she said.

The anguish in Sath's face reveals the loss. Women choke back sobs. Sath thanks everyone for listening.


Born Pach takes the microphone next. Now 40, Pach was a child when the black-clad soldiers came for her parents to be "re-educated."

They sent Pach to a camp in the province of Battambang to cut rice. She begged to see her parents. But she would not see them again.

One day, the guards accused her of stealing a rooster and beat her. Another time, when she was ill, they accused her of being lazy and sliced the top and side of her head with a knife, then stuck a burning piece of metal in her rectum.

She saw other children have their throats cut or get clubbed to death.

Pach, who survived the Khmer Rouge and made it to Long Beach in 1989, has nightmares that she is being burned alive. She wants her torturers to go to prison.

The stories pour out. One woman gets paper towels to hand around to wipe the tears. When they get to the government forms, 21 people fill them out. No one remembers dates. Only one victim names an alleged perpetrator. The rest do not remember their tormentors' names, never knew them or are still scared.

UN To Blame for Breakdown: Official

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
17 April 2009

A government spokesman put the failure of tribunal discussions talks earlier this month squarely on the United Nations, saying the Cambodian side had reached an agreement to address corruption allegations before talks broke down.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksoe-Jensen failed to reach an agreement with his tribunal negotiation counterpart, Council Minister Sok An, in three days of talks, the third visit in four months.

A spokesman for the Council of Ministers, Phay Siphan, said that the two sides had reached an agreement in February that would have pleased international donors and addressed allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement that have left the Cambodian side of the court wanting for funding.

“It’s a draft that we agreed on in every angle in order to make administrative work at the Khmer Rouge tribunal succeed,” he said, adding that a dual mechanism agreed to on both sides, where complaints would be handled by respective sides of the hybrid courts, was also agreeable to donors.

However, observers in the US were critical of the so-called “parallel” system, saying it would not satisfy donors who have been reluctant to fund a tribunal that is not up to international standards.

That has put the UN-backed court in a position where the national side could “whither” if donors do not come forward with more money, David Tolbert, a former special adviser to the tribunal, said in Washington recently. “I am not sure what will happen. I think you have to watch how this plays out.”

No matter what happens next, he said, the UN was unlikely to pull out of the tribunal, which has begun its first trial, for prison chief Duch, and has four other former Khmer Rouge leaders in the dock.

The US, a major supporter of tribunal negotiations, has so far pledged $1.8 million, to the UN side of the court only.

Inspections Set for Judicial, Prison Police

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
17 April 2009

Cambodia’s prosecutor-general for the Appeals Court is preparing to inspect judicial police nationwide later this month, to improve procedures related to detention of suspects and prisoners as part of the implementation of a new penal code.

The penal code procedures were approved by the National Assembly in February 2007.

In part, the new code provides authority to the prosecutor-general to inspect the implementation of the code by judicial police “to avoid wrongdoing,” the prosecutor-general, Hang Roraken, told VOA Khmer Friday. “Those police have carried out their duties in conformity with the law, but we must fulfill our duty with the law.”

National police spokesman Keath Chan Tharith said officers were prepared to cooperate with the inspection.

“This inspection is aimed at correction and improvement,” he said. “This work is a good activity.”

Chan Saveth, a rights investigator for Adhoc, said the inspection was something non-governmental organizations had needed.

Judicial and prison authorities were responsible for wrongdoings ranging from keeping suspects beyond legal detention periods to killing prisoners through torture, he said.

“If the prosecutor-general is prepared to inspect the judicial police, this is a good thing, because some articles of the new penal code are not properly implemented yet,” he said.

Inspections could prevent torture of suspects under arrest, said Sim Vibol, the Asian Human Rights Commission’s country coordinator. “From now on, the prosecutor-general will use its power in conformity with the law to prevent acts of torture.”

Hang Roraken said the UN human rights office will participate in the inspection, to confirm Cambodia has not tortured prisoners.

Check for Cholesterol Regularly: Doctor

By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
Washington
17 April 2009

Even though it can be dangerous for your health, high cholesterol has no symptoms, making regular check-ups essential, a doctor said Thursday.

“It is very important to get your cholesterol checked on a regular basis to prevent heart disease,” said Dr. Taing Tek Hong, as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “For example, when blood-flow to brain is blocked, a stroke occurs. When plaque completely blocks a coronary, a heart attack takes place.”

To determine whether your cholesterol is high, see a doctor and have cholesterol and triglyceride tests. HDL, or good cholesterol, levels should be more than 50; LDL, or bad cholesterol, should be under 130; and triglycerides should be less than 150.

Taing Tek Hong recommended eating the proper foods, including whole grain, lean meats, eggs with limited egg yolks, fish, beans, skim milk, and cooking oils from sunflower, corn, soybean, cottonseed, sesame, olive and peanut.

Avoid fatty foods, he said, such as bacon, spare ribs, organ meats, caviar, anchovies, cream cheese, milkshakes, coconut milk, butter and food with hydrogenated oils.

New documentary tracks Indian footprints in southeast Asia

Thaindian News

April 18th, 2009
by IANS

New Delhi, April 18 (IANS) He has done a documentary on the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism from India to southeast Asia. Now filmmaker S. Krishnaswamy plans to come out with the second part of “Indian Imprints” in 2010.

Hundreds of ancient monuments and temples reflecting the impact of ancient India on southeast Asia are presented in the 18-episode documentary serial. It has been filmed in over 100 locations in Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

“We are planning to come out with a second part of the documentary by 2010 that will include more countries including Myanmar,” Krishnaswamy told IANS.

“Thirty years ago when I made ‘Indus Valley To Indira Gandhi’, I came across facts that stressed upon India’s not so well-explored bond with southeast Asia. ‘Indus Valley…’ didn’t have the scope to include those facts, since it was already four hours long. So, I decided to make a different film to go deep into the subject.

“I spoke to a lot of historians. But when we decided to go ahead with this film there was political turmoil in Cambodia. Without Cambodia we thought our documentary will be lacking an essential point, so we waited. Once things smoothed in the country, we took up the topic again,” he added.

Krishnaswamy also revealed that one of the many things he got to know after his research was that Hinduism and Buddhism spread in various Asian countries as mutually infused religions.

“Hinduism and Buddhism were exported not as two different religions but as mutually infused in each other, while in a certain region one might be more prominent than the other. In Cambodia, there were periods when people were followers of Shiva and in other periods there were followers of Vishnu. Likewise, there were also followers of Buddha,” said the filmmaker.

But why did the documentary include only five countries?

“While India has a relationship with almost all countries in Asia, the maximum impact was noticed in southeast. Also, we had to stop somewhere to lend focus. Thus, we decided to shortlist and zero in on these five countries.”

Krishnaswamy has made “Indian Imprints” under his banner of Krishnaswamy Associates, Chennai. It was funded by state broadcaster Prasar Bharati. The filmmaker was recently given the Padma Shri award.

“It is a landmark recognition. It is a national honour and that makes me feel very happy to receive it. Someone in Chennai told me that I have got too little too late after doing the kind of work I’ve done, but I don’t feel that way. I take this award as a huge recognition coming from the government of India,” he said.

Apart from that Krishnaswamy has been honoured with national awards four times; he has also received the Watumull Foundation award in Hawaii and the lifetime achievement award at the US International Film and Video Festival, Los Angeles.

“Indian Imprints”, currently being telecast on Doordarshan’s international channel DD India and DD Bharati, was completed in 2007.

“I was collecting information since a long time, but a wholehearted research for the documentary started around 2001. We started shooting for it in 2006 and after editing and all the film was ready by 2007,” informed Krishnaswamy.

He has made several films and television serials for various channels including Doordarshan and some in southeast Asia.

PM delays his trips

Bangkok Post
18/04/2009

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has postponed his official visits to Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam in the aftermath of the Songkran riots. Today's visit to Cambodia, has been delayed along with trips to Singapore on April 21 and Vietnam on April 25. No revised dates have been released. Mr Abhisit said he would continue with his plan to head a tourism roadshow in Dubai early next month.

Tourism and Sports Minister Chumpol Silpa-archa said he had invited Mr Abhisit to join the roadshow. The prime minister will explain Thailand's political situation to businessmen and tourism operators at the Dubai tourism exhibition.

Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij, Commerce Minister Pornthiva Nakasai and leading Thai tourism businesses will be part of the delegation to Dubai.

Trio’s health-care agency focuses on Southeast Asians

Providence Journal

Saturday, April 18, 2009
By Karen Lee Ziner
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE

Pain often robbed Seth Svay’s sleep and cloudy vision troubled her days. Like many elderly survivors of Cambodia’s “Killing Fields” — a genocide that left up to 2 million dead in her country — Svay suffered lingering emotional trauma. She rarely left the house, not even to visit the doctor.

But then Svay learned of a new home health-care agency, Independence Health Services, started in Providence by a Cambodian refugee, a Gulf War veteran and his mother, a nurse.

Their core clientele are Southeast Asians, who for cultural reasons and language barriers, often go without proper medical care. Yet national studies reflect disproportionate rates of post-traumatic stress, diabetes and other chronic conditions in that population.

The agency’s outreach coordinator, Marc “Poe” Harrison (who Anglicized his name), was tortured during the 1975-79 genocide in Cambodia. Khmer Rouge soldiers killed his father, and his brother died from suspected defoliant poisoning. Colin Hanrahan, who devotes his nights and weekends to the agency, served with the National Guard in Saudi Arabia and is a fraud investigator with the state Department of Labor. The nursing director, Joan Hanrahan, Colin’s mother, is an associate director of nursing at Rhode Island Hospital.

The three have pooled more than $70,000 of their money toward the agency, located at One Richmond Square. Harrison said he is grateful to this country for helping him and other Cambodian refugees survive, and “I want to give back.”

Harrison said that as traditional extended families disappear, many elders “are very, very isolated when their children get married and move away.” They also may ignore health issues until the situation is dire enough to call 911. Often, they retreat to the Cambodian temple — a traditional community center — rather than seek medical care. For some, “it’s too late,” he said.

HARRISON, who formerly worked as a quality-control engineer, was inspired by a cousin who started a similar agency in Ohio. But Harrison couldn’t do it alone.

Several years earlier, he met Colin Hanrahan at an art exhibit about Cambodian refugees at Brown University. As a National Guardsman, Colin Hanrahan had helped run a POW camp in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf war. “It was kind of like a refugee mission. There were 13-year-old kids to 80-year-old men,” said Colin Hanrahan. “That’s what kind of got me interested” in attending the art exhibit.

Intrigued by Cambodian culture and sympathetic to Harrison’s story, Colin Hanrahan stepped in to help.


Harrison and the Hanrahans obtained a state operating license last October. They accept Medicaid patients and have applied for Medicare certification.

Victoria Almeida, vice chairwoman of the Rhode Island Health Services Council, said, “What we looked at and what our criteria are, is their competence, their character and their standing in the community.”

She added: “They made a point of saying sometimes the only health care available is to call 911, when a person is already ill or very ill. It seems obvious to me, that sometimes emergent treatment is too late. Or if it’s not too late, it’s expensive.”

“I think reasonable minds,” she said, “can’t differ on the premise that preventative health care is not only good for the person from a medical and holistic point of view, but it is also financially prudent for the community and for health-care systems.”Building on that, Harrison and Colin Hanrahan last fall assisted Brown University medical student Margaret Chang with a six-month study of barriers to health-care access in Rhode Island’s Southeast Asian community. They organized Cambodian, Hmong and Laotian focus groups.

The study followed a 2007 conference at Brown aimed at informing the public about “the health emergency affecting Cambodian refugees in the United States.” The conference, sponsored by Khmer Health Advocates in Hartford and Brown Medical School, underscored that population’s escalating needs, even as funding shortages were forcing Cambodian community-based organizations to close their doors.

Chang said that although there are at least 20,000 Southeast Asians living in Rhode Island, health-care providers who regularly treat them in emergency rooms and primary care clinics “don’t know how to interact with them, and don’t know their problems.”

Chang cited her own experience with an elderly Cambodian patient at a local clinic.

“He had probably one of the most grotesque looking wounds I’ve ever seen. He had uncontrolled diabetes. He’d had surgery to clean out his wound once. There was no follow-up plan, no transportation to the wound clinic,” said Chang. “In the meantime, he was just sitting at home, and the wound was getting worse.”

Chang said, “This should not have happened. The problem is there aren’t enough health-care services to make sure this gentleman kept his follow-up appointments. The Southeast Asian population is particularly marginalized. That’s something that particularly haunts me.”

Chang said the study’s findings will soon be circulated to health-care providers across the state. It recommends that the state do more to increase the number of certified Southeast Asian interpreters in Rhode Island, and encourage the start-up of home health agencies to provide care for Southeast Asians, particularly elderly patients.

The Independence Health Services, which has about eight employees in all, has recently hired two Cambodian certified nursing assistants, and plans to hire more Southeast Asians — including Hmong and Laotians, to match them with elderly from their home countries. Colin Hanrahan said they plan to hire more people within the next year. At present, they care for about a dozen patients.

The agency provides interpreter services in Cambodian, and calls on local language banks as needed for Spanish and other languages.

SVAY, who is in her late 60s, is one of the agency’s newest patients. She lives in the West End of Providence in the heart of a Cambodian settlement community that originated in the early 1980s.

With Harrison interpreting, Svay said her husband and many other family members were killed by Khmer Rouge soldiers during the holocaust. She endured forced labor. “We had to build a road and carry all the dirt. That’s why I have so much pain,” she said.

Svay said she has been so tired “that sometimes I don’t have the strength to cook at all,” and leaves the house only to walk to the grocery store or visit the Buddhist temple on the next street.

Svay is being treated for several medical conditions, including depression stemming from post-traumatic stress. A home health aid visits weekly to help with Svay’s personal needs and to ensure she takes her medications properly.

She said, “I’m very, very happy” with the treatment. “I’m feeling better.”

Independence Health Services can be reached at (401) 437-8337 or by e-mail at IHS@att.net.

Horrors revealed at Khmer Rouge trial

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, inset, and photographs of the victims of the "Killing Fields". Photos: AFP
The Canberra Times
17/04/2009

As his trial begain at a UN-backed war crimes court, the former Khmer Rouge prison chief apologised for the atrocities he committed -- but few Cambodians are likely to grant him forgiveness.

Duch, 66, told the court trying him for crimes against humanity that he felt "regret and heartfelt sorrow" for the murders of around 15,000 people between 1975 and 1979 at Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21.

"I would like to emphasise that I am responsible for the crimes committed at S-21, especially the torture and execution of people there," said Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav.

Duch, who became a born-again Christian before his arrest in 1999, went on to add that he would like to leave "an open window to seek forgiveness".

Few Cambodians have said they will grant that wish, and even though Duch accepts the allegations against him, lawyers spent the first two weeks of his trial sparring over how much responsibility he bears for atrocities.

The tribunal, established in 2006, resumed last month in the Cambodian capital, and is seen as a last chance to bring the Khmer Rouge's leaders to justice.

The joint trial of four other Khmer Rouge leaders being held with Duch is set to start later this year after his case is complete.

The former maths teacher's apology came after prosecutors described him as central to the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule, which disastrously enslaved the country in collective farms as it attempted to enforce a communist "Year Zero".

"The policy was that no one could leave S-21 alive," co-prosecutor Robert Petit told the court as he laid out his case that prisoners were tortured "under the accused's direct orders and sometimes by his own hand".

Inmates had toenails and fingernails pulled out, had plastic bags tied over their heads, were stripped naked and had electric shocks administered to their genitals, Petit said.

Most prisoners were killed by a blow to the base of the neck with a steel club, then had their bellies sliced open, he added.

A former Tuol Sleng guard is expected to later testify that many prisoners were drained of their blood.

"Victims would be strapped to a bed, hooked up to an IV and literally have their life drained out of them," Petit said.

Duch is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, premeditated murder and torture. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in jail.

But he has denied personally executing anyone, and has only admitted to torturing two prisoners.

Duch told the court he feared for his life and his family, and acted under orders from superiors in the Khmer Rouge -- a regime which killed up to two million people through starvation, overwork, torture and execution.

His defence team has indicated it thinks judges could go easier on him after his demonstration of contrition and co-operation. Yet it will be hard pressed to counter the emerging image of him as an exacting executioner.

To better understand Tuol Sleng's organising structure the court last week heard about M-13, which Duch ran during the 1971-1975 Khmer Rouge insurgency against the then US-backed government.

Francois Bizot, a French anthropologist who was nabbed by Khmer Rouge fighters in 1971 and accused of spying for the CIA, told the court Duch was terrified of his superiors but admitted to torture.

Bizot, who wrote the best-selling book The Gate about his experiences at M-13, said: "Until then I thought I was in the right part of humanity, that there were monsters (like Duch) whom I would never resemble."

The next witness, 72-year-old Ouch Sorn, said he was arrested in 1974 on suspicion of espionage and held shackled in a pit at M-13 for two months before being released to work there sweeping and digging graves.

"I dared not to have any contact with (Duch). I was so afraid of him I dared not to look into his face," the former rice farmer said, adding that at least three prisoners died every day in the year he was at the jungle prison.

He described dogs carrying away prisoners' remains as well as multiple beatings and executions, including one in which a woman was buried alive.

Duch, however, disputed the testimony.

"When I interrogated women, I never let a detainee see it. Number two, I never beat any female detainees and third, when detainees were beaten, no one else was helping me to beat that person," Duch said.

The trial is due to continue on April 20, and is expected to last several months.

AFP

"Pirate bay" website founders guilty



france24english

PLATO: A Stockholm court has found the four founders of The Pirate Bay - one of the world's top websites for illegal file-sharing - guilty of promoting copyright infringement. The four men were each sentenced to a year in prison.

Beauty at any cost

A doctor operating on Phorn Lisa’s nose at a cosmetics clinic in Phnom Penh. She dreams of having a beautiful, sharp nose.

The Star Online

By KOUNILA KEO

Cambodia’s quest for beauty is marred by dubious surgical practices.

PHORN LISA isn’t just prepared to go under the knife for a new nose – she’s willing to risk her health

“I’m very afraid, but ready for it,” said the 25-year-old at a prominent cosmetic surgery clinic in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

“I want to have a beautiful sharp nose because I’m not satisfied with my big nose.”

Despite the global economic downturn, health experts say the business of cosmetic surgery in Cambodia has doubled, even tripled, in recent years.

Davy Ariya, the owner of a clinic in the capital, says clients include wealthy Cambodians as well as “medical tourists” from the United States, France and Australia.

“They mostly come for nose jobs, silicon implants, breast enlargements and scar revisions,” Ariya said.

A nose job usually takes less than half an hour at Ariya’s clinic and costs US$280 to US$600 (RM1,000 to RM2,160), depending on the quality of materials used in the operation.

Breast enlargements cost US$1,500 to US$1,700 (RM5,400 to RM6,120), a bargain compared to prices in many countries even if it’s nearly three times the average annual Cambodian income.

“Although it is seen as frivolous, the upsurge in the number of customers who come to me shows cosmetic surgery has become acceptable to Cambodian society,” Ariya said.

Amid this surgical enhancement boom, many women are aiming for what they perceive as the more delicate looks of popular Korean and Chinese film stars.

But even as operations become popular among the emerging middle class, Cambodia remains a country where laws are loosely enforced and many people calling themselves doctors have little training.

“Some people have gone to learn (surgery) in neighbouring countries for just several months. They come back and boast that they are skilled,” said Sann Sary, head of the Cambodian Ministry of Health’s department of hospitals.

Cosmetic surgeons are required to register at Cambodia’s health ministry and have proper qualifications, but most of them operate freely and illegally, he said.

“Some (illegal clinics) even go to great lengths to broadcast their clinics on television,” Sann Sary said.

Veasna, 40, regrets the face-lift she had at a cheap clinic. Her face is swollen and red, especially around the eyes.

“I’ve been in terrible pain,” she said, visibly upset and awaiting corrective surgery. “But I want to look young and beautiful. Otherwise my husband will run away with other girls.”

Chhim Vattey, director of Phnom Penh’s Samangkar Luxe Salon, employs a doctor trained in Japan who often corrects the mess left behind by poorly qualified surgeons.

After more than two decades, Chhim Vattey said she is surprised that so many Cambodians visit surgeons who are not properly licensed.

“Look out on the streets and you’ll see scores of clinics mushrooming but without real qualification and skills,” she says. “That’s why I still have many patients who are victims of cosmetic surgery.”

Reid Sheftall, an American plastic surgeon based in Phnom Penh, said he often fixes breasts or noses that have been put out of position, or tissue which has been damaged under too much tension.

“Some patients have had free silicone injected into their noses, faces, breasts and hands,” Sheftall said. “This is very dangerous because the silicone can migrate to other parts of the body and will form hard rubbery masses of scar tissue wherever it resides.”

Despite those horror stories, the health ministry’s Sann Sary said dubious surgical practices have continued in Cambodia’s quest for beauty.

“We have advised (people) that to open cosmetic clinics legally, they must have an expert with qualification and years of experience,” he said. “That’s because plastic surgery is a dangerous thing to do.” – AFP

30 CUSTOMS BY 30 ARTISTS: Munny Auction for the Children of Cambodia

ToyCyte
Fri, Apr 17, 2009

It’s nice to have talented friends, and it’s even nicer to use artistic output as a medium to raise money for people who need it. Kidrobot’s Toy Baroness, Nichole, tasked 30 friends with transforming Munnys into clothes, books and bikes for the children of Cambodia. No, not literally (although Sket One did turn vinyl into an incense burner…). The 30 figures by some of the scene’s finest are currently up for auction on eBay. Tara McPherson is off to an early lead with nearly $600 raised in the first few hours. DEVILROBOTS is the second artist to break the $200 mark. Right now, 28 other pieces are still in the hundred dollar zone with about a week to go. You can see all the Munnys in detail on Nichole’s Flickr set. I know times are tough, but they’re tougher in Cambodia, so bid what you can. Which piece do you think will sell for the highest price? Leave a prediction below. The press release and a few pics follow.

“30 CUSTOMS BY 30 ARTISTS: An Auction to benefit the Children of Cambodia” is the first step in trying to help the children that have impacted my life. After traveling to Cambodia last year I fell in love with the people of that country. Everyday I think about the amazing children I met and how I could help them. Most of these children lack the necessities of food, clothing, shoes, and transportation. Many can’t even afford the pencils and notebooks they need to attend school. So instead of attending class they sell trinkets at the temples in order to survive.

I have reached out to 30 of my friends and asked them to create a custom toy specifically for this auction. Every cent from the sale of these customs will go directly to help the children I have met in Cambodia. With the help of people that I have met in Cambodia, I will be delivering clothing, shoes, books, paper, pens, and bicycles to children of Siem Reap villages. It has been a passion and a dream of mine to use art as a way of helping children and communities all over the World, and I am excited about this first step.

These one-of-a-kind custom works are available NOW on eBay under the seller name “BaronessLoves”. Seach for “30×30″ to bid on original pieces from: 123KLAN, Alex Pardee, Andrew Bell, Beast Brothers, Brian Morris, DEPH, DEVILROBOTS, FILTH, Gary Baseman, ILoveDust, Jime Litwalk, Joe Capobianco, Joe Ledbetter, Jon Burgerman, MAD, Maze23 Brooklyn, Mori Chack, Nathan Jurevicius, Pon, SEEN, Shawnimals, Sket One, SourBones, TADO, Tara McPherson, TILT, Tim Biskup, Triclops Studios, Urban Medium, and Christian Jacobs of YoGabbaGabba!

I am very excited about this opportunity to help people that have impacted me so much. I hope that you find a custom you love and bid! If you are interested in helping in any way I am not only looking for monetary donations- If you can provide clothing, notebooks, papers, or pens that would be greatly appreciated. Feel free to email me at toybaroness [at] gmail [dot] com. Also, if you are interested in directly donating to a non-profit for Cambodian Children, please check out The Cambodian Children’s Fund.

This week’s travel dream: Cambodia’s long-lost city

The Week Magazine

Friday, April 24, 2009

This week’s travel dream: Cambodia’s long-lost city
Angkor was long an unknown “wonder of the world,” said Ellen Creager in the Detroit Free Press. The mysterious complex of ruins outside modern-day Siem Reap, Cambodia, is as stunning as the “pyramids of Egypt or the temples of Maya” and as prodigiously complex as Mexico’s Chichen Itza or Peru’s Machu Picchu. More than 70 temples are scattered across the 1,000-square-mile sprawl. But the onetime capital of the Khmer empire, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, for centuries remained a secret from the rest of the world.

Angkor’s rise and fall is “dramatic enough to fill 10 history books.” Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the Khmer empire spread to encompass what are now the countries of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia. But in the 15th century, the Khmers were forced to abandon their capital, after a series of Siamese attacks left the land ravaged. For the next five centuries, the ancient city lay hidden under the wild jungles of central Cambodia. “While nations rose and fell, while America was built,” Angkor stood forgotten. Only in the late 19th century did French archaeologists uncover it and begin to restore many of the tumbledown ruins.

Cambodia’s prime tourist attraction is Angkor Wat, an imperial structure built by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu. Constructed with “porous clay foundations and sandstone exteriors,” its five towers are “stacked like a Jenga puzzle, each piece fitting atop the other.” Nearby sits another temple, Bayon, built a few decades later by King Jayavarman VII. Its 49 towers have been adorned with “200 or more” smiling stone faces. Yet another temple, Ta Prohm, looks much as it did when it was unearthed in the 1900s: “Giant kapok tree roots winding through the doors and windows” make it seem less a work of man than a “part of the natural landscape.” Angkor may have been forgotten for centuries, but treasures like these will ensure it is celebrated for generations to come.
Contact: Angkor.com

Thailand extends state of emergency

Pairoj / AFP/Getty Images
A Thai soldier inspects the damaged vehicle of Sondhi Limthongkul, founder of the People's Alliance of Democracy (PAD), in Bangkok. The Thai activist, who led a blockade of the kingdom's main airports last year, was shot and wounded in the head Friday morning in an assassination attempt the government said was aimed at inciting fresh unrest.

Amid street violence that claimed two lives and injured up to 100, prime minister also calls for probe in attempted assassination of protest leader.

By Charles McDermid and Jakkapun Kaewsangthong
April 17, 2009

Reporting from Bangkok -- The prime minister of Thailand extended a state of emergency today and vowed to launch an investigation into the assassination attempt on a prominent protest leader that occurred here earlier in the day.

The early-morning ambush of Sondhi Limthongkul, a Thai media mogul and founder of the movement that toppled the previous Thai government, could dash hopes that Thailand will return to normalcy in the wake of violent street battles Monday that left at least two dead and as many as 100 wounded.

"We will continue applying the state of emergency, but for as short a period as possible, in order to restore peace and normalcy in Bangkok and its vicinities," Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajive said in a televised address.

Unknown gunmen in an unlicensed pickup truck opened up on Sondhi's vehicle with automatic weapons at around 5 a.m. as he was heading to work to host a television program. Eyewitness Jinttana Damrong, a 56-year-old food vendor, was setting up her stall when the brazen attack took place.

"I went out to prepare food as usual. Suddenly, I heard the sound of car speed up and then they started shooting. It was like an action movie they kept shooting nonstop. I told my son to hide, then I ran to hide."

Major Gen. King Kwangvisetchaichai said the assailants first aimed to shoot out the car's tires before riddling it with as many as 100 bullets. Sondhi, who founded the protest movement known as the People's Alliance for Democracy, or PAD, was shot in the shoulder and had a bullet surgically removed from his skull, according to reports.

Sondhi's secretary and driver were also injured by the gunfire. Sondhi has now moved from Vajira Hospital to an undisclosed facility under police protection.

Police say they recovered 84 bullet casings from AK-47 and M-16 assault rifles. A dud M-79 shell fired from the attackers was also found, according to local media.

"I have already ordered authorities to check how it is that war weapons emerged and were used in the capital," Abhisit said in his address.

Battlefield weapons were seen across downtown Bangkok on Monday as government troops dislodged red-shirted anti-government forces from sites they occupied around the capital, including their last redoubt at Government House, the office of the prime minister.

The street battles capped a week of violent protest in which the so-called "red shirts" - supporters of exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra -- stormed a key regional summit, forcing its cancellation and the airlift evacuation of several Southeast Asian heads of state. Some 3,000 remaining protesters surrendered to the government on Tuesday morning even as some of the movement's leaders vowed to intensify their struggle from underground.

Thaksin-aligned parliamentarian Worawut Ua-apinyakul was quoted in the local press on Thursday saying that the protesters would unleash a "covert struggle."

Sondhi's PAD movement has been instrumental in toppling two Thaksin-aligned governments, most recently in late 2008 when PAD's "yellow shirts" overran Bangkok 's two international airports. Part of the "red shirts" demands, along with the resignation of Abhisit, has been the prosecution of the ringleaders of the airport seizures. Sondhi and Thaksin are former business partners and, according to reports, former friends.

Thaksin, a billionaire telecom tycoon, has given a spate of interviews in international media in recent days. He has called for a "people revolution" to overthrow the Abhisit government and also promised his return.

According to a Tuesday report by Thailand analyst Shawn Crispin, "operatives had for the past two years funneled arms through Cambodia to Thaksin-aligned supporters in the country's northeastern provinces, where his grass-roots support runs strongest."

PAD has thus far remained silent in the escalating political crisis.

"As far as I know, at this time we won't move yet. The leaders have said we will move when it is the right time," said Pattama Deemee, a 48-year-old Bangkok business owner and PAD supporter. "In my opinion this is the beginning of underground activity meant to make us feel unsafe. This is a hard game for Abhisit and the Thai people. We will never know what will happen next."

McDermid and Kaewsangthong are special correspondents

Thai protest leader's attempted assassination shatters hope for calm

A shell casing from an automatic weapon is marked by police as evidence Friday in Bangkok, Thailand. Sondhi Limthongkul, one of the founders of Thailand's royalist "yellow shirt" movement, survived an assassination attempt Friday.
Sakchai Lalit/AP

The prime minister Friday extended the state of emergency he declared last week after rival protesters descended on the capital.

By Tom Peter
from the April 17, 2009 edition

Days after Thai authorities brought an end to massive antigovernment protests, elevating hopes for national reconciliation, an assassination attempt has shattered the Asian kingdom's momentary peace.

Gunmen wounded Sondhi Limthongkul, leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), commonly known at the "yellow shirts," in an early morning attack Friday. Mr. Limthongkul's organization shut down the Thai international airport for eight days in December and is the main rival of the "red shirt" movement, whose protests created a state of emergency in Thailand a week ago.

Limthongkul, a media mogul, was on his way to a TV station to host his regular talk show when two vehicles pulled beside his vehicle and opened fire. "At least two attackers followed Mr Sondhi's car, overtook it and sprayed it with about 100 rounds of gunfire from AK-47 and M-16s,'' police Col. King Kwaengwisatchaicharn told the BangkokPost.com. The rifle fire injured Limthongkul, his driver, and one of his body guards.

Doctors have stabilized Limthongkul, but it remains unclear who was behind the attempt on his life, reports The Nation, an English-language Thai newspaper.

[T]hose close to him said he had too many enemies to pinpoint who could have masterminded the assassination attempt. He has heavily criticized the police and the military over their handling of the pro-Thaksin red-shirted protests and called for removal of police and military leaders.

PAD members oppose the return of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed from power in a 2006 coup. They are mostly royalists, middle class, and businessmen. Their opponents accuse them of being antidemocratic because they support appointed officials instead of elected. Following the attempted murder of Limthongkul, Time magazine reports that PAD lawyers have accused their red shirt rivals.

A lawyer for the PAD said his group would not respond to the assassination attempt with violence. "We want the way of peace, not payback. We will only use violence to defend ourselves, as is permissible under the law. But this is bad. It means a civil war is starting, and Thailand could end up like Rwanda," said Puchong Tirawatana. Puchong blamed the Red Shirts for the assassination attempt on Sondhi, and said there were police and military men who were red shirt members or sympathizers. Red Shirt leadership and the police have yet to comment.

Meanwhile, Asia Times reports that following the recent military dispersal of protesters, pro-Thaksin elements planned to launch a "covert struggle" of violence in the country. For the past two years the group has received weapons via Cambodia and its leaders say it is ready to conduct a "better-armed" resistance.

Whether the assassination attempt against Sondhi heralds the violent beginning of a pro-Thaksin hit-and-run insurgency aimed against the government and the UDD's declared "aristocratic" and "establishment" enemies is still unclear. The armed attack on Sondhi, some analysts note, comes on the heels of a foiled arson attack against the main offices of the Bangkok Bank and Charoen Pokphand Group, two of the country's largest and most influential corporations.

Security remains tight following the attack and nation will extend the official state of emergency in the capital and surrounding suburbs. Although Xinhua reports that the Prime Minister's secretary-general Panitan Wattanayagorn said the assassination attempt affected this decision, the Thai News Agency reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told journalists the decision was unrelated to the incident.

Speaking at a news conference after a special Cabinet meeting at Government House, the prime minister pledged that the enforcement of the emergency decree would not last long, but the government has currently needed to restore normalcy with measures authorised by the special law, which will be revoked in a due course.

The BBC reports that the "attack will increase tension between reds and yellows and lead to greater factionalism in an already deeply divided country." Already the prime minister has been moved to an undisclosed location due to concerns for his safety.

Although PAD has not participated in any major demonstrations since the airport take over, The Times of London reports that the attack was not entirely unprovoked.

Last July, the PAD unveiled a proposal to address this – a "New Politics", which would reduce the number of elected MPs to 30 per cent, with the rest to be appointed representatives of various business and trade organisations. These proposals were backed up by an army of middle class supporters, plus a militia of young men armed with golf clubs, baseball bats, catapults and guns. When supporters of Mr. Thaksin mounted a counter march early last September, one of them was beaten to death by PAD supporters. It is unsurprising, though deplorable, that violence has now been visited on their leader.

Philippine leader calls on Myanmar to release Suu Kyi

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, seen here on April 11, 2009, called on Myanmar to release detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a recent meeting with Prime Minister Thein Sein, the foreign department said Friday.(AFP/POOL/File/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

Fri Apr 17

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine President Gloria Arroyo called on Myanmar to release detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a recent meeting with Prime Minister Thein Sein, the foreign department said Friday.

Arroyo asked Myanmar?s ruling junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi once the extension of her house arrest expires next month, urging it to reach out to political opponents for the sake of national unity.

The foreign department said Arroyo made her appeal when she met with the Myanmar leader on the sidelines of the planned ASEAN summit in Pattaya, Thailand, on April 10 at the request of Thein Sein.

Releasing Aung San Suu Kyi would result in "tremendous goodwill for Myanmar from the international community," the department quoted Arroyo as saying.

"We only have your country and your people's welfare at heart. This is the single, most concrete piece of advice and experience I can share with you," Arroyo said.

In response, Thein Sein expressed "appreciation for the president's valuable suggestions and said that his government would take them into account," the department added.

He also reiterated his government's firm commitment to take steps towards democratisation and reconciliation through the adoption of a new constitution and the holding of general elections in 2010.

He added that Myanmar "considers its cooperation with the United Nations as the cornerstone of its foreign policy, along with the desire to improve relations with the United States under the Obama administration."

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but the junta never allowed it to take office. She has been under house arrest for most of the past 19 years.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962.

ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Global effort aims to slash malaria drug costs

OSLO (AFP) – More effective drugs to treat malaria are set to be cheaper for Africans to buy at their local pharmacies, under an international partnership launched Friday at a meeting in Norway.

The Affordable Medicines Facility for Malaria aims to push down the cost of modern malaria drugs in order to drive older, ineffective medications off the market, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said.

"The age when the world had effective drugs against infectious diseases but let millions die each year because they couldn't afford them is over," said Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere in a statement.

The facility will initially be offered to 10 nations in Africa -- Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda -- as well as Cambodia.

Sharing the initial cost of 225 million dollars (172 million euros) over two years will be Britain and UNITAID, an international drug-buying facility created by France and supported by 27 other nations.

The Global Fund will manage the facility.

Spread by mosquitos in tropical regions, and most notably in poorer developing countries, malaria strikes about 250 million people a year -- one million of whom die, 90 percent of them children.

New drugs, known as artemisinin combination therapies, or ACTs, are available for free in public health clinics, the Global Fund said.

But because they are up to 40 times more expensive over the counter, many malaria sufferers opt for cheaper, older medicines that the malaria parasite has, over time, grown resistant to.

Unitaid said the current price of ACT treatment ranges from six to 10 dollars and would eventually fall to around 20 cents.

"There is no reason any child should die of malaria anymore," said Michel Kazatchkine, executive director of the Global Fund.

"We have insecticide-impregnated bed nets to protect families from mosquitos and effective drugs to treat those who do fall ill. Now we only need to ensure that all who need these things get them."

Unitaid president Philippe Douste-Blazy called for an end to what he called the paradox of an African child dying every 30 seconds from malaria when effective medication exists to counter the illness.

Reversing the incidence of malaria and HIV-AIDS is among the Millenium Development Goals set out by the United Nations in 2000 which notably aim to reduce extreme poverty by half by 2015.

Cambodia's New War


Apr 17, 2009

by Katrin Redfern

The Nobel-nominated opposition leader of Southeast Asia’s saddest, bloodiest country has brought a message for Hillary Clinton: Our democracy needs your help.

Cambodia is at war again. This time, the battles surround who will control resources—land, timber, fisheries, oil—with a corrupt elite taking over the nation’s emerging export economy, while international donors turn a blind eye and 14 million Cambodians suffer.

“Cambodia is a democracy on paper but in reality a dictatorship. Our party activists are murdered because they fight for justice—life is still cheap in Cambodia.”

A new American president, many Cambodians hope, might change all that. Sochua Mu, an opposition leader and founder of the women's movement in Cambodia, recently returned to the U.S., lobbying Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to take a firmer line on democracy and human rights in her long-suffering country. “I needed to see the people in the new administration to urge them to re-assess U.S. foreign policy,” says Sochua in an interview with The Daily Beast. “Cambodia is a democracy on paper but in reality a dictatorship. Our party activists are murdered because they fight for justice—life is still cheap in Cambodia. Human trafficking, drug trafficking, land grabbing, and forced evictions are all carried out under the nose of the government.”

Sochua Mu’s story is uniquely Cambodian. Forced to flee for her life at 18 in the early 1970s as the Vietnam War spilled over the border, she left behind her parents, who vanished, as did one-quarter of the country’s population during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Sochua wound up in America, won a scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley, and worked as a counselor and translator for the Cambodian refugees who began to trickle over. She eventually became a U.S. citizen.

During the 1980s, she returned to Southeast Asia, organizing schooling for children and social services for women in the refugee camps set up by the U.N. on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. In 1989, she was finally allowed to re-enter her homeland, “a country in ruins.” “I would take my young children on walks in streets where I learned to bike, where I wandered with my childhood friends, where I went to school, all the years of joy, of happiness, of deep feelings of comfort came back to me,” she says. “I came back to help rebuild a nation. The war and genocide also changed my people. They have lost their sense of trust for each other, they have become hard inside and desperate for just daily survival.”

Sochua started the first women’s organization in Cambodia, Khemera, designed to help poor urban women earn a better living. She campaigned to include women’s rights and concerns into the country’s new constitution, drafted in 1993, and became involved in efforts to rescue girls caught in Cambodia’s thriving sex trade. In 1998, Sochua ran for election and won a seat in parliament, taking over the women’s affairs ministry, which had previously been run by men. In a country that considers women inferior, Sochua mobilized 25,000 female candidates to run for commune elections in 2002. It was a first for Cambodia, and 900 of them were elected.

She negotiated an agreement with Thailand that allowed Cambodian women trafficked as sex workers to return to their home country instead of being jailed. She pioneered the use of TV commercials to spread the word about trafficking to vulnerable populations. Her work in Cambodia also supports campaigns to end domestic violence and the spread of HIV/AIDS, as well as women’s workplace conditions. In 2005, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women.

Her position in high government put her in direct conflict with Cambodia’s long-ruling prime minister, Hun Sen. Rather than participate in the corruption she saw around her, Sochua Mu renounced the leadership and joined the primary opposition party in parliament. Last week, Sochua announced that she is considering legal action against the prime minister for allegedly using derogatory and threatening language against her in a speech he made last month during a visit to her parliamentary district. The speech, widely reported on Cambodian TV and other media, warned villagers not to seek help from members of the opposition party, but to approach the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and allegedly referred to Sochua using a Khmer term cheung kland—a gangster or unruly person, which has an especially insulting connation for women.

Her most frequent public disagreement with Hun Sen surrounds what she sees as a failure to prevent people in her district from suffering loss of property and livelihoods at the hands of powerful investors, often with the backing of local authorities and the military. Most Cambodians still depend on small-scale agriculture, forest exploitation, and fishing for their livelihoods but, because of the country’s turbulent recent history, land ownership is generally undocumented and often contested. As a result, it is easy for the powerful to acquire land to develop. More than 150,000 Cambodians, according to Sochua, were victims of forced evictions and land-grabbing in 2007 alone. Studies have estimated that such concessions cover as much as one-third of the entire area of Cambodia.

It is now common practice for powerful corporations and government officials to utilize armed forces to push citizens off their rightfully and legally held land,” says Sochua. “These evictions are often violent, with soldiers wielding guns, tear gas and Tasers and burning houses to the ground, while citizens are beaten, maimed and arrested.”

Cambodia's economy relies on three principal sources of income: tourism, agriculture, and textiles. The United States is the largest overseas market for the latter. As former U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli put it, "Levi Strauss or the Gap could destroy this country on a whim."

George W. Bush's policy, as Sochua saw it, focused on military and security-centered aid. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. provided Cambodia $54 million last year and $700 million total since the agency opened an office in the country in 1992. Other international donors, meanwhile, have done little better in holding the Cambodian government accountable on human rights, preferring “closed-door diplomacy,” as she calls it, to public criticism. “This practice has yielded next to no reforms,” she says, “and donors continue to be satisfied with token actions taken by the government to give a fa├žade to democracy and social justice.”

Even that oversight is at risk. Chevron discovered oil offshore several years ago, and the Cambodian government says it hopes to begin pumping oil in 2011. The IMF estimated last year that the country could earn as much as $1.7 billion from oil within 10 years of the date that pumping begins—a big deal for this poor country, which relies on donors for half of its annual budget, but also more money that won’t carry any accountability.

Some aid agencies have called for a moratorium on aid until basic governance and transparency frameworks are in place. Sochua says that won’t happen until there’s a new regime. “That can only happen when we have a real election that is free and fair,” she says. “The West should insist on that, otherwise all the aid they have poured into Cambodia will not work”.

Katrin Redfern is a writer and editor at The Indypendent in New York City.

Hundreds of Cambodians joined the ceremony, bringing foods for monks, to dedicate to those who died during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 regime KR

Cambodian Buddhist monks sit at Choeung Ek memorial complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 17, 2009, during a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the start of the Khmer Rouge regime. Hundreds of Cambodians joined the ceremony, bringing foods for monks, to dedicate to those who died during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 regime, Kampuchea Democratic. On Monday, April 20, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch,' will go on trial for crimes against humanity. 'Duch' was a commander of the Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian woman prays Buddhist monks at Choeung Ek memorial complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 17, 2009, in a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the start of the Khmer Rouge regime. Hundreds of Cambodians joined the ceremony, bringing foods for monks, to dedicate to those who died during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 regime, Kampuchea Democratic. On Monday, April 20, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch,' will go on trial for crimes against humanity. 'Duch' was a commander of the Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian man and a boy walk in front of human skulls that are displayed in a stupa of Choeung Ek memorial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 17, 2009. April 17 marks the 34th anniversary that the Khmer Rouge defeated the Cambodian government in 1975. On Monday, April 20, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch,' will go on trial for crimes against humanity. 'Duch' was a commander of the Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Buddhist monks walk through the former Khmer Rouge victim graves with a stupa in the background, are loaded hundreds of the human skulls of Choeung Ek memorial in outskirt of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 17, 2009. On Monday, April 20, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch' will go on trial for crimes against humanity. 'Duch' was commander of the Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Buddhist nuns contribute their donations in front of the human skulls that are displayed in a stupa of Choeung Ek memorial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 17, 2009. April 17 marks the 34th anniversary that the Khmer Rouge defeated the Cambodian government in 1975. On Monday, April 20, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch,' will go on trial for crimes against humanity. 'Duch' was a commander of the Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian Buddhist nun, left, reads a sign for a grave at Choeung Ek memorial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 17, 2009. April 17 marks the 34th anniversary that the Khmer Rouge defeated the Cambodian government in 1975. On Monday, April 20, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch,' will go on trial for crimes against humanity. 'Duch' was a commander of the Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Chan Kim Soung, 63, weeps as she talks about her history during the Khmer Rouge time at Choeung Ek memorial complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 17, 2009, in a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the start of the Khmer Rouge regime. Hundreds of Cambodians joined the ceremony, bringing foods for monks to dedicate to those who died during the Khmer Rouge 1975-1979 regime, Kampuchea Democratic. On Monday, April 20, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch,' will go on trial for crimes against humanity. 'Duch' was a commander of the Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodian Buddhist monks sit at Choeung Ek memorial complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, April 17, 2009, during a ceremony marking the 34th anniversary of the start of the Khmer Rouge regime. Hundreds of Cambodians joined the ceremony, bringing foods for monks, to dedicate to those who died during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 regime, Kampuchea Democratic. On Monday, April 20, Kaing Guek Eav, also known as 'Duch,' will go on trial for crimes against humanity. 'Duch' was a commander of the Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge where thousands were tortured and killed.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)