Friday, 21 August 2009

'Balibo' cover-up: a film’s travesty of omissions

by John Pilger
Friday, 21 August 2009

On August 30 it will be a decade since the people of East Timor defied the genocidal occupiers of their country to take part in a United Nations referendum, voting for their freedom and independence. A “scorched earth” campaign by the Indonesian dictatorship followed, adding to a toll of carnage that had begun 24 years earlier when Indonesia invaded tiny East Timor with the secret support of Australia, Britain and the United States. According to a committee of the Australian parliament, “at least 200,000” died under the occupation, a third of the population.

Filming undercover in 1993, I found crosses almost everywhere: great black crosses etched against the sky, crosses on peaks, crosses in tiers on the hillsides, crosses beside the road. They littered the earth and crowded the eye. A holocaust happened in East Timor, telling us more about rapacious Western power, its propaganda and true aims, than even current colonial adventures.

The historical record is unambiguous that the US, Britain and Australia conspired to accept such a scale of bloodshed as the price of securing South-East Asia’s “greatest prize” with its “hoard of natural resources”. Philip Liechty, the senior CIA operations officer in Jakarta at the time of the invasion, told me, “I saw the intelligence. There were people being herded into school buildings by Indonesian soldiers and the buildings set on fire. The place was a free fire zone ... We sent them everything that you need to fight a major war against somebody who doesn’t have any guns. None of that got out … [The Indonesian dictator] Suharto was given the green light to do what he did.”

Britain supplied Suharto with machine guns and Hawk fighter-bombers which, regardless of fake “assurances”, were used against defenceless East Timorese villages. The critical role was played by Australia. This was Australia’s region. During World War II, the people of East Timor had fought heroically to stop a Japanese invasion of Australia. Their betrayal was spelt out in a series of leaked cables sent by the Australian ambassador in Jakarta, Richard Woolcott, prior to and during the Indonesian invasion in 1975. Echoing Henry Kissinger, he urged “a pragmatic rather than a principled stand”, reminding his government that it would “more readily” exploit the oil and gas wealth beneath the Timor Sea with Indonesia than with its rightful owners, the East Timorese. “What Indonesia now looks to from Australia …,” he wrote as Suharto’s special forces slaughtered their way across East Timor, “is some understanding of their attitude and possible action to assist public understanding in Australia”.

Two months earlier, Indonesian troops had murdered five newsmen from Australian TV near the East Timorese town of Balibo. On the day the capital, Dili, was seized, they shot dead a sixth journalist, Roger East, throwing his body into the sea. Australian intelligence had known 12 hours in advance that the journalists in Balibo faced imminent death, and the government did nothing. Intercepted at the spy base, Defence Signals Directorate (DSD) near Darwin, which supplies US and British intelligence, the warning was suppressed so that it would not expose western governments’ part in the conspiracy to invade and the official lie that the journalists had been killed in “crossfire”.

The secretary of the Australian Defence Department, Arthur Tange, a notorious cold warrior, demanded that the government not even inform the journalists’ families of their murders. No minister protested to the Indonesians. This criminal connivance is documented in Death in Balibo, Lies in Canberra, by Desmond Ball, a renowned intelligence specialist, and Hamish McDonald.

The Australian government’s complicity in the journalists’ murder and, above all, in a bloodbath greater proportionally than that perpetrated by Pol Pot in Cambodia has been cut almost entirely from a major new film, Balibo, which has begun its international release in Australia.

Claiming to be a “true story”, it is a travesty of omissions. In eight of 16 drafts of his screenplay, David Williamson, the distinguished Australian playwright, graphically depicted the chain of true events that began with the original radio intercepts by Australian intelligence and went all the way to prime minister Gough Whitlam, who believed East Timor should be “integrated” into Indonesia. This is reduced in the film to a fleeting image of Whitlam and Suharto in a newspaper wrapped around fish and chips.

Williamson’s original script described the effect of the cover up on the families of the murdered journalists and their anger and frustration at being denied information and despair at Canberra’s scandalous decision to have the journalists’ ashes buried in Jakarta with ambassador Woolcott, the arch apologist, reading the oration. What the government feared if the ashes came home was public outrage directed at the West’s client in Jakarta. All this was cut.

The “true story” is largely fictitious. Finely dramatised, acted and located, the film is reminiscent of the genre of Vietnam movies, such as The Deer Hunter, which artistically airbrushed the truth of that atrocious war from popular history. Not surprisingly, it has been lauded in the Australian media, which took minimal interest in East Timor’s suffering during the long years of Indonesian occupation. So enamoured of General Suharto was the country’s only national daily, The Australian, owned by Rupert Murdoch, that its editor-in-chief, Paul Kelly, led Australia’s principal newspaper editors to Jakarta to shake the tyrant’s hand. There is a photograph of one of them bowing.

I asked Balibo’s director, Robert Connolly, why he had cut the original Williamson script and omitted all government complicity. He replied that the film had “generated huge discussion in the media and the Australian government” and in that way “Australia would be best held accountable”. Milan Kundera’s truism comes to mind: “The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”

An elephant's tale

Chhouk the baby elephant

Thursday 20th August 2009
By Nigel Wild

T he story behind how Chhouk the baby elephant gained his artificial foot is one of hope and salvation following the desperate years of his troubled homeland.

It is also a story of how Cambodian medical students found themselves using techniques developed to create prosthetic limbs for mine victims to help a wild animal.

Cambodia is now politically stable and tourism a major growth industry, but the legacy of war, genocide and political upheaval has left the country as one of the poorest of the developing nations.

Between 1975 and 1979, Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge fanatics strove to return Cambodia to Year Zero, an agrarian subsistence farming society. Anyone considered intellectual – and that could be no more than wearing glasses — was either put into forced labour or executed. More than a million people fell victim to this genocide, nearly half-a-million fled the country.

Following the 1979 invasion by Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge was forced over the border into Thailand, and countless landmines laid along the 600-mile border to keep them from returning.

Landmines were also sown liberally through many areas of Cambodia. With few records, the numbers are an estimate, but somewhere between three million and ten million mines were laid.

The outcome is one of the world’s largest disabled populations, with 43,000 landmine survivors who have lost arms and legs.

In 1989, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen asked for help with these victims and the Cambodia Trust was founded in Oxford by Dr Peter Carey, Stan Windass and John Pedler.

The trust established the Cambodian School of Prosthetics and Orthotics (CSPO), with the help of Roehampton and a major UK manufacturer of artificial limbs.

Adrienne Liron from the trust outlined living conditions in the country and the day-to-day problems that still have to be faced.

“The Khmer Rouge regime tried to return Cambodia to the dark ages and has condemned it to a long, slow climb out of poverty,” she explained.

“In the major cities like the capital, Phnom Penh, tourism and property development are growing industries, but outside, it is still just grinding poverty, subsistence farming and an income level of about 50p a day.

“Community healthcare is virtually non-existent. Organisations like CSPO provide it. Cambodia does receive a great deal of outside financial aid, but as so often happens, not all of it reaches its intended target.

“Our goal is to train Cambodian staff to prescribe and fit prosthetic limbs and braces.”

As well as landmine victims, a host of other disabled people need help too. Changes in diet have brought on diabetes, resulting in amputations, polio is a serious problem (with some 50,000 sufferers) and increasing road traffic brings more accidents.

In Cambodia, disability is a social stigma. The disabled are ostracised, even by their own families, finding it almost impossible to have any schooling or find a job. Breaking the cycle of poverty is pretty tough.

Since its beginnings in 1989, the CSPO has grown to three centres, one in Phnom Penh and two more in remote areas. Its success in recruiting and training local staff is such that now, all the 2,000 limb and brace fittings carried out annually are by Cambodian staff. The CSPO qualification is at bachelor degree level.

The trust’s responsibility for a patient is lifelong. An adult will need a new limb every one to two years depending on the use and environment of the prosthetic, a child every six months to cope with growth. Although the latest high-tech materials are used, wear-and-tear on the limbs is a fact of life.

“We have to be there for all our patients” Adrienne said. “If we stopped, the devices would fail and condemn the patients to return to where they started.”

And Chhouk? The baby elephant was found two years ago in the jungle. He had lost 12cm of his left foot in a snare. Unable to walk properly and with the right leg bowing under the strain, the little animal was thin, emaciated and unhappy.

The CSPO students face many difficult challenges in their work and are encouraged to think laterally.

Led by the school’s Cathy McConnell, a team spent lunch-hours and weekends designing Chhouk a new foot. The original used the same materials as human prosthetics, with the base made from a car tyre. It was an instant hit.

Surprisingly, Chhouk’s X-ray and casting demanded no greater anaesthetic than a plentiful supply of bananas and turnips.

Try Sitheng, elephant keeper at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, said that Chhouk and Lucky, an older elephant, were now like brother and sister.

“Chhouk loves to run through the forest with Lucky, on the hunt for jungle fruits. He plays with Lucky and puts sand on his own head. With the shoe, he runs very well, but without it, he walks slowly.”

The prototype needed several repairs in a short space of time. A more rigid version was devised, but was too tight. Chhouk threw a tantrum until it was removed and it is back to the drawing board for the CSPO team.

Their real problem is yet to come, how to design a prosthesis to withstand the weight of a fully-grown elephant as Chhouk matures.

The Cambodia Trust is funded to a small degree by the country’s government, bolstered by aid from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, the Nippon Trust in Japan and public donations.

Adrienne is fulsome in her praise for the Nippon Trust, which has been at the heart of the activities right from day one.

“The Nippon Trust’s aim is that everyone in Cambodia will pay taxes. That means full inclusion in society and the economy.”

The Cambodia Trust has now extended its activities to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and East Timor, the latter one of the few places where leprosy still exists. Unlike Cambodia, these projects are of fixed-length, with dates already set for government takeover.

Adrienne said: “And we are looking for more places where our skills and experience can really make a difference.”

For more information about the Cambodia Trust call 01844 214844

Cambodian Villagers mourns ‘holy cow’

Villagers look at the carcass of a dead calf, which they believe to be a "magic cow" born with crocodile skin, during its funeral at Trang Per village in Pusat province, 190km (120 km) northwest of Phnom Penh August 20, 2009. The villagers believe that drinking water poured over the calf can cure rheumatism and other bodily ailments. Belief in the supernatural healing powers of animals such as cows, snakes and turtles is a relatively common phenomenon in Cambodia, where over a third of the population lives on under $1 a day and few can afford modern medicines. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Villagers look at the carcass of a dead calf, which they believe to be a "magic cow" born with crocodile skin, during its funeral at Trang Per village in Pusat province, 190km (120 km) northwest of Phnom Penh August 20, 2009. The villagers believe that drinking water poured over the calf can cure rheumatism and other bodily ailments. Belief in the supernatural healing powers of animals such as cows, snakes and turtles is a relatively common phenomenon in Cambodia, where over a third of the population lives on under $1 a day and few can afford modern medicines. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

A villager pours water over the carcass of a dead calf, which villagers believe to be a "magic cow" born with crocodile skin, during its funeral at Trang Per village in Pusat province, 190km (120 km) northwest of Phnom Penh August 20, 2009. The villagers believe that drinking water poured over the calf can cure rheumatism and other bodily ailments. Belief in the supernatural healing powers of animals such as cows, snakes and turtles is a relatively common phenomenon in Cambodia, where over a third of the population lives on under $1 a day and few can afford modern medicines. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Paddling to the beat of a new drum: Dragon boat race features new youth teams

One of three dragon boat teams prepares to race in heat one at Thea Park in Tacoma. (Photo by James Tabafunda/NWAW)

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

20 August 2009

Quieter and longer lasting, dragon boat racing of the East — featuring boats with colorful dragon heads on their bow — has some similarities with drag racing in the West. The purpose of both activities is to find out who can reach the finish line in the shortest amount of time.
Approximately 5,000 people gathered at Thea’s Park, near the Foss Waterway in Tacoma, to support their favorite teams and celebrate unity among Asian cultures. For the first time, they cheered for six youth teams at the Sixth Annual International Bon Om Tuk Dragon Boat Festival on Aug. 8. This year’s theme was, “Raising for Change, Come See Our Community in a New Light.”

“This is the first year we brought out the juniors,” said Chanda Sovan, president of the Asian American Dragon Boat Association (AADBA). In regard to increasing youth development and awarding scholarships, she said, “Our overall goal is to see a positive change in our community. We want everybody to know that we are moving towards positive change in the community.”

Top: The Khmer Krom Dragon Junior team claims the championship trophy in the youth division. Bottom: AADBA President Chanda Sovan talks with Daravuth Huoth, honorary consul of the Kingdom of Cambodia, about the day’s scheduled events. (Photos by James Tabafunda/NWAW)

The Khmer Krom Dragon Junior boat team took home the championship trophy in the youth division. All 25 team members — including one dragon boat drummer who is responsible for setting the timing of paddling strokes by beating a large drum — paddled their boat down the 500-meter course with a winning time of 2 minutes, 23.16 seconds.

The team formed in 2008. Laurence Lam is the team captain and Hien Lam is the team manager.

Other youth teams include The Kirkland Spitfire Junior, Tsunamis Nagas, Team Xtreme Junior, Spitfire Sake Junior, and Wasabi Kraken, a team from Portland, Ore.

Team Xtreme won the mixed/co-ed division, and the Khmer Krom Dragons won the open international mix division.

AADBA took over the planning for the annual festival, replacing the Cambodian American Support Network. The organization raised approximately $5,100 from parking donations and sales from t-shirts and various beverages.

“We would like to see more involvement from local businesses as well as corporations who want to foster family-unity, family-time events, and, essentially, Bon Om Tuk is a family event,” Sovan said.

AADBA Vice President and Race Director Kosal Nam has been involved in the Cambodian community since 2001. He hopes future festivals will include more neighboring communities. “We do want to open it to outside communities like Portland and Canadian teams to make it a more competitive event and race,” he said.

Sovan added, “We want to make it a focal point, a destination for a lot of our sister countries to come out here and just participate with us.”

In regards to long-term goals, she said, “I’d like to see our organization build a multicultural center which will include a banquet center, an education center, and a sports center that allows the youth to have a place to go.”

Daravuth Huoth, honorary consul of the Kingdom of Cambodia, was the event’s guest of honor. Ron Chow, a State of Washington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs commissioner, conveyed greetings from Gov. Chris Gregoire.

“The number one goal of the AADBA is to provide youth programs centered on teamwork, educational scholarship programs, and leadership skills,” said guest speaker Captain Mike Miller of the Tacoma Police Department. “[Valuing diversity] is one of the goals of the AADBA, to strengthen relationships among different ethnic and cultural groups, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and
community leaders on a local, national, and international scale.”

“Team members gain confidence and camaraderie by succeeding and accomplishing an important mission through working with others who share in the same vision and goals,” he added.

Keynote speaker and Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma said, “Over the last few years of joining you for this annual event, I have learned that ‘Bon Om Tuk’ means [festival of] ‘boat races,’ and that is the big attraction for today.”

“It’s a time to celebrate the cultural connection to water and all aspects of life — food, agriculture, spirituality, and economic prosperity,” said Baarsma, who is also a former dragon boat paddler.

“If you paddle at the same time and you’re synchronized, then, pretty much, you will move the boat faster,” admitted Nam. “Hopefully, the juniors will learn teamwork.”

The sport began more than 2,500 years ago and is a three-day annual Cambodian tradition held on the Chaktonul River in Phnom Penh. Similar festivals can be found throughout other Asian countries such as Thailand, China, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines. ♦

For more information about the International Bon Om Tuk Dragon Boat Festival, go to

James Tabafunda can be reached at

Luxury Travel Promotes the Best of the Best of Cambodia Tourism

Cambodia is a Safe and fascinating destination in Asia. The country is blessed by a rich history and culture heritages, a paradise of historians, archeologists and people wanting to see one of the many wonders of the ancient world.

Neighboring Thailand to the West and Vietnam to the East it offers visitors many unique experiences from the tribes of Ratanakiri to the vast wet land of Tonle Sap lake and a uncouthness of ancient temples and impressive natural scenery, such as the empty beaches, mighty rivers and the remote forests.

Far away from the turbulent past, Cambodia is now open to visitors from around the world to admire the grandeur of Angkor Wat and Thom, and the colonial capital Phnom Penh. Sea lovers can head for the empty beaches in Sihanoukville on the South Coast of Cambodia, a great place to relax and enjoy the sun.

Cambodia luxury tours feature:

Deluxe room at luxury hotels/Resorts or unique places to stay, such as a one-suite boutique hotel or splendid former royal homes.
The best of Cambodia has to offer.
Get the inside running on magnificent World Heritage listed Site Angkor Temples
Worry free and hussle free to enjoy Angkor Wat while avoiding the increasing crowds.
Glamorous couture gowns, museum quality silk, and exquisite silver and jewellery made to order.
Shop at the finest shops, restaurants, spas, bars and services and avoid the rest.
Private boat cruise on Tonle Sap Lake or experience the waterway to cross the border in your own style.
Visit les artisans d'Angkor, dancing school
Private dining with khmer music, khmer culture performance.

Upon request, ballon or helicopter over ancient temples or see them in style in an old Vintage Citroën, tee up a roun of golf, restaurant reservations, meetings with artists, Khmer cooking instructors and designers, casino, shopping recommendations, spa reservations, tours with special-interest lecturers, and exclusive access to local activities and cultural events.

This 4 day trip take you discover all wonders of Angkor and experience the best of Cambodia has to offer.

The Village Pig Project Announces Launch of New Website

The Village Pig Project is a non-profit organization providing breeding pigs to poverty-stricken families in rural Cambodia. Donations can now be made online at their new website,

Olympia, WA (PRWEB) August 20, 2009 -- The Village Pig Project is proud to announce their new website. Located at, the website offers an overview of their groundbreaking anti-poverty work in rural Cambodia. Donations to the project can now be made easily using an online system. The site was designed by Helix Group, an internet strategy and design firm in Olympia, WA.

Organization Information
The Village Pig Project provides breeding pigs to needy families in rural Cambodia, and supports the families as they create thriving pig farms. Since 2003 Village Pig Project staff have been helping families create sustainable sources of revenue.

Based in Olympia, WA, The Village Pig Project serves as many as 35 families at a time, supporting between 150 and 250 pigs. Each pig helps to keep a needy family out of poverty, in a part of the world that houses some of the deepest poverty on the planet.

Money donated through the Village Pig Project is made to stretch: 100% of donated money is spent helping needy families in the Kingdom of Cambodia. All American staff time is donated, keeping overhead virtually nonexistent.

The Village Pig Project is a Washington-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible.

For more information:

Parents, Schools Make Plans for Swine Flu

Hundreds of schools are heeding the government's call to set up flu-shot clinics this fall, preparing for what could be the most widespread school vaccinations since the days of polio. (Aug. 18)

Head judge calls for "Fair and just" verdict for prison chief

Human skulls of Khmer Rouge victims on display at Choeung Ek, near Phnom Penh(Photo: Reuters)

RFI - Radio France International
The UN-backed Cambodian war crimes court has asked those who testify to not use the hearing to take revenge, and has promised a “fair and just” trial of S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch

Head Judge Nil Nonn made the request following days of testimony from families of victims killed at Cambodia’s notorious Tuol Sleng prison in the 1970s, also known as S-21.

Two French citizens gave evidence in the trial this week.

On Thursday, Svaruth Or, a French citizen of Cambodian origin, at a court in Versailles, outside Paris, called for justice for the death of his brother, a Cambodian foreign ministry official, who was allegedly killed in the prison after being held for 97 days.

Speaking via video link, he told the court he was not looking for any financial reparations, only “moral” ones.

On Wednesday, French national Martine Lefeuvre wept as she told the court how her Cambodian husband was tricked into returning to the country and ended up being murdered in Tuol Seung.

She says she cannot forgive Duch for the torture and murder of her husband and demanded the maximum sentence for the former maths teacher.

Cambodian officials say the trial of Duch is expected to end in October but the verdict will come several months later. Duch has accepted all responsibility in running the prison throughout the regime.

Two million people died from mal-nourishment, exhaustion, torture and murder in 1977-79 when the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia’s cities in an attempt to create an agrarian utopia in the country.

Acid Attack Film Debuts in Portland

By Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
20 August 2009

“Finding Face,” which examines the life of Tat Marina, a karaoke star who was terribly disfigured and nearly killed in an acid attack, will show in Portland on Sunday.

Meanwhile, members of her family have gone into hiding under the protection of UNHCR, for fear of reprisals.

Tat Marina was the mistress of a powerful official, whose wife is suspected behind the attack. Acid attacks are a common phenomenon in post-war Cambodia.

The film is narrated by Tat Marina herself, making it sound as though she is telling her story to the audience, said the filmmaker, Sky Fitzgerald.

The film was produced by SpinFilm, and organizers hope Portland’s Whitsell Auditorium screening will see thousands of attendees, including US representatives. The screening will be followed by a question-answer session with Tat Marina.

“It is my belief that it is a fundamental human right, that one has a chance to speak their mind to tell their story and not be silenced by others because simply they are in a more powerful position in a particular country,” Fitzgerald said. “So I became very committed to ensure that [Marina’s] family had an outlet in a way that they hadn’t for a very long time.”

Tat Marina was doused with nitric acid in December 1999 while feeding porridge to her niece at a market in Phnom Penh. The film demonstrates that Tat Marina had a secret affair with Svay Sitha, who was then an undersecretary of state at the powerful Council of Ministers.

“When Marina was wounded, we were pressured and threatened not to file a complaint,” said the victim’s older sister, Tat Pov Rachana, speaking to VOA Khmer by phone while in hiding. “We’ve lived in pain for nine or 10 years now.”

Eight of Tat Marina’s family, including four children, fled Cambodia the day before the film was premiered, at a human rights film festival in Geneva in March.

“I also miss my country, but the suffering and injustice clouding over my family makes us unable to stand it any longer,” Tat Pov Rachana said, sobbing.

Meanwhile, police officials in the family’s neighborhood said they were surprised the family had fled.

“They left without informing us, and I don’t even know at which location they lived,” said Yin San, police inspector of January 7 district.

The family did not go to the police for protection as the film debuted.

“They came to Licadho and other organizations for their protection and safety,” Om Sam Ath, chief investigator for Licadho, told VOA Khmer Monday. “They said they cannot go on living in Cambodia, due to a film about their true life and Marina’s and fear of threats and repression.”

VOA Khmer was not able to reach Khoun Sophal, the wife of Svay Sitha, to check on her involvement in the case. Sources say she is living a normal life with Svay Sitha, who has now been promoted to secretary of state.

Reached by phone, Svay Sitha declined to comment, and an aid said he did not want to remember the incident.

Fitzgerald said he plans to have the documentary shown in many states and on television in the US. He hopes to screen it in Cambodia but is not sure if officials will allow it. The next step is to put the film on DVD format and distribute it in Cambodia.

Duch Put Friends in Prison, Too

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
20 August 2009

The Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch told a UN-backed court Thursday he had not spared friends in the murderous prison known as S-21, as they were considered “enemies” of the revolution.

“I loved them, respected them, but I couldn’t go to see them,” Duch told the court, following the testimony of a civil party complainant in the trial.

The complainant, Chum Searath, criticized Duch for cowardly acts and of helping his friends and fellow teachers at S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng.

Duch, 66, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, is facing atrocity crimes charges for his role as administrator of Tuol Sleng and other sites, where prosecutors say 12,380 people were sent to their deaths.

Duch said he had been “incapable” of helping even his friends.

“As you know,” he told the court, “it was the principle that those who were arrested were considered as enemies.”

Over 100,000 pills of drug substances destroyed in Cambodia

People's Daily Online

August 20, 2009

Phnom Penh Municipality on Thursday destroyed 107,958 pills of mixed drug substances including 21,499 grams of cocaine, 601 grams of heroin, over 80,000 pills of methamphetamines and amphetamines and other drugs substances, as well as some materials of drug lab.

"Drug substances and drug materials for labs that we burned off today were confiscated from criminals," Kep Chutema, Phnom Penh governor said in the ceremony of destroying at the outskirt of Phnom Penh.

"Drug trafficking cases have decreased after the authorities have cracked down on drug distribution places and drug using places," he said. However, he added that cases of crimes have increased in Phnom Penh and it has occurred among young people.

"So far this year, our authorities in Phnom Penh has cracked down 36 drug cases and arrested 80 criminals, and also seized some drug substances," he noted. "We have strengthened the law enforcement and our law enforcement officials have raised their law enforcement ability."

"We will establish a new drug-rehabilitation center for women in Phnom Penh and we considered drug users as drug victims without discrimination," he said.

"We have helped 2,143 people to get rid of drugs through the rehabilitation center, and other 215 people are in process of drug rehabilitation," Kep Chutema said, adding that "after they left this center, they will have jobs and skills for helping themselves and family."

Cambodia became the one of places of drug transmit, according to the governor. "Criminals used our country to distribute drugs to other countries and produce drug, even we destroyed it regularly," he said, "We must get together to stop the drug trafficking and fight against it to live with harmony at the local community."


Cambodia mourns 'holy cow'

Thu, 20 Aug 2009

Hundreds of Cambodians on Thursday began a ceremony for the death of a "holy cow" whose spit could supposedly cure several illnesses, local officials said.

The mystical calf, which reportedly had unusual skin that looked like crocodile hide, was born on Tuesday and died earlier onThursday in northern Pursat province, village chief Sok Mim said.

He said around 100 villagers gathered at the house of the cow's owner for a three-day memorial ceremony.

"A lot of people have flocked to the ceremony. They offered money and lit incense sticks before the cow to pray for it to be reborn and live a longer life," said Sok Mim.

"The cow looked strange. Its legs have signs like carved arts, and its skin is like a crocodile's skin. Old people believe that the cow is holy," Sok Mim said.

"Some people used the spit from the cow's mouth to cure their toothache and other illness. They said they recovered from aches afterwards," Sok Mim added.

A local police official said villagers believed the cow had mystical powers because there had been a lot of rain in the drought-hit village after its birth.

Cambodians are highly superstitious, particularly in the countryside where people continue to meld animist practices with Buddhism.

Duch and the Phung Ton family: an impossible meeting

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 19/08/2009: Portrait of Phung Hung Ton, husband of civil party Im Thun Sunthy, taken at S-21 and shown on an ECCC screen
©John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

Without exception, civil parties, who started testifying at the stand since Monday, have all prepared questions to the accused. With the same objective: to find out precisely what happened to their relatives disappeared at S-21, to end with nightmarish speculations, and to understand how their beloved ended up crushed by that killing machine. But the answers they were given by Duch were evasive or even off-topic. Wednesday August 19th, the court heard the testimonies of the wife and daughter of Professor Phung Ton, who died at S-21 and whose shadow has hung over the trial since its start. This particular case seemed to embarrass the accused, who showed great consideration for the intellectual, former university dean and professor. An Achilles’ heel in Duch that revealed cracks in his armour. However, the confrontation hoped for between the accused and the two women, who have assiduously attended the trial, day after day, did not happen.

The courage to speak, a legacy of the father
The mother was the first to share her testimony. Im Sunthy, 70 years old and retired from the Ministry of Public Transports, was the wife of Professor Phung Ton. When she arrived, Duch stood up to welcome her. It was the first time he showed such sign of respect for a witness. The civil party’s lawyer, Silke Studzinsky, launched into a protracted listing of documents and reference numbers proving the imprisonment of Phung Ton at S-21, already revealing the contents of her client’s testimony and thereby severely denting the magic of that moment.

Mrs Im Sunthy had psychological support by her side. Her health was fragile and the evocation of her husband during the trial had already caused her to faint. Her voice trembled but she held up. For one hour. Like Mrs Lefeuvre, who appeared Monday, her testimony took the shape of an impassioned declaration of love to a husband who was “understanding and loving” and offered her twenty years of life together that were never clouded by any argument. She shared everything, including the distressing Khmer Rouge period.

“I don’t know how to describe to the Chamber that immense sadness caused by the loss of a husband I loved,” said Mrs Im Sunthy. “It has been more than thirty years now, but time only deepens my grief. I have never been happy since. I have lived in terror and trauma. Each passing minute, I think of him. […] I have sometimes thought about suicide, because I wanted to get it over with and end this sorrow. It is impossible for me not to think about the torture endured by my husband during his captivity under the Khmer Rouge. […] Today, I see that my children are brave, they dare to speak, they were raised like that by their father. Some people see it as aggressiveness, but that’s not it. It’s courage and it’s a legacy of their father. As for me, I can’t help crying but I hide from my children to do so…” Today, she is “surviving” thanks to medication, she confided.

Testifying to receive justice, not vengeance
To conclude, she explained her action, keen to dismiss any misunderstanding about her intentions. “Here, I wish to pay tribute to the souls of my disappeared father and husband, as well as to all the other relatives who also died. Some might think I am here to seek vengeance. That is not true. I am here to ask justice for my husband, so the truth is revealed, so we are told why all these people were killed and why all that barbarism was inflicted upon the victims. Was it because of lust for power, personal greed or other reasons? I believe a professor must act ethically and participate to the country’s reconstruction, not aspire to personal power.”

A man who came back to Cambodia to meet his death
Her daughter, Mrs Phung-Guth Sunthary, 53 years old, took over. For months, she has prepared that moment. She also came to honour the memory of a beloved father and “give a face to prisoner no. 17,” through words, through old family pictures that were preciously kept and which she showed to the court. She listed endless qualities – “humble,” “wise,” “attentive,” “good,” “just,” etc – though it seemed there were not enough of them to convey properly the image of the one who remained a “model” for her. Pastel-tinted childhood memories associated with the figure of her generous father crowded her memory.

She explained her father could have escaped the Khmer Rouge. He was on a mission to Europe when Pol Pot took power. Nothing obliged him to return to a Cambodia that was taking a direction he saw with suspicion, except his family whom he could not leave on their own, left to themselves, he confided in letters to friends before his departure.

“Unimaginable that intellectuals are responsible for the death of my father”
In 1975, the family lost all contact with Phung Ton and did not know what happened to him during the whole regime. “One day, late October or early November 1979, by the end of the rainy season, Mum and I went to visit a cousin. On our way back, Mum saw a farmer selling palm sugar. She gave her a little bit of rice for sugar. The woman wrapped the palm sugar in a sheet of paper. As we hadn’t seen any newspaper since 1975, we unfolded the sheet and saw the picture of my father among other photos of victims of Tuol Sleng. First, I refused to believe it was my father, though his name was written under the picture. I thought it was a mistake. But Mum said it was him. We were both very pale, unable to say one word. We had no idea about the existence of the Tuol Sleng prison, as we knew nothing of the scope of the massacres perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. On that picture, my father was unrecognisable, thinner, with hollow eyes and wearing a sign bearing the number 17 around his neck. But because he knew most Khmer Rouge leaders, we could not understand how that could have happened. These people were either old students (including Mam Nay and Kang Guek Eav [Duch]) or fellow professors, like Son Sen or Khieu Samphan. As for Ieng Sary and his wife, they knew us very well and used to live a few hundred meters away from our house. It was unimaginable for us that these intellectuals could have been responsible for the death of my father.”

“Until now, the accused has said nothing to solve this mystery”
The mystery surrounding the last months of her father’s life was unbearable for her. “The loss of my father is a suffering that nothing can erase, an incurable wound.”

No full confession of her father was found. Yet, he had been detained almost seven months at S-21. “According to the interrogators’ testimony, prisoners usually survived only about two months and were killed after writing their confession.” However, a medical report on Phung Ton was recovered. It mentioned diarrhoeas, respiratory problems and thinness. The document must have been presented to the accused, Sunthary hypothesised, as her father was one of the important prisoners at S-21. “The accused controlled everything that happened at S-21. Meticulous and conscientious as he was, what did he decide and who did he report to about my father’s state? Kang Guek Eav is familiar with mathematical logic, so he will understand as each and everyone of us that my father, who was imprisoned at S-21 on December 12th 1976 and last seen alive on July 6th 1977, did not stay two months like most prisoners or twenty months, like the accused declared to confuse the facts and clear his responsibility. The accused has said nothing until now to solve this mystery.”

That was precisely what she expected from the trial. “Since the trial opened on March 30th 2009, I have attended every day of hearings. I have seen and heard experts and witnesses. I have heard the answers of the accused, his contradictions, his lies. I have seen his signs of emotion, real or faked. To this day, I have obtained no clear answer to the questions relating to my father’s death. Mam Nay recognised he was the one who wrote the interrogation of prisoner Phung Ton and Suos Thy confirmed he had registered Phung Ton’s name. But no S-21 staff member gave me any detail on the sufferings my father endured and the conditions in which he died. Yet, they know about this, especially Mam Nay. Prak Khan, Him Huy, Nhiep Ho confirmed to me that only the accused knew everything about my father’s case and could shed more light on the circumstances of his death since he was the director of S-21.” Sunthary was convinced that Duch knew, but wanted to hide it.

“After lying several times, the accused finally confessed that my father was at S-21,” she said. “He even theatrically ordered Mam Nay to tell the truth on the place where my father died, without ever giving himself any detail or recognising his responsibility for the killing of my father.”

If the accused does not speak, the family will close the gates of forgiveness forever
Sunthary warned Duch: she would not be satisfied with “general answers about Democratic Kampuchea” or “a shift of responsibility on the leaders who have already died.” “The accused presents himself as a repented man and claims he cooperates with justice and cares about the victims. As for me, I have followed this trial since the start and I am not at all convinced that the accused is making sincere efforts to help discover the truth. Quite on the contrary, he has done everything to prevent the truth from coming out. He is seeking to not answer for the crimes he committed. The accused knows very well the answers to my questions. If he claims not to know anything, then he is not the great intelligence service chief he is described to be, the meticulous director of S-21, and he is only a puppet and a coward. If he is in denial despite everything, the accused must then renounce his remorse. I am not here to cry for vengeance but to find out the truth. If the accused refuses to answer my questions, I close the gates of forgiveness forever. I wish the accused to live a long time, in good health, so that, placed before his soul, he ends up becoming human again, in the noble sense of it. I wish he realises that the crimes he committed against my father, against all the victims, against mankind, are also crimes against his own children and grandchildren.”

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 19/08/2009: Phung-Guth Sunthary, 53-year-old civil party, during her testimony on Day 61 in Duch’s trial
©John Vink/ Magnum

Then, she addressed the nation: “The tragedy and misery experienced during Democratic Kampuchea have absolutely nothing to do with the concept of karma taught by Buddhism. I am Buddhist like my fellow citizens, but this blood-thirsty regime was led by a clan that used an insane and satanic ideology. The use of Buddhist principles and beliefs was only a façade to minimise the fault of the leaders of that regime. I would also like to tell the young people in my country that sometimes, even in the depths of darkness, some men can cast a light by their courage, their convictions, their sense of honour. My father, Phung Ton, was one of these men. The Khmer Rouge killed him but they failed to crush his soul and wisdom.”

Duch’s answers: a disappointment
Duch brought nothing new in his answers to her precise questions. He said he did not know the professor had been sent to S-21. Evidence of it was that no document regarding Mr Phung Ton bore any handwritten notes by him, he added. Otherwise, he would have intervened “to make sure he lived in more decent conditions,” as he did for another detainee he respected as highly. However, he thought the former dean was not tortured during the interrogations and referred to Mam Nay, the one who interrogated him, “the only one who can enlighten us on what his fate was.” Finally, he argued that he was only the deputy director of S-21 back then. Yet, the analysis of existing documents established that the professor was imprisoned on December 12th 1976, at a time when the accused had already succeeded Nath at the head of S-21. Called to explain himself on this inconsistency, Duch alleged he made a mistake in the dates… and maintained he did not know.

In his conclusions, the accused said he measured the two women’s disappointment about not obtaining the answers they expected. “I can tell you that if I can be of any assistance to help establish the facts, I will do my best to do so. I will seek any supplementary information available concerning your husband and your father.” Words that left the two women in stark disappointment.

May my brother’s soul know that I joined as civil party
Next was Mr Sa Vandy. He was ready, with the text of his statement in his hands and glasses on his nose. He recently found out that one of his brothers, Pon, was detained and executed at S-21, in a magazine, “Searching for the truth,” published by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), while another brother remained “disappeared” to this day. Since, Sa Vandy imagined the suffering that must have been inflicted upon at least one of his brothers and heard them in his sleep calling for help. He woke up with a feeling of powerlessness. Later, he read in another magazine an article discussing survivors’ trauma and inviting them to join as civil parties with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Sa Vandy did so.

The moving 63-year-old retired teacher concluded his testimony by invoking aloud the spirit of the beloved brother. “Brother Pon, I truly believe you are here and you are listening the debates before this Chamber. This afternoon, I pray for you to be here, for you to participate to the trial so that you can hear and see I tried to seek justice for the criminal acts you suffered. May your soul rest in peace.”

Sa Vandy also stressed the limits of the apologies of the accused. “Each time I attend the trial, the accused always recognises his guilt before the public. He joins his hands before the television cameras and that is supposed to allay our suffering. Yet, the crime cannot be forgiven. The tribunal must judge his acts in accordance with the laws applied by the Chamber.”

Duch never claimed to be a patriot
Finally, he had this question for Duch: “The accused said he was a patriot. How can he claim to be a patriot if all he did was to kill Cambodians?” The president invited the accused to answer, while reminding him of his right to remain silent. The remark was unnecessary. Duch hardly satisfied the victims’ quest. But before them, he took great care not to keep silent. “I would like to repeat that I never claimed to be a patriot,” he answered.