Europe Pledges $1.2 Million for KR Tribunal
By Kuch Naren and Ethan Plaut
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Director Sopeara Chea moved Tuesday to quash rumors that a foreign company is slated to privatize the running of the former Khmer Rouge-era torture camp.
Sopeara Chea said that numerous people have approached him to ask about it, their concern probably due to a Japanese company recently taking over Choeung Ek, the “killing fields” genocide memorial on the outskirts of
A South Korean company did approach the government in the mid-1990s but was rejected, and there have been no serious discussions on privatization since, Sopeara Chea said.
“They could not privatize this,” he said. “It is a museum. It’s only a rumor, it’s not true.”
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said he too had heard rumors about Tuol Sleng’s privatization and that the issue should be addressed immediately. Commenting on the running of the museum, he said: “It could be a good museum. The state has the ability, it’s just a matter of improved management.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Kim Sok Vath was unaware of any current interest in privatization, but said he heard that foreign companies in the past had approached the government about developing the museum.
Management of the museum’s finances and preservation of its building and artifacts have been met with criticism in recent years. Renovations were halted in November 2004 after an outcry over sections of Tuol Sleng being whitewashed and modernized to provide gallery space for exhibitions and Western-style toilets.
Since the 2004 government-funded renovations were derailed, the museum has used money from tour agencies and donors to work on other projects, Sopeara Chea said. “Now the government only pays for electricity, water and salaries.”
He claimed there is no set fee to enter Tuol Sleng, but that visitors are required to make a donation. However, tourists visiting the museum Tuesday said they were required to pay $2 each for admission.
Ho Vandy, president of the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents, said that although the entrance fee is technically a donation, it is a “requirement set up by the local authorities, controlled by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.”
Wednesday 28 December 2005
The joint Cambodian and United Nations trial of the former Khmer Rouge leaders inches closer with many hoping that it may begin next year. The trial of the leaders of the worst genocide since World War Two is expected to cost $56.3 million, of which the UN sought, and obtained, promises of contributions from many other countries to cover $43 million.
In the last half of this year the United Nations has taken deliberate steps forward, ignoring the procrastination of lawmakers in
Cambodian Sean Visoth, formerly the executive secretary of the government's tribunal task force, has been appointed director of the office of administration of the extraordinary chambers, and
Cambodia's Supreme Council of the Magistracy must select two international judges for the trial chamber, three for the supreme court chamber and two for the pre-trial chamber, of which one will be a co-investigating judge and one a co-prosecutor. The May 2003 agreement between the UN and the government asserts that the trial judges must be ``of high moral character, impartiality and integrity'', be qualified as judges in their home countries and be experienced in criminal law, international law, international humanitarian law or human rights law. It appears that the UN is putting its jigsaw together and will soon have the pieces ready to fit into place. But yet again, the Cambodian government is proceeding at a crawl.
In late November
Internally, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been pushing the government to fulfil its obligations in regards to the trial but last week he too suffered from the country's judiciary when he was sentenced to 18 months' jail. Now expected to remain in exile in
It has been an astute move by the UN to proceed on the assumption that
By Charles McDermid
Phnom Penh Post, Issue 14/25
December 16 - 29, 2005
Brushing past questions concerning
"This week has gone very well; I'm satisfied," said UN KRT delegation Deputy Director Michelle Lee. "I understand that people are disappointed by the many years of delay, but believe it or not - we're here. There is no turning back - we're here now and we're here to stay."
It was announced this week that a facility in Kandal province had been selected for the UN team's headquarters, and that the group would begin operations there in February 2006. The UN also introduced its seven-member leadership team and unveiled a program of Regional Outreach Forums launched with a $36,000 grant from the Australian government.
Quite a dizzying week for observers accustomed to the generally glacial pace at which the trial had been proceeding since the 2003 agreement between the UN and the government, and the 1997 request by the RGC for UN assistance to conduct a trial.
"We're closer than we've ever been before," said Dr Helen Jarvis, an adviser to the Council of Ministers who has been involved in the trial process for over six years. "We have gone from planning into establishing."
Throughout the December 6-16 visit, senior delegates maintained unwavering - although never specifically explained - optimism about the long-stalled trial and declared that logistics would begin despite the government's shortfall of funding - a matter of nearly $11 million that would ostensibly delay any trial preparations.
"Although we still have the shortfall of $10.8 million on the Cambodian side, I can say that with the arrival of Michelle Lee we are highly optimistic," said Sean Visoth, administrative director of the Extraordinary Chambers, in response to repeated questions from the media regarding the shortfall. "We knew there would be challenges. The point is that we are committed. The process is moving on."
At no time did the delegation directly address how the trial would develop if the Cambodian government's $10.8 million budget could not be secured.
In spite of this, the stance of the delegation was so cocksure - and the tone of its statements so confident - that should a trial fail to materialize, the UN would certainly appear less than credible in retrospect.
But that will remain to be seen.
For now, Cambodians and international observers can watch the intriguing transformation of a complex legal concept into a functioning reality - one complete with security guards, computer systems and access for the handicapped.
Although Visoth made the opening remarks and handled the bulk of questioning at two separate news conferences, it was clear that Lee would be taking the project's point position. Lee, a United States-educated Chinese national who joined the UN in 1974, has worked on peacekeeping missions in
"This trial is so important," Lee said. "The message is that impunity should not remain unchallenged - justice delayed doesn't mean justice denied. We believe that international justice can lead to peace and stability. We hope this process will contribute to democratic reform and have an effect on the region."
In an interview with the Post, Lee came across as professional and humorous. She extended both solemn reverence for the project's importance and quips about UN procedures.
"I feel very encouraged," she said. "It doesn't mean I don't think there will be hurdles but we're ready for the challenge - the whole team is. Lots of the [members of the delegation] have high positions and were willing to take pay cuts to take part in this historic and mournful task. We're making history."
UN Budget and Finance Chief Linda Ryan explained that although the UN's portion of the total $56.3 million budget - roughly $43 million - is entirely separate than the budget expected to be put forth by the government, there will be some necessary coordination.
"Our budget is an evolving document," Ryan said. "We'll be working hand-in-hand with the Royal Government of Cambodia, hopefully."
Jarvis, who read a prepared statement in halting but proficient Khmer, said that although the $10.8 million shortfall was the trial's "biggest challenge" it was no longer considered a deal-breaker.
"We're optimistic. Very optimistic," Jarvis said. "Our assumption is that the $10.8 million is not going to be the thing that holds us up."
A member of the Cambodian Task Force Delegation said it was "likely" that Jarvis would be named spokesperson for the KR trial.
News of the trial's progress was greeted with varying opinions by individuals affected by the regime. Sos Samann, who identified himself as former Khmer Rouge "spy," was especially candid with the Post.
"I am very happy to hear that there will be a real Khmer Rouge Trial," Samann said. "It will bring revenge for my family. The punishment must be execution. Just a life sentence will not be fair. They killed millions of people.
"My wife and I will go and see the trial with our own eyes," he added.
"I have never thought about whether they'll have the [Khmer Rouge Trial] or not," she said. "I don't care."
I've just returned from a second visit to the temples and, my, how things have changed. Today there are 30 or more elegant hotels in or nearby Siem Reap, which now boasts a population rapidly approaching a million. The tourism industry has exploded. Angkor Wat, the largest and most magnificent of the temples, is said to attract some 800,000 visitors a year. On my first trip, I literally could explore many ruins on my own. Not any more.
My wife, who is more particular than I when it comes to choosing a place to sleep, was with me on this trip and I had booked, well in advance, a room at the five-star Angkor Century. She liked it.
Though this was my second visit to Siem Reap, it was my third to Cambodia. And thereby lies a tale, a tale about "collateral damage" inflicted on Cambodia as a result of the Vietnam War.
In the spring of 1970, shortly after President Nixon gave a green light to U.S. and South Vietnamese forces to invade Cambodia, I traveled by boat up the Mekong River as far as the Neak Luong ferry crossing, just south of the capital Phnom Penh. My notes from this excursion compare the land on the Vietnamese and Cambodian sides of the border, respectively, to Dorothy's Kansas and the Land of Oz in the classic film The Wizard of Oz - the former black and white, the latter emerald green. For years, river banks on the Vietnamese side of the border had been heavily sprayed with defoliants; those in Cambodia had not. The difference was startling.
The purpose of the Cambodian invasion was to cut the Ho Chi Minh Trail, thereby disrupting the flow of men and material from North Vietnam into the Three and Four Corps regions of South Vietnam. Massive bombing of the communist supply line had failed to do the job. As it turned out, the uproar the invasion provoked at home, and the meager results it achieved on the ground, in fact hastened the withdrawal of American forces from both Cambodia and Vietnam.
In 1970, we knew relatively little about the Khmer Rouge. Our invasion, and the bombing that preceded it, gave a powerful boost to the KR struggle to overthrow Cambodia's sometimes neutral and sometimes pro-American government. Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 16, 1975. Two weeks later, the North Vietnamese Army took Saigon.
If things were grim for our abandoned allies in South Vietnam, they were unimaginably horrible for those who sided with us in Cambodia. On April 17, 1975, Phnom Penh's more than one million inhabitants were ejected from their homes and marched into the countryside. Hospitals were emptied, some of their patients wheeled away on gurneys. No preparations were made to receive them, no food, no water, no shelter.
The black pajama-clad Khmer Rouge, many of them mere teenagers, hurried and harassed the evacuees. Those who lagged behind were shot or clubbed to death. "The American B-52s are returning to bomb the city!" the KR screamed. "You will be allowed to return in three days!" They were not. Many would never return at all.
The insane dream of Pol Pot and other leaders of the Khmer Rouge was to create a socialist, agrarian society of the type they imagined had existed in Cambodia's distant past. To that end, between two and three million of their countrymen, nobody knows precisely how many, were murdered. Singled out were the upper classes, the educated - doctors, lawyers, teachers, military officers and policemen, all who had served in any capacity the fallen government.
Almost all Cambodian cities were emptied, even Siem Reap. All had their "killing fields," which have now become popular stops for visiting tourists. Japanese investors are said to have plans to "upgrade" them.
The Khmer Rouge ruled for nearly four years. They were then defeated by an invading Vietnamese army that occupied Cambodia for four more years.
Today the country is struggling to put the bloody heritage of the 1970s to rest. It was impossible for this visitor to forget, however, that the smiling and oh-so-polite middle age Cambodian man or woman met today might well have been, 30 years ago, one of the ruthless young killers who formed the rank and file of the most murderous ideological movements ever to rise in the delightful lands of Southeast Asia.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.
By PATRICIA COHEN
IT seems fitting that Arn Chorn-Pond should take on the inordinately ambitious goal of trying to rescue
His talent for playing the Khmer flute is the reason he survived the genocidal four-year reign of Pol Pot; the chief of the children's labor camp liked the way the 9-year-old Arn played the military and patriotic anthems that were based on familiar Khmer songs. Few were so lucky: among the estimated 1.7 million murdered by the Khmer Rouge were more than 90 percent of the country's artists and performers. For centuries, musicians had passed down their knowledge and skill orally, without recordings or transcriptions; now there are hardly any left. "We are on the brink of extinction," Mr. Chorn-Pond said. "This incredible culture has been reduced to the Killing Fields."
Mr. Chorn-Pond, 39, was stopping briefly in
For seven years now, the two have been working to record and teach
Yet the men quickly realized that simply preserving the ancient arts wasn't enough, that without creating original work, the music would be like a pinned butterfly. They needed to provide new commissions, inspire new young artists. Mr. Burt recalled hearing that the ruins of Angkor Wat had become the largest single tourist destination in
So Mr. Burt, who is a producer as well as a philanthropist, came up with the idea of commissioning a new kind of opera that would shift the familiar focus from the Killing Fields and embody their project; it would integrate Cambodian and American, modern and traditional music, instruments and styles. He chose opera because it is one of the most popular forms of musical theater in
"We've never had a Cambodian-American opera," Mr. Chorn-Pond said. It is an example of "new musical forms growing out of the traditional."
It was also Mr. Burt's idea to base the story partly on Mr. Chorn-Pond's preservation efforts. In the opera, "Where Elephants Weep," Sam, a Cambodian refugee who escaped to
Mr. Chorn-Pond's story, unhappily, differs in many important details from Sam's. Mr. Chorn-Pond did not escape the Khmer Rouge, who took over in 1975. Most of his family, which had run a musical theater for four generations, were murdered, including 9 of his 11 siblings. Sent to a labor camp with 700 others, Arn was one of five children picked to learn an instrument to play military songs. An old man with white hair taught him the khimm, a dulcimer, warning: "I'm not going to be here long. Learn well, this is your life." Arn never knew the man's name. After five days, he was taken to a mangrove field and killed.
When three of the five boys turned out to be insufficiently skilled, they, too, were taken to the mangroves.
Arn met another music teacher, Yoeun Mek, who taught him the flute, and the two helped each other stay alive. "I stole food for him," Mr. Chorn-Pond said, although the penalty for such a crime was death.
Arn's musical ability did not exempt him from the Khmer Rouge's other requirements: killing, observing daily executions, even witnessing occasional cannibalism. When the Vietnamese invaded in 1978, he was forced into the army. "Some refused to take the gun," he said, "but if they don't take it, they shoot them."
He eventually slipped away and made his way through the jungle to a refugee camp across the Thai border. Plucked from thousands of desperate children, Arn and a few others were adopted by the Rev. Peter Pond, a Congregationalist minister who worked at the camp. In a 1984 interview in The New York Times Magazine, when he was about 18, Arn told Gail Sheehy, "I am nobody before"; now, he said, "I am human."
For a few years after coming to the
Mr. Chorn-Pond has probably told some version of his experiences hundreds, if not thousands, of times during his 20 years of human rights work as a kind of perpetual expiation. He has raised money for Amnesty International, helped found Children of War to aid young survivors and started an anti-gang program in
In 1996, Mr. Chorn-Pond returned to
"He's a big guy, looks like gorilla," Mr. Chorn-Pond said, recalling the reunion. "He cried like a baby. His wife told me he never cried even when his mother died." When Mr. Yoeun met the Children of War group, he told them how Arn saved his life - the first time he revealed that part of his past to anyone. Later the two played together. That was when Mr. Chorn-Pond got the idea for the Master Performers Program. "Our project gave him a life," he said.
In 1998, Mr. Chorn-Pond and Mr. Burt, along with the nongovernmental organization World Education, helped found Cambodian Living Arts, which includes the master mentoring. The following year he took another trip to
The woman was Chek Mach, one of the country's most famous opera singers. "I had heard her on the radio as a child," Mr. Chorn-Pond said. "I was looking for her for many months." She, too, became a master, earning $80 a month teaching before she died in 2002.
As Mr. Chorn-Pond was walking or bicycling miles to remote villages looking for musicians, Mr. Burt was searching for someone who could make his idea for a Cambodian-American opera come to life. He found his librettist in 2000 at a performance of one of her plays at the Asia Society in
Ms. Filloux began working on Mr. Burt's idea, but it took him two more years to find a composer. He met Him Sophy, who comes from a family of musicians and was visiting
For three years, Mr. Him has been working on the score for "Where Elephants Weep," combining Western rock, classical music and rap with
IN July, Mr. Burt, who lives part-time in Vermont, brought Mr. Him to New York, and set him up in his own West Village apartment to finish the score, while Mr. Burt continued to look for backers.
One afternoon this summer, Mr. Him and Ms. Filloux were working in her cozy
"I can sing, but my voice is not a singer's," Mr. Him said apologetically, tapping his chest. He was sitting at a wooden table in front of a laptop and two small Sony speakers, the cord stretching across the tiny kitchen like a tripwire.
On his keyboard, Mr. Him sounded a tinny pling: a computerized approximation of the chapey, a two-string lute. Like the traveling musicians who used to play as they improvised poetry and social commentary, Mr. Him began to sing the prologue in a high, warbling voice. His left hand fluttered up and down at his stomach, as if he were playing:
"You must listen to my story.
I start in the year 63 ...
Halfway around the world, a man called 'King' has a dream
And musicians called the Beatles make the ladies scream."
Mr. Him stopped singing and explained with a satisfied smile, "I make the chapey player imitate the 'ladies scream.' "
After the prologue, the two went over the libretto line by line. As Ms. Filloux read, Mr. Him (who learned four languages before English) marked in his copy which syllable of each word should be stressed so that the music would match.
At one point, Ms. Filloux asked: "Can we go back to 'ancestors'? I worry about putting the emphasis on '-cestors.' "
He played it again.
"Our language is easy," he said with a laugh. "You don't need any stresses."
The complexities of the cross-cultural collaboration were also in evidence at a workshop this month in which the full opera was sung for the first time. Robert McQueen, the director, Scot Stafford, the music director, and Steven Lutvak, the musical adviser, painstakingly combed through the score, analyzing the lyrics, the concepts and the music. They suggested further Americanizing Sam's part, adding rock 'n' roll syncopation and some cursing. The musical changes were all right, but Mr. Him wasn't sure about the Cambodian audience's reaction to the swearwords. They spent 90 minutes working on four lines.
Later, Kay George Roberts, the conductor of the newly created New England Orchestra in
"These two different traditions have come together in an organic way," Ms. Roberts said later. As for performing it, she added, "I'm definitely interested."
Mr. Burt was at the session, but Mr. Chorn-Pond was not. He is back in
And four months ago, Mr. Chorn-Pond found Sokha, the only other boy of the original five chosen by the Khmer Rouge to be a musician who is still alive. "I've been searching for him for a long time," Mr. Chorn-Pond said. "Then, out of nowhere, I went to this mountain. He still worked for the Khmer Rouge for 50 cents a day, breaking rocks." (The Khmer Rouge control some disputed areas near the Thai border.)
"This guy is still a jungle boy," Mr. Chorn-Pond said. He took Sokha, seriously ailing from tuberculosis, and his wife and three children to live and work in his house, which is on a half-acre plot along the
During the trip to
Yet after talking about his large extended family, Cambodian and American, noting that he has lived longer than any male in his family and that, for the first time, he owns his own home, he pronounced: "At this moment, I'm a very happy man. This land, this house, I don't want anything more."
But actually, he does want something more: to explore his own art, to discover "who I would have been if it hadn't happened." He laughed, thinking of
Then, somewhat unexpectedly, he said, "I would like to be an artist instead of a human rights activist" - a sign, perhaps, that he might be ready to take a break from his self-imposed atonement.
During a recent cellphone conversation from
There was a long pause, and it was hard to tell if it was the bad connection or a hesitation. "Not totally," he replied. "It is very easy to get caught in your own wounds." But with his human rights work, he said: "There is a possibility I could do that. It is not easy, but I am doing it now."
So did he still have the dream, the one about the children playing on one side and the Khmer Rouge on the other?
"Yes," he said, but "I have it less now." He was explaining more, but the cell reception was poor and his voice kept fading out. In the dream, he said, he is still "caught in the middle."
"I know I will be shot if I turn away" from the Khmer Rouge, he added, but at least now a newfound confidence replaces the familiar terror. "I have no fear and no reluctance." He drops the gun and runs to the boys, to a lost youth, to innocence, to redemption.