Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Mil Ethnic Minority under Democratic Kampuchea

Sophal Ly

The Mil (or Milkh) is a little known ethnic minority in Cambodia. Their homeland is Chhok Trach (aka Klek Klok) village, about 30 kilometers east of O-Po village in Kratie province. The Mil left this village many years ago and moved to an area called Sre Changhab because of a smallpox epidemic and an invasion by the Phnong tribe (a Mon-Khmer tribe of eastern Cambodia) in which many Mil were killed. Today, about 60 Mil families live together with Khmer people in a village about 40 kilometers from the center of Kratie province.

During the Khmer Rouge regime, many Mil men served the revolution, and some became high-ranking officials. Others were killed by the Khmer Rouge, and many disappeared.

Teng, for example, was a reconnaissance chief during the regime. All of the villagers in Sre Changhab knew that Teng was a very cruel man during that period. If anybody – especially the 17 April people – did anything wrong, Teng would order them to be killed. Teng had killed many 17 April people. In 1979, the Vietnamese soldiers arrested Teng and sent him to Vietnam for a month. After he returned to the village, a group of 17 April people living in Tamong district tried to kill him.

Fifty-nine year old Kak Van said that he lost a son while he was serving the revolution. Later, he heard some villagers say that his son was killed by Ta Mok.

Soeur Klim, age 45, began working for the revolution in 1976 when he was 15. At that time, Angkar sent him to work under Yi and Kuon in Kratie province for a month. In late 1977, he was moved to work as a combatant in Division 920 of Ratanak Kiri province. In 1978, Angkar arrested Yi and Kuon, accusing them of being traitors. After they were captured, Angkar also caught Klim and other combatants. Klim ran into the forest and hid until 1982, when he came back to his village.

During Democratic Kampuchea, all the residents of Sre Changhab were evacuated and sent to live in Changhab collective. Their houses were used for storing salt, rice, and other materials. The youths were forced to serve in the army. Angkar ordered the middle-aged men to build dams, cultivate rice, and do construction. The elderly women took care of infants at the children’s site.

Kan and Choutang said that they were ordered to build houses. Angkar allowed them to visit their homes every two or three months. Angkar also sent them to build dams at O-Krieng and other places. Kan said that during the regime he cultivated and harvested a large amount of rice, but he still ate watery porridge every day. In the harvest season, he saw trucks coming and driving off with the rice. The Khmer Rouge cadres told people that the other collectives had no rice. The trucks were sometimes driven into the forest and vanished.

The number of workers in Changhab collective increased after 1977, when Angkar sent more evacuees, including Khmer, Chinese, and Chams to live with the Mil. The only language permitted, however, was Khmer. Today, sixty year-old Chou Tang is a village chief. He recalled that “The Chinese were forbidden to speak Chinese; the Chams were banned from speaking the Cham language; the Mils were prohibited from speaking their language. Only Khmer was permitted. In addition, the religious rule that does not let the Cham eat pork was also eliminated. My small house was occupied by two families: Cham and Chinese.”

Kov Khen, age 74, said that many new people died during that time because they complained and could not endure the work. Not many Changhab villagers were killed. Most of them died of disease because there was a lack of proper medicine.

On December 20, 1978, the Khmer Rouge planned to cook Khmer noodles and put poison in them in order to kill the people in Changhab collective. This plan failed because the Vietnamese soldiers chased the Khmer Rouge out. Khen accidentally learned of this plan while he was walking to the rice fields. “One day I heard the high-ranking Khmer Rouge having a meeting outside the village. On the 30th, they said, we should keep a thousand beautiful Khmer women to breed with Chinese men. The rest of people would be poisoned. If the Vietnamese soldiers had not arrived in 1979, we would all have been killed.”

As the Khmer Rouge solider were fleeing from the Vietnamese, they took people with them, saying that those who did not escape would have their throats cut by the Vietnamese. In Changhab, some people were very frightened and decided to go with the Khmer Rouge, while others returned to their homes. Chou Tang said that he escaped to Sambo district, and met his family at Kampong Pneov. After giving up his weapon to a Vietnamese soldier, he brought his wife and children back to his village. When Khen was running to O-Kach Pruol, he met a Vietnamese soldier who told him to return home.

After 1979, the Vietnamese appointed a chief of Changhab village to oversee the distribution of rice, salt, cows, and buffalos. During that period, the Khmer Rouge fought near the village, killing some villagers and injuring others. Tang’s aunt was one of those who died during the fight. Tang said, “I will never forget this 3-year, 8-month, and 20-day regime until I die. All I had built was completely destroyed. I had to start a new life after 1979. I can never forget this.”

When recollecting their past during the Khmer Rouge regime, the Mil always said that they do not want to see or hear of this time again. What they want is only peaceful lives like the ones they have today. If people come to promise them something better than this life, they would not listen.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Cambodian PM reverses position on lawsuits

Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - Cambodia's prime minister on Monday said he has been unable to honor his pledge to drop defamation suits against four of his critics because the court refused to allow it.

Prime Minister Hun Sen's comments marked yet about-face in a high-profile case that has drawn international and domestic attention. Just a week ago, Hun Sen said he would drop charges against four prominent human rights activists and would tell judges and his lawyers to withdraw the suits.

But in a speech to graduate students Monday, Hun Sen said the court had replied to his request by saying it was "impossible" to withdraw the lawsuits since the activists had already been charged and legal investigations were already under way.

"Suspension is possible only if the case has not yet entered its investigation phase," Hun Sen said. "So neither suspension nor withdrawal (of the cases) is possible."

The four - radio journalist Mom Sonando, union leader Rong Chhun and human rights activists Kem Sokha and Pa Nguon Tieng - had been set to stand trial over their alleged criticism of a border demarcation pact Hun Sen signed with Vietnam in October.

Hun Sen began defamation proceedings against them - and several other people who have since fled the country to avoid arrest - after they allegedly accused him of ceding Cambodian land to Vietnam.

Domestic and international rights groups criticized the decision to prosecute the activists, which came amid a wider government crackdown on dissent. Many fear Cambodia is drifting toward dictatorship under Hun Sen, a one-time Khmer Rouge commander who came into power three years ago.

In a concession to critics, Hun Sen agreed earlier this month to order the four released from prison on bail pending trial. Then, last week he said he would drop the suits entirely after the activists had written thank you letters to him for being released on bail.

The decision to drop the lawsuits drew praise from U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli, who said last week: "We are very happy with what has happened. It's something the international community should applaud."

After the murderous Khmer Rouge years, and the 1980s under a communist regime installed by neighboring Vietnam, a 1993 election offered the hope for democracy taking root.

However, in 2003 the government banned all public demonstrations on the pretext of keeping order. Last month, a court sentenced self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to 18 months in prison for accusing Hun Sen of being behind a 1997 grenade attack on peaceful demonstrators in Phnom Penh and other allegations.

"Khmer Genocide Survivor Can't Get on With His Life"

Date : 29/01/2006 , Sun A Newspaper Published by
World Institute for Asian Studies. Vol. 5 No. 279
By Antonio Graceffo

"I risked my life to get here, and I have done nothing with my time in America." Says taxi driver, Matt Sindvith. "I have seen women who were raped, or people who survived the war in Bosnia or Sarajevo. They were able to put that behind them. But I cannot. And, until I do, I can't get on with my life."

The generation of Khmers, aged twenty-five and over, share a history of survival, loss, and suffering. But for many, the trauma was never dealt with. And the scars of a war, which ended more than two decades ago, are still open wounds, which prevent them from advancing.

Stuck in traffic on the Washington Beltway. I can only see the back of the driver's head, but the man in the photo on the license, dangling from the sun visor, looks like a Khmer.

"Sua Sedai," I begin, going out on a limb. "Da nyat junjet Khmer dey?"

Slowly, he answers me, and we begin a rudimentary conversation. "I'm sorry." He says, switching to heavily accented English. "I have nearly lost my language. His tone of voice conveys
his embarrassment.

By the time we reach my home, Matt has given me a brief summary of the events of his life. Not only had Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge driven him from Cambodia, robbing him of his language, culture, and way of life, but they had also murdered both his mother and father.

"My dream, before I die," Says Matt, "Is to find my sister.

The last time Matt saw his younger sister, Sok Pola, was in 1980, when he escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand.

"A few years ago, I heard she was still a live." He told me. "A Khmer friend in America said that he had seen my sister working in a garment factory in either Sihanoukville or Koh Kong. I was told she is married…" Matt trailed off. He radiated a sadness that was of an intensity I had never seen before. Thinking about his baby sister obviously filled him with deep emotions, loss, anger, and loneliness. In anyone else, tears might have come. But after getting to know Matt better, I would discover that if he had moved beyond the stage of grief. Years of privation and hardship had drained him of his tears.

What are the odds, that some strange Karmic force would bring together a Khmer speaking journalist, just returned from Phnom Penh, and a Cambodian holocaust survivor, in need of a friend?

Not quite believing that I was interested in helping him, Matt wrote out the names of his parents and siblings.

"I don’t know how to write them in English." He told me.

"I'’s OK," I encouraged him. "Just write it in Khmer."

He paused again. "I almost don't remember how." He said. "Can you imagine not remembering how to write the names of your family members?"

Matt and I agreed to meet a few days later, and over a bowl of Burmese soup, the closest thing to Khmer food we could find in the District, he told me his story.

"I don't trust people." He began. "And I don't like to talk about those things." He meant the Pol Pot time.

It was obviously difficult for Matt to talk. Like so many Khmers, he has been walking around with the horrific story of his life bottled up inside of him. Under the best of circumstances, Khmer culture teaches that you are never supposed to talk about a problem. With reference to the Khmer Rouge regime, this policy becomes even more extreme. Having a selective memory and an absolute refusal to dredge up the past is the only way that victims and perpetrators are able to live side-by-side in modern Cambodia, without revenge killings happening every day.

Many people compare the Cambodian auto-genocide to the Holocaust of Jews, under the Nazis. And, while there are many similarities, there are two fundamental differences, which make it even harder for Khmers to let the past go. First of all, twenty percent of the Khmer population was murdered, not by an outside force, but by other Khmers. Second of all, not a single Khmer was excluded from participation in the genocide. Every single Khmer, living in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, was a victim, a perpetrator, or both.

Matt’s father was a military officer, under the French and under Prime Minister Prince Sihanouk. After he retired, he served as a high ranking police official in the Lon Nol government.

"He received two pensions." said Matt proudly. "One from France and one from Cambodia."

In 1975, when the city fell to the Khmer Rouge, Matt's family was living in Tutapong, Phnom Penh. According to Matt, when the Khmer Rouge soldiers marched in, they gave everyone just
twenty-four hours to evacuate the city.

"We didn't want to leave." He said, "But they kicked us out."

As an observer to the aftermath of the Cambodian civil war, the question I always ask is "Why didn’t you escape to America in 1975?"

"In 1975 people didn’t talk about escape. They were just happy the shooting had stopped. Also, we didn’t want to leave Cambodia." Said Matt, echoing the sentiments of most Khmers. Of all of the peoples I have met in my years of living abroad, I have never seen a people so completely bound to their homeland.

"Even in 1979, when the war was over, I didn’t think of leaving the country. If I had wanted to leave I would have left in 1975. My family had money and connections. They tried to send me with American evacuation. But I wouldn’t go."

Matt’s older brother and sister, who were already married, went off with their families.

"By chance, my whole family met up at a temple a few days later. It was the last time I saw most of them."

Matt's mother had wanted to go west, but his father wanted to go back to his homeland, of Kompong Cham.

"This was a mistake." Said Matt. "Too many people knew my father there. And because he was a former soldier and a police officer, he was singled out."

His father was taken away, and Matt never saw him again.

Soon afterwards, the Khmer Rouge separated the children from the adults.

"I only saw my mother once more, in 1977."

The Khmer Rouge favored the country people, who they called Khmer Ja, or old people. Conversely, they hated the city people, who they called Khmer Tmai, or new people.

"We tried to hide the fact that we were from the city." Said Matt. "But everything we did, we gave ourselves away. Even the way I talked, they knew I was a city boy."

"When they took my mother in 1977, my sister wanted to go with her. But I told her not to, or she would die also."

I asked Matt just how well the average Khmer understood the situation, while it was happening.

"At the time I didn’t understand anything I only wanted to survive. The average person at the time didn’t have a global understanding of what was happening. And we had no idea how bad the future would be. I had never considered running away to America. In fact, before 1979, I had barely even heard of America."

The entire population of Cambodia was organized into work groups, and toiled at forced labor, constantly in fear of execution.

"It was like Auswitch. We woke up at 6:00, no breakfast, and walked an hour to where we had to work. We worked till lunch, and walked back. Lunch was a little bit of watery porridge. To
supplement our diet, we ate anything we could find; water grass, stewed or steamed with salt. We ate too many strange things; grasshoppers, rats, lizards…"

"My sister got more food, because she was a girl and younger. She tried to give it to me. But I wanted her to have it. After we ate, we walked back, and worked until 6 or 7. We ate dinner, another small bowl of porridge, and then we had a criticism meeting. After that, we slept."

"At the meetings, I was always singled out and beaten, because I was a city boy, and I could read, and speak French. A village boy used objects to beat me, but I didn’t resist. It is good I didn’t resist, because I would have been killed."

"I don't know how anyone could survive. American kids in general would die."

"When you were sick, you would tell them, but there was no medicine. Don’t be a lazy bastard, they would say, get back to work. Your illnesses were never treated."

"Pol Pot was not well-known at that time. When I was in the city, we never knew that name. We knew the name Ieng Saray, but not Pol Pot. He was like a godfather, the man behind the scenes."

"The name we heard every day was Angka (organization). When they wanted you to do something, they always said, Angka wants you to do this or that. And if you didn’t do it, you were betraying the party, Angka, not the individual."

"Angka was a faceless organization, who issued all the laws and edicts. Who were they referring to? It could be some idiot over there who made up his own rules."

In the final year of the regime, Angka began feeding on itself. Paranoia in higher echelons caused major purges, resulting in the execution of thousands of Khmer Rouge cadre.

"Hun Sen ran to Vietnam to avoid being killed." Said Matt, referring to the current Prime Minister. "Hun Sen pretended to be the savior of Cambodia. He led the Vietnamese troops into Cambodia, ending the Khmer Rouge Regime."

"I think there must have been some kind of deal there."

"Vietnamese soldiers got no pay or food from their government. They had to steal from the people. The Vietnamese soldiers randomly killed people."

"My sister knew a teacher who survived, and took us into his house. He was the mayor of the province, appointed by Hun Sen. But, when some guerillas were killed by the Vietnamese, the mayor was accused of collaboration, and he was killed. So, we lost our place to live."

His siblings went to the coast to look for work in a factory. Matt's was recruited into Hun Sen’s army, under Vietnamese control.

"They were rounding up Khmer Rouge and killing them. You think you would want revenge for what had happened. But even when I had a gun in my hand, I couldn’t kill the Khmer Rouge. I was not a murderer."

The only hint at vengeance Matt aver made was “If I had money and time I want to find out who killed my parents.”

"My younger brother was very street smart, much more than me. If I had to live in the ghetto or hustle, I would never survive. He went with the Vietnamese army, and he was happy."

"The commander liked me and trusted me not to run away. The next day, we were supposed to go on a large offensive, and I ran to Thailand. Two other boys went with me, but they turned back. Most likely, they were arrested and killed."

In a camp in Thailand, he began doing volunteer work for aid organizations. Originally, he had been planning to go back to Cambodia, join the Khmer Serey, and fight against the Vietnamese occupation.

"But working for the aid organizations opened my mind. I realized I had been living in a tiny fish bowl. And, I never wanted to live like that again."

Matt began writing random letters to people in the west, asking them to sponsor him for immigration. One day, he got a response from a judge in North Dakota.

"The judge was Jewish, a survivor of the Holocaust. So, he was very interested in helping me."

"I remember it vividly, when he picked me up at the airport. It was a completely different world. There was a blizzard when I arrived. It was the first time I ever saw snow."

One the psychological impacts of the trauma which Matt, and other refugees, experienced is that he tries to cut all of his ties with the past.

"I lost contact with the judge. He is most likely dead now, because would be very old."

Matt found it impossible to live in North Dakota. On the recommendation of some Khmer friends, he moved to Maryland, and lived in a home with several other refugees. He finished high school, graduated from a college, and then studied at George Mason University, majoring in Engineering.

Matt was on his way to coming one f the major success stories for the Khmer community, when suddenly, in his final semester of school, his years of suffering caught up with him.

"I just snapped." He said. "I quit university. My father had been a devout Buddhist, but I stopped going to temple. I broke off with all of my friends, and I didn’t want to know anyone."

Matt went from job to job, working in restaurants, doing security, and driving taxis, never getting close to anyone. Obviously desperately looking for a family he had said, "The judge was like a father to me" And, "The military commander was like a family to me." And, "The people I lived with in Maryland were like a family to me." But he broke his ties with all of them.

As we talked, I felt honored that Matt trusted me enough to open up and share his story. At the same time, I felt he probably needed to talk. And, I wondered how many Khmers must be walking around with some type of post-traumatic stress disorder, and am desperately in need of counseling, which their cultural norms would prevent them from seeking out.

At age 41, Matt is still single, with no marriage in sight. "I can’t even deal with myself. I take life too seriously. I see a lot of sadness."

"I cherish where I come from." Said Matt. "But, I have tried to distance myself from anything that reminds me of the Khmer Rouge time. I tried to watch the film, The Killing Fields, but I couldn't. I lived through it, why did I need to watch the movie?"

Right now, I can’t believe that for 20 years I had little or no contact with my people. I even lost my language. When I meet old people, I don’t remember how to communicate with them. You have to address them a certain way, according to age and class, to show respect." He shook his head.

"You speak Khmer better than me. I thought that could never happen. I was so good before."

"I used to write well. Now I struggle to write the names of my family members. If I found them I would enlist a translator to communicate with them."

He kept asking me about modern Cambodia, and would shake his head remorsefully when I told him about the lawlessness, low levels of education, joblessness and lack of hope.

"They were born in a period of time when they experienced no normalcy and no stability."

Matt had this to say about the proposed Khmer Rouge tribunals. "The trial is a travesty and a waste of time. By the time they start, these people will all be dead. And the ones who are alive show no remorse. Hun Sen hasn’t pushed for the trial, maybe because he is one of them."

"We lost too much, everything…"

"Sometimes I dream about helping the Cambodians, but I have nothing to offer. I know what it is like to be destitute and hopeless I struggle with my own conflict those people right now need so much help. It’s not a good feeling."

"I feel I failed myself. Earlier, all my friends expected me to do so well. When you lose your culture, it is hard to restore your pride. They all expected me to do well. The best student in my
group, I quit the university and ties with all my old friends."

Matt's life is a lonely one.

"At home only did homework, play chess, and read books. My parents didn’t want me to play or ride a bicycle. I never had any exposure to the real world. So, now I have no social skills. I live with a Philippine family who treat me like a son. They want me to go out and socialize, but I dot want to."

"In this country, when you meet people, they ask, what do you do for a living? I am shy. I don't want to say I am only a taxi driver. If they gave me an hour to tell my story, I could explain what I have been through."

"But, they never give you an hour.”"

"In 1975, we had burned all of our other photos so that the Khmer Rouge wouldn’t discover my father in uniform. Only one photo of my mother survived. My sister carried it, secretly, and kept it safe from 1975-1979. She gave me that picture when I left for Thailand, and I have always carried it with me, thinking my mother would protect me."

"If my parents had lived, I would have been motivated to succeed. But now, I have no reason to push myself."

"I have no family, no one to care for me."

"We think, why me? But, the same thing happened in Rwanda and Bosnia. I have to let it go. I can’t move on in my life till I let it go."

Please help: Matt would like to find his sister, Sok Pola, who he estimates would be in her late twenties, and most likely living in either Koh Kong or Sihanookville. He believes she is married and working in a garment factory. Matt was born in 1963. His Khmer name is Sok Sonang, and the family is from Tutapong, Phnom Penh, with homeland in Kampong Cham.

Antonio Graceffo is a freelance journalist and published author who spent eighteen months in Cambodia, publishing over 100 articles and writing two books about the plight of the modern Khmers. His books are available on amazon.com

Contact the author: antonio_graceffo@hotmail.com
- Asian Tribune - Copyright © 2006 www.asiantribune.com.

The victim who survived a Khmer Rouge prison

Saturday, January 28, 2006 Posted at 3:16 AM EST
From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Phnom Penh — For 12 days and 12 nights, the Khmer Rouge tortured Chum Mey with horrific brutality. They clubbed him with sticks, broke his fingers, pulled out his toenails with pliers and knocked him unconscious with electric shocks.

He was a sewing-machine repairman who could not understand why the Khmer Rouge had arrested him. He had no idea what awaited him in the anonymous-looking former school building in Phnom Penh — until he saw the blood on the floor of his cell. It was the notorious S-21 torture prison.

His interrogators ordered him to confess that he was an agent of the CIA and the KGB — even though he had never heard of either organization. To stop the torture, he confessed to everything they wanted. He narrowly escaped being sent to the killing fields, where an estimated 16,000 prisoners from S-21 were slaughtered. And then, as the Khmer Rouge retreated to the jungle, they shot and killed his wife and daughter.

Mr. Mey, one of the few survivors of S-21, has waited patiently for justice for more than 27 years. But next month, the United Nations will send officials to Cambodia to help prepare trials for the masterminds of the killing fields. The trials are likely to begin this year, with former Khmer Rouge leaders facing possible genocide charges for killing an estimated 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979.

The 75-year-old survivor still cannot quite believe that the trials will finally happen. “Is it true?” he keeps asking a visiting journalist.

“If a trial happens, I'll be happy,” he says. “But I still think it might not happen. I've been waiting a long time for this trial. They've talked about it many times, but it never seemed to happen.”

Only 14 people are believed to have survived the torture cells of S-21. Of that tiny group, almost all are now dead. Mr. Mey is one of only three who are still alive. Today, he lives a meagre existence with his six children in a small house in Phnom Penh. “Life is hard,” he says. “If I don't go to work, I don't have money to live.”

What hurts him most today is the disbelief that he hears from younger Cambodians who were born after Pol Pot's regime was toppled. In his own neighbourhood, young people are unaware of the Khmer Rouge and its reign of terror.

“We don't believe it,” they tell him. “We've never seen any Khmer Rouge. What is the Khmer Rouge?”

He doesn't want the trials as a form of vengeance. He wants a trial that will educate Cambodians about the almost indescribable reality of what happened.

“I want this for my children and grandchildren. I want to prove to them that S-21 was a real prison, not just a myth. I want this to be in school textbooks. I want to go to a trial and see and hear what happened. I want to know why the Khmer Rouge did this to me.”

At the back of his mind is a lingering fear. “I'm afraid that someone in the Khmer Rouge — maybe someone who worked at S-21 — could try to kill me to eliminate the evidence.”

By some measures, the genocide in Cambodia was the worst in human history. Never before has a regime slaughtered one-quarter of its own population. Pol Pot and his Maoist zealots proclaimed a return to “Year Zero.” Intellectuals were eliminated, religion was destroyed, currency was abolished, the country was cut off from the outside world and city dwellers were force marched into the countryside to be slave labourers in the fields, where countless numbers
died of starvation and overwork.

The trials, too, could make history. Other trials for crimes against humanity — including the current trials for war crimes in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia — have been held in foreign countries, far from the view of the survivors. The Khmer Rouge trials will be one of the first UN-backed trials to be held within the country where the genocide occurred. Victims and survivors will be able to travel to the courtroom — in a former military compound on the outskirts of Phnom Penh — to watch the proceedings and to see justice being done.

“This is extremely important,” said Alexander Hinton, a U.S. scholar who has written extensively on the Khmer Rouge. “I hope it will become a precedent. In Rwanda, people in the countryside have no clue that a trial is even taking place.”

But while the global precedents are significant, the meaning for ordinary Cambodians is much greater. Virtually everyone in Cambodia had family members killed in the Khmer Rouge period. Even 30 years later, the emotions are still raw, and many people are still searching for relatives who disappeared.

The latest journal of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which compiles testimony on Khmer Rouge atrocities, contains two pages of heart-wrenching stories from Cambodians who are still trying to find family members who disappeared.

Just last month, a 62-year-old woman from a small village made a 100-kilometre trek to Phnom Penh to visit the documentation centre. She clutched a ragged and faded photograph of her husband, who disappeared during the Khmer Rouge period after he was conscripted into the army.

The woman, an illiterate farmer, had worked as a maid for her neighbour for a week to raise the $5 that she needed for transportation to the city. She knows her husband is almost certainly dead. She merely hopes to find the date of his death, so that she knows what day to pray for him at a Buddhist temple.

“It broke my heart,” said Youk Chhang, director of the documentation centre. “She spoke in such a calm and peaceful way. She is free now, because she knows that we will do the searching for her.”

Mr. Chhang is himself a survivor of Khmer Rouge brutality. In 1977, at the age of 14, he was savagely beaten and jailed for picking vegetables from a field to feed his pregnant sister. His mother witnessed the beating, which left him bleeding from wounds by axes and knives, but she did not dare to intervene.

“To see my mother walk away while I was being tortured — I would rather have died,” he says. “I couldn't understand it until many years later. Now I know that she couldn't help me because it would have been considered a crime.”

Even after many years of negotiations and delays, there is still widespread controversy over the Khmer Rouge trials. Some human-rights groups are unhappy at the compromise agreement between Cambodia and the UN, which requires a majority of the trial judges to be Cambodian. The Cambodian justice system is notoriously weak and politically manipulated, and there are fears that the integrity of the trials could be jeopardized by the Cambodian majority.

But proponents argue that the compromise was necessary to ensure that the trials had the Cambodian government's support and would be held within Cambodia's borders, not in a foreign country.

Until recently, Khmer Rouge sympathizers were still an influential force in Cambodia. They remained an active guerrilla army until the 1990s. Even the Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is a former Khmer Rouge regimental commander. He opted to strike deals with the Khmer Rouge in the 1990s to persuade them to abandon their war against the government.

“A lot of people say that the trials will be flawed, but we have to make the most of it,” Mr. Chhang says. “A trial cannot bring back what we lost, or bring perfect justice, but it will help the survivors come to terms with it and move on. For the survivors, seeing and hearing a trial is a form of justice. Emotionally, this is very significant. We are closing a dark chapter of world history.”

This month, the former military compound near Phnom Penh was formally handed over to the UN-backed tribunal as the headquarters for the trials. The UN is now finalizing its list of judges and prosecutors, which have to be approved by the Cambodian government. Its researchers have already begun their work.

Canadians will be among those involved in the trials. A Canadian, Peter Foster, has been appointed spokesman for the UN side of the trials, and a retired Quebec Court of Appeal judge, Michael Proulx, has been short-listed as a possible judge in the pre-trial chamber that will settle any disagreements among the Cambodian and UN prosecutors and investigating judges. Canada also contributed $1.7-million toward the $56-million (U.S.) cost of the trials.

When the prosecutors begin their work, they must decide which Khmer Rouge leaders to prosecute and what charges to impose. Genocide and crimes against humanity are among the possible charges. The court proceedings are expected to begin in late 2006 and will probably continue for at least a year.

Critics had often predicted that the trials would be delayed until the elderly former Khmer Rouge leaders have peacefully died. Their skepticism seemed justified when the negotiations between the UN and Cambodia dragged on for six years, followed by two more years of financial wrangling after the agreement was reached.

“It was a time-consuming process, but now we see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sean Visoth, the chief Cambodian administrator for the trials. “Given the urgency of the issue and the old age of these people, we must have this trial as soon as possible.”

He argues that the trials, with their UN support and expertise, will help to strengthen Cambodia's justice system. But more ambitious goals are even more crucial. “We want to prevent these crimes from ever taking place again,” he says.

“We want to know the truth — why was there such killing? Our motto is ‘never again' — the same as it was after Nazi Germany. We have to send a strong message to leaders that they cannot get away with these crimes. They will be brought to justice, no matter how long it takes.”

Friday, January 27, 2006

Thirty years on, the nightmare of Pol Pot's terror haunts a widow in a Paris suburb

France faces moment of truth over events that ended embassy siege in Cambodia

Jon Henley in Paris
Friday January 27, 2006
The Guardian

The last time she saw him he was standing on the tarmac at Phnom Penh airport, waving as the ageing Air Cambodia plane carrying her, her daughter, two nephews and three suitcases to safety shuddered into the sky, avoiding by some miracle the constant barrage of Khmer Rouge shells.

In truth, she saw him once more, seven days later, on April 17 1975. But she was in France, and he was on the television. He was hurrying into the compound of the French embassy in Phnom Penh with the prime minister and other high-ranking officials from the former republic, clutching a suitcase she had left him stuffed with nearly $300,000 of her mother's cash.

He is safe, she thought. But he was not. Four days later two French gendarmes dragged Ung Boun Hor, the former speaker of the Cambodian national assembly, to the compound gates and delivered him, with six other alleged "traitors", to a platoon of waiting Khmer Rouge soldiers.

One eyewitness said he was so scared of what awaited him his legs were "quite literally shaking". After that, no one saw Ung Boun Hor again.

Sitting now in her cramped one-room flat in the Paris suburb of Nogent, Billon Ung Boun Hor, 66, relates the horrifying events of those few days three decades ago - portrayed in Roland Joffe's 1984 movie The Killing Fields - calmly enough. But the years have done nothing to temper her bitterness.

Shot on the spot

"My life stopped the day my husband was handed over," she said. "I cannot accept that France, so-called land of justice, cradle of human rights, did that. If the Khmer Rouge had stormed the embassy, shot him on the spot ... but the French knew exactly what would happen to him and they just threw him out. There's a photograph of it happening, here, in Newsweek, May 19 1975. Look." Her husband's face is a mask of terror.

Now, with her three sons and daughter established in their own homes and careers, Mrs Ung has engaged one of France's best-known lawyers, William Bourdon, to sue persons unknown (a French legal tactic to ensure the police investigation casts its net as wide as possible) for illegal confinement and acts of torture.

She does not necessarily want compensation, she says, just an acknowledgement that, in the confused early hours of Pol Pot's brutal regime, the former colonial power could have made some effort to save a handful of elected officials whose lives were in great danger and who had sought refuge and political asylum at its embassy.

"We could have done something," said one senior former member of the French community in Phnom Penh, who asked not to be named. "The compound was
vast; a few helicopters and a few legionnaires and it would all have been over. The Khmer Rouge were kids, they wouldn't have interfered. This whole episode has been hushed up in France and it makes me ashamed to be French."

Contemporary accounts by Sydney Schanberg, the New York Times correspondent on whose story The Killing Fields was based, Dith Pran, his assistant, and by the Sunday Times' Jon Swain and Newsweek photographer Al Rockoff, describe the chaos at the embassy as about 1,000 desperate Cambodians and 300 fearful westerners ran short of food and water.


According to several reports, the remaining French diplomats and nationals provoked fury by hogging the few bedrooms, standing on ceremony rather than cooperating, and dining on steak when the rest of the refugees slept outside and ate rice gruel, occasionally pork, and, finally, dogs and cats - the pets they had brought in with them.

Jean Dyrac, the vice-consul left in charge, was plainly out of his depth. The Khmer Rouge refused to recognise the embassy compound as French soil, calling it a re-groupment centre for foreigners and demanding the handover of the "war criminals and traitors" - the seven senior Cambodian officials. Otherwise the food, water and electricity would be cut off, the communist guerrillas said.

No one knows how the Khmer Rouge knew that Ung Boun Hor and his colleagues, including the king's cousin Sirik Matak, were in the embassy. Father François Ponchaud, a French priest who was in the compound, said recently that he could "only suppose they were betrayed by a Frenchman, evidently, there was a leak from one of us".

Over the years Mrs Ung has talked to many of the western survivors from the compound, almost all of whom were brought out in two bus convoys to Bangkok. Few of the Cambodians who sought refuge in the embassy, tainted by their obvious ties to Europe, survived: up to 30% of the population died over the following few years. Mrs Ung lost, at least, 100 members of her family.

She has pieced together a picture of what she thinks happened; of how, supposedly out of concern for the safety of everyone in the compound, Paris ordered Mr Dyrac to hand over the men on the Khmer Rouge's wanted list.


She has seen the classified files containing the 25 or so telegrams between the embassy and the foreign ministry, the contents of which, she says, "confirm absolutely" that she was right to bring her case. She even knows the names of the five French nationals who shared the $300,000 of her family's money put in her husband's suitcase.

Bernard Hamel, who reported from Phnom Penh for Reuters until a few days before the Khmer Rouge entered the city, interviewed embassy survivors as they got off the buses in Bangkok, and has written three books on the period, told the Guardian it was "perfectly clear" from what the fleeing westerners said - and what they did not say - that something "shocking and appalling" had happened in the compound.

"There can be no doubt the 'super-traitors' handed over were executed, probably the same day. 'Ordinary' Cambodians were forced to join the mass exodus to the fields - it is harder to know their fate, though you can make a good guess," Mr Hamel said. "I spent 12 years trying to find out what happened to my Cambodian assistant, only to discover, in 1987, that he and his family were massacred in September 1975."

Mrs Ung, who was born into one of Cambodia's wealthiest families, enjoyed a gilded childhood, went to school in France and lived the first 30 years of her life in great luxury (her husband, 13 years her senior, was a minister, an ambassador and MP before he became speaker). She landed in Paris in 1975 with $20,000 and some jewellery. Her parents and three sons had fled there in 1973, when the nature of the Khmer Rouge threat became plain.

For 25 years she supported her family, working as a bank clerk. Every night still, she burns incense in front of her husband's photo and tells him about her day. "The foreign ministry has never wanted to have anything to do with me, not even to receive me. For France, it's like I and my husband have never existed. It can no longer behave like that."

Who exactly, in Paris, took the decision to surrender Ung Boun Hor and his colleagues, and why? Was it really the only option? The League of Human Rights is backing Mrs Ung's case, which some experts believe could, when it comes to court, rapidly escalate into a veritable affaire d'etat.


Part of French-ruled Indochina and occupied by the Japanese in the second world war, Cambodia gained full independence in 1953. Its ruler, Norodom Sihanouk, was deposed in 1970 and the country became the Khmer Republic - against which the Communist Khmer Rouge waged a brutal five-year civil war that ended with the capture of Phnom Penh in 1975. Pol Pot became prime minister and, under massive collectivisation, forced urban residents back to the countryside. Maybe three million of the eight million-strong population died, through forced labour and starvation, or were massacred - a terror later brought to public attention by Roland Joffé's acclaimed 1984 film The Killing Fields. In 1978 invading Vietnamese troops overthrew the regime. The Khmer Rouge continued fighting a sporadic guerilla war until the late 1990s.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Genocide, justice and fear

January 25, 2006

At a former military complex outside the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh last week, military authorities handed over a group of new buildings to a United Nations-Cambodian organization. The buildings will serve as a center for investigating and ultimately trying some of the surviving former leaders of the genocidal Khmer Rouge - 27 years after that radical Communist party fell from power.

This process of justice, which is finally supposed to begin next month and may take three years, has been in the making for a decade, and there is no certainty that it will proceed as planned. But from 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge killed at least 1.4 million Cambodians, and it is, of course, far better for justice to arrive at these killing fields decades late than never.

At the same time, international eagerness for these trials has led to questionable compromises, including having more Cambodian judges than international ones on the tribunals (contrary to use of only international judges in other such trials elsewhere). The Cambodian judiciary is widely considered corrupt - and bent to the will of the country's increasingly authoritarian leader of more than two decades, Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge leader.

In the end, the climate of fear in Cambodia under Hun Sen may prove to be the biggest problem for the effort to bring the Khmer Rouge to justice. The United States has not contributed to the more than $50 million raised to fund the trials because of Hun Sen's continuing human rights abuses. Over the last several months, a pronounced crackdown by his government produced arrests of almost a dozen Cambodian activists, journalists and politicians.

But - however right in principle - the U.S. stance could lead to a missed opportunity to exert influence on the Khmer Rouge trials. Yesterday, for example, Hun Sen said he would drop criminal defamation lawsuits against five human-rights activists - a move attributed in part to recent U.S. pressure.

Many Cambodians are too young to have first-hand knowledge of the heinous atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. But the nation, with international help, has meticulously documented and openly discussed its genocidal history for years now. Greater U.S. involvement in these trials would be preferable, but, in any case, it is way past time for justice to arrive.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Free speech gains voice in Cambodia's villages

By Seth Mydans International Herald Tribune

PHNOM PENH This has been the scene, more than 100 times, in every district of the country: a little eruption of free speech at the edge of the rice fields, and the government doesn't like it.

Leaving their crops and animals behind, 800 of Cambodia's poorest people gathered the other day in the shade of a blue tarpaulin in a village south of the capital and poured out a torrent of complaints and demands.

The price of fuel, the poor education system, problems with health care, bribery at every turn - these grievances have found a new outlet in independent forums like this one that challenge the government's control of information.

And the subject that dominated all others in the commune of Rokar Khnong was a passionate demand by the villagers for free speech and democratic rights.

One man wept as he stood at the microphone; one shouted, one raised a cheer for democracy. One woman with the cropped white hair of the elderly recited a poem in which she promised to die so that her country could live.

"I love democracy," declared a farmer. "I stopped work on my harvest so I could come here and speak at a democratic forum. We want to exercise our right to free speech."

Even the organizers were taken aback by the turnout and the assertiveness of the villagers. A crackdown on free speech is under way in Cambodia and in recent months the government has arrested several human rights advocates.

Among them was Kem Sokha, who founded these forums three years ago. They have had a growing impact through taped radio broadcasts, which can last for four hours or more, and independent radio stations are among the targets of the crackdown.

This month, under international pressure, Prime Minister Hun Sen released Kem Sokha and three other activists on bail and he now says he will drop charges against them.

But other activists and political figures remain in jail and the threat of arrest for libel hangs over those who speak out.

The outrage in Rokar Khnong suggests that the government will not have it easy if it tries to crush the democratic ideas that were introduced by the United Nations in the early 1990s. The concepts of human rights and free expression appear to have taken root, and if Kem Sokha's forums are an indicator, the fields and villages of Cambodia are restless with discontent.

"I have a question for the government," said an old woman wearing a checkered head cloth. "You talk about democracy, but how much right do the people of Cambodia have to speak out? If we speak out, will we be arrested like Kem Sokha?"

Another woman seized the microphone. "I have lived through many wars and I only have two relatives left alive," she said. "I am old now and I want to see democracy before I die."

Another followed. "I don't know how to speak," she said. "But I just want to send a message to Hun Sen: Stop sending people to jail for small crimes. You are abusing your power."

Further, she said, nobody can believe anything the government says. Referring to the government's official spokesman, she used a local expression: "You ask him cow and he answers buffalo."

Several speakers were angry enough to refer to the torments of the Khmer Rouge years, when 1.7 million people were executed or died of starvation, disease or overwork between 1975 and 1979.

"In the Khmer Rouge time my father was served soup and they asked him if it tasted good," one man said. "'Tell the truth,' they said. And so he said it did not taste good, and they killed him. Now when we speak the truth are we going to be jailed? Is Cambodia going back to the Communists again?"

Another man, a former schoolteacher, noted that Kem Sokha had been arrested simply for political slogans painted on a banner. "What about the Khmer Rouge who killed millions of Cambodians 27 years ago?" he said. "Why haven't they been put on trial?"

After years of delay, preparations for a trial have begun, though any proceedings are still many months away. Human rights advocates say the impunity of the Khmer Rouge - for current political reasons - has contributed to a sense of injustice in Cambodia.

As with other forums, local leaders were invited to join a panel in front of the speakers, and a deputy village chief and deputy district police chief were present at Rokar Khnong.

Ou Virak, a member of Kem Sokha's organization, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, was moderating in his absence, and he invited them to speak. "In a democratic forum, we want to hear opposing ideas, not just the people who support the forum," he said.

Ou Virak said it was beginning to be more difficult to organize these forums because of new fears of retribution in the villages. As the day's meeting dispersed, he thanked the local officials for allowing it to be held.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

My Family and the Magic Monk under the Khmer Rouge

Neou Kim Ann

In 1986-1987 I saw a monk whose face was similar to that of Chaing Chaem. My memory of him encouraged me to look for Chaing Chaem’s photographs. I asked my cousin, Pen An, for help in looking for them. Pen An got this picture from two old women who were Buddhist followers and respected Monk Chaem when he was alive. It was a half-body picture of him in saffron robes.

I managed to find another photo taken in 1968-1969 of my aunt Et (on the right), grandmother Chiro (second from the right), my cousin Voek (third from the right). This picture was given to me by my cousin Sieng. Actually I didn’t know how they kept the photos or how they got them. I had searched for them in 1986 and 1987, and when these pictures were found, it gave me hope that I might find one of my father as well. But I could not. Then I realized that none of his photographs were left because they showed him in the uniform of a volunteer soldier in the Sangkum Reas Niyum.

The Magic Monk

Chaing Chaem headed the Tet Mountain monastery in Bos Khnaor village, Bos Khnaor subdistrict, Chamkar Leu district, Kampong Cham province. He was famous for his black magic. My grandmother Voek was a Buddhist who believed in his magical powers. When I was young, she took me to pay respect to this monk and asked him to change my birth name, which was Neou Kim Sieng. When we were about six or seven meters from the monk, he shouted out “Call him Kim Ann, and he will no longer get sick.” One time while we were preparing the food, I had the chance to witness a miracle he created. From the dining hall, he pointed toward the rice fields and shouted, “Come up, please.” When I looked at where he was pointing, I saw many nuns walking in the fields. But when I looked again there was no one. This made me believe in his magical powers.

A year after the 1970 coup d’état, monk Chaem fled the village. I don’t know why, but I knew he had a kinship with the royal family and was a supporter of King Sihanouk. After the Khmer Rouge’s victory, I saw him in a yellow robe returning to Bos Khnaor village. Several days after his return, the village chief sent him to the security office at Prakk Sisaha Hill about one kilometer from my house. The villagers were very happy about his presence and came to see. him. While he was held there, the Khmer Rouge did not allow me to give him food. Two weeks later, the Khmer Rouge brought him to be executed. Before he died, they undermined his powers by removing all of his magical hip laces and killed him at 6:30 in the evening. Some villagers did not believe he was killed, and in 1986-1987 I heard them say there was a monk who looked really like Chaem. Many concluded that he hadn’t died; they said he was ordained again, but dared not stay in his home village. Every time I think about my grandparents, I miss him too.

My Grandmother and Her Sister

My grandmother’s name was Voek. She had two sons: my uncle Neou Kao and my father. She lived with my family until the Khmer Rouge took control of the country in 1975. She became a Buddhist nun after the death of her husband; at that time, my father was just four years old. Under Democratic Kampuchea, she lived with my father in Samaky village, Bos Knaor subdistrict, Kampong Cham province. The Khmer Rouge assigned her to look after small kids, weave mats, and polish rice. Finally, she became ill and died of malnutrition.

My grandmother’s sister Chy Ro was also a widow. She has a son named Et who planted and sold vegetables. In 1975 his family was evacuated from Kampong Cham to Kampong Thmar subdistrict in Kampong Thom province. He had sent my father a letter asking him if he could come back to my father’s birth village, but my father did not agree because my family was a target of the Khmer Rouge. Later I learned that all of Chy Ro’s family members who were evacuated to Kampong Thmar died there.

My Family and the Evacuation

Before the 1975 evacuation my family lived in Samaky village, Bos Khnaor subdistrict, Chamkar Leu district, Kampong Cham province. My father’s name was Neou Try; my mother’s name was Siek Kim Hun. My father used to be a volunteer soldier in the Sihanouk regime. These soldiers were armed and trained to protect local communities. He also worked at the house of my aunt Ney Huoy, one of the richest families in Bos Khnaor village. After the 1970 coup d’état, my aunt and another uncle, who were merchants buying farm produce in Kampong Cham province, moved to Phnom Penh .

In the same year, my father led a group of rioters to demonstrate against the coup, which removed King Sihanouk from power. When the procession reached Prek Kdam, the Lon Nol soldiers shot off one of his ears. After that, the Lon Nol soldiers chased him. He fled and hid in the forest, and then served in the liberation army for a short period of time. I brought some medicine and rice for him when he was hiding in the jungle. When the situation calmed down, he returned to the village.

In 1971 my family was evacuated by the Khmer Rouge army to the village of Kean Khlaing ; it was in the liberated zone about 40 kilometers east of Bos Khnaor village. When my family returned to Bos Khnaor, our house had been burnt down. In 1972 my family was again evacuated to Speu village, Chamkar Leu district for two years. In 1974 we returned to our home village. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge evacuated us to Samaky village, Bos Khnaor subdistrict, Chamkar Leu district; we lived there until 1979.

In 1976 when I was sixteen years old, Angkar put me into child’s mobile work brigade in Lvea Leu. My father was assigned to raise pigs. His eyes were impaired and he had to work until night. In the dry season, he fell into a waterless well about 4 meters deep, and fell sick. <>

In dry season of 1977 there was no rain and many cows died. Angkar allowed the villagers to eat them. My sister did not eat beef, only ate rice with salt. I felt so much pity for her that I cut a fruitless papaya tree to make chhai peou (a preserved salty food) for her. Angkar nevertheless accused me of destroying its papaya tree. Pornm, the chief of my unit, lied to me, saying I should go to the Samaky village office, where the village chief Kien would have me bring food to the work site. He told me to hurry as the chief was waiting. When I arrived, Kien slapped my face and pulled my hair. Then he called Chan, a militiaman, to tie my hands behind my back and ordered him to bring me to the bamboo forest east of the village. I was horrified when I heard that. Although the militiaman hit me hard, I didn’t feel pain because my mind was occupied with fright. The bamboo forest was a killing field. When I refused to go, the militiaman violently pulled me up. “Brother Comrade, I cut the papaya tree because it has not borne fruit for two years and it will not bear any fruit again. If you don’t believe me, please go and see it,” I pleaded. The chief village whispered something to the militiaman, who then loosened my binds a little, and then escorted me to the village security office where a prison guard put me in chains. The militiaman told the guard to watch me so I did not escape. When I saw the guard’s face, I realized that we knew each other. His name was Chakk. After he interrogated me, he removed my shackles and brought me to a place where I was to collect manure to make fertilizers. I had to collect 12 buckets a day. I worked hard in order to gain Angkar’s trust. After a month, Angkar reduced my punishment and sent me to work at the subdistrict office of the special unit for Bos Khnaor village. There, I was assigned to thresh rice, clear forests, excavate hills, etc. One night while I was threshing rice, I saw a Land Rover come out of the rubber plantation and head to a village about 700 meters from where I stood. There was a deep well in that village. The next day, I followed the car’s tracks with Mauv (who now heads Sreh Chak school), who worked in the mobile brigade with me. We came to a well and I felt that something was under my shoes. I bent down and found coagulating blood on the dead leaves. I abruptly looked into the well and saw many corpses. I was terribly scared and I tried to build myself in Angkar’s eyes with hard work. Seeing that I was a clever child, Angkar wanted to place me in a special unit under a ministry. However, they told me that the name Neou Kim Ann was a Vietnamese name and I was not permitted to join the special unit. This made me even more frightened. Then Angkar sent me to be trained on agricultural techniques at Stung Kdei dam, where there was an agriculture experiment station. I stayed there until the Vietnamese army attacked Cambodia at the end of 1978.

The Vietnamese army had not yet liberated my region completely, so I tried to hide from the Khmer Rouge. It was only when the Vietnamese troops liberated the whole country that I was able to come back to the village and live with my family.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Former Cambodian Leaders to Face Trial

Published: January 23, 2006

KANTORK, Cambodia - Twenty-seven years after the Khmer Rouge leadership was driven from power, some of its top figures may soon be put on trial for causing the deaths of nearly one-fourth of the Cambodian population.

Under an agreement between the United Nations and the government here, a special authority is preparing a courtroom and hiring staff and technical experts. In February, the head of a United Nations administrative team is expected to arrive and set up shop. Both Cambodia and the United Nations are selecting judges and prosecutors for an international tribunal.

Diplomats and analysts who have been skeptical during nearly a decade of negotiations and delays now expect to see some measure of judicial accounting for the 1.7 million people who lost their lives from 1975 to 1979.

"From a technical point of view, we are almost there," said Craig Etcheson, an expert on the Khmer Rouge who has been studying evidence that will be used at the trial. "I guess it's what you might call a rolling start."

At a military headquarters here on the southwestern outskirts of Phnom Penh, not far from a killing field where thousands of bodies were buried, a large, empty building filled with dust and sunlight is being furnished as a courthouse.

There are still, as always, possibilities for delay, and nobody is rushing to take the plastic slipcovers off the 540 blue chairs in the hearing room. At one point, for example, an infestation of termites in the roof of the National Assembly building caused months of delay in the approval of a trial format.

But most of the $56.3 million budget has now been secured and sometime soon the clock is expected to start ticking on a three-stage time frame: a year for investigations, a year for the trial and a year for appeals.

The tribunal will target a small pool of senior figures and not seek to indict the many thousands of people involved in carrying out the Khmer Rouge's policies of forced hardships and summary executions.

The top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998. A half dozen of his subordinates are most often mentioned as likely defendants; two of them are in custody and the others are living freely among Khmer Rouge survivors.

Although Cambodia's current leadership includes a number of former middle-ranking Khmer Rouge officials, experts say there is no reason to believe that Prime Minister Hun Sen was culpable.

"We have investigated that back and forth and up and down, and there's just no evidence that he was involved in any prosecutable crimes during the period of jurisdiction for the tribunal," said Mr. Etcheson. "He looks clean."

Experts say the evidence against the likely defendants is substantial, though mostly indirect.

A private organization, the Documentation Center of Cambodia, has compiled a trove of tens of thousands of documents, interviewed hundreds of witnesses and identified thousands of mass graves.

The center has set aside rooms in its headquarters for prosecutors and defense lawyers to study its archives and is putting together a rapid-response team to provide any requested materials.

"We are ready," said the center's director, Youk Chhang.

Sean Visoth, the tribunal's Cambodian coordinator, said that at its peak it would employ a staff of 200 Cambodians and 100 foreigners designated by the United Nations.

Under the mixed structure of the tribunal, his deputy will be a representative of the United Nations, Michelle Lee, who was due to arrive here in February.

Mr. Visoth, who survived the Khmer Rouge years doing hard labor, said the trial has three goals: to offer justice to the victims and survivors, to prevent similar atrocities in the future and to give the younger generation a clear picture of what happened.

Interviews and polls in recent years have shown that most people are eager for a trial, although, according to David Chandler, a leading authority on Cambodia history, "There is no real concept of accountability in Cambodia."

In interviews with rural people, the notion of justice often seems to be equated with revenge, and a proverb is sometimes cited: "Do not answer hatred with hatred."

In a village near here, a woman making rice cakes by the side of the road, Phoung Vuthy, 53, laughed when she heard those words.

"Don't tell me that stuff," she said. "I hate them. I lost my husband and never had a chance to have children. I want to see them punished."

Her sister, Phoung Im, who said she was about 71, said: "We want to see a trial now. When will the Khmer Rouge be put on trial? I heard there will be a trial. When? When?"

But even now, as the process gets under way, it remains controversial among advocates of justice and human rights. The years of wrangling between the United Nations and the Cambodian government has produced an awkward hybrid format that raises questions about the quality of justice on offer.

Unlike the United Nations tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, this one will include local judges and prosecutors who, critics say, are ill trained and subject to political manipulation.

Under a complicated "supermajority" formula, the Cambodian officials will be in the majority but their international counterparts will have veto power over any disputed decisions.

A recent wave of convictions of Mr. Hun Sen's political opponents on libel and related charges has highlighted the role of the courts in Cambodia as a political arm of the prime minister.

"Clearly the way the judiciary is being used as an instrument against critics now is a real problem," said Brad Adams, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch, the New York-based monitoring group. "It shows the problems for the trials and the problem for the United Nations to be mixed up with these people."

There is no real answer to the question of whether to proceed with a flawed formula, experts say. Only the outcome will show whether the process did more good than harm in its handling of one of the great atrocities of the last century.

"Some people want a perfect trial," said Youk Chhang of the Documentation Center on a recent visit to the building where the aging Khmer Rouge leaders may be made to answer for their actions.

"But this is what we have, and let's make the best of it," he said. "Sometimes you have to be optimistic for a change."

Yale Tries To Salvage Historic Khmer Newspapers

The Cambodia Daily
Monday, January 23, 2006

US librarians at Yale University Library sent the most complete known collection of late 1980s and early 1990s Cambodian newspapers for freeze-drying in an attempt to sal¬vage them from water damage caused when a burst pipe triggered the sprinkler system.

Approximately 3,000 titles from the library's Southeast Asia collection got wet when heat from the burst steam pipe triggered the fire prevention sprinkler system Jan 7, according to a Yale press release.

The damaged papers, which in¬clude editions of Kampuchea news¬paper from 1986 to 1992 and approximately 58 titles from the Untac period anti the years immediately following, are currently at a freeze drying facility in Chicago, Illinois, said Rich Richie, South mid Southeast Asia Collections Curator at the library.

Only the Cambodian newspaper collection-not yet microfilmed-is considered irreplaceable, Richie wrote in an e-mail last week.

"The basic process involves flash freezing the wet library material and then drawing off the ice crystals with a strong vacuum, without lelting the material thaw," Richie wrote.

"The procedure is repeated until all tine water is drawn off while the material is in a frozen state. We expect the process to take six to eight weeks."

Documentation Center of Cam¬bodia Director Youk Chhang said he believes that most if not all of Yale's damaged collection would likely be available at the Cambodian National Archive or National Library.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, who was editor of the newspaper Kampuchea in the 1980s, said that his paper was kept in the National Archives, but he was too busy to comment further Sunday.

Youk Clilutlg added that he was relieved to hear that Yale's Cambodian Genocide Program records were not damaged. That collection includes microfilm of most of DC-Cam's archives.
Searching for the Truth.

Should we use the term “Khmer Rouge?”

Searching for the Truth, English Edition, Fourth Quarterly 2005

Magazine of the Documentation Center of Cambodia


(1) When do we use the term "tribunal," and when do we refer to "trials," when discussing accountability for the crimes of democratic Kampuchea ? <>
<>It is important to distinguish between these two terms. The tribunal is an institution; it is a special court that is being created within the Cambodian legal system. Its official name is the “Extraordinary Chambers” and it includes two parts—a trial chamber that will hear criminal cases and an appeals chamber that will have the power to review the trial court’s decisions. The Extraordinary Chambers are not a normal criminal court. They are being established for the specific purpose of putting certain former officials on trial for abuses they allegedly committed in Democratic Kampuchea (DK) between April 17, 1975 and January 6, 1979.

While the “tribunal” is an institution, criminal trials refer to particular legal processes to decide whether an accused individual is innocent or guilty. Several trials of former DK officials are likely to occur in the tribunal. Scholars and journalists often refer to the upcoming “Khmer Rouge trials,” but it would be more precise to call these “trials before the Extraordinary Chambers.” The Extraordinary Chambers will not necessarily be the only court to hear cases against former members of the Khmer Rouge organization. For example, former Khmers Rouges could be put on trial in a foreign country or in a normal Cambodian criminal court. These would also be “Khmer Rouge trials” but would not necessarily follow the same rules and procedures as trials held in the Extraordinary Chambers.

(2) Should we use the term “Khmer Rouge?”

<>The term Khmer Rouge can be useful as a shorthand way to describe DK officials and cadres, members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), and other Cambodians who professed loyalty to Pol Pot and other former DK leaders during the period after 1979. From a scholarly or legal perspective, however, it is more accurate to refer to individuals specifically as officials or cadres of the DK regime, members of the CPK, or supporters of particular rebel factions after 1979. The Extraordinary Chambers will only hear cases for crimes committed by former DK officials. Using the term Khmer Rouge Tribunal is therefore somewhat misleading. That term implies that the tribunal’s jurisdiction extends to a broad range of individuals once affiliated with the Khmer Rouge organization. In fact, the tribunal will only be able to try a small number of “Khmers Rouges” who occupied influential official posts in Democratic Kampuchea.