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Cambodian Army’s dossier of shame

7 Jan

Army’s dossier of shame

The state sponsored violence in Cambodia in recent days has a long and predictable history that made the current events inevitable.

“Villagers feel totally helpless as they see no recourse against official arbitrary violence and abuses. Deprived of any means to seek justice, even when their children are taken away and being murdered, they swallow their anger and sadness, bow to the powers that be, accept with resignation their fate and withdraw in silence, knowing after long years of oppressive experience that words can kill.”— Confidential UN Center for Human Rights report

Fri, 12 August 1994

S ENIOR Cambodian military officials have been exposed as controlling a systematic campaign of criminal extortion, murder, and routine gross human rights violations terrorizing Battambang province, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Post.

Confidential investigations by government, United Nations and human rights organizations have revealed senior Cambodian military personnel – including the commanding officers of elite secret military intelligence units – control criminal rackets responsible for:

  • Systematically torturing and executing suspected political opponents
  • Running a highly organized extortion and murder racket.
  • Abducting, robbing, and executing traders
  • Controling gambling and prostitution rings
  • Recruiting known criminals to engage in organized armed robbery for the profit of military officers
  • Demanded “protection fees” from provincial fisherman and peasants in order to work the rivers and avoid military conscription

The leaders of the military intelligence organization of the Fifth Military Region and another intelligence unit – known as S-91 – reporting directly to the Ministry of National Defense in Phnom Penh – are responsible for at least 53 summary extra-judicial killings, according to interviews and documents obtained by the Post. Investigators say the real figure is probably much higher.

Some of the victims were mutilated and then body parts cooked and eaten by their military captors, according to eyewitness accounts. One was blinded and had his limbs blown off when forced to clear minefields while held in secret prisons. Others were simply executed after being held hostage in exchange for ransom from relatives. Some victims were repeatedly raped and others were subjected to electric shock under interrogation. Included in those abducted were monks, nuns, and children. None of those seized by the military were ever formally charged with a crime.

But despite damning documentation of a reign of military terror that has gone unchecked for years in Battambang province, the Prime Ministers’ office released a report on July 22 denying that any of these activities had taken place, and has so far done little to stop the institutional abuses. Rather, the senior military officers directly implicated in these gross human rights violations have been promoted to higher ranks and continue to control the military intelligence operations in the key northwestern provinces.

The decision of the government to deny military terrorism exists in the face of overwhelming evidence could prevent some Western countries from providing hoped for military aid, according to diplomats. The government is actively seeking foreign assistance for the Cambodian military, and the United States, France and Australia have said that they are considering extending military assistance contingent on key reforms within the armed forces.

At least 35 people have been documented as executed in one secret military detention facility, known as Cheu Kmao, since August 1993, according to investigations by the UN Center for Human Rights and other human rights groups. Many of the findings were confirmed by Amnesty International and by a confidential investigation by the Military Prosecutors’ Office.

The same military units and leaders were involved in additional murders of political opposition party workers during the UN sponsored election campaign in 1992 and 1993, according to separate confidential United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia documents also obtained by the Post.

As well, investigations have proven the ring’s responsibility for a series of other military-ordered killings of suspected petty criminals, murders of their own agents who had fallen from favor, random killings of civilians targeted for robbery by the military units, and murders of others who were involved in personal disputes with operatives of S-91.

As well, these units are known to have created a criminal Mafia controlling much of the banditry, prostitution, and gambling in the province, according to investigators.

In addition to the 35 executions by S-91and the Special Intelligence Battalion between July and December 1993, at least 18 additional people have been confirmed killed by these units prior to August 1993, according to confidential investigations by Untac obtained by the Post.

The criminal network, directly controlled by the highest regional military authorities, was first discovered by Untac in mid 1992. On Aug 23, 1992, Untac forces entered a secret detention center in Battambang town they said was being used by the Fifth Military Region for torture and summary execution.

But despite the Untac operation to close the detention center and “repeated pledges made by provincial and military authorities” an Untac report written one year later admitted that “S-91 once again uses the same building for interrogation and torture, continues to have the same leadership, and continues to conduct illegal activities including abduction, torture, and summary killing.”

And, despite further protests to the government and military authorities, the torture and killings continued. Between July and December 1993 – at least 35 more executions were cited by the UN Center for Human Rights.

According to a report by the UN Center for Human Rights dated May 10, 1994, because the UN was in the process of pulling out of Cambodia in late 1993 “no action was taken against those responsible. As a result these activities, including abduction, temporary detention and summary executions continued unabated.”

The report, based on a several-month investigation, stated the UN has over a two year period “investigated and documented a series of murders and other criminal activities attributed to a military intelligence unit designated S-91. The investigation established beyond a reasonable doubt that several of the highest military intelligence officers in the province, including the leadership of the agency, were directly responsible for these murders.”

Among the senior military officers directly implicated in the political and military violence are:

  • Gen Toat Theuan, chief of staff of the Fifth Military Region, which comprises Battambang, Pursat and Banteay Meanchey;
  • Gen Toan Saveth, head of the Ministry of National Defence Intelligence Bureau responsible for three western provinces;
  • Gen Phal Prunh, deputy to Toan Saveth and head of S-91 Military Intelligence in Battambang;
  • Col Youn Youm, head of the fifth military region Special Intelligence Battalion (and responsible for Cheu Kmao secret detention camp)
  • Other named officers who ran secret prisons under the command of the military intelligence units.

According to the report by the UN Center for Human Rights distributed to senior members of the Cambodian government by the UN , “these individuals have been repeatedly implicated by corroborating first-hand sources, thus establishing their direct responsibility in these illegal detentions and murders beyond a reasonable doubt. There are also reasons to believe that the highest political, military, and police authorities in Battamabang province are fully aware of these activities but have so far taken no serious step to make them stop or take sanctions against those responsible.”

The UN Center for Human Rights report stated that the evidence gathered was probably only a portion of the real number of political and criminal murders and was “nothing but yet another discovered island in the archipelago of criminal activities carried out by these soldiers in Battambang province”

The report said that “both greed and political motivations inspire these activities” and that military personnel are “making use of wide and uncontrolled powers they enjoy in the province to arrest, detain, interrogate, torture and execute to carry out, concurrently to their military intelligence work, more lucrative activities.

“Suspected or real Khmer Rouge are robbed and executed, and the accusation of ‘Khmer Rouge’ justifies the elimination of well-off traders and merchants … these activities appear to be just another example of abuse of power by military personnel, and illustrate the virtual absence of control of and accountability by military personnel.”

Several eyewitness and other sources confirmed that military personnel ate parts of the bodies of executed prisoners as a frequent practice. One prisoner said within days of his arrival at the prison of Cheu Khmao he was forced, while his hands were tied behind his back, to drink a rice wine in which “several dozen human gall bladders were macerating”.

Other reports, as cited by the UN Center for Human Rights, had “executors in Cheu Khmao ripping open the abdomen of their victims to extract their liver and bile. The livers of the victims were then subsequently fried or grilled and eaten by the soldiers.”

Traditional Cambodian belief has that eating the liver of your enemy gives one strength and ferocity on the battlefield, and the practice has been known to occur by soldiers on all sides in Cambodia’s recent wars.

Cheu Kmao, is a secret detention facility controlled by the Special Intelligence Branch of the Fifth Military Region, and located 35 km northeast of Battambang town along the Sanke river.

Its chief, Col Youn Youm, still has an outstanding arrest warrant from UNTAC, when he was known to have directed the Feb 1, 1993 disappearance and presumed murder of four Funcinpec party workers in the run up to elections.

The S-91 unit was formed after 1979 by the Vietnamese occupation forces – the unit was then called T-6 – to go after political opponents and returnees from the Thai refugee camps, but has since “expanded their operation”, in the words of one investigator.

In 1990 it changed its name to S-91 as it moved from direct Vietnamese control to Cambodian authority under the command of then Lt-Col – now Gen – Tuon Saveth.

According to Untac investigations, “at least until late 1992, reports were allegedly made by Toan Saveth to the Vietnamese consulate in Battambang.”

According to several former guards at the secret prison, in late 1992 Gen Saveth first suspended then reorganized S-91 operations in response to Untac’s actions against it. On “Sept 18 1992 Tuon Saveth chaired a meeting of personnel to re-establish the unit. According to different ex-guards, the plan involved gathering robbers who had been released from prison and using them to kill or to arrest other robbers, with the aim of extracting money,” an Untac report said.

In another report citing ex-guards as sources, S-91 plotted to arrest people to extort money. The guards said that detainees could be “release[d], in exchange for bribes to Toan Saveth, or [Saveth would order the] killing of those detained.”

Toan Saveth’s alleged campaign of lawlessness appears to have temporarily come to a halt last month for reasons seperate from these charges.

According to government reports, Gen Saveth was arrested on July 15 after a confrontation with police. That day, a routine police checkpoint looking for illegal weapons attempted to stop his car in Maung district, Battambang. Saveth refused to stop on request, stopped his car 70 meters ahead, and the occupants got out of the car and opened fire on the police outpost with rifles, grenades and automatic weapons. Four police officers were gravely wounded. Gen Saveth was later arrested and is said to be under detention in Phnom Penh.

Battambang province saw more political violence against opposition parties campaigning against the CPP during the run up to UN elections than any other province except Kompong Cham. Most of the attacks, often using grenades and other weaponry on party offices in districts at night, went unsolved because of lack of witnesses.

Despite scores of politically motivated attacks, resulting in numerous deaths and injuries of opposition party workers, Funcinpec decisively won the election in Battambang. Nevertheless, most of the exact CPP political and military leadership remain in full control of provincial operations.

UN investigations also revealed that in August 1992, S-91 chief Gen Toan Saveth ordered the execution of three soldiers accused of working with former resistance factions. The three men were being held in another secret S-91-controlled prison in Battambang.

According to the Untac report “this order came shortly after Toan Saveth learned that Untac was going to enter the prison.” According to UN investigators, when Untac informed Toan Saveth that they were about to enter the secret detention facility, per the provisions of the Paris Peace Accords, he ordered the prisoners removed and executed only hours before Untac officials arrived on the scene.

But many of the activities of the military intelligence operatives appear motivated by greed or personal revenge. One documented case in April 1993 had a government soldier murdered and tortured by S-91 personnel “after he had been playing cards with [and had won considerable money from]” S-91 soldiers at the house of Toat Theuan, chief of staff of the Fifth Military Region.

Other activities of the Battambang military “include continued abduction on markets of merchants and traders who are then held hostage until their families offer sufficient rewards” and “the systematic illegal taxation … of traders and fisherman”.

“Compulsory ‘protection fees’ over fishing concessions against supposed Khmer Rouge threats are also systematically extracted from local fishing communities by military intelligence soldiers. Reluctant fisherman are said to have their boat seized and have been accused of ‘trading with the Khmer Rouge’ to compel them to pay … local villagers are left with no alternative if they want to continue to exert their trade and make a living in the area.”

But despite the documentation of these gross human rights abuses and criminal activity, the government investigation ordered by the Prime Ministers’ office has concluded that there is no evidence that these charges are true or that elements of the military are abusing their authority.

“Regarding news of the killing in one place of 35 people after being moved there from S-91 there are no witnesses or evidence testifying to the truth of this,” according to the July 22 report of the Special Commission to Investigate Secret Detention Centers of the Army in Battambang Province submitted to the Prime Ministers’ office .

The report further denied the existence of Cheu Kmao and other secret detention and torture facilities. The committee concluded that the S-91 center, where numerous eyewitnesses and victims have reported detention and torture “have no characteristics indicating they are secret detention sites …. In actual fact, these places are the offices of the Second Bureau of the General Staff in Battambang province.”

The committee report, considered the final government investigation, “is convinced that “Cheu Kmao” area cannot possibly be a secret detention center.”

But in another government investigation, conducted by the Military Prosecutors office dated July 11, and obtained by the Post, the military investigators contradicted the public government report and confirmed S-91’s involvement in executions and abductions, including the practice of cannibalism against recently executed prisoners.

In addition the report confirmed “over 60 victims detained in that camp of Cheu Kmao..” The Military Prosecutor “request[ed] HE the Minister of Defence to issue the order … to control and destroy immediately these two secret camps.”

The Military Prosecutors report further stated “the detention camp at S-91 is under the control of Phal Prunh, who is a Lt Gen of S-91 who answers to the Second Bureau [of Military Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence].”

According to the UN Center for Human Rights report, Gen Phal Prunh “has been repeatedly implicated, including from victims of extortion, relatives of victims of execution, as well as military personnel, as one of the top three military officers in the province masterminding and directly running these criminal activities … his name is well known in Battambang city and is associated to fear, brutality, ruthlessness, and mercilessness.”

According to other Untac documents “Phal Prunh has been implicated in a series of murders” from at least July 1992.

Gen Prunh, who was only a lieutenant when UN investigators first informed government authorities of his suspected involvement in killings, is listed as in charge of the “investigation and killing section” of S-91.

The S-91 secret detention center in Battambang city is said to be under his direct command. He is missing both forearms and one eye and is believed to be approximately 50 years old.

According to testimony of S-91 ex-guards in 1993, Gen Prunh “would order them to conduct a robbery and would provide all the materials necessary including AK-47s, B-40s and armored vehicles, and would also lead them personally. If anything happened during the banditry activities, Prunh would take responsibility and guarantee his subordinates’ safety and release.”

The UN Center for Human Rights was more succinct: “Phal Prunh has been implicated in numerous illegal arrests, detention, interrogation, torture, and executions of detainees in Battambang province.”

An investigation of Phal Prunh’s involvement in one triple murder of Aug 3, 1993, found that the General received the victims at his house to offer them work, invited them to share a meal at his dinner table, and then had them arrested and shot.

The victims were “known ex-robbers with possible links to S-91, [who] went on August 3, 1993 to S-91 to give their biographies to Col Phal Prunh in order to formally join the unit.” According to a UN report based on eyewitness evidence, “after having dinner there, they were suddenly arrested at gun point and beaten …. put in a Komanka jeep at gun point, blindfolded and taken out and shot in the head. Pieces of paper declaring that “the activity of the robber groups must be destroyed” were left by each body on the outskirts of Battambang.

The UN Center for Human rights report says that the Prime Ministers’ Office investigation team had full access to detailed evidence proving that the military intelligence units in Battambang “from top to bottom, as well as military personnel in general, appear to enjoy largely unrestricted and uncontrolled powers to arrest, detain, torture, interrogate and execute suspects in total disregard for existing constitutional and other legal safeguards protecting their individual rights.”

It stated further that “… the absence of any form of accountability despite the awareness at the highest provincial echelons of these activities, is an encouragement to these officers and their subordinates to continue.”

UN officials and human rights activists say that the government’s official report looks like, as one investigator put it, ” a whitewash and a cover-up”.

But investigators say it also reflects the powerful political and military connections and protection the accused military officers enjoy at senior levels in Phnom Penh. They say that the criminal racket is so powerful that government officials are too scared to confront it.

Senior provincial police officials in Battambang fully acknowledged the criminal activities of the accused officers and military units. “But there is no legal way to bring their activity under the framework of the law,” said one, “if I want to do something, I have to use force, if I use force they will respond.”

The charges against the military are not new. Formal detailed complaints were submitted to the Ministry of Justice last year, as well as to the provincial governor and the provincial tribunal in 1992, according to government sources and human rights investigators.

Provincial police have “sent report after report to the Ministry of Interior, but there has never been any action,” according to police sources.

Police officials in Battambang last month confirmed to investigators the criminal activities of the military units. One senior government police official said “those responsible for the activities were a small group of high ranking officers who were highly protected.”

He said that the police were “fully aware of their activities” and that “report after report had been submitted by the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Defense but that no action had been taken” and that despite “3,000 policemen in the province he was not in a position to take action against those responsible because this would result in an open confrontation which he wanted to avoid.”

In 1993, Battambang police officials were similarly inclined. An Aug 20 Untac report said “according to local police, since late 1992, S-91 has recruited a significant number of released or suspected robbers and S-91 members are considered responsible for many of the acts of banditry around Battambang town.

“Nonetheless, despite being fully aware and having clear evidence of many of these activities, local police have taken no action on any serious case involving S-91.

“Besides any political backing and legal immunity S-91 members may in practice enjoy, it is also obvious that local policemen [like other witnesses] are extremely afraid of the personal consequences of even aiding Untac in investigation of this unit’s activities.”

The lack of political will from the government to stop the criminal activity of the military also reflects the official nervousness to acknowledge such crimes while they are actively requesting military assistance from Western countries, investigators believe.

Recent reports from Battambang province also speak of other forms of military terror not connected to the activities of the military intelligence offices, particularly in a campaign of forced conscription villagers say is connected to anticipation of foreign military aid.

“Conscription is said to be linked with requests by the Phnom Penh government for assistance from Western countries,” according to UN field report from Battambang dated July 21,1994, “it was clear that the military authorities need to fill their ranks, accounting for all the names provided earlier when Untac paid soldiers’ salaries. In one case conscripts were being registered under the names of these “ghosts”.

The report spoke of “conscription from the rice fields with soldiers shooting in the ground” and “in many recorded cases, whole adult populations sleeping for months on end in the fields to avoid being apprehended from their homes at night.”

Other reports from Battambang spoke of additional consequences to the conscription campaign, including new campaigns of terror and extortion with soldiers “arresting people and telling them if they do not pay they will be sent to the front-line.”

Aid workers in Battambang say that poor villagers with no money are running away and hiding and not planting crops. “If they are caught and have even a small piece of land we find they will sell it to avoid conscription.”

Provincial aid workers say that rural development projects have been brought to a halt where conscription is being enforced as villagers flee.

The UN Center for Human Rights report concluded that “villagers feel totally helpless as they see no recourse against official arbitrary violence and abuses.

“Deprived of any means to seek justice, even when their children are taken away and being murdered, they swallow their anger and sadness, bow to the powers that be, accept with resignation their fate and withdraw in silence, knowing after long years of oppressive experience that words can kill.”

One relative of a young villager killed by military intelligence operatives said in April: “We are afraid of reprisals by the military. Here whoever has the guns, holds the villages. There is no justice. What we want now is to be left in peace.”

A letter to a young Cambodian-2013: Reflections on a toxic political culture

26 Jun

Cambodia-2013: Reflections on a toxic political culture

A letter to a young Cambodian

If Cambodia is not careful, they will be relegated to selling roadside trinkets along the highway as the rest of properly organized Asia zooms through without stopping  between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City

By Nate Thayer

June 26, 2013

Alright I just expelled my first FB friend.

Cambodia is having a so called election in coming weeks. Hun Sen, the ex Pol Pot military officer who has been running the show in the collapsed, sad nation since he lost the $3 billion UN funded free elections in 1993 and went on a murderous rampage, is still in sole and complete power, 30 years later.

Hun Sen achieved that distinction by systematically murdering, torturing, or otherwise dispatching anyone who didn’t demonstrate absolute obsequiousness, gouging their eyes out while alive, cutting off their penis’s  and stuffing them in their mouths while laughing before killing them, pulling out there tongues with pliers when they failed to utter the right words, yanking their fingernails out before putting a bullet between their eyes, and otherwise humiliating, torturing and murdering the duly elected government that would not submit in supine, abject, mute, loyalty.

He did this, this violent, bloody coup d’etat, in order to solely seize power in 1997. He fled the Khmer Rouge in 1977, well after hundreds of thousands of people were killed by his government, not out of any objection to their policies of mass murder of politically suspect citizens, but rather because he was next on their target list. He was installed in power a few years later by the invading Vietnamese army and served as their puppet leader until the UN arrived in 1991. He lost the 1993 UN election, used violence and threats to compel a power sharing arrangement, and then dispatched of the veneer formalities 4 years later in his bloody putsch.

And now he is running another transparently farcical insult to the concept of free elections , a campaign to get the absurd stamp of legitimacy on his dictatorship once again.

He has once again expelled all elected parliamentary opposition members in recent weeks, which strips them of legal immunity, so he can threaten and jail anyone who says anything he doesn’t like using the entirely controlled judiciary.

Frankly, Cambodia is such a pathetic, myopic political culture, with virtually no sense of common good or nation, that, with the exception of a very few very brave people, almost no one stands up to these thugs.

The dictator Hun Sen’s latest embarrassing rhetoric has him targeting his main opposition figure, Khem Sokkha, accussing him of sleeping with underage virgin prostitutes, and he has threatened to throw him in jail.

For Cambodian’s, they don’t find it sufficient to just murder or destroy the reputation through slander of their opponents. They enjoy publicly humiliating them first. The dirty little secret is that these tactics are prevalent in virtually all Cambodian leaders of all ideologies.

What does it say about the Cambodian political culture that after Pol Pot killed nearly a quarter of the population in 3 years eight months and 20 days in power, his political opposition was so unimpressive that the freshly minted mass murderers was able to rebuild his political organization through genuine popular support and remained the dominating political power broker for two decades after he did what he did?

It doesn’t say anything very complimentary or reassuring.

So when the following message just appeared on my FB page, it pushed my buttons.

“Both Putin & Berlusconi were divorced, no wife, they are enjoying life as bachelors, but now ex-PM of Italian is facing charge for buying sex with many under age girls = Kem Sokha.”

Khem Sokha, the opposition candidate who Hun Sen is gleefully publicly humiliating, after stripping him of his position as an elected parliamentarian, is a decent man. I remember him as a courageous human rights campaigner in a country where such activity would likely make you a statistic, and quickly.

So I wrote the following reply to his pathetic status message:
I am not sure who you are. But I do know this: Life is too important to be sputtering foolish and dangerous untruths. And life is never worth blindly repeating the absurd and false propaganda of any political leader without using your mind to think for yourself and figure out whether it is true.

The allegations against Khem Sokha are so obviously bald political slander created by Hun Sen that not a person on earth outside of Cambodia believes them to be true.

Until people like you stop getting pleasure from viciously attacking without merit political leaders and start demanding your leaders stop stealing the country blind, filling their bank accounts with the proceeds that belong to the nation, selling off Cambodia’s heritage to the foreigner with the most money, and murdering and oppressing through violence and a constant state of fear anyone who doesn’t get on their knees when they enter the room, Cambodia will remain the sad, failed country that is unable to survive without the charity of the properly organized world.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

And you should certainly be ashamed of your country.

Only then, perhaps, will you fight to create a national dignity that is such an historical relic in Cambodian political culture that it is beyond the ability of historians to empirically reconstruct.

Why should the rest of the world care about a country that cares so little about itself that it allows the same incompetent, corrupt, rapacious thugs to run the asylum years and years on end?

It is one thing to not say anything at all because you rightly know if you speak the truth they will do whatever it takes, up to and including murdering you, to make you stop. It is entirely another to take perverted pleasure in destroying the reputation of good people who are trying to change the country.

It is embarrassing and despicable.

OK. I have said what I feel because I am a free man and can. Good luck achieving the same political conditions in your neck of the woods with your pathetic attitude.

And, congratulations. You have the distinction of being the first person I have ever formally blocked and kicked off my FB page. Because you simply are not worth the bother.

Good luck in your upcoming “election.”

And good luck with the future you and your country are rapidly hurtling towards: A sad, pathetic failed nation state that will find itself selling trinkets on the highway between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, as the rest of the region and planet, zooms through without stopping,  as they get on with the program of making life better for their people.


Why I am a Journalist: Continued….From a Daughter in Exile From her Own History

21 Mar

Why I am a Journalist: Continued…

From a Daughter in Exile From her Own History

Dear Mr. Thayer,

I truly enjoy your many articles and writing that you have posted on your website.  Growing up in the States and being around the Khmer community, I constantly remember old folks and even my grandfather blaming the genocide of the Khmer people on foreigners and the Vietnamese.

I recall my grandfather saying that everyone in the Khmer Rouge was Yuon because Khmers don’t kill Khmers.  I didn’t understand his logic, but after reading your posting of KR personalities-Hu Nim, the section where Ta Mok said everyone he killed was a Youn, was an a-ha moment.  His logic was the same as my grandfather, who was an officer in the Lon Nol army.

To grandpa, anybody that subscribed to ideas and thinking that was foreign and not-khmer centric was a blasphemous Khmer. He saw the Khmer Rouge as non-Khmer because they wanted to do away with old Cambodia society. Communism for him was introduced to Cambodia through the Vietnamese, therefore being a Communist was a being Yuon.

Ta Mok’s logic seemed that way with his reasoning of Khmer body, but Yuon heads.  Also that meeting that you attended with the senior ranking Khmer Rouges, Ta Mok, Nuon Chea, and Khieu Samphan was the first I’ve read where the DK secrets about the apparatus were revealed.

Excellent, excellent work Mr. Thayer!  I’m glad I’ve found your blog.  I’ve tried to read your work whenever I could get my hands on it.

When I was in college in the late 90’s, I read your work in the Far Eastern Economic Review.  I have always been interested in Southeast Asian and Khmer History ever since I was a kid.  The Democratic Kampuchea era has always been an enigma to me and the closest to my family’s personal experience. Please continue with your wonderful work and expertise.  I will continue to read your work.


Tola Plong

Thoughts on the Death of Mass Murderer Ieng Sary:Cambodian Political Culture and North Korea

14 Mar

Thoughts on the Death of Mass Murderer Ieng Sary: The Khmer Rouge and North Korea

It is the Cambodian Political Culture which Should be Indicted

By Nate Thayer

(c)Nate Thayer. All rights reserved. No republication in whole or part without express written permission from the author

Pol Pot’s brother in law, Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, one of only five people allowed to be charged and put on trial by this modern day version of a Stalinist style political show trial funded and given credibility by the UN, for killing 1.8 million  Cambodians, has died at 87, Cambodia’s UN-backed court announced today.

I am the only one to have interviewed all five of the defendants, all of whom are guilty as sin, so I have a few thoughts on the passing of Mr. Ieng Sary.

That leaves two more octogenarians the Cambodian government and world community are hoping will die soon so this charade of bringing justice to those responsible will never happen.

That should be soon, and the Cambodian government can finally dispense with this political nuisance of having the harsh glare of public scrutiny focused on their ugly and very much alive political culture.

Thirty years after the Khmer Rouge did what they did during their unspeakable three years, eight months and 30 days in power–committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, mass murder, torture and slave labor as official state policy, and, arguably genocide–this is the current state of justice for those millions dead and those, in many ways, who have suffered a worse fate and were unfortunate enough to survive, shattered and traumatized, their entire culture brought to its knees where the ex Khmer Rouge who control the country today demand they remain.

Of the five predetermined and given political permission to be charged as culpable of these crimes, this is the current status ofjustice dispensed: One mid level party technician who carried  out the political orders to execute 16,000 men women and children, after being tortured and interrogated, has been found guilty. One octogenarian woman had charges dismissed as she was determined  to be senile. Two senior officials, both in their 80’s and will die of old age before being found guilty remain on trial after ten years and $300 million dollars paid by the properly organized world to fund this  monument to a mockery of justice run by the United Nations but controlled by ex Khmer Rouge now running the current government.

And Ieng Sary died today. Continue reading

25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip and history of U.S.-North Korean basketball diplomacy

5 Mar

25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy: Rodman trip comes after decades of basketball diplomacy between U.S. and North Korea as a central tool in nuclear bomb negotiations

by Nate Thayer , March 4, 2013
Dennis Rodman Tweeting From Pyongyang

Dennis Rodman Tweeting From Pyongyang

 NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman’s circus troupe delegation to North Korea was greeted by ridicule by most of the world. But does the Kim dynasty’s longtime basketball obsession hold the seed that will open North Korea to the world?

U.S. diplomatic insiders were dismissive of the Rodman meeting last week, describing it as “goofball diplomacy”. But basketball has played a very real role in the often bizarre, you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up backroom antics of U.S.-Pyongyang diplomatic negotiations for 25 years.

A love of the game shared by Kim Jong Il and his successor, current North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, has on occasion put basketball on the same bench as nuclear warfare in top level talks between the U.S. and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Rodman’s visit is just the latest wacky chapter in a diplomatic story that has seen the hoop dreams of Kim Jong Il become an unlikely pawn in nuclear negotiations with the U.S.

North Korean Top Nuclear Negotiator, Head of the North American Affairs for the Foreign Ministry, and Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, and Scotty Pippin Fanatic, Ri Gun, with U.S. North Korean Top Envoy Christopher Hill

North Korean Top Nuclear Negotiator, Head of the North American Affairs for the Foreign Ministry, and Dennis Rodman, Michael Jordan, and Scotty Pippin Fanatic, Ri Gun, with U.S. North Korean Top Envoy Christopher Hill

The Bulls fanatic from North Korea

In 1991, at a low point of relations between North Korea and the United States, Washington invited three North Koreans to a conference at George Washington University about peace on the Korean peninsula. At the time, the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with the DPRK, so the delegation from Pyongyang was attending in an “unofficial” capacity.

According to Gene Schmiel, then in charge of the Korea desk at the U.S. State Department, the “unofficial” North Korean delegation was led by a man in the Pyongyang “America department who spoke good English, was said to have an intelligence background, and close ties to the Dear Leader.”

That man was Ri Gun, a senior Pyongyang figure known to be close to Kim Jong Il and a lead member involved in every diplomatic exchange and nuclear and ballistic missile negotiations for the previous 25 years. Schmiel’s most vivid memory about the conference came when Gun revealed his passion for a very American pastime:

“After dinner, we went to their hotel room in Washington and [Gun] said ‘Oh My God! It’s eight o’clock! The Chicago Bulls are on TNT! Be quiet, we can talk during the commercials. Stop. No more talking! Michael [Jordan] and the Bulls are on TNT, and I’ve got to see if Scotty [Pippen] has gotten over his latest injury!’”

Ri Gun “then moved to the TV, turned it on and stared transfixed at the opening jump ball of the NBA basketball between the Chicago Bulls and the Cleveland Cavaliers,” Schmiel recalled in an interview this week. “Ri Gun headed the delegation and talked about an interest in basketball and Michael Jordan…Scotty Pippen this and Michael Jordan that, the triangle defense this, three points shots. They cared more about the NBA than I did”.

“We spent the rest of our time together that evening debating not high policy, but high quality basketball shooting and such arcana as whether the NBA should permit use of the zone defense. It was clear from our discussions that he had watched the NBA for many years. They cared more about the NBA than I did”, Schmiel added.

Gun was a fanatic for American basketball, particularly for the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons, the latter known as the NBA’s bad boys for their dirty play and habitual disregard for the rules of the game (of which Dennis Rodman was the poster-boy). Gun knew the nicknames of players, NBA history, and statistics. And he knew it because, Gun told Schmiel, “he got to watch games with the boss”. That ‘boss’ would have been the then North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Continue reading

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia: Corrupt Govt Officials Hand Cash to Hundreds of Soldiers

11 Feb

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia

What a pathetic embarrassment the Cambodian government is, a B grade rip-off of the Lord of the Flies.

Happy Chinese New Year in Cambodia means hundreds of police, military police and Cambodian army soldiers gathering to receive cash envelopes outside the house of one of Cambodia’s biggest crime syndicate bosses tied to the murder, jailing, and beatings of poor Cambodians in the service of innumerable corrupt patronage contracts between Hun Sen’s ruling political party and selling off state assets and land concessions to China.

The house where the security services gathered in hordes to beg for corruption payoffs is owned by Cheung Sopeap, the wife of ruling Cambodian people’s party senior official Lao Meng Khun, who together own the Phiopemex company–a major financier of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany.

Hundreds of Soldiers and Police gather Outside Home of Corrupt Cambodian Crime Syndicate Seeking Chinese New Years Cash

Hundreds of Soldiers and Police gather Outside Home of Corrupt Cambodian Crime Syndicate Seeking Chinese New Years Cash

A corrupt elite who finance the Cambodian dictator, Hun Sen, and a small cabal of his corrupt cronies in power and their wives, have stripped the country of state assets, forests, oil and mineral rights, and forced thousands of villagers from their homes, in a rapacious orgy of selling the country to foreign investors—most notably China—in exchange for cash payoffs.

Phiopemex and similar front companies are given the protection and use of the army and security services to carry out what is essentially an organized criminal syndicate using the protections and benefits of a nation state–in exchange for cash to Hun Sen and a small group of former Khmer Rouge officials who have lined their pockets with hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years

More than 80% of the population lives in rural areas and 36% lives in extreme poverty, earning less than 50 US cents per day.

Pheapimex is one of Cambodia’s most powerful companies, led by a couple with extremely close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany. The company director, Lao Meng Khin, is a senator with the ruling Cambodia People’s Party. His wife, Choeung Sopheap (known as Yeay Phu) regularly appears publicly alongside the prime minister’s wife. Both Choeung Sopheap and Lao Meng Khin have  previously accompanied Prime Minister Hun Sen on his  diplomatic trips to China.

Pheapimex Owners Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: The “Power Couple" Financing Hun Sen Who Control 7% of Cambodian Land Mass

Pheapimex Owners Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: The “Power Couple” Financing Hun Sen Who Control 7% of Cambodian Land Mass

Pheopimex controls 7.4 per cent of Cambodia’s total land area through its logging and economic land concessions, having diversified since Hun Sen seized control in a bloody 1997 coup from a business portfolio to encompass concessions for pharmaceutical imports, hotel construction and special economic zones.

Since, Pheopimex has included hydropower dams and a notorious land grab in the middle of the capital Phnom Penh. The business empire has expanded to include mining across the country.

Pheopimex first came to prominence as a logging concessionaire in the 1990s in a forest industry dominated by illegal logging, murders, and land evictions, and enjoyed a long relationship with the Cambodian armed forces, using the military to provide security and exert control over its forest concessions.

Over the last few years, thousands of poor residents were thrown out of their homes in central Phnom Penh in a corrupt land deal which gave a valuable chunk of the city to Phiopemex.

In February 2007, the Municipality of Phnom Penh granted a 99-year lease to the private developer Shukaku Inc. over a 133-hectare area of prime real estate covering the lake and the nine surrounding villages, illegally stripping residents of their land rights, including Boeung Kak lake development and the surrounding land affecting 4,225 families.

On 26 October 2008, Shukaku Inc began filling the lake with sand causing flooding and the collapse of some houses. Water and electricity was cut. In September 2010, over 1500 affected families were forced to accept compensation for their homes and land well below the market value, with Shukaku Inc. offering a reimbursement of US$4000 for property despite property values assessed at over US$40,000.

The Boeung Kak settlement consisted of nine villages surrounding the iconic lake in central Phnom Penh and home to 4000 families.

By April 2012, 3500 families were coerced into accepting compensation for a fraction of the market value for their homes and land, driving many families into destitution.

The Boeung Kak evictions constitute the largest forced relocation of Cambodians since the Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh in 1975.

Displaced Villager In Phnom Penh from Corrupt Government Concession to Cronies

Displaced Villager In Phnom Penh from Corrupt Government Concession to Cronies

Shukaku Inc is a front company for Peophemex and is owned by Lao Meng Khin and his wife, both close associates of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, and major financial backers of the Cambodian People’s Party. The Chinese firm Erdos Hong Jun Investment Co., Ltd. formed a joint venture company with Shukaku Inc to develop Boeung Kak into a high-end residential, commercial and tourism complex.  The Cambodian Government granted permission to re-register the lease agreement in the name of the joint venture, called Shukaku Erdos Hongjun Property Development Co. Ltd.

Boeung Kak residents were denied title en masse, and residents denied the protection of a fair process for resettlement and compensation of people found to be residing on State land, in accordance with World Bank safeguards. The World Bank ruled on the side of the villagers, but the Cambodian government refused to cooperate with the Bank and turn, the World Bank informed the Cambodian government that it would stop providing loans to Cambodia and would not resume lending until there was a satisfactory resolution of the Boeung Kak case.

cam bkk-two cam2 cam3 cam4

Cambodia cracked down harder on the displaced villagers. In May, 2012, female residents of Boeung Kak staged a peaceful demonstration and were surrounded by a mixed force of military police, anti-riot police and district guards, who used violence to break up the demonstration and then arrested 13 women, including a 72-year old. Their trial began two days later on May 24th, and just one hour after charges against them had been filed. Requests by lawyers for a trial delay to allow them to prepare their defense, review the case file and evidence, and bring in witnesses were all denied. They stood trial at 2pm – without a lawyer – after court prosecutors spent the morning interviewing them. They were charged with “cursing public authority” and “encroaching upon the land of a public figure” – Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, the owner of Shukaku.

By 5:30 pm that afternoon, all 13 women had been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison. During the trial, the police arrested two more community representatives who were waiting outside the court prepared to testify as witnesses for the 13 women who were on trial.

In June 20th, 2012, the government reacted to local and international outrage by cracking down harder calling the 4000 villagers “prostitutes and terrorists”.

“Because there was an uncontrollable mixed renting by all kinds of people, this area turned to be an insecure place, shelter for criminals, gangsters, drug dealers, prostitutes and terrorists,” the Phnom Penh municipality said. Boeng Kak had, as a result, suffered from a “disappearance of national customs, traditions and Khmer culture.”

The extent of government corruption in Cambodia is so stark that revenue from illegal logging is several times that derived from legitimate enterprises. A USAID report titled “Cambodian Corruption Assessment” stated that “grand corruption involving illegal grants of logging concessions coexist with the nearly universal practice of small facilitation payments to speed or simply secure service delivery”.

“Forestry and mining concessions are signed behind closed doors … no one outside the system knows what proportion of earnings go to pay taxes, what proportion go to international businesses as excessive profits, and what proportion are transferred to foreign bank accounts.”

The tentacles of graft reach up to the highest levels, where officials maintain their position thanks to control of patronage systems that substitute for a system of government in Cambodia.

Cambodia could have earned enough revenues from its oil, gas and minerals to become independent of foreign development aid according to Global Witness, but high-level corruption, nepotism and patronage have siphoned the countries resources into the pockets of a few and left the country dependent on foreign aid and starving for access to health care, education, and basic rights.

The small number of powerbrokers surrounding the prime minister–members of the ruling elite or their family members– are the beneficiaries of these deals where millions of dollars are paid by Chinese oil and mining companies to secure access to these resources, never reaching state accounts.

“The same political elite that pillaged the country’s timber resources has now gained control of its mineral and petroleum wealth. Unless this is changed, there is a real risk that the opportunity to lift a whole generation out of poverty will be squandered,” said Gavin Hayman of Global Witness.

In 2012, the killing of journalists and environmental activists, thousands of forced evictions, the murder and beating and imprisonment of those protesting land grabs, allegedly including torture and in at least two cases murder, have dominated the mundane reality of Cambodian politics. A 15-year-old girl in Kratie province was shot dead as security forces tried to wrestle control of a plot of land away from local villagers to make way for a Russian rubber plantation that had been promised to a private firm in a land grant by the Cambodian government, and a well-known environmental activist was gunned down in April while investigating illegal logging and government corruption.

In a U.S. embassy cable released by WikiLeaks in 2011, the US embassy Phnom Penh outlined the symbiotic relationship between the Hun Sen government and corrupt cronies. “These business leaders contribute money to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Hun Sen” and which these “symbiotic relationships illustrate the networks of business tycoons, political figures, and government officials that have formed in Cambodia, which reinforce the culture of impunity and limit progress on reforms such as Hun Sen’s self-declared “war on corruption.”

cam Choeung Sopheap (aka Yeay Phu) with Hun Sen

The US embassy cable titled the owners of Pheapimex “Yeay Phu & Lao Meng Khin: “Power Couple” said the business owners were “One of the most politically and economically connected couples in the country (after Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife and Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh and his wife)” and said they “are the co-owners of Pheapimex Fu Chan Co. Ltd, a controversial logging company that has expanded to cover salt iodization, iron ore extraction, bamboo cultivation, pharmaceutical imports and hotel construction….(and) now has access to at least 315,028 hectares of land for agribusiness.

The cable said “ Phu, who is of Chinese origin, uses her contacts in China to attract foreign investment from Chinese companies such as Wuzhishan LS and Jiangsu Taihu International. Her husband, Lao Meng Khin, is a Vice President of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and he serves as a CPP senator and advisor to Hun Sen. Together, they have a joint venture with Sy Kong Triv through Wuzhishan LS for a pine tree plantation in Mondulkiri Province. This dynamic duo has a rather strong relationship to Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany. Lao Meng Khin has accompanied the Prime Minister on more than one trip to China, while Yeay Phu, who is a board member of the Cambodian Red Cross, is reportedly a close friend and business associate of Bun Rany. Yeay Phu is also a business associate of Tep Bopha Prasidh, the wife of the Minister of Commerce; and Ngyn Sun Sopheap, the wife of the Director of the National Department of Customs and Excise. The Pheapimex couple’s son is married to the daughter of Lim Chhiv Ho, the Managing Director of Attwood Import Export Co., Ltd. In addition to Khmer, Lao Meng Khin speaks Mandarin Chinese and Yeay Phu speaks several Chinese dialects.”

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