I appreciate that it is a while since I wrote anything here but the truth is that there is not much to tell. Phnom Penh was becoming increasingly hot and sticky, so I eventually roused myself, bade a sad farewell to my great friends in the Moka Cafe (lovely people, all of them) and jumped on a bus South the the seaside town of Sihanoukville. I had visited here last time, and it, like a few other places on this trip, has really woken up to tourism. There are a lot more backpacker hostels, Western themed bars (including the obligatory Paddy pub, which I am avoiding) and restaurants catering to the barang palate. The charity / NGO culture has also reached here in a big way, and you could easily eat in a different charity-run restaurant every day. I am all in favour of people trying to do good but I still can't quite shake the notion that the West in a fit of self-flagellation is doing nothing more than creating a dependancy culture which ultimately cannot be too good for the populace. I really am going to study International Aid in more detail when I get home.
As it is, I have been swotting up quite a lot about the relatively recent history of Cambodia, and interesting reading it makes too. There is currently in session the Extraordinary Chamber of the Court of Cambodia. At least, I think that is what it is called. I shall refer to it, as everyone here does as ECCC - it will save a lot of typing. The ECCC is effectively a war crimes tribunal held here and not in the Hague as is more usual, and is dealing with the atrocities committed under the Pol Pot regime. There are a number of issues pertaining to it that I think are worthy of a closer look.
Firstly, most of the protagonists are either dead of old age or were killed in Pol Pot's paranoid purges, and those that survive are now very old people (there is one woman amongst the accused). Secondly, you need to know a little about the post Khmer Rouge history of the country. When the Vietnamese "liberated" Cambodia in 1979, many of the KR leadership merely went to ground, coincidentally in the area I am now in in the Southwest near the Thai border, using their ill-gotten gains and the residual support of certain groups to live a peaceful existence into old age and a natural death they clearly did not deserve.
Like scum in a pond, politicians and "leaders" will always float back to the surface eventually. Witness, for example, the rise and rise of the revolting and thrice disgraced Lord Mandelson, and the same is true of Cambodia. Many of the "new" Government of 1979 and after were senior KR members who had allegedly seen the error of their ways and were allowed to join the ranks of the new ruling elite. As a small sidebar, I can't believe that the UN, during the time of transition, actually allocated the Cambodian seat to the Khmer Rouge. Perhaps is is partly this that now leads to the huge influx of UN aid as a sort of conscience salve. If it is not the leaders themselves rising back to the surface, the nepotism inherent in Khmer society has ensured for example that Ieng Sary's son is now a Provincial Governor. Ieng Sary was "Blood Brother Number Three", effectively third in commnad of the KR.
The ECCC has been obstructed for a long time by the current regime led by Hun Sen and a couple of reasons are put forward for this. Firstly, the hope that the aging murderers would simply die of natural causes and remove the embarrassment and secondly there is still a strong thread in the Government of people at best "associated" with the former genocidal regime, and the continuing allegations of corruption. In 2008, Cambodia was designated the 14th most corrupt country in the world. From a planet comprising about 192 nations, that is pretty damning. Which brings me back to my original point about the aid coming in. Nothing happens here without "administration fees", "special payments" or whatever you like to call them. Actually, let's just call them what they are, bribes to corrupt officials. Another something to think about when you put your coins in the collecting tin. Charities have to pay off people to function on the most basic level, these bribes increase the power of the ruling class which makes them even more untouchable and able to demand biger bribes, and the system is a self-perpetuating nightmare.
One of the major stated objectives of the ECCC is to bring some sort of "closure" to those still living who suffered. Interesting then that, of the $143 million US the whole circus has already cost, a mere $50,000 has been earmarked for informing the Khmer people of what is going on. Apart from the building of the white elephant building which is situated far enough form the centre of Phnom Penh to be "out of sight, out of mind" the lion's share has gone to guess who? You've guessed it, bloody lawyers. Like the mosquitos that plague me at dusk, these blood-sucking parasites have again moved in for the kill and are making a tidy lving out of it, along with all the associated hangers on that plague the doing good business.
The most famous defendant is Comrade Duch, a former maths teacher who was in charge of, inter alia, the ghastly S21 (Tuol Sleng) torture centre in the Southern suburbs of the capital. I re-visited it when I was there and it is still as shocking as ever, perhaps moreso now with the addition of a one hour documentary film which is harrowing in the extreme. It is interesting that Duch, a mass murderer by any definition, has now allegedly converted to Christianity and repented. I suppose a cynic might say, better to be a Christian and repent on your deathbed to atain the Kingdom of Heaven than to be a Buddhist and suffer whatever karma might have in store for such a monster.
Duch has freely admitted his part in the regime, and the case would appear to be very clear against him, yet he is being represented by one Francois Roux. I give you the name so you can heap your own damnation on him. I was on the point of writing "How can he sleep at night" but I am sure he sleeps extremely well in his undoubtedly luxurious quarters, spinning the whole thing out to milk the system whilst Khmer children still live and scavenge in rubbish dumps just to eat.
His latest typically lawyer tactic is to try and have much of the testimony removed. His justification for this? Allow me to explain. In the chaos that constituted Cambodia imediately post Pol Pot, an NGO organisation in Cambodia collected many eyewitness accounts from people who had suffered horribly, many now dead. M. Roux's contention is that this is generally inadmissable becasue, you've guessed it, it wasn't collected by lawyers. I must admit, I would like an "in camera" session in a small room with M. Roux, just to show him how morally bankrupt he is.
I don't propose to re-hash the whole S21 thing here but I am in the process of constructing a full travelogue on my Virtual Tourist site. If you would like a look, here is the link, although I warn you, it does not make for pleasant reading.
So, here I am sitting in a pleasant little bar in Sihanoukville where I have been adopted into the local house band (I just love playing) and pondering my next move. My original plan was to go straight from Southern Cambodia into Vietnam, although the time has simply flown here and I have only seven days left on my visa, insufficient to see Kampot, Kep, Koh Kong and a few other places I want to revisit as well as get some diving in. The new plan is probably to do a border run over to Thailand, perhaps hit Trat for a few days, then come back to Cambodia armed with a new 30 day visa and thence to Vietnam eventually.
Actually, my plans are constantly changing depending on how many BBC World / CNN bulletins I watch. It appears Thailand is going to kick off again as Thaksin Shinawathra, former leader and erstwhile owner of Manchester City F.C. has just had $1.4 billion US taken from him by the court in Bangkok, and his supporters are threatening a repeat of the chaos of a couple of years ago when the airport was shut down. Another half-formed plan was to fly from Hanoi to the Philipines for a few weeks but it looks as if it is all getting a bit lively there in the run-up the the May general election, so that might have to go on hold as well. This travelling certainly leads to some interesting decisions.
Well, I suppose I have bored you enough now so I will sign off and hopefully get this posted some time today. Heaven knows whether I can attach photos, I'll give it a try but I am not hopeful.