Daily Archives: 3 February 2006

Macam-Macam on Cambodia’s Photographer of Death

I neglected to link to Macam-Macam‘s recent post on Nhem En, photographer of death. It starts with a wall of 50 mugshots.

It is a modern tragedy that these photographs are amongst the most famous photos ever taken by a South East Asian – meticulous mug shots of Cambodian prisoners accused of counter-revolutionary crimes by the Khmer Rouge and admitted to S-21, an institution dedicated solely to the incarceration, torture, extraction of “confessions” and documentation of enemies of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. Almost all prisoners who passed through S-21 were eventually executed, or “smashed”.

The man who took most of these shots is Nhem En, a country boy who joined the Khmer Rouge in 1970, aged only ten. Sent overseas to China to study because of his academic promise, his job as photographer at S-21 started in 1976 when he returned to Cambodia and was sent to Tuol-Sleng, the site of S-21. He was only sixteen at the time.

Read and view the whole thing.

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Indonesia’s Helsinki Agreement

In August 2005 in Finland, representatives of the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement signed an agreement which sets down the outline of a comprehensive settlement to the Aceh conflict. Until recently, this conflict had appeared close to intractable. Earlier attempts to reach a negotiated settlement between 2000 and 2003 broke down in acrimony and the Indonesian government launched a military offensive, vowing to wipe out the rebels once and for all. Why did the two parties agree to resume talks so soon after the earlier failures? And what are the chances that the peace agreement will hold this time?

Written by a leading expert on the Aceh conflict, this study examines the factors that prompted the belligerents to return to the negotiating table, surveys the course of the negotiations, analyses the deal itself and identifies potential spoilers. It concludes that the Helsinki agreement represents Aceh’s best chance for peace since the separatist insurgency began almost thirty years ago. The deal is more comprehensive than earlier agreements and its monitoring provisions are more robust. There is also more good will on both sides, based partly on greater awareness that previous violent strategies had failed. Even so, there are powerful forces opposed to the deal, and backsliding or equivocation on either side could easily prompt a return to violence if implementation is not managed skillfully.

SOURCE: THE HELSINKI AGREEMENT: A More Promising Basis for Peace in Aceh? by Edward Aspinall. Policy Studies 20. Washington, DC: East-West Center Washington, 2005. x, 104 pp. Paper, $10.00.

Meanwhile, Macam-macam reports that Indonesia is not nearly so willing to compromise over 43 West Papuan separatists seeking political asylum in Australia.

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Yale Press Website Banned in Thailand

Inside Higher Ed reports that the Thai government is banning internal access to Yale University Press‘s website.

Thailand takes lèse-majesté seriously — as Yale University Press is finding out.

The Thai government has blocked access in the country to the Yale University Press Web site because it includes information about a forthcoming, critical biography of Thailand’s king. The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej is described in Yale publicity materials as the story of “how a king widely seen as beneficent and apolitical could in fact be so deeply political, autocratic, and even brutal.” The author is Paul Handley, a journalist who spent much of his life reporting from Asia, including 13 years in Thailand.

The book is due out this summer — in a year in which Thailand will be celebrating the 60th year of the king’s reign. The book acknowledges his popularity with the Thai people, but — according to the press — “portrays an anti-democratic monarch who, together with allies in big business and the murderous, corrupt Thai military, has protected a centuries-old, barely modified feudal dynasty.”

Well, I for one refuse to believe it until I see actual video on CNN of well-armed bodhisattvas brandishing their weapons, of masked mendicant monks carrying C4 in their begging bowls, of Theravadan thugs in Gitmo-orange robes chanting “Death to Elis” “Hasten the Retrograde Reincarnation of Elis as Flies!”

This illustrates in a small way the fatal weakness of area studies in academia: One can never be too critical of the areas one studies. One must always be their advocate and apologist. Well, except perhaps in American studies.

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