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Cambodia: commercial overload at Angkor Wat

SIEM REAP — Today, a visit to Angkor Wat can resemble a Saturday at Six Flags. Visitors spill out of tour buses by the thousands.

North Korea propaganda unit builds monuments abroad

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Building North Korea-style monuments for other cash-strapped countries has become a cash lifeline worth an estimated $160 million in the last decade.

Hidden truths in the Khmer Rouge trial

One former communist leader walks out, another stays put. What can we make of these opening scenes?
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Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea. (Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images)

The most interesting moment in the Khmer Rouge trial so far was not when Nuon Chea walked into the courtroom Monday wearing his iconic shades and a wool ski hat.

It wasn't even moments later, when he turned around and walked out, saying he wasn't happy with the hearing.

Eighty-four-year-old Nuon Chea, like the other three elderly leaders on trial, was given the option of participating in the trial via video link from a nearby room that had a bed in it.

The most interesting moment so far in the trials was when Khieu Sampan, who was reportedly supposed to follow Nuon Chea out, changed his mind and stayed put.

Veteran Southeast Asia correspondent Luke Hunt draws a hopeful message from Khieu Sampan's decision not to follow Nuon Chea's lead.

In The Diplomat, he writes:

[Khieu Sampan] also said he had decided to support the tribunal and that he wanted all Cambodians to understand what went on back then. If he is true to his word, then the tribunal is off to a flying start.

Many hope the court proceedings, which are finally underway after five years and $100 million, will lead to a better understanding of the regime's behavior and the 1.7 million deaths it caused in Cambodia.

But the trials, which are split between the U.N. and Cambodia, have been plagued by infighting and there are doubts that a sense of justice will ever prevail.

A key defendant walked out. What kind of message does that send? Not a very encouraging one.

And yet, there is possibly an equally as powerful message to be taken from the fact that Khieu Sampan, the nominal head of state of the Khmer Rouge, chose to bear witness.


Four of the top Khmer Rouge leaders go on trial in Cambodia

There are concerns that Cambodians will be denied the chance to hear first-hand accounts of the motivation and thinking behind the brutal killing spree by an enigmatic regime

Cambodia: When genocide trials turn personal

SAMLOT, Cambodia — On June 27, at the war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, four former Khmer Rouge leaders will finally face the music. Many Cambodians hope to see justice served.

Cambodia's reluctant king

King Norodom Sihamoni, who took the throne in 2004, is seen by some as a prisoner in his own palace.
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Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni in Prague on March 19, 2010. (Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images)

Poor King Norodom Sihamoni.

It doesn't sound like he wants to be king.

It's true the monarchy is more of a figurehead these days, with the true power lying in the hands of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

But the bidding of Hun Sen, who helped turn Cambodia into a forced labor camp with the Khmer Rouge in the late 70s, can't be pleasant work.

Sihamoni spends his days pushing papers and receiving guests — despite his lack of interest in political affairs — and then he retires to dine alone and read, says one royal adviser.

He is a symbol of national unity, no doubt. Everywhere he goes, people bow at his feet.

But even so, he feels "sad, lonely and abandoned," according to a new AP article.

Many think of him as a prisoner in his own palace.

The 58-year-old bachelor clearly longs for the years he spent in Europe -- France and what used to be the Czechoslovakia -- as a ballet dancer and cultural ambassador. It isn't hard to imagine him dreaming of those far-off places from the confines of his castle.


Cambodia and Thailand: more border clashes

Ancient temples along the border are once again the cause of conflict between the Southeast Asian neighbors.
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A Cambodian solider looks across at the Thai border from the ancient Preah Vihear temple. The 11th century Hindu temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been the subject of a lengthy dispute between the two countries. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

At least 10 soldiers have died over the last two days in what has now become a tragic and familiar pattern of fighting between Thailand and Cambodia over their disputed border.

Gunfire broke out Friday on a jungle hilltop near the Ta Moan and Ta Krabey temples (as they are called in Cambodia), which both sides claim as their own.

This round of clashes is the bloodiest since February, when another 10 soldiers were killed near Preah Vihear, an ancient Hindu temple near the border that has been a source of contention since colonial times.

In February, the United Nations called for a permanent cease-fire between the Southeast Asian neighbors, which more or less held until Friday. 

Both sides blame the other for breaching the fragile peace, and that matter — like the border dispute in general — is unlikely to ever be officially settled.


Cambodian king has better things to do than royal wedding

King Sihamoni said he won't attend Will and Kate's nuptials because he has something "important to do."
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Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni in Prague on March 19, 2010. (Michal Cizek/AFP/Getty Images)

Sir Elton John will be there. So will the sultan of Brunei.

David and Victoria Beckham have even managed to pencil it in.

But the king of Cambodia? He has better things to do than attend the nuptials of Will and Kate.

King Norodom Sihamoni, the 57-year-old former ballet dancer, has reportedly declined his invitation to the royal wedding.

According to the U.K.'s Daily Mail, the king doesn't even have a very good excuse, other than that he has "another important engagement."

"The King cannot come to the Royal Wedding because he has a very tight schedule," a spokesman for the Cambodian embassy told the Daily Mail.

While Sihamoni has always blazed his own trail, perhaps most notably in remaining an unmarried monarch, he isn't the first to turn up his nose at a royal wedding.

His father, King Norodom Sihanouk — who is still alive but abdicated the throne in 2004 — refused to attend Princess Alexandra’s wedding in 1963 after being told that he wouldn't get a guard of honor and he couldn't stay at Windsor Castle.


Cambodia sings Facebook

Young Khmer artists are pondering the role Facebook plays in their love lives and, yes, putting those thoughts to song.
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Phnom Penh teenagers. (Paula Bronstein/AFP/Getty Images)

There's the woefully straightforward, "Facebook ends love." The lively and urgent, "Facebook friend! My girlfriend kicked me out!" And the subtly confounding, "Facebook waits love."

What they have in common is that they are songs about Facebook, and they're all the rage in Cambodia.

In this country of roughly 15 million, only about 260,000 people are Facebook users. But the social-networking site has nonetheless proven itself the muse of the moment, according to Global Voices

Young Khmer artists are pondering the role Facebook plays in their love lives and, yes, putting those thoughts to song. It's a far cry from the more subversive role Facebook has played in the Middle East and North Africa ,where it's been used to organize protest movements.

In Cambodia, Facebook sings a different tune. Like this one, "Facebook disturbs my love," in which Khemarak Sereymon croons about how Facebook seems to have stolen away the affections of his girlfriend.


As Cambodia clamors to develop, a favorite bar is left in the dust

PHNOM PENH — Snow's got noticed overseas too, featured on National Geographic and by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.
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