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Angelina Jolie and Cambodia's perils

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26 October 2011 08:30

Cambodia is that kind of place. Just when you think you are doing the right thing it turns out that the tentacles of the past are waiting to grab you.

Not only is The Guardian running bitter little stories about the fact that Angelina Jolie has been photographed lolling on a boat in a Cambodian swamp with a £7000 Louis Vuitton bag, she is now being portrayed as entering into a land deal with a notorious Khmer Rouge commander in Cambodia's Battambang province.

It's a complicated story but linked to an issue noted on several occasions in The Interpreter, the fact that international prosecutors at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have been blocked by government interference in their attempts to bring additional high-ranking Khmer Rouge figures before it.

The detailed story about the land deal has appeared in Global Post-International News, with the claim that the Maddox Jolie Pitt Foundation purchased land from a former Khmer Rouge commander, Yim Tith. Whether this deal was carried out knowingly, as a former and supposedly disgruntled Cambodian associate claims, or was the result of ignorance is not clear. 

Three points are worth noting. First, there seems little doubt that Yim Tith was indeed a Khmer Rouge figure of importance and that his ownership of the land resulted from a policy pursued by the Phnom Penh government of providing former KR leaders with land as a means of preserving their non-involvement in current politics.

Secondly, although I have not seen his name listed before, it may well be that Yim Tith is one of the additional potential defendants that international prosecutors want to see brought before the Khmer Rouge tribunal but have been blocked from doing so.

Finally, of course, the whole affair of Angelina Jolie's involvement in Cambodia relates to the now vexed issue, as the article pointedly notes, of celebrity philanthropy. There is no question about Jolie's commitment to helping Cambodia and its inhabitants, but if this story is correct it is a classic case of unintended consequences resulting from the charitable acts of an outsider with little appreciation of internal issues in an underdeveloped country.

Photo by Flickr user World Economic Forum.

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