Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sun sets on the Grand Old Lady
Athletes past and present, spectators old and young, gather for final fling at Kallang
By Marc Lim, Sports Correspondent
SHE gave Singapore the best years of her life. So it was only fitting that, when it came time to say goodbye to the Grand Old Lady of Kallang, a bash like no other drew the curtains on the 34-year-old National Stadium.
Singaporeans across three generations - 45,000 in all - joined VVIPs such as President SR Nathan, members of the Cabinet and Singapore athletes, past and present, in a tribute yesterday that had nostalgia and entertainment weaved into a sporting spectacle.

The arena had been home to numerous National Day Parades and hosted icons such as Michael Jackson and Billy Graham.

But it was always sports which defined Kallang. Which was why Singapore's greatest sporting warriors returned to their former stomping ground for one last hurrah before it makes way for the new Sports Hub at year's end.

Footballers like Quah Kim Song and Dollah Kassim were immortalised on the National Stadium pitch.

They gave Kallang some of its best years during the days of the Malaysia Cup. It was they who gave Singapore the Kallang Roar - that sonic boom that sent shivers down opponents' spines.

Yesterday, they blew the dust off their boots to grace the pitch once again as they took on their Malaysian counterparts.

They may no long resemble the greats of the 1970s, but the fans hardly cared. Their mere presence rolled back the years. And to many, that was all that mattered.

Likewise for sprinter C. Kunalan, a former Olympian and once Singapore's fastest man.

He showed he still had spring in his feet when he ran up the stadium's East gallery to light the cauldron one last time.

It was first lit when the Republic hosted the 1973 South-east Asian Peninsular Games, and last burnt bright at the 1993 South-east Asia Games.

Then there was Tan Howe Liang. Singapore's only Olympic medallist has called Kallang home for over a decade, working at the stadium's gymnasium.

How his heart must have swelled with pride - as it did when he won a silver in the 1960 Rome Olympics - when he held the Singapore flag high to lead a contingent of current and former athletes in a lap of honour.

So often the home of soccer, it was left to footballers V. Sundramoorthy, Lionel Lewis and Indra Sahdan Daud to walk the fans through some of the more memorable Kallang moments.

But it was only a night for reminiscing.

Although Khairul Amri was on the wrong side of a 0-3 scoreline against Australia, he had the crowd on their feet when he twisted and turned a world-class Australian defence in the 57th minute, before finding space to unleash a shot on goal.

Alas, the Lion's effort smacked against the post.

But, at just 22, Amri - whose wonder goal won Singapore the Asean Football Federation title in February - is one player Singapore football could build around to excite future generations.

So, too, the many young athletes who took to the field as rock music and fireworks turned Kallang into one huge party.

And, just as these young athletes look to the future, so must everyone else. Tears will be shed when the stadium takes her final bow at the end of the year.

But, with a new home, comes new memories - like the ones the National Stadium has provided all these years.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

'Tibetans' must pick Dalai Lama - BBC

'Tibetans' must pick Dalai Lama - 27 Nov 2007

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says his people should have a role in finding his successor.

Speaking in Amritsar, northern India, he told the BBC that Tibetans would also have to decide if the institution should continue at all after his death.

The Dalai Lama's successor is usually chosen by senior Buddhist officials.

Analysts say the 72-year-old is considering breaking this centuries-old tradition in order to reduce the influence of China in the process.

Traditionally, Buddhist elders congregate after the death of the current leader and identify a young child to succeed him, after being guided by dreams and signs.

The Dalai Lama warned that when he dies, China would try to promote its own candidate.

You cannot have harmony under the gun

Dalai Lama

But he stressed, in an interview attended by the BBC's Sanjoy Majumder, that ultimately it would be up to the people of Tibet to decide who they accepted, if anyone at all.

"The Tibetan nation is 2,000 years old. The Dalai Lama institution is relatively recent - only a few centuries old," he said.

"If I die, it will be a setback for the Tibetan people for some time. But then the struggle will continue.

"If the Tibetan people decide that the Dalai Lama institution is no longer relevant, then it will automatically cease to exist."

'Violation of tradition'

Beijing claims sovereignty over Tibet, which it has controlled since invading in 1950. However, many Tibetans remain loyal to the Dalai Lama, who fled in 1959.

And the spiritual leader reopened a war of words with Beijing by criticising the way it rules Tibet.

"Stability and genuine harmony - that is the Chinese government's top priority. But you cannot have harmony under the gun," he said.

Beijing responded by accusing the Dalai Lama of violating his own religious traditions.

"The reincarnation of the living Buddha is a unique way of succession of Tibetan Buddhism and follows relatively complete religious rituals and historical conventions," China's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Beijing has denounced the Dalai Lama's many foreign trips, including recent visits to the US, Germany and Japan.

It says he should stay out of politics and restrict himself to a religious role.

Buddhists believe the current Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of his predecessors.

Squeezed freedoms in Buddhist Tibet
In the third of a series of pieces from Tibet, the BBC's Michael Bristow looks at the amount of freedom Tibetan Buddhists are given to practise their religion.
Every day, hundreds of Buddhist pilgrims prostrate themselves in front of the Jokhang Temple, the spiritual heart of the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

Their devotion is sometimes literally etched on their faces: many carry marks on their foreheads from constantly lying face down on the floor.

China says more than one million pilgrims visit Lhasa each year - evidence, it says, that the Chinese authorities are protecting religious freedom in Tibet.

But the real picture is more complex. Although people can worship openly, Beijing maintains ultimate control over Tibetan Buddhism.

An example of this control came earlier this month when China's State Administration for Religious Affairs issued new guidelines about who can and cannot be declared a "living Buddha".

The Dalai Lama is in here, but we cannot speak about him

A Tibetan man, pointing to his heart

From 1 September, all reincarnated living Buddhas - eminent monks - will first have to be approved by the government.

The guidelines appear directed at the selection of the next Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhism's spiritual head.

The current Dalai Lama, the 14th, has lived in exile in India since fleeing his homeland in 1959 along with thousands of other Tibetans after a failed uprising against Communist rule. Tenzin Gyatso is now 72.

New rules

China's new ruling on reincarnation also seems designed to prevent exiled Tibetans who have fled the region from helping to select their spiritual leader.

Article 2 makes it clear Beijing will not tolerate "interference" from any person or organisation outside the country.

The Chinese-approved Panchen Lama lives mostly in Beijing

If there are succession problems when the Dalai Lama dies, it will not be the first time there have been difficulties over the selection of a reincarnated monk.

When the 10th Panchen Lama - second in seniority only to the Dalai Lama - died in 1989, the search began for his successor.

In 1995, the Dalai Lama announced that six-year-old Gedhun Choekyi Nyima had been selected. Three days later he disappeared with his parents.

Nyima Tsering, vice-chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, told the BBC that this Panchen Lama, now 18, is still in Tibet, living a quiet life.

"He wants to live in peace and does not want his life disturbed," said the official, although China does not allow anyone to see him.

Instead, Beijing approved another Panchen Lama. He lives mostly in Beijing, travelling to Tibet every year or so.

Unspoken subject

China seeks to control the selection of senior religious leaders in Tibet because it fears their political power.

Although Beijing says Tibet has been part of China since the mid-13th century, eight centuries on there are still many who dispute that claim.

[The Dalai Lama] is not only a religious figure. He is also a political figure agitating for Tibetan independence

Nyima Tsering, Vice-Chair of Tibet Autonomous Region

Beijing believes senior monks provide a focal point for those advocating Tibetan independence.

The Dalai Lama "is not only a religious figure. He is also a political figure agitating for Tibetan independence," said Nyima Tsering.

Religious and political issues remain mostly under the surface in Tibet. Senior monks are wary when talking about sensitive issues.

When asked about the Dalai Lama, Ping La, head of Shigatse's Tashilunpo Monastery, just shrugged and said: "He's just the Dalai Lama".

It is like saying the Pope is just another Catholic.

But scratch the surface and it is not hard to find political tension.

"The Dalai Lama is in here," one Tibetan in Shigatse told the BBC as he pointed to his heart. "But we cannot speak about him."

There have also been reports this month that the Chinese authorities are cracking down on pro-Dalai Lama sentiment in Tibet by sacking ethnic Tibetan officials.

China has worked hard to promote the view that it governs Tibet with a light touch.

Since 1951, when it reasserted its control of Tibet through what it called "peaceful liberation", Beijing says it has spent more than 1 billion yuan ($132m, £66m) restoring cultural sites.

People, it says, are free to worship and express their views.

"We do not have any political prisoners," said Nyima Tsering.

But it seems odd that in the Tashilunpo Monastery there are pictures of a smiling Chinese President Hu Jintao, but none of the Dalai Lama.

There might be political and religious freedom in Tibet, but it is a freedom severely curtailed by Beijing
Railway brings new era for Tibet
When a railway line linking Tibet to China opened last year, there were fears it could lead to the erosion of Tibet's unique culture and way of life. In the first of a series from the region, the BBC's Michael Bristow reports on the effects of the line one year on.

Business is benefiting from the new rail connection

Lhasa's railway cargo depot lies at the end of a partly-paved road, full of potholes, around 20km (12.5 miles) outside the Tibetan capital.

Scurrying to and fro along its platforms, uniformed workers unload everything from construction materials to incense.

Station master Chen Zhanying proudly churns out impressive statistics, detailing exports, imports, costs and benefits.

One year after the opening of the railway connecting Tibet with the rest of China, officials are keen to stress its achievements.

Improving wages

Those benefits are not hard to find. Renchin, a cleaner, is just one person whose life has improved with the railway's arrival.

The 28-year-old Tibetan works 12 hours a day, six days a week mopping the floor at the railway's passenger terminal on the outskirts of Lhasa.

Before the railway opened last July, she worked at a karaoke bar earning far less than the 900 yuan ($119, £59) she now takes home each month.

"At my previous job, the wages were bad and the work was hard," she said as she dragged her mop along the floor.

She added: "It's a lot better working here."

The development has helped people get better paid jobs

Businesses, as well as individuals, have also benefited.

Along the road leading to the cargo station, a giant gateway tells visitors they have arrived at Lhasa's economic development zone.

At the moment there is not much to see. Beyond the impressive entrance, a wide boulevard leads to vacant parcels of land.

But the zone's director, Huang Yutian, is optimistic. He said 112 businesses from as far away as Beijing and Guangzhou had already signed up to use the park.

These will be involved in industries such as mining, and processing Tibetan wool and dairy products.

Tax revenue from the development zone is expected to double this year to 80m yuan ($10.6m, £5.2m), Mr Huang said.

Predictably, tourism has also been given a boost by the railway's arrival to a region with wonderful natural scenery, and colourful temples and monasteries.

Previously, Lhasa could be reached only by plane or after a long, arduous road journey.

At central Lhasa's Jokhang Temple, one of Tibetan Buddhism's most revered sites, there are now at least twice as many visitors as before.

There are so many tourists at the 1,300-year-old temple - pilgrim numbers are about the same - site officials are considering setting limits.

There are fears that Tibetans are missing out on new jobs

"We need to manage visitors in an orderly fashion," said senior monk Chodak.

He added: "We are currently trying to figure out the best way to do that."

In short, local officials believe the railway is helping to transform Tibet's economy, improving the lives of ordinary people in the process.

Hao Peng, vice-chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region, said the area used to depend on central government funding to drive the economy.

But this year private investment, consumption, and imports and exports are all providing new impetus, he explained.

Economic growth was up by 14.7% in the first half of this year in the Himalayan region.

Skills gap

But if the railway has brought benefits, critics say they have not been evenly distributed.

All the good jobs, they claim, are being taken by China's dominant Han people who move to Tibet to find work.

That seems to be at least partly the case at the Hada Group, a Tibetan-run firm in Lhasa making traditional furniture and ironware.

Group Chairman Qun Pei said more than 90% of the company's 500 workers are ethnic Tibetans.

But he later admitted the firm had taken on 1,200 temporary workers from other parts of the country this year because it could not find enough Tibetans with the right skills.

Government officials admit there is a skills gap and say money has been put aside to train unqualified Tibetans.

But even if they are trained, will economic development provide enough jobs in what is still a very remote region?

As the development zone's Mr Huang (unnecessarily) pointed out, Tibet is hardly the centre of the economic universe.

This is particularly true for people living outside the main urban areas.

The year-old railway is certainly changing Tibet. It is bringing easier access to fresh vegetables, but also more tourists and migrants.

For some these changes are welcome and will provide opportunities. Others view them in a less benign light.


China's relocation of rural Tibetans
In the second of a series of pieces from Tibet, the BBC's Michael Bristow looks at the effects of relocating huge numbers of rural people to urban areas.

Tibetans have been moved from houses like this...
All along the main road from Lhasa to Tibet's second city, Shigatse, new homes are being erected beneath the towering peaks.

The work is part of a huge relocation project that saw 290,000 rural people - 10% of Tibet's population - moved into new homes last year alone.

China, which governs Tibet, is proud of this achievement. It says it is bringing modern services to once-isolated communities, and boasts that the annual per capita income for rural Tibetans increased by 17.2% last year to 2,435 yuan ($322, £158).

"If these people still lived in remote areas it would be hard to develop the economy and raise incomes," says local party secretary Gardor.

But critics argue that the relocation is destroying traditional Tibetan lifestyles, and say the authorities did not give much regard to the wishes of some local people.

Local optimism

... to these ones like this
An hour's drive outside Lhasa is the village of Caibalang.

Some people already lived here, along the main road, but others have recently been re-housed from more remote areas.

It is a place the Chinese government is keen to show off to visiting journalists.

On one side of the road stand spacious new two-storey homes, built with the help of government grants and preferential bank loans.

On the other side of the street, surrounded by muddy puddles, are a clutch of one-storey stone hovels, where animals and people share living space.

When I looked inside one of these old homes, it was dark and dirty. The only light came from a TV being watched by two children sat on the edge of a bed. A goat was tethered to a piece of furniture on the opposite side of the room.

The message is clear: China is transforming the lives, and living conditions, for at least these poor villagers.

The villagers themselves say they support the project.

Living in one of the newly built houses is Drolkar, a 31-year-old Tibetan woman who shares her house with her husband and son.

[The Chinese] authorities didn't bother to find out what Tibetans want, and have been heavy handed with those who have complained

Brad Adams
Human Rights Watch

Her new home cost 140,000 yuan ($18,500, £9,100) to build and furnish, which her family paid for mostly out of their own savings.

They also have a 30,000 yuan bank loan, being paid off over three years, and they received a grant of about 10,000 yuan from the government.

The family's new home comes with better farmland - and therefore the chance to make more money. They have also opened a roadside shop.

"I don't think there is a country in the world that has this kind of favourable relocation policy," says county chief Sun Baoxiang from behind a pair of large sunglasses.

He says the village's 500-odd families all welcome the project. "There have been no cases of imposed relocation," he explains.

Lifestyle change

If the choice is between the two houses being shown to journalists, it is not hard to believe officials when they say they have not had to force anyone to move.

But relocating farmers who plant crops and keep a few domestic animals is easier than moving Tibet's herders.

Drolkar and her family have now opened a roadside shop

Herders move around in search of fresh pastures for their yaks and cows. It is more difficult to get them to live in permanent homes.

Critics say the relocation policy is destroying their traditional way of life.

In June, US-based Human Rights Watch urged China to stop moving herders until the project's effects have been fully assessed.

"Some Chinese authorities claim that their forced urbanisation of Tibetan herders is an enlightened form of modernisation," says Brad Adams, the organisation's Asia director.

"But those same authorities didn't bother to find out what Tibetans want, and have been heavy handed with those who have complained."

Lacking basic skills, many resettled people have difficulty finding anything other than temporary or menial work, Human Rights Watch says.

And for those that do want to move, there is also the cost of the homes.

One villager in Caibalang, in Qushui County, complained he would have to take a job in Lhasa to pay for his new house.

Despite the complaints, the sheer scale of the building work taking place along the Lhasa-Shigatse road suggests China is not going to halt the project.

Chinese-style development is taking place whether Tibetans like it or not.

Regions and territories: Tibet

Tibet, the remote and mainly-Buddhist territory known as the "roof of the world", is governed as an autonomous region of China.
Beijing claims a centuries-old sovereignty over the Himalayan region. But the allegiances of many Tibetans lie with the exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, seen by his followers as a living god, but by China as a separatist threat.



Chinese troops invaded in 1950, sealing a tumultuous history in which Tibet had been conquered by its powerful Chinese and Mongolian neighbours and had latterly functioned as an independent entity.

Some areas of the "old Tibet" were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces.

In 1959, after a failed anti-Chinese uprising, the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet and set up a government in exile in India. Most of Tibet's monasteries were destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s during China's Cultural Revolution. Thousands of Tibetans are believed to have been killed during periods of repression and martial law.

Potala palace: Former seat of government and Lhasa landmark

Under international pressure, China eased its grip on Tibet in the 1980s, introducing "Open Door" reforms and boosting investment.

Beijing says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule. But rights groups say China continues to violate human rights, accusing Beijing of political and religious repression. Beijing denies any abuses.

Tourism and the ongoing modernisation drive stand in contrast to Tibet's former isolation. But Beijing's critics say Tibetans have little say in building their future.

China says a new railway link between Lhasa and the western Chinese province of Qinghai will boost economic expansion. The link is likely to increase the influx of Chinese migrants.

Buddhism reached Tibet in the seventh century. The Dalai Lama, or Ocean of Wisdom, is the leading spiritual figure; the Panchen Lama is the second most important figure. Both are seen as the reincarnations of their predecessors.

The selection of a Dalai Lama and a Panchen Lama follows a strict process, conducted by the existing Dalai Lama. But the Dalai Lama and Beijing are at odds over the 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama, having identified different youngsters for the role. The Dalai Lama's choice, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has not been seen since his detention by the Chinese authorities in 1995.

Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, leads a government in exile

There have been intermittent and indirect contacts between China and the Dalai Lama. The exiled spiritual leader advocates a non-violent, negotiated solution to the Tibet problem and accepts the notion of real autonomy for Tibet under Chinese sovereignty. China has questioned his claims that he does not seek independence.

Tibet's economy depends largely on agriculture. Forests and grasslands occupy large parts of the country. The territory is rich in minerals, but poor transport links have limited their exploitation. Tourism is an important revenue earner.



Population: 2.62 million (2000 Chinese census)
Capital: Lhasa
Area: 1.2 million sq km (471,700 sq miles)
Major languages: Tibetan, Chinese
Major religion: Buddhism
Main exports: Handicrafts, livestock


The Chinese Communist Party is the highest political and administrative authority in Tibet, operating through the region's party secretary and the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

Many Tibetans regard the exiled 14th Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader. Born in 1935, he was identified as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the age of two and was enthroned in 1940.

A campaigner for Tibetan autonomy on the world stage, the Dalai Lama leads a government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, in northern India. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.



Tibet's media are tightly controlled by the Chinese leadership. Official radio and TV stations have extended their reach across much of the mainly-rural region.

Overseas-based radio stations target Tibetan listeners in local languages, including the Voice of Tibet, operated by Norwegian non-governmental organisations, and the US government-backed Radio Free Asia. The shortwave broadcasts are subject to jamming.

The press

Xizang Ribao (Tibet Daily) - Communist Party newspaper

Tibet TV Station - state-run

Tibet People's Broadcasting Station - state-run

Killing Fields Justice

Nov 22, 2007
Justice over killing fields
A UNITED Nations-supported tribunal has at last begun to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to book - nearly 30 years after the killing fields of Cambodia took more than a million lives. Justice delayed may not be quite justice totally denied after all. Those who suffered and the relatives of those who perished have waited long enough. A few of the perpetrators, including the monstrous Pol Pot and 'the Butcher' Ta Mok, died without having to face their accusers. Khieu Samphan, Democratic Kampuchea's president during the genocide and mass starvation, is an infirm 76-year-old, roused this week from a hospital bed to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Among four others in custody and facing similar charges is Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch. His meekness in his court appearance this week belied the sadism with which he is accused of having 16,000 people tortured and executed while in charge of the Tuol Sleng charnel house.
If found guilty in trials next year, they deserve the full weight of justice. Even before the process has really begun, they have tried pleading ignorance, shifting blame to now dead comrades, or justifying the unjustifiable. Obviously, the intervening decades between crime and apprehension have brought them no closer to remorse. Neither have repeated judicial postponements offered their victims any sense of closure. Lower-ranking accomplices also have to be brought to account. Even if the tribunal has no mandate to try them, the precedent it sets will show Cambodian courts the way. Contrary to some speculation, the delays have added to the need for collective catharsis, not diminished it. The trials may yet set off a long-repressed release. Without facing up to the truth of those dark days, Cambodians will find genuine national reconciliation difficult.

It is also imperative not only that justice be done, but that it be seen to be done. The proceedings will benefit from live media coverage as well as international standards of openness and jurisprudence, owing to the UN involvement. It is equally important that those who are committing such crimes now in wars declared and undeclared, or will in the future, need to be aware of the certainty of justice. It may be coincidental that the tribunal began work in earnest in a week that Asean, which has Cambodia as a member, signed a Charter prescribing rule of law and human rights among principles of domestic conduct of states. This is fortuitous, considering what could happen in Myanmar if the governance and human rights crisis there should get any worse.

Indonesian Freedom Fighters

Nov 20, 2007
Freedom fighters rue a sad new world
By John McBeth, Senior Writer

FIVE years ago, I interviewed four sprightly octogenarians who called themselves the Third Generation. Not quite founding fathers, but prominent figures who had played vital roles in the birth of the Indonesian republic and had remained true to their values.
At a time when Indonesian thinkers were engaged in a great deal of worried introspection in the wake of the 1997-1998 economic meltdown, these four seemed to be some of the few judges genuinely qualified to answer a much-debated question: Where had Indonesia gone wrong?

To a man, they were courteous and engaging - all of them throwbacks to another, much different era free of corruption and self-interest and brimming with dreams for the future of an infant nation:

Mr Soedarpo Sastrosatomo, then 81, began his working life as a diplomat and then went on to found Samudera Lines, Indonesia's largest shipping company, now headquartered in Singapore.

Mr Roeslan Abdulgani, 87 at the time, a former foreign minister under president Sukarno who was still serving as a general adviser to the government.

Mr Julius Tahija, 85 during our meeting, a genuine World War II hero, a minister in the short-lived East Indonesia government and a retired businessman.

Professor Selo Soemardjan, then 87, a trained sociologist who served for 40 years as private secretary to the late Sultan Hamengkubuwono XI of Jogjakarta.
Sadly Mr Sastrosatomo - the one I knew the best - died recently of complications from dengue fever. In the house where thousands of people filed past his shrouded body to pay their respects, we shed silent tears for a fine man who represented all that is good about the Indonesian people - if not all of its leaders.

But his death also allowed me to reflect again on the surprisingly similar verdicts reached by these grand old men in those separate and fascinating interviews, which took me on a journey through modern Indonesian history.

Interestingly, they did not blame the Indonesian dilemma on former president Suharto or on founding president Sukarno. Rather, they traced its roots back to the early days of the republic, to the overbearing influence of Javanese culture - and to collective mistakes ranging from fostering bureaucratic nepotism to breeding a generation of rent-seekers.

Mr Sastrosatomo, a member of the Indonesian team to the United Nations from 1948 to 1950, pointed to how the early government was patterned after the Dutch colonial administration, more than 100 of whose laws still remain in the country's statute books.

'We weren't ready for independence,' he said. 'We didn't have the slightest clue what to do. It was all political, there was never any real talk about what the country would look like as an independent state.'

A lot of the blame fell on the Dutch, who did nothing to prepare the country for independence. 'The Dutch trained good mechanics and technical people, but they never trained managers or leaders - it was a deliberate policy,' Mr Tahija told me.

'No one was ready. We started fighting first and thinking later. The whole thing was 'let's get them out first'...We had never thought as one entity, and that was difficult to overcome.'

Hard of hearing but sharp as a tack, Mr Abdulgani remembered those days well.

'We were a people who wanted to be masters in our own house, not servants as we were before. Frankly, we didn't understand international relations - we knew only the Dutch, the Japanese and the British,' said the old freedom fighter, whose right hand was turned into a claw by machine-gun fire.

'We had heard our older leaders talking about Asia, so our view was we should be on the same level as India and the Philippines. But overall, you had to understand our urge for freedom.'

But once independence was achieved, something seemed to change. Mr Sastrosatomo recalled the high ethics that characterised the 1945-1950 independence struggle against the Dutch as they tried to regain what had slipped from their grasp during Japan's World War II occupation.

'Money,' the one-time diplomat insisted, 'was never stolen.' Then in the early 1950s, the new government began issuing commercial licences to private businessmen - for a price. 'What's happening now,' he sighed deeply, 'is simply an outgrowth of what happened then.'

Interestingly, it is Java and its culture that the four wise men saw as the biggest impediment to Indonesia's stumbling progress towards modern statehood. It is not a new thought, but it has taken on more resonance with memories of military abuses and Jakarta's grudging decision to decentralise.

In those days, vice-president Mohommad Hatta wanted a federation while Mr Sukarno held out for a republic. Mr Tahija, an Ambonese born in Java, thought Mr Hatta was on the right track.

'Today, if you know someone is Javanese,' he said, 'an electric shock goes through you.'

Has it all been that bad? Mr Soemardjan, a small ethnic Javanese with a thatch of white hair, seemed to think so, noting that all Indonesia's presidents have been from Java, with the exception of Sulawesi-born B.J. Habibie.

'Because the president is recognised by the Javanese as a king, he exercises his cultural influence over everyone else,' he said. 'This has created resentment in the process of national development. You have a dichotomy between Javanese and non-Javanese areas which is very strong...They (the provinces) feel colonised by the government of Java.'

Mr Sastrosatomo, an ethnic Javanese born in Sumatra, believed that applying an 'old-fashioned philosophy' to a modern society would not work. In 1952, when he turned his back on diplomacy to become a private businessman, he recalled it was culturally rude to talk about business.

'Even today, in places like Solo (Java's ancient royal capital), traders are not really considered fit for society,' he pointed out. 'But that doesn't mean people are not interested in the money that comes with business.'

In the end, finding a position in the bureaucracy became the way to reap the spoils of business without getting soiled hands. 'If you get a position, you don't have to work,' he complained.

'The roots of the problem lie in the Javanese culture. Once people had a position, they never wanted to give it up.'

Mr Tahija remembered when it was once an honour to be in the civil service. But not long after independence, under pressure from the elite families, nepotism took over and the number of government employees multiplied. Lessons the snappily dressed Mr Tahija had always held dear - don't talk too much, create a reliable follow-up system and practise what you preach - disappeared.

'There has been a serious erosion of values,' he said. 'What is right, what is wrong is all mixed up. It is difficult these days for young people to find a good example, a good role model. There is also huge scepticism about whether Indonesians are able to do business in a straightforward way.'

Mr Soemardjan blamed a lack of communications on the yawning gap between the central government and the outlying islands. 'They think they're the national government,' he scoffed, 'but out there on the islands, they want to know, 'What exactly is the national government?'.

'Politically speaking, you have a Constitution and a president, but that is something only for the big cities. There are more than 500 ethnic groups, each with its own culture, family life, language and belief systems - it's the duty of the central government to keep them together as one nation.'

So what of the future? 'You can't do anything properly unless you have security and a legal system,' said Mr Sastrosatomo, who moved Samudera's headquarters to Singapore to get away from Mr Suharto and his policies.

But still, he never despaired. He went to his grave last month as hopeful as ever for the future of the country he loved.

India's influence on SEA

Lasting impressions of dynasty
By Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, For The Straits Times
HISTORY is repeating itself in South-east Asia, says Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew,* speaking of past, present and future Sino-Indian interaction, but it 'will not be reproduced in exactly the same form' because 'nothing ever is reproduced exactly the same'.
The form it takes will depend to a large extent on the lessons South-east Asia is able to draw from its past. The latter is an issue that will be examined at a conference to be held in Singapore from tomorrow to Friday.**

The region's Indic underpinning is its best-kept secret. In fact, Asean, the 10-nation grouping, can be called the 'Indianised states of South-east Asia' - in the words of French orientalist George Coedes - in modern garb.

Asean's members enshrine the traditions of Temasek, Champa, Funan, Kataaha, Mataram and all the other lost kingdoms of the Srivijaya and Majapahit empires that ancient Indians knew collectively as Suvarnabhumi, Land of Gold.

'When we refer to 1,000-year-old ties which unite us with India, it is not at all a hyperbole,' former king Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia said when dedicating a boulevard in Phnom Penh to India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

'In fact, it was about 2,000 years ago that the first navigators, Indian merchants and Brahmins, brought to our ancestors their gods, their techniques, their organisation. Briefly, India was for us what Greece was to the Latin Occident,' he said.

Language, religion, art, architecture, governance, institutions, temples, folk culture and - above all - a buoyant tradition of maritime trade and merchant guilds also marked the mission goals and influence that more than 50 eminent scholars from a dozen Asian and European countries will discuss at this week's conference. The event is jointly organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the National Library Board, the Institute of South Asian Studies and the Asian Research Institute.

Singapore's first foreign minister, the late Mr S. Rajaratnam, saw Chinese-majority Singapore's retention of its Sanskrit name as an affirmation of British historian A.L. Basham's thesis 'that the whole of South-east Asia received most of its culture from India'.

And an Indian word - bumiputera - encapsulates Malaysia's most cherished political concept.

Making images of the elephant- headed Hindu god Ganesa is a cottage industry in Muslim Java, while Thailand's Buddhist kings claim spiritual descent from India's legendary god-king Rama.

For Minister Mentor Lee, Asean's Indic past resonates in the fun and frolic of Indonesian politics as opposed to the religious austerity of Malaysian election campaigns. Indonesians might also have succumbed to the passions that sweep Kelantan and Terengganu without 'that underpinning of Buddhism and Hinduism that gives them, particularly the Javanese, a certain balance'. He blames Jemaah Islamiah leaders of Arab descent for corrupting some Javanese.

The 'Indian influence came from the west, in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia Malaysia, Indonesia', he said. 'The Chinese influence came through Vietnam and the city ports, the coastal ports of South-east Asia.' The porcelain cargo of sunken ships from before Admiral Cheng Ho's time bears this out.

But the past was not only a time of peace and plenty. About 10 conference papers will focus on the naval might of India's Chola kings, who interacted extensively with South-east Asia in an age that has left behind some vexed questions with an intriguingly contemporary ring.

Did Rajendra Chola raid Sumatra and Malaya because the Srivijayans obstructed his shipping? Did Mataram attack Srivijaya over the spice trade? Why did Majapahit overthrow Srivijaya? Undoubtedly, commerce was a major cause for the rise and fall of empires for, as the Portuguese Tome Pires who visited Malacca in the 1500s wrote: 'Whoever is lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.'

Politically, did the Cholas accept Sung suzerainty or was this another Celestial Empire pretension? The suggestion that while South-east Asia saw India as the land of Hinduism and Buddhism and a major trading centre, it also viewed China as exerting political and economic power sounds familiar.

'I see now, with the revival of these two great powers, the same thrust coming in from the East and the West,' said Minister Mentor Lee. Much will depend on how Asean composes its internal differences to manage great-power mingling.

Divisiveness finally overwhelmed its historical predecessor. Suvarnabhumi had too many kings, too little unity in diversity.

This week's conference will send a constructive message beyond the groves of academe if it helps to emphasise the crucial importance of integration as Asean's only means of meaningful survival.

The writer is visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Gorbachev coup conspirator dies

25 Nov 2007 - BBC

Gorbachev coup conspirator dies

Former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, one of the orchestrators of the failed coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, has died aged 83.
The Federal Security Service, the FSB, said Mr Kryuchkov had died in a Moscow hospital of an unspecified illness.

Mr Kryuchkov signed the takeover decree after a group of hardline communists ousted Mr Gorbachev to try to halt his reform plans.

The coup lasted three days. The men were jailed, and then pardoned in 1994.

Mr Gorbachev appointed Mr Kryuchkov as head of the KGB in 1988.

In recent years, Mr Kryuchkov raised his public profile, publishing his memoirs and giving numerous interviews in which he accused the West of plotting against Russia.

He was frequently invited to Kremlin events by Russian President Vladimir Putin, himself a former KGB official.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Key figures of Khmer Rouge

(Pic on far left - Pol Pot)
(Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea live next door to each other)

Monday, 19 November 2007, 08:58 GMT

Key figures in the Khmer Rouge

Pol Pot's regime is thought to have led to the deaths of 1.7m people
A United Nations-backed genocide tribunal has been set up in Cambodia, to seek justice for the Khmer Rouge's hundreds of thousands of victims.

It could see surviving leaders of the brutal regime brought to the dock, but the man most wanted for crimes against humanity in Cambodia will never be brought to justice.

Pol Pot, the founder and leader of the Khmer Rouge, died in a camp along the border with Thailand in 1998.

Other key figures have also died. Ta Mok - the regime's military commander and one of Pol Pot's most ruthless henchmen - died in July 2006.

As time goes on, some people are beginning to question whether it is too late to achieve a proper sense of justice for the Cambodian people.

But there are several surviving figures who have been implicated in the genocide that took place during the Khmer Rouge's four-year regime.

Judges at the tribunal started questioning their first suspect - Kang Kek Ieu, more commonly known as Duch - on 31 July, to decide whether he should stand trial.

Duch was the boss of Phnom Penh's notorious Tuol Sleng prison, where thousands of people were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Now aged 65, he is the youngest surviving member of the movement's leadership.

Duch, who has since become a born-again Christian, has been in custody since 1999. He is said to be eager for his chance to go to trial to tell his version of events.


Nuon Chea, known as 'Brother Number Two" as he was second in command to Pol Pot, was arrested on 19 September and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He defected from the Khmer Rouge in 1998 and was granted a pardon by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

In December 2002 he was called to testify on behalf of the former Khmer Rouge general Sam Bith, who was sentenced to life in prison for ordering the kidnap and murder of three Western backpackers in 1994.

So far he has denied being involved in the atrocities that went on during the Khmer Rouge regime, but critics suggest that at the very least he was fully informed of what was happening.

Ieng Sary, also known as "Brother Number Three", was the third person to be arrested by the tribunal on 12 November.

The Khmer Rouge's minister of foreign affairs, Ieng Sary was also Pol Pot's brother-in-law. His wife, Ieng Thirith, was the regime's social affairs minister. She was also taken to appear before the tribunal.

Ieng Sary became the first senior leader to defect in 1996 - and as a result was granted a royal pardon.

The United Nations says such a pardon cannot protect someone from prosecution, but Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously warned that going after Ieng Sary could re-ignite civil unrest in Cambodia.

The former minister is said to be ill with a heart condition, and has been travelling to Bangkok regularly for treatment.

His arrest was followed by that of Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge's official head of state, on 19 November.

He was the public face of the Khmer Rouge, who defected at the same time as Nuon Chea.

Until his arrest, the 73-year-old was said to spend most of his time at his home in Pailin, once the movement's jungle headquarters, reading, listening to music or gardening

Last Updated: Monday, 19 November 2007, 09:08 GMT

Top Khmer Rouge leader detained

Khieu Samphan is the fifth Khmer Rouge official to be detained
Police in Cambodia have arrested Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge's former head of state, and taken him to a UN-backed genocide tribunal.
The elderly ex-leader was taken from a hospital in the capital, Phnom Penh, to face a panel of investigating judges.

He is the fifth person to be targeted by the court, set up to bring surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge to the dock.

More than one million people are thought to have died between 1975 and 1979 under the brutal Maoist regime.

Close confidant

Khieu Samphan's arrest had been widely expected

A former guerrilla fighter, he became the president of Democratic Kampuchea - as Cambodia was then known - after the Khmer Rouge came to power. He was a close confidant of leader Pol Pot.

He has long claimed that his position was ceremonial, and in a recently published book he denied responsibility for policies to starve people and orders to carry out mass killings.

Last week, amid reports that his detention was imminent, he was flown to hospital in Phnom Penh after apparently suffering a stroke.

Early on Monday, police entered the hospital and drove the former leader to the special courts to appear before a panel of investigating judges.

"An initial appearance will be held today during which he will be informed of the charges which have been brought against him," a tribunal statement said.

Delay fears

Khieu Samphan's arrest completes the initial round-up of suspects by the tribunal, which was established last year after decades of delay.

Former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and wife Ieng Thirith, the social affairs minister, were arrested last week and charged with crimes against humanity.

Pol Pot's second-in command, Nuon Chea, and Kang Kek Ieu - known as Duch - the head of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, are also facing similar charges.

Their trials are expected to begin next year.

Under the Khmer Rouge, more than one million people died from starvation or overwork as leaders strove to create an agrarian utopia.

Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle-classes were tortured and executed in special centres.

Khmer Rouge founder Pol Pot died in 1998 and many fear that delays to the judicial process could mean that more of the regime's elderly leaders are never brought to justice.


Prison chief Duch (or Kang Kek Ieu), charged in July with crimes against humanity
Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea, charged in September with war crimes and crimes against humanity

Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, charged in November with war crimes and crimes against humanity

Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, charged in November with crimes against humanity

Head of State Khieu Samphan, arrested in November, yet to be charged


Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979
Founded and led by Pol Pot, (above) who died in 1998
Abolished religion, schools and currency in a bid to create agrarian utopia
Brutal regime that did not tolerate dissent
More than a million people thought to have died from starvation, overwork or execution


Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime

More than a million people died under the four-year regime
The Khmer Rouge was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, but during this short time it was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century.
The brutal regime claimed the lives of more than a million people - and some estimates say up to 2.5 million perished.

Under the Marxist leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge tried to take Cambodia back to the Middle Ages, forcing millions of people from the cities to work on communal farms in the countryside.

But this dramatic attempt at social engineering had a terrible cost, and whole families died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork.

Communist philosophy

The Khmer Rouge had its origins in the 1960s, as the armed wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea - the name the Communists used for Cambodia.

Based in remote jungle and mountain areas in the north-east of the country, the group initially made little headway.

The Khmer Rouge expanded their reach from the remote north-east
But after a right-wing military coup toppled head of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970, the Khmer Rouge entered into a political coalition with him and began to attract increasing support.

In a civil war that continued for nearly five years, it gradually increased its control in the countryside.

Khmer Rouge forces finally took over the capital, Phnom Penh, and therefore the nation as a whole in 1975.

During his time in the remote north-east, Pol Pot had been influenced by the surrounding hill tribes, who were self-sufficient in their communal living, had no use for money and were "untainted" by Buddhism.

When he came to power, he and his henchmen quickly set about transforming Cambodia - now re-named Kampuchea - into what they hoped would be an agrarian utopia.

Declaring that the nation would start again at "Year Zero", Pol Pot isolated his people from the rest of the world and set about emptying the cities, abolishing money, private property and religion, and setting up rural collectives.

Anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort was killed. Often people were condemned for wearing glasses or knowing a foreign language.

Pol Pot led the brutal regime, but died without being brought to justice
Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle-classes were tortured and executed in special centres.

The most notorious of these centres was the S21 jail in Phnom Penh, where more than 17,000 men, women and children were imprisoned during the regime's four years in power.

Hundreds of thousands of others died from disease, starvation or exhaustion as members of the Khmer Rouge - often just teenagers themselves - forced people to do back-breaking work.

Opening up

The Khmer Rouge government was finally overthrown in 1979 by invading Vietnamese troops, after a series of violent border confrontations.

The higher echelons of the party retreated to remote areas of the country, where they remained active for a while but gradually became less and less powerful.

In the years that followed, as Cambodia began the process of reopening to the international community, the full horrors of the regime became apparent.

Survivors told their stories to shocked audiences, and in the 1980s the Hollywood movie The Killing Fields brought the plight of the Khmer Rouge victims to worldwide attention.

Pol Pot was denounced by his former comrades in a show trial in July 1997, and sentenced to house arrest in his jungle home.

But less than a year later he was dead - denying the millions of people who were affected by this brutal regime the chance to bring him to justice.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Battle for Bukit Timah in context

Bukit Timah Village 1912

Bukit Timah Railway station 1910

Bukit Timah is home to Singapore's highest hill at 163.63 m. Composed mainly of granite, the hill was once an active quarrying site in the mid-1900s. One abandoned quarry has been developed as a park. Hindhede Nature Park is now a popular spot to enjoy the quarry’s scenic beauty and have some fun with the more adventurous play equipment.

In the early 1800s, Bukit Timah was reportedly never visited as the terrain was declared too tough, except for the Chinese gambier farmers who squatted around the hill. In 1882, the Government of the Straits Settlement, alarmed by the rate of deforestation, commissioned Nathaniel Cantley to prepare a report on the forests. Cantley, then Superintendent of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, recommended that several forest reserves be created over the next few years. Bukit Timah was one of the first forest reserves established in 1883. All the reserves except Bukit Timah were worked for timber. When these reserves were later deleted in 1937, the protection of Bukit Timah’s flora and fauna was retained. In 1951, Bukit Timah received further protection under the Nature Reserves Ordinance. The narrow ridge connecting the sources of the Jurong and the Kranji Rivers was a natural defence line protecting the north-west approach to the city. The Allied troops were to defend this line strongly against the invading Japanese.

The Battle for Bukit Timah represented Lieutenant General Percival's final defence of the southern portion of Singapore. This last defence perimeter included the town, the Kallang aerodrome, the reservoirs and the supply depots in Bukit Timah.
Percival had to decide what to do if the Japanese broke through to Bukit Timah, at a meeting with Heath and Simmons (Commanding Southern Area) at midnight on the 9th February, told them a parameter defines of Singapore City would be put into operation.

However, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival's secret orders to withdraw to the last defence line around the city, only if necessary, were misunderstood by the defending Allied troops. Brigadier Maxwell and Brigadier Taylor thought these orders were to be carried out immediately and withdrew from their strong positions on the Kranji to Jurong Line. The 44th Indian Infantry Brigade, the 12th Indian Infantry Brigade and the 22nd Australian Brigade, reinforced after their withdrawal from Sarimbun Beach in the north-west, abandoned the Jurong-Kranji Line on 10th February 1942.

This gave the Japanese a clear run towards Singapore City with only Bukit Timah in its way.At night, the Japanese troops from the 5th and 18th Divisions, supported by armor, attacked troops of the 12th and 15th Indian Brigades, the 22nd Australian Brigade, The Special Reserve Battalion, Tomforce, Merrett's Force, the Argylls, Jind State Infantry and 'X' Battalion. (formed from the disbanded administrative service). The Allied forces had re-grouped to defend the critical junctions at Choa Chu Kang, Jurong and Clementi Roads, leading to Bukit Timah Road. By the 11th February, the Japanese had repaired the causeway, this enabled the Japanese to speed up the attack by getting more tanks and troops onto Singapore Island and the road from the causeway ran directly to Bukit Timah.

British forces made many attempts to stop the Japanese advance around the critical junctions of the Chua Chu Kang Road, Jurong Road and Reformatory Road (around Clementi Road) with Bukit Timah Road. Some of the forces involved were the Special Reserves Battalion. Tomforce, Merrett force, The Argylls, the Jind State Infantry, Dalforce and the X Battalion.

The Malaya Command defending Kranji were pushed back by sheer numbers and with a lack of communication confusion and panic set in. The 27th Australian Brigade, 8th and 12th Indian Brigades tried to counterattack but could not stop the Japanese advances from the west and north. By the afternoon Japanese tanks began to arrive and quickly scattered the Indian troops on the hills at Bukit Timah leaving the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to defend the supply dumps at Bukit Timah. A road block was quickly thrown up and they knocked out the leading tank. At 1600 hours, Percival ordered the fuel depots east of Bukit Timah to be destroyed as the numbers of tanks and troops were increasing. A company of British and Special Reserve troops, numbering 1,500 men, engaged the Japanese on the Jurong Road at about 1930 hours and counterattacked, fierce hand to hand fighting developed, the Japanese were forced back and the British commander Brigadier Coates then realised they had been cut off. Coates then divided his troops into three columns (British, Australian and Indian) and headed south. They were caught in the open while crossing Sleepy Valley and suffered very heavy casualties, only 400 men reached the 22nd Australian defensive lines. By 2230 hours the Japanese were pushing the defences back to the east of the main road, this then gave the Japanese control of the major road junction in the centre of the Island, cutting off any communication between north and south.

By dawn of 11th February 1942, the Japanese troops reported to their commander Lieutenant-General Tomoyuki Yamashita that they had seized Bukit Timah. The road to the city was open.

The Japanese built man-made caves in the jungle hills of Bukit Timah to store supplies and ammunition. These caves are still standing today. Bukit Timah, which dominates the arterial Bukit Timah and Dunearn Roads leading to the city, was a strategically important point for both the Allied troops and the Japanese.

Bukit Timah Road was said that on 15 February 1942, Lieutenant-General Arthur E Percival walked to Bukit Timah with a white flag to meet General Yamashita.

The Bukit Tinggi Area

Fierce battle in the Swiss Club area Swiss Club housed the Royal Australian Medical Corps During battle for Singapore final phase General Matsui set up his headquarters in Bukit Tinggi Hill and directed operations End of 1943 Japanese took over Swiss Club and became the residence of the Commander of the Japanese military unit

There was fierce fighting between Japanese forces under Lieutenant General Matsui, Commander of the 5th Division and British forces in the vicinity of the Swiss Club and Bukit Tinggi where Matsui set up his Divisional Headquarters and conducted the final operations in the Battle for Singapore.

The Swiss Club had housed the Royal Australian Medical Corps. During the Malayan campaign the Club was used by the Royal Air Force as arrest camp.

Before the British Surrender on 15 February 1942 the Australians vacated and it became the residence of the Commander of the Butai, a Japanese military unit.

The Swiss Club was established in 1871. It was then known as the Swiss Rifle Shooting Club of Singapore and had its premises off Balestier Road. Later in 1910 the Club moved to Bukit Timah and in 1925 to Bukit Tinggi.

Though Switzerland remained a neutral country in World War II, the Swiss in Singapore did voluntary services as Air Raid Precaution Wardens and served in the auxiliary medical services and bomb disposal squads.

The Swiss Club
By Vincent Soh
Prestige Magazine August 2001
- Club house in 1927

Sprawled over 28 acres on the verdant slopes of Bukit Tinggi (“High Hill”) is one of Singapore’s oldest and most famous social fraternities, the Swiss Club. For the 130 years since its formation as the Swiss Rifle Shooting Club in 1871, the Club has been the convivial heart and pulse of social life for the Swiss community. No longer restricting membership to Swiss nationals and even at one time, men only, the Club today embraces more than a 1,000 persons of 40 different nationalities.(In 1870, it was also established as the Swiss Rifle Shooting Club of Singapore to ensure that Swiss citizens continued to fulfil their national requirement of military readiness.)

The Swiss Club survived two world wars, decades of creaking financial problems, the changing times and a destructive fire. Its colourful history reads like a dipstick lifted from the waters of Singapore’s past.

The beginnings

The Swiss community in 1870 was mainly from the weaving industry, used to putting in 14-hour days, seven days a week. The jaunty English, on the other hand, rested during Saturday afternoons and Sundays, taking the time to passionately pursue national interests like cricket.

Otto Alder, a Swiss who envied the English for their leisure pursuits, fretted over the lack of Swiss activities and a place for the community to come together. It was suggested one day that he invite his friends to his home at “lonely Bunker Hill” for tiffin, whereupon inspiration, as Otto himself would write, resoundingly struck:

“Then a thought came to my rescue and I asked my friends to turn up with their rifles and I would get ready a target. I made a large one after the Swiss pattern...”

And flushed with success afterwards: “The good spirits rose higher and higher; we all felt ourselves to be real Swiss. I tinkled the glass, stood up and said: “Friends, how would it be if we took this game seriously and formed a shooting club where we would gather every Saturday afternoon for real Swiss shooting practice?” The motion was carried with deafening applause.

Three founder members roamed the island on horseback looking for a suitable site, and found one off Balestier Road on which was located a small valley of a size that matched the distance required of a shooting range. The first constructions of the Club were five wooden targets on one end of the valley and a simple attap hut at the other. In August 1871, the shooting range was opened.

In August 1872, the Swiss community celebrated the first official shooting festival as the inaugural event for the young Club. To the jubilation of all, the first shots were slammed into the bulls-eye by a Miss Baenziger, who came from a family stocked with shooting champions.

A photograph survives in the possession of Diethelm & Co of a shooting festival in 1877. About 22 members, nearly the whole of the shooting club, posed for the photograph. Behind them flapped a life-sized flag of Helvetia drawn by Otto Alder himself, complete with a squinting, cross-eyed lion.

It turned out later that the land actually belonged to influential Chinese business man Whampoa, who arrived in haste one day to complain about bullets not only missing their targets, but fired over the hill.

The Early Years

For many decades after 1871, the membership of the Club would not exceed 30 people. From the beginning, however, the feeling of solidarity and belonging flourished with the enjoyment of ethnic activities, and the small Club not only managed to keep things together but also gradually improved the amenities and increased the variety of activities.

In 1875, a rather large clubhouse was erected on the Balestier site, clear progress from the simple small affair constructed earlier. No pictures survive of this building, but it was clearly designed to entertain a number of members and guests, constructed, as it was, with a stage.

According to records, this meeting place became a favourite of the community where “happy and informal hours” could be spent with friends and companions. Impromptu singing and yodeling, for example, did not raise eyebrows but beer mugs in salute. On the matter of beer, it was recorded by the Baumgartner family that roughly 36 gallons of beer, to slake some terrible thirsts, were consumed during every club event.

These were heady days. The thunder of artillery from pieces located on nearby hillocks heralded the start of every shooting practice and competition. Clear records were kept of events from those days when ladies shot at pictures of Cupid instead of bulls-eyes and the German Consul would hand out prizes to competition winners. Swiss leisure was also found in skittling and other traditional activities.

A significant milestone was reached in 1881 when the tenth anniversary of the Club was celebrated. Under President W.H.Diethelm, the Club toiled to host a very special shooting competition for numerous guests from abroad. W. H. Diethelm was a remarkable and prominent man of the club. As a founding member, his continuous efforts to elevate the Club above obscurity were matched only by his popularity and the generosity of his repeated donations, over many years from abroad after he left Singapore for Switzerland in 1886. During the tenth anniversary event, he attended to his duties despite grieving over the recent death of his infant daughter. Lulled by singing and musical performances at the Club, members enjoyed these halcyon days. The Club became known in all sections of the European community for its informal hospitality and meditative surroundings. Members were menaced by only sporadic rioting from Chinese secret societies and the threat of tropical diseases.

The High Hill

The Balestier site however became untenable in June 1901 when the Swiss Rifle Shooting Club received a notice of eviction from the place it had occupied for exactly 30 years. This would prove to be the start of a series of financial struggles for the fraternity.

Despite opposition from fainthearted members who opposed splashing out on a new piece of land and building, a dynamic personality in the person of then-president J. Schudel, pushed through a motion to keep the Club going and made every effort to live up to the Club’s purpose.

Despite an extraordinary $2,000 which had to be paid out for the direct purchase of land at Bukit Tinggi, members of the Club showed foresight in avoiding a lease that would have seen its termination date in the financially-troubled 1920s. The plot of land was subsequently increased to incorporate land for a swimming pool, or bath as it was then called. A large club house was built and in August 1902 a formal opening and glittering party was celebrated there from which the last guest only barely staggered away in the early hours of the next morning.

In 1909, however, smack in the middle of the good times at the splendid club, both the Club building and shooting house burned down. Everything was destroyed, and the cause of the fire, either a disgruntled servant or a merciless bolt from the heavens, was never clearly determined. With money from the insurance company, swift action was taken to construct another Club house, this time even more ambitious in layout. It was only later realised that, quite obviously now, funds would be insufficient, and another round of soliciting donations was ruefully conducted.

In June 1914, extraordinary revisions of the rules and regulations of the club were made when H. R. Arbenz, an outspoken and influential member, proposed that the pro vision allowing only German-speakers to be inducted into the Club be removed. It was a major step forward in removing discrimination and indirectly lead to the popularity of the Club today. Determined, Arbenz became president and remained so for many years.

Despite some harassment in the British colony due to their German ties, Swiss members would find the years of the First World War to be easy and lucrative due to increased trade in Singapore. In any case, most of the members were quietly thankful they avoided the muddy hell and killing fields of Europe with their dire privation and untold miseries. Having to give up their guns during this time seemed an inconsequential affair.

(left) Members in 1915

The 50th anniversary of the Club in 1921 was another gala affair. According to records, it was “a memorable day of Swiss customs and ways (Schweizerart)”. The occasion, with the year, would prove however to be a cornerstone in the interpretation of Swiss tradition in Singapore.

Pre-Second World War Years

In the year 1925, the yearly report noted, “1924 can be considered a year of restoration and transition in the political and economic field, as well as in the life of the Club.” Strengthened by a new generation of members, filled with vim and enterprise, the Club too sought a new direction and purpose.

A significant motion was subsequently passed in changing the name of the Club from Schweizer Sch├╝tzen Verein (Swiss Rifle Shooting Club) to simply Schweizer Klub (Swiss Club). The members rejected the traditional military spirit of Swiss shooting clubs in light of the terrible killing in the First World War. The new Club sought instead to be a club for the community, practicing rifle shooting only on a competitive level and ranking it behind other activities which cultivated social together ness. Swimming and skittling were very popular while tennis gradually found its footing.

During the same year, the club building became less than house-worthy with the discovery of worm-eaten woodwork full of dry rot and damaged by beetles and white ants. After some consideration, members bravely decided to build a stone clubhouse, rare in those days, costing some $18,000.

The new clubhouse, built under the guidance of H. R. Arbenz, was a delight. Its solid construction at the top of the hill with the green slope at its feet spurred the elation of members. Designed on the lines of a small Swiss chalet, complete with turreted roof, it was reported to be “excellently appointed in every respect” by the Malay Tribune in 1927. It is still in service and underwent a face-lift with repainting in 2001.

Neutrals in an Occupation

The Swiss, like other communities, were caught cold by the sudden invasion of North Malaya. Within three months Japanese soldiers shouldered British forces aside in Malaya and defeated them in a pitched battle in Singapore. A monument to the invasion troops was built on Bukit Tinggi after the capitulation.

The recognition of the neutral status of the Swiss by the Japanese was successfully carried out and incarceration was avoided, although it did not spare the men occasional bullying. The Swiss Club was looted by forces from both sides as well as the local population, smashing everything in view. Members fled to other parts of Asia in droves, quite unlike during the previous conflict.

Visits to the clubhouse diminished, which was somewhat good considering that supplies had also plummeted, and atten dance finally fell to zero when the house was appropriated by a Japanese commander who promptly installed a lavatory at the bar counter.

The succeeding years until the liberation were a period of increasing deprivation, malnutrition and decay, although a glimmer of light could be found in increased interaction and friendliness between the locals and the dwindling numbers of foreigners. By the war’s end, 20 Swiss nationals were the only Caucasians among more than a million Asians.

With the appointment of Hans Schweizer Iten as the Delegate of the Red Cross of Geneva, the Swiss community took the initiative in collecting and delivering food stuffs, medicine and goods to prisoners in over 13 internment camps, amid increasing chaos and social disorder. After surrender, for the three weeks until the British arrived, the Red Cross worked feverishly with others to save souls in peril.

After the war, Club life ran its course, although improved significantly by a heavy renovation and improvement project carried out in 1960. In 1966, the Swiss Club had to give up 10 per cent of its land to the government while it also had to battle and pay off squatters.

On October 30, 1983, some land was finally let out for lease with building rights to the Dutch, French and German schools as well as the British Club. Otherwise much of the Club land today remains green in the manner of a country estate with beautiful trees shading steps and paths.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

1978 Jonestown massacre

1978: Mass suicide leaves 900 dead
The bodies of 914 people, including 276 children, have been found in Guyana in South America.
Most of the dead - members of the People's Temple Christian Church - had consumed a soft drink laced with cyanide and sedatives.

However, the body of the People's Temple charismatic leader, Jim Jones, was said to have a bullet wound in the right temple, believed to be self-inflicted.

The deaths are being linked to the earlier killings of five people, including US Congressman Leo Ryan, on a nearby airstrip.

Mr Ryan had led a fact-finding mission to the church's jungle settlement - Jonestown - after allegations by relatives in the US of human rights abuses.

Last year Jim Jones and most of the 1,000 members of the People's Temple moved to Guyana from San Francisco after an investigation began into the church for tax evasion.

People who had left the organisation told the authorities of brutal beatings, murders and a mass suicide plan but were not believed.

In spite of the tax evasion allegations, Jim Jones was still widely respected for setting up a racially-mixed church which helped the disadvantaged.

Five dead at airport

Leo Ryan's delegation arrived in Jonestown on 14 November and spent three days interviewing residents.

They left hurriedly earlier on Saturday after an attempt on Mr Ryan's life, taking with them about 20 People's Temple members who wished to leave.

Delegation members told police as they were boarding planes at the airstrip a truckload of Jim Jones' guards arrived and began to shoot.

When the gunmen left five people were dead: Congressman Ryan, a reporter and cameraman from NBC, a newspaper photographer and one "defector" from the People's Temple.

A producer for NBC News, Bob Flick, survived the attack.

Mr Flick said: "Every time someone fell down wounded they would walk over and shoot them in the head with a shotgun."

STILL SOME RESISTANCE: Though women are now allowed, these three who tried to enter the Men's Bar last night were run out the door by a merry-making male member the moment they walked in. -- ST PHOTO: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN

Cricket Club gives women full access after 155 years
The last off-limits room - the Men's Bar - opened to them this month
By Arti Mulchand

THE final bastion of male exclusivity at the Singapore Cricket Club has come crumbling down - women have finally won elbow room at its Men's Bar & Billiards Room.
It is the only room at the 155-year-old club, and probably the entire country, that has stayed off-limits to women - till now.

The club, which started in 1852 as a 'For Men Only' hut on the Padang, took its time breaking from that mould.

So harsh was the ban on women that they could not even peek inside the door - the penalty was a chiding for their male partners from the committee. And to rub some salt into it, he would have to buy a round of drinks for the entire bar to boot, revealed club president Anwarul Haque with a laugh.

But since Nov 3, by-laws have been changed to allow women to move freely in and out of the room they only ever saw once a year, on New Year's Eve.

Over the years, the segregation had its detractors, who lambasted it as a throwback to the club's colonial past. But Mr Haque said protests were 'feeble', and besides, some female members did not mind giving their husbands a space of their own.

So why change the rules now?

Some of the club's 3,500 members said it has been prompted less by the desire to bridge the gender divide than to boost the bottom line.

The club's renovation, completed exactly a year ago, saw the men gain more privacy than many could stomach when the Men's Bar was moved from the first floor to the basement, so space could be better utilised.

Not only did they lose their view of the Padang, but the new spot was dark, with lower ceilings, and 'not very nice', some members said.

Business took a hit as drinkers gravitated towards Stumps, a unisex sports bar created on the first floor.

Still, the change means the final barrier to equality of the sexes has been removed, something that has been a long time coming.

From the time the club opened, women - when allowed to be there - often occupied an upper pavilion and left the club by a rear staircase, never passing through the main area where men were watching sports or the bar, said club member and writer Ilsa Sharp, who documented the club's history.

It was in 1938 when they were finally allowed to be associate members of the club. That same year, the gents got the Men's Bar, a space that could not be invaded.

It was close to six decades later that women inched closer to equality: In 1996, they could become full members, vote and run for office.

That was 'real emancipation' said Ms Sharp, even if the men still wanted to 'get together to tell absolutely filthy jokes'.

The switch was made without fanfare so club members could 'ease into it', said Mr Haque, though he added that some women had wandered downstairs over the last few nights.

And what do the ladies think? Said member and former committee member Margaret Cunico: 'If there's a lack of demand, it makes sense to lift the restriction. To leave it there for symbolic sake is to undervalue what it's best for... I think there will be some women who go there.'

Still, having to welcome the women in is an idea that will clearly take some time to sink in. When three women tried to enter while The Straits Times was visiting the bar last night, one merry-making male member ran them out the door the moment they walked in.

His confusion, perhaps, is understandable, since some changes take longer than others: the search is on for a new name, but for now, the sign on the door still says 'Men's Bar & Billiards Room'.

Nov 16, 2007
Chants of change gaining resonance
By Ooi Keat Gin, For The Straits Times

HUNDREDS of saffron-robed Buddhist monks once again meandered through the streets of Myanmar a few weeks ago in a silent demonstration against the country's repressive military government. It was a peaceful protest and, thankfully, the authorities this time did not wield their iron fist, as they did during the September protests. The monks returned to their temples without incident.
The monks' protests must be understood in their proper historical context, which will allow us to better appreciate their effect on the future of the regime.

Monks, or pongyis (meaning 'great glory') as they are referred to in Myanmar, are revered figures in this deeply religious heartland of Buddhism. Every village and district has its own wat, or temple, with communities of monks who serve the spiritual needs of the people.

Buddhist monks, by virtue of their spirituality, spartan lifestyle and role as transmitters of Buddha's teachings, are highly regarded figures. As a result, they are immensely influential among the people, particularly in the rural areas. For a long time now, the secular authorities have been wary of the power and influence over society of the sangha, or community of monks, and have attempted to put them under surveillance and control.

Thus, the sangha has not had a comfortable relationship with the military. The uneasy ties began at the outset of military rule. General Ne Win, who in 1962 seized power from civilian prime minister U Nu, also repealed the State Religion Act of 1961. That law had established Myanmar, or Burma as it was then known, as a Buddhist nation. He also dismissed the Buddha Sasana Council, in effect taking the pongyis out of politics.

Thus, the monks' recent protest marches are not so much an unusual turn of events as a return to politics, where they had been entrenched until Gen Ne Win seized power.

Indeed, the monks also have a tradition of opposing existing power. During British colonial rule, they played a pivotal role in the anti-colonial, nationalist struggle.

The practice of removing one's shoes when entering a temple or private home and at a royal audience became a sensitive issue during the British colonial period. In fact, the 'Shoe Issue' became a factor in the war between Britain and the Konbaung dynasty (1752-1885).

The refusal of British representatives to remove their shoes at an audience with the Burmese monarch led to the cessation of ties between the two sides. In the absence of diplomatic interaction, the battlefield was the alternative forum for settling differences. After the final clash in 1885, Burma became part of British India.

Shoes were the cause of conflict again in 1919 when Buddhist monks attacked Europeans who insisted on keeping their shoes on when entering the Eindawya Pagoda in Mandalay. This followed the publication of a Burmese-language book, On The Impropriety Of Wearing Shoes On Pagoda Platforms, by the revered monk Ledi Sayadaw, and an appeal to the colonial government to respect this customary practice.

In December 1930, monks again made news when they organised and led the Saya San Rebellion that attempted to overthrow British rule. Although the uprising was suppressed, it marked an important milestone in the development of Burmese nationalism. In particular, the rebellion was responsible for the rise of a new generation of political leaders who would resist British rule.

Ever since the inception of military rule in 1962, however, the sangha has been forced out of any role in politics. This makes the recent events especially significant. The re-entry of monks into the political arena - taking part and leading street protests - is a crucial indication of the level of crisis in the country, marked in particular by the military's mishandling of the economy, which has severely impoverished ordinary citizens.

Indeed, the generals' poor management of the economy could well cause their demise as rulers.

Given these precedents, the defiance of the monks against the military regime could usher in a progressive development in Myanmar. The military regime would be well advised to re-think how to come to terms with Myanmar's traditional agents of influence and power - namely the sangha - and with pro-democracy elements.

For the future of Myanmar and its multi-ethnic population, a healthy coalition and working relationship must be created between all three parties, each having its own prudent role.

The writer is an associate professor and coordinator of the Asia-Pacific Research Unit in the School of Humanities at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang.



Given these precedents, the defiance of the monks against the military regime could usher in a progressive development.

Unearthed after 65 years


A long-lost WWII fighter plane has resurfaced in Wales - after spending the past 65 years buried under water and sand. The P-38 aircraft, part of the American war contribution, had made an emergency landing on the Welsh coast in 1942 after it ran out of fuel. It remained buried till erosion uncovered it in July. Historic aircraft experts hope to recover it for a military museum in Britain.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Nov 12, 2007

The visionary who dared
By Shlomo Ben-Ami

TOLEDO (SPAIN) - IF 'ONE man of courage makes a majority', as Andrew Jackson said, then 30 years ago, in November 1977, late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was such a man. His peace overture to Israel stunned the Middle East.

He had, as he put it then, gone 'to the end of the earth' (the Knesset in Jerusalem) and, in doing so, transformed the region's politics beyond recognition.

From that moment, the question for the Arabs was no longer how to destroy Israel, but how to reach an accommodation with it. In his dramatic leap into the future, Sadat taught Arab leaders the realities of a changing world.

For Sadat's peace overture was born out of a sober strategic analysis of the regional balance of power. It was clear to him that Israel was a nuclear power that, in October 1973, had once again proven itself to be unbeatable in a conventional war - a war Sadat himself had never expected to win when he launched it.

Understanding Clausewitz's dictum that war is a continuation of politics by other means, Sadat sent the Egyptian army across the Suez Canal in order to unleash a peace process. He was defeated militarily, but his decision to go to Jerusalem meant that he would succeed politically.
During all of their abortive attempts to destroy Israel, the Arabs had relied on the military backing of the Soviet Union. But a strategy of peace with Israel, Sadat knew, required an alliance with the United States. This tie was so vital an objective for Sadat that one may wonder what came first in his strategy.

Perhaps Sadat might have opted to secure the American alliance without making peace with Israel if he had been able to do so. But he could not, and he knew it. Indeed, in 1974, when General Abdul Gamasy, the architect of the 1973 war, questioned Sadat's flexibility in the disengagement talks with Israel, Sadat calmed him down by saying: 'Don't forget, General, we are talking here about peace with the Americans!'

Another shift implicit in Sadat's strategy was to keep Egypt at a distance from pan- Arabism. Weary of inter-Arab politics and tired of the high price Egypt had paid for the Palestinian cause, Sadat wanted to move away from former president Gamal Abdel Nasser's pan-Arab ambitions and an excessive focus on the question of Palestine towards an emphasis on Egypt's role as a power lying at the strategic crossroads between Asia and Africa.

Sadat would continue to champion the Palestinian cause as the heart of an Arab consensus and sometimes as a fig leaf for his own Egyptfocused foreign policy. But for all practical purposes, he had embarked on a path towards a separate peace with Israel.

One lesson of Sadat's initiative is that in protracted conflicts where deep emotions and historical hatreds are involved, when almost every conceivable diplomatic formula has been tried and failed, the shock of a visionary, generous and imaginative step can open new paths. The major problem in the Arab-Israeli conflict, as in many other intricate disputes, has always been the incapacity or unwillingness of leaders to conduct a peace policy that is not supported by their societies' prevailing and frequently paralysing consensus.

Leaders, more often than not, are hostage to the socio- political environment that produces them rather than its shapers. Sadat gained a privileged place in history and achieved immortality the moment he fled from the comfortable prison of inertia and from the pantomime solidarity and hollow rhetorical cohesion of Arab summits.

The test of statesmanship did not end there. Sadat's spectacular leap into the future needed to be met by Israel's prime minister Menachem Begin at almost every juncture down a tortuous road to peace. Arguably, only a political 'hawk' like Begin, a man with a keen sense of the dramatic and a political romantic with a beady eye to the judgment of history, could have responded in such a way to Sadat's initiative.

That Begin was able to rise to the occasion had much to do with the psychological impact of Sadat's astonishing initiative. Through his visit to Jerusalem, Sadat made more ordinary the nature of the Arab- Israeli conflict. His initiative transformed the conflict from a fight about Israel's right to exist into a negotiation of interests between legitimate sovereign states.
Here, indeed, is the central point: the need to move away from mythological, mutually exclusive rights of existence, conflicting historical narratives and religious claims of ownership. Sadly, this is where the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy remains stuck to this day, thus making the conflict practically insoluble.

Through his visit to Jerusalem, Sadat shook away Israel's siege mentality and gave psychological living space to an otherwise claustrophobic nation in the midst of a hostile Arab world.
Peace is never a zero-sum game. In its peace with Israel, Egypt reached its strategic objective of an alliance with the US. But Israel was wrong to believe Egypt could be a gateway into the Arab world. The gate to Israeli-Arab reconciliation remains where it has always been - in the hands of the Palestinians.

The writer, a former Israeli foreign minister who now serves as the vice-president of the Toledo International Centre for Peace, is author of Scars Of War, Wounds Of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.

Copyright: Project Syndicate
Sadat's visit to Jerusalem transformed the Middle East conflict from a fight about Israel's right to exist into a negotiation of interests between legitimate sovereign states.