Interpol announced last week in Phnom Penh they had seized US$6.65 million of counterfeit drugs from across Southeast Asia, but even this impressive haul will not significantly affect the counterfeit drug market
Deputy PM says graft must stop or police face dismissal
MINISTER of Interior Sar Kheng has issued a warning to high-ranking police officials caught obtaining a promotion through bribery, warning offenders that they risk dismissal.
Sar Kheng, who also acts as deputy prime minister, said that he was committed to eliminating the culture of graft because it was causing a decline in the quality of police work.
"How can those individual police fight against economic crimes when they commit crimes themselves?" Sar Kheng said as he presided over the appointment of new National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun on Friday.
"Now there is a lot of bribery [for positions], and some individual department police chiefs do not want to reshuffle," he said. "If we cannot eliminate [bribery], our police will lose their dignity," he said.
Neth Savoeun is married to a niece of Prime Minister Hun Sen and has replaced former police chief Hok Lundy, who died in a helicopter crash earlier this month.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said that the promotion of an individual government official through the system of political affiliation and bribery would not aid government reforms.
"The current system will continue to create a greater culture of corruption and impunity, and will have a serious impact on both public service and security," she said.
She said also that the lack of professionalism and independence in the police force would continue to erode public confidence, adding that nothing has changed because using bribery to rise through government ranks is normal.
"We want to see real commitment from the government to make reforms," Mu Sochua said, adding that the government must release the results of long-term investigations of the high-profile slayings of actresses, union leaders, journalists and the victims of a grenade attack on a peaceful demonstration in March 1997.
Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said that many government officials have complained about the system of bribes-for-posts, which they say is unfair and impacts negatively on the ongoing good governance reforms.
Mourners at a memorial service for Hok Lundy in Phnom Penh on November 10.
The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Brendan brady and Sam Rith Monday, 24 November 2008
Hok Lundy's death creates logistical nightmare for visitors, expatriates who relied on his signature from passport office
FOREIGNERS say they are racking up hefty overstay fines following the death of the visa office's previous boss, police chief Hok Lundy.
While Cambodia's recently deceased top cop was most closely associated with the police force, he also presided over a number of cash-making government offices.
Tep Sovann, deputy director of the Passport Department in the Ministry of Interior, said his agency would remain closed until it received new orders from the top levels of government.
"At the moment, I don't know whether or not there will be charges for overstay because we have not received any orders," he said. "Before we do anything, we must wait until we receive new word."
In the meantime, foreigners are worried they will pay for an administrative gaffe they can't control.
"I am already facing a fine of more than 31 days, and (there's) no end in sight," said Belgian Tom Windelinckx, who has taught English in Phnom Penh for more than two years.
As a rule, foreigners must pay US$6 for every day their visa is expired.
The visa office has refused to process any outstanding visas in its possession, according to Phnom Penh's Lucky Lucky motorbike shop, which said more than 2,000 of its customers are affected by the problem.
The owner of Ana Travel in Sihanoukville, Briton Mick Spencer, railed against the government, saying: "This is a totally corrupt practice that we can do nothing about".
"Even though the visa office has been closed for 10 days and it has not been possible to apply for visa over this period, we (foreigners) will still have to pay."
His wife and co-owner, Cambodian Ana Spencer, was suspicious of government officials' motives in the delay."
They want to make more money from the overstay fines; it's just another chance to get money."
Affected foreigners and travel agents are hoping the problem will soon end, with a new National Police chief, Neth Savoeun, having been sworn in on Friday.
Sentenced to decades in prison, disgraced cop faces more time behind bars if convicted of plans to murder Military Police Chief Sao Sokha
HENG Pov, Phnom Penh's former police chief who is serving 58 years behind bars for an array of criminal convictions, is expected to go to trial today on charges of conspiring to murder Military Police Chief Sao Sokha in 2006.
The disgraced top cop's lawyer Kao Soupha told the Post that he doubted his client would receive a fair trial because the court's investigator, Interior Ministry Penal Police Chief Mok Chito, had a long-standing personal dispute with Heng Pov.
"Mok Chito ... has personal conflicts with Heng Pov, so the accusation is unfair," he said.
Mok Chito denied the claim, saying that he had no personal or professional disagreements with Heng Pov, his former colleague.
"I have no problem with him," he told the Post last week. "He became angry with me when I investigated and found out that he was involved in criminal behaviour when he was my deputy police chief," he added.
Sao Sokha told the Post Sunday that he will not attend today's trial, but will send a colleague to represent him.
"I have no lawyer for my lawsuit but I will send a representative to the court to defend my complaint," he said.
"My colleague knows this case because he was a witness to the suspect's confession," Sao Sokha added.
Heng Pov was arrested in 2006 in Malaysia, following a six-month bid for political asylum during which he blamed late National Police chief Hok Lundy for a battery of crimes.
Heng Pov has already been convicted of counterfeiting, illegal arrests, murder and extortion.
Written by Georgia Wilkins Monday, 24 November 2008
JACQUES Verges, a lawyer for former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan, has accused Cambodia's UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal of engaging in "lynch mob justice", saying that he doubts his client's case will ever go to trial because the court has "gambled away its credibility and legitimacy", according to an interview by German news magazine Der Spiegel Friday.
"I'm not even sure that the trial in Phnom Penh will even take place," he said, in response to a hypothetical question about summoning former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger as a witness.
"It may be that the trial against Duch will begin soon, but not the trials against the other four prisoners.... [These cases] will not even come to trial because the tribunal in Phnom Penh has already gambled away its credibility and legitimacy," he said.
"[W]e find ourselves in a state of total illegality before the court in Phnom Penh. What is happening there borders on lynch mob justice," he added. He also accused tribunal prosecutors as being guilty of "dilettantism" in respect to their knowledge of the law.
Court spokesperson Reach Sambath assured the Post Sunday that Khieu Samphan's case was currently under investigation.
"The lawyers have a right to say what they want to ... I cannot criticise him," he said.
The outside of Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison. The mother of a recently-deceased inmate has accused guards of torture.
The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Thet Sambath Monday, 24 November 2008
The mother of a 24-year-old accused of stealing a chicken says her son was fatally beaten while in custody at Prey Sar
THE mother of a 24-year-old man who died in hospital after being arrested on charges of robbery says that her son's death was the result of torture by guards at Prey Sar prison.
An Bakea told the Post Sunday that her son, Heng Touch, died Friday at Calmette Hospital after being severely injured during his detention while under investigation by the court.
"Prison officials tortured my son to death. I am sure they killed him because my son told me in hospital before he died that he was caught by prison guards and they pushed him against a wall," she said.
"His head was bleeding and swollen ... because prison officials had hit his head against a wall and his chest with a piece of steel," she added.
Mom Kim Heng, director of Prey Sar prison, denied the accusations Sunday, saying it was an exaggeration.
"It is not true at all that our officers tortured her son to death. He hit his head on the wall many times and he also tried to cut his tongue," he told the Post.
"We have a duty to take care of him and other prisoners. There is no reason for our men to torture him to death."
Heng Touch was sent from Prey Sar prison to Monivong municipal hospital on November 15 and was moved to Calmette hospital on November 17, where he died Friday evening.
"I pity my son because he died after he was accused of stealing a chicken. He did not steal a chicken," An Bakea said.
She claimed that her son was hired as a driver by a man she believed was a thief at the end of October. He was then arrested by police and accused of robbery. Despite her faith in his innocence, she says she will not complain.
"I will get nothing if I file a complaint to the court because my son is already dead, and I have no money to pay the court for this case," she said.
Chan Soveth, an investigator for the Cambodian rights NGO Adhoc, said Sunday he also believed Heng Touch's death to be the result of prison abuse.
"I am sure that his death is from torture because ... his head was bleeding and swollen," he said.
"We would like an independent investigation because the victim told his mother before he died that he was tortured," Chan Soveth added.
Election watchdogs say minor parties have a chance to make a stand against the ruling CPP, but only if they present a united front
CAMBODIAN election monitors say the Kingdom's minority political parties must unite in the National Assembly if they expect to make gains against the powerful Cambodian People's Party, which holds an overwhelming parliamentary majority.
Four smaller parties, including the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party and former coalition government partner Funcinpec, have all secured seats in the Assembly following July national elections.
But frequent squabbling has left them exposed to divisions that could be exploited by the CPP, said Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel.
"An increase in political parties is good for the opposition because it is an opportunity for the parties to unite," he said.
"But it could weaken them if they are separated," he added. A fragile minority
Opposition parties, including the newcomers Human Rights Party and Norodom Ranariddh Party, hold 33 seats in the Assembly, compared with 90 for the CPP.
Puthea Hang, executive director of the election monitor Nicfec, said unity was crucial if these parties were to gain enough clout to keep the CPP from having full run over parliament.
"Many parties are good but only if they can work together," Puthea Hang said.
"If they do not, it weakens the opposition. If they are not united from 30 votes up, they will not be able to force government officials to answer in parliament."
But SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said that the ruling party had always ignored the opposition's opinion and would continue to do so regardless of how much fight the minor parties put up.
"It does not matter that we need 30 votes or more to force the government to answer us in parliament. They do not listen to us," he said.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the ruling party had no legal obligation to heed opposing parties. "We do not need to ask the opposition for ideas, since we have not done anything illegal," he said.
PRIME Minister Hun Sen last week announced a 10 percent cut in export fees on garments and appealed to workers to stop strikes in order to avoid more turmoil in the already faltering sector.
"I have decided to reduce the export management fees and other charges by 10 percent to relieve pressure on you," Hun Sen said.
The announcement was made Friday during the 14th Government-Private Sector Forum following a request by Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC).
GMAC had asked for a cut of 30 percent to assist exporters.
Hun Sen also appealed to workers to stop striking, saying that Vietnam and China are gaining a competitive advantage over Cambodia in terms of productivity.
"I would like to appeal to labour unions that for the time being, it is not the right time for strikes. It is the time to take care of your rice pots," he said, adding that strikes would lead to a drop in orders, the possible closure of factories and rising unemployment."
As of October of 2008, there have been 95 strikes - a 48 percent increase compared to the same period last year," said Nang Sothy, chairman of the forum's industrial relations subcommittee.
Chea Mony, president of the 80,000-member Free Trade Union of Cambodia, said Sunday that workers do not want to stage strikes, but that they had no choice.
"When workers have a dispute with employers, they can not rely on anyone to help, even the Ministry of Labour," he said.
"The government has never cared about workers. For instance, 28 garment factories recently closed and the bosses escaped without paying workers. So, what can [workers] do if they do not stage the strikes?" Chea Mony added.
Tens of thousands of workers have already been laid off as garment orders drop due to decreased demand in the United States, Cambodia's biggest buyer, and elsewhere.
Hun Sen chairing a meeting with businessmen and investors at the Council for the Development of Cambodia on Friday.
The Phnom Penh Post
Written by NGUON SOVAN Monday, 24 November 2008
Prime Minister Hun Sen tells business leaders that minimum requirements are needed to insulate the banking sector from the global financial meltdown
PRIME Minister Hun Sen said the government will strictly enforce new rules requiring banks to maintain higher minimum cash reserves in an effort to prevent the global market crisis from hitting local financial institutions.
The comments were made Friday at the Government-Private Sector Forum at the offices of the Council for the Development of Cambodia.
The biannual meeting sees eight business working groups meet with Hun Sen in talks to set policy in a number of fields.
The National Bank of Cambodia in June announced new measures that doubled cash reserves from eight percent to 16 percent.
The move was aimed at increasing bank liquidity and curtailing loan growth in the country.
"I would like to inform you that ... even institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are not sure what will happen and how long the crisis will persist. So, I will still stay firm on these [banking] measures," Hun Sen said.
His comments came in response to a request during the forum by Charles Vann, deputy chairman of the forum's banking and financial services subcommittee, for the government to cancel or curb the measures in a bid to free up more money.
National Bank Director General Tal Nay Im said the bank instituted the measures as a hedge against global market volatility and possible runs on local financial institutions.
The minimum requirements are also hoped to rein in spiralling inflation that topped out at around 25 percent earlier this year before starting to ease on falling global oil prices.
Commercial bank reserves were raised from US$13 million to $37.5 million, while specialised banks rose from $2.5 million to $7.5 million.
Banks will have until 2010 to comply with the new reserve measures, Tal Nay Im said, adding that the National Bank has also restricted lending on real estate to no more than 15 percent of the total loan portfolio.
Hun Sen said the banking sector needed to be protected from failure, which would impact many other parts of the economy.
"We should not forget that if any bank collapses, it will cause collapses in many other places," he said.
"These measures are to ensure that depositors will not be affected. So, I hope bankers understand us because we are in the same boat. If the boat capsizes, all will die together."
Cambodian banks have been largely insulated from the global banking crisis as most of their investments and loan exposure are local.
A pharmacist at the busy Sok Serey Pharmacy near Central Market pauses for a moment before getting medicine for a customer.
PHANTOM DRUGS? Chroeng Sokhan, vice director of the Department of Drugs and Food, said that two of the three "ghost manufacturers" - companies that produce fake drugs - that make the majority of the counterfeits in Cambodia are located in China.
The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Christopher Shay and Khoun Leakhana Monday, 24 November 2008
The govt's two-pronged attack on counterfeit medicines hopes to educate local pharmacists and consumers, while working with regional officials to crack down on fake suppliers
WITH a fever, an upset stomach and a splitting headache, Chheth Sokha, 52, did what she always did when she felt sick - she went to the grocery store and bought some cheap medicine.
"Whenever I am sick, I always buy medicine at grocery stores because it is cheaper than at big pharmacies," she said.
She bought the same medicine she had purchased the last time she was sick, but this time instead of making her feel better, the medicine landed her in the hospital.
"The doctor told me that I was poisoned by the medicine. I thought by buying cheap medicines I could save money, but it was the opposite. Fake medicine cost me even more when I got worse and had to go to the hospital," she said.
The medicine that Chheth Sokha bought was almost certainly counterfeit. The problem of fake medicine in Cambodia is a long-standing one, and despite efforts from the World Health Organisation, Interpol and the Cambodian government, it is a problem not easily cured.
Efforts to minimise the problem have focused on enforcement and education and have seen some success. WHO estimates that around 10 percent of the drugs in Cambodia are counterfeit, a decline of about three percent since 2002.
"The prevalence of counterfeit drugs has decreased. We have done a lot of education about counterfeited items, and the items have started to disappear in the markets," said Chroeng Sokhan, the vice director at the government's Department of Drugs and Food.
But he admitted that due to the global nature of the problem, there is only so much that can be done locally.
"Counterfeiters have a lot of money, so they can do many things. They can adapt. It's a difficult problem to solve locally. We need Interpol support for cross-border help," he said.
" Counterfeiters have a lot of money so ... it is a difficult problem to solve. "
The government says it is working with its neighbours to decrease the number of fake drugs smuggled across borders of Southeast Asia.
"We are taking measures to crack down on the illegal trafficking of fake medicine. This is being done with the cooperation of authorities in neighbouring countries," Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said in a meeting last week.
The other part of Cambodia's war against counterfeits is to educate Cambodians about the dangers of fake pharmaceuticals. The government as well as drug producers have focused on educating pharmacists, hoping to create a front line against the distribution of counterfeits in the Kingdom.
Has Aun, a pharmacist who sells medicine near Central Market, said: "It is difficult for us to know whether a drug is fake or good because they really look the same. But we have been trained on how to detect fake drugs by the drug producers and the Ministry of Health."
Sok Serey, another pharmacist, said: "The ministry's agents examine our pharmacy at least two or three times a year. They train us how to check for expired drugs and how to check the brand names of drugs."
The sophistication of some of the counterfeit drugs have made it nearly impossible to tell if a drug is authentic or not. For the last five years, counterfeit malaria medicine with holograms nearly indistinguishable from the real medicine have been found in Cambodia, according to a report authored by top malaria researchers.
Tey Sovannarith, the deputy director of the Technology Office in the Drug Quality Experimentation and Examination Department, said that when a visual inspection is inconclusive, he needs to resort to checking the melting time of the pills in order to know for sure if a drug is counterfeit.
The counterfeit drug market has hurt the reputation of overseas drug companies in Cambodia, especially ones from China. Sok Serey said that her pharmacy did not carry any medicine made in China because of the danger of counterfeits.
"I don't like Chinese medicine. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't," she said.
What can Cambodian consumers do? According to William Mfuko, the officer responsible for essential medicines at WHO in Cambodia, because of public education efforts, all Cambodians need to is "watch TV, listen to their radio and look out for posters that warn against counterfeit drugs".
Most importantly, he said "they should develop habits of consulting medical professionals for their drug needs".
"Self-medication is often the driving force behind counterfeit drug markets," he said.
Through continued education and better enforcement, the government hopes that Cambodians will become more discerning drug consumers and will learn what Chheth Sokha had to figure out the hard way.
"From now on, I will remember the doctor's advice not to use medicines which do not have clear or proper brand names," she said.
"Moreover, I will be really careful taking medicine because they are double-edged swords. They are good for us only if we use them properly.
But if we do not use them properly, they could kill us," she added.
Phnom Penh - A Cambodian electricity company worker was on the run after accidentally burying alive and killing a 13-year-old labourer, local media reported Monday.
Police said the boy was clearing rocks from a hole on Thursday where new power cables were to be laid when the excavator operator - unaware the boy was still in the hole - filled it with soil, the Cambodia Daily reported.
A police search began after the operator fled the scene and the electricity company paid the family 1,500 dollars in compensation for the youth's death.
A promotional poster for Crocodile Hunter, one of the most commercially successful Cambodian films in recent memory - and one of the few not available on DVD.
The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Anne Laure-poree Monday, 24 November 2008
A new government drive to bolster Cambodia's ailing film industry aims to increase local output by luring large foreign productions to shoot - and spend - in the Kingdom
IN the face of rapidly falling film production - only 10 films have been made so far this year compared with 61 in 2006 - the government has launched a major drive to bolster the domestic film industry and market the Kingdom as an attractive location for foreign production teams.
"In neighbouring countries, local film producers were the key to founding a successful domestic cinema industry, but in Cambodia the government wants to be the one to give an impulse to the creation of this industry," said Som Sokun, head of the Cinema Department in the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
Lack of money, technicians and human resources are blamed for the dismal state of Cambodian cinema. And it is not just quantity that is falling off: Quality, too, is a huge problem. At the third national film video festival in January this year, the Cambodian jury said that all the films were too poor to warrant either a first or a second prize.
"We have to create a generation that will be able to shoot its own images on its own country," said Oscar-winning Franco-Cambodian director Rithy Panh.
"The less you make, the more you are crushed. We have to try our luck."
He urged the government to support training projects to develop young talent, but said that increased contact with foreign production teams could also be a huge benefit.
The fact that Cambodia has welcomed at least one large-scale film per year in recent years has inspired the government to see the potential of film, Rithy Panh said.
"If culture has an economic dimension, people will look at it with more interest," he added.
To this end, the Culture Ministry recently founded the Cambodian Film Commission, designed to boost the domestic film industry and encourage foreign production teams to use Cambodia as a location.
"The government believes that Cambodia has a great potential to attract foreign film crews with its magnificent landscapes," Som Sokun said.
To achieve this, the newly created commission has a budget of US$1 million, to be supplemented by the French Agency for Development, which is providing $1.8 million over four years.
" Cinema might be finished in cambodia. we have forgotten the grammar of film. "
Som Sokun added that the government is also making an effort to purchase technical equipment and develop specialised training sessions with the help of the Bophana Audiovisual Centre.
Video killed the cinema star
The reality is that many production companies and movie theatres are closing as they simply cannot make ends meet - especially in a country where DVD pirating is so common.
Only two movie theatres remain open in Phnom Penh, showing a small number or Cambodian-made films interspersed with Thai and Korean horror flicks.
The only Cambodian film that cannot be found on DVD is the super-protected Crocodile Hunter, written and directed by Mao Ayuth.
Released in 2005, this film tells the story of a young man who seeks revenge for villagers killed by a crocodile. Cambodian crooner Preap Sovath plays the hero - his popularity, combined with the comic dialogue of the film, ensured that it was a runaway success at the box office.
Indeed, the film was by far the most popular new Cambodian release in the last three years.
As there are no official data on the number of ticket sales, producers are the only ones who really know how successful a film is.
The Killing Phone, a Cambodian remake of a Thai horror movie, ran for six weeks in 2006 and generated $10,000 in profits - a huge success for Cambodia.
Despite this, the film's 70 year-old producer Yvon Hem, a former director, has walked away from filmmaking.
"Art is very important but we are too poor to create," he said. "Cinema might be finished in Cambodia. We have forgotten the grammar of film. We know nothing anymore."
Writing a new script
For many other directors the main problem today is the lack of writers who have ideas and are able to tell a story with a driving vision. For Matthew Robinson, founder of Khmer Mekong Films (KMF), the lack of structure is upsetting.
Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
A Cambodian film crew shoot footage outside Phnom Penh's Royal Palace. Film production has dropped off dramatically from 61 films in 2006 to just 10 this year
"There is no journey in the film," he said. "Sometimes you can't even say who the hero is. And they [Cambodian filmmakers] do not think about the genre. In their defence, there is no literature: Where are the novels? What do they read? What do they watch?"
But storytelling is the key to making money from movies, and it's a vicious cycle: "If you have a good story, you can draw back your money," said Dany Ly, deputy director of the government's Cinema Department.
"But today the budget of a whole Cambodian film is equal to one week's expenditure on a big foreign production."
Despite the difficulties, some organisations are working to strengthen cinema in Cambodia. Staying Single When, a romantic comedy produced by KMF last year, was a production that aimed to train Cambodians to make a good film and to show it at international festivals.
The story of a young manager looking for a wife and realising that the girl he loves is under his nose but unavailable was well received by audiences. This year, KMF worked on Heart Talk, a contemporary thriller.
Som Sokun said he hoped the founding of the film commission and an injection of foreign funds would put Cambodian cinema back on the map.
"It is time to do something. I know Cambodians who have money and who would be ready to invest if there was good human resources and real scriptwriters," Som Sokun told the Post.
$80 billion regional slush fund is intended to prevent a regional currency crisis, with Asean countries contributing 20 percent of the total
THE government has said it will contribute US$150 million to a regional fund established to combat the effects of the global economic crisis.
The US$80 billion fund was announced October 24 during the Asia Europe Meeting in Beijing.
Thirteen countries agreed to contribute, with 80 percent of funds coming from China, Japan and South Korea.
The balance is expected to come from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Finance Minister Keat Chhon told the Post last week the fund would help Cambodia in the event of future market instability in the Kingdom.
"This is a fulfilment of Cambodia's duty to the region and the world, and we hope we will be able to access this money in the future," he said.
Final details for the fund have yet to be worked out, but it has nonetheless helped restore some confidence in Asia's shaky markets, he said.
"We think everybody is less worried after this fund contribution policy. However, we need to discuss the issues further to ensure the money will address the problem of currency shortages," he said.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovan said Sunday the country risks losing any investment it makes to the regional fund.
"I do not understand what Keat Chhon has said, and I do not believe this contribution can help Cambodia," Yim Sovan said.
"What we can see is that many companies in Cambodia are having problems, and some are going to collapse because they lack cash for trading," he added.
"We do not think that these problems can be solved by the contribution," he said.
"We will be able to solve the crisis without making a contribution to the fund by just eliminating corruption, by stopping requests for money from investors and by pushing for a decrease in oil and electricity prices," he added.
Prime Minister Hun Sen said Friday that Cambodia could contribute between five and 10 percent of its reserve budget to satisfy its commitment to the regional fund.
Anti-government protesters, carrying posters of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadaj, arrive Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, outside Government House in Bangkok, Thailand. The People's Alliance for Democracy, which has taken over the Thai Prime Minister's Office complex since Aug. 26, 2008, is calling for a mass rally of more than 100,000 and a march to parliament.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)
Anti-government protesters arrive Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008, at outside Government House in Bangkok, Thailand. Anti-government protesters said Sunday they were massing activists in the Thai capital for their biggest rally yet in a final showdown with the government, while the military deployed soldiers to deter violence.(AP Photo/David Longstreath)
Pro-government supporters hold placards reading: "Get bored PAD protesters" next to a portrait of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a rally at a temple in Nonthaburi province November 23, 2008. Thousands of red-shirted government supporters rallied at the Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Bangkok on Sunday to show their support for Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)
A pro-government supporter waves the Thai national flag next to a portrait of ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a rally at a temple in Nonthaburi province November 23, 2008. Thousands of red-shirted government supporters rallied at the Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Bangkok on Sunday to show their support for Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)
A relative weeps as she holds a portrait of a man killed in a blast at a demonstration site in Bangkok
Sunday, November 23, 2008
BANGKOK (AFP) — Thai protesters laying siege to state offices gathered Sunday for a rally which they say will be a final push to topple the government, putting Thailand on edge after a week of escalating violence.
Calls for the fresh demonstration and a march to parliament ahead of a session Monday came after a string of attacks at Government House -- the prime minister's cabinet offices which protesters have occupied since late August.
"I am confident in the strength of the people. We will definitely go to parliament," said anti-government leader Chamlong Srimuang. Local media said the march was planned for early Monday.
Thai television showed images of police manning steel barricades outside the parliament building and firetrucks parked nearby, while officials said they would try handle the protest peacefully but were ready to call in the military.
"Force will not be used if it is not necessary," deputy national police spokesman Surapol Tuanthong told reporters. "Police will also ask the army for assistance if police do not have enough man power."
On Thursday, one protester was killed and 29 wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded in the middle of the Bangkok protest site, while on Saturday eight people were injured by a similar bomb.
The People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group has blamed the government for both attacks, and has called for supporters throughout the country to join them Sunday for a "last battle" against the administration.
The government has denied any link to the recent attacks, and Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat has promised a swift police investigation.
The PAD claim the ruling People Power Party (PPP) elected last December is running Thailand on behalf of Thaksin Shinawatra, the premier ousted in a 2006 coup who was last month sentenced to two years in jail on corruption charges.
While a sea of people dressed in yellow -- the colour linked to the Thai king, to whom the PAD claim loyalty -- prepared for their march at Government House, their detractors in red and white shirts gathered elsewhere.
Police said about 10,000 pro-Thaksin supporters had descended on a Buddhist temple just outside Bangkok on Sunday to support the government. Leaders of that movement told AFP they had no intention of locking horns with the PAD.
"We will not move anywhere," said pro-government coordinator Chinawat Haboonnak, as Thaksin's fans performed a temple ceremony.
"We will not support anyone who wants to go to parliament. We don't want a clash."
Thaksin fled the country in August but a power battle is raging between those who support the charismatic former leader, and the old power elite in the military, palace and bureaucracy who want to purge Thailand of his influence.
The PAD launched their campaign in May and about 1,000 anti-Thaksin protesters have been camped out at Government House since late August. Eye witnesses said their numbers had swelled to the thousands on Sunday morning.
Anchalee Paireerak, a spokeswoman for the PAD, told cheering crowds at Government House that PAD loyalists from the south were flocking to Bangkok. Thaksin's support base, meanwhile, is in the poorer northeast.
A march aimed at preventing a parliament session on October 7 erupted into the worst street violence Bangkok had seen in 16 years, as police and protesters clashed, leaving two people dead and nearly 500 injured.
Those clashes and the recent bomb attacks in and around Government House have raised fears of more bloodshed this week, with the English-language Nation newspaper saying Sunday "the fate of the country hangs in the balance.
"Leaders of the umbrella union of state enterprises have said they will call a strike if the government does not step down. They set a deadline for Tuesday, but similar calls in the past have not been widely heeded by union members.
Here’s a story that interests me greatly. It’s about a teenage boy from Nepal who many believe is the reincarnation of the Buddha. The boy, whose name is Ram Bahadur Bomjon, is said to have meditated 10 months continuously without food and water and to have survived bites from poisonous snakes without medical attention.
Although I doubt that he is the reincarnation of Gautama Buddha or has gone months without food and water, he does appear to have advanced meditation skills. For instance, the Discovery Channel was able to film him meditating continuously for 96 hours (4 days) with eating or drinking. Most people would die within 3 to 4 days from dehydration without water. Ram, on the other hand, showed no signs of physical deterioration caused by dehydration.
Maybe if he could survive his current practice for the next 10 or 15 years, he will have attained the necessary knowledge, wisdom, and maturity to become a Buddha, although not necessarily the reincarnation of THE Buddha.
Year Zero. April 17, 1975. The Khmer Rouge soldiers enter Phnom Penh.
Young men in black pyjamas and chequered scarves walk the streets with a stealthy calm.
Within three days Phnom Penh's entire population had been forced to leave the city.
Nearly 1 million people were marched south, west and north, to labour camps across Cambodia.
The young, the weak and the sick were left by the side of the road where they fell, the first victims of Pol Pot's genocidal regime.
By 1979, when the Vietnamese Army invaded, up to 2 million Cambodians had perished, killed by the Khmer Rouge's drastic attempt to reinvent Cambodia as an agrarian society, to rid the land of bourgeoisie and intellectual influence, and to instigate Communism in its most heinous form. Following the Vietnamese liberation, Cambodia fell into more than a decade of civil war, and in 1997 requested aid from the United Nations in prosecuting the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, most of whom still roamed free across the land, some repentant for their crimes, others fighting from their stronghold on the border with Thailand.
In 2001 the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was created (known as the ECCC), a joint UN Cambodia project to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge.
In 2003 it was agreed the ECCC would be made up of a combination of Cambodian and International staff, the first hybrid court of its kind - a Cambodian court subject to international standards.
As the website boasts, it will provide a role model for court operations in Cambodia.
The court officially began operating in 2006, and now, nearing the end of 2008, the people of Cambodia are still waiting for justice to be served.
Oung Heng (56) is one of few who still have patience for the beleaguered court.
"I think we have a very bitter history and it is very sad.
"We hope that nothing like this ever happens again in the future.
"The ECCC is a consolation for the survivors and we have to help them seek peace.
"It is a heavy lesson for our country to learn but very important."
The ECCC has been plagued by problems, some unavoidable, others self-created.
Of most pressing concern for many is the age of the detained - five in custody and not one younger than 60.
When Cambodia's life expectancy is still just 59 years, all of those in detention are decidedly old men. There are warning signs that have people worried.
Khieu Samphan (77), the former head of state, was hospitalised in May following a minor stroke, and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary (82) was hospitalised this year when medics discovered blood in his urine.
There are fears afoot that some of the detained will not live to stand trial, and escape justice through death, like their comrade Pol Pot in 1998.
The court has also been plagued by allegations of kickbacks and corruption, a problem endemic to Cambodian courts, but a real embarrassment for a UN institution. In mid-2007 an audit of the court was commissioned and undertaken by an independent international auditing firm.
A UN investigation was also launched into the alleged corruption cases.
Although the investigation has concluded the results have still not been released, and public confidence in the court is now widely threatened.
"I don't trust the courts here, I would do anything to avoid them," Mr Heng says.
"Justice is rarely served and you only end up paying a great deal of money.
"Everyone knows taking your problem to court will not get it solved."
Hopes were high this year that the first trial would begin in September, starting with the trial of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav (65), or "Duch" as he is more commonly known.
Duch oversaw the torture of more than 20,000 inmates at Tuol Sleng prison, also referred to as S-21, a former elementary school in the capital.
But appeals by Duch and others for release from pre-trial detention has stalled the start of his trial, as have requests for the translation of official court documents from Khmer and English into French for Duch's lawyer - a process which has taken three months.
The victims of the Khmer Rouge are losing their patience.
Nuon Sapan (36) lost five members of his extended family to the regime.
"I think many people are beginning to question if these trials will ever get off the ground.
"So much money has been spent I think a lot of people are reconsidering the necessity for "justice".
Maybe all these millions of dollars would have been better spent on development, which would surely lead to improved courts in the future anyway."
And the ECCC's greatest problem of all - money.
The court was initially granted funding of $US60 million ($NZ112 million) dollars from the Cambodian Government, the UN and donor countries.
The court was expected to be in operation three years, and would be dissolved upon completion of the trials. But in early 2008 the court admitted it was near bankruptcy and requested extra funding of $30 million.
On top of this the court projects that to complete its work it will require an extra $80 million over the coming years, though no official request has been made.
The extra $30 million has been granted, in dribs and drabs, but it is unclear how much more the international community will invest in the project which, after eight years of planning and nearly three full years of operation, has yet to hear a single case.
Now that so much money has been spent the court cannot be abandoned.
ECCC officials say the first trial should take place by next February, but sceptics in Phnom Penh scoff at this hope, and cynicism is beginning to spread into further reaches of society.
As the months pass, five old men lose a few more hairs from their grey heads, and sleep a little less soundlessly each night.
The time is coming for them to face their crimes against humanity - but will they still be living when the court is ready for them?
Former Legislator Tseng Chen-nung, better known as "Taiwan lounge chair king" for his once leading role in the business, drowned in Cambodia Sunday, according to his family members residing in the southern county of Chiayi.
Tseng Mao-chin, Tseng's son, said he was informed of his father's death Sunday afternoon.
According to a phone call from a Taiwanese employee of Tseng's company in Cambodia, the senior Tseng died after falling into sea while on a voyage to a Cambodian outlying island to inspect one of his company's construction projects there.
It remained unclear whether the 58-year-old Tseng was swept into sea by strong winds or fell into sea because of a heart attack, Tseng Mao-chin said.
Although Tseng's aides immediately pulled him from the sea and performed CPR on him, they failed to resuscitate him, according to reports from Cambodia.
Tseng Chin-mao said his grief-stricken mother, Legislator Chang Hwa-Kuan of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), has to wait until Monday to fly to Phnom Penh because of difficulties arranging a flight.
Tseng used to have a "godfather" stature in Taiwan's business and political communities in the 1990s, thanks to his flamboyant working styles. With his successful lounge chair business, he managed to developed extensive political connections and served as a lawmaker of the then ruling Kuomintang (KMT) for three terms.
At the pinnacle of his career, Tseng once hosted an 800-table lunar new year banquet at his 80-hectare lounge chair factory premises that drew the attendance of many political bigwigs and influential corporate executives.
But his political star power later gradually dimmed because of intricate local politics and his lounge chair business also faltered amid changing domestic and global economic climates.
Tseng withdrew from the KMT in 2001, a year after the KMT lost power to the DPP in Taiwan's first-ever transition of power between different parties. He also withdrew from the legislative election that year and instead supported his wife Chang Hwa-kuan's bid to run for a legislative seat as an independent.
Chang joined the then-ruling DPP after winning the legislative election in 2001. She has since been re-elected twice, even though the DPP has lost power to the KMT in the second transition of power that took place in May this year.
Over the past seven years or so, Tseng had spent most of his time in China where he had reportedly rebuilt his business, mainly in aquaculture industry.
As he once maintained good friendship with former Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, he had also expanded his business into that country, operating hotels and sea gravel dredging as well as biofuel crop plantation, reports from Cambodia said.
Three Dutch Behavior and Social Science scientists made a number of revealing experiments. They are described as follows:
“ A thesis known as the ‘Broken Windows Theory’ suggests that signs of disorderly and petty criminal behavior trigger more disorderly and petty criminal behavior, thus causing the behavior to spread. This may cause neighborhoods to decay and the quality of life of its inhabitants to deteriorate. For a city government this may be a vital policy issue. But does disorder really spread in neighborhoods? So far there has not been strong empirical support, and it is not clear what constitutes ‘disorder’ and what may make it spread. In this article, we generate hypotheses about the spread of disorder and test them… We found that when people observe that others violated a certain social norm or legitimate rule, they are more likely to violate even other norms or rules, which causes disorder to spread.”
Note: Reference to the study “The Spreading of Disorder” is published here in Science Magazine. Another version in German “Unordnung ist eine Seuche” is here.
The results are frightening:“When people observe that others violated a certain social norm or legitimate rule, they are more likely to violate even other norms or rules, which causes disorder to spread.”
This is no longer just an opinion – it has been proven in some experiments with people who did not know that they were observed. We report about two of their six experiments.
In a shopping area - in Holland, in a place where people park their bicycles - a big sign was placed on a wall, where everybody coming in had to see it, saying “No writing on this wall!” - The experiment was carried out on two days: on one day, the wall was dirty, people had scribbled or drawn something on the wall; on the other day, the wall had been freshly painted during the night. All experiments were conducted at the same hours of the day, and both under similar weather conditions.
On both days, 77 people each were observed, coming to take back their bicycles. But while they were away, the social scientists had attached a paper flyer to each bicycle, saying: “We wish everybody happy holidays!” - and the name of a non-existing shop was printed on the paper flyer, which was so big that it had to be removed before walking and driving away. On the day when the wall was white and clean, one third of the cyclists threw the paper flyers on the ground, but two thirds took them away without littering; – but on the day when the wall was dirty, about two thirds threw the papers away,
Not only experiments about cleanliness and orderliness were made – also about stealing.
A partly transparent envelope of a letter with a 5-Euro bill – a value of over six dollars – was placed hanging half way out of a letter box, well visible for every passer-by. Then 71 people each, walking by alone, were observed. On one day, the letter box and its surroundings were clean; on another day, some things had been written on the mailbox making it dirty and disorderly, and there was trash on the ground around letter box: pieces of paper, orange peels, cigarette butts, and empty cans. - As long as everything was clean, only one person in eight stole the money; but on the day when the environment was made disorderly and unclean, one person in four stole the money.
What might be the lessons to be learned from these studies in the Netherlands?
- Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng is reported to have criticized the Economic Police – he hardly hears about achievements, but rather complaints against them.
- The Senate is reported to start to investigate corruption in the judicial system.
- The World Bank encourages the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction to investigate corruption of land management officials.
Was anybody punished? Some of these problems have a longer history already.
According to the experiments quoted above, when the context is in disarray, other people are drawn into it also. When there is big corruption going on, others will be drawn in.
Such a case is the poor mother, who is jailed for pick-pocketing during the Water Festival. We have these reports about how justice is administered:
- “If Our Mom Is Jailed, We Will Go to Jail Too, Because We Have Only One Mother” [said three small girls, aged between four to nine years old, standing in front of the Daun Penh Police Station, waiting for their mother, who is jailed for allegedly pick-pocketing during the Water Festival]
- Four Small Daughters [including a new born baby] Live Alone while Their Mother Is Jailed [at the Prey Sar Prison for pick-pocketing during the Water Festival]
This cannot be an example of the reformed justice system, which is talked about in so many reform programs.
According to the Dutch experiments, things go wrong when the environment is negative and when there is no authority in front of which to be responsible.
The Cambodian Constitution is clear about how to achieve the goal of a just society, according to the law:
Article 51: …All power belongs to the people. The people exercise these powers through the National Assembly, the Senate, the Royal Government and the Judiciary.
The legislative, executive, and judicial powers shall be separate.
Article 130: Judicial power shall not be granted to the legislative or executive branches.
As long as this principle is violated, as long as some people are protected under special powers and not under the law - like members of the economic police, some members of the judicial system suspected of corruption, some corrupt land management officials – and the judiciary cannot guarantee and uphold impartiality in law enforcement, things will continue to go like in the Dutch experiments: as long as nobody looks to intervene, many will use the opportunity to act irresponsibly and to grab what they can.
The Constitution provides also an outlook of hope, in case things go wrong:
Article 8: The King shall be … the protector of rights and freedom for all citizens…
The King asked, during this week, the Minister of Justice to solve the problem of the detention of a journalist in Kompong Thom, arrested for performing her legal and professional duties, covering the activities of the executive.
VietNamNet Bridge - A Deputy President of Cambodia’s largest social organisation has told the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF) leader, Vu Trong Kim, of his interest in the VFF experiences in promoting national unity and broadening international cooperation.
Min Khin, who doubles as Secretary General of the National Council of the Kampuchean United Front for National Construction and Defence (KUFNCD), was welcomed by his VFF counterpart Kim at their meeting in Hanoi on November 23 with great praises for bilateral relations. Kim said relations between the two organisations considerably contributed to the relationship between the two countries.
Khin, in return, said he was keen in learning from VFF experiences in campaigning for positive public response to VFF-launched movements such as “Days for the Poor”, promoting international exchanges and expanding external relations.
Host and guest reached a consensus that unity was the main goal that the two organizations are working for. They agreed to a number of measures to promote bilateral relations, focusing on regular meetings of social activists from either side of the border to improve mutual understanding and facilitate friendship, thus turning the borderline into economic exchange areas.