Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Terrorism charges in bomb plot

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Houn Raksa, daughter of bomb plot suspect Phy Savong, begs for the release of her father at the front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court Monday night. Phy Savong and three other suspects were charged with two offences under Cambodia's anti-terrorism law and face up to 30 years in prison.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Thomas Gam Nielsen
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Former police official, SRP member among accused.

FOUR people, including a former provincial deputy police chief and an opposition party defector, were charged Monday under Cambodia's anti-terrorism law over an alleged bomb plot targeting the Defence Ministry and the state-run television station,TV3, officials say.

According to Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Hing Bunchea, the four face up to 30 years in prison if convicted on charges of delivering, placing, discharging or detonating an explosive or lethal device in a public place, and recruiting and training terrorists.

The charges stem from three small bombs discovered January 2 outside the Defence Ministry and TV3.

Included among the accused are Reach Samnang, Mondulkiri province's former deputy police chief, and Lek Bunnhean, a one-time Sam Rainsy Party member who defected to the ruling Cambodian People's Party and last year publicly accused opposition leader Sam Rainsy of involvement in the 1998 rocket attack allegedly targeting Prime Minister Hun Sen in Siem Reap.

Two former resistance fighters, Phy Savong and Som Ek, the alleged plot mastermind, also stand accused.

Investigating judge Ker Sokhorn said the case merited further scrutiny after 10 hours of interviews Monday.

His comments came a day after police said that Som Ek confessed to organising both the most recent bombing attempt and an earlier plot to blow up the Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship Monument in July 2007.

Two UN monitors at the court Monday were barred from the interviews, as were monitors from Cambodian rights groups Licadho and Adhoc.

Phy Savong's wife, Prum Thavy, said that her husband was seized at his home in Kandal province's Kien Svay district Thursday without explanation.

"It is a huge injustice. Police ... took him away in a car without explaining why or showing a warrant," she said outside court.

Services for poor to improve

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Children play at their homes in an inner city slum in the capital.

NOT ENOUGH
Theary Seng, of the Center for Social Development, said the plan would not guarantee that Cambodia's poor get the services they require as corruption, ineffective political and economic systems, and a lack of future vision are key factors that drive poverty in Cambodia.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal and Hor Hab
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The government says that by better identifying poor households, it will be able to target the delivery of more efficient social services.

THE government has announced a new national plan to standardise the identification of Cambodia's poorest families in an effort to improve social services and reduce poverty, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said, adding that the new system will help the government obtain more accurate data.

"Under this program, we believe we will help promote human and economic development, and foster social and political stability," Keat Chhon said last week.

Currently, various government offices and NGOs have been identifying poor households by different methods and in an uncoordinated way, and the data has not been shared among these institutions and organisations, Keat Chhon said.

"The government will issue a sub-decree to better facilitate the identification of poor households and to ensure harmonisation in order to use our limited development resources more efficiently," he said.

As of October last year, the Ministry of Planning had catalogued poor households in 2,128 villages across five provinces and expects to cover more than 2,900 more villages in five additional provinces this year, he said, adding that the ministry wants to cover all villages in the country by 2011.

"I have proposed that the Ministry of Planning prepare a cost analysis for the expansion of the identification program, and that it be presented for consideration in the framework of the national budget, as well as to development partners for their support," Keat Chhon said.

"Ultimately, we believe all poor households in the country will receive more efficient social services," he said.

Participation needed

Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, said a more efficient approach to poverty reduction would benefit the poor, but added that identifying people in need was not difficult.

He said any national program needed to deal fairly with the country's rural poor, many of whom have faced inequitable aid distribution in the past.

"[The identification program] should not be biased or discriminatory in its procedures because we have seen in the past that poor households do not always receive their fair share of aid," Chhit Sam Ath said.

He said any list of rural poor must be reviewed regularly because households deemed non-poor could easily become impoverished in the future.

"Villagers, civil society groups and other institutions should actively participate in the program to ensure the accuracy of the identification process," he said.

" ...poor households in the country will receive more efficient social services. "

Bou Vanna, public relations manager for the Ministry of Planning, said the government has spent more than US$1.3 million to identify needy households in five provinces.

The government evaluates need based on sources of income and other factors, including ownership of land and agricultural equipment, he said, adding that subsequent reviews by teams traveling from household to household will be made every two years to identify changes in economic status.

According to a Planning Ministry report from 2007, Cambodia's largest percentage of poor households comes from farmers, most of whom own only small plots of land. The second-largest group comprises individuals with no steady source of income.

The government expects to spend an additional $1.3 million to carry out its identification program through 2009, with funds being provided by the German nongovernmental organisation GTZ.

Daniel Haas, first secretary of development cooperation at the German embassy, said his government would continue providing technical and financial support for the identification program.

"I think the proposed national plan will be an improvement over past efforts and will better achieve the national reforms of decentralisation and deconcentration," Haas said.

Roughly a third of Cambodia's 14 million people are living in poverty, defined by subsisting on less than $1 a day.

Market vendors up in arms

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Company is blamed for breaking lease contract.

VENDORS at Phnom Penh's Serei Pheap market say they will protest today if the owner of the property attempts to break their contract and evict them from the site, which is slated for the development of luxury apartments, stall holders told the Post Monday.

"The market owner came to tell us to move out of the market by January 13. Otherwise, they will do violence to us because they want to close this market," said vendor Roeun Koun Thy.

"We have a 25-year contract with the market owner. Now, only 13 years have passed but they want to break the contract," she added.

"They forced us to move from the Dumex market in 1996. They sold us spots in this market and promised us a contract for 25 years, but now they want to move," said another seller, Ly Bunly. "Why don't they make up their mind?"

Keo Sakol, chief of Veal Vong district said: "The vendors ... should sue in the Municipal Court because they are under contract.

"They want to get the restitution from the market owner, and we ask the company - do not allow them to move with empty hands," she added.

"The market owners want to take this land to develop it as apartments, but they should not do this because they have the contract with the vendors," she added.

Srun Sran, governor of Prampi Makara district where the market is located, said: "We have invited vendors and the market owner to negotiate already, and told them to respect the law."

Lim Kimpheng, the market owner, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Internet to be regulated: minister

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Pheang Oudom, 18, works at the Olympic Net shop in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Ministry of Information is drafting legislation that allows existing print regulations to govern other media, including the internet, but vows not to curtail press freedom.

THE Ministry of Information is drafting a law that would extend existing libel, defamation and ethics rules currently governing print media to other media platforms, including the internet.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said the law would be used to formalise content management rules so that they could be easily applied by future information ministers. He said the law would not be used to curtail freedom of the press.

"We are drafting the legislation in order to have a proper law to manage radio, television and other platforms," he said in an interview with the Post Monday.

Khieu Kanharith said the recent explosion of media outlets outside of print made the law necessary, pointing to the increase in websites in recent years, as well as the growth in television and radio.

He said Cambodia has nine aerial television channels, 60 cable channels and several satellite and internet channels. The number of radio stations - including internet stations - is also growing rapidly.

He said he did not know when the draft law would be finished, noting that much work remains to be done before it can be sent to the Council of Ministers.

Control of the internet recently became an issue when several government officials suggested shutting down a website by Cambodian-American artist Reahu, whose depictions of semi-nude Apsaras they said were degrading to Cambodian culture.

Regulating radio

Mom Sonando, director of Sambok Khmum Radio (Beehive Radio), a private commercial radio station, said he supported the drafting of the law.

"I support the creation of a proper law to manage the media so that we will all know what we should do and what we should not do," he said.

He said he hoped the law would stipulate that all radio stations are entitled to the same broadcasting rights, which he said is not the case now.

For instance, he said his station does not have live broadcasting rights for Radio Free Asia and Voice of America programming, putting it at a disadvantage compared to stations that do.

Pen Samitthy, editor-in-chief of Rasmey Kampuchea and president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, said however, that such laws generally lead to limitations on the press.

He said he would prefer that any law related to the media address only infrastructure issues and management techniques, such as frequency regulation.

Kampot land dispute boils over following destruction of homes

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Area residents claim intimidation, but military and government officials say the land was being illegally occupied by squatter.

VILLAGERS in a Kampot province district at the centre of an ongoing land dispute involving the military say soldiers destroyed their homes Saturday in a bid to strong-arm them from their property so that it could be sold.

Government and army officials, however, say they are only targeting squatters who have recently moved onto the land in Chhouk district's Ta Ken commune.

Some 22 houses were destroyed and a bridge was torched by soldiers from the RCAF's Brigade 31, the same unit involved in earlier land disputes in the area, according to residents.

"After they destroyed other people's homes, the soldiers asked whether we planned to leave," said 68-year-old Roth Sophorn.

"We all said we would not, since this is where we farm and make our living," she said, adding that the community has grown to more than 300 families, from just 50 when the area was first settled in 1996.

She said the bridge was burned by soldiers to prevent help from arriving, and now residents are cut off from the market and schools.

"Now, we cannot leave and our children cannot go to study, and some of us are running out of food," she said.

"We do not leave our homes because we are afraid [the soldiers] will also burn them."

Chang Barang, a resident whose home was destroyed, said soldiers, along with a provincial Environment Department official, arrived after the incident asking villagers for thumbprints for a census.

But he and other residents suspected it was a ruse to get them to sign over their rights to the land. "We are scared about our safety. At night, armed soldiers come to look around our village," he said.

Military denials

Kong Lum, head of Brigade 31, denied any involvement in the incident by his soldiers, saying that Environment Department officials burned the bridge to prevent villagers from crossing into public land to cut down trees.

An area village chief, Tum Kol, said the problem stemmed from immigrants from neighbouring provinces who flooded into the area thinking that they would qualify for compensation by the state if they squatted on unoccupied land. "I have warned them many times before that new residents are not allowed, but they do not listen," he said.

But Try Chhon, a provincial officer with the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said the conflict had arisen because the government failed to discuss the development with the squatters.

"If they have a plan to develop the area, they must explain clearly the situation and what the villagers will get in return. Otherwise, it is very difficult for the people to cooperate."

Whether a beer girl or celebrity, the dangers of the job are never far

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Actress Dy Savat, in her Phnom Penh home last week, says personal behaviour is sometimes blamed for scandals that turn violent.

The unfortunate case of Piseth Pilika
The most famous example of the dangers of fame came in July 1999, when actress and classical dancer Piseth Pilika was shot in the back at point-blank range near the Russian Market in a killing that the French magazine L'Express claimed could be linked to Prime Minster Hun Sen's wife Bun Rany. The magazine argued that Bun Rany ordered the killing because of an alleged affair between the actress and prime minister. The government denied the charge, dismissing it as a baseless opposition ploy, but relatives of the slain actress living in asylum in France continued to claim years after the killing that the incident was linked to the alleged affair. However, no one was arrested for the crime, nor has there been any evidence deemed credible by the courts to support any of the allegations published by the magazine. For her part, actress Saray Sakana, 19, said, "I am not afraid or scared of getting involved in this type of scandal myself because I don't do anything wrong". She continued: "But I just feel regret and pity for artists who face this problem and who have been attacked or shot. I think they didn't want to make trouble, but sometimes they couldn't avoid it. The circumstances forced them to do so."


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khoun Leakhana and Mom Kunthear
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

With a history of shootings, acid attacks and near abductions, life for women who are the focus of men's attention can be hazardous, but questions remain as to who is to blame.

BEING an entertainer in Cambodia is a high-risk proposition for women, particularly those who attract the attention - and advances - of rich and powerful men. The entertainment industry is rife with tales of women who, after allegedly engaging in adulterous affairs with high-profile men, were targeted by vengeful wives in plots involving acid attacks and assassination attempts.

While in the past decade several high-profile victims - Touch Sunnich and Tat Morina, for example - have sporadically dominated headlines, these cases point to a near-constant threat that affects all entertainers, from the most public celebrities to the most anonymous beer girls.

Seng Nora, 21, who works as a beer girl for Angkor Beer in a Kampong Cham province night club, said she and her colleagues are often targeted by wealthy, married men looking to have affairs, which can lead to revenge attacks, either from wives or the men themselves. She recalled turning down an aggressive pursuer just last week.

"Last week there was a guy with a gun who tried to force me to go have sex with him, but I rejected him," she said.

"Then he threatened me and said he wanted to shoot me. I told him that I'm not a prostitute - I sell beer, not my body - and that he should go to another place. Then he ordered his friends to take a gun and shoot me."

In other instances, she said, beer girls are unable to refuse inappropriate advances from married men, leaving them vulnerable to revenge plots like those hatched against celebrity performers.

In 2003, Touch Sunnich sustained gunshots to the face and neck shortly after leaving a Phnom Penh flower shop with her mother, who died in the attack. Tat Marina was the target of an acid attack in 1999 that severely disfigured her face, neck, back, chest and wrists.

Both incidents were widely viewed as attempts at retribution for illicit affairs with married men.

Blame game

Though most government officials and entertainers say such incidents are regrettable, recent interviews point to a debate about what is to blame for them: Is it the lax morals of the performers themselves, or a culture in which women have no choice but to consent to the rich and powerful? All too often, the standard government response is to blame the former, but many rights groups and entertainers contend that the victims in these cases had little chance to resist the advances of those who pursued them. Moreover, they blame hapless law enforcement officials - and confusion about which ministries should be involved in such cases - for failing to bring the assailants to justice.

" ...I told him that I'm not a prostitute - I sell beer, not my body. "

"This is a difficult problem to solve because it often stems from the action of an individual girl," said Thai Naraksatya, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. "I think Khmer actresses become victims in these scandals because of their own behavior."

Chea Vannath, an independent social analyst, also blamed the performers, arguing that those who "live with good morals and respect" manage to avoid such trouble. She said young entertainers who are "overjoyed with materialism" fuel the problem.

Even some entertainers say the scandals stem from the personal behavior of the women involved. Dy Saveth, a 64-year-old movie star, said: "When someone is involved in such a scandal, I think it is usually the result of their own individual problems and private matters".

But Sy Define, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, said the girls' "bad decisions" do not justify violent acts committed against them.

"Even though female stars or other women have relationships with married men or someone's boyfriend, they should not be forced to flee [or be] killed," she said.

Others argue that the fault lies with the men who initiate the affairs, saying female performers are often not in a position to refuse.

Theary Seng, president of the Center for Social Development, said many female performers lack power, money and influence, and are often trading solely on their beauty in such situations.

This leaves them feeling comparatively weak in exchanges with men, which can limit their freedom of choice.

Sy Define herself said that in some cases women who tried to refuse found themselves the targets of abduction attempts or outright attacks.

Sy Define pointed to government efforts to tackle the problem, including educating women as to "how to behave in a dignified manner"; observing Good Family Day, an event in Phnom Penh that was first held last year; and pushing to pass laws against domestic violence and polygamy.

Possible solutions?

Chea Vannath said the problem could be combated by experienced actresses teaching younger ones to avoid situations in which married men coerce them into having affairs.

A union or group comprised of established and aspiring stars could perhaps brainstorm creative ways to deal with such advances, she said.

The Khmer Arts Association (KAA) provides just such a forum, said its president, Ieng Sithol, who added that the association's members have managed to avoid serious adultery scandals.

For her part, Sy Define said those committing violent acts against women should be brought to justice, though officials suggest there was some confusion as to responsibility.

Thai Naraksatya said the task does not fall under the purview of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts because "it is a question of social security and disorder".

"The responsibility of the Ministry of Culture is only to educate, strengthen and to improve the culture and arts sectors," he said.

Lim Mony, of the Cambodian rights group Adhoc, disputed this, saying: "The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts also must educate artists about this problem".

"They should host a workshop or conference to let artists know how to deal with these situations."

Sam Rainsy Party Deputy Secretary General Mu Sochua said officials need to overcome any confusion and step up to solve the problem.

"The justice system is the first step for helping the victims," she said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ROBBIE COREY-BOULET

High numbers of smokers dying of secondary disease

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A man enjoys a cigarette at the old stadium in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khoun Leakhana
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A low awareness of smoking-related illnesses such as chronic bronchitis is putting more Cambodians at risk.

DOCTORS say they are becoming increasingly alarmed by the high number of people suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a type of smoking-induced bronchitis that frequently leads to death.

Despite rising awareness of the links between smoking and cancer, people in Cambodia know little of the connection between cigarettes and other types of illnesses, doctors say.

"Poisonous substances in cigarettes give smokers inflammation in their lungs, which eventually becomes chronic bronchitis," said Vann Mich, chief of the Department of Pneumatology at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital and secretary general of the Cambodia Society of Medicine.

"It destroys the elasticity in the lung cells, which reduces the ventilation movements of the lung," he told the Post last week.

Vann Mich estimated that 90 percent of people who smoke a packet of cigarettes a day for 20 years will likely face this type of bronchitis.

"The disease] is not really a cancer. It is a different type of lung disease that is particularly caused by smoking. This kind of disease can be cured only by a very slim chance," Vann Mich said, adding that his hospital received as many as 20 patients per month.

Eav Sokha, the chief oncologist-radiation therapist at the Center of Oncology in Phnom Penh and the secretary general of the Cambodian Society for Oncology, said that more recognition needed to be given to smoking-related illnesses other than cancer.

"Since I became a doctor, I have also seen people who do not smoke get cancer," he said.

Prak Prang, a 79-year-old suffering from smoking-related bronchitis, has been receiving treatment at Vann Mich's hospital since he felt like he had water in his lungs a week ago.

"I never knew that smoking caused lung disease like this," he said.

"Now I have found out that I am in too serious condition to be treated," he added.

"If I could rewind time, I would not touch even a single cigarette."

According to the National Statistics Institute, 53.9 percent of men and six percent of women in Cambodia over the age of 20 smoke.

Elephant agrees to modify scenes in bid to appease Buddhists

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Organisers of first Cambodian rock opera say they will change some lines of narration after clergy tried to stop the production from airin.

ORGANISERS of the rock opera Where Elephants Weep have agreed to modify certain scenes that Buddhist clergy find objectionable before it is televised nationally, according to officials involved in the dispute.

The compromise came on Sunday after performance organisers met the Supreme Council of Buddhist Monks, including its leader Non Gnet, said show spokesman Prim Phloeun.

"After some discussion, it was agreed some controversial scenes will be modified," he said, explaining that the biggest sticking-point for the clergy was that the performance change a line by the narrator from "the monk wants a girl" to "the monk turned into a playboy".

While the cast sent a letter to the Council to apologise for any offense they caused, show organisers also used the meeting to reiterate what they feel is the show's unique value to Khmer culture, he added.

The proposed changes must first be approved by a committee that includes representatives from the government, Buddhist clergy and show directors before it can be televised nationally.

"Now the dispute is finished, and we hope the show will help promote Cambodian culture internationally," he said.

Mao Ayuth, a secretary of state at the Information Ministry, said the agreement paved the way for the show to debut in Siem Reap.

Elephants is a post-Khmer Rouge take on the Cambodian classic Tom Tiev, telling the story of a Cambodian-American man who becomes a monk in order to find his Cambodian roots with a mix of rock, pop and traditional Khmer tunes.

The dispute over the Broadway musical-style adaptation of the story had sparked a minor culture war.

The Council of Ministers threw its support behind the rock opera, praising it for generating international interest in Cambodia, after Buddhist clergy asked the government to ban the show from being nationally televised due to its allegedly dishonourable presentation of monks.

The government has said it never asked for an apology.

It's all horse play

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

A man washes his work horse in the Mekong River at sunset on Saturday in the Sambo district of Kratie province.

Police Blotter: 13 Jan 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Tuesday, 13 January 2009

MAN FOUND DEAD NEAR BRIDGE

The body of Hun Samnang, 41, was found near "Jumping Monkey Bridge" in Pursat province on Thursday. His head was severely broken and the police inferred that many unknown people had attacked him. According to his wife, the victim had drunk with his friends away from home. The villagers suspected that timber smugglers hated him, as he usually informed the authorities whenever he witnessed their actions.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

TWO INJURED BY EXPLOSION

While they were sitting around a fire of collected garbage to heat their bodies, in Battambang province's Svay Chuor village, an explosion came out of the fire and Che Ok, 65, was wounded on the left eye and Noeum Khun, 45, was wounded in the head and waist. The police said that the explosion was caused by part of a rocket, which had been left over from the war and was buried in the ground under the fire.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

WORKER TAKES FALL AT HYDRO DAM

Mork Vanna, a 25-year-old worker, fell off a 20-metre-high structure at the Kamchay hydro-electricity construction site and was seriously injured in the head after he misstepped while he was welding. A Chinese construction manager quickly took him to the provincial hospital, but the doctors sent him to Phnom Penh, as he was in very serious condition.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

DRUNK MAN HITS WRONG FENCE

A pickup driven by a seriously drunken man crashed into the fence of a military policeman's house. The accident, which happened at 10:30pm on Saturday in Prateah Lang village and commune, Dangkor district, Phnom Penh, injured both the driver, Khim Bunthoeun, 29, and passenger Dina, 23. Police say Khim Bunthoeun had borrowed the pickup from his friend to take his mother home.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

CHILD RAPIST ARRESTED
Kampot provincial police on Friday arrested a man who broke into a house, kidnapped a six-year-old girl who was sleeping with her mother and raped her outside of the house. While her husband was out fishing, the girl's mother stayed at home with her five children, and she woke up at midnight to find her daughter was lost. After a short search, she found her daughter outside with blood covering her naked body. The so-called "sex devil", Kao Hak, 28, had left a pair of shoes at the place he broke into the house, which led to his arrest.
KOH SANTEPHEAP

Cambodia drafts law to regulate internet strictly

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 13 (Xinhua) -- The Cambodian Ministry of Information is drafting a law that will extend the libel, defamation and ethics rules currently governing print media to other media platforms, including Internet, national media said on Tuesday.

The law will be used to formalize content management rules so that they can be easily applied by future information ministers, the English-language daily The Phnom Penh Post quoted Information Minister Khieu Kanharith as saying.

"We are drafting the legislation in order to have a proper law to manage radio, television and other platforms," he said.

The recent explosion of media outlets of print media made the law necessary, he said, pointing to the increase in websites in recent years, as well as the growth in radio and television.

It is unknown when the draft law will be finished as much work needs to be done before it can be sent to the Council of Ministers for approval, he added.

Cambodia now has 9 aerial television channels, 60 cable channels, several satellite and Internet channels, and dozens of newspapers and magazines, according to official figures.

The number of websites remains unknown yet.

How to strike at the heart of sex slavery

Cambodia Photo: Greg Newington

THE AGE
theage.com.au

Nicholas Kristof
January 13, 2009

Attacking traffickers' business will encourage more to opt out.

IN TRYING to figure out how we can defeat sex trafficking, a starting point is to think like a brothel owner. My guide to that has been Sok Khorn, an amiable middle-aged woman who is a long-time brothel owner in the wild Cambodian town of Poipet. I met her five years ago when she sold me a teenager, Srey Mom, for $203 and then blithely wrote me a receipt confirming that the girl was now my property. At another brothel nearby, I bought another imprisoned teenager for $150.

Astonished that in the 21st century I had bought two human beings, I took them back to their villages and worked with a local aid group to help them start small businesses. I have remained close to them over the years, but the results were mixed.
The second girl did wonderfully, learning hairdressing and marrying a terrific man. But Srey Mom, it turned out, was addicted to methamphetamine and fled back to the brothel world to feed her craving.

I have just returned again to Khorn's brothel to interview her, and found something remarkable. It had gone broke and closed, like many of the brothels in Poipet. One lesson is that the business model is more vulnerable than it looks. There are ways we can make enslaving girls more risky and less profitable, so that traffickers give up in disgust.

For years, Khorn had been grumbling to me about the brothel — the low margins, the seven-day schedule, difficult customers, grasping policemen and scorn from the community. There was also a personal toll: her husband had sex with the girls, infuriating her, and the couple eventually divorced bitterly. Khorn was also troubled that her youngest daughter, now 13, was growing up surrounded by drunken, leering men.

Then in the past year, the brothel business became even more challenging amid rising pressure from aid groups, journalists and the US State Department's trafficking office. The office issued reports shaming Cambodian leaders and threatened sanctions if they did nothing.

Many of the brothels are owned by the police, which complicates matters, but eventually authorities in Cambodia were pressured enough that they ordered a partial crackdown.
"They didn't tell me to close down exactly," said another Poipet brothel owner whom I have also interviewed periodically. "But they said I should keep the front door closed."

About half the brothels in Poipet seem to have gone out of business in the past couple of years. After Khorn's brothel closed, her daughter-in-law took four of the prostitutes to staff a new brothel, but it's doing poorly, and she is thinking of starting a rice shop instead.

"A store would be more profitable," grumbled the daughter-in-law, Sav Channa.

"The police come almost every day, asking for $US5," she said. "Any time a policeman gets drunk, he comes and asks for money … Sometimes I just close up and pretend that this isn't a brothel. I say that we're all sisters."

Channa, who does not seem to be imprisoning anyone against her will, readily acknowledged that some other brothels in Poipet torture girls, enslave them and occasionally beat them to death. She complained that their cruelty gives them a competitive advantage.

But brutality has its own drawbacks as a business model, particularly during a crackdown, pimps say. Brothels that imprison and torture girls have to pay for 24-hour guards, and they lose business because they can't allow customers to take girls out to hotel rooms. Moreover, the Cambodian Government has begun prosecuting the most abusive traffickers.

"One brothel owner here was actually arrested," complained another owner in Poipet, indignantly. "After that, I was so scared that I closed the brothel for a while."

To be sure, a new brothel district has opened up on the edge of Poipet — in the guise of "karaoke lounges" employing teenage girls. One of the mama-sans there offered that while she didn't have a young virgin girl in stock, she could get me one.

Virgin sales are the profit centre for many brothels in Asia (partly because they stitch girls up and resell them as virgins several times over), and thus these sales are their economic vulnerability as well. If we want to undermine sex trafficking, the best way is to pressure governments such as Cambodia's to organise sting operations and arrest both buyers and sellers of virgin girls. Cambodia has shown that it is willing to take at least some action, and that is one that would strike at the heart of the business model.

Sexual slavery is like any other business: raise the operating costs, create a risk of jail, and the human traffickers will quite sensibly shift to some other trade. If the Obama administration treats 21st-century slavery as a top priority, we can push many of the traffickers to quit in disgust and switch to stealing motorcycles instead.

Nicholas Kristof is a columnist with The New York Times.

Hong Kong Residents Lend Helping Hand

Hong Kong residents and Cambodian orphanages tour Angkor Wat.

By Taing Sarada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
12 January 2009

A group of citizens recently joined together to raise funds, clothes, stationary and toys in Hong Kong to be sent to an organization in Siem Reap before taking a holiday to see Angkor Wat.

Together the Hong Kong residents gathered nearly 150 kilograms of clothes, toys, pens, and books, along with $1,600, which they hoped to send to 34 orphanages through the Working for Children organization.

“So many donations,” said Lingli Minji, who found the organization through an Internet search ahead of a trip and helped gather the donations. “We had to use the post office to send them in boxes. It is 150 kilograms, which we could not bring with our carry-on suitcases.”

Once in Cambodia, the group rented a bus to drive children to visit Angkor Wat and other temples, something the orphans had not had a chance to do before.

Minji said she and the others felt pity for the orphans, who lack opportunities and enough food to eat, compared to children in Hong Kong. She also admonished the Cambodian government for failing to provide for the children and their education, “because they are the future for their country.”

“This should be organized systematically, because they are very peaceful kids and we are getting worried about their education in the future,” she said. “They are so talented, but we don’t know what is going to happen in their future.”

Minji and her group were not the first from Hong Kong to lend aid to Cambodia. In mid-2007 and early 2008, a group of students from Hong Kong University helped students in Battambang province by digging wells for villagers.

Lingli Zhan, a Hong Kong-French citizen who also raised funds for the Working for Children orphanages, said she planned to raise money and stationary supplies for Cambodian children every year.

“When we were there, we gave them envelopes with addresses in France so that we could keep in touch with those kids,” she said.

Siem Reap Governor Sou Phearin told VOA Khmer he strongly supported the spirit and goodwill of the Hong Kong donors.

Education for all Cambodian children, including orphans, was a priority for the provincial authority and the national government, he said.

Hun Sen to Attend Asean Meeting in Thailand

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
12 January 2009

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said he will attend this year’s Asean meeting in Thailand, following numerous requests from neighboring leaders, a government spokesman said Monday.

Hun Sen had previously urged Thai officials, who are leading the rotating chairmanship of the group this year, to postpone for security concerns. He had also claimed he might not himself attend.

“After that, friends of Cambodia asked Prime Minister Hun Sen [to attend], saying that if he did not attend, many other Asean countries might not attend either,” the spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, said.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters Sunday after meeting his Japanese counterpart, Nakasone Hirofumi, that Hun Sen would attend, which is scheduled from Feb. 27 through March 1 in Hua Hin, Thailand.

Cambodia and Thailand remain at loggerheads over disputed borderland near Preah Vihear temple, where troops from both sides have been entrenched since July.

Witness List Passed to Tribunal Judges

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
12 January 2009

Prosecutors have sent a list of witnesses to the Trial Chamber of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, officials said Monday, a key step in moving closer to a trial for jailed prison Duch.

By having the list of witnesses, judges can now chose who will appear in an upcoming trial. This will also help set a definite time-table for the trial of Duch, 66. wjp os charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and homicide for his role as the head of Tuol Sleng prison, known to the Khmer Rouge as S-21.

The trial for Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev, is expected to begin in earnest in March. The Trial Chamber is expected to hold a two-day meeting later this week to fix a date for the trial. Duch’s trial will mark the first for the tribunal, which has been beleaguered since its inception, with organization, management, funding, and allegations of corruption.

A source close to the tribunal said a list of more than 30 witnesses was sent to the Trial Chamber earlier this month. Among those listed are survivors of Tuol Sleng, family members of prisoners killed in there, and previous staff of the prison, where at least 12,000 people were tortured and later executed.

“It is clear that the first trial will allow witnesses to come and tell their stories, their experiences, which will permit them to shed light on what happened,” said Robert Petit, an international prosecutor for the tribunal.

The process will help some people understand better the regime, but the topic of the hearing would be focused only on the prison, he said.

The list includes an array of witnesses who will paint several pictures of the prison.

“There are, on one hand, survivors, and there are people who have worked in Tuol Sleng,” said Silke Studzinsky, a lawyer for civil party participants in the tribunal. “So there are of course witnesses that are very important and who are able to talk about the conditions in court.”

Tribunal judges could not be reached for comment Monday.

TV show parodies Phnom Penh life

CamboFest awards
The Golden Buffalo 2008, Cambodia’s small-scale equivalent of the Academy Awards, was given out to the best contributions to the country’s only independent film festival, CamboFest. Among the Cambodian contributions, The Red Sense by Tim Pek swayed the jury with its portrayal of a woman’s quest to find her father’s killer. Farkas (Wolf), a film by Tamas Toth about a vampire wolf, grabbed the trophy in the Feature Fiction category. Among the Feature Documentaries, A Life in Hashistan prevailed, in which Tonya Dreher portrays an age-old sect of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. Some of the other winners included Rebel Song by British director Simon Arthur, which claimed the prize for best Short Fiction film and Intestines of the Earth by Barbier Olivier for best Short Documentary.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by CORNELIUS RAHN
Monday, 12 January 2009

Producers of the new comedy show Upside Down hope that young viewers will relate to the program’s parody of everyday life in the Cambodia’s capital

The creators of a new comedy show parodying everyday life on the streets of Phnom Penh are anxious to see whether the show's lightning-quick succession of sketches will strike a chord with its target audience of young Cambodians.

Upside Down, a product of Khmer Mekong Films (KMF), sits at the heart of the programming of CTN's second channel, MYTV, which aims at a largely untapped source of spending power: people between the ages of 13 and 35.

Twenty-six episodes of the show have been filmed, with the first one aired Saturday at 12:30pm. Its attractive cast of four women and four men parodies daily occurrences on the capital's streets in a fast-paced series of sketches, about 18 of which fit into every episode.

Matthew Robinson, KMF's founder and the show's executive producer, described its formula as "Khmer humour reinforced with Western discipline".

In one scene, a young man is barred from walking on the sidewalk by a wall of parked cars and scooters. Eventually, he stops two men on a motorbike, takes the wooden stool they are carrying and uses it to climb over the barricade.

" I was really confused during the first few scenes, but then I realised what was going on."

In another scene, a young couple is kept from enjoying a romantic moment together by a series of vendors loudly advertising their goods. When a vendor exclaims that he is selling condoms, the young man jumps up and runs after him to make a purchase.

Testing the market
On Thursday, Robinson tried to see how Upside Down would resonate with its target audience by screening the first three episodes for students - many in their early 20s - enrolled in a communications class at Pannasastra University.

The main question was whether they could get used to the sketch format, which is a novelty for Cambodians, whose regular comedic diet, according to Robinson, consists mainly of fake mustaches and grimaces.

"I was really confused during the first few scenes, but then I realized what was going on," said Sum Sovann Panha, one of the students.

Lim Piseth, another student, said he thought the format would catch on quickly.

"Many Cambodians are used to Western shows like Mr Bean, and this is pretty similar," he said.

Some students were concerned about young people showing their romantic affection on TV, but Robinson pointed out that his team had been careful to show nothing more than people holding hands.

He said the show will also stay away from potentially difficult issues such as religion and politics.

Another issue was the show's exclusive focus on the city, with a number of students saying that people in rural areas might not get the jokes because they are not used to city life or Western-style comedy.

Robinson disagreed. "They might not have the same education [as you], but they do have brains.

"People are not going to like every single joke," he said. "That's normal." But he said he hopes Cambodians are ready for something different.

Judging by the near-constant laughs the show earned from the Pannasastra students, he has good reason to be optimistic.

Celebration of freedom

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Monday, 12 January 2009

Actors and singers perform live in the park across from Wat Botum to a crowd of fans to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the defeat of the Khmer Rouge regime on Wednesday.

VIP bank closes its doors in Cambodia

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by NGUON SOVAN AND CHUN SOPHAL
Monday, 12 January 2009

The Singaporean bank says it is unable to meet the NBC’s new capital requirements

THE Singaporean commercial bank VIP announced it would be shutting its doors in Phnom Penh because it cannot meet the government's capital requirement.

The closure is the first since the global credit crunch hit in September of last year.The National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) increased the minimum capital requirement from US$13 million to $37.5 million in September 2008. The closure is not expected to have a strong impact on the local economy.

Stiff competition

Tough competition in the local market and the economic slowdown also played a role in the closure of VIP, said Key Kak, chairman of the accounting firm Morison Kak & Associates, which was authorised by National Bank to liquidate VIP's assets and settle deposits.

"The bank opened in August and closed in December. It had less than a hundred customers," the liquidator said.

"We have three months to clear the assets, repay all deposits and clear customer debts," said Key Kak on Sunday.

In Channy, president and chief executive officer of ACLEDA Bank, said Sunday that the tripling of registered capital requirements was not a serious concern because the NBC has given commercial banks until 2010 to comply.

" I THINK THE NBC INCREASED THE REGISTERED CAPITAL TO FAVOUR THE BIG FISH. "

He added that the registered capital is not significant for Cambodia's large banks."I think that the tripling can help Cambodia's economy in the future. It will not kill the small banks," In Channy said.

Big fish

Houth Pum, professor of law and economics at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said Sunday that the capital increase is an obstacle for small banks but would help large banks become stronger.

"For the current size of Cambodia's economy, about ten banks is sufficient, but we have more than 20.

"I think NBC increased the registered capital to favour the big fish in the banking sector so the small fish will die," Houth Pum said.

"Even though there are many banks, the extent of loans and deposits has not increased much because our economy is not large enough."

Officials from VIP and NBC could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

According to NBC figures, Cambodia has 25 commercial banks, six specialised banks and 17 microfinance institutions.

As of October 2008, commercial banks had $2.4 billion in loans outstanding and $2.49 billion in deposits.

NBC raised capital requirements following the onset of the global economic crisis. Its tightening measures also included stricter rules on lending to the property sector.

Cambodia's stock exchange launch delayed 'indefinitely'

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Workers outside the Camko site, where Cambodia’s stock exchange is to be housed.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Monday, 12 January 2009

Officials say the September opening of the Kingdom’s first stock exchange is off as the global financial slowdown takes its toll on the economy.

CAMBODIA'S much-touted stock exchange has been delayed indefinitely due to the worsening global economic slowdown, officials told the Post Sunday.

Its launch was scheduled for September, with the Korea Exchange providing funds and technical support. But as Cambodia's economy - one of the region's most vibrant - slowed to single-digit growth last year, the exchange's future was put in doubt.

"Cambodia has been affected by the global financial crisis, especially in terms of real estate and garment exports. Therefore, the plan to open Cambodia's stock market has been postponed, and no specific schedule is set for it," said Mey Vann, director of the Finance Ministry's Department of Financial Industry.

"We cannot push to form the stock market, as our economy does not have a solid foundation yet due to the impact of the crisis," he said.

"Now, we will focus our efforts on stabilising our economy.

"Officials had reiterated that the launch was on schedule as recently as last month, but the government now says that times have changed.

"When we planned to establish the stock market ... there was no global financial crisis. Now, the crisis has hit, so the government has to reconsider the economic benefits and sustainability," he said.

"We will wait and see whether the global economy shows signs of recovery. If it recovers soon, we will soon establish Cambodia's stock market. But if it takes a long time to recover, the stock market will take longer to form," he said.

" LESS THAN FIVE PERCENT OF CAMBODIAN PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THE STOCK MARKET. "

December deadline

The Korean partners in the project expressed surprise at the government's postponement, saying they had not been informed of the change.

"There is a possibility that [the launch] will be delayed. September might be hard, but the end of December is more likely," Intyo Lee, project director for Korea Exchange, said on Sunday.

He said that the partners had already made progress on the exchange with the formation of a securities watchdog. He added that he expects at least three companies would list immediately and that five would list after the launch.

"I don't think that the economic crisis has seriously affected Cambodia. This is mainly a banking issue," he said.

But outside experts said that the slow economy and a lack of public enthusiasm mean the launch could be years away.

Nguon Meng Tech, director general of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said Sunday the postponement is appropriate.

"The launch shouldn't take place before at least 2012 because recessions never recover in just one or two years - it takes at least four years to recover," said Nguon Meng Tech.

"Less than five percent of Cambodian people understand the stock market," he added.

In Channy, president and CEO of ACLEDA Bank, said that more outreach is needed before the market is viable.

We support the postponement because the public and companies still do not understand the stock market," In Channy said.

He agreed that a launch date of 2012 was more realistic.

"The stock market can proceed only if there are qualified companies to join. Otherwise, it will be impossible."

He said that local companies also lack international ratings, which he said are essential for firms wanting to list.

"For banking, as far as I know, only ACLEDA has the international rating," he said.

He added that other conditions such as auditing, good governance and financial reporting were needed.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY GEORGE MCLEOD