Saturday, 7 February 2009

Exam of beaten boy shows previous injuries

The Eagle Tribune Online

Gretchen Putnam
mailto:Putnamgputnam@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE — Medical exams of the 9-year-old boy who police say was "savagely" beaten by his mother's boyfriend revealed he had several serious and unreported injuries in the past.

The Division of Children and Families notified police a bone scan of the boy showed likely compression fractures of four or five vertabraes in the boy's upper back and one in his lower back. It also showed a breaks in his upper arm bone, two ribs and the right pelvic bone.

Police said the report also says it is difficult to determine how old the injuries are and further testing is needed.

Thoun Rin, 31, is being held without bail on child assault charges. The boy was brought to the hospital last Friday with severe bruising to his face and lower back. He told police Rin beat him daily and he never told his mother because he was afraid he would be beaten more.

The boy said the latest beating happened last Wednesday, when Rin grabbed him by the neck and punched him in the head and struck him 10 times. The boy told police that Rin only stopped when he heard his mother coming up the stairs and walked out of the room, saying "look what happens when you jump on the bed."

Chief John Romero said the boy's mother told police her son had never broken any bones in the past. He said police asked DCF to let them know if the boy's medical exams showed something different.

Rin is charged with assault and battery on a child under 14 causing bodily injury and assault and battery on a household member.

Rin faces up to five years in prison or two and a half years in the house of correction if he is convicted on the assault and battery on a child causing bodily injury charge, and two and a half years in the house of correction and a $1,000 fine upon conviction on the charge of assault and battery on a household member.

The boy's biological father left for Cambodia on the day of the last beating, but has been contacted and is returning as soon as he can get a flight back, police said.

The DCF has taken custody of the victim and his 3-year-old brother, police said.

Thaksin not in Cambodia: Hun Sen

Bangkok Post

By: BangkokPost.com
Published: 7/02/2009
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Saturday ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra is not in Cambodia's Koh Kong as reported by Thai media.

The statement came as Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan visits Hun Sen in Phnom Penh.

According to reports, Hun Sen also affirmed Gen Prawit that he will attend the 14th Asean summit to be held in Thailand later this month.

No deal on troop withdrawal at border: Songkitti

Bangkok Post
By: BangkokPost.com
7/02/2009

Thailand and Cambodia have not agreed on troop withdrawal from disputed area around the Preah Vihear temple when Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Supreme Commander Songkitti Jaggabatara said Saturday.

Gen Songkitti, however, said Thailand and Cambodia have discussed about border conflicts, and agreed that clashes along the border should not happen in the future.

On the troop withdrawal, committees in charge of the matter will have to discuss more thoroughly on the issue in order to solve the conflicts along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Cambodia, Thailand border to be free of troops

Border talks: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) shaking hands with Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Picture: AFP

THE BRUNEI TIMES

PHNOM PENH

Saturday, February 7, 2009

CAMBODIA and Thailand agreed yesterday to withdraw the remaining troops on their disputed border to avoid a repeat of last year's armed clashes near a 900-year-old Hindu temple.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, speaking to reporters after meeting Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, said they agreed to jointly demarcate the jungle-clad area where four soldiers died in a firefight last October.

"There will be no more military confrontation in that area," Hun Sen said.

He added the two neighbours would work together to develop the area for tourism.

"I told the Thai delegation that this is an historic moment. We have solved the problems today so there will be no troubled legacy for our next generations," Hun Sen said.

Prawit, who was accompanied on the trip by Thailand's top military brass, told reporters: "Everything is OK. No problems."

One Thai and three Cambodian soldiers died in last year's exchange of rifle and rocket fire, which both sides accused the other of starting. The Preah Vihear temple has been a source of tension for generations. Reuters

Taking Christmas to Cambodia

Dancing with joy, a few of the girls twirl scarves at the orphanage in Cambodia where Twyla Ayton spent time as a volunteer last year.
photos submitted

From bclocalnews.com
February 06, 2009

Cambodia again. I could hardly believe that I was being given the chance to go back to my beloved orphanage in Cambodia.

In March 2007, a team of six (assembled from the Okanagan, through an organization in Kelowna) had the chance to visit Cambodia on a short excursion from Thailand called a Vision Trip. During that trip, we “stumbled” upon an orphanage in a village named Kampong Thom. The visit wasn’t part of our original plan, but the three-hour visit would change our lives and, inevitably, the lives of these 20 children.

An article was written last year about our adventures to Cambodia. I was amazed at how the community responded. Santa’s Anonymous gave donations of everything from clothing, shoes, and toys to craft items. Unbeknownst to them, they donated the exact amount of new dolls for the little girls that were there, and two cars for each boy. The community was so generous that I was able to share items with a few different orphanages and village kids. There were 125 stuffed animals alone, not to mention the other toys, clothing, and school supplies. Biggest thanks ever to all who gave.

Last March, a team of seven and myself had the sheer pleasure of returning to the same orphanage/church bursting with the generous donations from this community. Upon our return, we found that the money that was sent ahead of us had been used to pour cement around the well, build room partitions for the pastor and his wife and for the girls and boys, new toilet facilities were constructed, and doors were made that were needed to finish the building.

We stayed right at the orphanage for five nights. Sleep seemed to be a commodity as we had to battle the loud speakers blaring with deafening sounds from chanting Buddhist monks throughout the night, barking dogs, and roosters sounding off not knowing what time it was. Ear plugs were a gift from God.

During the day, our team helped build clothing lines, tables for the children to do their studies on, a pump for the well, assembled beds, and helped build a new kitchen. The ladies and I would share stories, play games and work on crafts with the children who weren’t at school. One day we rode bikes with them to school. It was interesting to see the differences between Cambodian and Canadian school systems.

Each night, their favourite pastime was to read the Bible and sing. We would then present them with a different gift each night. They were so appreciative of everything, but they could hardly believe their eyes when they were each presented with their own brand-new toy. It was like Christmas coming to Cambodia that evening.

When it came time to leave our little friends, a lot of tears were shed from both sides and our hearts were broken. I know staying with them in their own environment was an experience that would be ingrained on our hearts forever. I am grateful for every moment.

We also got a chance to visit another little village that is well on its way to becoming self-sufficient. A man who has been working with the pastor in that village, teaching him fish and produce farming, has agreed that he would help our little orphanage/church as well. So instead of constantly filtering money into them, our goal is to see to it that they become self-sufficient in the long run.

As a result of the article written last year, I was able to share my story with students at Ellison elementary school. They did a fundraiser that raised $501. It bought the children beds, and also helped purchase a cement table with benches, and bikes for the kids to ride to and from school, so they wouldn’t have to walk so far in the heat. They also sent school supplies and made bracelets for each of the kids. This just goes to show that no matter your age, you can make a difference.

I have returned to Ellison to share with them what their money has done for the children. They again have decided to do a fundraiser to raise money for books and vitamin supplements for the children. Their challenge to other schools would be to share love in the community first and then globally. Amazing how a little love from one side of the world can spread to the other. It definitely goes to show that there are no boundaries to love.

The team will return this month for a follow-up visit to Cambodia as well as working in a slum in Bangladesh. Donations of pencils, erasers, sharpeners, beads, stickers, skipping ropes, toothbrushes, stuffed animals, and any lightweight item would be appreciated. Donations can be dropped off at Community Baptist Church. If you'd like more information, I will be hosting a fundraiser luncheon and slide show today at noon at Community Baptist Church in Vernon.

Cambodian PM denies rumors of ruling party infighting

www.chinaview.cn
2009-02-07

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 7 (Xinhua) -- The recent replacement of Royal Cambodian Arms Forces' (RCAF) commander-in-chief was not indicative of any leadership infighting of the major ruling party of the kingdom, said national media on Saturday.

Internal conflict of the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) had nothing to do with the Jan. 22 decision to oust long-serving Ke Kim Yan, English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily quoted Prime Minister Hun Sen as saying.

Speaking to reporters here on Friday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the premier denied that there was any conflict, adding that whether RCAF commander-in-chief had been removed or not, CPP would be free of conflict.

"They say this removal was just to beef up Hun Sen's forces and weaken (CPP President and Senate President) Chea Sim's force. I would like to assert that, if we hadn't removed Ke Kim Yan, there would still be no problem inside CPP," he said.

"I would like to clarify things with the opposition who have endlessly commented that I wouldn't dare to touch the important army commanders, but when I removed him, you commented that it was the result of internal conflict of CPP," he said.

"I would like to assert that CPP doesn't have such a tradition of conflict on this issue, because this is the right of the premier to manage and control the military, police and other public administration," he said, adding that the removal aimed at "speeding reform" within the armed forces.

As the background of its reports, the Cambodia Daily said that "many have seen the abrupt removal of Ke Kim Yan as indicative of infighting within the leadership of the ruling party, with many rumors circulating about a behind-the-scenes battle between Hun Sen and Chea Sim."

Editor: Lin Liyu

Increasing Cambodia’s Competitiveness

From scoop.co.nz
Saturday, 7 February 2009
Press Release: UNDP

Cambodia Economic Forum Increasing Cambodia’s Competitiveness

For Growth and Poverty Reduction in the Face of the Global Financial Crisis

PHNOM PENH, 5 FEBRUARY 2009: Despite remarkable recent economic growth and steady progress towards reducing poverty, the effects of the global financial crisis are now being felt in Phnom Penh. The question of what Cambodia can do to mitigate the effects of this crisis is becoming increasingly urgent as tourism numbers taper off and garment factory orders dwindle. Key Cambodian policymakers, development partners and private sector stakeholders met today at the Third Cambodia Economic Forum (CEF), hosted by The Supreme National Economic Council (SNEC), to debate possible rapid policy responses that could prevent Cambodia’s recent gains from being eroded.

This year’s forum focused on “Increasing Cambodia’s Competitiveness for Growth and Poverty Reduction in the Face of the Global Financial Crisis” and was presided over by Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen. A range of policy perspectives and options on how to improve Cambodia’s competitiveness and sustain its rapid economic growth in the context of the worldwide economic situation were today presented to the Royal Government of Cambodia, the private sector and development partners. Discussion focused on policies to firmly regain macroeconomic stability, diversify sources of growth, increase productivity, expand market access, and enhance trade while continuing to reduce poverty.

“The Government is fully committed to systemic measures to limit the impacts of the global financial crisis on Cambodia’s financial system and its economy”, said Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen in his keynote address at the forum as he elaborated key measures taken by the government covering different aspects of macroeconomic, structural and sectoral policies.

“As Cambodia takes its place on the international stage – with its accession to the World Trade Organisation, taking a stronger role in the UN and sending peacekeepers to Sudan – it also grows more susceptible to the economic shocks affecting the rest of the world,” said UNDP Resident Representative Douglas Broderick at the event. “Integration with regional and global economies exposes Cambodia to new risks along with new opportunities.”

Four groundbreaking studies were presented by SNEC with the support of UNDP, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Cambodia: Key Aspects of Competitiveness, identifies sectors where Cambodia has the potential to gain competitive advantages.

Cambodia: Sustaining Rapid Growth in a Challenging Environment identifies the main sources of growth, the key binding constraints to growth, and strategies to alleviate those constraints and to manage rapid growth. The Financial Crisis and its Impact on Cambodia’s Sustainable Economic Development and Explaining Inflation in Cambodia provide the context essential for related research and analysis aimed at addressing the impacts of the crisis on Cambodia and improving lives in the country.

“Today’s [forum] provides a useful spotlight on the current economic challenges facing Cambodia, and on ways to counter the worsening impact of the global financial crisis and ensure long-term sustainable and equitable growth that results in a better life for all Cambodians," said World Bank Country Manager Qimiao Fan

"A rigorous assessment of the vulnerabilities the Cambodian economy experienced as a result of the economic shocks of 2008 can help provide a sharper focus on the priorities which need to be addressed for Cambodia's future competitiveness and sustainable growth," said Arjun Goswami, ADB Country Director.

The CEF is an annual conference organised by SNEC with support from UNDP and aims to present concrete, well-researched policy perspectives, to discuss Cambodian economic policy options with the Royal Government of Cambodia and to open dialogue with key experts and stakeholders on specific and practical recommendations for policy formulation and implementation. The CEF provides an opportunity to collect feedback and input from partners and experts, enriching the analysis and policy making process.

Today’s participants included senior government officials from both ministerial and provincial levels, diplomats, development partners, and representatives from the private sector, national and international NGOs, civil society and academia.

The first CEF, held in January 2006 and presided over by the Prime Minister, focused on an analysis of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) of the Cambodian Economy and on sharing international experiences for emerging petroleum and mining producing countries. In May 2007, the second CEF focused on Agriculture and Rural Development, specifically on pro-poor growth policies for the improvement of rural livelihoods.

Cambodians Use Makeshift Trains Built With Bamboo

By VOA Khmer, Washington
Video Editor: Manilene Ek
06 February 2009

Battambang is a main hub to the capital, Phnom Penh, and has long been one of the country's leading rice-producing provinces. It is Cambodia's second largest city with a population of about one million people but trains are irregular, and they often travel at little more than walking pace.
At the Battambang train station abandoned train carriages lay idle, the so-called bamboo trains have become an unofficial part of Cambodia's transport network.

With an official train service departing just once a week, local people have come to rely heavily on the de facto train network. They have taken matters into their own hands by establishing a network of vehicles they call "noris" or "lorries" to get around in. This is bamboo train driver, Ngol Ngoun.

Ngo Ngoun: "It's very safe to travel on this railway here. Plus it's easy to carry crops, or tools, or whatever, back and forth to the rice fields. That's why people like it so much-- it brings them directly to their rice fields safely and easily."

The trains are constructed from bamboo and are built with tiny electric engines which allow the vehicles to reach top speeds of about 40 kilometres (25 miles) per hour. The villagers use any wood they can find including warped and broken rails which can make for a bumpy ride but that does not seem to worry the locals who are accustomed to travelling on the bamboo trains in large groups. Rice farmer, Teng Kann, says he regularly uses the train.

Teng Kann: "I take the train because it's cheaper than using the motobike for my business. Also, the noris comes and goes at night time, and when people get sick, they can go to hospital for less- if you hire a car it will cost you a lot more."

The low fares apply not only to local villagers but to young foreign tourists travelling on a budget. Matteo Keffer from Italy says it is "incredible to see how the (villagers) utilise the old (French) colonial infrastructure."

Matteo Keffer: "It's incredible to see how they utilise the old colonial infrastructure for their benefit and the farmers around here are reall friendly. Battambang itself was a pleasant surprise."

Federica Fruhwirth: "Now let's hope we get home in one piece."

The official railways survived decades of civil war and sabotage by the Khmer Rouge but years without maintenance have taken their toll and the service is not without quirks. There is only one track - so if two trains meet, the train transporting the lightest load has to be taken off the rails. Yet the simple design of the vehicles means the trains can be easily dismantled. So for now local people say they will continue to rely on the bamboo railway even though Cambodia's rail authorities plan to rebuild the country's entire rail network by 2011.

Information for this report was provided by APTN.

Advocates call for social pension scheme in developing countries

BANGKOK POST

By: Bangkokpost.com
Published: 6/02/2009

Social pensions should be introduced in developing countries for better financial and social security, say advocates.

"A social pensions system can act as a powerful tool for the government to pull people out of poverty, because it is cost-effective and realistic,'' said Eduardo Klien, Regional Representative of HelpAge International, an NGO group advocating universal social pensions worldwide.

More than 70 countries across the world provide social pension, including at least 50 low and middle income countries. Their experience shows social pension is affordable and practical, Mr Klien said.

The term social pension is defined as "non-contributory cash income usually given to old people by the government.''

Asean countries, except Cambodia, offer social insurance for public sector employees but that is as far as it goes. The general public does not enjoy similar coverage.

Despite an existence of a large number of workers outside the mainstream, or registered workforce, there is no established scheme for their social protection, according to Fifi Anggrani Arif, Asean Secretariat's technical officer for its development unit.

Asean, with the exception of Brunei, does not have universal social assistance coverage, financed from tax revenues, and supplemented by various charities or aid organisations.

In most Asean countries, social protection is scattered around state agencies.

In Thailand, the non-mainstream workforce does not enjoy any social protection. Statistics show that one-fourth of the senior citizens are poor and more than 10% in this segment live below the poverty line.

The poor are vulnerable and neglected, said Viennarat Chuangwiwat of the United Nations Population Fund.

Old people had paid taxes in one form or another all their lives. They made significant contributions to society, so they too deserve something in return, said Ms Viennarat.

The concept of social protection implies an investment in people in order to prevent and reduce poverty. It also builds up a country through promotion of quality workforce and uplift living standards. This in the end will forge national peace and security.

If properly designed and executed, the basic or universal pension will be affordable in Thailand, she noted.

"The Thai government is aware of the rise of the ageing population. In fact, it is one of the first Asean countries to take note of the problem and established the National Committee for the Elderly soon after the Vienna Assembly on Ageing (1982),'' she said.

Thailand has also the 20-year national long-term plan of action for the elderly to address various issues including income and employment for the aged. The guarantee of income security for senior citizens was also incorporated in the constitution.

However, the social security system is sometimes inaccessible to the elderly and impeded by red tape and people's lack of understanding of how it works.

But experts agree the system can be improved to make the golden years truly meaningful.

Planting Seeds of Hope in the Killing Fields

Photo by Jerad Gallinger/Torontoist.

TORONTOIST
By Jerad Gallinger in on February 6, 2009

Angkor Restaurant, Toronto's first Cambodian eatery, is set to shut its doors after twelve years of business. Founded by Chandaramony Eang in 1997, the Gerrard Street East fixture has had a good run, earning praise for its affordable and delectable fare.

But while Angkor is certainly not the only local enterprise to meet its end in the midst of the current recession, the reasons for its impending closure are more complex than a simple matter of economics. Eang, a Cambodian refugee who first came to Canada in 1985, is selling his beloved restaurant so that he can return to his homeland to help impoverished villagers through his charity, Aid for Victims of Cambodian Landmines (AVCLM).
Chandaramony Eang stands below a portrait of his grandfather inside his Gerrard Street East restaurant. Photo by Jerad Gallinger/Torontoist.

Over tea and pad thai on a snowy January afternoon, Eang explained how thirty years of war plummeted his country from prosperity into destitution. "Cambodia used to be a country that would [produce] a lot of rice and grain and sell it around the [region]: to China, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Countries would buy from Cambodia. Now, because the landmines crippled the economy, Cambodians cannot even produce enough grain to feed themselves. My people used to sell grain around the world. Now they beg for food."

Eang witnessed Cambodia's descent into poverty firsthand. The son of a high-ranking military officer and the grandson of former Cambodian prime minister Penn Nouth, he spent his early years volunteering for the Red Cross, helping villagers fleeing a countryside beset by civil war. After Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge seized the capital Phnom Penh in 1975, Eang and his eight brothers and sisters were forced into slave labour in the infamous Killing Fields, where they dug graves for victims of the regime. "During the Khmer Rouge," he says, "I [went] to sleep hungry, because they [only gave] you a little bit of food, and then they forced you to work all day, fifteen hour days." Out of his siblings, only one sister and two brothers survived Pol Pot's rule.

Although he was eventually able to flee Cambodia following the toppling of the Khmer Rouge by Vietnamese forces in 1979, Eang's liberty came at a heavy cost. While attempting to avoid soldiers battling near the Thai border, he and another refugee triggered a landmine buried underfoot. His fellow traveller lost both legs to the ensuing blast and quickly succumbed to his injuries. Eang escaped with shrapnel wounds and was able to find his way to a United Nations refugee camp across the border. A fragment of the landmine remains embedded in the back of his knee, a reminder of his journey to freedom and of those who were not so fortunate.

Just as Eang still carries shrapnel in his leg, Cambodia's soil is haunted by the injurious debris of its recent history. Foremost among these are Agent Orange, the infamous herbicide sprayed by American troops across Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, and landmines—as many as six million of them—buried throughout the country during three decades of bloody internecine conflict. These remnants of war have caused immense hardship for Cambodian farmers and their families, reducing crop yields, killing tens of thousands, and leaving many villagers with little to eat.

Chandaramony Eang poses with landmines found during his most recent trip to Cambodia. Photo by Chandaramony Eang.

Eang's experience under the Khmer Rouge gives him insight into the plight of Cambodians today. "They go to sleep hungry like [I did]," he explains. "So I know. I understand their pain. I understand their suffering and [what] they've been through. So I've got to do something to go back and help them."

It's that desire to effect change that led Eang to create AVCLM in 2002. He estimates that he has put $400,000 of his own money into the registered charity over the past seven years and has taken out substantial personal loans to help fund the group's work.

His financial sacrifice has paid off for the villagers receiving AVCLM's assistance. During his most recent trip to Cambodia in 2008, Eang delivered farming equipment and a bicycle for local children, worked with the Cambodian Mine Action Centre to clear landmines from farmers' fields, and financed the building of a high-tech well to reduce the need to travel through mine-ravaged jungles to gather water. AVCLM also provides seed, rice, and other necessities, and has purchased land on which Eang plans to build a model village for seven hundred Cambodians displaced by poverty, landmines, and development.

Angkor is currently on the market, and once it has been sold Eang will move to Cambodia to do non-profit work full time. But while he looks for a buyer, the restaurant remains open for business, and AVCLM is working on ways to raise funds for its projects. A cookbook featuring Eang's secret recipes is in the works, and a concert and auction are being planned for the coming months. Watch for details on AVCLM's website when it relaunches in the near future.

Thanks to reader Dan Naccarato for the tip.

Cambodia – potential market for Vietnamese products

Biti’s footwear, Vinamilk dairy products and Vissan processed food have become the choice of Cambodian consumers instead of Chinese and Thai goods.

06/02/2009

VietNamNet Bridge – Neighbouring Cambodia has emerged as a potential market for Vietnamese products, according to the Industry and Trade Ministry.

The ministry said that there is a growing demand for Vietnamese products, mainly in steel, fertilizer, insecticides, pharmaceuticals, plastics, garment and textiles.

Biti’s footwear, Vinamilk dairy products and Vissan processed food have become the choice of Cambodian consumers instead of Chinese and Thai goods.

Moreover, Cambodian visitors to Ho Chi Minh City like to go shopping at supermarkets and have health checks-up at Cho Ray, Binh Dan and Gia Dinh hospitals. According to local tourism firms, each Cambodian visitor spends an estimated 850-2,000 USD during their visits.

Jumping at the chance, many Vietnamese enterprises have opened their shops in Cambodia. In 2008, over 150 Vietnamese businesses set up companies, representative offices and shops in the country.

However, the Vietnamese Trade Mission to Cambodia said that few Vietnamese businesses build long-term plans to develop this market.

Vietnam is currently the third largest exporter to Cambodia after Thailand and China while Cambodia is the 16th biggest market of Vietnam.

The country plans to raise the trade turnover with Cambodia to 2.45 billion USD by 2010.In 2008, Vietnam earned 1.43 billion USD from exports to Cambodia, a year-on-year increase of 50 percent.

VietNamNet/VNA

Interview with Richard Rechtman (1/2): "Cambodian refugees overwhelmed by their dead"

Phnom Penh (Cambodia) February 5th 2009: Richard Rechtman, psychiatrist,
and Soko Phay Vakalis at the Bophana Center workshop for visual artists.
©John Vink/ Magnum


Ka-set
By Stéphanie Gée
06-02-2009

Richard Rechtman never imagined he would be spending so much time working with Cambodian refugees living in France. The psychiatrist, who also happens to be an anthropologist, is medical director of the Institut Marcel Rivière, a researcher at the Interdisciplinary Research Institute on Social Issues (IRIS) Institute of the EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) in Paris and editor-in-chief of the French magazine l'Évolution Psychiatrique. Since 1986, he has been listening to, healing, curing and leading researches on the Cambodian diaspora living on the French territory, a community now composed of some 40,000 beings. He set foot for the first time on the Cambodian territory after accepting an invitation to work on creation workshops organised in Phnom Penh by the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre. In a two-part interview by Ka-set, he goes back over his experience and career, his approach as a professional and man with a cause as well as his views and theories.

Ka-set : As early as 1986, you started working with Cambodian refugees living in France. Why did you wait 22 years before coming to Cambodia?

Richard Rechtman : First of all, I always wanted to specialise in the question of exile and social disparity linked with exile. Even before working with Cambodians, I took an interest in asylum seekers, political refugees and immigrants too.

It was an era when humanitarian medicine and psychiatry were starting to gain media coverage and people won much acclaim in going abroad for three days to give examinations and then come back saying 'I was there'... I didn't want to do that […] but rather wanted to carry out regular work within a community which resettled in France, with all the complexities that exist in acculturation, etc. My main interest was not Cambodia but Cambodians in France. Now that I have come here, I realise there are many things I would have understood earlier if I had come here, it's obvious. But I also think there are many things I would not have been able to see had I come earlier, especially regarding the specificity of culture transplantation and the specificity of views about the past, and mainly the dead. I wouldn't have been able to interpret them like I have done, because there was this need to be immersed in these two cultures.

This is when I understood that Cambodian refugees did not think about the dead but that they were overwhelmed by their dead. They are not in a process of remembrance... It's a physical, psychological invasion and an everyday presence. And I think that I was able to understand that in France thanks to this discrepancy, but also because there was this certain exteriority as to the place they came from. You're going to tell me that these are mere rationalisations – maybe there were other reasons... But in any case, I didn't miss it, and I didn't want to come here as a tourist.

K7 : So what made you make your mind up and come here?

RR : Two reasons for that. First, my fondness for Rithy Panh [filmmaker and co-founder of the Bophana Centre] who once told me: 'One day, I'll take you to Cambodia!'. [laughs] And then, the Bophana Centre offered me to do something I couldn't refuse: they offered me to meet, and work with Vann Nath [a painter, who survived S-21]!

Then, a year ago, I was asked to help a team of psychologists at the PSE [Pour un Sourire d'Enfant] organisation. I made a rather crazy suggestion: holding an internet supervision every fortnight - and it's going really well! During my biweekly Cambodian consultation, I communicate with them for an hour on Skype and they talk to me about their patients. […] Conditions, it's true, are complicated: an average connection, we have to speak English, which I wanted – having no in-between interpreter in order to be on an equal footing when it comes to language difficulty; it creates bonds. I wanted to come and meet them.

K7 : How did you end up working with Cambodian refugees?

RR : First, I worked in the only transit centre, in Créteil, which welcomed all refugees coming from Southeast Asia to France. And the question was raised as to the opening of a psychiatric centre, since these people come with very big problems. Back then, nobody worked on Southeast Asia as a psychiatrist, so they asked me as I also studied ethnology and started to take an interest in that region of the world. I was a beginner in my ethnology and psychiatry course, and I accepted that consultation. I saw a great deal of Cambodians coming and going, many mentally ill people too.

Later, countries like France accepted refugees who had stayed in refugee camps for a long time and had serious mental disorders... Quite frankly, I didn't see that as a good idea. Transplanting schizophrenic persons like that, into a foreign country, when they don't know the language and will have no friends there... It meant sending them straight to a psychiatric hospital – in a foreign country! I was very concerned and made a report on that, which wasn't followed at the time. I was rather young, it was only normal...

When I finished my internship, I wanted to create a Cambodian consultation in a free health centre – I wanted it to be public psychiatry, for free, in the places where there were many Asians, i.e. in the 13th arrondissement of Paris. We created something very original. We had three interpreters (in Khmer, Vietnamese and Lao languages) but very rapidly, it turned out that among our patients, there were many more Cambodians, whom I was more importantly interested in, intellectually speaking.

[…] I was very lucky because the director of that hospital helped me a great deal and gave me the ability to work. This is how the project was built. Afterwards, it expanded since in the meantime I was leading an investigation among the Cambodian community, to know how it managed to rebuild itself; the professor who supervised my Master's dissertation in ethnology, Charles Meyer, opened for me all doors to the community living in France. […] And then, a network of people started sending me patients.

When I met Cambodians, at the pagoda for instance, they told me: 'You know, there are no mentally ill people among us, this is a European construct'. One day, at the pagoda, a guy, whom I'd bumped into several times and who kept repeating to me that there were no mentally ill people in their community, told me: 'By the way, are you a psychiatrist? Are you seeing patients? I know someone – he is not mentally ill – but it would be good if you could see him!' I thought nobody in the community would send me patients, considering how coy they were when it came to mentally ill people. But then, saying that they were not mentally ill and that they came to see me because I was nice and I showed an interest in Cambodians was enough – my number of patients shot up. This completely changed the deal, and I was given the ability to be very much part of the Cambodian community, not as a member, but as someone who did a considerable favour, in the sense that they could send me people. And I said that there were no crazy people.

K7 : Did your status of foreigner help you in that job?

RR : Absolutely. I remember a patient, a woman, who faced terrible family disputes and most of all, you could sense her personal story was affected by sexuality. She clammed up and told me: 'You do know that in my country we don't talk about those things'. I replied that I did and that it was precisely the reason why she had come to see me. It made her laugh and she started talking. The role of a medical practitioner is also to be able to breach certain rules. Is is also to be able to do what we do not speak. The idea that in a culture you don't talk about particular things doesn't mean you don't think about them. That's all the work I have been trying to do.

K7 : Could go back over the attachment that survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime showed towards their dead and which you observed?

RR : What took me a long time to understand is the fact that there was a presence of the dead which was very overwhelming. Here is a little clinical 'action replay' for you to understand how I became aware of that:

A young Cambodian woman, seen by everyone as gifted, was sent to me by her mother. She had gone through a breakdown before taking her baccalaureate, which she failed, and started suffering from mental anorexia. She was very poorly. Her father was dead. I struggled to get anywhere with that young woman's case so one day, I thought about meeting her with her mother. The mother was desperate because all hope of success had vanished and to her, her daughter would never reach the level she expected – and she had come to France precisely for that purpose. I was slightly intrusive and asked where she was during Pol Pot's regime. The daughter looked at her mother and said: 'Who is Pol Pot?' She had never heard about him! I asked the mother: 'Did you never mention it to her?' 'No, never.' 'Why?' 'Why, because they're all dead!' The daughter then said: 'Oh, I know that, that all my family have died!' I asked her if she had any idea who they were and she said 'no, they're dead!'. It was the first time I heard that: 'they are dead'. The state of being dead – and nothing before that. The mother could not say anything else than 'they are dead'.

This is when I started transforming my job a little. 'But before being dead, what were they?' The mother was taken aback by the question. I continued: 'Because they surely lived, before...!' And I told the daughter: 'The way they died is not your business but before they died is indeed your business. Why don't you question your mother?' Then, all at once, the mother started talking about her father, with whom she had very strong bonds. She explained that he wanted her to go and study, but the plan did not go that far because of the arrival of the Khmer Rouge... It is not the trauma, but what could not be said about another story.

When we honour our dead, we should say we honour our living, who are not any more: we keep a bond there, it is a metaphor. We do not think about them as corpses. I became aware that all my Cambodian patients only talked about one thing, the dead, who are everywhere - which is not the case of the ghosts we encounter in very separate mental worlds, where all sense of reality and real life disappears. […] Then, I went to enquire about the Khmer Rouge propaganda, what they had done... Not about the technical nature of it but about the intention of genocide. Some great texts, like the one written by Primo Levi, recount this attempt of dehumanisation. After that, I read survivors' stories, which had been published, but they were told and addressed in a certain way and you can feel it while reading them. There is almost compassion in the way the narrative is related. I understood that people are always asked to recount stories for the dead. This is why I decided, in the same way that an archaeologist would act, to look for traces of an intention of genocide, from what we see in the consequences this had on psyche, of course, and on society in general. For the dead to be just the dead: this, in my view, is almost the evidence of an intention of genocide. [...] It is impossible to imagine a society without funeral rites, a society which does not honour its dead, and this is what makes us human beings, even in the worst of situations! [...] And the Khmer Rouge tried to destroy that bond between the dead and the living, to annihilate people. The first step of that was to destroy the dead, then kill death, kill the living, and then cut off all social bonds... for beings to find themselves all alone while in the meantime, they keep being told that they must be the element among an unknown multitude, which is not based on networks of solidarity but on the obligation of being multiple...

Finally, the use of death not as a threat. As an anthropologist, I compared this with war crimes. War crimes are synonymous with demonstration. For instance, the mutilation of bodies during the Algerian War. Why? For the person who passes by next can see it! There, in the case of the Khmer Rouge, it's nothing like that! People do not know when executions are going to be carried out, people do not know where the bodies are. Death is not used to terrorise but to be identified with the living. The dead and the living find themselves in the same space. And if Jacques Vergès can say it is the mistake of a small administration and that it is no intention of genocide, he will have to prove why it was done. [...] For every individual, it is not so easy to kill another human being. The Khmer Rouge solved that riddle, you only have to create conditions such that the person you kill is not a human being. And here, you have the framework of the whole genocide. Killing becomes easy, people don't have to be perverts or bastards to do it and they don't even have a guilty conscience afterwards.

K7 : In your job, you do not put much emphasis on trauma...

RR : Yes, for several reasons. I wrote a book with Didier Fassin – The Empire of Trauma: An Enquiry into the Condition of Victimhood [Princeton University Press, due for release in English May 2009], which is not criticism of the trauma, far from it, but a vast deconstruction of the social and contemporary uses of trauma. [...] I reckon that mental health goes far beyond trauma and that focusing on it means taking the risk of sometimes letting many other forms of expression pass us by, whether they be linked or not to that period of suffering.

Trauma is given more importance than necessary, and especially importance of a moral nature. We say: we have to mend these people because they are traumatised. No! We do not mend these people because they are traumatised but because what was done to them is unbearable, unacceptable, intolerable. It is injustice, whether they were traumatised or not. But today, it is one of my greatest fears, we are coming to legitimise a political action in the name of the fact that people suffer psychologically within their soul. But does this mean that if they do not suffer, they can stand and bear everything? Some do not suffer psychologically because of social injustice. But should we just leave them like that? As a psychiatrist, I heal people who suffer, and as a man involved in political action, this categorisation disappears, as far as I am concerned, and I think about the people in need... I am quite hostile to categorisations... [laughs]

The second part of this interview will be published on Monday February 9th.

CAMBODIA: Chevron Silent on Bribery Allegations

IPS

By Marwaan Macan-Markar
Friday, February 06, 2009

BANGKOK, Feb 6 (IPS) - U.S. energy giant Chevron is under fire for failing to disclose the amount of money it allegedly paid to secure rights to drill for offshore oil in corruption-ridden Cambodia.

‘’It is yet to respond to our detailed questions in a letter written to the company in October 2008,’’ says Gavin Hayman, campaigns director for Global Witness (GW), a London-based anti-corruption watchdog. ‘’It is not in favour of supplying information about what it pays foreign governments to secure rights for oil exploration.’’

Chevron’s attitude towards disclosure ‘’will be telling,’’ he explained in an interview, since such revelations will help measure the scale of ‘’under the table payments’’ involved in a country where a small and powerful elite has ‘’captured the country’s emerging oil and mineral sectors’’ for personal gain.

But disclosure about money paid to access the resource is only one part of the transparency and accountability equation. GW activist insists that the oil companies should also disclose what they would pay Cambodia once the revenue starts flowing.

Hayman made the comments following a launch here this week of a report by GW which warns of a corruption disaster as the South-east Asian country ‘’appears to be on the verge of an oil, gas and minerals windfall.’’

‘’Cambodia today is a country for sale,’’ reveals the 68-page report. ‘’Having made their fortune from logging much of the country’s forests resources, Cambodia’s elite have diversified their commercial interests to encompass other forms of state assets.’’

‘’Financial bonuses paid to secure concessions [for oil and mining] - totalling millions of dollars - do not show up, as far as GW can see, in the 2006 and 2007 revenue reports from the ministry of economy and finance,’’ notes the report, ‘Country for Sale’. ‘’Oil company contracts and information on concession allocations are a closely guarded secret within the CNPA [Cambodian National Petroleum Authority].’’

Yet what is better known is the presence of Chevron among the companies from Australia, China, Indonesia, South Korea and the United States that have been competing to secure rights to explore oil in the six blocks off Cambodia’s western coast.

‘’With the exception of Chevron, the government of Cambodia has not publicly announced the names of those companies to whom it has awarded oil and gas exploration rights,’’ states the report. ‘’Block A was awarded to U.S. oil company Chevron in 2002. Chevron’s activities in Block A are the most advanced of all oil companies currently operating in Cambodia.’’

GW estimates that oil will start flowing in 2011 and peak in 2021. Proceeds range from 174 million US dollars in the first year to 1.7 billion dollars when extraction peaks.

But GW doubts that such income from Cambodia’s natural resources will flow to those who need it most - the country’s millions still mired in poverty following nearly two decades of a bloody conflict and a brutal rule by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.

Currently, over 35 percent of Cambodia’s 13.3 million people live in dire conditions, on less than one dollar a day. And U.N. reports have revealed that life expectancy is 58 years, while nearly a third of children under five years are malnourished.

Yet for a small cabal of political, military and economic elite, the period since the 1991 peace accords has been a journey on the road to immense - and ill-gotten - wealth. In 2007, for instance, GW revealed in a report that illegal logging in Cambodia by the elite raked in over 13 million dollars.

Such greed by the elite has not only raised the alarm that Cambodia is on the verge of becoming a kleptocracy, but it has been rated as among the most corrupt countries. In 2007, the global anti-graft watchdog Transparency International ranked Cambodia 162nd among 179 countries surveyed for corruption, making it the most corrupt country in Asia after Burma.

The ease with which the powerful few have filled their personal coffers stems from a lack of independent bodies backed by strong laws and resources to curb corruption. ‘’Any state that has weak anti-corruption institutions is not going to have proper level of oversight,’’ says Donald Bowser, head of the Cambodia office of the Mainstreaming Anti-corruption for Equity Project, funded by the development arm of the U.S. government.

‘’There are local concerns about the misuse of the country’s extractive industry for personal gain,’’ Bowser said during a telephone interview from Phnom Penh. ‘’A civil society coalition has been formed to campaign against this form of corruption.’’

But such campaigns face a daunting challenge. The Cambodian government under the grip of an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minster Hun Sen has yet to implement strong anti-corruption measures that have been called for by the country’s foreign donors, who fund nearly half the national budget.

Activists like Hayman of GW also point fingers at international financial institutions like the World Bank for being complicit in the corrupt culture of Cambodia’s rising kleptocrats. ‘’The World Bank is particularly bad,’’ he charges. ‘’They have a bad track record of forgetting civil society to monitor all steps of programmes in Cambodia to ensure accountability.’’

However, the Bank thinks otherwise. ‘’The World Bank shares many of the concerns NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have raised about the government’s management of extractive industry in Cambodia,’’ it said in a statement released to IPS from its Phnom Penh office.

‘’Although the Bank has not been directly involved in extractive industries in Cambodia, our dialogue with the government includes discussion of policy reforms that will help to ensure that any revenue generated through extractive industries benefit the people of Cambodia,’’ it added.
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Run for the border

Photo by: Christopher Shay

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
Christopher Shay

A Cambodian migrant in Koh Kong waits for the waves to calm before heading up a narrow river to a path that crosses the Thai-Cambodian border.

Illegal Cambodian migrants face a host of dangers crossing land dotted with mines and filled with corrupt police and unscrupulous guides. Many Cambodians, however, say they have no choice but to make the dangerous journey in order to seek work in Cambodia's more developed neighbour.

A risky path: Illegal immigration surges despite persistent dangers

Photo by: CHRISTOPHER SHAY
A group of Cambodian migrants take a boat to one of the secret paths to Thailand in Koh Kong province.

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
Christopher Shay

KOH KONG

A long and difficult trip awaits Cambodians seeking a better future across the border in Thailand, where illegal immigrants have become routine targets of abuse by border authorities and police.

PUTHY has been drugged, forced to work for days without sleep and beaten by police, but no matter how many times he's deported back to Cambodia, he returns to Thailand.

"I need money to support my family. Everybody in my family needs to eat," he said, explaining that he would illegally cross the border to Thailand again in just a few days.

Hundreds of Cambodians illegally cross the border into Thailand every day, forfeiting their rights and putting their lives in danger for a chance to work.

And with the global financial crisis and the turbulence of Thai politics, the situation may get worse for illegal migrants to Thailand.

Though precise numbers are not available, there are certainly tens of thousands of Cambodians working illegally in Thailand.

Mom Sokchar, a project officer at Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW), estimates that there are about 200,000 illegal Cambodian migrants working in Thailand, while Oum Mean, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said there are only about 60,000 illegal Cambodian migrants in Thailand. Even this small figure dwarfs the 2,116 Cambodians legally working in Thailand through recruitment agencies, according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Currently, Thailand is vigourously defending its treatment of illegal migrants after rights groups accused the Thai military of detaining and beating up to 1,200 members of the Rohingya minority from Myanmar late last year, before towing them out to sea with little food and water in boats without engines. Hundreds are still missing and presumed dead.

Amid the crisis, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva told reporters that Thailand would crack down on illegal immigration, while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs "categorically denied" allegations of mistreatment.

In a January 23 press conference, Virasakdi Futrakul, the Thai permanent secretary for foreign affairs, said that Thailand planned to work together with five other concerned countries on the issue of illegal migration.

But Cambodia was not one of the five countries.

Dangers to the east ignored

While international media remain focused on illegal immigration in the Andaman Sea to the west of Thailand, the significant dangers that migrants face crossing the Thai-Cambodian border continue to go largely unnoticed.

Manolo Abella, the chief technical adviser at the International Labor Organisation's Asian Regional Program on Governance of Labour Migration, worries that the worsening economic crisis will only increase the risks.

"The treatment of migrants, especially of the illegal, will no doubt deteriorate in terms of wages and job security," he says.

"The Thai government has already announced that the registration [legal recognition] of migrants planned for 2009 will no longer take place. The government is afraid it will send the wrong signal that foreigners are being preferred to Thais in a period of crisis," he added.

The result of Thailand's decision not to legally recognise immigrants who enter the country illegally will keep Cambodian migrants vulnerable to exploitation and only encourage employers to hire them over Thai nationals, Abella says.

In March 2007, a Cambodian migrant illegally crossing into Thailand talked to members of the German media and two or three days afterwards was found dead, floating in the Koh Kang harbour, said Seng Kao, a member of LSCW's mobile team and a former illegal migrant himself. The reason behind his slaying is unknown, but many suspect he was killed for talking to the media.

Seng Kao said that the Thai border patrol pay Cambodian motodops to gather information for them. The bribes that both Thai and Cambodian authorities allegedly accept make illegal migrants a lucrative source of income, one they do not want to lose.

From Koh Kang, there are two main ways to get into Thailand - by sea or over land - and both cost between 200 and 300 baht (US$5.70 to $8.50) without a guide, according to Puthy and other former migrants.

Either way one goes, it is a dangerous trip. By boat, illegal immigrants risk being attacked by sea bandits. One Cambodian fisherman who unlawfully trawls in Thai waters says his boat had been raided "only" twice this year, losing everything in his ship to small-time pirates.

Seng Kao said that for boat captains with illegal immigrants, the Thai military was even more dangerous.

"If you take a boat from Cambodia, the Thai soldiers might confiscate the boat, arrest the people and throw them all in jail," he says.

The land route is dotted with land mines, meaning those making the transit by foot must stick closely to narrow paths. According to both Thai and Cambodian border police, a recent fire caused about 40 land mines to detonate, a reminder of the thousands of unexploded ordnance still buried in the area's forests.

But like those who travel by sea, the greatest threat is often waiting on the other side.

"Sometimes when I walk across the border, the Thai police beat me," Puthy says.

If migrants are caught, the Thai police will sometimes take all their possessions and money, believing that these Cambodians have no legal recourse, Mom Sokchar says.

Border still heavily guarded

Em Picheyrattanak, a legal assistant at LSCW, said it has become much more difficult to cross into Thailand since last year's dispute over Preah Vihear temple, which increased the number of troops along the border.

"Now we have more soldiers on the border. It makes it more difficult for migrants to walk across," he said.

Typically, Cambodians unfamiliar with the land route to Thailand will pay a broker to help them cross the border, but a small number of these will dupe unknowing migrants into forced labour in often horrific conditions, said Manfred Hornung of the rights group Licadho.

Brokers sometimes tell migrants they are being taken to construction jobs but, instead, migrants find themselves forced onto Thai fishing vessels for months or years at a time for little or no pay, Hornung said.

Though new migrants are particularly vulnerable, even experienced migrants fall victim to unscrupulous brokers and boat owners.

"Some of the boats didn't pay me last fishing season," Puthy said, having gotten used to being swindled by Thai boat owners, adding that he is certain that he has been drugged once in order to stay awake - a common trick of vigilant captains.

But despite these dangers, Cambodians will continue to stream across the border until their government can provide enough jobs for its own citizens, Sok Heng, the deputy chief of Cambodia-Thai relations, says.

"I don't have much money, and I need to support my family. In Thailand, there are many jobs," Davy, a Cambodian woman, said, adding that her income from Thailand supports seven people in Cambodia.

Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Post that Thailand maintained a "lenient" policy towards migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, and that labour protection and social security measures were being extended to cover illegal migrants, but did not elaborate on what these measures would be. The ministry has pointed out that in 2007 the Thai government prosecuted 3,853 employers involved in the trafficking or employment of illegal workers.

Thailand has repeatedly assured media and aid organisations that its policy is to treat illegal migrants humanely, but, if this is the case, it appears the government has little control over how border police deal with them.

Cambodian immigrants want to work in a safe environment and support their families, but, according to Puthy and Davy, they cannot always afford the proper work permits, which can cost 200 baht per week - a great deal if one makes, like Davy, only 2,000 baht a month.

"Even if I have a permit, Thai police would take it and rip it up," Puthy said. "I would like to go to Thailand legally and have my rights respected."
____

Neav Nath, who left for thailand in 1993, reflects on life as a migrant worker

TRAT, Thailand -More than 15 years after he left his home to work in Thailand's Trat province, Neav Nath, a 32-year-old migrant worker from Prey Veng province, has had enough."I really want to go back home, but I can't because I wouldn't have money and I wouldn't have a job," he told the Post last month during an interview conducted in the room he shares with five other migrant workers. "I really don't want to work here because I don't have any rights, but I must work here. I don't have a choice.

" Jobless and with no prospects, he left for Thailand in 1993 with neighbours who had also decided to make the trip. He gave a middleman 200,000 riel (US$48), but the middleman only took him as far as Sihanoukville. He paid 500 baht ($14) to get from Sihanoukville to Sre Ambel district and then to travel, via boat, to Trat's Klong Saon district.

He spends his days cleaning, cutting and canning fish, working from midnight to 9am. He rarely leaves his house - which contains a total of 18 different families in five rooms - in Pe village, Klong Yai district, during his free time, fearful that officials will arrest him, discover he lacks proper documentation and send him back to Cambodia.

The job pays 4,500 Thai baht each month, 1,500 of which goes towards room and board. He must also give 300 baht to his boss, who in turn gives the money to the police in exchange for a promise that the workers will not be deported.

The remaining money mostly goes towards food and other expenses such as medical care.

About five years ago, he said, he came down with malaria.

After paying 2,000 baht for treatment, he recovered and was taken to a police station, where he was required to pay a bribe of an additional 2,000 baht. In his 15 years as a migrant worker, Neav Nath said he has been able to remit money to Cambodia only four times, meaning his family has received only 15,000 baht from him. This is more than some of his colleagues, he said, some of whom have not been able to remit anything.

What is more, he said, he has been able to visit his home only four or five times over the years.

The trip typically costs 3,000 baht, a figure inflated by bribes that must be paid to both Thai and Cambodian border police.

On these trips, he also runs the risk that the police will not be satisfied with a mere bribe: He recalled one trip during which both Thai and Cambodian police, at different stages in the journey, robbed him after stripping him naked.

Despite this experience, he plans to visit his home province later this year.

Assuming he ends up making the trip successfully, it will be the first time he has seen his home in five years.

MAY TITTHARA

SRP lawmaker barred from forum, protests opposition exclusion

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
Mu Sochua and the German Ambassador struggle to get the SRP lawmaker into the conference Thursday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
Meas Sokchea

During his keynote address at third Cambodia Economic Forum, Prime Minister Hun Sen decries Mu Sochua's attempt to enter.

OPPOSITION Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua was prevented from attending the third Cambodia Economic Forum, which was held Thursday at the Raffles Hotel Le Royal and featured a keynote address by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Mu Sochua showed up at the conference venue and approached the door but was prevented from entering by bodyguards, she said at a press conference after the incident.

At the press conference, she told reporters that all leaders need to be involved in addressing the global financial crisis. The forum, attended by members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party and international donor organisations, was titled "Increasing Cambodia's Competitiveness for Growth and Poverty Reduction in the Face of Global Economic Crisis".

"Prohibiting me from joining the forum showed that the government wants to lead our nation alone," she said. "But allowing the government to lead alone will lead to a social, political and economic crisis."

Requests ignored

She said SRP officials had addressed a letter to the Supreme National Economic Council requesting permission to attend the forum, but that the letter had gone unanswered. SRP President Sam Rainsy wrote a letter Tuesday to the UN Development Program also requesting an invitation.

Mu Sochua said governments in other countries had enlisted opposition parties and other public- and private-sector leaders to cope with the economic downturn.

"We are leaders," she said. "All leaders must have responsibility. I am a minority parliamentarian who is a participant, listener and observer."

Hun Sen said during his speech that opposition leaders should not have shown up at the forum without invitations, calling their actions an affront to "government discipline".

Search for S-21 child prisoners begins

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
Georgia Wilkins

THE Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) is currently searching for five former child detainees at Tuol Sleng prison, which recently donated video footage from Vietnam suggests might still be alive.

The centre, which obtained the footage in December, says the children would now be in their 30s or 40s and, if found, could provide first-hand evidence of the crimes that occurred in the torture centre at the upcoming trial of the prison's chief, Kaing Guek Eav.

"We knew about them many years ago. The films have confirmed it," Youk Chhang, the centre's director, told the Post Thursday.

Police shut MobiTel offices

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A policeman with multiple two-way radios stands outside MobiTel's main offices Thursday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
May Titthara

Vice chairman of Royal Group says there is nothing untoward about the heavy police presence, but staff say they were unexpectedly given the day off.

THE staff of Cambodia's well-known MobiTel Company was kicked out of the company's main offices on Phnom Penh's Sihanouk Boulevard morning when municipal and military police surrounded the building, police said Thursday.

Pol Pithey, municipal police deputy chief, said the "police did not go simply to surround the company['s offices]. We went because the MobiTel company asked us to protect their security".

He declined to specify why MobiTel had requested beefed-up security.

Phnom Penh's municipal police chief, Touch Naruth, agreed that the extra police were simply to protect the MobiTel offices, saying that "what happens inside the office we don't have anything to do with".

He added: "According to their staff, they are not working today but we don't know anything about this, as it is their company's policy."

Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng, MobiTel owner and chairman of Royal Group, could not be reached for comment Thursday. However, Kith Thieng, Kith Meng's brother and vice chairman of Royal Group, and president of Rock entertainment productions, said there was nothing untoward about the move.

"There are a lot of police surrounding MobiTel company because they just came to check on the security of the company. There is no problem."

According to one MobiTel employee, who requested anonymity, staff were unexpectedly given leave Thursday.

"All of MobiTel staff have one day off today and without this being confirmed before," he said.

Soun Sidara, who had come to MobiTel to pay his mobile phone bill, said he was surprised to find the office shut.

"I supposed that the company was closed because there are a lot of police in front of the office, but their network is still working," she added.

MobiTel is a joint venture between The Royal Group and Millicom International Cellular. The largest provider in Cambodia since 1997, the company has enjoyed market shares exceeding 67 percent for over eight years. Operating 3.5G in the capital and EDGE nationwide, MobiTel has driven the telecommunication industry in the country, with over 85 percent of all cities, towns and villages covered.

Little or no data open to public: survey

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Robbie Corey-Boulet

A RECENT survey of government transparency ranked Cambodia among the worst-performing countries evaluated, finding that the government provides "scant or no information" about its spending.

The Washington-based International Budget Partnership (IBP), which published the survey Saturday, found that nearly 50 percent of the 85 countries it researched "provide such minimal information that they are able to hide unpopular, wasteful and corrupt spending".

Cheam Yeap, chairman of the National Assembly's Special Commission on Economy, Finance, Banking and Audits, said the results did not necessarily point to corruption, which he said had been largely rooted out in recent years.

"We believe some high-ranking officials in the past were corrupt and spent the national budget wastefully, but our government has made efforts to address this," he said.

He said "many high-ranking" officials had been fired for such transgressions by Prime Minister Hun Sen, but he declined to name any.

But Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said such claims of reform had been made in the past and had rarely yielded results, adding that increased transparency could help prevent the loss of "hundreds of millions of dollars" to corrupt officials each year.

Five African countries ranked at the bottom of the IBP list: Sudan, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome e Principe.

Group 78 residents take land dispute to the streets

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
A poster near the National Assembly calls for the government to recognise the Group 78 community's land rights.

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
CHHAY CHANNYDA

Besieged community says requests for land titles from NA President Heng Samrin have fallen on deaf ears at City Hall.

RESIDENTS in Tonle Bassac commune's Group 78 community have posted two signs outside the nearby National Assembly building, demanding that City Hall recognise the residents' legal right to the land.

The signs - a Khmer-language original and an English translation - are copies of an October 8 letter from National Assembly President Heng Samrin to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, asking that land titles be granted to Group 78 residents.

"Residents of Group 78 filed complaints at the National Assembly on October 6 asking for land titles to be issued for 88 families," Heng Samrin wrote, adding that the assembly would turn the case over to the governor "to solve and report back in appropriate time".

Speaking at a press conference Thursday, community representative Kheng Soroath questioned the authorities' commitment to following up on Heng Samrin's statement.

" IF DEVELOPMENT HAPPENS, THE CITY MUST FOLLOW THE LAND LAW TO RESOLVE CONFLICTS. "

"The authorities are quiet. We have legal documents to live here, but the authority does not recognise [them]," he said.

Group 78 is located close to the former communities of Dey Krahorm and Sambok Chap, both evicted forcibly by the government to make way for real estate development projects.

Kheng Soroath said that no private companies had contacted the community about their development plans, but that the Municipality wanted the Group 78 land for the expansion of a road leading over a bridge proposed for the Tonle Bassac.

"If the city wants to develop, we are happy. We need development... [but] if development happens, the city must follow the Land Law to resolve conflicts with affected people," he said.

In exchange for the land at Group 78, City Hall has offered residents $5,000 and a plot of land in Dangkor district's Trapaing Anchanh village, about 20 kilometres from the city - a package residents have turned down.

"The fair solution to move is to give us land which is a similar value to this place," he said.

"What happened at Dey Krahorm is threatening Group 78. We urged authorities not to use violence against people. If the authority uses force, we have nothing with which to fight back."

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said Thursday that Group 78 was "an old issue" that the city "does not want to comment on again and again".

But Mann Vuthy, a coordinator for the Community Legal Education Centre, confirmed that residents' legal documents entitled them to land titles.

"The National Assembly also agrees that the status of Group 78 residents allows them to get land titles, [so] the authorities should take action."

PM presses for 6pc growth

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
George Mcleod

THE government is committed to six percent growth in 2009, despite the economic crisis, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday.

The statement is in stark contrast to reports by outside organisations that growth will fall short of five percent for the year. "Despite the downturn, the [government] will try to maintain six percent growth in 2009," said Hun Sen at the opening of the third Cambodia Economic Forum in Phnom Penh.

He pointed to agriculture, tourism and garments as key sectors.

"The garment sector is now in good standing to compete in the world market," he said. For agriculture, he predicted rice yields would rise from 2.5 tonnes per hectare in 2005 to 2.65 tons in 2009, and that tourism "remains generally strong".

The government's growth estimates have consistently overshot those of independent organisations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

A spokesman for the ADB said estimated growth will hover at around 4.7 percent in 2009.

Garment exports and tourism are expected to show the sharpest declines on softening US clothing demand and falling global tourism spending.

Govt denies mismanaging resources

Photo by: FILE PHOTO
An ore pile at the Cambodia Iron and Steel Mining Industry Group site in Preah Vihear province. London-based watchdog Global Witness is pressing for more transparency in the Kingdom's extractive industries.

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
SEBASTIAN STRANGIO and VONG SOKHENG

A new report from Hun Sen's bete noire, international NGO Global Witness, says Cambodia's nascent oil, gas and mining industries are being monopolised by a powerful elite.

CORRUPT ruling elites have monopolised Cambodia's emerging oil and mineral sectors, aided by a "total lack" of transparency and a supine foreign donor community, according to a new report from corruption watchdog Global Witness.

The 70-page "Country for Sale" report, released Thursday, takes aim at the "high-level corruption, nepotism and patronage" infusing the Kingdom's extractive resources sector, which it claims is dominated by senior government officials.

On the basis of investigations conducted in 2008, the report's authors say that concessions for mineral and oil exploration are allocated "behind closed doors" and raise fears revenues from these resources will be mismanaged rather than used for infrastructure development or poverty alleviation.

The report goes on to name dozens of high-ranking military and ruling party officials it said have control over the country's resource revenues.

" OIL IS GOING TO MAKE DEVELOPMENT PROBLEMS IN THE COUNTRY MUCH WORSE."

"Cambodia today is a country for sale. The small number of elite powerbrokers who run the state have sold off large concessions in a manner that is non-transparent and highly dubious," the report says.

A "total lack of transparency in the ownership of companies ... serves only one purpose - to protect and entrench the interests of those who benefit from the continued functioning of Cambodia's shadow state".

To date, Global Witness claims the government has granted over 100 mining concessions - including 21 in 2008 - to companies controlled by "elite regime figures", with little environmental oversight.

It raises further concerns about the nature of fees paid by firms to secure mineral exploration agreements, following a 2007 comment by Lim Kean Hor, minister of water resources and meteorology, describing a US$2.5 million BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi social development fund as "tea money".

The report also slams the Cambodian National Petroleum Authority - the institution in charge of the Kingdom's infant oil-and-gas industry - as a "constitutionally dubious body" with "no parliamentary oversight", claiming millions in oil exploration fees have failed to show up in national revenue reports since 2006.

Government denials

RCAF Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun, named by Global Witness as the owner of the Rattanak Stone Co, which operates iron ore mines in Preah Vihear province, denied the report's allegations, saying: "I am not involved with the activities in the report."

Om Yentieng, head of the government's Human Rights Committee and reputed co-owner of Float Asia Friendly Mation Co, which the report claims is mining marble from protected areas in eastern Pursat province, also said he had "no time" to dispute the findings.

"I think that the Global Witness report is badly intentioned," he said. "They do not know what is right or wrong."

Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem and officials at the CNPA, including Director General Te Duong Dara and Deputy Director General Men Den, also refused requests for comment Thursday.

But Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said the government was handling its resource explorations in an open and transparent manner.

"We have always announced in public how many blocks of oil we have, and we have never held bidding because no one knows whether there will be oil there or not," he said, adding that Global Witness was motivated by "personal anger" towards Prime Minister Hun Sen.

However, David Lempert, an international development consultant, agreed with the report that the coming windfall of resource profits would paralyse local development.

"Cambodia's oil is going to make development problems in the country much worse ... by postponing the key problems of sustainability, [of] balancing population with productive, renewable resources," he said.

Spineless donors

Foreign donors - which have pledged nearly $1 billion in aid to Cambodia for 2009 - are also to blame for granting "international legitimacy" to high-level corruption, the report says.

Donors "have refused to acknowledge the fact that the government is thoroughly corrupt and does not act in the best interests of the population", it says.

Independent analyst Chea Vannath said that countries needed a certain amount of tolerance for corruption if they wanted to do business in Cambodia, and that rising levels of Chinese aid - rarely accompanied by conditions - discouraged foreign donors from taking a strong stance on corruption.

"Each country's agenda ... is to have business ventures in Cambodia - not to lecture the Cambodian government about corruption," she said.

Global Witness made headlines in June 2007 when its "Family Trees" report - alleging widespread involvement of senior government officials in illegal logging - was banned in Cambodia, with the prime minister's brother, Hun Neng, saying that he would "hit [Global Witness staff] until their heads are broken". The organisation's staff have been barred from the country since 2005.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Global Witness had the right to conduct investigations into corruption issues, but warned they would "face lawsuits" if they published inaccurate information about government officials.

He added that there were clear laws relating to the allocation of mineral and oil concessions, and that the government was trying to root out "individual officials at the local level" engaged in corrupt activities.

"The prime minister has shown a commitment to fight corruption, and he has taken action step by step," he said.

"I think that Global Witness should not take an issue from one dark corner to criticise the government."

Eleanor Nichol, a Global Witness campaigner, said the organisation would welcome an "independent and credible investigation" into the allegations contained in the report, but said that she was "not aware of a government investigation into corruption in the oil and mining sectors".

Nichol also expressed hopes the government would shy away from banning the report, as it did in 2007.

"One of the reasons we put this report together is that there is very little information in the public domain about extractive resources available to the Cambodian public," she said by phone from Bangkok.

"For this reason, we very much hope that the current government does not take the same action."

Banks asked to fund farming

Photo by: BLOOMBERG
Workers in a paddy field outside Siem Reap. Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday urged banks to increase lending to the agricultural sector to help the slowing economy.

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
Ngoun Sovan and Soeun Say

Prime Minister Hun Sen calls on banking sector to boost agriculture after last month's four-percent cut in the central bank deposit requirement.

Prime Minister Hun Sen appealed to bankers Thursday to make the most of last month's decision by the National Bank of Cambodia to cut the reserve rate requirement from 16 percent to 12 percent by maximising lending to the agricultural sector.

The Central Bank decision means that the private banking sector need only keep reserves of 12 percent in the national bank, which has freed up loan capital. The requirement had previously been 16 percent.

Speaking at the 3rd Cambodian Economic Forum at Raffles Le Royal hotel, the premier said this could help boost the rural economy to help compensate for the economic downturn.

"The government wishes to appeal to bankers to lend this extra four percent ... to the agricultural sector, especially rice millers," he told the forum.

"This year, Cambodia has produced too much rice, and we lack stocks, we lack money to buy rice from farmers, and this is a problem that I always say ... we already have ‘gold', but we don't have the paper to pack it."

Hun Sen said that last year the government lent US$12 million to private millers through the Rural Development Bank and that this year loans increased to $18 million in order to buy rice stocks. The government has raised the rice-stock requirement from 400,000 tonnes last year to 500,000 this year in a move it said was designed to further food security.

Phou Puy, president of he Federation of Cambodian Rice Miller Associations, said that the Rural Development Bank loans to buy rice and improve milling capacity are taken out at a preferential interest rate of five percent.

"We can buy around 100,000 tonnes of rice from farmers for storage this year - a 40 percent increase compared to last year," he told the Post.

Canadia Bank, one of the largest in the country, said last week it had withdrawn $190 million as a result of the reduced reserve requirement, capital that bank President Pung Kheav Se said would be made available as loan capital, suggesting that the banking sector was already following the call made by Hun Sen at Thursday's forum.

Canadia would "target agriculture and small and medium enterprises", rather than the real estate sector, which he termed "risky".

Bou Ros, chief of the Credit Committee and head branch manager at Canadia Bank, said that its lending to the agricultural sector would rise from $32 million in 2008 to a projected $100 million this year.

ACLEDA Bank's Senior Vice President of Head Credit Division In Siphann said Thursday that it would also heed the prime minister's call to prioritise the agricultural sector, increasing loans to farmers by "60 percent to about $105.6 million". ACLEDA lent $35 million to the agricultural sector in 2007 and about $66 million in 2008, he said.

Time to pay airline debt to France, says PM

The Phnom Penh Post

Friday, 06 February 2009
Kay Kimsong

Prime Minister Hun Sen called on Minister of Finance Keat Chhon Thursday to repay a US$3 million debt owed to French aircraft firm ATR for the leasing of three airplanes by the now-defunct national carrier Royal Air Cambodge.

Hun Sen said that France had repeatedly asked for the money to be repaid, a debt that has lingered since the airline went bankrupt in 2001.

"Let's repay the [debt], to them. Mister ambassador [France] has raised this debt a few times," Hun Sen told Thursday's economic forum in Phnom Penh. "The [former] president of France [Jacques Chirac] already reminded me twice."

The premier expressed dissatisfaction at the loss of millions of dollars in government funds as a result of the Royal Air Cambodge fiasco, adding that he wished to see the creation of a new national carrier. Keat Chhon confirmed that the ministry has yet repay the ATR. The French embassy declined to comment Thursday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY NETH PHEAKTRA

Fish-dependent countries face climate change threat: study

A Sudanese man holds a fish in the market

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — Climate change poses a grave threat to dozens of countries where people depend on fish for food, according to a study published Friday that said catches are imperilled by coastal storms and damage to coral reefs.

The WorldFish research centre identified 33 countries as "highly vulnerable" to the effects of climate change because of their heavy reliance on fisheries and limited alternative sources of protein.

Many of the group, which takes in the African nations of Malawi, Guinea, Senegal, Uganda; Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam in Asia; and Peru and Colombia in South America; are among the world's poorest countries.

"Low-lying highly populated countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia will face major inundations of crop land with rising sea levels and this will cause a loss of productive land and impact their economies badly," the study's lead author Edward Allison told AFP.

"As fish is central to many economies and diets, people in the tropics and subtropics will be affected as they have a limited ability to develop other sources of income and food in the face of such change," he added.

"The damage will be greatly compounded unless governments and international institutions like the World Bank act now to include the fish sector in plans for helping the poor cope with climate change."

Global fisheries provide more than 2.6 billion people with at least 20 percent of their average annual protein intake, the study said, citing UN data.

The report, prepared by the Malaysia-based WorldFish and a number of universities and research groups, said climate change threatened to destroy coral reefs, push salt water into freshwater habitats and produce more coastal storms.

It said that the 33 "highly vulnerable" countries produce 20 percent of the world's fish exports and that they should be given priority in efforts to help them adapt to climate change.

Two-thirds of the most vulnerable nations are in Africa, where fish accounts for more than half of the daily animal protein consumed and where fish production is highly sensitive to climate variations.

In South Asia, the report said potential problems including bleaching of coral reefs and changes in river flows as a result of reduced snowfalls present a danger to freshwater habitats.

Allison said the next step would be to investigate the impact climate change will have on these countries and the cost of adapting to the new environment.

He said a lack of data meant researchers were unable to include 60 nations including the tiny Pacific states of Kiribati and the Solomon Islands, and the military dictatorship of Myanmar, that were likely to be highly vulnerable.