Thursday, 12 February 2009

Detonating a land-mine in the outskirts of Cambodia's western city Battambang

A man surveys an area after detonating a land-mine in the outskirts of Cambodia's western city Battambang on February 12, 2009. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Personnel prepare to detonate a land-mine in a field in the outskirts of Cambodia's western city Battambang on February 12, 2009. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A woman holding a metal-detector is silhouetted in a land-mine field in the outskirts of Cambodia's western city Battambang on February 12, 2009. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A woman carries a metal detector in an area being de-mined in the outskirts of Cambodia's western city Battambang on February 12, 2009. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A red sign warning of mines rests in a land-mine field in the outskirts of Cambodia's western city Battambang on February 12, 2009. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A man prepares to trim grass in an area to be de-mined in the outskirts of Cambodia's western city Battambang on February 12, 2009. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Three Dey Krohom residents in court following a complaint by 7NG company

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 11/02/2009. Former Dey Krohom residents insisted on entering the court room in the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh to attend the trial of three of them.
© John Vink / Magnum
Ka-set

By Ros Dina
11-02-2009

On Wednesday February 11th, three residents of the Dey Krohom community – which last homes were destroyed on January 24th by the 7NG company – appeared before the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh to answer charges of destruction of private property and assault. Chan Vichet, Khieu Bunthoeun and Ms Ly Youleng are accused by the company of torching an excavator and throwing rocks and bottles filled with gasoline at three 7NG employees, in the night of December 3rd 2007. Back then, the tension was high between the two parties, with groups of youth hired by 7NG striving to provoke and intimidate the families refusing to leave.

Curiously identical statements...

On one side, seven witnesses for the defence – residents of Dey Krohom – who swear that the three defendants have never committed any act of violence and on the contrary, when he heard cries and discovered residents were throwing projectiles at 7NG employees, Chan Vichet had hurriedly found a microphone to urge them to be peaceful and not resort to violence. On the other side, the statements of 17 employees of 7NG, including the three victims, who accuse the same three defendants of provoking the violence. These statements were read successively, until the clerk interrupted her reading at the 7th one because they repeated each other so much. One defence lawyer even counted the – significant – number of sentences which exact wording was found in one statement after another... “Look, they have so little evidence against my clients that they have duplicated the statements!”, the lawyer remarked.

In the complaint filed by the lawyer for 7NG, the latter demands that the three defendants be condemned and pay 10,000 dollars in compensation. Also, the report of the quarter [sangkat] chief, which was presented to the Chamkarmon district authorities, mentions a truck transporting an excavator which reportedly got lost and stopped near the Russian Embassy, close to Dey Krohom, and was said to have been targeted by residents. Neither the company lawyer, the victims or the prosecution witnesses came to the hearing.

For the Prosecutor, who credited the version of events given by the 7NG employees, the three defendants were indeed present at the place and time of the incidents. He considered the defence witnesses unreliable because it was dark and they were all standing far away from the scene. Yet, all claim they have heard Chan Vichet's voice on the microphone trying to appease the angry residents. But that seems irrelevant – for him, the three have participated to the wrongdoing and the charges against them must therefore be upheld.

Defence denounces evidence as too inconsistent

On the defence side, Attorney Hom Bunrith, delivered a series of arguments. He acknowledged that trouble had happened on that night, but he explained that his clients were at their homes and only came out after hearing cries outside. He then asked to be shown the evidence of their participation to the violence. “If so, why have so many people heard Chan Vichet's voice trying to calm people down?”, he argued. He also deplored the lack of any precise assessment of the damage caused. “In today's hearing, each and every one is recreating the events in their minds in their own way! The versions of the victims and Dey Krohom residents contradict one another on every single point!”

During a previous hearing, the lawyer had seized the opportunity to interrogate the victims and point out some irregularities. For example, one said he had recognised Chan Vichet's face thanks to the lit headlights of the excavator – a power break had plunged the neighbourhood into darkness – while another, the excavator's driver, claimed that the headlights of his machine were turned off... Another swore he had identified Chan Vichet although he could not remember what clothes he was wearing... “It can be concluded that the 17 statements of 7NG employees were completely fabricated, all the more so as they bear too much similarity to be credible,” Attorney Hom Bunrith commented.

He also found the requests for compensation doubtful. “One of the victims is asking for 5,000 dollars, but the hospital bill only shows 30,000 riels [7.5 dollars]?!” The lawyer concluded that the documents produced by the prosecution included too many grey areas to ascribe them any real credibility.

Following him, Attorney Ke Chamnan wondered with false candour how out of all the rocks thrown by some 200 residents, only one hit the 7NG guard, although he claimed he was standing near the excavator being targeted, “How is that possible?” The third defence lawyer, Attorney San Sokunthea, stressed that it was natural for the victims to take their employer's side. All three attorneys called for the charges against their clients to be lifted.

The three defendants, made emotional by appearing before the judicial system, calmly left the court room, which was packed with human rights observers and activists. Outside, Ms Ly Youleng lit incense sticks and prayed in front of an altar.

The Court will issue its verdict on Monday February 16th.

Justice in Cambodia: will an exact copy of the Chea Vichea case end with the same outcome?

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 11/02/2009:
Chan Sopheak, also known as Thach Saveth, changing back to prison uniform, in the van that will take him back to prison.
© John Vink / Magnum


Ka-set

By Duong Sokha
11-02-2009

On December 31st 2008, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun were released – on bail for now – after spending almost five years behind bars for the murder of Chea Vichea, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), at the end of a process marred by irregularities. The case of Thach Saveth, who was arrested for the killing of another member of the FTUWKC steering committee, Ros Sovannareth, presents striking similarities with that of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun. He appeared on Wednesday February 11th before the Court of Appeal, who will only issue its verdict on February 18th. Once again, civil society calls for the case to be dismissed and denounces the inconsistency of the evidence against the 27-year-old paratrooper.

A long and dubious process

Some trade unionists and activists from human rights organisations are present in the courtroom to support Chan Sopheak, better known under his military name, Thach Saveth. Arrested on July 24th 2004, he was sentenced on February 15th 2005 to 15 years of prison for “premeditated murder” and has since been locked in a jail in the province of Kampong Cham. The victim, Ros Sovannareth, had been shot with four bullets by two unidentified men on a motorbike on May 7th 2004, in Phnom Penh.

In his confessions to the police, the former member of the 911 unit of the paratrooper brigade claimed that on May 7th, he was leaving Anlong Veng to travel to the province of Kampong Speu, where he was to attend the wedding of one of his relatives. On the evening of the crime, he was making a stop in Siem Reap, according to his statement. Before the judge of the Court of Appeal, Thach Saveth's memory was now blurry. “This all goes back a long time ago. He has forgotten,” his lawyers argued.

This is the second time that this case has come before the Court of Appeal. The first time, on December 27th 2007, the Court had confirmed the ruling of the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh. However, Thach Saveth had then been sentenced in absentia – the Court had claimed that he was detained too far from Phnom Penh for him to attend – which he had challenged by requesting the Court of Appeal to review his case again. Before that, the Municipal Court had held a summary trial – nearly one hour only, which is slightly less than Wednesday's hearing before the Court of Appeal. The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for human rights in Cambodia had then described the trial as “characterized by breaches of procedural rules and the absence of the most basic standards of fair trial” “Continuing patterns of impunity in Cambodia ”. “The trial judge placed the burden on the accused to prove that he was not in Phnom Penh at the time of the incident and dismissed the testimony of the three witnesses that supported his alibi.”

Common points with the Chea Vichea case

In a soft voice, the defendant repeated to the judge on Wednesday what he has been saying since he was arrested, “I have never committed any offence. I did not even know the victim! And as a paratrooper, I did not have the right to carry a weapon.” Thach Saveth talked about his arrest, which hardly followed the rules as it was carried out “without any arrest warrant”, as reminded by the local human rights NGO Licadho. “The police detained me without explaining why to me. They threatened to kill me to force me to acknowledge I was guilty, but I did not give in. Afterwards, at the Municipal Court, I was shown the pictures of four men and asked if I knew them. I recognised my own portrait of course – they had taken that photograph during my arrest. But the other faces, I had never seen them in my life!” He was reportedly arrested for being a drug addict, by the same Tuol Kork district police who arrested Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun. Officers who have since been removed...

Next, the defence called a witness. Some confusion then followed. As soon as he approached, Thach Saveth exclaimed, “But I do not know him?!” while his mother, who was in the audience, shouted, “Yes, you know him!” The judge then asked the man to introduce himself. “My name is Cheth!” “Good. What is your family name?” “Cheth!” The judge persisted, “But when you work, how do you introduce yourself?” “Well, Cheth!” Laughters were heard in the audience while the court decided to dismiss the witness without hearing him. “In the future, follow the rules when you make a request for a witness to be heard,” the judge commented in a remark to the lawyers.

Prosecution witnesses at serious issue

The defence for Thach Saveth then requested that the Court re-examines the minutes of the statements of the witnesses for the prosecution. Witnesses who were heard only by the police and never appeared in a hearing, in breach of the adversarial principle. Witnesses whose testimonies do not match, some describing Thach Saveth as the killer, others as his accomplice, the motorbike driver. The judge of the Court of Appeal rejected the request and explained that the Court's only prerogatives were to review the cases transmitted by the Municipal Court and the police, not to interrogate the witnesses...

The Prosecutor called for the sentence to be held up on the basis of the statements of the four prosecution witnesses, while the defence had brought no exonerating evidence. As for the lawyers, they called for the case to be dismissed: their client was not in Phnom Penh on the day of the murder, he did not carry any weapon – for that matter, the weapon of the crime was never found – and the prosecution witnesses contradicted one another while they had never taken an oath as required by the procedure. “In a word, there is no evidence. This is a completely fabricated case!” Finally, the defendant spoke imploringly to request that the Court provides him with justice and claim his innocence.

A leader of another trade union suspected but never investigated

Contacted by telephone after the hearing, Chea Mony, president of the FTUWKC, stated that he did not believe the person arrested was the real killer, as in the case of the murder of his brother Chea Vichea. “In the complaint filed by the wife of Ros Sovannareth [now a refugee abroad] against the killers of her husband, she accused a leader of the Cambodian Union Federation (CUF), a pro-government union, that was in conflict with the FTUWKC within the [Trinuggal Komara] factory where Sovannareth used to work. But shortly after his murder, that person who was suspected stopped all of his union activities...” Sovannareth and other FTUWKC members had complained about receiving threats from the CUF leader. Not long after Sovannareth's murder, the chief of the criminal police of Phnom Penh had declared that the killing was to be connected with the conflict between the two unions within the factory. A hypothesis that has always been discarded by the judicial system.

Call to follow the example of the Supreme Court

On January 2nd 2009, while it welcomed the decision by the Supreme Court to release Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) also encouraged in the same statement the government “to continue in the direction set by the Supreme Court” by revitalizing the investigation into the murder of Ros Sovannareth in particular.

Kek Galabru, president of Licadho, declared on Wednesday February 11th, that “[T]he Appeal Court [had] an opportunity to show that Cambodia's judiciary is not taking one step forward, two steps backwards” and called the Court to “issue a verdict which is based on an objective and impartial review of all the evidence in this case.” In a statement published on the same day, her organisation expressed concern over the attitude of the judges and prosecutor and considered they had failed to respect the presumption of innocence that the defendant must be entitled to before the verdict.

Court hears appeal in labor chief's death

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Thach Saveth leaves the Court of Appeal in prison uniform and handcuffs on Wednesday following a hearing in which he pleaded his innocence over the killing of unionist Ros Sovannareth. Thach Saveth is currently serving a 15-year sentence following his conviction in 2005.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Thach Saveth, found guilty in 2005 and given 15 years, pleaded for his freedom at an appeal; rights groups say he was framed

IMF predicts hard landing

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George Mcleod
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Growth will slow and foreign reserves decline as crisis deepens

CAMBODIA'S economy will come under intense pressure in 2009 as tourism, garments and construction take a hit from the global slowdown, said the International Monetary Fund in a report this week.

"Cambodia's exceptional growth performance ... is coming under increasing strain from the global economic crisis and weakening external demand," said the annual report.

Foreign direct investment will decline and foreign reserves could fall to about US$1.9 billion, it said.

"Cambodia could experience a pronounced liquidity contraction and possible large reserve loss," the report says.

It predicts 4.8 percent growth in 2009, but IMF Resident Representative John Nelmes warns that the projection will be downgraded. "We are taking a close look at the growth projection.... Since November, when the projection was made, the global crisis has intensified," he told the Post Wednesday.

A UK-based emerging markets expert said that the IMF assessment is late coming. "The problems were apparent in autumn when there were large withdrawals of capital from the developing world because of worries over the credit risks." said Vanessa Rossi, senior research fellow at Chatham House. She said that the crisis is only beginning for countries like Cambodia. "[Analysts] haven't allowed for the fact that countries like Cambodia are dependent on foreign capital inflows.... If things don't improve soon, they will need an IMF bailout."

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said that the findings are no surprise. "The IMF seems to share my concerns and the views I have expressed.... We cannot afford to do nothing as the Cambodian government is doing right now," he said.

Union killer pleads for release

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Licadho president Kek Galabru hands Thach Saveth malaria
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Court of Appeal will decide next week whether to overturn the conviction of Thach Saveth, who was found guilty in 2005 for killing a union leader.

THE Court of Appeal will rule February 18 on whether to uphold the conviction of Thach Saveth for the 2004 murder of union leader Ros Sovannareth, said presiding Judge Um Sarith at the end of a two-hour hearing Wednesday.

The conviction has been widely condemned by rights groups who attended the hearing in force. Three judges heard the prosecution and defence restate their respective cases, which largely resembled those offered during the original trial in 2005.

At that trial, the prosecution successfully argued that Thach Saveth was one of two assailants who gunned down Ros Sovannareth, the union president at the Trinunggal Komara garment factory, on Kampuchea Krom Boulevard on May 7, 2004. Thach Saveth was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutor Pan Kimleang said during the hearing Wednesday that he still believed Thach Saveth was one of the killers, arguing that accounts provided by the Tuol Kork district police officers who originally detained him proved his guilt.

But Sam Sokong, a lawyer for the Cambodian Defenders Project working as part of Thach Saveth's defence team, said his client was in Siem Reap on the night of the killing, adding that relatives traveling with him could corroborate the alibi.

In a statement released after the hearing Wednesday, the rights group Licadho argued that the 2005 conviction was "based on prosecution witnesses who did not appear in court and therefore could not be cross-examined". Defence witnesses who offered an alibi on behalf of Thach Saveth, the statement claims, "were ignored".

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[the case] has no credible evidence, no gun and no reliable witnesses.

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Prosecutor Pan Kimleang said at Wednesday's hearing that the alibi would be more credible if it did not rely exclusively on the testimony of Thach Saveth's relatives.

For his part, Thach Saveth maintained his innocence and pleaded for the court to "give justice to me because I really didn't kill Ros Savannareth".

"It is the wrong allegation against me," he said.

On to the Supreme Court?

In an interview with the Post after the hearing, Licadho President Kek Galabru called the prosecution's case weak and said the conviction should be overturned.

The case, she said, "has no credible evidence, no gun and no reliable witnesses to prove that he is the killer".

She said she would push for an appeal to be lodged with the Supreme Court if the Court of Appeal upholds the original conviction in its ruling next week.

She drew comparisons between Thach Saveth's case and that of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, which went to the Supreme Court late last year. That hearing resulted in the provisional release of the two suspects, who had served nearly five years for the killing of Chea Vichea, a union leader who was shot and killed in 2004 near Wat Lanka. Rights groups, including Licadho, challenged the credibility of the charges in that case as well.

Court hears developer complaint

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Former Dey Krahorm residents wait outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda and May Titthara
Thursday, 12 February 2009

7NG accuses Dey Krahorm representatives of inciting violence among residents in 2007 incident that it says led to destruction of its equipment and injury of a vehicle operator.

PHNOM Penh's Municipal Court on Monday is to rule on charges of inciting destruction of property filed by private developer 7NG against representatives of the Dey Krahorm shanty community it evicted last month, presiding judge Chey Sovann said Wednesday after a three-hour hearing.

7NG and the municipality late last month launched a blitz eviction of the scores of families remaining in the 3.6-hectare community who had declined compensation ranging from a relocation home to US$20,000 offered to them by 7NG. The company says it will develop the site into luxury office buildings.

The charges stem from an incident in December 2007, in which residents allegedly destroyed a 7NG excavator and injured its driver after the vehicle was brought into the area late at night.

Chan Vichet, Ly Yuleng and Bun Thoeun were accused of inciting violence by residents, who after the incident said they had feared a rapid, unnacounced eviction.

Ly Yuleng denied the machine was damaged or that she or the other accused had encouraged residents to use violence.

"People were just protecting their homes," she said.

Chan Vichet said that during the incident he appealed to residents over a loudspeaker to keep their calm but that the implications of the late-night arrival of the large machine were too strong for residents to dismiss.

After the hearing Wednesday, Sann Sokunthea, one of three lawyers provided to the defendants by the rights group Licadho, said the charges were baseless.

She said court officials received the police report before the incident even took place.

Plong Sophal, a lawyer for 7NG, told the court the charges were supported by eyewitness testimony from 17 people, although he did not produce any witnesses in court.

The court read testimony from the 7NG worker, Ing Va, who said as many as 300 residents threw stones at him and attacked the excavator he was driving.

Wednesday’s hearing was the third, and apparently last, time the court would convene for the case.

Sam Rainsy to petition Supreme Court, King in election lawsuit

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Former Dey Krahorm residents wait outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Sam Rainsy vows to appeal a 10 million riel fine imposed by the NEC for ‘insulting’ ruling party members during last year’s election.

OPPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy refused to pay a fine of 10 million riels (US$2,391) during a meeting with Phnom Penh Municipal Court officials Wednesday, saying he will only pay up once he is given the right to appeal the penalty at the Supreme Court.

The National Election Committee fined the SRP president for making derogatory remarks about the leaders of the ruling Cambodian People's Party during national elections in July last year.

While he agreed to pay the money if the law forced him to, Sam Rainsy remained defiant, saying that he had the right to appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.

"I respect the law. I just ask to use the law of the court first. I have rights to lodge a complaint to the Supreme Court," Sam Rainsy told reporters after the hearing.

"If the Supreme Court decides it disagrees with me, I will ask the King to issue a royal amnesty for me. Then, if I have no other way to walk, I will pay."

Sam Rainsy added that he had also asked the court about opposition complaints relating to the fraudulent use of 1018 voter registration forms and fake voting documents, but said that the prosecutor had been unable to provide any information since he was not in charge of the complaint.

"I asked about my complaint against commune chiefs who faked documents because this penal offense is bigger than the NEC's complaint," he said.

No recourse

When contacted Wednesday, Municipal Court Prosecutor Sok Roeun did not comment in detail on the case. But he said that Sam Rainsy's bid to appeal the court's decision at the Supreme Court was not legal, since the Constitutional Council had closed off the option of advancing his appeal and confirmed the NEC's decision, forcing Sam Rainsy to pay the fine.

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha said that the case was now out of his hands, but confirmed that Sam Rainsy had no option left but to pay the fine. "He has no rights to protest under the law," he said.

Surprise traffic crackdown nets hybrid moto-trailers

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
Irate motorbike-towed trailer drivers at the Russei Keo district police station on Wednesday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Police move to enforce law banning motorbikes towing improvised trailers, calling the vehicles ‘disorderly'.

AN impromptu crackdown on motorbikes pulling overloaded trailers into the capital netted more than 20 vehicles Wednesday, as traffic police moved to enforce a long-dormant City Hall directive, officials say.

"We do not allow big motorbikes to tow trailers into the city because it causes traffic jams and makes the city look messy and disorderly," said Chav Hak, deputy chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Traffic Police.

"[On Wednesday] the Municipality ordered me ... to stop all big motorbikes towing trailers into the city. They can stop in the suburbs, but they cannot come into the city. If they still come, we will stop them."

He said the offending trailer-motorbikes had been impounded and held at the traffic police headquarters in Russei Keo district, where their owners can return in seven days to collect them.

Prum Non, 24, the owner of one of the impounded vehicles, told the Post that he makes a living selling charcoal from Kampong Speu province, and criticised the police for cracking down without giving road users advance warning.


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We have no money. that's why we use these motorbike-towed trailers.

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"I am not happy with the police's actions. They did not announce to us first about these new measures. They should inform all people first and then take action afterwards," he said, adding that police told the drivers to "buy a truck" instead of using motorbike-towed trailers.

"The police should give us a loan of about US$10,000 to buy a truck," he added. "We have no money. That's why we use these motorbike-towed trailers."

Tell us how much

Pen Malin, 35, from Kampong Speu province, said that most of the people who drive the hybrid vehicles hail from Kampong Speu, where there is little other work to do.

"If they want to fine us, then they should tell us how much it is. We will pay the fine and take our motorbike-towed trailers and wood charcoal back home," he said.

"We need it to go back home to make other business to feed our families."

But Heang Channa, 24, said the police had offered no explanation for the confiscation of his vehicle.

"They didn't tell me what the problem was. They just told me to come to the police station for a short time to make a report," he said.

He added that the sudden application of the law seemed inconsistent considering the shakedowns orchestrated by traffic officials along the Kingdom's highways.

"We have spent more than 30,000 riels ($7.27) at police checkpoints along the national road from Kampong Speu to Phnom Penh," he said.
"Look at the police. They are not skinny. We work hard, but we are still very skinny."

Officials lower their hopes for return of artefacts from Thais

FIRST A CHARM
In November 1999, the Thai government returned more than 100 carved stones blocks that had been smuggled into the country earlier in the year after being hacked from the wall of the temple of Banteay Chhmar in northwestern Cambodia.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Having aimed to get all 43 confiscated Khmer antiquties returned, government officials now say they expect just seven to come home.

CAMBODIAN officials say they are expecting the return of only seven of the 43 smuggled Khmer antiquities intercepted by Thai authorities that have been the subject of a series of recent high-level talks between the two countries.

Khim Sarith, a secretary of state at Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts who has been involved in meetings with Thai authorities over the return of the artefacts, said that, pending approval by the Thai Cabinet, Cambodia would send a delegation to retrieve the pieces.

But the acquisition would be bittersweet.

In 1999, Thai customs agents seized 43 antique Khmer sculptures weighting more than eight tonnes at a port owned by a Thai shipping company.

Thailand has recognised 18 of the 43 artefacts as belonging to Cambodia. But following a meeting between Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart Kasit Piromya at the end of last month in which the visiting top diplomat pledged to push the Thai Cabinet to approve the repatriation of the artifacts, without specifying how many, local officials were hopeful they would see the return of all 43 pieces.

Now, they have had to lower their sights to acquiring just seven artefacts, all of which are the decapitated heads of statues, officials said.

"The artefacts are in their hands so they have the right to decide on how many pieces they will return to us," Khim Sarith said.

Still hope for complete return

The antiquities were being smuggled from Cambodia to Singapore via Thailand and were destined for markets in Europe and the United States. The sculptures are believed to have been stripped from ancient Khmer temples and monuments inside Cambodia.

Negotiations with Thailand on the return of the artefacts began a few years ago, but political instablility in Thailand has delayed the approval of any agreement. The most recent agreement is still awaiting approval from the Thai government, Khim Sarith said.

Koy Kuong, an undersecretary of state at Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said his office welcomed the artefacts' return but said he hoped that eventually all of the confiscated items would be back in Cambodia.

Hab Touch, director of the National Museum in Phnom Penh, said the seven heads would be a significant contribution to the museum's collection, but lamented that the majority of the intercepted cargo would remain in the hands of Thai authorities.

"The delay of this return is because of Thai internal political problems, but Cambodia will continue to negotiate to acquire the remaining pieces," he said.

Van Tay joins hunt for S-21 children

Photo by: LONG DANY/DOCUMENTATION CENTRE OF CAMBODIA
Vietnamese photographer Ho Van Tay will come to Phnom Penh on Saturday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Vietnamese photographer says he will help DC-Cam find the four children, believed to be alive.

FORMER Vietnamese soldier and photographer Van Tay is to travel Saturday to Phnom Penh to help researchers look for four former child prisoners of Tuol Sleng prison thought to be alive and living in Cambodia.

"We have received contact from [people believed to be the child victims], but we have not yet concluded that they are the real victims or not. Some of them are in Battambang and Kampong Thom provinces," Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), told the Post Wednesday.

"We will work with Vietnamese photographer Van Tay to find these children because he has had contact with one of the five children," he added.

The children were identified by DC-Cam in recently obtained archival footage donated by the Vietnamese government in late December. The footage will be used as key evidence in the upcoming trial of Kaing Guek Eav, the former prison's head, despite being obtained a week after prosecutors had already submitted the list of exhibits they planned to use during the trial.

Youk Chhang said that he had been "informed" that four of the five children from the video footage had escaped from S-21 and were still alive. One of them, the youngest, had died, he added.

"Van Tay has some documents and has had contact with one of the boys, and we hope that we can accelerate our work to identify these child victims," Youk Chhang said.

"We invite Van Tay to come to Cambodia to participate in the research of S-21 history," he said, adding that Van Tay would attend next week's hearing of the prison chief, known as Duch.

As the first person to enter the prison with a camera after the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Van Tay's photographs, which capture the bodies of prisoners still chained to iron beds, will also be pivotal evidence in Duch's trial.

Live by the sword

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Heng Chivoan
Thursday, 12 February 2009

A participant in the Heir Nak Ta ceremony in Phnom Penh prepares to cut his tongue with a knife. After blood is drawn, he will lick the yellow piece of paper, or Yantra (at left), which will then become a good luck charm.

The mysterious women of Angkor

Photo Supplied
Kent Davis has spent years researching and photographing what he calls the devatas, or carved female images, that appear throughout the Angkor Wat temple complex. His theory is that the ancient religious site was actually conceived and wrought to glorify women and the "feminine principles they represent".

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Jessie Beard
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Researcher Kent Davis theorises that the many carved images of women found throughout the temple complex hold the key to the origins and purpose of the ancient monuments

SIEM REAP

A TEAM of researchers, led by US educational program and marketing executive Kent Davis, is analysing 7,000 digital photos taken in November 2008 for a database that will attempt to unveil a mystery that's been bugging Davis since he first visited Angkor Wat in November 2005.

He wants to determine why there are so many images of women in the temples, and he's postulating a theory that Angkor wasn't built to honour kings or gods, but to glorify women.

When Davis first came to Angkor, he immediately became fascinated by the carvings of women and instinctively felt they had been historically trivialised as decorations.

"I wasn't prepared for the temple's human side as realistic carvings of women greeted me. Quite clearly, the images of these women were a major part of the monument's design and purpose," he said.

"These women who are so extraordinary and so filled with significance have remained unstudied and unappreciated in modern times. The fact that they have been hidden in plain sight during 150 years of intense Khmer scholarship is truly amazing.

"But a quantitative analysis could unlock the secrets these complex women have guarded for so long."
Using a computer database, the project involves recording the diverse features of the women, enabling detailed analysis of them for the first time since they were carved.

Davis also departs from convention by referring to the women shown in temple carvings as devatas, not Apsaras.

"No one knows what the ancient Khmers called the women at Angkor Wat. I generally choose to use devata for historical and semantic reasons. About a hundred years ago, some scholars began using the Hindu term apsara, and that became more common over time."

Davis's use of the term devata and his quest to comprehensively analyse the collection of female carvings was also inspired by the work of a young French woman, Sappho Marchal, who began classifying the women by their attributes in her own personal drawings.

Marchal lived at Angkor Wat and was the daughter of the second curator of the Angkor Wat conservation program. She published a book, Costumes et parures Khmers d'apres les davata d'Angkor-Wat, in 1927, and when Davis discovered her writings, he became even more determined to finish what Marchal had started all those years ago.

Davis has already evaluated 1,780 carvings of women and expects to include over 1,800 carvings in his study. He said that once he amassed about 25,000 digital photos of the carvings he was studying, the sheer complexity required that a computer database be used.

But on April 17 last year, Davis's project received a major setback - fire gutted his house and studio, destroying a collection of more than 2,000 books on the history of Southeast Asia and material he had prepared to republish the book Angkor the Magnificent, originally written in 1924 by American socialite and Titanic survivor Helen Churchill Candee.

The book is credited with introducing the concept of Cambodian tourism to Americans, and Davis's revised version was scheduled to go to the publisher the day after the fire.

But the biggest setback was the destruction of Davis's original notes and manuscripts on female statues at Angkor Wat, including a hard drive containing about 25,000 photos of the female carvings.

Not to be deterred, Davis returned to Angkor Wat last November to redo some photography.

"I had logistical help from three Cambodians and three European scientists in Cambodia. But due to the independent nature of the study, their contributions are unofficial.

"Now, the only limitations to progress are time and money. I have most of the photo data again and have built the database program. The process of preparing the images and inputting the data will be quite time-consuming.

"The first paper published will be a technical study I just completed with Michigan State University researchers using computer technology to analyse the faces of the 259 devata on the West Gopura.

"Beyond the database, I have an enormous amount of research data about the images in relation to Cambodian, Southeast Asian and South Asian culture. The introduction to this body of work will be published in the anthology to be called Daughters of Angkor Wat, through my publishing company DatAsia.

"Ultimately, my goal is to work with Cambodian researchers and the Apsara Authority.

"But the onus is on me to prepare substantial evidence before approaching them with my paradigm, which is that the primary reason Angkor Wat was built was to protect, honour and glorify these women, as well as the feminine principles that they represent.

"My view is that Angkor Wat is there because of the women."

Water shortage raises questions

Why is service disrupted? When will it be resolved? More importantly, who or what is to blame?

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 12 February 2009

"Water?" cries Josh, a barman at the Warehouse. "What the f*** is that?"

SIEM REAP

Siem Reap is entering week four of a mysterious water supply disruption, and the only thing flowing is the rumour mill. The town's watering holes, as well as other businesses and homes, have been parched dry, stretched to the breaking point with as little as one hour of water a day, with no explanation from authorities and no end in sight.

Officials are alternately blaming overpopulation, Lunar New Year festivities and burst water pipes - but no concrete answers are forthcoming in Siem Reap's own Watergate.

The water troubles began in the last week of January but reached an intolerable level in the first week of February. Unable to clean dishes or flush toilets, many bar owners were forced to improvise or close.

Dean Williams, owner of Miss Wong, told the Post: "We've basically had water problems for three weeks. This week, it only comes on after midnight. I stay up until it comes on, then fill 300 litres in plastic bins. It gets me through the night. I could buy a tank, but we have no information on how long it's going to last."

For many bar owners, the lack of communication is just as devastating as the lack of water - fuelling uncertainty and limiting their ability to adapt. Carlo Tarabini, owner of X-bar, said: "It's really poor planning. Someone should know what's happening and people should be told. But we only hear rumours. If it continues, more places will close."

Two weeks ago, the minister of tourism was in town, "saying we had to stick together and that the government was going to help us through the global financial crisis. They said they're building a new road to Angkor Wat. But what's the use of a new road if tourists can't flush the toilet? I feel like there's been no support, and no one knows what's going on", Williams said.

Charlie, manager of Angkor What? bar, said: "The bills keep coming but the water doesn't. I'm not going to pay my bill this time. What are they going to do? Cut my water off?"

Chan Sengla, assistant director of the Siem Reap Water Supply Authority, originally told the Post that the water supply has been short because "we cannot produce enough to meet demand", blaming the additional load caused by Lunar New Year celebrations. But Cheav Channy, deputy director of the Technical Department at the authority, blamed a burst pipe at the wastewater pipe excavation site on Sivutha Boulevard, near Hotel de la Paix - a claim denied by Ken Cook, team leader of the Siem Reap Wastewater Management Project, which is responsible for the excavation.

Entrepreneur finds local answer to hotels' import produce needs

Photo by: Kyle Sherer
Sim Rasy in front of 1st Modern Bucher Shop.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kyle Sherer
Thursday, 12 February 2009

SIM Rasy, founder of Siem Reap's "1st Modern Butcher Shop", is trying to break down a frustrating catch 22 that has kept the province's farmers on the brink of destitution despite a soaring demand for produce.

"When I arrived in Siem Reap, most of the NGOs assisting rural workers said they didn't have a market for their farmers," he said.

Despite living in near poverty, he explained, most farmers only grow for three months a year - enough to feed their families, but not enough to make any kind of meaningful profit by trade.

"But the rich hotels import 10 tonnes of produce a day from Vietnam. So I knew for a fact that the market was there."

The farmers have the time, land and ability to grow what the hotels have a pressing need to purchase - but the supposedly universal forces of supply and demand are not bridging the gap. In 2004, Rasy began a quest to find out why.

Sim Rasy's investigation was hardly an academic one. "The Department of Agriculture rented me land to farm on because I knew I had to experience it for myself," he said.

And the first lesson he learned was that there was no agricultural reason to limit production so severely. "I found that it is possible to grow for 365 days a year, not just three months."

He then discovered that farmers are dependant on cash-in-hand transactions to survive, while hotels buy goods on credit. In the absence of a brokering body between the parties, hotels continue to import their produce and farmers simply grow for themselves.

To solve the problem, Sim Rasy opened the 1st Modern Butcher Shop last year and now buys from 10 Siem Reap farmers, paying them with cash and selling the produce to Siem Reap hotels, restaurants and supermarkets.

He hopes that this year he can expand the wholesale operation. But he needs to solve the cash flow problem.

Sim Rasy needs to find a fund with less than 10 percent interest per year, and this will allow him to buy from more farmers with cash and sell to more hotels for credit. Rasy projects that if the fund were secured, Siem Reap farmers could provide hotels with up to 30 percent of their produce within two years.

"We cannot supply 100 percent of produce, but we can reduce the import rate," Rasy said.

In Brief: Khieu samphan to appeal detention

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 12 February 2009

A public hearing has been scheduled for February 27 for detained former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan to appeal his continued detention. Co-prosecutors requested the appeal be done on the basis of written submissions only, but the pretrial chamber deemed it necessary to hold a hearing, as it related to "the liberty of the Charged Person".

In Brief: Officials deny sale of dolphin meat

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Governmental officials have denied recent accusations from Thai environmental authorities that Cambodians are involved in the illegal trafficking of dolphins to Thailand, where they are allegedly sold as meat. "I guarantee that my province's people did not do it," said Yuth Phouthang, governor of Koh Kong province. "I ban my people from catching dolphins for business, and ... they draw a lot of tourists to visit my province every year."

Touch Seang Tana, director of the Dolphin Protection Committee, said that the government had committed itself to preserving local dolphin populations. "We have put strict pressure on dolphin-catching since early 2006," he said.

In Brief: Japanese drainage funds for R'Kiri

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sarah Whyte
Thursday, 12 February 2009

The government of Japan has pledged US$79,500 to the Department of Public Works and Transport in Ratanakkiri province, according to a statement by the Japanese embassy, to construct a 1,087-metre drainage system in Banlung district. The project is expected to improve the livelihoods of 25,000 people and substantially upgrade sanitary and environmental conditions for those working in the Banlung Market, it said.

Kingdom's banks at risk: IMF


Photo by: Heng Chivoan
More oversight is needed if Cambodian banks are to weather the storm, says an IMF report.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Nonperforming loans could soar to 13 percent and reserves fall below limits if deposits and foreign capital continue to shrink, says new report

Cambodia's banks are under threat from rising nonperforming loans, slow deposit growth and low liquidity, according to an International Monetary Fund report released this week.

If the situation deteriorates, some banks could be unable to meet the government's minimum capital requirements, the report says.

"The global financial crisis has exposed vulnerabilities among Cambodia's banks and is beginning to affect their financial soundness," it says.

The annual economic review adds that poor compliance with reporting rules could mean Cambodian banks are even worse off than thought.

The IMF assessment adds to warnings that the global financial crisis is spreading to Cambodia's banking industry - a sector that until recently was seen as a pillar of stability amidst falling garment exports and dwindling tourist arrivals.

It follows last week's annual World Bank report that also raised concerns about the Cambodian financial sector.

More supervision needed

The IMF's resident representative for Cambodia said the report highlighted the risks that Cambodian banks face in 2009 but did not serve as a negative forecast for the sector.

But John Nelmes told the Post Wednesday the report was a warning the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) needed to watch closely the sector in 2009.

"There is a real need for the NBC to supervise these banks," he said.

"[The NBC] has got to be the first line of defence. ... In that sense, that's where we really need to see careful work. The NBC has to increase surveillance of the banking sector," he said. He added that the IMF noted improvements in NBC monitoring last year.

Nelmes stressed that although liquidity was a growing concern and local banks faced the double hit of falling deposits and declining foreign capital, the IMF did not "expect [Cambodian] banks to run into trouble [in 2009]".


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

There is a real need for the national bank ... to supervise these banks.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The report says liquidity shortages have arisen at some banks. "In response, banks have been raising deposit rates, drawing excess reserves and, in a few cases, borrowing from abroad," it says.

An extreme scenario illustrated by the IMF shows non-performing loans rising to a startling 13 percent, with six banks falling short of the government's risk-weighted capital ratio of 15 percent.

Falling property prices have also put pressure on the sector, the report says. "Large withdrawals have reportedly been made by firms concentrated in the property sector, notably Korean-owned banks."

John Brinsden, vice chairman of ACLEDA Bank, said his bank's deposits have been stable.

"I think that liquidity is very tight [in the banking sector as a whole], and deposits have fallen by about one-sixth ... ACLEDA's deposits have remained steady." ACLEDA is one of the few banks that has expanded recently by increasing its ATM coverage and launching new branches in Laos.

Both the IMF and World Bank warned that a number of banks were especially at risk.

The IMF report says "several large [banks] could face a large deterioration in credit quality and a need for recapitalisation, depending on the magnitude of the current slowdown".

The World Bank report mentions "two large banks" being at risk from nonperforming loans.

Spokesmen for the IMF and the World Bank would not name the banks in question, but industry sources have identified Canadia and Vattanac Bank as of particular concern.

"These banks are believed to be overexposed to the property sector," one anonymous source said. "We are also watching a couple of others."

But Charles Vann, deputy general manager of Canadia Bank, said finances remained solid. "These are just rumours. As far as I know, Canadia's finances remain strong."

He said that the bank's liquidity and deposits been steady over the past three months.
Vattanac Bank would not respond to requests for comment.

Industry calls for reduction in travel fees

AFP
Tourists at Angkor Wat. The government is considering strategies to boost tourist numbers.

Tourist fee
Travel visa US$20
International flight tax $25 ($18 for Cambodians)
Domestic flight tax
$6 ($5 for Cambodians)

Tourism in decline
Mounting evidence suggests that the tourism industry, after years of growth, is entering a decline as foreign travellers feel the financial crisis start to bite.

- Air passengers down
Total air traffic through Phnom Penh and Siem Reap fell more than three percent, meaning 110,000 fewer pas- sengers in 2008 compared with 2007 figures.

- Total flights down
Number of flights passing through the country dropped by two percent in 2008 compared with 2007 figures.

- Angkor Wat visitors down
Apsara Authority, the governmental body respon- sible for managing Angkor Wat revenue says ticket sales dropped 10 percent in 2008 compared with 2007.

- Hotel occupancy down
Hotel operators say occu pancy dropped by up to 30 percent this high season.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by MAY KUNMAKARA
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Tourism sector calls for reduction in tourism fees, ahead of meeting today with government, as part of strategy aimed at halting decline in visitor numbers caused by financial crisis

MEMBERS of Cambodia's travel industry, the Tourism Working Group, said they will meet with Minister of Tourism Thong Khon today to look at dropping travellers' charges in a bid to stimulate the flagging tourism sector.

The private Tourism Working Group said it was looking at ways to try to curb the decline in traveller numbers. Hoteliers have said that occupancy rates are down as much as 30 percent this year, while Cambodia's airports operator Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports has reported that there were three percent fewer foreign visitors in 2008 over the previous year.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the Tourism Working Group and head of the Steering Committee of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents (CATA), said it was time for the government to act to halt the tourism downturn.

"We [the private sector] cannot do this on our own so the government has to cooperate with us ... to reduce the price of tourist visas, passenger service charges and entry fees at tourism sites," he said.

A government move to reduce tourism charges might not help the industry grow again immediately, he said, but at least such measures could help halt the decline.

Director of Siem Reap Airport Bun Rotha said that in many cases these fees - which are on a par with the rest of the region - are simply those that are hidden within ticket prices in other countries.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We cannot do this on our own, so the government has to cooperate with us.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

New CATA President An Kim Eang said the focus has to be on raising traveller numbers. "If the government thinks about this, we can earn a lot of profit for the country ... visitors spend approximately US$70 to $100 per day - that is the benefit," he said.

A rethink of tourism fees would require addressing the issue of companies that have received concessions from the government to operate services, said independent tourism analyst Meoung Son. "If we decrease our prices but those companies don't, then what can we do?" He said, pointing to what he called an unfair and corrupt economic system in Cambodia.

The tourism sector also faces other structural problems, he said, notably over-reliance on foreign airports - especially Bangkok - to receive foreign visitors given the lack of direct international flights to Cambodia.

Government mulls strategy

Thong Khon said that the government would be prepared to consider the working group's proposals if they are workable, but added that such fees were largely irrelevant in the context of the global economic downturn.

"I have a lot of policies and strategies to iron out, given the crisis, not just price decreases. These are being implemented," he said, adding that a reduction in fees would mean a drop in service quality.

"An important way [to promote tourism sector growth] would be to open border gateways to attract tourists," he said.

Cambodia has begun discussions for a visa-free system for overland travel to Laos and Vietnam as part of efforts to stimulate the travel industry, Thong Khon said, and it is also looking at ecotourism as a growth industry.

Love in Cambodia

PHOTO SUPPLIED

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 12 February 2009

Cambodian film stars Saray Sakana and Yu Disco. One of the photos featured at the “Just Married!” exhibition opening today at the French Cultural Centre.

Nuon Soriya: 'I'm back'

Photo by: VIRGINIE NOEL
Nuon Soriya kicks a training bag held by Sen Bunthen in preparation for his Sunday fight against Pao Puot.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robert Starkweather
Thursday, 12 February 2009

29-year-old scheduled to continue comeback this weekend in fight against youngster Pao Puot,a prelude to what he hopes will be a big-name rematch

After 18 months of relative inactivity, Kampong Cham native Nuon Soriya, once one of Khmer boxing's most dominant light-welterweight fighters, is making a comeback.

After losing to current 67-kilogram title-holder May Sopheap on points three weeks ago, Nuon Soriya will attempt to return to winning ways on Sunday afternoon when he faces hard-kicking Battambang youngster Pao Puot at TV5.

If everything goes according to plan, the comeback will continue with Nuon Soriya avenging a loss to one of the sport's greatest all-time fighters.

"I want a rematch with Outh Phouthang," Nuon Soriya said.

Nuon Soriya fought Outh Phouthang - arguably the second-most dominant fighter in the history of the sport after older brother Ei Phouthang - in July 2007 for the light-welterweight championship.

After rocking Outh Phouthang early in the second round with a series of punches, Nuon Soriya ran out of steam and eventually lost on points. In the months following that decision, Nuon Soriya entered the ring only four times, facing unheralded foreign opponents on each occasion.

"I had some nagging injures, so I took some time off," explained Nuon Soriya, the seasoned 29-year-old fighter from the Ministry of Interior Boxing Club. "I'm healthy again now. I'm back."

His next test comes in the form of Pao Puot.

On paper, everything lines up in favour of Nuon Soriya. "I'll win," he said. "I'll play with him, fake him out, catch him with fists and kicks."

Pao Puot, 21, is no journeyman. He has fought many of the sport's best and beaten most of them, most memorably knocking out former-welterweight champion Ven Sovann with a spinning back elbow in their 2007 matchup at CTN.

Going into Sunday's 67-kilogram fight, however, there is doubt surrounding the Battambang fighter's level of fitness.

Pao Puot recently returned from working in Thailand, said Meas Sokry, and reports from Battambang voice concerns about his stamina, a factor that could come into play in a five-round fight.

A Pao Puot strategy to end things quickly could lead to explosive early rounds. That might make for a more interesting fight, but it seems unlikely it could alter the outcome of what should be a tune-up fight for Nuon Soriya.

Meas Sokry, head coach at the Ministry of Interior Boxing Club and Nuon Soriya's long-time trainer, said: "We're going in with hands. That's our strategy."

Looking past Pao Puot, as perilous as doing so may be, Nuon Soriya puts one more fighter on his shortlist of rematches.

Nuon Soriya fought and lost twice to Royal Gendarmerie fighter May Sopheap, their most recent bout unfolding three weeks ago at TV5. For Nuon Soriya, who came in two kilograms underweight, it was a tough assignment after a long layoff.

Considering the time off, Nuon Soriya fought exceptionally well. He landed some clean elbows early in the match and in the later rounds gave the welterweight champion trouble with combinations. Many who saw the fight thought Nuon Soriya did enough to earn the victory, but referees at ringside didn't see it that way, and the decision went to May Sopheap. It was a disappointing loss.

"I want to fight him again," said Nuon Soriya. "Next time, I'll be in better shape. Next time, I plan to knock him out."

First, he'll have to get past Pao Puot.

Fights are slated to begin at 3:30pm at TV5 studio on Sunday, with Nuon Soriya's fight against Pao Puot likely to start around 5:00pm. Admission is 3,000 (US$0.72 riels per person.

http://eyugoslavia.com/general/12/cambodian-born-cellist-in-germany-owes-life-to-music-224533/

By Vasilije Gallak
Feb 12, 2009

Berlin - The career of cellist Sonny Thet, who owes his life to music, has royal roots. Born in 1954 in the kingdom of Cambodia, he was sent at age 15 by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, then Cambodia’s head of state, to the East German city of Weimar for musical studies.Thet became more than just a good student. He founded the music group Bayon, which went on to fame in communist East Germany.

Now a resident of Berlin, Thet gives about 120 concerts a year. His current tour, featuring compositions from his recent album Zauberland, will take him to Lisbon, Poznan and Bregenz in addition to cities in Germany over the coming weeks.

Thet’s unique style melds classical, jazz and rock elements. Though he has spent most of his life in Germany, his music is inspired by his homeland.

“You can always hear an Asian touch,” he said. “I just can’t hide.”

Cambodia became independent from France in 1953. Thet decided to take up the cello while a young boy after hearing a former French soldier play the instrument, which was alien to the south-east Asian country.

“It was love at first sound,” Thet recalled, his dark eyes gleaming behind rimless glasses.

He actually had been much too young to study in Weimar, but the East German authorities could not turn down Prince Sihanouk’s request without damaging bilateral diplomatic relations.

Thet quickly showed talent. He was supposed to establish an orchestra in Cambodia after his studies, but that never happened.

That’s because communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas took over Cambodia in 1975, aiming to create an agrarian utopia. Artists, intellectuals and large landowners stood in their way. People were sentenced to death simply for wearing spectacles. Few musicians survived the Khmer Rouge’s approach to communism.

Music proved to be Thet’s rescue. “I was lucky to be able to leave Cambodia before Pol Pot came to power,” Thet noted, referring to the Khmer Rouge leader.

“Democratic Kampuchea,” as the Khmer Rouge renamed the country, isolated itself from the outside world. Thet lost all contact with his family and began to establish himself in Germany, giving concerts. He was allowed to travel to western Europe and the United States.

Thet named his music group Bayon, after a temple in Angkor, Cambodia. The temple’s numerous towers have four carved stone faces pointing in the cardinal directions. The group’s members come from all four points of the compass, too.

“We founded the group having no idea we’d earn a living with it,” Thet said.

He toured East Germany, made recordings and built up an audience. Thet said he had “no inkling” at first of his countrymen’s plight under the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. An estimated 1.7 million to 3 million Cambodians were killed or starved to death from 1975 to 1979. In Thet’s family, only an uncle survived.

In 1992, after an absence of more than 20 years, Thet was able to travel to his homeland. “I could only bear to be there for two weeks before I returned to Germany. It was as if the smell of corpses was everywhere,” he recalled.

“When I’m feeling bad, I get out my cello and really play my heart out,” Thet remarked. Then, he felt his family to be quite near. At the end of 2008, Thet went back to Cambodia for a few weeks where a documentary film is being made about him. The film is to be shown at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival.

For more information, see: www. sonnythet. de (dpa)

KRouge trial unlikely to heal Cambodia's wounds

A skull of a victim sits on display at the Choeung Ek memorial stupa south of Phnom Penh

This general view shows the Choeung Ek memorial stupa south of Phnom Penh, marking the "killing fields"

Former Khmer Rouge prison chief S-21, Kaing Guek Eav better known as "Duch" (C) stands in a dock

Buddhist monks sit at the Samphy Pagoda, the site of one of the killing fields under the Khmer Rouge regime


TRAPAING SVA VILLAGE, Cambodia (AFP) — Every day, Chhum At sees the former Khmer Rouge members who murdered her three brothers, two uncles and an aunt in this village near the Cambodian capital.

"We feel hot inside with hate and we still want to take revenge. But outside we speak with them," she says at a memorial where bones of the regime's victims are piled like kindling, mixed with tattered clothing and bits of rubbish.

As Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal prepares to prosecute a handful of senior leaders from the brutal 1970s communist movement, there is lingering hostility here that won't be resolved in a court.

Chhum At, 40, says she can't forgive her childhood under the Khmer Rouge: kept from her mother, she was forced to work in rice paddies and heard screams in the middle of the night as people were clubbed at a nearby "killing field".

Researchers believe the regime killed over 10,000 people at this village 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Phnom Penh -- a fraction of the estimated 1.7 million who died of overwork, starvation, execution and torture in an attempt to create a Marxist utopia.

When proceedings begin Tuesday against Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, the first of five leaders due to be tried, it's far from clear whether that will help Cambodians in places like this village put their past behind them.

A recent survey by the University of California, Berkeley found the majority of Cambodians still harbour feelings of hatred towards members of the Khmer Rouge responsible for violence.

Nearly half of the respondents said they were uncomfortable living in the same community with former Khmer Rouge members, while 71 percent said they wanted to see former cadres suffer in some way.

Meanwhile, 40 percent of Cambodians said they would take revenge against former Khmer Rouge members if they could.

"People in the village sometimes accuse each other and then everything will come out. They'll say: 'You killed my relatives,'" Chhum At says.

"When those arguments happen, sometimes we want to kill each other. But we cannot kill or we will go to prison," she adds.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which researches Khmer Rouge crimes, said people will need more than the trials of a handful of leaders to recover from the brutal past.

"I think most of the revenge has been done and the rest is a grey area that is difficult to deal with. It's more emotional, more of a trauma," he said.

Former Khmer Rouge cadres in this village say they are not worried about revenge, and most have made their peace with the past.

Chuon Chhon, who worked as a guard at the local Khmer Rouge prison, says he had nothing to do with the mass graves in the area.

"Many of my relatives were killed -- cousins, uncles, aunts -- I couldn't help them. I could only help myself," Chuon Chhon says.

"I also feel hurt. Of course I pity the other people. I was a low rank -- I couldn't help anyone," he adds.

Sao Phen, 63, who arrived in the village with the 1979 Vietnam-backed invasion force that toppled the Khmer Rouge, says there have been fewer revenge attacks over the past five years.

"People still have anger in their minds, but they don't show it publicly. It is better than before, when people would try to kill someone who accused them of killing their relatives," Sao Phen says.

He speculates that the upcoming trials, which put the blame for atrocities on a handful of senior leaders, may have helped reduce violence if they had been staged sooner. But, he adds, relationships change over time.

"Sometimes people avoid each other, but their daughter and son fall in love. When they get married, under Cambodian tradition their families are in an alliance. So how can they take revenge?" Sao Phen says.

But even if senior leaders are convicted and spend the rest of their lives in jail, Chhum At says she'll remain angry with former Khmer Rouge members in the village.

"If the trial can have a verdict soon, I will be very happy," she says.

"But after the trial it will continue to be like this, because we don't know what to do."

Day in pictures

A family on an ox-cart waits on a roadside in Moung Russey, located in Cambodia's western Battambang province February 10, 2009.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Cambodian cab drivers sleep on their taxis under shade in a roadside in Phnom Penh, Cambodia Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A man rests on a bench at the summit of Wat Phnom Sampeau in Battambang Province February 11, 2009.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Vanvoo, a 64-year-old man who lives near the summit of Wat Phnom Sampeau, smokes in one of its several caves February 11, 2009. About 10,000 are believed to be sent to their deaths in the hilltop caves in Cambodia's Battambang province, the site to one of the many "killing fields" in Cambodia. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

A visitor photographs near a glass stupa memorial containing thousands of skulls and human bones of people killed on the summit of Wat Phnom Sampeau in Cambodia's Battambang Province February 11, 2009. About 10,000 are believed to be sent to their deaths in the hilltop caves, the site to one of the many "killing fields" in Cambodia. On February 17, Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Visitors look at a glass stupa memorial containing thousands of skulls and human bones of people killed on the summit of Wat Phnom Sampeau in Cambodia's Battambang Province February 11, 2009. About 10,000 are believed to be sent to their deaths in the hilltop caves, the site to one of the many "killing fields" in Cambodia. On February 17 Cambodia's UN-backed genocide tribunal will try the first of five Khmer Rouge leaders blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people in the 1970s.REUTERS/Adrees Latif (CAMBODIA)

Call to start AFP war crimes unit

THE AUSTRALIAN
Online Newspaper of the Year

John Stapleton February 12, 2009

A WAR crimes unit should be established within the Australian Federal Police to investigate whether international war criminals are living in Australia.

The Lowy Institute released a policy paper yesterday saying that potentially hundreds of war criminals from the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and East Timor could be residing in Australia.

Research associate Fergus Hanson said Australia's tradition of mass migration meant it was likely we were a safe haven for suspected war criminals.

"Strong grounds exist for believing Australia has, over the years, inadvertently admitted a substantial number of these suspected criminals and there is no plausible reason why those who are alleged to have committed the most abhorrent crimes should continue to find refuge," he said.

Mr Hanson said past attempts such as the Special Investigations Unit, which was disbanded in 1992 after prosecuting only three people, none of whom was convicted, failed partly because of the long time lapse between the investigation and alleged crimes during World War II.

"There are modern day examples of successful war crime trials, for example in The Netherlands, which has a war crimes screening unit," he said. "Even international organisations we associate with lethargy and incompetence have successfully run dozens of modern war crime trials that have resulted in numerous convictions."

Mr Hanson said last year Australia gave more than $15million to international courts and tribunals. Comparatively, the cost of a war crimes unit would be modest.

"Sweden's unit cost $1.7million last year, and The Netherlands operates on a budget of $4million a year," he said.

"There's no reason why Australia could not achieve something similar."

The B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Tony Levy said it was imperative a dedicated war crimes unit be created.

"Factors such as the age of the accused or the location of the crime should be no barrier to an investigation by Australian authorities into the role of the alleged perpetrators in the atrocities," he said.

The author of War Criminals Welcome, Mark Aarons, said successive governments of both persuasions had turned a blind eye to the presence of alleged mass killers in Australia, including those who served under Cambodia's Pol Pot or Soviet officers from Afghanistan.

A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus said the Lowy report would be examined. "The Government takes all allegations of war criminals living in Australia seriously and considers all requests for extradition for people accused of war crimes," she said.

Alleged war criminal Dragan Vasiljkovic, accused of ordering soldiers to fire on civilians, is expected to lodge an appeal against his extradition to Croatia in the next few days.

Businesspeople Inside and Outside of the Country Gather Force to Promote the Real Estate Market in Cambodia - Wednesday, 11.2.2009

Posted on 12 February 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 599

“Phnom Penh: This week, real estate businesspeople from inside and outside of the country gathered to create a new association to promote and improve the declining real estate market in Cambodia. The Association of Cambodian Real Estate Developers aims to help restore the fast declining real estate market in Cambodian to grow up again.

“Real estates companies expressed their hope that the real estate market will become active again soon. Representatives of real estates companies had assembled to join forces and to make efforts to restore their situation, lively selling real estate in Cambodia again. Mr. Van So Ieng, who was selected to be the president of the Association of the Cambodian Real Estate Developers, said that this new association plays a role to help coordinate work with the government, in order to find ways to reactivate the land and the house markets in Cambodia.

“Mr. Van So Ieng added that the creation of this association is to establish another new force to encourage activities regarding real estate, to get moving ahead.

“It should be noted that the Association of the Cambodian Real Estate Developers was created, after the real estate market of Cambodia had collapsed, and while the government established a new policy, requiring real estate companies to deposit 2% of to the volume of each construction project as a security deposit.

“The director of the Bunna Realty Group, Mr. Sung Bunna, who was nominated secretary-general of the Association of the Cambodian Real Estate Developers, disagrees with the policy requiring to make a 2% security deposit per construction site. However, he agrees with the establishment of a mechanism to monitor all real estate companies, which is being drafted by the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

“It should be stressed that the policy to reserve a 2% security deposit for ongoing construction activities is to ensure confidence from companies contracting a construction company, so that the customers continue to commit their money to acquire flats.

“Mr. Sung Bunna requested the government to consider the disadvantages of this security depositing policy in a situation when Cambodia’s real estate market is going down like this.

“As for the director of the Udom Vathanak Company that buys and sells land, Mr. Men Ra, he presented the opinion that the 2% security deposit creates a disadvantage that can affect the newly growing real estate market in Cambodia.

“Ahead of the elections in 2008, activities on the real estate market in Cambodia started to slow down, and so far, the land and the house construction markets are still quiet, which is partly also the result of the international financial crisis.

“Mr. Men Ra said that the land market in Cambodia, with cooperating efforts by the government, will become activated again soon.

“Mr. Van So Ieng expressed his hope that the land market will grow again after the real estate companies in Cambodia assembled to form the new Association, especially if there is cooperation from the government.

“Also, Mr. Van So Ieng mentioned that solutions might also be found from the policy of providing loans to citizens to buy houses – this can help to reactivate the real estate market in Cambodia.

“It should be noted that the Cambodian government announced that government institutions are beginning to release loans in an effort to encourage the buying of land and of flats again.

“This announcement by the government was welcomed by different real estate companies in Cambodia.

“Mr. Men Ra called for supporting activities by the National Bank of Cambodia in order to restore the present weak situation of the land market.

“So far, real estate businesspeople still hope that sooner or later, there will be land selling activities again.”

Khmer Sthapana, Vol.2, #200, 11.2.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Thailand's Stubborn Fugitive

Far Eastern Economic Review

by Colum Murphy
Posted February 12, 2008

One day it’s Dubai, the next it’s Sydney, then Hong Kong. There has even been talk of a Cambodia visit. It seems there’s no stopping Thailand’s fugitive former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled corruption charges in August 2007 and faces a two-year prison sentence, as he circles the globe whipping up trouble from his self-imposed exile.

Mr. Thaksin has more on his mind than the odd game of golf or shopping spree. From afar, he keeps in close contact with his political allies, waiting for the day when he can return to Thailand and possibly reclaim power.

“He wants to come back to Thailand definitely, because it is his motherland,” said Phongthep Thepkanjana, a spokesperson for Mr. Thaksin in a recent exclusive interview with the REVIEW. The former prime minister, who was deposed in a bloodless coup in September 2006, is not going to give up, said Mr. Phongthep.

“I think ‘fight back’ is maybe too strong a word,” said Mr. Phongthep, who is also a former deputy leader of Mr. Thaksin’s now defunct party, Thai Rak Thai (TRT), and a drafter of Thailand’s 1997 Constitution. “[Mr. Thaksin] is trying to ask for justice on his side. Yet he is not going to “simply to lie dead and wait for everything to happen to him.”

The country’s new prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has shrugged off any threat posed by Mr. Thaksin. But the fact that the former prime minister refuses to go away is certainly bad news for the recently installed coalition government as it struggles to bring political stability to Thailand amidst the worst global economic downturn in decades.

Waiting in the wings are Mr. Thaksin’s supporters, the so-called Red Shirts. In late January, in a renewed show of strength and egged on by radio broadcasts by Mr. Thaksin from abroad, they demonstrated outside Government House and vowed to regroup and protest again if Mr. Abhisit and his government did not step down within 15 days.

Mr. Abhisit says he has no intention of doing so. Yet the Red Shirts are equally adamant in their demands and it seems inevitable that conflict will return to the streets of Bangkok before long.

Should this happen, Thailand would be thrown back into the political chaos it experienced in late 2008 when protests by the anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy, or the Yellow Shirts, saw the capital’s two airports blockaded and Government House besieged. In addition to the billions of dollars of damage to the country’s economy, especially the tourism sector, the protests tarnished Thailand’s reputation in the international community and raised serious doubts as to the prospects of democracy in the kingdom.

According to Mr. Phongthep, nothing short of a fundamental change will bring meaningful peace to Thailand’s political landscape. “I think we have to bring back a system that is acceptable to most of the people. We have to bring back the system that is correct according to internationally accepted standards and we have to make the people in Thailand realize that we cannot just live in this country and do what we like without considering the ways that people should follow to live peacefully together,” he said.

For Mr. Phongthep, that means addressing the “unfair treatment” doled out on Mr. Thaksin and TRT. In addition, he believes the army should stay in the barracks where it belongs, and a government that works for everyone, not just the rich and privileged, should be established.

Mr. Phongthep blames the army for helping to bring down the last government, which was led by proxies of Mr. Thaskin. “Last year, the government couldn’t take action against people who committed very serious offenses because of a lack of cooperation from the bureaucracy, especially the military,” he said. He also accuses the army of putting pressure on one group of Mr. Thaksin’s allies, resulting in its defection to support the Democrat Party led by Mr. Abhisit.

Mr. Phongthep said reconciliation is needed. One possible route would be a pardon for King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The king enjoys enormous powers in Thailand, and on several occasions in the past has stepped in to avert political conflict.

Prime Minister Abhisit told the REVIEW he was open to the possibility of a reconciliation—but with some important caveats: “I think if Khun [Mr.] Thaksin would allow himself to be treated as any another Thai would—which is that he must be under the law—I think Thai society is a forgiving society but you have to accept your responsibilities first,” he said, adding that Mr. Thaksin should at least come back and respect the decision of the court. “I am very straightforward. I need to uphold the rule of law. And as I say, there are avenues to be explored in the future concerning reconciliation, but the need to uphold the system is more important. So it’s his choice.”

Whatever happens, Mr. Phongthep said Thailand must act to prevent a repeat of the tumultuous events of 2008, which he described as a year of anarchy where people were allowed to “do what they like” and “break the law” with impunity. The consequences of failure are stark, he warned. Without a solution, “People cannot live in this country peacefully and happily and the country cannot proceed and develop much according to her capability.”