Wednesday, 18 February 2009

High school students plan trip to Cambodia

2009-02-18

By RENATO GANDIA, SUN MEDIA

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Ali Johns and Niki Leung want to know more about the horrible effects of communist rule in Cambodia that created the infamous killing fields in Southeast Asia.

The Rundle College senior high school students and 18 others aren't satisfied learning from books and second-hand accounts about the effects of the country's violent past.

Next month, they are going to see how Cambodians have recovered from the rule of the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerilla group, in the mid-1970s.

"We're hoping to come back with more knowledge about a different country and culture," said Leung.

Johns said her group has been meeting for eight months and has been studying Cambodia's culture and history.

Teacher Sarah Dunsford initiated the trip after she was inspired by a talk about a project called Room to Read Cambodia and another NGO that provides humanitarian aid to the Asian country.

Every year, the school organizes an international trip for its Grade 11 students and Dunsford thought Cambodia is an apt choice for this year.

She hopes everyone who goes on the two-week trip learns to appreciate more the things they take for granted.

The students are raising money to support three NGOs: The Cambodian Children's Fund, Resource Development International and Room to Read Cambodia.

Cambodian official: ASEAN Charter opens new era

www.chinaview.cn
2009-02-18

PHNOM PENH, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- Ahead of the upcoming ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in late February, a Cambodian senior official has highlighted the importance of the ASEAN Charter, saying it opens a new era for ASEAN itself.

The Charter is important because it is designed for the first time to set common goal of ASEAN on how to play its profile, how to tackle problems in the framework as a legal binding, Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary of State for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

"It is also a good timing to do emphasis on the start of implementation despite the fact that the Charter was already adopted and ratified by all member states," he said.

Meanwhile, he said that ASEAN leaders will discuss how to tackle the global financial crisis during the summit.

"ASEAN needs to go forwards, and it needs good cooperation and unity of all member states while facing the global financial crisis," he said.

"Each ASEAN member state has its own policy on how to respond or curb with the current financial crisis, but since the crisis may impact one after another, it is a good forum that the ASEAN leaders get together plus its dialogue partners to discuss on the matter," he added.

Thailand is scheduled to host the 14th ASEAN summit from Feb. 27 to March 1.

Editor: Xiong Tong

Former Khmer Rouge Senior Leader Warns that Instability Might Happen During Duch’s Hearing Today - Tuesday 17.2.2009

Posted on 18 February 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 600

“On 17 February 2009, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia – ECCC – will hold a hearing for the cruel former Tuol Sleng Prison chief, Kaing Gek Eav, called Duch, who is responsible for the death of 16,000 people.

“Ahead of this hearing, a former senior Khmer Rouge military commander, Meas Mut, known as a son-in-law of the deceased [former Khmer Rouge military leader “the butcher”] Ta Mok, claimed that to call additional people to the court will lead to instability in Cambodia. However, some observers said that Prime Minister Hun Sen, head of the current government created by a package vote, will not let political instability to happen because of hearings of former senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

“Recently, the former chief of the Division 164 of the Khmer Rouge, Meas Mut, said that he used to control 20,000 troops of the Division 164 as well as 50,000 women and children at the Southwest Region. Meas Mut said late last week that he knew nothing about planned investigations of additional suspects besides the five people already detained in the special detention center of the tribunal, waiting for hearings over crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“Nevertheless, when asked about possible hearings of additional former Khmer Rouge leaders, Meas Mut said that “it will make Cambodia fall into instability again.” But Meas Mut did not give any details of how instability might occur. This retired military advisor said that he would appear at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal if he is accused. Meas Mut, who lives in Samlot in Battambang, seemed not worried about accusation by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

“It should be noted that in a book published in 2001 with the title “Seven Candidates for Prosecution,” written by Stephen Heder and Brian Tittemore, Meas Mut is considered to be an important suspect for the tribunal’s investigations, because there is evidence that Meas Mut sent some of his troops to the atrocious S-21 detention center in Phnom Penh during a time of internal purges in the Cambodian Communist Party. But Meas Mut denied two weeks ago that any of his troops were sent to the S-21 detention center, and he said there were no deaths of starvation and of diseases, while historians claim that it led to the deaths of more than 2 million people during the Khmer Rouge regime.

“Reacting to what Meas Mut said above, Khmer citizens living in Samlot, the last basis of Khmer Rouge forces, said that the arrest of Meas Mut will not cause instability to the nation. Some agree with this claim, because at present the leadership structure of the Khmer Rouge no longer exists. Therefore, they cannot gather forces to create social instability or to struggle in the forest as before.

“Besides warning about political instability, the former senior Khmer Rouge military commander Meas Mut said that he was ready to testify to the tribunal, and that he will not flee form prosecution. Ta Mok’s son-in-law pointed out, ‘I have nowhere to hide myself besides my home.’ Regarding the above problem, observers of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal’s process criticized Meas Mut’s claims as not worth for general consideration.

“Officials of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal said that the first hearing of the former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Gek Eav, called Duch, will happen on 17 February 2009 without further delay. But what is of concern is that the ECCC allows very few witnesses to attend that hearing, even though there are hundreds of people who applied to be civil plaintiffs. This makes those who filed to be civil plaintiffs disappointed, and they have little trust in Duch’s hearing.

“Non-government organizations that observe the process of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal said that few witnesses take part to put burden on the accused. This is not very good, because it might affect the seriousness of the punishment of the accused perpetrator. Therefore, the ECCC should allow many witnesses to attend the hearing on 17 February 2009, event though the ECCC does not allow all of them to question the accused. Important witnesses of Duch’s hearing are people such as former prisoners of the Tuol Sleng Prison, [the painter] Mr. Van Nath and Mr. Chum Mei, and they should be permitted to question Duch about crimes of killing people that he committed.

“Independent observers said that the first hearing of Duch on 17 February 2009 is a crucial step towards the hearings of the four other accused in the special detention center of the tribunal. The next person to be heard is expected to be the former president of the national assembly and Brother Number 2 of the killing field regime, Nuon Chea. Thus, if Duch’s hearing proceeds smoothly, hearings of other Khmer Rouge leaders might also continue smoothly without any obstacles. This is a problem that the United Nations and the Cambodian government should consider in order to help that the hearing of Kaing Gek Eav, called Duch, goes smoothly, so that the national and international opinions trust the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, plagued by a strong burden of corruption [allegations] again."

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.16, #3689, 17.2.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Trial and error in Cambodia

Asia Times Online

By Craig Guthrie
Feb 19, 2009

PHNOM PENH - Kaing Guek Eav, once the chief of Cambodia's Toul Sleng detention and torture center, was the first to face trial at the United Nations-sponsored Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT). With his headphones, glasses and computer screen in front of him, he seemed at Tuesday's procedural hearing more a graying professor than the torturer-in-chief of the Khmer Rouge's murderous regime.

Concerns are rising that this cadre will be the solitary figure to take the fall for the killing spree unleashed by the radical Maoist regime, which from 1975-79 presided over the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians. Better known as Duch, Kaing Guek Eav is the only defendant among the five accused to have confessed to crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder.

A swift end to the trial would presumably suit Prime Minister Hun Sen, who brought several former Khmer Rouge cadres into his government, and certain influential international donors, including China, who throughout the 1980s provided material support to the murderous regime.

With the thousands of documents meticulously recording the atrocities committed under Duch at Toul Sleng, which he left behind after fleeing Vietnamese forces that entered the capital in 1979, his conviction is expected to be less legally complicated than his higher-ranking fellow Khmer Rouge detainees.

The regime's surviving leaders now held at the KRT's detention facility - including former head of state Khieu Samphan, chief ideologue Noun Chea, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, and former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith - are all over 70 years old. "If the hearings are limited to Duch ... from being a charade, the tribunal will have descended into farce," Philip Short, the author of Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare told Asia Times Online.

Although more than 1,000 spectators, including journalists and film crews from around the world, have descended onto the court's buildings on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the trial is still in the procedural stage and proper hearings are not scheduled to begin until March.

Duch is no doubt a significant Khmer Rouge figure, but the casualties he oversaw at the Toul Sleng detention center, also known as S-21, account for less than 1% of the total deaths perpetuated by the regime. Duch was not a policymaker, but more a ruthless cadre who carried out orders from above - albeit with enthusiasm, according to Short. He once wrote on a prisoner list: "Kill them all, 30 May 1978." On another, containing the names of 29 prisoners, he wrote "Interrogate four persons, kill the rest."

The KRT investigation team's closing document on Duch, which was released in August 2008, revealed that 160 children were once executed in a single day at S-21 and that prisoners were subjected to medical experiments such as live autopsies and blood letting. One alleged method of killing, according to the closing order, involved dropping children from the roof of the detention center in order to break their necks.

Duch is believed to have fled to the Khmer Rouge's remaining strongholds on the Thai border after 1979, where top leaders were apparently angered at his failure to destroy the evidence left behind at S-21. Despite his public notoriety, questions about Duch's whereabouts were not resolved until British journalist Nic Dunlop discovered him working as a Christian aid worker in 1999.

It has been a tortuous, three-decade long road for the KRT to reach even these initial stages. Contradictions and arguments on the trial between the UN, the Cambodian government and outside legal observers have plagued the trial since its inception. Some have already characterized the proceedings as farce, while others contend any sense of justice would go a long way towards healing Cambodian society.

Some hope guilty verdicts will bring an end to Cambodia's notorious culture of impunity. Several international human rights organizations have over the last decade accused high-level Cambodian officials of involvement in everything from the child-sex and illegal logging trades to land-grabbing and political murders. The allegations have universally gone uninvestigated.

"The culture of impunity we see throughout Cambodia today is rooted in the irrefutable belief among its people that no crime is so great that it must be punished, and that whatever any Cambodian does is fine because it cannot possibly be worse than what the Khmer Rouge did," said Joseph Mussomeli, former US ambassador to Cambodia and a vocal supporter of the tribunal, in 2006.

Not all agree, however. Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights lobby, said that the trial has no chance of ending impunity in Cambodia. "After the trial there will still be too many killers on the loose and too many unanswered questions about what happened, who did it, and why ... There is no way for this limited number of trials to heal society," Adams said.

The murky nature of the Cambodian judicial system and its known links to Hun Sen has already left many questions hanging over the trial's credibility. Duch himself spent more than nine years detained without charge in a military prison before being transferred to the tribunal's detention facilities. Francois Roux, Duch's defense lawyer, has called this period of pre-trial detention "unacceptable".

Earlier government negotiations with the UN over the terms and structure of the trial ended with the world body finally agreeing that the court would be "hybrid", with decisions taken by both international and Cambodian judges. The bench's mixed nature has raised fears of both possible government interference and corruption in the legal process.

Given the charges leveled by the Open Society Justice Initiative, a non-governmental organization, that some Cambodian KRT staff were asked by top officials to pay part of their salaries to ensure their positions, these fears have to some been borne out.

Concerns also remain surrounding the capabilities and political independence of the Cambodian judges. Those were the arguments made by the US and European Union for withholding funding from the tribunal. According to local press reports, earlier this month the German government announced it was freezing funding until "corruption allegations are cleared up".

Complicit arbiter
Less critical focus has been given to the UN's credibility to oversee the trial. The UN gave the Khmer Rouge a seat on its General Assembly for 15 years after the regime's fall to Vietnamese forces in 1979. In that time, it also supported a Western-led trade embargo which stopped vital aid from moving into Cambodia and dealt a serious blow to the nation's economic development.

Observers have also questioned the US's role. Under former US president Ronald Reagan, financial and humanitarian assistance from the US to the Khmer Rouge grew. According to a 1998 edition of the US magazine Covert Action Quarterly, aid from the US’s Central Intelligence Agency and the government reached US$85 million by the end of the 1980s.

With the US still irked by its loss to communist forces in Vietnam, and China worried about Vietnamese expansionism in Southeast Asia, the two sides formed a bloc against Hanoi and the regime it installed in Phnom Penh. Khmer Rouge defectors told Australian journalist John Pilger that in the 1980s they were trained in Malaysia by British and American military advisors.

In the same Pilger report, an anonymous United Kingdom Ministry of Defense official told the Daily Telegraph at the time that Cambodia was "a classic Reagan and [former UK prime minister Margaret] Thatcher operation". Britain's Foreign Office's official response at the time was: "Britain does not give military aid in any form to the Cambodian factions".

Thatcher, wrote to the opposition leader Neil Kinnock: "I confirm that there is no British government involvement of any kind in training, equipping or cooperating with Khmer Rouge forces or those allied to them." Then on June 25, 1991, after two years of denials, the UK government admitted that the Special Air Service (SAS) had secretly trained the "resistance" since 1983. A report written by Rae McGrath, who later went on to share the Nobel Peace Prize for a campaign against landmines, filled in the details: the SAS had taught "the use of improvised explosive devices, booby traps and the manufacture and use of time-delay devices".

With some 15% of the population now affected by mines, according to 2007 Asia Development Bank figures, Cambodia remains one the most disabled nations in the world. Today, a visit to any of Cambodia's tourist areas quickly reveals the sheer magnitude of the effect that landmines, laid with Western and Chinese assistance, have had since the Khmer Rouge's fall.

China, as well as Singapore, gave covert military support to Pol Pot's jungle-based anti-government movement in the form of anti-tank weapons, mines and rifles in the years that followed the fall of the Khmer Rouge government in Phnom Penh. Meanwhile, the US, UK and neighboring Southeast Asian nations openly helped the insurgents diplomatically and with food aid.

Singapore's former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew said in his memoirs that as much as US$1.3 billion was spent by China, the US, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in support of the Khmer Rouge and other Cambodian rebels fighting the Vietnamese and allied government forces. American, Singaporean, Malaysian and Thai officials held regular meetings in Bangkok to coordinate the Cambodian aid program, Lee wrote in From Third World to First: The Singapore Story 1965-2000.

He said the Singapore representative "estimated that the United States dispensed a total of about $150 million in covert and overt aid to the non-communist groups, Singapore $55 million, Malaysia $10 million and Thailand a few million in training, ammunition, food and operational funds".

China has in the past lobbied against the KRT and even threatened in 1999 to use its veto power at the UN Security Council to block its establishment. China is now a large aid donor to Cambodia, with pledges of $1 billion in loans in 2008 for vast infrastructure projects, and has cultivated close ties to the Hun Sen government.

The absence of substantial US funding - it gave a meager $1.8 million 2008 - is also notable considering KRT representatives say they have received $100 million and need $143 million in total to run the tribunal. Some charge that the US's carpet bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War era effectively created the Khmer Rouge by giving the once-marginal movement credibility among the shell-shocked population.

Researchers Ben Kiernan and Owen Taylor found in 2005 that the bombing of rural Cambodia was five times the reported level, or more than the total allied bombing in World War II. They concluded that the bombing "drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had relatively little support until the bombing began".

"The question of whether the US should be facing charges of creating the Khmer Rouge depends on whether we accept the standards of Nuremberg, when US Chief Prosecutor Justice Robert Jackson said 'we are handing the defendants a poisoned chalice'," foreign policy observer Noam Chomsky told Asia Times Online by e-mail. "If we sip from it, we must pay the same price; otherwise the tribunal is a farce. Independent of consequences, the bombing of Cambodia surely ranks with the crimes of many of those accused at Nuremberg."

Although only the start of the legal wrangling to come, the morning of Tuesday's hearing was spent arguing over the right of a Toul Sleng victim's husband to represent his wife after her death. Some might say it is sad and symbolic that the tribunal's first task should be to decide the fate of yet another Cambodian for whom justice has arrived too late.

Craig Guthrie is a correspondent for Asia Times Online based in Thailand. He has covered Cambodian affairs since 2004.

Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Tribunal Ends Pretrial Proceedings

MySinchew
2009-02-18

PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA: A long-delayed Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal wrapped up its opening session Wednesday (18 Feb) with judges saying they still need to finalize a list of witnesses before announcing when a full trial of the former head of the regime's notorious torture center will begin.

Kaing Guek Eav _ better known as Duch _ is charged with crimes against humanity. He is the first of five defendants from the close-knit, ultra-communist regime that ruled Cambodia in the 1970s and turned it into a vast slave labor camp in which an estimated 1.7 million people perished.

Three decades after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the U.N.-assisted tribunal began a procedural session Tuesday (17 Feb) to lay the groundwork for a full trial expected in March. The precise date has not been set and details still need to be ironed out, including who will testify.

Judge Silvia Cartwright, a former New Zealand High Court judge, told the court that the tribunal's five judges met Wednesday in private to pare down the lists of proposed witnesses to "consider whether the testimony would be redundant or repetitious."

She said judges had agreed on about 30 of the witnesses proposed by lawyers for the prosecution, defense and civil parties. They dropped a handful of witnesses and postponed a decision on about 20 others. She did not say when a decision would be made.

Among those who are to be summoned to testify are British journalist Nic Dunlop, who discovered Duch in northwestern Cambodia in 1999. An American scholar, David Chandler, the author of several books on Cambodia, will also be asked to testify, the court said.

Duch oversaw the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh _ previously a school, now the Tuol Sleng genocide museum _ where some 16,000 men, women and children were detained and tortured. Only a handful survived.

Duch, 66, is the only defendant who has expressed remorse for his actions. He is accused of committing or abetting a range of crimes including murder, torture and rape. He did not address the court Tuesday but through his lawyer he again voiced regret.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch disappeared for two decades, living under two other names and converting to Christianity before he was located by Dunlop, the British journalist.

Judges also still need to decide whether to admit as evidence a short film shot by Vietnamese soldiers when they entered Tuol Sleng prison in Jan 1979 after toppling the Khmer Rouge.
The film, which shows decapitated bodies and previously unknown child survivors, was only released by Vietnam in Dec.

Co-prosecutor Chea Leang said the film provided "crucial" new facts and urged judges to admit it as evidence.

One of Duch's defense lawyers, Car Savuth, argued that the film was manufactured by the Vietnamese. He said orders had been given to kill all prisoners so there could not have been child survivors when the Vietnamese arrived.

"There were no children at S-21 _ they were all executed," Duch's lawyer said, arguing that the film was "politically motivated to disguise the truth."

Duch's trial began 13 years after the tribunal was first proposed and nearly three years after the court was inaugurated.

The tribunal, which incorporates mixed teams of foreign and Cambodian judges, prosecutors and defenders, has drawn sharp criticism. Its snail-paced proceedings have been plagued by political interference from the Cambodian government as well as allegations of bias and corruption.

Others facing trial are Khieu Samphan, the group's former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs; and Nuon Chea, the movement's chief ideologue.

All four have denied committing crimes.

(By SOPHENG CHEANG/ AP)

Cambodia's KRouge trial enters second day

Former Khmer Rouge prison commander, 66-year-old Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, at the opening of his trial before the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penhl. The court debated lists of witnesses to Khmer Rouge atrocities Wednesday during the second day of proceedings against the 1970s regime's torture chief.(AFP/Pool/Adrees Latif)

Wed Feb 18

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court debated lists of witnesses to Khmer Rouge atrocities Wednesday during the second day of proceedings against the 1970s regime's torture chief.

Kaing Guek Eav, better known by the alias Duch, could be seen leaning back in his courtroom chair as lawyers presented lists and filed applications to give new evidence in his trial for crimes against humanity.

"There's greater understanding of how the trial will unfold and what are the objectives of various parties," tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis told reporters at the court.

The court formally opened Duch's trial on Tuesday and is holding an initial procedural hearing lasting two to three days.

Jarvis estimated that substantive hearings with witness testimony would begin in late March.

Duch has taken responsibility for his iron-fisted rule at the notorious in Phnom Penh, where he is accused of presiding over the deaths of 15,000 men, women and children.

is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and premeditated murder and faces a life sentence. The tribunal cannot impose the death penalty.

He has previously expressed regret for his crimes but has said that he was acting under orders from leaders of the 1975-1979 communist Khmer Rouge.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge rose to power as a tragic spinoff from the US conflict in Vietnam, emptying Cambodia's cities to take society back to a rural "Year Zero."

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation and overwork under the movement. The Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnamese-backed forces in January 1979 while Pol Pot died in 1998.

has been delayed by legal arguments and bail hearings, and has faced controversy over allegations of political interference by the government over the prosecution of further suspects.

The government of Cambodian premier Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge fighter, has been accused of trying to protect former the regime's ex-cadres from justice.

Cambodians finally witness start of Khmer Rouge trial

Adrees Latif
Kaing Guek Eav (L), also known as Duch, awaits the start of his trial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia February 17. Duch, the ex-commandant of the notorious S-21 prison and chief Khmer Rouge ...


National Post
Peter Goodspeed
Published: Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Decades of war, mass murder, famine, terror and grinding poverty have left a legacy of pain but little justice in Cambodia. But on Tuesday, Cambodians finally witnessed the start of the first-ever trial of a senior Khmer Rouge leader involved in murdering 1.5 million people.

Kaing Guek Eav, 66, known as "Duch" when he supervised the Tuol Sleng torture centre, appeared before a United Nations-assisted court in an old army barracks on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, charged with crimes against humanity in 1975-79.

The former high school math teacher is the first of five Khmer Rouge defendants scheduled to go on trial a full 30 years after their alleged crimes and 13 years after the international community began to press Cambodia to bring the perpetrators of one of history's worst cases of genocide to account.

But while dozens of Khmer Rouge victims were among the hundreds of people who stood in line to get seats, there is little indication they will obtain justice anytime soon.

Tuesday's hearing merely established a schedule for Duch's trial, which is expected to begin in earnest in late March when prosecutors for the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia plan to produce 33 witnesses over 40 days.

No one doubts the horror of "Pol Pot Time," when a fanatical agrarian communist revolution based on Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution emptied Cambodia's cities, tried to destroy its culture and tortured, starved, executed and worked 1.5 million people -- 20% of the population -- to death.

Although Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge lasted only three years, eight months and 20 days, the pace of international justice has been much, much slower.

Duch, a recent convert to Christianity, has expressed remorse for his actions but insists he was acting "under orders" when he supervised the torture and deaths of nearly 20,000 prisoners.

No dates have been set yet for the trials of the other Khmer Rouge leaders -- Khieu Samphan, former head of state; Ieng Sary, the foreign minister; his wife, Ieng Thirith, minister for social affairs; and Nuon Chea, "Brother No. 2," the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologue and senior surviving member.

Pol Pot cheated justice by dying in April, 1998.

The cause was reportedly a heart attack, but rumours persist he was allowed to commit suicide to avoid being tried.

Since then, attempts to prosecute the Khmer Rouge have been plagued by political interference, allegations of corruption and lack of funding, along with bickering between Cambodian and international lawyers.

Originally the United Nations asked the Cambodian government to arrest and try up to 30 top Khmer Rouge leaders before an international tribunal.

But Hun Sen, Cambodia's Prime Minister, is a former Khmer Rouge commander who only broke with the group when he was about to be swallowed by its genocide. He has regularly dismissed calls for an international tribunal, saying prosecutions might plunge the country into civil war.

A decade of tortuous negotiations finally led, three years ago, to the establishment of a hybrid court with 17 Cambodian and 12 international judges.

One of the problems in collecting evidence was the ruthless efficiency of the Khmer Rouge killing machine.

Anyone with an education was targeted for death. Simply wearing eye-glasses or speaking a foreign language was a cause for execution.

Most Cambodians were made to work 20 hours a day in rural concentration camps and received only a handful of rice daily. Doctors, lawyers and intellectuals were earmarked for elimination. Many of them died in Tuol Sleng, a converted high school compound in a poor residential district in southern Phnom Penh.

Originally known as Tuol Svay Prey, it was taken over in 1976 and turned into a prison. Renamed Tuol Sleng (Hill of the Poison Tree), it became the Khmer Rouge's central interrogation and torture centre, with inmates being tortured and executed in the former classrooms.

There was nothing sophisticated about the Khmer Rouge. They usually beat their victims to death with clubs, hooks, sharpened farm implements and whips made from coiled electrical wire.

Today, Tuol Sleng is a macabre museum to their cruelty, with the walls of some classrooms decorated with photographs of the thousands of people who died there.

The black and white pictures were taken just moments before their execution and show faces filled with terror and hopelessness.

More than 5,000 of them have no names, mainly because no one who knew the victims was left alive to identify them.

The international community set aside US$170-million over five years to conduct the genocide prosecutions, but the Cambodian government is still doing everything it can to restrict the scope of the trials.

Last month, Robert Petit, a Canadian lawyer and co-prosecutor with the special tribunal, submitted the names of six former Khmer Rouge leaders, saying he had enough evidence to charge them with crimes against humanity.

But his Cambodian counterpart objected to charging anyone else, not on legal grounds, but because she claimed new charges risked destabilizing the country and would cost too much.

The Hun Sen government insists it agreed to "only a small number of trials" to satisfy international opinion.

This week, Human Rights Watch issued a statement declaring, "The tribunal cannot bring justice to the millions of the Khmer Rouge's victims, if it tries only a handful of the most notorious individuals, while scores of former Khmer Rouge officials and commanders remain free."

The sluggish progress of Cambodia's genocide trials doesn't bode well for Darfur, Sudan, as judges at the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague are said to be prepared to indict Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's President.

A master of delaying tactics, Mr. Bashir's government suddenly announced Tuesday it reached "an agreement of good intentions" to negotiate a ceasefire with Darfur's largest rebel group, the Justice & Equality Movement.

The diplomatic breakthrough appears to offer the international community an unpleasant Cambodian-style choice between justice or peace.

National Post

Memories of evil stir as Duch trial opens

Photo by: AFP/POOL
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, faces court Tuesday on the first day of his trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra and Cat Barton
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

First prosecution of former Khmer Rouge leader gives many regime victims an uneasy look back into the past, but also a glimpse of hope.


VANN Nath, perhaps one of the Khmer Rouge regime's most famous survivors, has waited decades for the trial of his former tormentor, Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav.

As the landmark event began Tuesday, Vann Nath, who was one of only a handful to walk out of the torture centre after the regime was toppled in 1979, said: "I have been waiting for this day for 30 years and now the day is here".

"Last night, I did not sleep well because I was thinking a lot about my time at Tuol Sleng," added Vann Nath, who was spared execution because of artistic abilities, which his jailors put to use painting portraits of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.

"I dreamed about going to the Khmer Rouge tribunal to join this hearing because it is very important for all people," he said.

For many victims, the opening of the trial at the UN-backed court marks the hoped-for end of a long wait for an explanation and an apology for their suffering.

"I lost all my relatives in the regime. I am an orphan," said Kuch Gnorn, 50, now a monk.

"I really want to know why the Khmer Rouge killed their own people. It makes me angry - so much violence in this Buddhist country of Cambodia," he added.

Francois Roux, the French lawyer representing the 66-year-old former maths teacher-turned-torturer, said his client, who is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, would like to answer his victims.

Kaing Guek Eav, who is better known as Duch, "would like to apologise to victims, but not today," Roux said after the hearing.

"He will apologise not only to victims of S-21 but to all Cambodians. He will explain everything, but ... in the future. So I make the request to victims, please, don't close the door yet."

Though largely procedural, with no witness testimony or statements from Duch, Tuesday's hearing still brought long-buried emotions to the surface for many in attendance.

Luch Bunthort, 54, from Kampong Thom province, who had travelled to the court, said: "I have been waiting for this hearing for years. I never thought that it would happen. ... I lost three members of my family during the regime".

Later in the day, the sky above rained for the first time after a long dry season, which many interpreted as a portent of the sorrow opening up old wounds.

"Cambodians everywhere are crying," court spokesman Reach Sambath told the Post.

Dredging up old memories for the new trial, even in the name of finding closure, comes with attendant risks.

"I hope that survivors who do attend or who watch the hearings or read about them in papers understand that everything is not going to be solved [Tuesday]," said Sara Colm, of Human Rights Watch.

"This kind of hearing can re-open old wounds so ... I'm thinking about the victims, and I hope the beginning of the proceedings delivers justice for them in their minds and their hearts," she said, adding that proper support - from friends, family or professional organisations - was essential for victims.

But many observers still question what the trial will ultimately achieve.

"On the one hand, it is good that the trials are finally commencing. But why start with Duch, who was a cog, albeit a willing cog, in a machine created and ordered by others?" asked historian Philip Short, author of Pol Pot: History of a nightmare.

"And why try Duch when all the KR Zone secretaries, the district chiefs ... the local chhlorp leaders, and so many others whose hands are steeped in murder, are not going to face any kind of justice? The politically imposed double standard is flagrant," he added.

For Short, the trials of [leaders] Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan will be far more important than Duch's trial, in that they - and particularly the first two - were in the top echelons of the leadership that created the KR machine.

"Duch may cast light on how the machine operated. Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary, if they choose to do so, could cast light on why it operated that way. That said, I don't have any great hopes that either will reveal, except inadvertently, much truth about what they did," he said.

Prosecution again mounts legal challenge on first day of Duch trial

Photo by: Vinh Dao/ Melon Rouge
A tribunal security official guides one of the civil parties past the throng of journalists gathered Tuesday for the opening of Duch's trial. Vinh dao/melon rouge



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit urges court to consider application of joint criminal enterprise, as defence calls client's 9-year pretrial detention a rights violation.

THE trial of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav opened Tuesday with legal challenges from both the prosecution and defence, including a bid to employ a controversial legal doctrine that could widen the scope of the proceedings.

Lawyers for Kaing Guek Eav, who is better known by his revolutionary name Duch, said they intended to appeal their client's detention, saying that his imprisonment since 1999 - Duch was first held in military prison before being transferred to the tribunal's custody in July 2007 - is a violation of his basic human rights.

"The accused has been in pretrial detention for nine years, nine months and seven days until today [Tuesday]," said Duch's international lawyer, Francois Roux.

"This is unacceptable ... a person cannot be kept in pretrial detention for more than three years under Cambodian law."

International Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit told court judges that his team would again push for the legal concept of joint criminal enterprise to be applied to Duch's case, a move with potentially far-reaching implications on other cases before the tribunal.

Joint criminal enterprise, which was rejected by tribunal judges in December, opens the possibility of several defendants who had acted as a group facing a single charge.

The move has sent a shudder of alarm through the defence teams of the four other Khmer Rouge leaders in detention, who say that their clients could be unfairly prosecuted for crimes committed by Duch.

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THE FACTS ... SUPPORT THE USE OF JCE BECAUSE OF THE WAY THESE CRIMES WERE COMMITTED.
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But Petit said the doctrine, known as JCE, was the only way to bring the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge fully into account.

JCE is "the best way to evaluate these kinds of crimes" committed on a mass scale by a regime, Petit told reporters after Tuesday's hearing.

"I believe the facts in this case support the use of JCE because of the way these crimes were committed," he added.

Legal experts have heralded the first day of trials as a promising beginning for proceedings that are likely to confront some of the darkest chapters in Cambodia's history - expressing hope that prosecutorial challenges may impel the court to reveal even more about the regime.

"JCE could show why Tuol Sleng was important - Duch was just one prison head amongst many other prison heads, so I think they want to use JCE to explain the role of Tuol Sleng as it connected to the centre and the hierarchy. They want to show what role Duch played [in the regime]," Anne Heindell, of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said.

"I think they want to use JCE because they feel they can only tell the full story of Duch if they show how he was connected [to the regime itself]," she added.

The legal doctrine was dismissed by the pretrial chamber after judges deemed the prosecutors' evidence "too vague".

But experts believe it could still be considered applicable by the trial chamber.

Michelle Staggs Kelsall, a court monitor for the East-West Centre, also said that using joint criminal enterprise would not further stall the trials, which have been plagued by delays as the UN-backed court battles budget woes and corruption allegations.

"Judges would likely consider the issue concurrently to the testimonies of witnesses, which would mean it would not necessarily cause delays," she said.

Market-closure protest gains first lady pledge: vendor

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Vendors of Sereipheap Market protest on Monday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Tithara
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Bun Rany deploys personal bodyguards to protect the city's Sereipheap Market from demolition and development.

VENDORS at Phnom Penh's Sereipheap Market say they have received a promise from the wife of Prime Minister Hun Sen that the market will not be closed.

Vendors protested outside the prime minister's house after the market's owner sent a letter ordering them to vacate their stalls by Wednesday or face potentially violent consequences.

Reun Koun Thy, one of the vendors, said that Bun Rany had spoken directly to them. The vendors had spent the night sleeping outside Hun Sen's house in the hope that he would take an interest in their case.

"She said she would not allow the market owner to close the market tomorrow, and she would allow her bodyguards to protect the market until tomorrow," Reun Koun Thy said Tuesday.

Bun Rany advised the vendors to find a lawyer and sue the owner, Lim Kimpheng, in the Municipal Court for breach of contract, vendors said.

Another vendor, Srey Chea, said vendors had a 25-year lease that the owner wanted to break after just 13 years.

"We want to ask the prime minister to help us enforce our right to have a business until the end of the contract because the prime minister used to say that no markets should be closed down," she said.

Keo Sakol, the chief of Veal Vong commune, in which the market stands, said Lim Kimpheng wanted to build housing on the site.

"The owner should pay compensation to the vendors and not allow them to move on empty-handed," she said.

Lim Kimpheng could not be reached for comment, but vendors said that he had started to demolish shops in mid-January, whenthe market had 300 shops.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Map Sarin was also unavailable for comment
.

Residents concerned over expansion of troubled Hanoi Road

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay channyda
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Claims the road construction is far exceeding its original plans, eating up residents' land, with no compensation packages in place.

RESIDENTS living in the vicinity of a municipal road expansion project in Sen Sok district (formerly Russei Keo district) claim they have been offered no compensation from City Hall, despite standing to lose houses and property to the construction project.

Residents of Sen Sok's Phnom Penh Thmey and Teok Thla communes told the Post the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship highway - more popularly known as Hanoi Road - is currently undergoing an expansion that residents say will see it nearly double in width along some sections of its length.

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IF they takeup 15 meters, my house will be taken and i will have nowhere to live.
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Notices issued by Russei Keo district Governor Khlaing Huot in May and December asked residents living in the project area to move fences, houses and any street stalls to accommodate the road's expansion to a width of eight metres.

But Phnom Penh Thmey resident Tey Narin said that the municipality had recently told residents to leave 15 metres clearance for the project.

"The old road is already seven metres wide. If they want to expand it to eight metres, they will take only one metre more and my house will not be affected," he said. "But if they take up 15 metres, my house will be taken and I will have nowhere to live."

He said that some families had already given up part of their land for the road expansion, but that others did not agree.

"I will not remove until there is compensation," he said.

Grand designs

Kong Sambo, Phnom Penh Thmey commune deputy chief, said Tuesday that the 2008 notices were outdated, and that current plans aimed to expand the road "up to 30 metres in width", constituting 22 metres of road surface and eight metres for drainage systems.

He said that the first kilometre of the four-kilometre expansion had alread been finished, and that people were happy with the results and willing to give up part of their land for the project.

Kong Sambo added that only 30 houses were "partly affected", while three or four houses will be swallowed entirely because they sat on small plots close to the new road.

"The project will affect people, but we have forwarded the matter to the municipality to find solutions for them," he said.

But Sek Sovanna, a lawyer for the Community for Legal Education Centre (CLEC), which is representing the residents, said that as many as 90 houses along the road had been affected by the project, including concrete and wooden houses that some people have lived in since 1979.

She said that the authorities' plans would have no effect on any residents' houses if they stuck to the original plans. "What they are implementing is over the limit of the project," she said.

CLEC lawyers filed an injunction at the Municipal Court on Tuesday to halt the construction and file complaints to City Hall, but have not yet received a response, Sek Sovanna said.

Renakse manager a no-show at hearings

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara and Robbie Corey-Boulet
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

THE former manager of the Hotel Renakse made good on her vow to skip two Phnom Penh Municipal Court hearings Tuesday pertaining to the fate of the hotel, both of which went ahead as scheduled.

One hearing was part of Kem Chantha's case to save the hotel from demolition, which she filed shortly after police and officials, wielding a court order stating that the French colonial-era building had fallen into an unacceptable state of disrepair, evicted guests and staff on January 6 and barred Kem Chantha herself from the premises.

The other was part of the ruling Cambodian People's Party lawsuit claiming that her 49-year lease on the hotel should be voided because she failed to maintain it.

Khiev Sepphan, the CPP lawyer handling the dispute, said he presented evidence at both hearings.

Kem Chantha has repeatedly said she does not believe the court can resolve the dispute fairly because the company director of Alexson Inc, which purchased the hotel for US$3.8 million, is married to the nephew of Ke Sakhorn, the court's deputy director who issued the January 6 order.

She said she plans to ask officials to form an "independent committee" to evaluate the safety of the hotel.

"If they find it is in poor condition and want to break it down, I would like to ask permission from the government to construct a new building," she said. "But if it is not damaged, then they should give control of it back to me."

First lady rails against rise of racy images and fashion

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
A teenager reads a magazine at a news stand in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. The prime minister's wife, Bun Rany, has lashed out at magazines running ‘pornographic' photos of women in ‘sexy' clothes, saying it damages morality.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Latest bout fits into Bun Rany's larger multi-front crusade against elements she says degrade country's social mores and popularise bad behaviour.

FIRST lady Bun Rany on Monday railed against the proliferation of racy images of women and blamed the Ministry of Information for failing to stamp them out.

"The Ministry of Information has to close magazines that have pornography in order to avoid letting them have a bad impact on readers," she said at the annual meeting of the National Committee on the Promotion of Morality, Women and Family Values in Phnom Penh.

"If we all cooperate, we can reduce problems in our country such as rape and banditry."

Bun Rany, who is head of the Red Cross in Cambodia, also said film stars and singers dressed in revealing clothing were encouraging youth to don inappropriate fashion.

In particular, the first lady blamed the Ministry of Information for not enforcing laws prohibiting the publication of pornographic images.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said his office has previously ordered certain publications to stop publishing "sexy" pictures, but one magazine had ignored the order.

He had shied away from a strong crackdown in the past, however, since it would unfairly stunt the magazine's business prospects, he said.

"We have not fined them because we understand they want to make good business, and using sexy pictures helps them do that," he said.

"But they are overdoing it, so now we have to take action."

According to Sy Define, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Women's Affairs, business interests should not come at the expense of moral standards.

"Some businesses only care about their profile and don't care about the social impact of what they do," she said. "So the Ministry of Information needs to control them and press them harder so they are afraid."

A determined fight

Bun Rany has long crusaded against images, lyrics, health programs, technology and individuals that, she says, compromise the social mores of the Kingdom.

In December of last year, she warned HIV/Aids campaigners that distributing free condoms may stimulate the nation's sexual appetite,

claiming traditional moral practices, such as abstaining from sex until marriage, are more useful tools in the global fight against Aids.

She called for a ban in February 2008 on a song titled "Give Me a Portion of Your Heart", which referred to an adulterous relationship, on TV stations and urged Phnom Penh authorities to inspect nightclubs with reputations for violence and escort services.

In 2006, she spearheaded an effort among the wives of senior officials to ban video phones, citing concerns the video technology would be used to send pornography.

That year she also had a female presenter taken off the Cambodian Television Network for wearing a backless dress.

Crime: Charges in karaoke shooting

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

CRIME

A 32-year-old military police official was charged in Koh Kong provincial court Monday with attempted murder and use of an illegal weapon following a shooting Friday night at a karaoke bar in Koh Kong town, Provincial Deputy Prosecutor Huot Thy told the Post Tuesday. Provincial Deputy Police Chief Sin Sen said the official, Sam Nang, and an accomplice became involved in a "verbal dispute" with karaoke girls at Rasmey Makara's Hotel and Karaoke late Friday night that led to Sam Nang firing 10 shots inside the establishment, one of which hit the owner's son in the leg. Roughly 50 police and military police were deployed early Saturday morning to arrest the two men from their third-floor room at the Koh Kong City Hotel. Police seized two guns and a Toyota Land Cruiser belonging to the men, Sin Sen said.

General Ke Kim Yan takes aim at media over arrest rumours

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath and Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Former armed forces commander-in-chief denies incarceration by military police, blames media for publishing inaccurate reports.

FORMER army chief General Ke Kim Yan has slammed local media outlets for reporting his arrest by military police, dismissing the rumours and accusing them of "incitement" and attempting to "stir up trouble" politically.

On Monday, the Khmer Nation quoted an anonymous senior government official as confirming that Ke Kim Yan had been arrested and detained at Military Police Headquarters on Sunday, nearly a month after he was unceremoniously removed from his post as commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.

In good health

When contacted by the Post Tuesday, however, Ke Kim Yan said he was "in good health" and criticised local news outlets for announcing that he had been arrested and summoned to court along with General Chhin Chanpor, another casualty of last month's military reshuffle.

"Journalists just write stories to incite and to stir up problems," he said. "Who has spread this information?"

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, confirmed that Ke Kim Yan's supposed arrest was no more than a "rumour", accusing the media of reproducing hearsay without official confirmation.

"They are making this up. We have verified nothing," he said. "The press should stop hearing one thing and then passing it on. It is not good for [their] professionalism."

RCAF Commander-in-Chief Pol Saroeun said Tuesday that he had not read reports of his predecessor's arrest and could not comment.

Ke Kim Yan was removed from his post on January 22 in a wide-ranging military shake-up that saw the elevation of General Pol Saroeun to the head of the military and the appointment of seven new deputy commanders-in-chief.

Rumours of Ke Kim Yan's arrest come amid separate reports authorities are preparing to investigate thousands of hectares of land allegedly owned by the general in Stung Treng province.

Prime minister says anti-corruption law not a 'magic pill'

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Speaking at the Business Roundtable in Siem Reap, Hun Sen says the law will only be introduced once the penal code is in place.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen told an international conference in Siem Reap on Monday that the long-delayed anti-corruption law would not be introduced before the penal code was in place.

He said the penal code had been approved by the Council of Ministers and would next be presented to the National Assembly for approval. He said the law would follow soon after but gave no concrete timeline as to when it might be introduced.

Speaking at the Business Roundtable - a gathering of government officials, business leaders and investors - Hun Sen told delegates that the anti-corruption law would not solve the problem of graft on its own.

"The anti-corruption law will not be a magic pill that will eliminate corruption," he said. "But the government does not need to wait for this law on anti-corruption because punishment of those who act illegally is already written into all issued laws."

The introduction of the law has long been a priority for NGOs and donors to the Kingdom. A recent report by the umbrella group NGO Forum on Cambodia complained that there had been even less of an effort to combat corruption in 2008 than there had been the previous year.

Benefits of the law

Sek Borisoth, director of the anti-corruption program at the NGO Pact, said the law would only be meaningful if it was enforced.

Heang Rithy, president of the Cambodian National Research Organisation, said transparency and accountability were essential in democratic countries. Proper enforcement of an anti-corruption law, he said, is necessary for combating graft.

"All of our leaders must have the will to ensure this law is effectively enforced," he said. "An anti-corruption law is very important in helping to change a poor country into a developed country."

"We have seen that those countries that have cut corruption by 70 to 80 percent always develop and progress," he said. "When we have an anti-corruption law, we will have justice in society."

From Russia to the forests of Mondulkiri, with love

Photo by: PHOTO SUPPLIED
Maggie, a German Wirehaired Pointer, recently arrived in Cambodia to track tigers.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sarah Whyte
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Maggie, fresh from the freezing cold of the Russian winter, will help local officials track endangered Indochinese tigers.

WITH Valentine's Day 2009 already a distant memory, single men in Cambodia might be interested in meeting Maggie: an intelligent Russian female, a quick learner with a fantastic nose, who is known by those who meet her as being a very loyal companion.

A German Wirehaired Pointer, Maggie has undergone a training program to help her track endangered Indochinese tigers at Mondulkiri province's Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area, a site managed jointly by the Forestry Administration and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

With experience tracking tigers in Russia and training from Linda Kerley, a Russian consultant to WCS, Maggie will be expected to sniff up to 3,000 square kilometres of nature reserve for droppings of the endangered cat, which has not been spotted in the area since 2007.

"Maggie was used for scent training in Russia and will be able to match the scent of the scats with the Indochinese tiger," said Hannah O'Kelly, a WCS wildlife monitoring adviser.

"The droppings found by Maggie will be sent away for analysis, which will indicate how many tigers there are in the province. The analysis will provide the number of tigers and their health and habits just by collecting the scats."

The "tiger detection dog" project is funded by WCS and Panthera, a global wild cat conservation group, as part of the regional "Tigers Forever" initiative, which has invested US$30,000 to bring Maggie and another pooch to work in Cambodia for a year.

But having just arrived from Russia's frosty climate, Maggie is still struggling with Cambodia's humid weather.

"We have been trying to get Maggie acclimatised to the heat," O'Kelly said.

"We previously conducted some research to ensure she would be comfortable ... but we definitely don't want to rush her into the work."

O'Kelly said most of the work would be restricted to the dry season, and that they were hopeful of confirming local sightings of the animal.

"We'll be working right up to the wet season and then continuing on until the end of next year's dry season," she said.

"We're hopeful of finding some traces of these tigers. We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't at least hopeful."

Garment exports grew 7pc last year, says govt

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Workers at a garment factory outside of Phnom Penh. Garment exports increased seven percent in 2008, government figures showed, to US$3.15 billion.


Trade deficit increases
Cambodia’s trade reached US$10.2 billion in 2008, up from $9.5 billion in 2007, according to the Ministry of Commerce, but overall the Kingdom recorded an increased trade deficit, up to $1.8 billion in 2008. In 2007, the trade deficit was $1.33 billion, government figures show, after imports grew from $5.4 million to $6 million in the same period. The largest buyer of Cambodian exports was the United States at $2.3 billion in 2008, up from $1.8 billion in 2007; followed by the European Union at $851 million in 2008, up from $649 million in 2007.

MAY KUNMAKARA

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab and Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Latest figures show overseas revenue in 2008 reached US$3.15 billion as sector looks to emerging markets to continue growth amid global slump

NEW figures show that the value of garment exports crept up around seven percent to US$3.15 billion last year. The Ministry of Commerce's 2008 report said the US was again the biggest market, worth US$1.95 billion.

Garments are the Kingdom's largest export and account for around three-quarters of export earnings, figures showed.

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said the $213 million increase in garment exports was encouraging in the face of the global crisis.

"Our garment industry is still in a good position because we are able to maintain big purchase orders in the international market, despite the fact that the world has been facing a global financial crisis since late 2008," he said.

Van Sou Ieng, president of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), an industry body, agreed the figures were positive. However, he remained concerned for 2009: "I think the value of garment exports will drop further in the first quarter of 2009, but I don't believe it will drop dramatically," he said.

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I THINK THE VALUE OF GARMENT EXPORTS WILL DROP FURTHER IN THE FIRST QUARTER
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GMAC is also concerned that some buyers might cancel orders or be unable to pay for their orders if the economic downturn continues. Kaing Monika, GMAC's external affairs manager, said the trade body had heard that some US retailers had closed.

"Provided the market returns to normal, things could improve further," she said. "But that could take a long time because our biggest market [the US] is facing a serious crisis."

The second-largest market for garment exports is the European Union. Exports to there increased to $631 million last year from $599 million. Kaing Monika said the country could benefit from duty-free access to the EU market provided it met the requirement of sourcing all of its raw materials from the Asean region. Kang Chandararot, director at the Cambodia Institute for Development Study, said the industry continued to suffer from problems with quality, productivity, raw materials and poor infrastructure.

Chandararot said 2008 had been tough but felt things would improve as the government helped seek out new markets such as Russia, Japan and the Middle East.

"If we can access these new markets, we will be able to save our garment exports to some extent," he said.

GMAC stated that the country would export 10,000 jackets and 100,000 pairs of shoes to Japan early this year. But exports to Russia realistically won't begin for three years. Negotiations to export to Russia under the zero-tariff rate were concluded last year, but the deal won't become effective until Russia joins the World Trade Organisation, an event that has been delayed due to disputes with other WTO members.

Air cargo faces tough 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Air cargo companies report up to 40 percent less business in January

CAMBODIA'S air-freight volumes dropped sharply in January, with industry sources reporting 40 percent to 50 percent declines on 2008.

Bangkok Airways said air cargo volumes decreased about 34 percent at the end of January compared to 2008, with revenue down 40 percent - a decline of US$148,000, said Ekkaphon Nanta-O-Sot, deputy communication manager.

"The economic slowdown is having a strong effect on the cargo business," he said. Bangkok Airways, which operates two daily flights from Phnom Penh, said that it is increasing its service to Cambodia despite the slowdown. "We see potential in this market," he said.

The declines in Cambodia come on the back of a global drop in cargo traffic, with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reporting a 22.6-percent drop for December 2008 compared to the same period in 2007. IATA, which represents 230 airlines worldwide, said that Asia Pacific carriers were the worst performers, showing a 26-percent decline in December 2008, and a 9.7-percent drop in total traffic.

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The economic slowdown is having a strong effect on the cargo business.
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The Asia Pacific accounts for 26 percent of total international cargo shipments, IATA said.

Cambodia's air cargo industry is especially dependent on the garment industry with 88 percent of Cambodia's exports coming from the sector alone, according to the World Bank.

"Orders are down about 40 percent over last year," said Lee Thai Kit, a spokesman for June Textile, a Phnom Penh garment factory. Lower margins are also pushing factories to favour cheaper sea cargo in place of air freight services, he said, adding that air freight costs run at $3.50 to $4 per kilogram.

A major Phnom Penh freight forwarding company reported air shipments were down more than 50 percent this year. Samdy Smith, managing director of CamFright Services blamed most of the decline on falling garment exports.

"2009 is shaping up to be one of the toughest years ever for international aviation," said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA director general and CEO, in a statement

Navigating the tourism downturn

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Minister of Tourism Thong Khon says there is still potential for growth in the travel sector over the next two years.

Tourism sector Stimulus
Following a meeting with the travel industry Friday to discuss strategies to help the industry weather the global financial storm, Tourism Minister Thong Khon will meet with Minister of Finance Keat Chhon today. The two ministries will decide whether the government coffers can withstand a host of proposals designed to stimulate the flagging tourism sector, among them the proposed scrapping of tourism visas, a measure that the industry has supported to boost traveller numbers. Nevertheless, US$20 travel visas are a lucrative source of state finances – more than two million tourists visited the Kingdom in 2008. Tourist-visa revenue was therefore more than $40 million last year, money that would be lost should travel visas be abolished. Other proposals include increasing flights and lowering Angkor Wat entry fees.
MAY KUNMAKARA

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Figures suggest that the global economic crisis has already hit Cambodia’s tourism sector, but Tourism Minister Thong Khon says there is no need for the travel industry to start panicking

In an interview with the Post, Minister of Tourism Thong Khon reflects on the further development of Cambodia's tourism sector during what will be a difficult period, given that many potential travellers in the West are now suffering from the financial crisis. With the tourism sector already showing signs it has been hit, Cambodia is now trying to develop strategies to deal with the slump, the minister says.

What strategies and plans do you have for developing the tourism sector in Cambodia during the global financial crisis?

First we must find out the effect of the global financial crisis as clearly as possible. We know that the financial crisis is having a negative affect on the income of travellers in many countries.

The income of people in the United States and in Europe has also been affected, which shortens their trips. There was a decline in the number of tourists in Europe in 2008, and this problem has also spread to Asia.

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The first thing we have to do is boost the number of regional tourists.
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Seeing the above problem, we have decided to choose strategies to attract tourists in the region during this year and the future. This does not mean that we will forget tourists from the US and Europe.

The first thing we have to do is boost the number of regional tourists by introducing a simple travelling process for them, including the facilitation of visa documents for getting in and out of Cambodia.... We have already highlighted the need for visas with countries like Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Brunei.

It is only Thailand and Indonesia that we have not dealt with yet. We will solve this problem by 2010. Apart from that, we are also trying to facilitate transportation services by allowing automobiles to cross the border for one week by just showing a valid customs document. We want to let in 150 automobiles, both passenger carriers and goods vehicles, from countries that have land borders with us so that travellers can cross the border, in and out of our country, every day.

We also haven't forgotten to boost cheap flights that connect to the region.

To what extent can the above perspective help increase visitors to Cambodia?

According to our ... strategies as mentioned above, we hope that there will be more travellers. We expect to increase the number of tourists by five percent to seven percent on top of the 2.15 million visitors we received in 2008.

On what basis can you make such projections?

We will create a competition system for the most beautiful and clean cities and resorts to attract visitors. In the meantime, we will also expand advertising for two new products ... the dolphin site in Kratie province and the mangrove forest in Koh Kong province - to overseas travellers because we know that tourists at present like visiting environmental resorts and they like to help reduce poverty.

In two years, we will try our best to make Siem Reap a town free of flies, highlight commission payments and increase the quality of food to an acceptable level.

From which countries does Cambodia plan to attract visitors to ensure an increase during the financial crisis period?

Our new targets include the Middle East and Russia because these countries have not been affected by the global financial crisis very much.

We will have a memorandum of understanding agreement with Kuwait, and then we will soon expand our advertising into Kuwaiti markets. We expect to get at least 50,000 visitors from Kuwait every year. Similarly, we also wish to boost advertising to attract visitors from Russia by encouraging direct flights from such countries to Cambodia.
Moreover, we plan to also get tourists from Asean countries, China, Japan, Korea and India, too.

Has the ministry thought of building more hotels in such circumstances?

We believe that the global financial crisis will disturb our tourism sector for two years only, and that the sector will recover in 2011.

According to the tourism statistics we are getting now, we think that we need to build 1,000 extra hotels rooms every year.

And we will encourage the building of more hotels in certain areas such as Koh Kong and Kratie provinces where modern hotels do not exist yet.

Will the revenue and the number of people who work in this sector decrease or not?

In 2008, we received an income of about US$1.4 million from the tourism sector, and we expect $1.5 million in 2009. Also, the tourism sector has created jobs for about 300,000 people in Cambodia, and this figure may increase up to half a million people in the next five years. This is what we expect.

Construction not just job for boys

Photo by: Heng chivoan
Tith Rattana at work on the Canadia Tower building site in downtown Phnom Penh. She is just one of thousands of female construction workers across the Kingdom.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Soeun Say
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Construction work is difficult, dangerous and low-paying, but it’s the only job many women can find. And according to some estimates, they account for up to 30pc of all building site employees

POVERTY and a lack of employment options in their home provinces have led thousands of unskilled women workers to look for - and find - grueling low-paid employment in Cambodia's construction sector.

Lay Neang, 34, a mother of two from Prey Veng province, is part of the team working on the Canadia Tower project in downtown Phnom Penh.

"I came to Phnom Penh to find a job because my rice field did not produce any crop," she said. "I had no option other than working as a construction worker because I have to feed my family."

To maximise her savings and enable her to send money home, she lives on the construction site with many of the other workers, meaning she does not need to spend anything on housing or transport.

The exact number of women working in the sector is not known, but Sok Sovandeith, president of the Cambodia National Federation of Building and Wood Workers, said between 20 and 30 percent of the construction workers employed in the Kingdom are female.

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To work as a construction worker you don’t need experience or skill. If you have power, you can work.
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He said at the peak of the building boom in early 2008 around 100,000 people were employed in the construction sector in Cambodia - including around 30,000 women - and 45,000 to 50,000 in Phnom Penh alone.

"Most of them are farmers who come from other provinces to seek a job in Phnom Penh city because they need money to support their family," he said. "It's hard and heavy work at the top of tall buildings in the sun and the rain. If they want to rest, they don't get paid."

The women who end up working in the construction sector tend to be those who lack skills to work in the better-paying jobs in places like the garment or hospitality sectors.

Ourn Sothy, 31, also from Prey Veng province, has been working alongside her husband on the Canadia Tower site since 2007. She said she took the job when she was unable to find work in a garment factory due to a lack of skills.

"You need skill and experience to find work in a garment factory," she said. "But to work as a construction worker you don't need experience or skill. If you have power, you can work, but it's a heavy job and dangerous."

It's also low paying, especially for women. Soun Vanny, 23, who works on a construction site in Russei Keo district, said she earned up to 12,000 riels ($2.91) per day, which was 7,000 riels less than her male counterparts and not enough to support her family. "I wish to increase my wage up to 20,000 riels ($4.85) per day but even that is too low and will make it very difficult for me to live," she said.

Layoffs and low wages

With a building downturn gripping the country, wages are only likely to go in one direction, at least in the short-term.

Largely as a result of political uncertainties over relations with Thailand and the impact of the global financial crisis, building activity has plummeted since mid-2008. Up to 30 percent of all construction workers are thought to have lost their jobs, putting downwards pressure on wages.

Trouble in the garment sector has not helped. With an estimated 25,000, mostly female, garment workers laid off in 2008, the pool of workers looking for increasingly scarce jobs in construction sector has swelled.

Chea Vannath, a commentator on domestic social and political affairs, said women laid off from factories often turned to the gruelling work of a construction site due to few viable work options in their home towns.

"If they return back home, they have nothing to do, so they find a job on a construction site to make money to support their families" she said.

As well as being difficult work, a job in construction is also highly dangerous. Sok Sovandeith said workers face a wide range of safety risks, which he estimated lead to one fatality and 10 on-the-job injuries each day across Cambodia. While large construction companies usually insure their workers, most smaller ones do not, despite it being a requirement of the law.

Canadia Tower project manager Chea Vuthy said the company took care of the safety and paid compensation all workplace accidents, and paid workers for time taken off as a result of injury.

But Soun Vanny, who works on the site in Russei Keo, was not so lucky. She said she twice fell from a height of three metres, on one occasion knocking herself out.

"I was painting the ceiling and I fell and hit the floor hard," she recounted. "The construction owner paid for the hospital and the medication, but I did not get paid during my stay at the clinic."

I want to move to ... Sala Kamroeuk, Siem Reap

Villa for rentThis upmarket two-storey villa in a sought-after residential area of Wat Bo village, Sala Kamrouek commune, is on the market for $1,500 a month, although the landlord is willing to negotiate. It has four bedrooms and five bathrooms plus a living room, kitchen and dining area. Facilities include 4 A/C units, 8 fans, 4 hot-water points and car parking. The house is 8.6-by-16 metres on a block of land 16-by-23 metres. The property is seven years old.Call David Coleman at Cambodia Angkor Real Estate on 012 831 656 for more details.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by KYLE SHERER
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

What's going for it?

Although it is less than a five-minute tuk-tuk ride from Siem Reap town, Sala Kamroeuk has none of the hubbub of the city centre. "Quiet" is the word most often used to describe the commune - and for the (largely well-off) expat and Khmer residents, its silence is the strongest selling point.

Sala Kamroeuk covers the riverside area roughly extending from National Road 6 to Lok Ta Nevy Street, near Old Market Bridge and Wat Damnak. Separated from the markets and main streets by the river, fans of the Great Gatsby can consider Sala Kamroeuk to be Siem Reap's West Egg. The sedate area is known for its lush gardens, many of which include slices of the creek that winds through the commune.

What's the catch?

If you moved to Siem Reap for the hustle and bustle of the town, Sala Kamroeuk might leave you feeling a little cold. There is also a chance that the creek will leave you literally cold by flooding your property, as happened to several unfortunate residents last year.

House for rentThis single-storey house for rent is in a mixed residential and commercial area of Wat Bo village, Sala Kamrouek Commune. The house has one bedroom and two bathrooms as well as a living room, kitchen and dining room. The six-year-old house also has off-street car parking. The landlord is asking $260 a month but is willing to negotiate. Call David Coleman at Cambodia Angkor Real Estate on 012 831 656 for more details.

Getting there, and away

Sala Kamroeuk is very close to Siem Reap town, but traffic between the two areas can be bottlenecked at the bridges during busy periods. However, it's usually a quick trip, and easily walked when it's not too hot.

Stone Bridge, on National Road 6, is near the Royal Residence and the FCC and borders the northernmost areas of Sala Kamroeuk. Wat Bo Bridge connects with Samdech Tep Vong Street, which leads to Centre Market. Wat Preah Prom Rath is next to the third bridge, and the Old Market Bridge is near Wat Damnak and connects Sala Kamroeuk to, obviously, Old Market.

Schools

The Smart Kids International School is located near Wat Bo and contains audiovisual rooms, broadband wireless internet, two libraries, a sports centre and a music hall.

Out of the house

The Singing Tree cafe is a notable Sala Kamroeuk eatery that doubles as a community centre, with regular presentations, a shared garden, a DVD library and a fair trade shop. It's located off Wat Bo Road, 200 metres up from Old Market Bridge.
Near Singing Tree cafe is Butterflies Garden, which offers traditional Khmer cuisine and a 45-minute traditional dance show every Friday night at 7:30.

Residents interested in longer Apsara dances can go to the Angkor Village Hotel for a nightly one-and-a-half-hour performance, starting at 6:00 and 8:00.

And for a different kind of bird watching, the Sam Veasna Center for Wildlife Conservation conducts day trips and longer expeditions around the northern provinces for avian enthusiasts.

On the market

Prospective buyers should know that the commune is most expensive in areas near Wat Bo Street, River Street and National Road 6. Land in this part of the commune can fetch $800 per square metre. Flats range from $200,000 to $300,000, or $500 to $600 per month if you're renting.

Serviced apartments are roughly $800 to $1,200 per month, with the higher end fetching you a two-room apartment near Wat Bo. A small villa can cost as little as $300,000, but large houses with gardens are up to $500,000.

WORDS AND PHOTOS BY KYLE SHERER

From the streets of Sala Kamroeuk

Renault Fichet: "It's very convenient, close to the town and has lots of available property. We looked everywhere else, but decided on Sala Kamroeuk because it's a nice neighbourhood with plenty of expats."

Eric Llobis: "It's a nice and quiet area. I've lived there seven years. It has very beautiful gardens, because people really take care of the land. Parts of Sala Kamroeuk look like the countryside. And it's also priced very well."

Rachel Loizeau: "I have a field around my house. It's a completely different life to what you get in the town."

Exhibition celebrates the life and art of national hero

Photo by: BRADFORD EDWARDS
Svay Ken at his home studio in 2008.


Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Exhibition of Svay Ken’s paintings at Java Cafe and Gallery.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by TOM HUNTER
Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Phnom Penh remembers one of Cambodia's most prolific artists, Svay Ken, through an exhibition of his paintings gathered from the capital's private collectors

Java Cafe and Gallery is currently hosting a tribute exhibition celebrating the life of Svay Ken, who was one of Cambodia's most prolific artists.

The exhibition, titled "Svay Ken - A TRIBUTE ... because we loved him", which opened last Friday, showcases 24 paintings gathered from Phnom Penh's private collectors in an effort to share the artist's work with the community.

"This exhibition is a direct reflection of the community's intimate involvement in the life of Svay Ken...[It] is about the brilliance and vision of Svay Ken. It encourages people coming together to celebrate one man's life and work, an exceptional man, an extraordinary painter who documented what he saw around him," said the exhibition's curator, Bradford Edwards.

The exhibition is a community-based project that is absolutely commercial-free. In fact, it is impossible to buy a painting during the exhibition, Bradford Edwards said.

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The exhibition is about the brilliance and vision of svay ken, it encourages people ... to celebrate one man’s life and work.
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"How refreshing and wonderful is that? In today's version of the art market and the world in general, this idea is almost anarchic, revolutionary, and unheard of," he added.

An interactive feature in the form of an open forum encouraging the public to express themselves sits well alongside the famous works.

"[The boxes} are for people to give physical form to their feelings and thoughts. Anyone can do whatever they want in these boxes...write, print, draw, smudge, tape, glue, erase. discuss, dream, wonder, hope and love," Edwards said.

A memorable life

Svay Ken died last November after a prolonged illness at the age of 75.
He was a self-taught artist and began painting in 1993 as the country emerged from years of social unrest, a surprisingly late stage in his life.

Prior to 1993, Svay Ken worked as a waiter at Phnom Penh's Hotel le Royal for 40 years.

Most of the artist's paintings depict modern-day portraits of Cambodian life. His subject matter consists of individual portraits, local settings and images recalling the Khmer Rouge period.

In fact, Svay Ken is said to have been the leading Cambodian "folk" artist of his time.
A panel of three works by Svay Ken's granddaughter hang proudly next to her grandfather's masterpieces.

Ouk Sochivy's work represents a contemporary Cambodian perspective. It is a social comment from another generation that ensures that the family's legacy lives on.

"Svay Ken might have stopped breathing, but his artwork and his effect on people around him will fill all of us with love and hope and warmth ... forever," Edwards said.

"Svay Ken - A TRIBUTE ... because we loved him" runs at Java Cafe and Gallery until late March.