Friday, 20 March 2009

70,000 Asian children in sex tourism trade: NGO

Friday March 20, 2009

DENPASAR, Indonesia (AFP) - More than 70,000 children across Asia are being used by sex tourists, mainly in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, an independent expert said Thursday.

Frans van Dijk of Dutch aid group Terre Des Hommes Netherlands told AFP on the sidelines of a conference here that the number of children working in the sex tourism trade was on the rise.

"It's difficult to work out the real number but we are sure that the reality is much more than estimates of 60,000 to 70,000," he said at the three-day Southeast Asia Conference on Child Sex Tourism.

He said victims and their parents were generally reluctant to report abuse due to shame and embarrassment, or were paid to stay quiet.

The situation was especially bad in Asia because some Asian men believed that having sex with children increased longevity, he said.

Indonesian expert Irwanto, of the National Coalition for the Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, said children were "groomed" for prostitution with financial incentives such as payment of school fees.

Children in areas prone to natural disasters like earthquakes, floods and cyclones were particularly at risk, especially orphans or those who had lost a parent.

The tough fight against child prostitution in Cambodia

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 23/08/2007: Interview with a minor in a child-friendly interview room at the Anti Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection department of the Ministry of Interior.
©John Vink/ Magnum

Ka-set

By Stéphanie Gée
19-03-2009

Two French men, prosecuted for having committed aggravated sex offenses in Cambodia against children under 15, were sentenced last week to seven years of imprisonment by the Colmar Court in Alsace, France. Both frequented Cambodia and Svay Pak in particular on a regular basis. The area, also known as “K11” as it is located 11 kilometres north of the capital Phnom Penh, is a sort of open-door supermarket of sex. The case brought the little Khmer Kingdom back to the fore, presenting it as a top destination for paedophiles and other sex offenders. However, the Cambodian government is trying hard to get rid of that negative image as it has to fight against the industry of sex which looks more and more like organised crime in the country.

Svay Pak: in the shadows but still swarming
Demand concerning sexual intercourse without condoms and without any risk of being contaminated by the HIV/AIDS virus is one of the factors driving more and more children (under 15) into the sex industry. Svay Pay has indeed developed the grim reputation of “paradise” for child-sex enthusiasts, a specialty which the Internet has largely contributed to popularise. Unlike the Thai capital where red-light districts are located right in the middle of town, these areas have gradually developed around Phnom Penh, “far from schools and pagodas, and for more discretion”, as pointed out by Christian Guth, a former French police officer who has been advising Cambodia's Interior Ministry on sexual exploitation and child trafficking since 2000. “Thus, instead of 10 to 20 prostitutes in each neighbourhood, Svay Pak gathers between 300 and 400 of them, if not more. On the plus side, this concentration allowed people to have easy access to healthcare, AIDS prevention and social care, but the drawback was that paedophiles and the media could easily locate and identify the place.”

For several years, official announcements about the shutting down of the area and police crackdowns alternated following the impetus of the government, then particularly worried about being better graded by the United States. For two years now, “Kilometre 11” has sunk into a very relative sleep. Activities there have slowed down but the 1980s-built village, entirely used for prostitution, remains the main “reservoir” of young prostitutes from Vietnam.

The look of the village has changed, says Patrick Stayton, a Field Officer Director at the International Justice Mission (IJM), a Washington-based Christian NGO with a Cambodian branch office specialising on child-sex trafficking and forced prostitution. “It’s not like five years ago when as soon as you got there, they [touts] would put children on your lap with no fear of law enforcement. It’s nothing like that today. [...] Now, they bring clients inside houses where it’s difficult to find your way back. They do searches to check whether you have a hidden camera with you and the site is watched from the outside by several people…” Three weeks ago, a Cambodian-American man who organised child prostitution there was arrested together with an American client during a police raid, he says, to show that “it keeps going on”.

The new face of prostitution in Cambodia
The multiple police crackdown operations carried out in Svay Pak forced pimps to be more cautious and operate their activities underground, out of concern, and contributed to offshore prostitution. “Youngsters have dispersed to other parts of Phnom Penh, went to the town of Siem Reap [home of the Angkor temples], where tourism exploded, or ended up on the seaside in Sihanoukville, which seems to be following the same path”, Christian Guth indicates. A field study was carried out in Siem Reap at the beginning of this year by IJM and showed that 60 out of 80 brothels inspected by the team offered minor prostitutes.

The face of the sex industry has also changed in Cambodia, the French retired police officer points out, with the appearance of houses “where children and prostitutes are confined. When a hotel employee, a guide or any other person in contact with tourists wants to have a minor girl to satisfy the request of a client, they call one of these places and “order” the child, who is delivered directly at the client’s hotel, for instance.” For Patrick Stayton, the principle of it tragically comes down to ordering a take-way in a fast-food restaurant”. These sort of stockrooms for children who come from Phnom Penh, Vietnam, and, recently, from the provinces of Kampong Cham, Prey Veng and the Northwest of Cambodia, are present in the capital: In Svay Pak, still, but also in the Building – that derelict place standing on the Bassac riverfront – around the Central Market and along the busy Street 63.

Another trend has developed: prostitution is now using different names, like karaoke-bars, massage parlours, nightclubs, beer gardens, etc. These places dare not speak their name and it proves a lot harder for prostitutes to have access to the healthcare they deserve.

New law: triggering a lot of protest
On February 15th 2008, the Cambodian government promulgated a law on the suppression of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, but its enforcement aroused the wrath of sex workers and organisations for the defence of Human rights. The decision was followed by raids as part of of a “zero-tolerance” policy enforced in brothels. The U.S. Department of State’s 2008 Human rights report on Cambodia, released on February 25th 2009, cites examples of a legal system which has gradually become more moderate with paedophiles. On June 4, 2008, a Sihanoukville Municipal Court judge released on bail a foreigner who was arrested on charges of allegedly sexually abusing six children aged eight to thirteen; on July 21, the same court suspended the three-year sentence of a convicted paedophile and released him on probation after he had spent six months in prison for sexually abusing two underage boys. The suspect fled the country shortly after; on August 26, the Appeals Court reduced the sentence of a foreign paedophile from 18 years in prison, to three years in prison under the new law, etc.

The age consent for sexual activity in Cambodia is set to 15 years-old. Therefore, sexual intercourse with an under 15, consenting or not, is punished by law. For Christian Guth, the weakness of the new legislation enforced in February 2008 lies in the absence of clear definitions. “The law currently deals with only two levels of offence: sexual intercourse or molesting. But many other levels of responsibility can be determined.” Therefore, “judges now tend to disqualify cases by not taking into account the fact that penetration occurred, which reduces the sentence to only 1 to 3 years of imprisonment”.

Patrick Stayton also considers that today’s charges against sex offenders are often “incorrect” and quotes several gaps in the new law, for instance: “Possessing child pornography is not punished by law, but it is only illegal if you intend to do something with it...”

Yet, Christian Guth says, it is not that much the law, “which is, for sure, not perfect”, that one should blame, but its enforcement. This is why he encourages the adoption of the Criminal Code in full, something that the government promised to do. According to him, police services – Christian Guth, juts like Patrick Stayton, salute the progress made by the anti-human trafficking Unit, despite the limited resources that are available -, need more training courses to adapt to the new faces of prostitution. : Things have become more complex than they were before, because networks are better-organised.”

Sex tourism, but not just...
Foreign sex offenders are the centre of media’s attention, but there are many more Asians who seek the company of minors, whether they be Cambodians, rich Chinese or South-Korean, who are very present in Siem Reap where clients can give from 1,000 dollars up for virgins, Patrick Stayton says. Westerners are indeed more easily targeted because they are more visible and a lot less protected than local clients, Chinese and Korean, from child prostitution, which is still socially tolerated in Cambodia.

Those crimes should not lead one to forget the many rapes committed on minors in Cambodia, i.e. supposedly, between 400 and 450, Christian Guth says. “I campaign for people to take more interest in the struggle against such crimes, without however neglecting sex tourism which children are sometimes the victims of, or trafficking and sexual exploitation.” The French advisor does not fool himself about the consequences of the global economic crisis which is starting to affect Cambodia and might well have a social impact on the country too: this will result in an increase in crime, drug consumption... and prostitution.

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The children of prostitution
If one were to list the deep causes of this evil in Cambodia, one should quote, according to Christian Guth – a former French police officer who advises Cambodia's Interior Ministry on sexual exploitation and child trafficking – poverty, the absence of education, the weakness of the judicial and police systems, the lack, sometimes, of international cooperation or the slowness of international procedures. For Patrick Stayton, a Field Officer Director at the International Justice Mission NGO, children who end up in the prostitution milieu have, themselves of their parents, been fooled, but very often, they have been sold by their relatives.

Both experts agree on the fact that better cooperation can be observed today in Cambodia in terms of child protection, especially between the organisations involved in that struggle (three big networks have been created thanks to that) as well as with the government’s development projects.
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Crafting better care

Photo by: TOM HUNTER

The Phnom Penh post

Written by Tom Hunter
Friday, 20 March 2009

Caregivers light candles as part of the final day of a speech-therapy training program on Thursday in Kandal province. The Caritas Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CCAMH) has held three workshops over six months as part of a program funded by the Singaporean government.

Full Story

S21 child barred as civil party

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins and Neth Pheaktra
Friday, 20 March 2009

Judges deny alleged Tuol Sleng survivor legal status at tribunal

A MAN believed to be a child survivor of the notorious Tuol Sleng detention centre will not be allowed to represent himself as a civil party in the upcoming trial of Kaing Guek Eav, the prison's chief, judges ruled earlier this month.

Though more than 12,000 men, women and children perished at the camp, known as S21, under the Khmer Rouge regime, Norng Chunphal was lucky enough to hide in a pile of clothes when the last remaining prisoners were slaughtered.

The 39-year-old applied to become a civil party two days after the cut-off for applicants in February, and judges have now ruled against allowing discretion to his case.

"I am not very happy with this decision because I really wanted to be one of the civil parties in this case," Norng Chunphal told the Post.

"I was late to apply because I work in a rural area.... But I don't have any other choice except to be a witness, and I think I can participate in the trial to bring justice to the victims, especially the victims of S-21 prison in which my parents were detained and killed," he added.

Researchers located the child survivor only last month when newly obtained archival footage from Vietnam indicated that he, along with his brother and two others, were likely to be alive.

After the court's Victim's Unit denied his late application, lawyers for the survivor filed a motion to appeal the deadline.

"Yes, I believe it is unfair, but I believe that we would have had no chance whatsoever [to appeal or request a reconsideration], as they would have respected the discretion of the presiding judge," civil party lawyer Alain Werner said, who confirmed Norng Chunphal had been added to their witness list.

"... the judges, all along ... were extremely clear about the fact that they would not accept any application filed late.... So we do not want to fight a lost battle, and a request to include him as a witness was the best solution given the circumstances," he added.

"Practically, that will mean that his testimony will carry more weight. But, of course, he will not be entitled to reparation [as a civil party]. And that is unfair," he said.

As the only child to survive the prison, there was a significant push to include him as a party to the proceedings, with lawyers focusing on the issue at the initial hearing of the case in February.

According to the court's rules, the president of the chamber may, by special decision, extend or shorten the deadline. However a decision, dated March 11 but obtained by the Post Thursday, says that Norng Chunphal's reason for missing the deadline was not deserving of discretion.

"...considerable efforts were made by the ECCC to inform the public of the existing deadlines....Consequently, the trial chamber denies the motion," it said.

Though the decision is classified "public", it has not been posted on the ECCC website.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, whose researchers led the hunt to find the surviving children, said he was disappointed with the decision.

"He put his application in late. It is not his fault but it is the law," he said.

"This will hopefully serve as a case to improve the current procedure of reaching out to what is the most vital audience - victims in remote areas," he added.

The substantive part of Kaing Guek Eav's trial, the first at the war crimes court, begins on March 30.

Though Norng Chunphal has been added onto the civil parties' witness list, it is up to judges as to whether or not he will be called upon during the trial.

MPs urged to act on MDGs

Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
Parliamentarians were given their first briefing on Cambodia’s progress towards achieving its MDGs on Thursday at the National Assembly. The Assembly is shown here in a file photo, from its first day in session last year.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Robbie Corey-Boulet
Friday, 20 March 2009

At a forum detailing gains and gaps, UN officials tout the ‘unique role’ of parliament in promoting development goals

LAWMAKERS must ramp up their involvement in Cambodia's effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) if all targets are to be met by 2015, particularly in light of the escalating economic crisis, UN officials said during a forum held Thursday at the National Assembly.

The MDGs, which cover everything from poverty to environmental sustainability, were created for developing countries in 2000. They were localised in Cambodia in 2003, with final targets set for 2015.

Thursday's forum marked the first time lawmakers received an extensive briefing on MDG progress, which was provided by Douglas Broderick, the UN's resident coordinator. More than 100 parliamentarians, UN officials and NGO workers attended.

In his remarks, Broderick expressed concern that the economic crisis could potentially derail the entire effort, a point echoed by other UN officials.

"Because of the economic crisis, there is a risk that we're going to get off track," said Susan Cowley, senior parliamentary adviser for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

For this reason, she said, officials throughout the region are looking to engage with a range of parties that so far have had little to do with the MDG effort.

Until now, she said, "Parliamentarians have been some of the stakeholders that haven't been challenged to get involved."

Parliament and the MDGs
Broderick said lawmakers have "a unique role to play" in helping Cambodia achieve the MDGs and urged them to promote legislation that would advance the goals and ensure that MDG-related programs are run efficiently.

The forum included a presentation from Nerissa Corazon Soon-Ruiz, a Filipino politician who chairs a parliamentary committee devoted to the MDGs. As she described her experiences in the Philippines, she stressed the importance of developing a legislative framework that would facilitate the MDG effort.

"Without it, it will be a long shot to meet the MDGs, if not totally impossible," she said.

There is no comparable MDG-centred legislative commission in Cambodia. Responsibility for individual targets was delegated to pre-existing commissions.

Soon-Ruiz said the lack of awareness about the MDG effort among parliamentarians in Cambodia and elsewhere could impede progress.

"The awareness of the MDGs among many legislators is not yet sufficient," she said. "Probably half of you came over today thinking, ‘MDG? What is that? Is that like ABC? DEF? MDG?'"

Cowley said she believed the awareness of some Cambodian parliamentarians was high, particularly those involved in gender rights and health issues.

As for the group as a whole, she said, "I think it's a continuing process to reach out to MPs and provide them with more information, particularly about where we are now."

Thoam Bun Sron, a Funcinpec senator and vice chairman of Senate Commission 7, dealing with education, youth and sport, said he believed parliamentarians would, as a result of the forum, "urge the government to increase its effort to reform the public administration" in a manner that would promote the goals.

Khloth Tongphka, a Funcinpec senator and chairwoman of Commission 8, dealing with health, social work and women's affairs, said a collective effort would be necessary to meet the goals.

"We need to demand that all the authorities and people join together to accomplish this," she said.
Cowley, too, described this type of heightened involvement as essential.

"If everybody doesn't pull together right now, 2015 is just a pipedream," Cowley said.

Broderick took a more optimistic line, saying, "The goals are ambitious. But they are also achievable."

Gambling raids to increase for New Year

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 20 March 2009

THE Ministry of Finance is to take measures to strengthen and maintain the ban on all forms of gambling during next month's Khmer New Year holiday, with officials saying that all sports gambling, slot machine and lottery businesses will be eradicated for good, a ministry official said Thursday.

"We will ask police in each city and province to crack down on all gambling during the Khmer New Year, even small-scale gambling," Chea Peng Chheang, a secretary of state at the Finance Ministry, said Thursday.

He said that in the run-up to the New Year holidays, the ministry would issue an announcement banning gambling in provincial towns and remote areas, where many traditionally gather for the holiday.

"I know that during the upcoming New Year some gamblers may hide somewhere to gamble," he added.

Police from across the country have raided local betting clubs in line with Prime Minister Hun Sen's February 24 order banning all forms of gambling. Last Saturday, police in Russey Keo district arrested 41 patrons and two club owners after a raid on two sports clubs in Svay Pak commune.

"A gradual crackdown is still in place and provides a warning to those [gamblers and employers] who choose to be stubborn and ignore the ban implemented by the prime minister and City Hall," Song Ly, head of Phnom Penh's Minor Crimes Division, said Monday.

Since the onset of the ban, local media have reported that about 8,000 jobs have been lost in the industry, which previously brought in more than $20 million per year in licensing fees, including $1 million from Cambo Six. The sports betting operator last week announced losses of $12 million and aims to seek government compensation.

But Chea Peng Chheang said the government had strong intent to ensure the ban remained in force since the social effects of the ban outweighed the money earned from gambling taxes and licencing fees for betting and slot machine operators.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said similarly that City Hall was optimistic that the ban - on all forms of gambling - would continue to be enforced during the New Year. "Now that Cambo Six is dead, it will not be difficult to ban other activities, including fireworks," he said, adding that police would not arrest gamblers, but that they would be held in custody for the three days of the New Year.

He said that the order would be indefinite since it had improved most people's lives and enjoyed wide support.

"People have called and reported to us if there are illegal activities. It has been a successful order," he said.

But Preah Sihanouk provincial Governor Spoang Sarath said that for this year's celebration it might be hard for authorities to crack down on small-scale village gambling.

However, Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yim Sovann was pessimistic about the ability of the government to eradicate gambling in the whole Kingdom. "Many directives made by the prime minister have failed," he said.

Teachers say PM's claims dubious

Photo by: SOVANN PHILONG
Students in a Phnom Penh school classroom on Thursday.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith
Friday, 20 March 2009

At an education summit Wednesday, Hun Sen said he did not have the budget to raise the salaries of teachers; teacher associations say the money could be found if the PM wanted to

TEACHER associations criticised Prime Minister Hun Sen Thursday after he said at an education summit that he could not raise teacher salaries, though he really wanted to.

"I would like to inform you ... those who are in charge of education ... I really want to raise your salaries but our budget is limited," Hun Sen said during concluding remarks at the National Education Congress Wednesday, which was attended by teachers, NGO members and development partners.

"And where should we find the money [to raise salaries]?" he asked, adding that now the world's economy was slowing down, the people who used to have incomes are losing them.

"When a salary is raised, it has to be raised forever," he said.

However, Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association, said the government today would have no problem raising teacher salaries, which he believed should be lifted to 800,000 to 1,000,000 riels (US$200-$250) a month for a suitable living standard.

"I think the government has enough money to raise teachers' salary and would do so if the prime minister wanted to raise teachers' salary to a suitable standard of living," he said.

He said the money could come from tax collecting, eliminating corruption or simply wasting less money on the delegation that usually accompanies the prime minster at such ceremonial events.

"As far as I know, each delegate receives 2,000,000 riels plus expenses on gasoline when they accompany the prime minister to inauguration celebrations or other missions," Rong Chhun said.

He added that Cambodia currently has over 100,000 teachers working throughout the country, and that "93 percent of them have to have another job on top of teaching in order to support their families".

According to the association president, primary school teachers currently get paid 100,000 riels, lower secondary school teachers around 200,000 riels and upper secondary school teachers about 250,000 riels.

A recent report conducted by NGO Education Partnership claimed that 99 percent of them said a teacher's salary alone is not enough for them to live on.

The report stated that the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport budget for 2008 was more than twice what it was in 2000: $508,865,000 compared to $209,246,000.

In the same period, teachers starting salaries are anecdotally reported to have increased from $20 since 1999 to $30 today.

"At present, salary levels make it impossible for teachers to afford the basic necessities ... and leave teachers with no other option but to seek other income generating activities," the report stated.

Thailand expels Khmer Krom asylum seekers: rights groups

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady and Cheang Sokha
Friday, 20 March 2009

Rights workers say group was trucked out of Thailand after UN officials previously intervened to secure release of others

FOLLOWING the release Monday of 19 Khmer Krom refugees from a Bangkok prison, the seven remaining in detention were abruptly expelled from the country under suspicious circumstances, according to local rights activists.

Ang Chanrith, head of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Human Rights Organization, said seven Khmer Krom political refugees were shuttled to the Poipet border crossing in Banteay Meanchey province in the middle of the night Thursday.

The original group of 19 Khmer Krom, who hold refugee documents from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), were released after the UN office petitioned Thai officials to recognise them as legitimate asylum seekers, he said. Ang Chanrith has been working on the case with UN officials in Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

Members of the group released Monday had contacted him early Thursday morning to warn of the departure of the seven left in detention, who were recent arrivals to Bangkok and therefore had not yet been registered with the UNHCR, he said.

"We are concerned they could be taken back to Vietnam," he said.

Escaping the past
Ang Chanrith said all 26 people had fled Vietnam after they feared imprisonment at the hands of authorities there following public demonstrations against limits on their freedom of culture, religion and speech.

Rights groups and Khmer Krom activists have accused the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments of engaging in a persistent and often violent campaign to stifle the rights and distinct identity of the Khmer ethnic group originating from what is now Vietnam's southern Delta.

Hun Hean, provincial police chief of Banteay Meanchey, said he had not heard about the incident, adding that between 100 and 200 illegal Khmer immigrants were turned over by Thai authorities at the border each day.

Suong Sopheap, a program officer with the Cambodian Women's Crisis Centre in Banteay Meanchey, said his staff had attempted to track the whereabouts of the group without success.

"We have staff remaining in Poipet who are continuing to monitor the situation," he said.

Christophe Peschoux, head of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in Phnom Penh, said his office was following the case but had not been in contact with the group.

"It's a very tricky situation for Khmer Krom in Cambodia," he said. "Even if the government gives them citizenship, if they agitate from Cambodia it could create tension between the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments; and Cambodia could be pressured to prevent it or hand them over to Vietnamese authorities."

The government has said all Khmer Krom are entitled to Cambodian citizenship, but Khmer Krom activists and rights groups say their status as Cambodians is ambiguous and can be stricken at the whim of the state.

Mixed outlook for D&D reforms

Photo by: TRACEY SHELTON
A rundown police station in Prey Veng in this file photo. Government reforms aim at giving local authorities more control over budgets and decision-making, and more efficient delivery of services.


COMMUNE Divisions
- Total 11,353 seats in 1,510 communes
- Cambodian People’s Party 7,993 (70.4 percent)
- Sam Rainsy Party 2,660 (23.4 percent)
- Norodom Ranariddh Party 425 (3.7 percent)
- Funcinpec 274 (2.4 percent)
- Heng Dara Democratic Movement Party 1 seat


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Vong Sokheng
Friday, 20 March 2009

May 17 will see the creation of new district and provincial councils designed to disperse power and improve the quality of local governance, as observers question if rhetoric can become reality

WHEN Cambodia's 11,353 commune councillors go to the polls on May 17 to elect members to the country's new district and provincial councils, they will put the final touches on a program of reform that will see a far-reaching restructure of local government.

But while the government's decentralisation and deconcentration (D&D) reforms have at times been obscured by the noisy routines of party politics, they have the ability - in theory, at least - to redraw the lines along which Cambodia's political battles are waged.

As a model, decentralisation involves the transfer of administrative duties to newly elected sub-national entities. Deconcentration, a related but distinct process, involves the delegation of power from the central government to its representatives at lower levels.

While observers and stakeholders interviewed by the Post agreed that D&D was a step into the unknown for Cambodia - a country with an engrained tradition of top-down rule - they voiced a variety of opinions as to how closely the reality of D&D would match the theory.

D&D took its first concrete steps in 2002, with the direct election of the Kingdom's 1,510 commune councils to be supplemented by the formation of similar governing bodies at the district, provincial and municipal levels following May 17.

Instead of the present centralised system, in which policy is determined by the line ministries in Phnom Penh and then delegated to provincial departments and district offices, D&D aims to create a "unified administration" at the sub-national level, allowing each council to create their own development plans and manage finances accordingly.

With the full implementation of the April 2008 Organic Law - the government's D&D blueprint - councils will function as an elected "parliament" at each level, matched by a board of centrally appointed governors and deputy governors - a rough analogy of the national cabinet - that will carry out its policies.

"Currently, it seems that all the implementation is done by the central level, not really by their own offices or departments at district level," said Ngan Chamroeun, deputy director general of the Ministry of Interior's General Department of Local Administration.

"We need to find a way to create a unified administration at the local level."

Mixed motives
However, predicting the benefits of such a complex reform is a challenging task, even for those closely involved.

Thida Keus, executive director of local rights group Silaka, which is involved with the reforms, cited both donor pressure and a genuine desire for reform as the motives for D&D.

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So far we can see that the process has increased, but the practice doesn't seem to have changed.
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General administrative confusion had crippled action on many pressing issues, she said, adding that a frequent conflict between national laws and ministerial prakas prevented effective implementation.

"The national government can make laws, but they cannot manage them because the local authorities are not collaborating, and there are players at the national level that have no accountability," she said.

Chith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia, said the D&D reforms could create a system that successfully balanced the power of governors with councils, but said the process should be more transparent and representative in order to avoid the creation of "political party councils".

"So far we can see that the process has increased, but the practice doesn't seem to have changed," he said.

"The importance is to bring the voice of grassroots concerns into the planning."

Local agricultural group CEDAC, which has worked since 2006 as part of anti-corruption NGO Pact International's Local Administration and Reform project, has been educating citizens in Kandal and Takeo provinces about the workings of commune-level government, with local officials reporting positive effects from the first stages of D&D.

"The main objective of the project is to improve the engagement between civil society, citizens and the commune councils," said Yi Kim Than, a CEDAC program officer based in Kandal.

He said that with the appropriate education - such as disseminating information about local government and holding public forums in which villagers can air grievances to commune councilors - CEDAC was able to help strengthen relations between officials and locals.

"People raise the concerns they are facing, and afterward the commune council tries to solve them," he said. "Sometimes the district governor also comes to meet the people."

The effectiveness of the more distant district and provincial councils would depend on education, Yi Kim Than said, but would depend also on the political will of CPP leaders, who may try to take credit for D&D-initiated state projects such as new infrastructure.

"How far the ruling party benefits from [D&D] depends on the knowledge and the awareness of the people," he said.

State vs party
According to some observers, this tension - between the centralised ruling party and the decentralised state - could well determine the success of D&D. Indeed, civil society groups have already argued that the "indirect" nature of the May elections itself runs contrary to the goal of more responsive government.

On February 26, local election monitor Comfrel issued a report slamming the indirect council elections as a "foregone conclusion", since members will almost certainly vote for their own party's candidates.

Stephen Ehrentraut, a researcher and consultant with experience in D&D issues in Cambodia, said similarly that the dominance of the CPP at all levels of government would block the further entrenchment of democratic norms.

Although he saw "encouraging trends" in those communes in which there were competitive local elections, he said the exercise of local power depended heavily upon the attitude of the CPP's central leadership.

"In the vast majority of communes in which the council and village chiefs are controlled by the ruling party, what is called decentralisation does not effectively devolve powers to lower levels of the state and contributes little to meaningful democratisation," he said.

The indirect May 17 elections, he added, were more likely to entrench loyalty to CPP rule than they were to democratise the political system.

Ngan Chamroeun said that although political scientists had documented the use of D&D as a way of legitimising undemocratic regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the cost and effort of conducting elections based on universal suffrage in Cambodia would require the diversion of a large amount of funds.

"For direct elections selected by the people, where would we find the money? In this country, we need to spend money on a lot of other problems, like how to reduce poverty," he said. "[The commune councilors] are still the representatives of the people."

Amid conflicting claims for the reforms, Thida Keus said it was important to remember that D&D could very well be driven by a mix of motives, and that some recognition should be given to the government for initiating the reforms at all.

"We have to give some credit to them: They want to set up the structures for better management and better accountability, so services can better reach the people," she said.

"There are also positive forces within the CPP who want real reform. This is something that will help Cambodia manage social services and governance, and that should help contribute to better governance and better service to the people."

Intellectual disabilities in the spotlight at workshop

Photo by: TOM HUNTER
Singaporean ambassador Tan Yee Woan (right) tours the Caritas Centre Thursday.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tom Hunter
Friday, 20 March 2009

Singapore-funded program offers training in caregiving skills

THE country's first speech therapy training program, aimed at improving care for children with special needs, concluded Thursday in Kandal province at the Caritas Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CCAMH).

In three workshops over a period of six months, 18 Cambodians from five local NGOs have received training in basic care-giving skills as part of a program funded by the Singaporean government and developed by the Speech Language and Hearing Association of Singapore.

"The first batch of caregivers has been trained to promote feeding and communication skills among children with special needs," said Um Thorn, Kandal's provincial health director.

Jegannathan Bhoomikumar, director of the Caritas Centre, said the nation's long history of war meant the government had traditionally stepped away from dealing with intellectual disabilities in favour of combating physical disabilities such as land mine injuries.

"It is time for Cambodia to look beyond the war and start tackling the root causes of brain injury," Bhoomikumar said.

The World Health Organisation estimates that between 2 and 4 percent of children in developing countries suffer from some form of intellectual disability, and that a quarter of those cases can be prevented.

Bhoomikumar said developmental disabilities are unusually high here due to a series of factors such as iron and iodine deficiencies, a high rate of tuberculosis meningitis and the fact that many mothers have children after they turn 40.

Keo Bora, a caregiver with children's NGO Goutte D'Eau, said the workshops had meant he could put into practice what he had learned and pass the lessons onto his colleagues.

"Before, I had no idea what to do if a child was crying," Keo Bora said.

"Now I can communicate and effectively feed the child."

CCAMH started work in 1995 and is the only establishment in the country that offers children with intellectual disabilities specialised services such as assessment, counselling, behavioural therapy, physiotherapy and speech therapy.

Governor embroiled in K Thom land fight

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and Mom Kunthear
Friday, 20 March 2009

ABOUT 65 families in Kampong Thom province's Baray district have become embroiled in a dispute with the former district governor over 100 hectares of land that they say the official has stolen from them.

The families say Steng Sen district Governor Uth Sam On, who used to govern Baray district, has seized their land and their cassava harvest.

The governor says the land belongs to him and a group of local businessmen and police, and said he was being falsely accused.

Human rights group Licadho said it was not clear exactly who owned the land.

A representative of the families, Ouch Chanthorn, told the Post Wednesday that the governor had instructed 30 labourers and three policemen to block access to the land in Bak Thnar commune since March 11.

"Now [the labourers] have harvested more than two hectares of our cassava crop worth US$4,000," Ouch Chanthorn said.

Legal options
Uth Sam On confirmed that some police were present, saying they were part-owners.

He said he was the victim in the dispute, adding that he had documentation to prove that as Baray district governor in 1996 he had agreed that 10 people could clear the land and plant crops in exchange for him paying them 150,000 riels ($38).

Uth Sam On said a group of more than 20 people - including military police and local businessmen - had legal title to the site, which he said is 81 hectares.

He also said that only a few families were now farming the land.

"If they try to resolve this peacefully, I will be generous and give them a piece of land to farm," he said. "But if they remain stubborn I will file a complaint in court."

Ouch Chanthorn said the people had filed a thumb-printed complaint to the court asking it to intervene, but that the request had been rejected.

Licadho monitor Ek Sophea said the question of legal title was unclear, but his investigation had shown that the land was cleared in 1995.

Although the people did not have legal title, he said the governor might. He said Licadho would help them file another complaint to ensure the court investigated the case.

Article 30 of the Land Law of August 2001 states that any person who has "enjoyed peaceful, uncontested possession" of state private land since July 1996 or earlier may request ownership title to that land.

Authorities question hospital staff over Pailin mother's death

Photo by Samai (Koh Santepheap)

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by MOM KUNTHEAR and CHRANN CHAMROEUN
Friday, 20 March 2009

PAILIN police have questioned four obstetricians at the province's public hospital in connection with the death of a pregnant woman Sunday night, according to local human rights group Adhoc, which is assisting the woman's husband.

Vorn Yoeub, 37, died on Sunday night due to complications in labour, reportedly after obstetrics staff refused treatment unless her husband paid US$25 in fees. Her death prompted provincial Governor Y Chhien to order an investigation. The hospital has denied the allegations of negligence.

Adhoc coordinator Chhoun Makara said the provincial prosecutor in neighbouring Battambang province, which hears court cases for both provinces, instructed police in Pailin to interview hospital staff.

"I cannot assess what the result will be because the case is currently in the hands of the court prosecutor," he said.
"The victim's husband is not yet sure whether he will complain to the court - he simply asked us to help him find the reason why [hospital staff] refused to treat his wife."

Chhoun Makara said there were concerns that doctors and obstetricians at the hospital were more concerned about getting
paid the health service fee than taking care of patients.

"I don't know if that's because they receive low salaries, but we need the Ministry of Health to examine this problem," he said.

"And if the court doesn't seriously investigate and find out why treatment wasn't free, then it will be a waste of time."

Charges denied
The hospital's head of obstetrics, Luy Chantha, confirmed that the police had questioned her and three staff, and said she would rely on the hospital director to assist them in the event of a trial.

"They said we must tell the truth, but I don't know what to tell them. We didn't ask the couple for money and we gave them our best attention," she said.

"We didn't act in the way the husband said and we always help people, especially the poor. So I don't know how to answer this."

Battambang court prosecutor Koy Chanya said that he was still waiting on the police report and would make a decision once he received it.

Homeward bound

Photo by: Allan Michaud

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Friday, 20 March 2009

A "white-rumped" vulture receives treatment by staff from the Wildlife Conservation Society in Phnom Penh before being released back into the wild. Several of these endangered birds were found poisoned this month in Stung Treng province.

SEZ growth slows as economic crisis hits

Photo by: KAY KIMSONG
The Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone, located 8 kilometres from the Phnom Penh international airport. Many of the country’s SEZ’s are feeling the effects of the slowdown, forcing delays.


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by NGUON SOVAN AND CHUN SOPHAL
Friday, 20 March 2009

With the global downturn hitting Cambodia’s manufacturing, the Kingdom's special economic zones are stalling plans for expansion, officials say.

DEVELOPERS and officials said Thursday that the global financial crisis has slowed the development of the country's special economic zones (SEZs), dealing a new blow to an already struggling sector.

Cambodia's 21 licensed SEZs had trouble attracting investment even before the economic crisis hit and officials say the recession could lead to delays or closures.

Larry Kao, managing director of the Manhattan Special Economic Zone in Svey Rieng province, said the facility is operating far below capacity.

"Before the crisis, there were six investors in the zone, but since the onset of the crisis, we have seen only one more large factory invest."

Located on the Vietnam border, it was expected to boost bilateral trade.

Development of the Manhattan SEZ began in 2005 and phase one has been completed, including a main road, sub-roads, public lighting, drainage and a water system.

The project is now going to phase two, which includes a commercial section.

He said that seven factories have been operating in the zone since 2006, employing 4,500 workers, producing bicycles, hardware, shoes, garments and wetsuits.

Kao said that development may have to be moved back by two years from the original target date of 2010.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Our main problem is that there are no new investors in our SEZ.
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"Investment in the zone is moving slowly, but it is not at a standstill," he said.

"We planned to finish the development within five years, but due to the crisis, it could be up to two years behind schedule."

He said that the zone will be capable of housing 30 factories employing up to 15,000 workers.

Chieng An, governor of Svay Rieng province, said he expected Manhattan SEZ would be hit by the slowdown.

"Manhattan SEZ is a foreign investment, so it has branches internationally. It is inevitable that it will suffer from the crisis, and it's impressive that it has held up as well as it has."

Delayed projects
Duong Tech, general manager of Duong Chhiv Group, which is developing a US$100 million special economic zone in Takeo province on the border with Vietnam, agreed that the crisis will slow development.

"The master plan says we will complete the project by 2015, but due to the current crisis, it will take longer than that," said Duong Tech.

"Our main problem is that there are no new investors in our SEZ. If there are investors interested in the zone, we will speed up our development, but if there are no investors, we will be more hesitant."

He said that since receiving government approval in 2006, only 10 percent of the infrastructure has been developed.

Kong Triv, the owner of the SNC SEZ in Preah Sihanouk province, also said that the crisis has hurt development plans.

The SEZ received its licence in 2002 with an initial investment of $14 million on a 150-hectare plot.

"We have no plans to develop the special economic zone," said Kong Triv, declining to give additional details.

A senior official at the Council of the Development of Cambodia said that SEZ development has slowed, but that he expects a swift recovery.

"It is normal that a downturn will affect SEZs - there is always an impact on investors' budgets, but SEZs should focus on the long term to position themselves for a recovery," said a senior official in charge of Cambodia's Special Economic Zones, who asked not to be named.

"Currently, there are 21 special economic zones in Cambodia, but only six are actively being developed," the official said.

Trade service fees up 14.5 percent to $7.54m in 2008

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab
Friday, 20 March 2009

THE government collected 14.5 percent more service fees from international trade in 2008 compared to the previous year, according to new government figures obtained Thursday.

Total service fees from goods inspections increased from 27 billion riels (US$6.58 million) in 2007 to over 30.9 billion riels ($7.54 million) in 2008, which was 40.5 percent more than the 22 billion riels projected by the Ministry of Commerce.

But with the financial downturn, both imports and exports are declining, and authorities say revenues from service fees may drop in 2009.

Most of the revenues in 2008 were generated from the top five branches of Cambodia's Control of Import-Export and Fraud Repression (Camcontrol). Chong Ty dry port brought in 12.4 billion riels in duties, with Sihanoukville port collecting 10.5 billion riels. Phnom Penh International Airport took 2.28 billion riels, Banteay Meanchey 1.43 billion riels and Phnom Penh International Port 1.17 billion riels.

Camcontrol Deputy Director General Khlauk Chuon said the increase in revenue reflected robust trade in 2008, coupled with more efficient revenue collection. He said that authorities were working to promote agricultural exports by charging a flat rate of 25,000-30,000 riels (US$6.10 to $7.30) per consignment, in contrast to other sorts of goods, which are charged a levy totalling 0.1 percent of their total value.

"We are now modernising both our technical support and efficiency to encourage trade and improve inspections," he said. "We are strengthening our inspection activities to improve the efficiency of our management and improve the collection of service fees."

In 2008, Cambodian exports totalled $3.35 billion, against imports of $4.42 billion. Total trade was up 11.8 percent to $7.77 billion from $6.85 billion in 2007. The main portals for trade are Chong Ty's dry port and Sihanoukville port, which account for $2.968 billion and $2.513 billion in trade respectively.

Presenting life on the move

Photo by: JEAN-FRANCOIS PERIGOIS
One of the photographs showcased at the "Part of the Process" exhibition.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Jonathan Allison
Friday, 20 March 2009

French photograher Jean-Francois Perigois finds a ‘system' within the dizzying chaos of Phnom Penh's city streets in his new exhibition at Equinox

Having been in the country on and off for more than seven years, Jean-Francois Perigois is no stranger to Cambodia. During this time, he has observed vast changes and discovered that transport, or what he refers to as "the wheel of life", has played an essential part in this change.

"Transport is part of the process of change, but it is also part of the process of life. For those who own the transport, the wheel is so important. It is like the wheel of life," he said.

More than 35 interpretations of the crucial role that the varied forms of transport play in the life of Phnom Penh are documented in Perigois's latest exhibition "Part of The Process", which opens tonight at Equinox.

Perigois, a self-taught photographer, started his career in Paris but left the country to travel after he found it difficult to make a living through pursuing his passion.

Having done the tourist route through Southeast Asia, Perigois was drawn back to Cambodia again and again.

Having had numerous exhibitions in Cambodia at venues including Raffles Le Royal Hotel and Restaurant Le Liban, Perigois is well known locally for his portraits of people and capturing what he refers to as "the instant of life".

"Part of the Process" represents a departure from the artist's usual style.

"[At first], I thought about a collection of photos of the Asian minorities but [then I thought], no, I'm in Cambodia, the photos should be from Cambodia as well."

He then realised that he wanted to create something different from previous exhibitions. Perigois then noticed an often overlooked, if ever present, aspect of life in Cambodia - transport.

"It looks chaotic, an everyday obstacle for many, but there is a kind of system. It is somehow organised, and miraculously there are very few accidents."

The variety of different modes of transport struck a chord with him.

It occurred to Perigois that transport is not only the lifeblood of the country, as it is in any country, but it is also the lifeblood of the people who own it and use it.

"For many people, their transport is their life, part of the wheel of life. Take that away from them and they have nothing," he said.

A dizzying pace
But Cambodia is changing. There are fewer cyclos and more Lexises, more people on the roads, more produce to move.

"You can go to any of the big markets and see people, all day, moving goods on their family transport, just trying to make enough money for them and their families to survive, all vying for space on the over-crowded roads with new, expensive cars."

It's this idea of "social distortion" that Perigois finds fascinating.

"The changes are becoming more and more apparent - lots of new buildings appearing and many old buildings disappearing - but still there will be people making a living with their precious transport."

This ideal can be seen in many of his telling images of people going about their daily, unchanged lives in the thick of the dizzying pace of development - a part of the daily process of life.

Unlike in his previous work, Perigois has manipulated the colour in his images, the subject being in colour and the background in black and white. It is an interesting device, in that it accentuates the subject, but this is not Perigois's primary goal.

"The transport is moving. That is the instant that I want to capture. The colour keeps it in the present, whereas the black and white is the past. It's already happened."

Perigois hopes that his exhibition will help people to open their minds and look carefully at different ways of life "I'm happy for people to get a connection with my images. I hope that people can look at the streets with more interest and compassion."

"Part of the Process" opens today at 7pm at Equinox and runs through May 1.

Can the Koupreys rise again?

Photo by: JOE GARRISON
PSE Garuda flanker Ut Vuthy (left) – veteran stalwart of the Cambodian national team – powers past Stade Khmer’s Khoeun Sangsa during their Premiership match February 8 at Phnom Penh’s Old Stadium.



The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Ray Leos
Friday, 20 March 2009

The Cambodian National Rugby team attempt to reverse recent slump in form and return to their former glory in upcoming tournament in Laos

HOW quickly things change. Flashback to June 2006: The Cambodian national men's rugby team, the "Koupreys", became the toast of the nation as they dominated the week-long Asian Nations Series Regional Tournament in Phnom Penh.

Despite facing bigger and more experienced opponents, the youthful Koupreys were unfazed. They just ran and ran their tournament rivals into the ground. They thrashed Indonesia 30-7 in the opening match, then throttled Brunei, 41-10, which led up to the final tilt against Laos.

Crowds at Olympic Stadium grew during the week-long tournament as word spread among Cambodian sports fans of their national team playing the strange sport locals call bal aop or "hug ball".

The local, regional and international sporting press also began to take notice. Cambodia - a country with a storied sporting tradition during the 1950s and 60s but which more recently has fallen on hard times - has been winning again on the international stage, and winning big. The Koupreys were the cover story on the International Rugby Board website.

Rugby internet message boards and discussion groups around the world have filled with chatter about these young Cambodian flyers who are shaking up Asian rugby.

In the final match of the tournament, Cambodia outclassed Laos 30-0. The raucous crowd at the Olympic Stadium chanted, pounded drums, rang bells and waved tiny Cambodian flags. Chants of "Kou-prey! Kou-prey!" echoed through the rafters of the historic stadium well after the final whistle blowed.

It appeared that the sport of rugby had arrived in Cambodia.

"It was a great time," recalled current Kouprey forward Chey Sophal, who played in the 2006 tourney. "The Cambodian people love sport, and when Cambodian teams win, they get so happy and proud - it doesn't matter what sport it is."

Fast forward two years to July 2008 during the HSBC Asian 5 Nations Southeast Asia Regional Tournament in Jakarta, Indonesia. The dazed and confused Koupreys were no match for Laos in the opening match, losing 33-0. The vaunted Cambodian running attack was shut down by the Laotians. Costly penalties, missed tackles and poor decision-making showed up the Koupreys as disorganised and demoralised.

In another woeful performance three days later against Indonesia, the Koupreys were blown away in the second half, giving up 25 points in one horrific eight-minute stretch. The only consolation from a 55-3 pummeling was a penalty kick in the final minutes to avoid the indignity of being shut out in the tournament.

"It was like a bad dream," said halfback Pich Ratana, who is now in his third year with the Koupreys. "The whole week there [in Jakarta], we just couldn't do anything, couldn't get anything going. It was very frustrating."

Koupreys' fall from grace
In the past year, the Koupreys have fallen from being regional champions to being regional minnows, having lost three test matches in a row by a combined score of 103-17.

"Not many people talk about the Koupreys anymore," added Chey Sophal. "A lot has changed."

New Kouprey head coach Peter Maley pointed out that the year after dominating the Phnom Penh tournament, the Koupreys continued to be competitive in the Southeast Asian region, beating Brunei and Laos convincingly, while losing to Indonesia by a single point.

Maley cited several factors that led to the Kouprey misfortunes of 2008: lack of team depth, the absence of several key players, improved play by Kouprey opponents and the increased use of foreign players by the Laos and Indonesian national teams.

The International Rugby Board (IRB), the international governing body of rugby, allows foreigners to play for national teams as long they satisfy a three-year continuous residency requirement.

In last year's Jakarta tournament, Laos had six foreigners on its roster, while Indonesia had seven. By contrast, Cambodia only had one.

"[The foreigners] certainly contributed to their success," said Maley. "They brought a lot of skill and rugby experience, and raised the level of their teams."

In the 2006 Kouprey championship season, three foreigners played for Cambodia, all of them starters. By 2007, the number had increased to six, with five making the starting fifteen.

For next week's HSBC Asian 5 Nations Regional Tournament in Laos, the Kouprey roster includes three foreigners: Frenchman Francois Bleriot, Australian Ralph McMillan and New Zealander Rob Baker. Bleriot and McMillan missed the tournament last year after playing in 2006 and 2007. Baker is making his Kouprey debut.

"I'm proud of the fact that we had a nearly all Khmer team last year," added Maley. "It showed how committed we are to national rugby development. But at the same time, having some quality expat players in key positions would have really helped. I think the results last year would have been very different."

Still, a case can be made that fielding a purely domestic team in international competitions is the best long-term strategy for national rugby development.

"We don't want to focus on the past. That's over. We need to focus on what's ahead," said Maley. "We have some real potential on this team. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people this year."

Chey Sophal is also optimistic about his team's chances and a return to the glory days.
"We have a good team, and once we start winning, we'll start hearing Cambodian people talking about the Kouprey's again."

Police Blotter: 20 March 2009

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Lim Phalla
Friday, 20 March 2009

ROBBERS TARGET LAND SELLER

Chea Vuthy, 22, from Pursat province, and Chheun Ratha, 23, from Kampong Chhnang, were arrested Tuesday by police in Phnom Penh Thmey village and commune, Sen Sok district, Phnom Penh, on suspicion that they were planning to rob a villager who had recently sold some land. Villagers alerted police, who arrested the men and seized a handgun belonging to a third robber, identified as Morn, 28, who is believed to have masterminded the plot.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

MAN INJURED BY MINE IN B MEANCHEY

Chhuong Chhuot, 35, was severely injured on Tuesday when he stepped on a land mine in Norng Chan village, Ou Bei Choan commune, Ou Chrov district, Banteay Meanchey province, while collecting wood in a forest with two companions who were uninjured by the blast. Local police said the land mine was an old one left over from the civil war period.
KAMPUCHEA THMEY

GIRL NEARLY KILLED OVER EARRINGS

Soeun Nimul, 9, from Ta Lour village, Cheung Kriev commune, Rolea B'ear district, Kampong Chhnang province, was stabbed and strangled on Tuesday by an older woman trying to steal her earrings. She lost consciousness and the robber, identified as Cheam Vannang, 19, thought she was dead. Soeun Nimul crawled back to her village, where family members took her to an area hospital. Her attacker remains on the run.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

MYANMAR MAN FOUND DEAD

Police in Boeung Keng Kang 2 commune on Wednesday discovered the body of a Myanmar national in his house on Street 310, Chamkarmon district, Phnom Penh. The deceased, identified as Min Din, 48, was thought to have died of an unspecified illness, as no injuries were found on the body. Police said the man had been in Cambodia only five days and was staying at the house with a friend, Ko Ko Nang, who works in Phnom Penh.
RASMEY KAMPUCHEA

The Phnom Penh Post News In Briefs

In Briefs: Battambang youth finals

Written by SAM SCHWEINGRUBER
Friday, 20 March 2009

SALT Academy celebrates the culmination of the third Battambang youth football season with four finals Sunday at VTC field in Battambang. Over the last four-and-a-half months, around 800 children - many from disadvantaged backgrounds - have played in 50 teams spread across three boys' age categories and one division for girls. Games are played across half a standard pitch with nine players on each side. The U17 final sees ASPECA Orphanage take on Jerusalem at 2.30pm in what should be an entertaining encounter after a 1-1 draw in the regular season. The Catholics Community centre underline their strength coaching football-playing youngsters with teams featuring in each of the other three finals. In the U14 final, also at 2:30pm, the Catholics come up against a tough Crossroads team in what promises to be a showdown of the two most talented in the division. The remaining boys' final pits KFC's U12 team against Catholic's U12 at 1pm. SALT, which stands for Sport and Leadership Training, have shown that success throughout the season is not just measured by the quality of the games but also in the behaviour of the players and the development of their coaches and leaders. SALT Academy has also developed girls football in Battambang. In its second season, 11 girls teams competed, culminating in the final at 1pm between Crossroads and Catholics in a repeat of last year's final.


In Briefs: Hun Sen Cup playoff

Written by DAN RILEY
Friday, 20 March 2009

The battle for third place in the Samdech Hun Sen Cup and a cash prize of 20 million riels (US$5,011) sees last year's runners-up Preah Khan Reach face navy side Phuchoung Neak on Saturday at 2pm at Olympic Stadium.


In Brief: $I MIllion expected in golf charity

Written by Chun Sophal
Friday, 20 March 2009

Officials say they expect to raise over US$1 million at a charity golf tournament to be held in Vietnam March 28. Hor Sarun, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism and general secretariat of the Cambodia Charity Golf Committee, told the Post Thursday that Cambodia has already raised $528,200.


In Brief: PM to ban nuclear, biological weapons

Written by Cheang Sokha
Friday, 20 March 2009

Hun Sen will approve a draft law banning chemical, nuclear, biological and radioactive weapons Friday as part of a weekly plenary meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to a press release Thursday, the PM will also draft a Royal Decree to establish a Cambodian engineers association, and likely address issues including whether to ratify the convention on the elimination of discrimination against women and a memorandum on manual labour exchange between Cambodia and Kuwait.

It Takes a Village

An American Heiress Aims to Rescue Cambodia by Giving Orphans a Family

By ANNE HYLAND

Here on the banks of the Mekong River, a New York socialite is trying to fashion Cambodia's future.

Her vision: to help shape the next generation of leaders for this small, corrupt and poverty-stricken Southeast Asian country, still recovering from the 1970s genocide that wiped out a quarter of its population.
Photos by John Vink/Magnum Photos for The Wall Street Journal
Founder Elizabeth Ross Johnson calls Sovann Komar a 'children's village.'
Elizabeth Ross Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, has set up an orphanage, Sovann Komar, on the outskirts of Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh.

"I've been very, very fortunate in my life and I always wanted to do something larger with the gifts I have been given -- and I don't mean just financial. I mean my own personal internal resources," says the 58-year-old Ms. Johnson, who has invested millions of dollars in the project and says she is in it for the long haul. "I thought there was a way for me to be useful here."

Today, Sovann Komar, which in Khmer -- the Cambodian language -- means Golden Children, is home to 56 children between the ages of 3 and 8. They come from all over the country; some are orphans, others abandoned. And they all share the surname Sovann, or Golden. (Children in government orphanages are given the surname Rorth, which translates loosely as "belonging to the government.")

Cambodia's Sovann Komar orphanage operates under a family-oriented concept, with couples like Meas Savin and her husband, Si Len, acting as foster parents to a number of children – in their case, six.

Sovann Komar operates under a family-oriented concept. It recruits married, childless Cambodian couples in their 20s and 30s to act as foster parents for five or six children at the orphanage until all of them finish high school. There are 10 foster couples. Each foster mother (the husbands usually have jobs elsewhere) is paid a monthly salary of $175 to $200 plus living expenses such as food and medical care. The package includes free housing in the Sovann Komar compound of wooden homes, a library and elementary school. By comparison, a teacher or a policeman in Cambodia typically makes just $20 to $30 a month.

The foster parents agree not to have any children of their own for three years after they start at the orphanage, to give them time to bond with the foster children. After that, they are encouraged to have only two biological children, whose living expenses are covered by Sovann Komar. Additional offspring are the financial responsibility of the parents. Each couple also gets a trained full-time child-care worker to assist them.

Ms. Johnson wants the children at Sovann Komar to become honest politicians, business leaders, teachers and philanthropists. In an interview, the normally publicity-shy Ms. Johnson says, "I'm not a trained social worker, but I felt what we should give these children are loving parents, a safe environment, lots of opportunities, lots of ideas and an amazing education."

A petite blonde whom the children call "Aunty" or "Grandma," Ms. Johnson first came to Cambodia in 2002 on a holiday. She met Sothea Arun and Arn Chorn-Pond, who had grown up as orphans after their families were killed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. The two men, who share a passion to rebuild their homeland, had established a nongovernmental organization, Cambodia Volunteers for Community Development, to provide such services as free English language lessons and computer classes to help young people get jobs.

One of the children

Inspired by their personal histories, in 2003 Ms. Johnson founded Sovann Komar, which she calls a "children's village," setting it up as a registered U.S. charity. Ms. Johnson hired Mr. Sothea, now 37, to help manage the project. (Mr. Chorn-Pond isn't involved with Sovann Komar.)

"Elizabeth has a good heart for the children," says Mr. Sothea, a thin, soft-spoken man, who has a photograph of the heiress on the wall of his office. "When she saw the orphans she cried," he adds. "She really wants to help these kids and to give them a good beginning."

As for Ms. Johnson's ambitions for his homeland, Mr. Sothea, who was orphaned at the age of 4 when the Khmer Rouge killed 36 members of his extended family, says he believes Sovann Komar can produce a generation of Cambodians free of corruption, unlike the leaders of the past few decades. "If you look at some of our leaders they came from a background of killing and violence. They are corrupt. We hope this young generation will make the Cambodian society better," Mr. Sothea says. "We have a great plan for the future and we will teach them step by step how to be good people."

Foster parent Si Len, 34, says he and his 29-year-old wife, Meas Savin, came to Sovann Komar to help build the kind of "society that we want to have...by raising some of the children." Mr. Si, who works for Digital Divide Data, a nonprofit group that trains disadvantaged young Cambodians in business skills, likes to joke that he and his wife had six children in two months. The children range in age from 3 to 5.

It's unclear how many orphans or abandoned children there are among Cambodia's 14 million people. A 2005 survey by Holt International, a child-welfare agency, put the number of child-care facilities in Cambodia at least 204; the agency determined that the greatest need for child care arose from children born to single mothers, parents who died and poverty. According to the World Bank, a third of Cambodians live below the country's poverty line of less than 45 U.S. cents a day.

"Many of the children in Cambodian orphanages, whether good or bad orphanages, are not orphans. They are there primarily because of poverty, and their families are not able to provide adequately for them," says Jason Barber, a consultant with the Cambodian League for Promotion and Defense of Human Rights in Phnom Penh.

Mr. Barber argues that, except in cases of child abuse, investing in programs that provide small grants or loans to raise family incomes is a better long-term plan than creating child-care facilities, even family-oriented ones like Sovann Komar.

The idea of a family-oriented orphanage like Sovann Komar isn't new. In 1949, Austrian philanthropist Hermann Gmeiner founded SOS-Kinderdorf International, now the umbrella organization for SOS-Children's Villages around the world that provide a similar family environment.

SOS-Kinderdorf has three Cambodian orphanages where children live with surrogate mothers. The mothers aren't permitted to be married or have their own natural children. Each mother, who is paid $100 a month, rears as many as 15 children, although the average number is nine.

Geraldine Cox, a 62-year-old Australian who founded Sunrise Children's Villages in Cambodia about 15 years ago, runs two orphanages and hopes to open a third next year. The latter will be modeled on the family-oriented concept and cater to children orphaned by AIDS.

Finding surrogate parents is a challenge, Ms. Cox says: "It's very hard to get a Cambodian couple that doesn't drink, gamble, smoke and where the husband does not hit the wife."

Logistics aside, one of her biggest hurdles is more fundamental: instilling a moral compass in the next generation in a country that anticorruption advocate Transparency International ranks among the world's most graft-ridden.

"It's trying to make the children understand the difference between right and wrong in a country where people have done terrible things just to survive," Ms. Cox says. "It's a real challenge teaching the kids to understand that corruption isn't the way to be successful. The problem is they see corruption in Cambodia does make people rich and successful."

While Ms. Johnson, who has four children of her own and cares for a Cambodian boy, says her efforts to establish Sovann Komar have been "tough," she's optimistic about making a difference. "I think the families feel very fortunate to be here and that they are part of something that is going to really create some change for the better," says Ms. Johnson, who visits the orphanage at least once a year. "Maybe we're not going to change the destiny of Cambodia, but in our own little way I think it will have a wonderful ripple effect."

—Anne Hyland is a Bangkok-based writer.

Kidnap accused escapes court


Ollies Siaea

TVNZ ( New Zealand)

Friday March 20, 2009
Source: NZPA

A South Auckland man charged with kidnap escaped from Manukau District Court after his appearance on Friday

Ollies Siaea, 31, a shopkeeper, was considered dangerous and should not be approached, police say.

Siaea appeared in court accused of kidnapping a 24-year-old Cambodian man.

His bail application was rejected and Siaea, who was not represented, was remanded in custody until Monday for a lawyer to be appointed and bail reconsidered.

The kidnap happened on on Wednesday night, apparently in a bid to get money.

Outside court, police confirmed a ransom had been paid to free the hostage and the money had been recovered.

Cambodia: Eliminating opportunists in land dispute

Scoop.co.nz (press release) [New Zealand]

Friday, 20 March 2009

Press Release: Asian Human Rights Commission

Cambodia: Eliminating opportunists in land disputes requires effective local administration and proper public consultations

The Cambodian government’s drive for the all out development and beautification of urban centres has created one of the most serious problems for its people. This particular problem is widely known as land grabbing. It is characterized by the grabbing of the land belonging to the poor and weak with unjust or no compensation, by the rich and powerful. Over recent years, and very likely in the years to come, land grabbing has and will affect hundreds of thousands of such people.

In many cases, victims of land grabbing have protested their evictions when they felt the compensation was unjust. This resistance has invariably ended up with the authorities using brute force to evict residents from their homes and lands. The latest of such brutal forced evictions took place in January 2009 when, in the early hours of the morning, hundreds of armed police and company workers, backed up by demolition machines, went to demolish hundreds of homes in the Dey Kraham community in the centre of Phnom Penh and forcibly trucked the residents away to a resettlement area.

In many land grabbing cases, the authorities have claimed that opportunist people had moved on to the land and pressed for compensation when such land was state property now used for other purposes or after such land had been made into private property or granted as concession to the rich and powerful for economic purposes. The claim of the presence of such opportunists has weakened the resistance and demand for just compensation of bona fide residents on the concerned land. As mentioned above, when they are poor and weak, such resistance and demands have eventually lead to their forced eviction.

Very recently over 50 people from the remote northern province of Oddar Meanchey went to stage a protest in front the Prime Minister’s residence on the outskirts of Phnom Penh to request him to get fair compensation for them from a sugar plantation company which had allegedly grabbed their land. But this company claimed that it had received this land as a concession from the government for a sugar plantation. The provincial governor, Pich Sokhin, said more than 200 families affected had already agreed to accept compensation ranging from US$300 to 1000 per family. However, Pich said, when the company started the plantation of sugar cane some local villagers and other people from other provinces moved on to the land and built small cottages with the intention of causing trouble and claiming compensation from the company.

Earlier on, in November 2008, armed police and soldiers used force and fire to evict hundreds of families in an area which the authorities said was located in a state-owned land, which was part of the Bokor National Park in the province of Kampot. The park’s director, Chey Uterith, said that those families had built small homes in that part of the park in the previous year. Chey accused them of grabbing the land with the intention of selling it to others. They then move on to a new site and repeat the process.

The presence and demand for compensation of such opportunists who have moved on to the land in dispute, national parks or the like could have been avoided if the concerned public authorities, especially the local authorities, were effective in the administration of the territory under their jurisdiction. As monitors have observed, in all elections, those local authorities are very effective in identifying people who are supporters or not supporters of the ruling party, and use their influence on them and pressurize others to vote for this party.

If they are that effective, they should also be able to identify people who are residents and know the exact location of their homes under their jurisdiction. Furthermore, they should be able to recognize all new people who have moved on to the disputed land and take necessary measures to prevent them from doing so at the outset. They could for instance get court orders to get them out of the land and/or prevent their construction work. At the very least they could distinguish the newly built homes from the older ones of the bona fide residents and legitimate claimants for compensation. The governor of Oddar Meanchey province and the director of the Bokor National Park could have and should have stopped those opportunists from moving on to that land for sugar plantation and that park, respectively, right from the start when they knew of their first move. These two officials have yet to explain their inaction at the time.

Furthermore, the problem with these opportunists could have been avoided. The distinction between them and those bona fide residents and legitimate claimants could be made a straight forward and perhaps disputes could have been avoided altogether if all the concerned authorities were to effectively enforce and comply with the Land Law of 2001 and all the regulations thereof.

The Land Law determines the ownership and acquisition of land. A government Sub-Decree on Economic Land Concession issued thereof, dated 27 December 2005, sets out a detailed procedure to be followed by all concerned authorities before deciding to grant any concession of land for economic purposes. Article 4 of this sub-decree for instance lays down a set of criteria that must be met first. For instance, the use of the land whose concession is under consideration must be consistent with the land use plan adopted by the Provincial-Municipal State Land Management Committee (Criterion 2), and there must be public consultations with territorial authorities and residents of the locality (Criterion 5). Not all residents have to be included in these public consultations, however, when Article 35 of the same sub-decree stipulates that the concession granting authority has to organize such consultations with territorial authorities and “representatives of local residents.”

Large numbers of residents may justify this limitation of consultations to representatives of local residents. But for these consultations to yield binding outcomes and to avoid disagreements and protests from any other residents, the concession granting authority must ensure that these people are genuine representatives of all residents and are not handpicked or selected by it or any other authority or the applicant for the concession, and that these representatives are subject to no influence or pressure whatsoever. Such consultations would help ascertain further the bona fide residents and henceforth thwart any attempt by opportunists to move on to the concerned land to demand compensation.

Effective public administration and compliance with the Land Law and the regulations thereof, especially the Sub-Decree on Economic Land Concession, could not only thwart attempts by opportunist to make money out of moving on to the lands of others, but could also go some way to avoid land disputes and address the land grabbing problem.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Thailand tightens borders to fight grain smuggling

Fri, Mar 20, 2009
Reuters

BANGKOK, March 20 (Reuters) - Thailand has tightened up on border trade to stop smugglers bringing in grain to take advantage of the subsidised prices paid by the government to help local farmers, officials said on Friday.

"It will be a coordinated effort by the navy, the army and also our administrative officials in a bid to prevent profiteering as the government is spending a lot of money on intervention programmes," said Governor Khanpet Chuangrungsi of Trat province, neighbouring Cambodia.

Tonnes of rice, corn and tapioca have been intercepted coming in from neighbouring countries, as profiteers sought to pass their goods off as Thai farm products to benefit from relatively high intervention prices, traders said.

"The government poured a lot of money into farm subsidies to support farmers. We need to make sure that our farmers access that help, not the others," said an official in Sa Kaeo, another province neighbouring Cambodia around 270 km (170 miles) from Bangkok.

This week Thai soldiers seized 300 tonnes of paddy rice smuggled in from Cambodia, said an official at the Sa Kaeo customs office, asking not to be named.

In February 35 tonnes of corn and 300 tonnes of rice paddy were seized in Tak province, 425 km (265 miles) northwest of Bangkok, as smugglers tried to bring it in from Myanmar, he said.

Since January the government has set up or renewed several farm intervention programmes, trying to prop up commodity prices by buying grain at above-market prices in a bid to placate farmers and nip protest movements in the bud.

But that has widened the gap between prices in Thailand and neighbouring countries, leading middlemen to smuggle in more grain to be sold on the Thai market, adding to swollen government stockpiles, traders said.

The government set a new rice intervention scheme in March, paying farmers 11,800 baht (S$510) per tonne of paddy, higher than market prices in Thailand of around 9,000 baht and well above Cambodian prices of around 7,000 baht, they said.

Thailand was estimated to have 4 million tonnes of milled rice, up from 2.5 million tonnes in mid-2008, said an official at the Ministry of Commerce.

It was a similar picture with corn. It held no stocks at all at the end of 2007 and saw no need for an intervention programme at first in 2008 as prices surged because of biofuel demand from the United States in particular.

After prices fell in the middle of last year, it ran a corn subsidy programme from August to December 2008 and now it has around 900,000 tonnes of the grain in stock.

Now the government is to extend the programme, aiming to buy up to 1.5 million tonnes this year rather than the 500,000 tonnes announced earlier as farmers have staged sporadic protests about low prices, demanding that the government buy more.