Friday, 24 April 2009

See Cambodia’s largest sacred monument

24 April 2009

Leading Asia specialist, Travel Indochina, has just introduced a series of tailor-made private day tours in Cambodia, giving its customers a spectacular opportunity to see Angkor Wat, the world’s largest sacred monument, away from the masses.

Among the options available are a new walking tour, a ‘free’ trip in a hot air balloon and an amazing helicopter ride, or better still, customers can opt for all three as part of the operator’s 4-day “Alternative Angkor” private package*.

The “Angkor Walking Tour” is a unique experience offered exclusively to Travel Indochina’s customers and begins at the less-visited section of Angkor Thom city. Unlike other tours, this addition to Travel Indochina’s programme avoids the crowds often associated with this popular tourist attraction – in fact Travel Indochina’s guests are likely to share this experience solely among their immediate travelling companions.

The day includes an invigorating walk through the jungle to the various ancient temples within the walls of Angkor Thom city. Guests will have an opportunity to walk 3km along the top of the 5 metre-wide city wall which is a wonder in itself, remaining in near-perfect condition since its construction in the late 12th century.

The more adventurous may prefer one of the “Angkor from the Air” alternatives. With an opportunity denied to other visitors, Travel Indochina’s knowledgeable tour guides are able to gain exclusive access, for their customers, to the eastern entrance of the mesmerising Angkor Wat. A pre-dawn departure enables customers to see the wondrous temple at sunrise via a short tuk-tuk ride and torch-lit approach through the jungle – an experience they’ll never forget.

One of the highlights of the day is a ride in a fixed-cable hot air balloon, reaching a height of 200 metres and allowing guests to take in the unforgettable vista of this sacred monument and its surroundings. The day continues at the jungle-enveloped Ta Prohm, one of the most atmospheric of all the temples in Angkor.

For the ultimate thrill, guests can upgrade the “Angkor from the Air” package to include an exhilarating helicopter ride, providing breathtaking views of the mesmerising Angkor complex. Chris Orme, Travel Indochina’s general manager comments:

“Travel Indochina prides itself on creating unique experiences for our customers to make their holiday truly memorable – we are the only tour operator to have access to the eastern entrance of Angkor Wat and the addition of our ‘Alternative Angkor’ package and new day tours perfectly completes the ‘once in a lifetime’ experience.”

The 4 day, 3 night “Alternative Angkor” package costs £295 per person (based on 2 pax) and includes private transfers, 3 nights’ accommodation, a full day’s ‘Angkor Walking Tour’** and a full day ‘Angkor from the Air’*** including a free hot air balloon ride. Helicopter ride upgrades cost £115 per person.

One free night’s accommodation is also offered for all bookings made before the end of September 2009.

For more information and reservations, visit

US confidence in Thai political stability : Thai FM

April 24, 2009

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed confidence in Thailand's political stability and confirmed that she would join the Asean Ministerial Meeting and Asean Regional Forum in Thailand in July, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said Friday.

Clinton hoped the Thai government would be able to restore stability and that democracy in Thailand would grow, he said.

Kasit met Clinton during his official visit to Washington this week to boost the bilateral tie. Both discussed also regional issues including Burma and Thai relations with Cambodia.

Kasit briefed Clinton that the Thai government is moving forward national reconciliation and would amend the 2007 Constitution to be more democratic.

"Madame Clinton has expressed her confidence in what Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is doing and leading the Thai society," Kasit told reporters via telephone conference from Washington

Hillary Clinton to attend Asian summit

Published: 24/04/2009

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has confirmed she will attend the ministerial meetings of Asean and its dialogue partners in Thailand in July, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said on Friday.

Mr Kasit, who is on a one-week official visit to the USA, was speaking after a meeting with Mrs Clinton.

"I've informed her that the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration is working for national reconciliation," he said. "Some parts of the constitution will be amended to enhance the democratic system."

He said Mrs Clinton did not question him about political stability in Thailand or the political movement backing ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra as she was kept well informed by the US ambassador to Thailand.

However, she had her concern about the border disputes between Thailand and Cambodia.

"I have affirmed that Thailand will resolve the border disputes through peaceful means and Thailand will continue to support Cambodia in its infrastructure projects despite any conflicts," he said.

Mrs Clinton hoped to strengthen the long-term ties between Thailand and Washington during her visit, he said.

Asian malaria strain poses new global threat: WHO

Fri Apr 24, 2009

MANILA (Reuters) - A new drug-resistant malaria strain found near the Cambodian and Thai border was threatening global efforts to control and eradicate the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

In many parts of the world, malaria deaths have been declining, particularly in Zambia where fatalities have fallen by two-thirds since 2000, the WHO said.

But the campaign to eradicate the disease is at risk from a new strain of drug-resistant malaria first detected in 2007 in the Mekong area, Shin Young-soo, regional director of WHO Western Pacific area, said in a statement on Friday.

"We have to act now to contain this problem within the Mekong region. It must not be allowed to spread and become a regional and international threat," Shin said.

Latest clinical tests on about 20-50 people infected with the new strain and treated with artemisinin, the most effective drug available to fight the disease, confirmed that it was becoming resistant, said the WHO's Eva Christophel, a malaria expert.

"We have obtained scientific evidence that this is very unusual," Christophel told Reuters. "This is really worrying."

In most malaria cases, people are freed of the parasite in their blood after only three days of artemisinin intake, said Christophel. But for people who were infected with the new strain, the reaction to the drug was much slower.

(Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Rosemarie Francisco)

Dengue Fever gives rock its own Cambodian spin


Friday, April 24, 2009

Long-distance passion that won’t be denied erupts brilliantly in Dengue Fever’s Cambodian-spiced, mini-epic love song, “Tiger Phone Card.” Separated by oceans and continents, an American boy and Cambodian girl express the anguish of separation and ecstasy of reunion.

A duet starring singer-guitarist Zac Holtzman and Cambodian native Chhom Nimol, “Tiger Phone Card” is track No. 3 on Dengue Fever’s latest album, Venus On Earth. In another radio era, the song’s Asian-American ’60s psychedelic pop-rock sound might well have made it a Top 40 hit.

“I wouldn’t have been complaining, that’s for sure,” Dengue Fever bassist Senon Williams said of such speculative success.
Inspired by Cambodian pop-rock music of the 1960s that was, in turn, inspired by American pop and rock broadcast from South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, brothers Ethan and Zac Holtzman co-founded Dengue Fever in 2001. Seeking authenticity, they auditioned singers in Long Beach, home to a large Cambodian community.

The band found Chhom Nimol. A star in her homeland who’d performed for Cambodian royalty, she spoke no English.

“Nimol thought we were really strange,” Williams said. “Whenever we rehearsed she’d bring three to 15 people along to these little rehearsal spaces down in Long Beach. There were people on the couch, reading books, playing cards. Nimol brought her posse to make sure nothing strange happened.”

Chhom eventually grew more trusting of her American band mates but even now she lives primarily in her Cambodian community and speaks English only when she’s with the band.

Dengue Fever’s 2003 debut, featuring remakes of Cambodian classics from the ’60s, is a tribute to Western-influenced musicians who were killed during dictator Pol Pot’s murderous Khmer Rouge regime. The band’s 2007 follow-up, Escape from Dragon House, contains original songs sung in Khmer while 2008’s Venus On Earth features several songs in English.

Dengue Fever’s latest release, DVD-CD set Sleepwalking Through The Mekong, offers a documentary film about the band’s 2005 visit to Cambodia.

“The best thing about the film is that it’s not a bunch of us running around with a video camera shooting ourselves,” Williams said. “We worked with a small Cambodian crew and an experienced filmmaker. It’s a really beautiful film.”

Of course, there were challenges.

“In Cambodia, they just say, ‘Show up and it will be fine,’” Williams said. “We were like, ‘Well, we need to know that we have a show, a stage, PA system.’ They said, ‘Don’t worry. Just show up.’ We realized that we weren’t gonna be able to arrange things through phone calls and emails, so we sent Zac out there two weeks early to set things up.”

The band’s investors also required a shooting schedule. The musicians and director John Pirozzi crafted a plan that they knew might have little to do with reality.

“Everybody thought we had a movie before we thought we had a movie,” Williams said.

The reality Dengue Fever found, including a televised performance from the country’s most watched television station and a concert in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac ghetto attended by thousands who learned of the show strictly through word of mouth, transcended expectations the band may have had.

“Things turned out differently than the plan but also beautifully,” Williams said.

Pol Pot lieutenant tells of village death camps

Baltimore News.Net

Thursday 23rd April, 2009

The trial of one of Pol Pot's surviving henchmen in Cambodia has brought up horror stories of Khmer Rouge torture and killings.

Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, has told of how security camps in certain villages were designed as a prototype for death camps.

Duch has told of the original death camps,
MI3 and S21, which he ran and used to torture, interrogate, and finally kill so-called dissidents.

About two million people, or a third of Cambodia's population, died under the Khmer Rouge.

Duch was only brought to justice earlier this year.

He is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial and is the only one of five in custody to acknowledge responsibility for his actions.

He allegedly oversaw the extermination of more than 16,000 people while at the helm of the death camps between 1975 and 1979.

UNDP Is Not Afraid of Phay Siphan’s Threat - Thursday, 23.4.2009

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 609

“A secretary of state and spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Phay Siphan, told the media that the United Nations Development Programs – UNDP – is to be held responsible for anything, if staff of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (from the Cambodian side) cannot receive their salaries at the end of this April 2009.

“Mr. Phay Siphan said so after the UNDP reconfirmed that it will not release funds to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal as long as the corruption allegations or the kickback issue have not been solved.

“It should be noted that all funds administered by the UNDP for the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders were frozen last year after there had been allegations that the Cambodian staff of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal had to pay kickbacks in order to get employment at this tribunal.

“However, the spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Phay Siphan, reacted so that it sounds like a threat, saying ‘The government’s role is not related to this problem. It depends on the donors and on the UNDP.’

“Mr. Phay Siphan emphasized, ‘If there are irregularities resulting from the UNDP’s attitude, the UNDP must be held responsible alone.’

“It should be remembered that, regarding the funds for the Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, it was said that even though there was a request by the Australian government, the UNDP still disagrees to released the funds for the Cambodian side, because the corruption allegations have not yet been solved.

“Australia, which granted US$456,000 to the Cambodian side of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in April 2008, said last week that because of general developments to prevent corruption at the tribunal, it is prepared to release the funds frozen by the UNDP last year, after Cambodian staff reported to the UN about the kickback issue.

“Australia made this announcement immediately after a failed negotiation on 8 April 2009 between the United Nations and the government to create new programs against corruption at this tribunal.

“The UNDP said that it cannot release the Australian funds, because the kickback issue has not been solved.

“The UNDP said in a statement, ‘The UNDP received a request from the Australian government to release its funds to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia - ECCC. The position of the UNDP is that there must be solutions for these allegations.’

“After careful internal monitoring over the latest progress, and in accordance with accountability principles administering UNDP/government projects, the UNDP is not in a position to release the funds now.

“The Cambodian side of the ECCC must spend around US$300,000 per month for salaries of its 251 staff members. While this tribunal did not have sufficient money in previous weeks, Japan granted US$200,000 at the last minute to solve the problem of salary payments for March. Salary payments will be a problem again this month.

“The head of the Public Affairs Office of the ECCC, Ms. Helen Jarvis, said, ‘We are working on this problem, and that is all I can say.’

“The Japanese Embassy refused to comment whether it will provide funds to the tribunal for April as before or not, but a spokesperson of the embassy said via email, ‘Japan is observing the situation closely with other donor countries.’

“On Tuesday, the UNDP said that its stance is not changed, and while they are worrying about the Cambodian staff and their salaries, they cannot be held responsible for it alone.

“The UNDP said in its statement via email, ‘There are some allegations, and the UNDP cannot release the funds until those problems have been handled.”

“The statement of the UNDP added, ‘Anyway, the funds administered by the UNDP are not the only source of funds for the Cambodian side at the tribunal. Besides donors, who join in bilateral ways, also the Cambodian government itself had promised to provide support as their funds for the Cambodian side in the tribunal.’

“The request by Australia for its funds was made after the failed negotiation between Cambodian and the United Nations on 8 April 2009 about the creation of new mechanisms against corruption in the tribunal.

“The U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, who is also in charge of relations with the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Mr. Peter Taksøe-Jensen, said that at that time, he left a request on the table [of the Minister of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Sok An] and he will not return to conduct additional discussions.”

Khmer Machas Srok, Vol.3, #386, 23.4.2009


See the report in the Mirror of 10 April 2009, with the text of the statement of UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs:

“The United Nations continues to believe that for the ethics monitoring system to be credible, the staff should have the freedom to approach the ethics monitor of their own choice and put forward complaints without fear of retaliation. Such freedom of choice is an important element of a trustworthy ethics-monitoring system.”

Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:Thursday, 23 April 2009

Canada closes embassies in Cambodia, Bosnia

By Jennifer Ditchburn, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA - The Harper government is closing Canada's embassies in Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, countries still struggling to recover from a violent past.

The announcements were made on the websites of embassies, with the same explanation on both: "The government of Canada continually monitors its representation abroad and periodically shifts resources to meet Canada's needs in an ever-changing world."

The government said the decision was taken "following a serious examination of Canada's current diplomatic representation abroad."

Four other missions have been closed since the Conservatives came to power, in Milan, Italy, St. Petersburg, Russia, and Fukuoka and Osaka, Japan.

The government noted that there has actually been a net increase of 25 missions in the past 15 years - most of them in the United States.

The Foreign Affairs Department said it will keep a humanitarian assistance office open in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh.

The country still has serious problems with crime, drugs and human rights violations. A UN-backed war crimes commission is grilling members of the Khmer Rouge regime for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.

Canada sent peacekeepers to the region for a period in the early 1990s.

Sambo Chhom, executive director of the Canadian Cambodian Association of Ontario, said closing the embassy will have an adverse affect on the lives of Cambodians.

"The Cambodian government feels its being watched by the Canadian government. They wouldn't do anything harsh while they're there because they fear an international outcry," Chhom said.

"Without the Canadian government there, the NGOs will have less contact with outside countries."

Canadians travelling in Cambodia who need consular assistance will be directed to the Australian embassy.

Those who need help in Bosnia-Herzegovina are being directed to an Ottawa-based emergency number, or an office in Budapest, Hungary. A consulate is scheduled to be opened in Sarajevo in the future.

Canada set up an embassy in Sarajevo in 1996 after the bloody civil war there ended. About 40,000 Canadian troops served in the peacekeeping mission there between 1992-2004.

The government will remain a member of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which monitors the country's progress at reaching some of the security and governance goals outlined in the peace agreement reached in 1995.

Some retired diplomats and other observers have criticized budget cuts to the Department of Foreign Affairs that began under the Liberals and continued under the Conservatives.

On Thursday, provincial trade ministers urged the federal government to increase its international profile in order to stimulate more trade and investment with Canada.

One of the Conservative government's first acts in 2006 was to slash $11 million from the diplomacy budget, cash that allows representatives abroad to promote Canada.

Duch trial: quick hearing in front of populous audience

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 23/04/2009: Villagers from Kampong Speu province visiting the ECCC. They live near M13, the antechamber to the S-21 interrogation centre. ©John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

On Thursday April 23rd, the courtroom was packed as some 250 villagers came to attend the hearing. They live in the Omlieng commune, where the M-13 centre, formerly directed by Duch, was located, and were taken to Phnom Penh by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam). Also, about sixty inhabitants living on the outskirts of Phnom Penh were there, taken to the tribunal by the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) Public Affairs Section and fifty students from the private Build Bright University (BBU) also came to watch. The hearing, which only took place in the morning, started late and was slowed down by the search for sorting marks on documents but Duch, the accused, began mentioning the early stages of S-21, where more than 15,000 people lost their lives.

During the hearing, Duch claimed that before coming to the ECCC, he was only aware of the existence of two Khmer Rouge security centres, on top of S-21, which he directed. He explained that “All security offices, including the S-21 office, had the duty to detain, torture, interrogate and finally to smash -- that is to kill”. After a recap, with maps, of the “successive houses and offices of Duch”, judges started mentioning the structure of S-21. An organisation chart drawn by Duch himself was then projected, showing his name at the top.

To sum up his responsibilities as “president” of the structure, Duch reminded that on the one hand, he had to draft reports regarding the confessions extracted from detainees under torture. He then sent those documents over to his superiors. On the other hand, he was in charge of train end aducate hiss taff for them to dare “interrogate and torture”. On the chapter of interrogators, some of whom were specially appointed to make Vietnamese or important prisoners talk, he explained he asked his hierarchy to be able to set up a female team of interrogators. He said he made this decision after “incidents” occurred among male staff that took advantage of their position and raped female detainees. Debates over S-21 will resume on Monday April 27th.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 23/04/2009: Aerial picture of S21, shown on 11th day of Duch trial at the ECCC. ©John Vink/ Magnum

At break time, the courtyard of the tribunal was very busy. Sat around a table, Law professor Seng Bun Mea Rith, 55, is chatting with some of his students from BBU. He explains he wanted to teach them a lesson of practical work, since “youngsters are too often not really aware of the Khmer Rouge regime”. “I also wanted them to see how the court works”, he says, seriously, in front of his students. Judging by their cheerful faces, one can guess the real interest they took in being there, seeing and listening to a former Khmer Rouge cadre. A tall young man points out that he lost his grand-parents during the regime of Democratic Kampuchea and felt a greater wish to see one of the senior survivors of the murderous regime. Dany, 20 years old, says with a large smile that she feels angry against the former torturer. “My parents told me the sufferings they went through during the Pol Pot era... Seeing Duch on the television is not enough. I wanted to see him for real!”, she says. Several of her fellow-students mentioned the same feelings. However, the young woman admits the strange sensation of also discovering Duch as an “ordinary old man”...

Sam Rainsy Party – Human Rights Party: chronic of a fusion foretold

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 15/01/2009. Kem Sokha, leader of the Human Rights Party, and Sam Rainsy, leader of the Sam Rainsy Party, at the press conference about the alliance of both parties into the Democratic Movement for Change. ©Vandy Rattana


By Duong Sokha

Land grabbing, economic crisis, falling farming products prices… The two political opposition parties in Cambodia, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and the Human Rights Party (HRP) do have some leeway and have proved zealous in attacking the Cambodian government on all fronts over the past few weeks. The basis of their criticism is nothing new, but their method has nevertheless shifted: SRP and HRP are now singing from the same hymn sheet within the “Democratic Movement for Change”, an alliance formed in January 2009. Representatives of the two formations say they are proud of their new solidarity. Not only do they hope to put an end to several years of election failure but they also wish to make the ruling and rock-solid Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) sway in the next elections. But before then, they still have to go through another step: the merging of the SRP and HRP, planned for 2011.

The alliance: synonymous with “political and psychological success”
Sam Rainsy, president of the main eponymous Cambodian opposition party, is convinced: the creation of the Democratic Movement for Change (DMC) is a success. The SRP leader takes as evidence the many works both parties started in common since the alliance was sealed on January 15 2009. As they promised, representatives of both formations “continued struggling” together, particularly with common declarations in writing or press conferences often quoted in the media. In the space of three months, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha zealously and openly advised the government to both take measures to counter the economic crisis and make decisions to put and end to land grabbing, two topics of utmost importance to the activists from both parties.

“Our collaboration is a psychological and political success and encourages those willing to change society”, the SRP president and MP for the province of Kampong Cham says. “Some said that we were not in the right state to work together and that we often argued, which is not true at all. However, our union strengthens us”.

HRP president Kem Sokha confirms those words with the same enthusiasm. In the context of their movement and within their respective parties represented at the National Assembly, SRP and HRP elected representatives tirelessly requested that the government solve land disputes and seize the land of speculators who acquired debt with banks, the HRP leader and also a Kampong Cham MP insisted on saying.

But that is not all. This tedious work of criticism and counter-propositions is but a prelude of what their collaboration could be, the two leaders of the DMC say. They are also audacious enough to bet that the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), led by prime Minister Hun Sen who has been dominating the political scene for three decades, has every reason to fear a merging of their ranks within the alliance, in the light of the upcoming 2012 communal elections and the 2013 legislative polls. “The current ruling party is very scared about the merging of our parties, because they are unable to solve the problems we mentioned to them, like land grabbing”, Kem Sokha claims.

Backed by the HRP, the SRP is all set for the May elections
The SRP, however, will go solo in the next local elections, held on May 17th 2009, since the HRP has been reduced to the function of observer. The polls will allow the appointment of the first councils in the capital, provinces, municipalities and districts and will be held according to the indirect suffrage. Current communal councils, who are affiliated to the CPP, FUNCINPEC, Nordom Ranariddh Party (NRP) and SRP will be the only ones allowed to take part in the polls. Despite that, Sam Rainsy is willing to take advantage of the alliance with the HRP to consolidate the status of the opposition in these new local bodies. Put aside from any position within the nine Commissions of the National Assembly after the July 2008 legislative elections, SRP and HRP elected representatives now intend to gather their efforts and resources by working on constituencies, as close as possible to the people.

“Although the HRP does not have any communal councils since they did not take part in the last communal elections [April 1st 2007 – the HRP was created shortly after], we do count on them to support SRP candidates. [HRP activists] could have some influence on the communal councils of other parties and encourage them to change their position [in favour of the SRP]”, Sam Rainsy explains. His formation currently has 2,660 communal councils out of the 11,353 called to cast their vote.

For the former Minister of Finance in Cambodia, the game is not over yet concerning those polls which will be dominated, whatever happens, by the CPP. For the May 17th polls, the Number One opponent is hoping to win between 700 and 800 seats out of the newly-created 3,235 council seats, in favour of the SRP, the only opposition party. Those predictions are slightly superior to those published in February by COMFREL, the local NGO for the observation of elections, who bet on 689 to 695 SRP elected representatives.

A decisive step
Although the CPP’s victory is foreseeable, May 17th polls are far from being devoid of any matters at stake, says Sam Rainsy, who sees a decisive step towards the next elections in 2012 and 2013. “Twenty-six MPs [i.e. the number of SRP members who were elected in the July 2008 legislative polls) is very few. This does not allow us to work on a regular basis with the people. Therefore those representatives within the councils of the capital, provinces, municipalities and districts will be every important and will be a great strength that will allow us to stand besides citizens of all categories, so as to solve the issues that worry the Kingdom: land-grabbing issues, the violations of Human rights and the economic crisis”, the SRP president details.

Sam Rainsy would like to think that this strategy will prove successful, with the support of the HRP. Kem Sokha, his partner within the Democratic Movement for Change, says he will support Sam Rainsy publicly but also in the field. “When I met SRP campaigners in the constituencies, I did everything to reinforce their beliefs so that they will still be hopeful for a potential victory, provided they gather and do not defect [to other parties]. As for our own activists, I gave them the order to collaborate with those of the SRP”, says the HRP president, whose party currently holds 3 MP seats within the lower Chamber.

Merging of SRP and HRP in three years’ time?
Despite the restricted aspect of the way polls will be conducted, May 17th will be a first test for the alliance between both opposition formations, before another decisive step. According to Sam Rainsy, both parties have the same ambition: establishing a common list of candidates with a view to take part, under a single name, in the 2012 communal elections and then in the 2013 legislative elections. “From 2009 to 2012, i.e. in three years’ time, we must reach that goal. And, in order to present a joint election register, we will have to merge within one and the same party”, the SRP president says. He reckons the merging could occur in mid-2011, i.e. six months before the communal elections. “We talked about it step by step and must determine the structure, organisation chart, management and the way work will be carried out, he details. The merging will be a definite result and will be, at that moment, of great dimension.

Vegetables exported to Cambodia daily

Tending vegetables in An Phu (Photo: VNA)

VOV News


The An Phu district in the southern province of An Giang exports about 70-120 tonnes of vegetables a day through its border gate to Cambodia.

Nguyen Van Thao, Head of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in An Phu district said that currently it can only meet 20 percent of the Cambodian market’s demand.

The district has resecered a 600ha area in Vinh Truong and Khanh Binh communes for growing vegetables.

The designated area will ensure the constant supply of vegetables toCambodia even during the rainy season. Farmers in the district can produce between 3-7 crops a year to meet export demands.

Woman MP threatens to sue Cambodian leader

Cambodian opposition MP Mu Sochua (here with her lawyer) announces she will sue Prime Minister Hun Sen. [Radio Australia: Robert Carmichael]

Australia Network News

Robert Carmichael, Phnom Penh

Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is set to be sued for defamation by one of the kingdom's leading female opposition politicians.

Mu Sochua wants little more than an apology but the move to challenge the Cambodian "strong man" in the courts is seen as unprecedented.

Hun Sen is not a man to be taken lightly, taking pride in his reputation and regarded with a mixture of fear and respect.

He has also reportedly never been sued.

But unless he retracts recent comments, Mu Sochua will begin a court action against him before the end of April.

Constant thorn

She is a senior MP in the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, or SRP, the largest opposition party. Before she joined the SRP, she was the minister for women's affairs in the coalition government.

The SRP is a constant thorn in the prime minister's side, regularly criticising him and his ruling Cambodian People's Party for not cracking down on corruption and abuses of the law.

The comments made by the prime minister and broadcast nationally did not use Mu Sochua's name directly, but she says she was clearly the target.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith says the prime minister is not concerned about the case, and says Mu Sochua is simply presenting herself as a victim and trying to discredit Hun Sen.

Referring to a land grab case in the southern province of Kampot - which Mu Sochua represents - Hun Sen said that those villagers who wanted their case resolved by him ought not to go to "the opposition female MP".

Thrown off land

Five villagers had been injured when the army threw them off their land and burned down their homes.

During his speech, Mu Sochua told Radio Australia's Connect Asia program, Hun Sen referred to her as "cheung chat" - a derogatory term that she says conveys the meaning of a hustler, somewhere between a gangster and a prostitute.

That, she claims, was in response to a run-in during last year's general election, when she was involved in a confrontation with an army general, who she also took to court. She says the prime minister's remarks could influence the judges in a pending appeal.

She says: "I do this on behalf of Cambodian women.

"I do it on behalf of women in general, because women who are raped, who are assaulted - verbally, sexually, physically and so on - who don't have a voice, cry in silence, are ruined inside."

15 cents claim

She is worried. "It is dangerous - if you consider all the killings that have taken place of people who are strong activists, who are human rights activists, and members of the opposition."

All she wants is an apology and 500 riel in damages - a symbolic sum of around 15 Australian cents.

Mu Sochua admits it is unlikely that she will win her case, but says if she does she will frame the red 500 riel banknote and hang it in her office.

M-13 site residents travel to Duch's trial

Photo by: LUKE HUNT
Villagers from near the site of the Khmer Rouge's M-13 prison attend court Thursday at the ECCC. About 200 people from districts near M-13 attended Thursday's hearings.ECCC spokeswoman Helen Jarvis said residents heard their districts mentioned in TV broadcasts of the tribunal, sparking a desire to see the trial live.

Written by Neth Pheaktra and Georgia Wilkins
Friday, 24 April 2009

Those who live near M-13 prison site get glimpse into trial of feared former jailer.

THE last time Hem Yi saw former prison chief "Duch" was when he led high-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders through the jungle to meet with him at a secret interrogation centre.

On Thursday, 30 years on, the same man faced him behind the bulletproof glass of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

"In the court, I looked at Duch, and he has changed," Hem Yi told the Post.

"Back then, people were scared just to hear his name and did not dare to look him in the face," Hem Reng, a neighbour of the centre known as M-13, added. "He was a strong man at that time. Now he is old."

Hem Yi and Hem Reng were two of 200 people that the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) brought to the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday from their Om Lieng village near the interrogation centre M-13, to see the trial against its former commander, formally named Kaing Guek Eav.

Though the court is in its third week, few other people have had the chance. Despite the efforts of the court's outreach program, pool photos at the court have shown the public gallery near empty since the trial began in earnest in March.

"You cannot force them to come here," court spokesman Reach Sambath told the Post.

"Even if they don't come, the court won't fail. They watch the proceedings on TV and read about them in the paper. It's what the judges do that's important," he added.

However DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang said that more needed to be done to engage locals in proceedings.

"There is no clear strategy by the public affairs office to bring people out to the court. The don't even have a daily schedule available," he said.

"It's time for court officials to start reaching out to people themselves. If you never leave the court, how can you reach out?" he asked, adding that as only 5 percent of Cambodians have access to the internet, the court had only succeeded in reaching out to a predominantly Western audience.

Female interrogators at S-21: Duch

Photo by: LUKE HUNT
Villagers from Om Lieng village, near M-13 interogation centre, at the ECCC Thursday.

Inside the courtroom Thursday, Duch continued to answer questions from judges regarding the establishment and organisational structure of S-21, including how he had commissioned the wives of five of his subordinates to pose as female interrogators for women prisoners at the torture centre.

"A male interrogator sexually abused and raped a female detainee. That interrogator inserted a stick into the vagina of that detainee," Duch told the court.

"After that incident, I removed him and asked for the permission to form female interrogators by gathering all the wives," he said.

Using maps and organisational charts, he explained how the security centre worked and its role in the regime.

"Every security office, including S-21, had the duty to detain, to torture, to interrogate, and finally, to smash - that is, to kill," he said.

"As chairman, my main duty was to report on confessions of those who were tortured. I, myself, annotated those confessions in order for my superior to understand," he said.

Though many villagers have expressed a desire to attend the court, many don't have the finances for transport out there, Youk Chhang says.

"They have called us saying that they have heard the name of their village mentioned on the TV and they want to see Duch in person.

Hem Yi said he was glad she had the chance.

"I am happy to see Duch face the ECCC for his crimes committed during the regime," he said.

SRP lawmaker to sue Hun Sen

Written by Meas Sokchea
Friday, 24 April 2009

Mu Sochua says she will take the PM to court for defamatory remark.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said she plans to sue Prime Minister Hun Sen in a municipal court after he called her cheung klang, or "strong leg", in a speech in Kampot on April 4, she announced Thursday at a press conference in Phnom Penh.

Mu Sochua said that, although she respects Hun Sen as the head of government, she wants him to be held responsible for his insults and is asking for a symbolic 500 riels ($0.12) in damages, which she plans to keep in her cupboard drawer.

SRP lawyer Kong Sam Onn said that Hun Sen was not above the law and could be sued for defamation under a 2006 amendment of the 1992 Untac Law. The original legislation says, "Any bad faith allegation ... which harms the honour or reputation of an individual is a defamation."

Kong Sam Onn added that Hun Sen would be unable to deny his words because they were recorded and said publicly.

"I respect Samdech Hun Sen," Mu Sochua said. "I still remember Samdech's words from when I was minister of women's affairs. Samdech always glorified women and said they should be in political affairs."

Nontheless, she says she wants to maintain her honour as a Khmer woman.

"Samdech's statement, which said that I am a ‘strong leg' female, could be translated many different ways," Mu Sochua said. "Samdech stated in public that I was a skilled troublemaker and that I ran to embrace a man and lost a button on my shirt on purpose," she said. "This is defamation on me as Khmer woman."

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith could not be reached for comment on Thursday, but Hun Sen's top adviser and president of the Cambodian Human Right Committee, Om Yentieng, told the Post that he welcomed Mu Sochua's court case but that the court's decision would be final.

"We welcome that she files to the court and follows the law. But whatever the court decides ... we would like her to follow," Om Yentieng said.

Run Saray, the executive director of Legal Aid of Cambodia, said the verdict should be based on the accuracy of Hun Sen's statement.

"I think that if [Hun Sen's] accusation is really true, then the case is not sustainable. But if it's false, then it's sustainable," he said, adding that if the courts remain impartial then Mu Sochua's case has a chance.

"This depends on the courts. If they are impartial, maybe it will succeed. But if they are not independent, [the case] may fail."

International support
Mu Sochua has received support from a number of international figures following the remarks by Hun Sen.

Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues, wrote a letter on her behalf saying she and her organisation V-Day were proud supporters of Mu Sochua and worried that she was targeted "because she is an outspoken woman who bravely advocates for her people".

Ensler demanded that Mu Sochua be allowed to "serve safely and freely".

The board of directors of the Global Fund for Women, the Wellesley Centre for Women and the Vital Voices Global Partnership also wrote strong letters in support of the SRP lawmaker.

The Global Fund for Women letter, sent to Hun Sen, urged him to make a full apology for his statements and promised to bring Mu Sochua's abusive and defamatory treatment to the attention of the international community.


Land subdecree on agenda

Phnong minority women return home after hawking goods to tourists at Bou Sraa waterfall in Mondulkiri province.

Written by Sebastian Stragio and Chan Sophal
Friday, 24 April 2009

But new edict on indigenous land titles could evade key issues, say NGOs.

THE government could soon pass a subdecree enabling the indigenous land rights protections contained in the 2001 Land Law to become a reality, but local rights advocates say the proposed draft will likely offer little in the way of protection.

At the annual conference of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction on Thursday, Minister Im Chhun Lim said the Council of Ministers would meet the next day to examine the proposed subdecree.

The 2001 Land Law grants protection to indigenous communities, stating that "no authority outside the community may acquire any rights to [their] immovable properties".

But no subdecree enabling registrations of indigenous land has yet been passed, making such communities particularly vulnerable to exploitation and land grabs.

Im Chhun Lim said the proposed subdecree would enable land to be registered on a "collective" basis but that individual land registrations would not be permitted, in line with restrictions laid down in the Land Law. Once registered, he added, land would not be able to be sold.

"Under this subdecree, [communities] can only give community land to members who wish to leave, but they cannot give any land which is owned by the state," he said.

But indigenous rights activists are unsure whether the current draft has addressed concerns raised about an earlier version of the subdecree.

"We [feel] that the subdecree will be useful to regulate the Land Law, especially the articles dealing with the registration of indigenous land," said Ngy San, deputy executive director of the NGO Forum.

But he said a copy of the most recent draft had not yet been distributed to NGOs working in the field.

"The final draft has not been shared," he said. "We don't know whether the comments of communities were included or not."

Unresolved concerns
Mark Grimsditch, a legal adviser for international rights group Bridges Across Borders, said the old draft raised a number of concerns, including a provision (Article 7) that communities could only receive land titles once outstanding land disputes were resolved.

Given the vulnerability of indigenous minorities to land grabbing, he said, this created "a significant barrier to the registration of communal land".

Another problem, Gramsditch said, revolved around the "right" of individual indigenous people to leave their communities and take a piece of communal land with them.

"The Land Law does say that individual members who want to leave the community may be able to obtain private ownership of a piece of land based on the traditional authorities and decision-making mechanisms of the community," he said.

But he said the subdecree went further, reinterpreting this as a "right", which could have the effect of legitimising sales of indigenous lands to outsiders that are otherwise illegal.

Sek Sophorn, a national project coordinator for the International Labour Organisation, who said he heard there was "not much change" from the older draft, raised similar concerns that the right of individuals to sell land would undercut communal land ownership.

"We are concerned that if everybody in the community has the right to leave, it will give an opportunity for outsiders to come and talk to individuals," he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he could not comment on the subdecree's status until after Friday's meeting.

Eviction deadline imminent

Written by May Titthara
Friday, 24 April 2009

Residents near French school have ‘til Monday.

THE Daun Penh district governor has set a Monday deadline for residents living near the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes to agree to government compensation terms for the land or else risk the destruction of their personal belongings, an eviction letter released on Tuesday said.

Many residents were surprised and angry that the eviction date was so soon.

"At least they should delay one month so we can prepare everything.... In such a short time, what can we do?" asked Meak Sina, who has lived in the shadow of the international school since 1979.

She said the government was afraid to negotiate with the whole community.

"When they [the authorities] invited people to a meeting, they just invited one or two families.... They were afraid we would go together and not be afraid of them."

According to the eviction letter, 13 of 37 families have accepted the government's money and a plot of land in Meanchey district. Depending on the length of time they have lived on the land, families will receive US$5,000, $7,000 or $10,000.

But many of the families still want better terms.

"I want justice because I have a lot of family. I want the authorities to pay me $30,000, with a 10-metre-by-20-metre plot of land," Sok Chenda, 54, said. "Now, I am really worried about my situation. I don't have any plans yet, and the deadline will arrive soon."

Hao Sinith, the Wat Phnom commune chief, said residents were still in discussion with the Phnom Penh Municipality.

Sok Penh Vuth, the deputy governor of Daun Penh, said he was too busy to comment.

Public Health: Govt issues dengue warning

Written by Mom Kunthear
Friday, 24 April 2009

Public Health

The Ministry of Health has called on people to be extra cautious of dengue fever in light of an early rainy season this year. Dr Ngan Chantha, director of the ministry's anti-dengue program, said the ministry was issuing an early emergency announcement in hopes of avoiding mass dengue fever infections. "Cambodia usually makes emergency announcements about dengue fever, and although I cannot predict whether dengue fever will increase in 2009, I want to tell all people to protect themselves, and especially their children, from infection now," he said. Ngan Chantha said the ministry plans to distribute more than 100 tonnes of preventative medicine in rural areas this month in a bid to curb infection rates. So far in 2009, two children have died from dengue fever and 750 children have contracted the infection, he said.

Eviction notice gives Group 78 residents 15 days to vacate homes

Written by Cheang Sokha and Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 24 April 2009

PHNOM Penh Governor Kep Chuktema has issued an eviction notice to residents of the Group 78 community in Tonle Bassac commune, giving them 15 days to accept government compensation and withdraw voluntarily from the site.

The "notification" letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Post, claims the 66 remaining Group 78 families are living illegally on state land and land owned by local firm Sour Srun Enterprises, and that they risk forced removal if they remain beyond the deadline.

"City Hall is pleased to inform all residents who are living on the Sour Srun Company's land and on the public road that all levels of government have repeatedly requested [they] accept the compensation being offered by City Hall for their relocation," said the governor's letter, dated Monday.

"Once again, and for the last time, City Hall requests that the remaining residents of these 66 houses accept [our] offer within 15 days."

If the residents remain beyond the May 5 deadline, the governor warned the municipality will take "administrative measures" and disavows responsibility for "any damage to the residents' property or any property lost".

Fears of force
Group 78 representative Lim Sambo said he was served with the notification Thursday afternoon, and that the community would speak with their legal counsel Friday to discuss the situation. But he said the eviction notice was a concern for the remaining families, raising fears of a forced removal from their homes.

"We are living in fear at the moment because the authorities always come and intimidate villagers by threatening to bulldoze our land and so on. They never respect the law and always use force illegally," he said.

Villager Sieu Sopheak said, likewise, that he was unsurprised by the eviction notice. "This is not the first time that City Hall has issued [such a notice]. This is another way of intimidating the people," he said.

Despite the notification, he said the village would continue to fight City Hall for long-standing demands that residents are paid market value for land they claim has been occupied for nearly 20 years.

A legal tangle
Sourng Sophea, a lawyer with the Community Legal Education Centre, which is representing the villagers, said it would be filing an injunction with the court and with the Ministry of Land Management's cadastral committee - which reviews land disputes - arguing that City Hall had exceeded its jurisdiction.

While the municipality claims the people are occupying land belonging to Sour Srun, he said the decision on whether to evict the villagers was up to the courts, not City Hall.

"[The municipality] has no jurisdiction to evict the people," he added.

But when contacted Thursday, Khui Chhor, assistant to Suor Srun Enterprises owner Suor Pheng, said the company no longer owned land in Group 78 and that it has given its share to City Hall for the further expansion of the road leading to its planned bridge across the Tonle Bassac. "There is not any involvement with our company any more," he said.

But Sourng Sophea said that even if all of Group 78 now stands on state land, the claims of the residents far precede those of the Phnom Penh authorities.

"City Hall claimed the land in 2006 [to build a road]," he said. "But the people have lived on their land since 1981."

Opposition claims of 'vote buying' dismissed by CPP

Tep Nytha, secretary general of the NEC, during a press conference last month.

Written by Vong Sokheng
Friday, 24 April 2009

NEC secretary general says preparations for next month's elections are going smoothly and that voters are registered.

THE SECRETARY general of the National Election Committee said Thursday that preparations for next month's commune council elections were proceeding as planned, despite allegations from the Sam Rainsy Party that the Cambodian People's Party had been trying to persuade opposition commune councillors to vote for it.

Tep Nytha, the secretary general, said all 11,353 commune councillors had been officially registered to vote in the elections, which will see the councillors vote to determine the representation of their respective parties at the higher-level district councils and the municipal and provincial councils.

"We have finished the list of voters and the list of candidates from all political parties, and the process is going smoothly in advance of the campaign, which kicks off on May 2," Tep Nytha said.

But Yim Sovann, an SRP lawmaker and spokesman for the party, said there had been some irregularities with regard to the spelling of voters' names and also accused the CPP of "vote-buying" and intimidation.

"We have received information that the CPP has tried to persuade our council members by offering them positions in the government," he said.

He said the party would gather all of its commune councillors at a meeting on Sunday to "strengthen their political will" and discourage them from "selling their consciences" by voting for the CPP.

He said he expected the party to receive 20 to 30 percent of available seats in the Kingdom's district, provincial and municipal councils.

CPP denial
In a statement posted to its website on Tuesday, the CPP dismissed allegations that it had tried to persuade opposition lawmakers to vote for it and defended the effort of the NEC to run the elections smoothly and fairly.

"Some parties have continued to distort the NEC's responsible effort to organise the elections as well as the CPP's supremacy ... as they have done previously," the statement reads.

Cheam Yeap, a senior CPP lawmaker and member of the party's Central Committee, told the Post on Thursday that the party would hold a two-day conference over the weekend in an effort to shore up support among its commune councillors and articulate a political platform to gain more supporters.

"It is the right of the political parties to criticise, but the CPP does not have a policy of buying votes," he said.

Funcinpec and the Norodom Ranariddh Party will participate in the elections along with the CPP and the SRP.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia released a report in February blasting the elections as meaningless, saying they will hold no interest for the general public.

Cooperation for protected forest

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Michael Fox
Friday, 24 April 2009

Efforts to preserve a section of forest in Preah Vihear province have yielded joint management plans and other evidence of cooperation between Thailand and Cambodia.

Preah Vihear Province

JUST 27 kilometres east of Preah Vihear temple - where an outbreak of violence earlier this month led to the deaths of three Thai soldiers - sits one of Cambodia's most important conservation areas, which in recent years has also been the site of remarkable cross-border cooperation with Thailand, officials say.

The effort to preserve the Preah Vihear Protected Forest Area, located in the Emerald Triangle region near Thailand and Laos, has been aided by Thai-Cambodian joint management plans and the sharing of information between the two countries.

The project coordinating these efforts, the Emerald Triangle Protected Forest Complex project, was established by the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) in 2001 in partnership with Thailand. Cambodia began an informal in 2003 and signed on officially in 2008.

Officials said they expect Laos, which participated in a recent meeting, to join officially in 2010.

James Gasana, who represents donors funding the project, said its potential benefits were not limited to the conservation of the forest itself, as it could also facilitate improved diplomatic relations as well as opportunities for the countries to identify mutual interests.

He said he was encouraged by the success of the project so far.

"People are very doubtful about these types of experiments, but now we have proof that it works," he said.

"Peace agreements need to be signed not as a result of international pressure but because countries realise they have something in common."

What's at stake
The forest is what is known to scientists as a deciduous dipterocarp forest, the type that once stretched across Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. It was at one point home to the largest number of large mammals and water birds outside of Africa, according to Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) literature.

Designated a protected area in 2002, the forest is home to about 50 threatened species, including large mammals such as the gaur, banteng, sun bear, leopard, Asian elephant and pileated gibbon. The array of rare birds on offer includes the giant ibis, white-shouldered ibis, white-winged duck and sarus crane, making the forest a destination for bird watchers.

"A lot of the animals are actually stunning," said Dr Hugo Rainey, technical adviser to the WCS.

Thailand and Vietnam have little or none of this type of forest left, the result of human settlement and its attendant destructive practices, including land clearing, hunting and logging. What areas do remain are largely on the border with Cambodia, meaning there could be many opportunities for this type of cross-border cooperation, Rainey said.

Information sharing allows authorities to clamp down on poaching, as poachers find it more difficult to evade authorities.

Trans-border cooperation is long-term, it's technically forever.

Long-term challenges
Representatives from Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, the ITTO and donor countries, including Japan and the United States, met in Siem Reap earlier this month to discuss progress made thus far as well as future plans for the project.

Gasana, who attended the meeting, said it allowed for a productive discussion of the countries' various activities at the border.

This success aside, the Emerald Triangle Protected Forest Complex Project has encountered some obstacles related to the ongoing border conflict with Thailand.

For instance, attempts to coordinate joint border patrols have been stymied by tensions and the fact that the borders are heavily mined.

Moreover, a proposed ranger station to be built near a Cambodian military base currently under construction has not been built. There has also been a reluctance to encourage officials from Cambodia, Thailand and Laos to discuss the project and commit to providing long-term support for it.

Securing Laos's official participation has been a challenge. The country has shown only tentative interest so far, but it recently suggested that it would be willing to devote a section of land to the project that would extend its size by 1,200 square kilometres. This would aid its national effort to extend forest coverage to 70 percent by 2020, a goal intended to increase rainfall and enhance its ability to export hydroelectricity, say officials from the country's Department of Forestry.

Sengrath Phirasack, deputy head of planning for the department, said officials had recognised the benefit of joining the ITTO and would soon urge the government to do so.

The forestry department has also sent 20 rangers to Thailand for training, evidence of the informal cooperation with Laos that is already under way.

Rainey said the benefits of bringing Laos into the ITTO fold would be substantial.

"Overall, the larger the protected area, the larger the effective ‘buffer' against activities - logging, hunting, land clearance - that could harm wildlife," he said. "A larger protected area will also support larger wildlife populations, and thus they will be more robust and more likely to survive in the event of catastrophes, such as fires and flooding."

Laos' countryside includes habitat similar to Cambodia's, and scientists believe that animals including elephants routinely cross between the two countries. However, officials said few surveys have been done on wildlife populations in Laos.

In addition to Laos' past reluctance to participate, a new threat has emerged in the form of the aforementioned military base currently being constructed. The Cambodian government is also building two new roads in the area.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has called for the settlement of border areas in the interest of national security, a view echoed by other officials. The base is to house 3,000 people, a prospect that has conservation advocates concerned.

Hunter Weiler, technical adviser to Cambodia's Forestry Administration, said the construction of roads and settlements tends to lead to environmental degradation, though he said he hoped conservation officials would be able to work with military officials to mitigate the negative effects of such projects.

Speaking more generally about the ITTO project, Weiler said its success would depend on the long-term commitment of participating countries.

"Trans-border cooperation is long-term, it's technically forever," he said. "What we want to end up with is a permanent joint management agreement."

New envoy, new approach

Surya Prasad Subedi, a professor of international law at the University of Leeds, will succeed Kenyan national Yash Ghai as the UN's special rapporteur for human rights.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Friday, 24 April 2009

Surya Prasad Subedi, the UN's new special rapporteur for Cambodia, talks about his new posting and the challenges ahead.

What is the history of your connection with Cambodia?
As a professor of international and human rights law, I have closely studied the evolving situation in Cambodia for a long time; and throughout my academic career - both at the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands and at several universities in England - I have taught a number of Cambodian students who now occupy high positions in both the government and the non-governmental human rights sector. In addition, I was general editor of the Asian Yearbook of International Law for six years between 1999 and 2006, during which I kept a close eye on the situation in Cambodia and interacted frequently with Cambodian scholars, as one of the objectives of this annual publication is to promote the rule of law in Asian countries.

How do you see your new role?
My objective as an independent, impartial, neutral and professional person would be to help the government of Cambodia to fulfil its obligations under international human rights treaties. I would be taking a constructive and cooperative approach to strengthen the rule of law, promote and protect human rights and make democracy stronger in Cambodia. My task would be to support the government to identify what the human rights challenges are in the country and discuss how to improve the human rights situation for the people of Cambodia. What I would be hoping to do would be to cast an expert eye on the existing constitutional, legal and administrative mechanism relating to the protection and promotion of human rights in Cambodia and offer my own recommendations as an independent expert on how to improve the system.

Cambodia is a country with an ancient and rich civilisation and courageous and resilient people. The future prosperity of Cambodia lies in greater respect for the dignity of each and every national and a higher level of protection of people's rights.

In which area do you think you can have your greatest impact on the human rights situation in Cambodia?
I am still studying the situation in Cambodia and it is perhaps too early for me to pinpoint any particular area at this stage. I am looking forward to visiting Cambodia soon and interacting with the people in the government and with other stakeholders. Once I have completed my visit, I will be able to identify areas in which I can make my contribution.

I imagine there is a fine line between lecturing governments about human rights and making constructive criticisms. How do you perceive this tension?
The very position of a UN special rapporteur is a challenging one - to perform a difficult but honourable task. I regard this as a huge privilege and a great opportunity to make my contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights in Cambodia. Promoting human rights and speaking for the oppressed, marginalised and disadvantaged people is always a challenge. I am committed to human rights and the rule of law nationally and internationally, and I would do whatever it takes to discharge my responsibilities as effectively as possible. But my approach would be a constructive one - designed to achieve results.


What impact will the UN's new "code of conduct" for human rights rapporteurs have on your work? Do you agree with critics that it decreases the ability of rights envoys to speak out in their countries?
I am not new to the world of international human rights law, but new into the role of a UN special rapporteur. Of course, I will have to operate within the approved policies and practices of the UN for human rights rapporteurs. However, I do not necessarily think that the new "code of conduct" of the UN will limit my ability to fulfil my duties as an independent expert.

More generally, do you feel the new UN Human Rights Council has improved the human rights work of the organisation?
Promoting and protecting human rights is a continuous and challenging task. No organisation is perfect in achieving its objectives, and the Human Rights Council is no exception. However, in spite of some limitations, the council has done a good job and made a good contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe.

How else can the UN balance the seeming contradiction between its human rights advocacy work and the fact that so many of its member states are rights abusers?
One of the main objectives of the UN human rights agencies is to make all members of the UN fulfil their obligations they themselves have undertaken under various human rights treaties, and live up to the expectations of their people. The human rights obligations are not imposed on any state by any outside power. Every state promised to abide by the provisions of the Charter of the UN, which includes respect for human rights, when they decided to join this world organisation.

Of course, there are a number of states that are failing in their obligations. The UN is there to identify the reasons for such failings and offer constructive advice to improve the situation in any given country. It should be a collective endeavour to improve the situation in any country - including Cambodia.

Your predecessor Yash Ghai had a notoriously chilly relationship with the Cambodian government. What challenges do you think this will throw up for you?
No doubt that professor Yash Ghai is a very distinguished person with a serious commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I hold him in very high esteem. I am aware that he did not receive as much cooperation as he would have liked to from the government of Cambodia. That was unfortunate. However, I am hopeful that the Cambodian authorities will cooperate with me. In life, different individuals have different approaches to any given issue, and such an approach is informed by their own experience and background; and so I will have my own approach.

What rights issue do you think is the most pressing in Cambodia today?
In any society those who suffer most from human rights violations are the weaker sections of the population, including children, women, factory workers, those forcibly evicted from their land to make way for the so-called modern development, political leaders who criticise the government for its weaknesses, those who write against the wrongful activities of the people in power and those who champion human rights for a stronger and genuine democracy under the rule of law. I do not think that the situation in Cambodia is very different in this respect.

Therefore, the issues here would be to ensure that the people belonging to these groups can enjoy their human rights and have their dignity protected.

What is your view on the current trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders?
I was glad that after years of effort there is now finally a tribunal that is able to start its work. It is necessary to allow this international-Cambodian tribunal to bring people who were responsible for committing atrocities to justice. This will go some way to delivering justice to the people who are still living with a dreadful past and to healing their wounds. It is in the interests of Cambodia to have this tribunal succeed in its mission: It will send a big message to people that sooner or later if you commit atrocities and violate people's rights you will be brought to justice. It will have a high educational value too, as it will deter people from committing crimes against humanity not only in Cambodia but across the globe.


Arrivals down 3.4 percent in first quarter, says govt

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Foreign tourists stroll around the grounds of the Royal Palace this week in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara and Kay Kimsong
Friday, 24 April 2009

Latest figures up to March confirm that the sector is in decline as Vietnamese surpass South Koreans as top visitors to the Kingdom

THE Ministry of Tourism on Thursday reported a 3.4 percent drop in foreign arrivals in the first quarter of 2009.

Kong Sopheareak, director of the ministry's Statistics and Information Department, said 622,288 foreigners arrived in Cambodia during the first three months of the year, compared with 644,205 during the same period last year.

The quarter-on-quarter comparison also revealed that Vietnam replaced South Korea as the biggest source of visitors to Cambodia.

The number of Vietnamese arrivals increased by 49 percent, from 53,386 during the first quarter of 2008 to 79,724 in 2009. The number of South Korean arrivals fell from 97,536 during the first quarter of 2008 to 62,633 in 2009.

The number of Japanese arrivals also fell markedly, from 54,149 to 41,745, while the number of American visitors changed only slightly, from 47,612 to 46,616.

The number of arrivals from Thailand fell from 40,611 in 2008 to 27,050 in 2009, making it the eighth-largest supplier of visitors to the Kingdom.

"We have seen that tourists from Vietnam during this quarter have increased, while Thailand has been the opposite," Kong Sopheareak said.

We are in a stable situation ... there will be a slight increase in unemployment.

Both Kong Sopheareak and Ang Kim Eang, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, said the overall decline was insignificant and paled in comparison to declines seen in other countries, particularly elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

"I don't really think it is a big problem for us," Ang Kim Eang said.

"We are in a stable situation, even though there will be a slight increase in unemployment in the sector. If tourism dropped between 20 and 30 percent, that would be a big problem that we would care about."

He said that the country's political stability was a big factor in its ability to keep visitor numbers fairly level.

Minister of Tourism Thong Khon said he was encouraged that the sector did not rely solely on arrrivals from Thailand.

"Now, Vietnam is the main tourism source for us," he said.

Looking ahead, he said the ministry planned to target potential visitors in countries that had not been significantly affected by the financial crisis as well as to promote the Kingdom's ecotourism destinations.

"We will also try to make it easier for tourists to make it through border checkpoints, especially from nearby countries," he said.

Air traffic
Local media reported last week that the number of visitors passing through Phnom Penh International Airport dropped by 12.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009, while Siem Reap International Airport experienced a drop of 26 percent.

Mao Havannall, a secretary of state at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), said he did not believe the decline was so dramatic but that he could not provide exact figures.

"My point of view is that the airline industry won't really be affected much because everyone needs airlines," he said.

Kao Sivorn, director of flight operations at the SSCA, also said he believed air traffic had declined somewhat but not to the extent reported in local media.

For example, he said, airlines that typically offered five flights a week might have dropped down to four.

He also said the recent state of emergency declared in Bangkok had not significantly affected the number of travellers arriving from there, adding that Bangkok Airways did not cancel a single flight.

Govt assesses foreign property law

Foreigners may soon be permitted to own property in Cambodia if a new draft law is passed after consultation with the private sector.

Written by Chun Sophal and Hor Hab
Friday, 24 April 2009

New draft law on property may allow foreigners to purchase apartments, houses and condominiums above the second floor, say government officials and private sector

THE government has drafted a law that could pave the way for foreign ownership of property in Cambodia, the minister of land management, urban planning and construction said Thursday.

Existing rules prohibit foreigners from owning land, which supporters say prevents speculation and price volatility. The proposed changes would allow for foreign ownership of houses, apartments and condominiums from the second floor up for resale. Foreigners would also be able to inherit property.

Minister Im Chhun Lim said on Thursday that the proposed law had been submitted to the private sector for feedback.

"We want this law to be passed as quickly as possible, but we need input from the private sector," Im Chhun Lim said. "The discussion with the private sector will focus on how many units and how much of the building can be bought, as well as which floors they can purchase," Im Chhun Lim said.

The government would also specify a zone near international borders in which foreigners would not be able to buy property, which would prevent foreign ownership of property in disputed areas.

Brett Sciaroni, partner at local law firm Sciaroni and Associates, said he attended a meeting at the Ministry of Economy and Finance and received the draft.

"[The draft law] is good for Cambodia because it will encourage investors to come and it will reinvigorate the real estate market, which has fallen significantly," Sciaroni said.

"It will be helpful for the economy if foreigners can own apartments and condominiums," he added.

Eang Sopheak, a lawyer at the Cambodia Asia Law Firm, said the change would boost property prices. He called for the government to clarify its stance on foreign rights for the sake of investors.

"If the government passes this law, foreign investors living in Cambodia will have more confidence. They will want to own buildings; not just rent like they do currently," said Eang Sopheak. "I think foreigners should have the right to own buildings." He said the government needs to improve its enforcement of the Land Law.

"We have to be sure that our territory is legally guaranteed and properly listed," he said.
But he said he is worried a the draft would affect border demarcation.

Vegetable production rose 14.6pc last year

Written by Hor Hab
Friday, 24 April 2009

CAMBODIA'S vegetable production increased by 14.6 percent last year over 2007, prompted by a 12.8 percent increase in land used for cultivating over the same period, according to a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries annual report.

According to the report, released this month, Cambodia's vegetable harvest rose to 259,610 tonnes in 2008, up from 226,486 tonnes last year, with Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Cham, Takeo and Siem Reap provinces leading the way as the biggest producers.

Hean Van Horn, deputy director general of the General Directorate of Agriculture, said Tuesday that vegetables were a natural growth area for the country.

"I think vegetable farms will grow faster than rice cultivation because farmers can get more profit from vegetables," he said. "We are encouraging farmers to expand their plantation and productivity, and are helping them to produce for market."

But he added that a lack of import standards was still a challenge.

Yang Saing Koma, president of the agricultural development group CEDAC, agreed that the import of agricultural products would affect local producers because most vegetables were still grown by subsistence farmers, but that it was difficult to limit imports. "I think the most important thing is to provide technical support to local producers and to raise awareness of local consumers to consume local products," he said.

Villagers make a statement

Romam Phel, Kong Yu village representative, shooting Land Lost, Culture Lost last year.

Written by Sebastian Strangio and Sam Rith
Friday, 24 April 2009

Locally produced video Land Lost, Culture Lost tells the story of a protracted land dispute with a Ratanakkiri rubber company as seen through villager's eyes

ETHNIC Jarai villagers from Kong Yu, a remote village in Ratanakkiri province, are to visit Phnom Penh for the Monday screening of a locally produced video telling the story of their protracted land dispute with a local rubber company.

Land Lost, Culture Lost, a 27-minute video made by the villagers in their local language, and with English subtitles, presents a role-play showing how local authorities and rubber contractors conspired to separate the community from ancestral land that it claims has been in its possession for centuries.

The community has been fighting for the 450-hectare plot since its alleged purchase by a company owned by Keat Kolney, the sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon, in 2004. The legal case is currently before the provincial court in Ratanakkiri.

The film, produced onsite in Kong Yu between February and June last year, will be screened by an international audience for the first time at Meta House on Monday evening, and organisers hope the event will be a useful counterpoint to the legal advocacy on behalf of the village.

"The hope is that this is a more direct way for Kong Yu to have a dialogue with this international outside presence," said Daniel Lanctot, a media trainer from the United States who supported the villagers during the filmmaking.

Lanctot said the idea of telling the villager's story through video came after they saw an NGO video focusing on land grabbing in Ratanakkiri and felt that their story was misrepresented.

There is a sense of owning up to the story and saying that we were duped...

Their intention, he said, was to tell the story in terms that neighbouring villagers could understand and hopefully prevent a similar fate from befalling other communities.

"They decided they wanted to do a role-play, to target their neighbours more than an international audience," he said. "There's a sense of owning up to the story and saying that we were duped, but that this doesn't have to happen to your community. The end message of the film was very selfless."

Lanctot said the process presented many challenges. In addition to the fact that the village had no electricity, he said many villagers had yet to see a video camera in action and were mystified by images of themselves played back on screen.

"When [villager] Romam Nan was going around taking film, people were standing still - assuming he was taking photos. He would record and then show people their image on the camera, and villagers would freak out and start laughing. There was a real sense of magic that took a lot for people to grasp," he said. "It felt like community theatre."

Despite the fact that none of the Kong Yu community knew how to operate video equipment, Lanctot said he tried to remain as detached from the process as possible.

"I provided training to the village on how to use the camera and was there to support them, but it was entirely their project," he said. But he added that editing - which involved 20 villagers crowding around a laptop hooked up to a car battery - was a necessarily collaborative affair.

"The first English words they learned were ‘OK' and ‘cut'," he said.

Sev Twel, a Kong Yu village representative who plays a rubber company contractor in the video, said the experience of making Land Lost, Culture Lost has finally allowed the community to tell its own story.

"Through the film, we have helped document our experiences for younger generations," he said. "We can show it to high-ranking officials and others who are educated about the law, and ask them to consider whether it is right or not when the authorities and companies conspire to grab land from the people."

Although this was the village's first experience with videography, he said the experience had whetted the appetites of villagers to be involved in more projects.

"We want to make films relating to poverty and the difficulties of people in the village, and our indigenous traditions and habits. We'd like to participate in making as many films as possible," he said.

Whether or not the video has a positive effect as an advocacy tool, Lanctot said that granting the community a voice not mediated by government or NGO officials was an important step forward.

"I think that the most important aspect of doing a video project or making a story is to have it be something the community feels represents them and gives them a voice," he said. "Even if nothing comes out of this, it's something that shows all the effort they've put in."