Wednesday, 3 March 2010
East Kootenay-trained, Cambodian-born tenor Chanthavouth Hy joins the Youth Symphony Orchestra at its performances in Kelowna, Penticton and at Vernon’s Trinity United Church Sunday.
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By Kristin Froneman - Vernon Morning Star
Published: March 02, 2010
A Cambodian-born tenor is about to share his culture when he sings with the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan (YSO) on its annual tour of the valley.
The YSO’s celebrated conductor Imant Raminsh of Coldstream has invited Chanthavouth Hy (pronounced Chan-ta-voot Hee) to perform Khmer (Cambodian) music as part of the orchestra’s program.
The tour stops in Vernon’s Trinity United Church Sunday.
Hy, 25, began his musical education in Cambodia long before coming to Canada.
He has been living in the East Kootenays since Sept. 2007, thanks to sponsorship from the Cambodia Support Group (CSG), a B.C.-based volunteer agency, which is now in its 27th year of helping Cambodia with cultural aid, as well as assisting women, youth and the disabled in the Asian nation.
CSG president Arne Sahlen, who lives in Kimberley, has arranged Hy to perform three traditional Cambodian folk songs with the YSO, said Raminsh, whose association with Sahlen goes back to Prince George.
(Sahlen was a harmony student of Raminsh’s, and his father was in the New Caledonia Chamber Orchestra, now the Prince George Symphony, which Raminsh founded.)
“Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch. This is the second time one of his Cambodian protegees has performed with the YSO,” said Raminsh. “Last spring, I met Chanthavouth when he came to hear the youth symphony with Arne. I thought this would be a great opportunity for this young man to perform with the orchestra, as he has a story to tell, and to do something from his traditional background.”
For Hy, singing is something he was born to do.
“I first heard opera on the radio when I was a small child, and my heart screamed at me to sing it,” he said.
Hy will sing Enchanted Forest and November Breezes, which were composed in the 1960s by Cambodia’s now-retired King Norodom Sihanouk, as well as Aou Tuk Ho (translated as water flows) by Cambodian singer-composer Sin Sisamuth, who was killed by the Khmer Rouge during its brutal regime in the 1970s.
The latter song was recently revived by King Sihanouk’s younger brother, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, who performed with Hy during a visit to Cambodia in May, said Sahlen, who was at the concert.
“One of my most thrilling recent memories is of the prince and Chanthavouth electrifying the airspace with this very piece,” he said. “With Prince Sirivudh’s happy approval, I re-arranged Aou Tuk Ho for the YSO, blending the original and prince’s versions with operatic elements to match Chanthavouth’s passion and voice quality.
“Westerners seem entranced by Khmer pieces. Aou Tuk Ho may serve as a two-way bridge. It may impress Westerners with Cambodian quality in a form they recognize, and transport the power of opera to Cambodians on songs of their own great musicians.”
It was Jocelyn Pritchard, a Vancouver musician whose father was once a United church minister in Vernon, who first met Hy while giving workshops as a representative of CSG at Cambodia’s Royal University of Fine Arts. He was among the two dozen singing students she met –– a young man, she says, with “enormous vocal power and a great passion for helping others.”
The CSG ended up sponsoring Hy to come to Canada and study.
Now learning under tenor Chuck Bisset, Hy has excelled in both his vocal training, English and other subjects, and also devotes his time as a director with the CSG, as well as volunteering for African relief and those at risk in Canada.
Hy returned to his home country in May as a goodwill ambassador for the Cambodia-Canada friendship tour by the University of Victoria Prima-Chamber Singers Choir. He was welcomed home with open arms, and given this accolade from Cambodia’s daily newspaper: “When this slim-built tenor starts to sing, he turns into a giant; his voice filling the air with strength, warmth and beauty.”
Hy has applied to the Victoria Conservatory of Music-Camosun College diploma program, and plans on future studies in Toronto and New York.
Also joining the YSO on its Okanagan tour is 15-year-old Nick Denton of Kelowna, who studies cello with Morna Howie at the Vernon Community Music School, and will perform Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Coldstream pianist Andre Van den Berg, 15, who attends Kalamalka Secondary School, will also premier his first major composition, Passacaglia in A minor.
The orchestra will perform Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, Strauss’ Gypsy Baron Overture and Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite, and will feature a guest appearance by conductor Rosemary Thomson of the Okanagan Symphony.
Tickets for Sunday’s performance, which starts at 7 p.m. at Trinity United Church, 3300 Alexis Park Dr., are available at the door: $15/adult, $10 youth/senior, $5/child (12 and under).
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March 03, 2010
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is professor of law at the Australian Catholic University's Public Policy Institute. He visited Phnom Penh last October and met some of the Uighurs being assisted by the Jesuit Refugee Service.
In June last year a solitary Uighur from Xinjiang Province in China arrived in Phnom Penh seeking asylum. He registered his claim with the Cambodian Government and with UNHCR.
Like East Timor, Cambodia became a signatory to all major UN human rights instruments when in receipt of considerable UN assistance. They, with the Philippines, are the only three of Australia's South East Asian neighbours to have acceded to the UN Convention on Refugees. The Cambodian government has been very slow in setting up its own procedures for refugee determinations, being dependent on UNHCR to provide the service.
UNHCR had been working for many years with the Cambodian authorities to come up with a workable refugee law. UNHCR did not invite input from other refugee or human rights organisations and refused any civil society scrutiny of the proposed law. During the interim refugee status determination process, independent legal representation as requested by asylum seekers was neither permitted nor encouraged.
Having been interviewed four times to determine refugee status, the solitary Uighur had a strong claim backed by documentary evidence. He was worried after one meeting with the head of the Cambodian government's unit responsible for refugee processing who told him that China was a good place which respected its people.
Meanwhile, things turned sour back in Urumqi, Xinjiang Province between 5 and 7 July 2009. Tensions between Uighurs and newly arrived Han Chinese erupted in violence in the factories and on the streets. More than 700 persons were arrested and about 200 persons were killed.
By October, participants in the street violence were prosecuted in courts constituted by 'politically reliable' judges and described in a resolution to the US Congress as being 'without the benefits of any due process, public observers, or court procedures in violation of international legal standards'.
A further 21 Uighurs, including a pregnant mother and her two infant children, then fled overland through Vietnam and into Cambodia. They were cared for by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) which provided them with legal representation and humanitarian assistance. UNHCR provided them with letters stating that they were persons of concern to UNHCR and under the protection of the UNHCR office.
The plight of the Uighurs in Phnom Penh became international news once the Washington Post carried a story about them on 3 November 2009. Radio Free Asia even published the names and dates of birth of some of the asylum seekers. Media reports stated that the Chinese government sought the extradition of the Uighurs.
On 9 November 2009, there were credible media reports that the Chinese government had executed nine persons involved in the Urumqi violence. On 7 December 2009, the Cambodian Ministry of Interior informed the press that they were waiting for a decision from UNHCR on the status of the Uighurs and that the Cambodian government would cooperate with the UN agency.
A week later, UNHCR met with JRS and informed them that the Cambodian Government was very close to promulgating its long awaited refugee law but had asked UNHCR to continue assistance with the refugee determination process of the Uighurs. The Cambodian Government also asked UNHCR to provide a safe house where the Uighurs could be brought together, and assured security.
JRS expressed concern to UNHCR, saying the Uighur asylum seekers were at risk. JRS highlighted three concerns in light of the close political ties between China and Cambodia. Cambodia had a chequered history of providing protection to refugees from China; the vice-President of China was about to visit Cambodia to conclude major business deals; and there were credible reports that China had requested the extradition of the Uighur people.
Also discussed was the complaint, previously brought to UNHCR's attention, that the Cambodian head of the refugee office had told the first Uighur asylum seeker that he thought China was a good place that respected its people. JRS also informed UNHCR of threatening telephone calls received by their legal officer, Taya Hunt, asking why she was 'helping terrorists from China'.
JRS advised UNHCR that they wanted to move the Uighurs out of the capital to a less vulnerable place, but UNHCR advised strongly against this.
On 17 December 2009, the Uighur asylum seekers were taken to their final safe house (pictured) after spending the previous night in a site reserved for Montagnard refugees from Vietnam. And after years of delay and protracted negotiations with UNHCR, the Cambodian government mysteriously and promptly issued a sub-decree on procedures for processing refugees and asylum seekers.
Next evening, the Uighurs were praying when Cambodian police entered the safe house and abducted them at gunpoint. Cambodian authorities then rang UNHCR and said they had been deported. The UNHCR representative conveyed this message to JRS, saying that in his 30 years history in UNHCR this was the most flagrant violation of the 1951 Convention on Refugees he had experienced.
Embassies, international bodies and NGOs were alerted. It turned out that the asylum seekers had not yet been deported; they were being housed in the Ministry of Interior. Diplomatic representations at the highest level received no response. The Uighurs, including the pregnant woman, her husband and two infant children and the man who arrived legally in June, were deported via chartered plane the following night.
On 20 December, the day after the forced return, the Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping arrived in Phnom Penh to sign contracts worth US$1 billion.
None of the refugee claims had been determined in accordance with new procedures endorsed by UNHCR. The long awaited Cambodian refugee law provides for an interview process: 'If a negative decision is made, reasons shall be given for the rejected application.' There is then provision for an appeal within 30 days, whereupon the Immigration Department should consider the appeal within 15 days.
None of these procedures were followed in the first test case of the new law two days after its promulgation. No credible explanation was offered for the peremptory rejection of the Uighur claims.
The new law does provide that officials of the Ministry of Interior 'may immediately reject the application for refugee status' if the applicant does not cooperate or if the applicant does anything to harm national security and public order. There was no evidence of non-cooperation or disruptive behaviour. This was simply a matter of political convenience for the Cambodian government not wanting to cause any embarrassment to the Chinese.
Despite years of training for Cambodian immigration officials, the rule of law counted for nothing with the law's first test. In fact, the prompt passage of the sub-decree after years of waiting was a political artifice for the exercise of unreviewable, arbitrary power. The sub-decree underwent a last minute change with a proviso: 'The recognition of a refugee, the termination of refugee status and the removal of refugee status shall be determined by ministerial order of the Interior Minister.'
On the day Vice President Xi Jinping signed the deals, he thanked the Cambodians for the return of the Uighurs. The Cambodian Foreign Ministry reported him saying, 'It can be said that Sino-Cambodian relations are a model of friendly cooperation.' Cambodia's chief government spokesman was quoted in the New York Times: 'China has thanked the government of Cambodia for assisting in sending back these people. According to Chinese law, these people are criminals.'
The Chinese government provides no access for UNHCR, lawyers or family members to the returned Uighurs. On 14 January 2010, a Khmer newspaper published an unconfirmed report that four of the returnees had been condemned to execution and 14 sentenced to life imprisonment. The Uighurs were not only denied protection in Cambodia; they were forcibly returned without even any pretence at determination of their claims. The refugee status determination procedure became a foil for gathering them together awaiting forced return to China.
Cambodia's long awaited refugee law is a sham. It may be a signatory to the UN Convention, but to date that counts for nothing.
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By DENIS D. GRAY (AP)
BANGKOK — Severe drought has dropped the Mekong River to its lowest level in nearly 20 years, halting some cargo traffic and boat tours on the Asian waterway that is the lifeblood for 65 million people in six countries, a draft report said.
The decrease was caused largely by an early end to the 2009 wet season and low rainfall during the monsoons, rather than dams built upstream in China, according to documents drafted by the Mekong River Commission.
"At this stage there is no indication that the existence of dams upstream has made the situation more extreme than the natural case," said the draft report seen by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Nongovernmental organizations have long blamed China for shrinking the Mekong and causing other ecological damage by building dams. A dozen exist or are planned on the river in the country where it originates.
But dams have also been built or planned in other countries, principally on the river's many tributaries in Laos.
Senior officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam met Wednesday in Luang Prabang, Laos, to discuss the river. China and Myanmar, the other two riparian countries, are not commission members.
The report said the river level in southwestern China is the lowest in 50 years, with only half the volume that would be normal in February. Levels at mainstream measuring stations in Laos and northern Thailand are below those in 1992.
River tour operators have stopped services on stretches of the river in Laos and cargo vessels have been halted in China's Yunnan province, the report said.
The commission said the water scarcity has sparked fears of food shortages, lack of access to clean water and impoverishment in some of Southeast Asia's poorest regions.
"This situation represents a wide regional hydrological drought affecting all countries in the upper part of the (Mekong) basin," the report said. It also noted the commission will hold further discussions with China but gave no details.
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War veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia will tighten their cooperation in a myriad of fields under a friendship and cooperation agreement signed between the two countries’ war veterans associations in Phnom Penh on March 2.
Accordingly, both sides will increase domestic and international coordination in disseminating information on the traditional friendship and mutual support between both states, armies and war veterans’ associations. They will also boost the exchange of information and experience in improving living standards of veterans’ families and facilitate cooperation among veteran-run businesses, especially in border provinces.
The deal was reached during a meeting between the Cambodian Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, Ith Samheng, and Lieutenant General Tran Hanh, chairman of the Vietnam War Veterans’ Association (VWVA), who is leading a delegation to visit Cambodia from March 1-4.
During the meeting, Chairman Tran Hanh informed the Cambodian minister of the VWVA’s current activities at both central and provincial levels. He also shared experiences relating to development of veterans’ associations. In addition, Hanh forwarded an invitation of the Veterans’ Confederation of ASEAN Countries (VECONAC) for Cambodia to join its activities.
Minister Ith Samheng said Cambodia always keeps in mind the great sacrifice and contributions of the Vietnamese people and army during the time of war and peace alike.
Chhem Pe and Sophal Yun at Battery Park in New York City
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FrontLines - February 2010
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—A reality show based loosely on America’s “Apprentice” and “American Idol” is testing the leadership and debating skills of promising young Cambodians.
The USAID-funded “Youth Leadership Challenge” is giving Cambodian youth new opportunities to develop the next generation of leaders in a country where the median age is 22. With 2.1 million viewers, the show recently completed its sixth season and airs nationally on CTN, Cambodia’s most popular TV station.
Each season begins with 16 contestants. During weekly episodes, contestants are divided into two teams that compete in challenges such as organizing a petition campaign or a book drive. At the end of each episode, contestants vote off two fellow cast members. In the final episode each season, two finalists compete in a debate and the audience chooses the winner by texting in their votes.
Each season’s winner has the opportunity to visit the United States, an incentive that is highly prized by Cambodian youth and helps attract strong contestants. The private sector is capitalizing on the show’s popularity through sponsorship deals, which currently account for 23 percent of its budget, up from 7 percent during the first season.
Many former contestants have used the show to further their studies and careers. Kong Sorita, a 22-year-old international relations major, used the skills she learned on the show to win an election for student body president at Pannassasstra University, Cambodia’s most prestigious university.
During the 15-day campaign period, she formed a committee that polled students about their concerns and expectations and used the data to develop a platform. Kong won three times as many votes as her competitor.
After graduation, Kong plans to pursue a career in Cambodia’s diplomatic corps and eventually run for political office, perhaps even prime minister.
“International relations is not a very popular choice for women students in Cambodia, because they are afraid of getting involved in politics,” she said.
“Competing in the ‘Youth Leadership Challenge’ has given me the confidence and skills I need to pursue a career in this field.”
In September 2009, Sophal Yun, the winner of season four, and Chhem Pe, the winner of season five, visited New York City and Washington. Their twoweek study tour combined sightseeing in both cities with educational enrichment. In Washington, they toured the U.S. Capitol and attended a congressional hearing, enabling them to see firsthand how an open, democratic government functions.
“My parents are very proud that I earned my way through the program—and especially the trip to the U.S.,” said Chhem.
At age 19, Chhem was the competition’s youngest winner and came from a poor family in rural Cambodia. After gaining national prominence in the competition, he is making plans to attend university and study international relations and rural development.
“This program will help shape the skills that I will bring [to my career],” said Chhem. ★
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A subsidiary of one of Australia's largest banks, ANZ Royal, has denied it is involved in a scheme to partner up private businesses with Cambodian army units.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the initiative last week and said more than 40 partnerships had already been established to provide food, medicine, tools, buildings and transport for troops and their families.
One of the businesses named as a sponsor of the Cambodian army was Metfone - a subsidiary of a mobile phone company owned by the Vietnamese military.
Another on the list was ANZ Royal - a joint partnership between Australia's ANZ Bank and one of Cambodia's biggest business conglomerates, The Royal Group.
Cambodian Council of Minister's spokesman Phay Siphan, says it's part of the Cambodian culture.
"As part of the ANZ they do have their own employees and some Cambodians on management there, they have the chance to mobilise their charity to support some ? unit they feel like supporting. But the charity hasn't just been supported today, it's been years already. It's just that they have been assigned it so that the people understand who they help."
ANZ Royal, the Cambodian joint venture, declined to comment to Radio Australia, but CEO Stephen Higgins was quoted in local media saying, that although he was unsure how the company's name appeared on the list of military sponsors, it might be "some type of printing error".
A spokeswoman for ANZ in Australia, emailed this statement:
"It is not appropriate for ANZ to provide support or sponsorships to individual military units in any country in which we operate. ANZ Royal Bank, as a subsidiary of ANZ, has not and will not be providing such support."
The initiative to formally link businesses with the military has raised concerns among human rights groups who work in Cambodia.
A spokeswoman from the rights group LICADHO, Naly Pilorge, says there are some serious questions about the program.
"The document is not clear about the role of the ministries, vis-a-vis, the company and certain units of the military and it is especially concerning because some of these ministrieshave absolutely no link to the military such as those that are supposed to focus on youth or women or health and so on. So that's the question that we are trying to find the answers to, because right now it is very unclear. It is alarming because some of these ministries have nothing to do with the military and for good reason."
She says it wouldn't be tolerated in other countries.
"In most countries, developed countries and developing countries, it would be illegal for business in the private sector to openly and directly fund the milliary, but by dealing so openly there is an assumption that the military is open to any group or any company that wishes to use the military to protect its interests and its private interests," she said.
"We have see this over the country over the years in terms of land grabbing. We have the seen the military used, especially in the rural areas, used to evict people to protect the interests of economic concessions, and this is really disturbing because legislation says the miliary is to protect citizens equally and not be used for the private interests of companies."
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Posted on 3 March 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 654
“Phnom Penh: The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee published a statement, calling for a political solution for the president of the biggest opposition party of Cambodia, Mr. Sam Rainsy.
“The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 23 non-government organizations, issued the statement late last week.
“The committee regrets that a lawyer of the government filed a lawsuit against Mr. Sam Rainsy, in addition to the complaint which had been handled by the Svay Rieng court. Civil society organizations wrote that the new complaint will pose more concerns among national and international opinion about the recent political situation in Cambodia, especially relating to the space for democracy and the role of parliamentarians; opposition party parliamentarians were frequently sued, while important issues in the country need the involvement by all political parties. In this sense, the committee thinks that party leaders should focus more on the national interest and unite through negotiations to peacefully settle national issues.
“The committee stated, ‘We would like to encourage our political leaders to respect each other and to negotiate patiently, discussing national problems so that Cambodian citizens can live in peace and in a democratic society.’
“The executive director of the Cambodian Defenders’ Project – a member of the committee, Mr. Sok Sam Oeun – explained that the statement is aimed not only at the government, but at both parties. Mr. Sok Sam Oeun said, ‘Also Mr. Sam Rainsy should soften his position.’
“However, there seems to be less hope that there can be political coordination like in 2005, as Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen stated that he will not ask for an amnesty for Mr. Sam Rainsy again. Last week Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen said, ‘I can say now that in the next elections, there will be opposition parties, but not such a person (like Sam Rainsy).’
“Samdech Dekchor Hun Sen even considered Mr. Sam Rainsy’s activities as traitorous.
“The lawyer Sok Sam Oeun said that it is difficult to follow the way of politicians.”
Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5139, 2.3.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 2 March 2010
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Mar 3, 2010
Phnom Penh - Construction of two Chinese-funded hydropower dams costing more than 1 billion dollars is to begin in south-western Cambodia in the coming weeks, local media reported Wednesday.
A report from the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy said work would begin this month on a 246-megawatt dam costing 540 million dollars on the Tatai River.
And building would start in April on a 338-megawatt dam costing 496 million dollars on the Lower Russei Chrum River.
The Phnom Penh Post newspaper quoted Suy Sem, the minister for industry, mines and energy, as saying the dams would take up to four years to complete.
'We hope that the two hydroelectricity dams will help complement local demand for electricity in the future,' Suy Sem said.
Cambodia suffers from high electricity prices, which have long been a hindrance to foreign investors and economic growth. A number of overseas companies are studying the feasibility of around 20 hydropower dams in the country.
But the opacity surrounding hydropower deals has long made opposition legislators uncomfortable, and they have unsuccessfully called for the contracts to be made public.
Environmentalists too are worried that projects could be pushed through with insufficient consideration given to their social and environmental impacts.
National media last year quoted a senior energy ministry official as saying the government had agreed to buy electricity at 7.45 cents per kilowatt-hour from the Tatai dam, and for 7.35 cents per kilowatt-hour from the Lower Russei Chrum dam.
That commitment has at least one multilateral institution worried.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently warned Phnom Penh against taking on open-ended financial commitments - particularly in the power-generation sector - that could burden the impoverished nation with significant ongoing liabilities.
In its annual country report released in December, the IMF noted it had been given assurances by the authorities that 'no explicit government guarantees have been provided' for such projects.
But it said greater transparency was required to monitor the potential risk of contingent liabilities.
'The staff urged the authorities to thoroughly review existing contracts for potential liabilities, and exercise caution when evaluating new investment projects that carry an explicit or implicit government guarantee,' the IMF stated.
Cambodia currently operates two hydropower dams which have a combined capacity of 13 megawatts. A third dam - which is being constructed by Chinese firm Sinohydro Corp - is partially operational with a projected final capacity of 193 megawatts.
The Tatai River dam is reportedly to be built by China National Heavy Machinery Corporation, while the Lower Russei Chrum dam is due to be built by China Huadian Hong Kong Limited.
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March 2nd, 2010
By Carole Mikita
KAMPONG CHHNANG, Cambodia -- Last November, KSL 5 News showed you how Utahns were helping Cambodian children receive education and training that changes their lives. Now, other Utahns, also missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are working to help rice farmers double their production.
The rice fields of Kampong Chhnang province in Cambodia are brown in the dry season, but the farmers who own them have increased production substantially in the last three and a half years.
"I went around and spoke to a number of them, and almost every one of them indicated that, personally, the amount of rice that they raised on a particular piece of ground doubled, in terms of the yield received," said LDS missionary Elder Lowell Curtis.
Lowell Curtis and his wife, Cheryl, are from Riverton. They are serving a humanitarian mission in Cambodia.
The farmers the couple are helping belong to a cooperative and participated in a project with Latter-day Saint charities and CEDAC -- the Cambodian Center for Study and Development of Agriculture. After centuries of doing it the same way, now they plant fewer seeds and plant them differently.
The farmers see a difference.
"New rice machine; the farmer come here, and testing, and [I] feel that the rice that come out is very good," Oum Sok said through a translator.
He was talking about the rice mill. LDS charities provided the funds to build it; the farmers from the village and surrounding villages financed the machinery. With a larger crop and their own mill, they have enough for their families and plenty of yield to sell.
The program also encourages the families to raise other crops, which create a healthier diet. The farmers also learn to raise chickens or pigs and increase their numbers. The money they earn from sales now goes here to the savings bank the farmers built, and they have moved out of poverty.
These villagers are not Latter-day Saints, most are Buddhists or Muslims.
"This particular project, the number of beneficiaries would be well over a hundred thousand, I suspect," Curtis said. "There aren't any members of the Church who have directly benefited from it. It's just an attempt to help individuals wherever the help may be needed without consideration for religion or national origin."
The rice program started in 2006 and concluded at the end of 2009. The farmers saw an increased success every year; and with the savings program, many have become financially independent.
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By Brendan Brady / Phnom Penh
Tuesday, Mar. 02, 2010
Former Khmer Rouge commander Sam Bith in June 1999, weeks after he was arrested for the 1994 killing of backpacker David Wilson
Ou Neakiry / AP
Almost 16 years after Australian backpacker David Wilson was kidnapped and killed in Cambodia by a Khmer Rouge militia, the Australian government is resisting fresh demands for full disclosure of the case file on his death. Wilson was 29 when he was kidnapped in July 1994, along with Briton Mark Slater and Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, in a Khmer Rouge ambush on the train they were riding from the capital Phnom Penh to the seaside town of Sihanoukville. Six weeks later, the three tourists were executed at a remote Khmer Rouge stronghold after negotiations for their release broke down. Parties intimate with the case say its reopening could reveal willful neglect by Canberra in handling the negotiations.
For years, Wilson's murder has been surrounded by intrigue. Shortly after the abduction, a wealthy Australian businessman offered to pay the $150,000 ransom the Khmer Rouge holdouts were demanding. Retired Australian commandos proposed launching a Rambo-style rescue mission. Opportunistic local middlemen muddled the ransom talks, communicating inflated figures to both sides so they could pocket the difference. Wilson's abduction occurred at a time when foreign journalists and adventurous travelers were returning to Cambodia to witness the country's Wild West atmosphere. The nation had just returned to being a nominally self-governed democracy following years of civil war, brutal communist rule and foreign occupation. But large swaths of the country were still held by the ousted Khmer Rouge communists. Eight foreigners had been kidnapped in the four months before the abduction of Wilson and his friends.
The Wilson family, along with the Victorian state coroner who is relaunching the inquest, has been denied access to 157 pages of the several-thousand-page case file at Canberra's insistence to protect its intelligence-gathering methods. Wilson's family, which still lives in Victoria, believes the documents will show that the Australian government did not discourage the Cambodian army from shelling the site where the hostages were being held — a rash move believed to have directly led to their killings in the following days. The army had wanted to swiftly topple prominent Khmer Rouge positions in order to restore the legitimacy it needed in the eyes of Western powers to receive military aid. The show of force, however, tragically misfired, infuriating Khmer Rouge cadres who, according to later reports, executed the hostages out of revenge for losses to their side.
Alastair Gaisford, now retired, was consul of the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh at the time and in charge of assembling the case file after Wilson's death. He says it includes cables between top-level Australian and Cambodian officials showing that in the run-up to the standoff, Canberra made a commitment of military assistance to Phnom Penh regardless of the outcome of the hostage negotiations — a pledge Gaisford says "was effectively the signing over of [the hostages'] death warrant," since the Cambodian army was more focused on proving its prowess than on collateral damage to the hostages. In contrast, just months earlier the American embassy had assisted in the release of American aid worker Melissa Himes by sternly warning Cambodia that any state attack on the area in which Himes was being held would jeopardize the flow of U.S. aid money, allowing negotiations between her NGO and the Khmer Rouge to continue.
The state coroner's inquest, however, may do more to open up debate on growing expectations for consular protection than shed new light on the circumstances of Wilson's death. In Australia, as in many other Western countries, there has been rising public and media attention to government protection of citizens abroad following a string of high-profile security crises, including 9/11 and the Boxing Day tsunami as well as the Bali, Madrid and London bombings, according to Michael Fullilove, a scholar with the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney. "In more and more countries, [Australian] diplomats are saying that consular services for protecting citizens are keeping them awake at night," says Fullilove. "People are demanding more muscular assistance from their embassies."
Wilson's father says that if his persistence helps achieve that, he'll be glad. Experts say the state coroner and Wilson's family face an uphill battle in trying to force Canberra to hand over the case-file pages it is withholding, but Peter Wilson says he's going ahead with it. "The truth that might come out can help others," he says.
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WB to Improve Health System
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 08:14 DAP-NEWS
The World Bank has said in a bulletin that the health sector in Cambodia is to receive millions.
“The World Bank is managing US$82 million grant project, of which US$30 million is financed by IDA credit (World Bank), and US$52 million by the multi-donor trust fund (DFID) and AusAID,” it said.
The WB has, together with other development partners, has provided Cambodia with financial and technical assistance in designing Cambodia’s health strategy plan (2008-2015).
The WB helps construction and renovation of health centers and referral hospitals inline with the health ministry’s health coverage plan and finance innovative sub national funding arrangements in line with the government on public services delivery and decentralization and de-concentration such as special operational agencies, the WB said.
The project also has strengthened health finance management with a particular emphasis on social health protection which will have direct positive effects on the health of poor populations in remote areas by increasing their access to public health care services and protection people from catastrophic out of pocket health costs, it said, adding that the project is helping to strengthen human resources and health planning system and help to improve the government’s government and stewardship of the sector.
SRP Lawmaker Optimistic over Rainsy’s Return
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 08:13 DAP-NEWS
An opposition party lawmaker on Tuesday expressed optimism that opposition leader Sam Rainsy will return from overseas. However, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned he would be arrested and jailed upon his return to Cambodia.
“I have confidence that Sam Rainsy will return Cambodia soon. There is no other PM candidate for the party as he is the party leader,” Chea Poch, SRP Prey Veng lawmaker, told DAP News Cambodia on Tuesday.
Chea Poch added that Cambodia needs hundreds of millions of dollars in donor aid each year just to survive. Without an opposition party, there will no aid, he claimed.
The Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday last week blasted Sam Rainsy as a traitor to his country.
He confirmed that anyone is allowed to stand in the next election campaign, but noted that the Sam Rainsy Party’s leader may be absent after being convicted by Svay Rieng Court for pulling out border markers on 25 October, 2009.
The premier called Sam Rainsy a traitor to the nation because he caused problems in the east as Cambodia is facing encroachment in the west from Thailand. “As Cambodia is facing a matter at the west area, he (Sam Rainsy) causes the matter at the east area. Is it therefore a treasonous action?” Hun Sen asked at a Royal University of Phnom Penh graduation ceremony on Wednesday.
“You use loving nation words, but you are betraying and destroying the nation. So, the government will take action strongly with the case,” the premier added.
JETRO Office in Cambodia
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 08:13 DAP-NEWS
The Embassy of Japan on Tuesday announced that it will be opened the establishment of new JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) Phnom Penh office and the opening ceremony and interview session will be held on March 10th.
The new JETRO Phnom Penh Office is JETRO’s 9th office in ASEAN.
“Many Japanese companies have much interest in Cambodia, because, first, Cambodia has enjoyed AFTA and, second, Cambodia is the key station in the Southern Corridor located between Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City. Third, infrastructure in Cambodia has been developed recently. Actually, the number of member for Japanese Business Association of Cambodia has been increasing rapidly,” a statement said.
Upon the strong requests by both the Cambodia Government and Japanese business society, and the agreement between Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen at the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting agreed to set up the JETRO Phnom Penh Office.
The opening ceremony will be attended by Cambodian Trade Minister Cham Prasidh, and Japanese Ambassador Masafumi Kuroki, and a Representative Kiyotaka Doho.
S Korea Gives Another US$9.2 M for Angkor Road
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 08:12 DAP-NEWS
The Korean agency KOICA on Tuesday promised aid worth US$9.2 million to renovate the roads in the Angkor Archaeological Park.
KOICA’s local Cambodian expert, Hort Sreu, told DAP News Cambodia that this will be the second donation to support Angkor.
About 21 kilometers of new roads, closed to heavy goods vehicles, will reduce travel times and traffic jams.
PM Urges MoH Oversight Off Cosmetics
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 08:10 DAP-NEWS
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday urged the Health Ministry take action to control cosmetic shops selling products containing harmful chemicals.
“The Health Ministry has to pay attention and closely cooperate with relevant agencies,” the premier said during an MoH convention held at the Inter-continental Hotel.
He also urged the ministry to take action on fake medicines and substandard medical instruments, and all medical shops without a legal license.
He instructed the ministry to build more health centers. “Wherever the citizens are, we have to provide health and education services there.”
Korean Bar Owner Convicted of Sex Trafficking
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 08:10 DAP-NEWS
A Korean bar owner, Shi Hiyung Shu, 40, was on Tuesday convicted by Phnom Penh Municipal Court of sex trafficking his Cambodian staff and sentenced to three years in prison.
The Iris Bar, at 26Eo, Street 136, was established by the defendant. He had denied forcing his staff to have sex with customers. He admitted to ‘fining’ staff US$7-10 for being late.
One witness, Sok Na, a waitress, said that there were “no undressed girls, especially my boss did not force us to have sex.”
Local police had apparently been drinking regularly at the bar to investigate. “Actually, one time I saw a girl who was compelled to have sex with a Korean man, but with no agreement by the victim,” a police investigator said.
Photo by: Sovan Philong
via CAAI News Media
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 15:04 Sen David
Refuse piles up along the curb on Street 13 near Kandal Market on Tuesday night. Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said Tuesday that City Hall would next month begin administering fines of 5,000 riels (about US$1.20) to people who dispose of rubbish in public spaces.
Photo by: Pha Lina
Police stop motorbike drivers for helmet and mirror infractions on Street 488 in Chamkarmon district on Tuesday.
Much of the fining will just give traffic police the chance to extort much money....
via CAAI News Media
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 15:06 Chhay Channyda and Brooke Lewis
Ministry proposes sixfold increase in penalty for drivers who lack headgear
THE Interior Ministry has presented a proposal for a sixfold raise in the fine handed out to motorbike drivers caught riding without helmets, officials said, part of a broader effort to increase compliance with a regulation that has so far failed to reduce traffic fatalities.
In January 2009, an amendment to the Land Traffic Law introduced a fine of 3,000 riels (about US$0.75) for helmetless motorbike drivers, a move that was hailed at the time by road safety activists.
However, Him Yan, director of the Department of Public Order at the Interior Ministry, said Tuesday that the fine needed to be raised.
“The fine has been set too low, which means drivers have not stopped their bad habits. They seem to look down on the traffic law,” he said.
The ministry first floated the idea of raising the fine to 21,000 riels (about $5) during an inter-ministerial meeting held in late February, Him Yan said, adding that officials also discussed the prospect of expanding the helmet regulation so that it would apply to passengers.
Preap Chanvibol, director of the Land Transport Department at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said recommendations from last month’s meeting would be finalised at a meeting to be held later this month, adding that they would then be reviewed by legal experts at the Council of Ministers before being sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen and the National Assembly.
Along with drunken driving and speeding, failure to wear a helmet is considered one of the primary factors contributing to traffic fatalities. Despite the new regulation and a series of enforcement campaigns, however, recorded traffic fatalities last year increased to 1,654, up from 1,572 in 2008.
Experts have argued that patchy enforcement, fuelled by the low presence of traffic police, has led to a low level of compliance with the law.
Him Yan said Tuesday that he believe 90 percent of motorbike drivers wear helmets during the day, but that only 50 percent do so at night.
The most recent survey conducted by the Road Crash and Victim Information System, which is run by the NGO Handicap International Belgium, found that 59 percent of drivers on stretches of National Roads 1, 4 and 5 were wearing helmets in January, along with 11 percent of passengers.
Ryan Duly, an adviser at the Global Road Safety Partnership who works closely with HIB, said road safety activists have long lobbied the government to raise the fine for helmetless drivers, and that HIB reiterated its case to the government in advance of February’s inter-ministerial meeting.
“We just made a recommendation to raise [the fine] so that it becomes a real deterrent,” Duly said. “Especially in Phnom Penh, 3,000 riels is not much. It has to be an amount where people think it is better to buy a helmet than to be fined.”
He added that although HIB had not recommended a particular figure, the proposed $5 fine seemed reasonable. He noted that government officials should take into account local wages and helmet prices.
Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
A roadside helmet vendor, who declined to give her name, mends a helmet behind her display on the corner of Street 51 and Street 178 on Tuesday as a helmetless rider speeds by.
“The cost of a good-quality helmet is about US$10 on average, so, yeah, that amount sounds about right,” he said.
However, Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democratic Informal Economy Association, which represents motorbike taxi drivers as well as tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, said the fine would be unreasonably high for most of the people he represents.
“What is the use for the government to amend the fine for those who violate helmet laws? Ninety percent of people wear them,” he said.
“It would be better to enforce the law. I think that when the new proposed law is adopted, there will be a strong reaction from the people.”
He added that the proposed increase could be an excuse for traffic police to enrich themselves.
“Much of the fining will just give traffic police the chance to extort much money from people,” he said.
Him Yan, however, defended the proposed fine, pointing out that it would be less than similar fines implemented in Thailand and Vietnam, where, he said, officials charge helmet-less motorbike drivers around $10. Duly said that in Vietnam the fine is around $12.
“We have to increase the fine because we have studied the fines in neighbouring countries already and have seen that their GDP growth is a little better than ours, but the fines for traffic law [infringements] are much greater than ours,” Him Yan said.
Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN
A woman from Dangkor district’s Prey Sar commune shouts as police block protesters on Chamkardong Street attempting to reach Prime Minister Hun Sen’s home in Takhmao on Monday.
via CAAI News Media
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 15:06 May Titthara
VILLAGERS involved in a land dispute with a Ministry of Interior official in Dangkor district say that they were forced to halt protests and thumbprint statements withdrawing their complaints on Tuesday in order to secure the release of a village representative detained a day earlier.
On Monday morning, eight villagers were detained as police attempted to block protesters from travelling to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in Takhmao. The villagers say that In Samon, deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Interior, has unlawfully seized 18 hectares of their land in Prey Sar commune’s Proka Village, and that they were seeking Hun Sen’s intervention.
Duong Vy, who was among the villagers detained at the Dangkor district police station on Monday, said that seven of the eight – including herself – were freed after they thumbprinted documents promising to drop their complaints about the land. But she said one woman, Mao Soly, initially refused to sign and was told she would not be released until the rest of the villagers also promised to give their thumbprints to the police.
“The reason that the seven of us agreed to put our thumbprints is because they threatened that if we didn’t agree they would put us in Prey Sar prison,” she said.
“Now we are worried about Mao Soly, [who is] still detained because they accused her of being a leader who incited people to take part in illegal protests.”
She said that on Tuesday morning, villagers went to the police station to give their thumbprints in order to guarantee the release of Mao Soly.
“I decided to stop demanding our land back because they are powerful. If we still want to get our land back we will face detention in Prey Sar,” she added.
On Monday, local officials told the Post that the 18-hectare plot of land had been acquired by In Samon in the 1980s, and that he was recognised as the legitimate owner of the land by both district authorities and the local land-management office.
In Samon could not be reached for comment on Monday or Tuesday.
Prey Sar commune chief Khat Sokhai said that on Tuesday morning police summoned relatives of Mao Soly to the station to confirm that she had led the protests, and that the authorities would release her in the evening “after she confesses about her faults”.
“She has to confess that what she did – demanding to get the land back – was illegal, since the land has an owner already, and they have legal ownership,” he said. He warned that if she did not confess by the evening, police would “send her to the court and detain her in prison”.
Speaking by phone from the district police station, Mao Soly said police were accusing her of being the ringleader of the protests, a charge she denied, and that she had no choice but to give her thumbprint to police.
“I am not encouraging people to demand their land back – people agreed to make the demands together, because this land belongs to the village,” she said before being released on Tuesday evening.
“Now my villagers have come to put their thumbprints together to drop their demands for the land in exchange for releasing me.” She added: “I have agreed to accept everything, but the gods will see who is good and who is bad.”
Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for local rights group Licadho, said that the threats of the authorities were being used to dampen protests about the land dispute.
“The authorities always arrest people and threaten them to agree to stop their protesting, especially related to land disputes,” he said. “The reason people wanted to come to protest in front of the prime minister’s house is because the local authorities did not help them to find a solution.”
via CAAI News Media
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 15:06 Cheang Sokha
FOUR workers who were sacked by the NagaWorld Hotel and Casino last year met with company representatives on Monday in an attempt to settle a labour dispute that has stretched for more than a year.
Sok Narith, the vice president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation (CTSWF), and one of the workers involved in the dispute, said the four had submitted a proposal outlining several scenarios under which they might return to work, though a definitive solution was not reached.
“We are waiting to see the response from the management of NagaWorld,” Sok Narith said. “We expect to have more discussions because we want to end the dispute as soon as possible.”
The four workers – Sok Narith, Leuk Phin, Pich Sovatey and Sophann Dara – are active union members belonging to a group of 14 NagaWorld employees dismissed in February of last year over what they say was a dispute about bonuses.
NagaWorld, however, says the group were dismissed as a result of poor performance.
The other 10 members of the group have since returned to work.
In Monday’s meeting, Sok Narith said the workers offered to return to work without receiving back pay.
Company representatives, however, were not convinced that the workers should be reinstated and proposed instead that the CTSWF raise money to provide them a severance package, Sok Narith added.
Kong Soklim, human resources officer at NagaWorld with resposibility for labour disputes, met with the workers on Monday but declined to comment, saying she was too busy to answer questions.
On February 16, the Secretariat of the Arbitration Council, a conflict-resolution body associated with the Ministry of Labour, issued a verdict instructing NagaWorld to allow union members to carry out their activities on company premises and to reinstate the four workers.
The company, however, has declined to abide by this non-binding ruling.
In July, NagaWorld filed a complaint with Phnom Penh Municipal Court accusing the 14 workers dismissed in February 2009 of defamation and incitement, though the court rejected the lawsuit in October.
via CAAI News Media
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 15:06 Cheang Sokha and Mom Kunthear
PRIME Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday ordered the Ministry of Health to strictly monitor the use of toxic chemicals in cosmetics and urged Khmer women to project their “natural beauty”.
Speaking at the closing ceremony of the Health Ministry’s annual conference, the premier said the number of beauty salons in the Kingdom has grown significantly, and that many women are probably using beauty products without knowing what chemicals they contain.
He also suggested that cosmetics containing harmful chemicals could cause cancer.
“They have to clearly inspect [the products] before using them in order to make sure that people who use makeup for beauty are not in danger of cancer,” Hun Sen said.
Hun Sen also ordered health officials to penalise those who “cause damage to public health” by selling dangerous products or cosmetic services.
He concluded his remarks with a request that women shy away from the excessive use of cosmetics. “I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to all women – single, married or widowed. It’s better to keep your natural beauty,” he said.
Kim Nimol, who owns the Seara Beauty Salon in Phnom Penh, said Tuesday evening that her shop often sells weight-loss and skin-whitening products to customers, but added that it would make no business sense to sell dangerous products.
“I think about my clients’ health more than I think about money because I am afraid of losing my business and clients,” she said
“If we use cheap products to make skin white, it can make our skin itchy, get pimples, and sometimes it can become skin cancer,” she said.
“I think all beauty store owners should not earn money by destroying other people’s health.”
via CAAI News Media
Wednesday, 03 March 2010 15:05 May Titthara
MORE than 1,000 people in Kampong Speu province’s Omlaing commune erected makeshift tents on their farmland on Tuesday in order to prevent a sugar company from “grabbing” their land and turning it into a sugarcane plantation, villagers said.
Residents started protesting at the Thpong district office on Saturday after employees of the Phnom Penh Sugar Company, owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Ly Yong Phat, visited their land under military escort.
Villager representative Prak Sina, 47, said Tuesday that company employees had continued to survey the land despite earlier promises to halt their activities.
“Together, we constructed blue tents in our rice fields to stay overnight and prevent the company staff” from coming, she said. “They always do it when there are no people in the rice fields, so the best way for us is to stay in the fields rather then staying at home.”
Prak Sina said the villagers were not against development project, but wanted clear information about its scope and how villagers would be compensated if it were to impinge on their farmland.
Omlaing commune chief Harb Dam said the Phnom Penh Sugar Company had been granted a 9,000-hectare agricultural concession, but that the project would affect only unused forest.
“Now we are evaluating villagers’ farmland, and are trying to avoid the affected villagers’ land,” she said.
Ly Yong Phat, who also owns sugar companies in Koh Kong and Oddar Meanchey provinces, said villagers should not be concerned about the project.
“We will not take over their land – we are developing on land that we got from the government. The reason that they are afraid of losing their land is that they don’t know clearly about our project,” he said.
However, Vong Yuon, 41, said villagers were still confused and merely wanted authorities to communicate with them.
“If we lose that land we will die,” he said.
“Don’t use Military Police to threaten us. Coming to tell us is better than threats.”