Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Foreign Minister: PM won't meet Thaksin in Cambodia


Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama denied rumours that Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej is going to meet with ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra during his visit to Cambodia.

Mr Samak is scheduled to go to Cambodia on March 3 as the first visit to Asean countries after he becomes prime minister.

Mr Samak's trip came amid news reports that Mr Thaksin will play golf with Cambodia's prime minister Hun Sen.

"I do not want to give any opinions regarding the ousted premier, and I do not want people to perceive that he has any power in the current government," Mr Noppadon told reporters. "The prime minister's visit is on behalf of the government."

He added that the Preah Vihear temple is expected to be discussed during Mr Samak's visit to the neighbouring country.

VN’s Kova paint opens $3m factory in Cambodia

Viet Nam-based Kova Paint Group’s new factory in Svayrieng Province, Cambodia. — VNS Photo Ngoc Hai


SVAYRIENG, CAMBODIA — Viet Nam-based Kova Paint Group opened its first manufacturing facility in Cambodia on Saturday after two years of construction.

The paint factory, built on 1ha in Bavet Commune in the border province of Svayrieng’s Chantrea District, can turn out 60 tonnes of paint per day.

The factory employs some 100 people, two-thirds of whom are Cambodians.

The president of Kova Paint group, Dr Nguyen Thi Hoe, said the Kova Investment International Cambodia Co, a subsidiary of Kova group, had invested US$3 million in the new factory.

The Vietnamese group contributed 70 per cent of the company’s capital and Singaporean companies the remaining 30 per cent.

Hoe also announced the opening of Soma Kova Holding Ltd, a joint venture between Kova group and a Cambodia company that specialises in selling products manufactured at the Kova’s Cambodian factory in local and overseas markets.

Kova’s products, such as stone-like paint, metallic paint, water – based paint for floors, and heat-insulating paint, among others, made in the Cambodian factory would be exported to Malaysia and Cambodia later this year.

According to Rajeev Vaidya, managing director of DuPont Titanium Technologies, Asia Pacific, Kova began operation in a small unit in the yard of HCM City’s University of Technology in 1992, and now has eight subsidiaries and five plants today.

"In 16 years, the growth of the Kova group under the leadership of Madame Hoe has been phenomenal," said Vaidya.

He said Kova and Dupont had enhanced their co-operation over the last 14 years.

"As Kova has grown, so has the partnership. There are many things that connect Kova and Dupont," said Vaidya.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Paul Keng, the CEO of Kova International Singapore Pte, a subsidiary of Kova group, said the presence of Kova in Cambodia and Singapore would create a gateway for the Kova group to ASEAN countries as well as global markets.


Vietnam’s NA presents gift to Cambodian legislature


The Vietnamese National Assembly has presented a 1,250 KWA Mitsubishi power generator as a gift to its Cambodian counterpart.

A document to the effect was signed by Head of the Administrative Department of the Vietnamese NA’s Office Do Kim So and the Cambodian NA’s Secretary General Leng Peng Long at a ceremony held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on February 18.

“The gift not only helps promote the efficiency of the Cambodian lawmakers’ work but also is a clear evidence of the fine traditional relationship between the two legislative bodies, thus contributing to fostering the traditional neighbouring relations between the two peoples and countries,” Leng Peng Long said.

Vietnamese technicians are to help install the generator and transfer technology to their Cambodian counterparts to ensure smooth operation.

Vietnam, Laos promote defence cooperation

Vietnamese Defence Minister General Phung Quang Thanh held talks with visiting Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Senior Lieutenant General Douangchai Phichit in Hanoi on February 18.

The talks took place after a welcome ceremony for Sen. Lt. Gen. Douangchai Phichit, who arrived in Hanoi on Feb. 17 for an official visit at the invitation of Minister Phung Quang Thanh.

The two sides informed each other of the socio-economic development, defence and security issues in their countries and exchanged experiences in building armed forces.

They said that the Vietnamese and Lao armies’ traditional friendly cooperation has been enhanced in a context that the Parties and States of Viet Nam and Laos expand and intensify their comprehensive relations.

The two sides agreed that the two armies will continue promoting cooperation in exchange of delegations, personnel training, border management, combating smuggling activities, and repatriation of remains of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers and experts who died in Laos during the war.

Later the same day, Gen. Thanh and Sen. Lt. Gen. Douangchai Phichit signed a protocol on defence cooperation between the Viet Nam People’s Army and the Laos People’s Army.

Greetings to Czech re-elected President

President Nguyen Minh Triet on February 18 cabled a congratulatory message to his Czech’s counterpart Vaclav Klause for being re-elected at the post. Czech lawmakers voted on February 15 Vaclav Klause president for another five-year term of 2008-2013.

(Source: VNA)

Less Cambodians infected in HIV tests in 2007

February 19, 2008

The number of Cambodians who tested HIV positive dropped in 2007, even though more people have come in to be tested, local media reported Tuesday.

According to figures from the latest report from the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Dermatology and STDs (NCHADS), the number of people taking an HIV test jumped to nearly 300,000 last year, with five percent of them testing positive, the Mekong Times newspaper said.

In 2006, only about 230,000 people were tested, while seven percent were HIV positive, it added.

NCHADS President Mean Chhivon attributed the reduction in the number of HIV carriers to people being more aware of the disease and to there being a mushrooming of HIV voluntary testing and counseling centers throughout the country, the newspaper said.

In 2006, Cambodia's HIV prevalence rate had decreased to around0.9 percent of the whole population, while it was two percent in 1998, according to World Health Organization (WHO) figures.

Source: Xinhua

Preah Vihear : Repair work needed

Bangkok Post
Tuesday February 19, 2008

11th century temple in a bad state

Not only the people's fate is hanging in the balance, but also the fate of the Preah Vihear temple itself.

Preah Vihear was built over a steep cliff on the Dangrek Range during the 11th century. It comprises a succession of courtyards and key buildings including gopuras, or gateway towers, connecting each building by stairways and pavements.

The innermost group of buildings, surrounded by galleries, is where the prasat is located to keep a sacred lingam for worshipping the god Shiva.

Being situated on the top of a high cliff, the temple's sandstone-based buildings have long been exposed to the sun, monsoon rains and wind, causing much damage.

Archaeologists from various agencies such as the Office of Archaeology, the SPAFA, a regional archeological umbrella organisation under the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation, and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), have inspected the site and found that most of the temple's main buildings remain intact.

But its outermost gopura has only some parts of the walls and columns left, while the prasat has virtually collapsed. The decorations of Hindu art have been eroded with some details unrecognisable. Some lintels and columns have fallen out and are scattered.

According to Icomos, conservation work has rarely been done at the site, partly because of adjacent minefields left by the wars in Cambodia. A comprehensive conservation programme is urgently needed to help preserve the site, the agency noted.

The Thai Archaeology Office's director Tharapong Srisuchart said it may not be necessary to reconstruct all the damaged parts, except for the prasat, which may require anastylosis _ removing all the parts and putting them back together as they once were.

This can be done only when Cambodia gives its consent because the site is under its sovereignty, he said. Mr Tharapong also voiced his concern about the boundary problem that has hampered preservation work at the site.

''In the field of arts and culture, we all know that the work has no frontier because the site belongs to humanity,'' said Mr Tharapong.

At the temple site, there are red ropes hung around some stones to prevent visitors disturbing the unstable structure.

The inscriptions of the Kings like Suriyavarman I telling important stories, including the installation of a God representing the lingam on some door frames, are fading away. The only thing that can be clearly seen is a small blue sign that reads ''Don't touch'' on them.

Cambodia Rejects US Claim on Debt

Phnom Penh, Febr. 17 (PL) Cambodia rejected this Monday the United States' complaint about the 339 million dollar debt contracted by Lon Nol's regime after defeating the monarchy in 1972.

The Cambodian government declared the illegal administration of the country was responsible for the indebtedness and, therefore, the current executive has no responsibility whatsoever in the liquidation of such an amount, said its official spokesman, Khieu Kanharith.

Phnom Penh's reaction occurred after the US undersecretary of State to East Asia and the Pacific, Scout Marcial, urged Cambodia to sign an agreement to renegotiate the debt.

The government spokesman rejected Washington's demand relating to the outstanding bills of General Lon Nol (1972-1975) due to the low interest financing of farming products.

Workers Meet MPs Over Salaries

By Kong Soth,
VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
18 February 2008

Kong Soth reports in Khmer (1.23 MB) - Listen (MP3)

Factory laborers met with their parliamentary representatives Sunday to discuss in a public forum the chance of better salaries to offset the rising costs of goods.

The group of more than 500 union leaders and garment factory workers met Ho Naun, of the Cambodian People's Party; Khieu San, of Funcinpec; and Ho Vann, of the Sam Rainsy Party in Ang Snuol district, Kandal province.

Srey Oun, a garment factory worker, asked them to consider the problems of inflation, low salaries and, especially, pressure from garment factory owners.

"I'll make a proposal about the salary," she said. "It is only $50 a month. It is not enough to respond to the price in the market at the present time…So I propose to have at least $80 per month."

Kao Poeun, deputy secretary general of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said authorities did not consider the law when making decisions.

Pov Vorn, president of the Association of Democracy and Independent Economy, said there was an impact to motorcycle taxi drivers and street vendors, especially those who have recently been ousted from Phnom Penh's riverfront.

"The order police, especially those who work in the market, they cannot stop the Land Cruisers," he said. "They can only stop the motorbikes and the trailer-motos. Please, your excellencies, take it seriously as your interest, because [the drivers and vendors] are your voice for voting."
The National Assembly members promised to take the forum's concerns to the next legislative session, and to call government leaders before them for questioning.

The forum was part of an ongoing program put on by the National Democratic Institute.

ADB aids Cambodian rail restoration

ABC, Radio Australia

The Asian Development Bank has launched a multi-million-dollar project to restore Cambodia's war ravaged railway system.

The ADB's president, Haruhiko Kuroda, says it's one of the last steps in the creation of a regional railway that will stretch from Singapore to Beijing.

Around 600 kilometres of track destroyed during Cambodia's long running civil war will be rebuilt at a cost of $US42 million.

While in Phnom Penh, the ADB president has also signed an $82.7 million grant and loan package for education, rural development, and reform of the financial system.

More than $12 million of the total is being provided by Australia.

Tough-love remedy for an unruly teen: Two years. With monks. In Cambodia.

It's unrestrained exuberance for Chou Sa-Ngoun as she hugs her son Michael on Saturday for the first time in two years. Michael returned last month after living for two years with monks in Cambodia. In a ceremony Saturday at Wat Khemarak Pothiram temple in White Center, Michael was freed of the monks' vow not to touch women — including his mother.

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

Chou Sa-Ngoun was desperate.

Her teenage son was skipping school for weeks at a time, using drugs, getting arrested, staying out all night, hanging out with the wrong kids.

Nothing she did seemed to make any difference. Grounding didn't work. Neither did yelling, crying, taking away privileges, counseling, switching schools, probation or stints in juvenile hall.

She called the Army, but was told her son, Michael Sa-Ngoun, was too young to enlist. She begged for temporary placement in a foster home, but law-enforcement and social-service agencies said there wasn't much more they could do for him, or to him. He wasn't really that bad, they said.

"They said he's just being a teenager," she said. "They said they couldn't do anything until he did something more serious. But by the time he did something more serious it could be too late."

Finally, at the end of a family trip to Cambodia in 2004, Chou told Michael that they were leaving him behind. She, her husband and Michael's two younger siblings returned to their Tukwila home while Michael remained in a remote village to be raised and taught by monks in a Buddhist temple.

After two years of living as a monk in Cambodia, Michael, now 17, returned home Nov. 12 with a high-school diploma, job skills and a commitment, he said, to leading a "good life."

"I just felt different one day," he said shortly after his return. "I learned that you have to give up wanting things and accept what you are given. I learned about the afterlife and was taught that if you keep doing good, you'll have a good afterlife."

Chou doesn't know whether the change in her son will be lasting, particularly since he's back in the city where he once ran with the wrong crowd and was seduced by temptation. But she's hopeful the past two years living a life few Western teens will ever know will have a permanent and profound effect on her oldest child.

"I had tried every single thing I could think of," she said. " I thought this was the only way to save my firstborn."

Grounding didn't work

Michael began getting into trouble at school when he was 12. Then he started skipping school weeks at a time with the encouragement of some older neighborhood kids.

"I would drop him off at the front door [of the school] and he would leave out the back," Chou said.

He lied to his parents all the time, his mother said, made straight F's, ignored his chores and his curfew, and sometimes didn't come home at all.

Chou tried grounding him, taking away computer access and video games, and even locking him out of the house. But he always found ways around the restrictions.

One time, the school called her at her job at a medical clinic and said Michael was absent. She came home to find he'd broken into the house with a friend and was on the computer looking at porn and drinking beer.

In 2002, Michael got caught stealing merchandise from JC Penney. The next year he was charged with residential burglary and convicted of second-degree vehicle prowl and stealing a car.

One day, the police asked her to pick him up, but she refused. They kept him for one night but brought him around the next day. When she wouldn't let him in, he broke screens trying to find a way into the house. Another time, he came home badly beaten.

Looking back on those times, Michael says the only things he cared about were money and girls.
Beyond that, the tall, thin young man has a difficult time explaining that part of his life.

"I guess I just didn't care," he said. "I was following the crowd, doing what was easy and fun."
Leaving him behind.

When Michael was 14, Chou began planning a trip to Cambodia, her mother's homeland. Her husband — Michael's stepfather — suggested they leave Michael behind for a week or two.

"I thought that the hardship would be good for him," said Sanny Sa-Ngoun, a carpenter who was raised in Cambodia.

Neither parent had living relatives in Cambodia, but a friend from Bellevue suggested they leave Michael in the care of Buddhist monks in the town of Krolong, a tiny village in the Kampong Cham region with no electricity, no plumbing and no phones.

In November 2004, the family flew in to Phnom Penh and spent the first few days visiting great temples and cities. They eventually made their way to Krolong.

With a little more than a week of vacation left, Chou told Michael they were returning to the U.S. without him.

He raged at first and planned to flee, but didn't have money, a plane ticket or a place to go.
Before his family left Cambodia, he went on a hunger strike and pleaded for another chance.

Chou told Michael that the only way he was coming home was if he lived for a time in the temple and changed his ways.

Michael realized he had no choice. He donned the orange robes of the Buddhist monks, allowed his head to be shaved and mouthed the vows.

He says now that he was resentful. He felt like he'd been abandoned in a strange country, where he didn't speak the language and hated the food. He missed the trappings of his former life:
television, computers and his friends.

In the first weeks and months, Chou listened for a change in his attitude and voice whenever he called home. When she didn't hear it, she told him, "Just a little while longer."

A new world

Buddhist monks are similar to priests and pastors in some Western religions. Taking vows of celibacy, simplicity and service, monks conduct religious ceremonies and rituals and give blessings. They have often traditionally been the most educated people, passing their knowledge from one generation of monks to the next. They often filled the role of educators in many smaller villages.

The temple will take in any young man, regardless of race, background or financial ability, who is willing to study Buddhism as a monk. There is no financial cost or expected payback, but the families of many do make financial contributions to the village or the temple. Because the Sa-Ngouns did not want their son to take food from the mouths of others, they sent $100 for village use.

The Krolong temple and school, which was at the physical and spiritual center of the village, represented an entirely new world for the teen from Seattle.

In silence, Michael rose at 5:45 each morning. He drew buckets of water and laid out two rugs, two place settings and two towels for his teacher and the elder monk, whom he called "Grandpa."

He then set a place for himself, called the two and they ate their meal of rice and meat or fish together. He rested for 10 minutes and went to work outside on whatever needed doing around the temple and school grounds.

He and the other young monks learned to mix mortar, lay stone and build fences. They had friendly competitions to be the best. He began to understand and speak the Cambodian language, and then to study the Buddhist prayers and teachings.

"I learned to try to be free from wanting things, and I learned a lot about older people, how to talk to them and thank them," he said.

He washed at the water pump, and then he and the other monks would take containers and go from door to door among the villagers asking for food in exchange for blessings.

They could not refuse food or ask for more. "We took what was given to us," Michael said. That food was placed in a community dish and made up the monks' final meal of the day, which was eaten together at noon.

One night he had a dream that the 12 evil spirits that were part of his Buddhist teachings tried to keep him from living a good life. He was scared, he said, and when he woke up he found that he didn't see the temple, the village or the country as a prison anymore. He understood why his parents did what they had done.

"I got to thinking about it and figured out I was wrong. I was actually pretty bad," he said.

When he spoke to his mother the next time — about nine months into his stay — he told her he wanted to stay in Cambodia a while longer.

She arranged for him to receive study packets from a high-school correspondence course. He took tests online at an Internet cafe in a larger town where he was taken by a villager on motorcycle.

A few months ago, he received his high-school diploma. He told his mother he was ready to return.

Back home again

He arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last month still wearing his flowing orange robes. He still honored the monks' vows that, among other things, forbade him from touching women and kept him from hugging his mother.

He stayed up the whole first night watching TV, then slept, then watched some more TV. It looked to him like things had changed. "All the construction," he said.

The American food he'd missed so much tasted plain. And he's been overwhelmed by all the noise and activity.

He's been invited to say chants and prayers and give blessings at the Buddhist temples in Olympia, White Center and in people's homes.

"People bow down to him and ask for his blessing," his mother said. "That's how they show their respect."

In a traditional cleansing ceremony that the whole family participated in at the White Center temple on Saturday, Michael was freed from his strict vows, took off his robes and emerged wearing street clothes. The ceremony marked a rite of passage, his journey from Buddhist teachings back to his Western world.

He doesn't plan to renounce what he's learned. But he is now able to hug his mother and find a job.

His first goal is to petition the court to seal his juvenile records because that part of his life is over, he said, "and it's embarrassing." He hopes to land a job in a restaurant, and a portion of what he earns will be sent to the Cambodian temple — not because it is expected of him, but because he sees the needs, he said.

"They have very little," he said.

Michael and his family realize that the true test of his experience is yet to come, when he fully re-enters the world of teenagers and temptations.

But he said he's certain that he does not want to return to his old ways.

When he goes back to Cambodia, he wants it to be for a visit and not a sentence.

"I do feel wiser and more at peace," he said. "I thought that what my mother did was harsh, but I learned a lot about life and consequences. I saw poverty and learned how lucky I was."

"It was hard," Chou agrees. "But I saw where he was going and I said, 'I can't let this happen. I can't give up. If this is the only way to save my son and give him a future, then this is what I have to do.'

"I'm very proud of him now, and I'm very hopeful."

the Iraqis claimed to be Lithuanian, but Vietnamese customs officers knew better

February 18, 2008

Five and a bit years from That Big Demo: Bassim’s Odyssey.

I had originally hoped that his plan to travel illegally to Sweden was a fantasy he would never try to realise, but everything he had said in his letter turned out to be true. He had sold his car, his wife's gold jewellery and some furniture for $6,500 (about £3,300) and borrowed $1,500 from his sister and the same amount from friends. Of this, $6,900 was paid to Abu Mohammed, an Iraqi in Sweden, who provided Bassim and a friend called Ibrahim with Lithuanian passports (these turned out to be genuine, but one of Bassim's many fears over the next three months was that his passport was a fake and he would be thrown in jail). The two men went first to Damascus and then, instructed over the phone by Abu Mohammed in Sweden, they flew to Malaysia.

This would seem to be the wrong direction, but Malaysia has the great advantage of being one of the few countries to give Iraqis entry visas at the airport. Bassim and Ibrahim took rooms at the cheapest hotel they could find in Kuala Lumpur.

They were then told by Abu Mohammed to get a plane to Cambodia and take a bus to Vietnam. Though their money was fast dwindling, they did so. Somehow, still speaking only Arabic, they made their way from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City. The plan was to get a ticket to Sweden by way of France.

This is just tragic.

Suspicious Vietnamese immigration officials took them to an investigation room where Bassim felt ill and asked for a glass of water, which was refused. He and Ibrahim continued to protest that they were Lithuanian citizens and demanded to be taken to the Lithuanian embassy, knowing full well that Lithuania is unrepresented in Vietnam.

It was all in vain. The officials guessed that they were Iraqis. They sent Bassim and Ibrahim back to Cambodia.


Bangkok Post
Tuesday February 19, 2008

A shared cultural heritage is again at the centre of a tug of war

As the 60-year-old musician draws the bow across his three-string fiddle, a sweet Cambodian wedding melody floats around the ancient temple of Preah Vihear, breaking the morning silence.
Uncle Wan's musical stage is a small space in the sanctuary's gallery where every day he plays his tro, or traditional Cambodian fiddle. Visitors like his music and many give him money.

Born in Siem Reap, uncle Wan grew up amid the violence that tore his country apart 30 years ago. Like so many other young men he was drawn into the war between the communist Khmer Rouge and the royalist forces. He served as a soldier - and lost his left leg.

His handicap made it difficult for him to work in the turmoil that followed the war, so he turned to music.

Recently, uncle Wan moved to a new town near the sanctuary and every day he climbs to the ancient temple, where he earns enough money to support his family.

However, history shows that Preah Vihear, which sits on top of the steep cliff of the Dangrek range separating Thailand and Cambodia, has not always been an open-door for opportunity.
Due to the dispute over the blurred boundary between Thailand and Cambodia, the sanctuary has been alternately closed and opened to visitors.

The last time it was closed was in 2002. It was reopened a year later.

Such swings in border diplomacy have not only made life harder for people like uncle Wan, but also created an atmosphere of distrust between Thais and Cambodians in the area.

A Thai senior forestry ranger at Khao Phra Viharn national park, as the sanctuary is called in Thailand, said that when the two governments fall out, people even stop talking to each other - instead standing mutely, face to face, with only a steel bar erected between them.

"People here hardly ever have problems with each other," the park ranger said.

"But once we receive orders to close the border, we become as strangers, acting as if we have never met each other before."

Cambodia's recent efforts to nominate Phreah Vihear as a Word Heritage site has again put the people in the border area under pressure.

Cambodia officially requested the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to list the old temple as a World Heritage site in 2001.

Since then, it has been going ahead with the proposal alone, without Thailand taking part.

Last year, at a meeting of the World Heritage Committee in New Zealand, Thailand protested against the proposal.

This resulted in a recommendation that the two countries work out a way to manage the site together.
Thai officials involved in the issue say Cambodia's proposal extends over unsettled boundary lines into areas also claimed by Thailand.

The International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), which consults with Unesco on nominated sites, mentioned in its evaluation report that the frontier between Cambodia and Thailand passes alongside the northern boundary of the nominated property.

It referred to information provided by another agency, that the precise location of the frontier is currently disputed by the two countries.

A process to resolve both the boundaries of the temple site and of the frontier should continue, to ensure the sound long-term management of the property, it said.

For the site to be nominated, inclusions of some outer areas and a buffer zone are needed to help protect it from external influences, according to a senior Thai archeologist working on the recommended joint management plan.

The inclusion of such areas requires recognition not only from Cambodia, but also from Thailand, the report noted.

But the two countries would not be struggling to agree on sovereignty issues if a hundred years of colonisation had not laid such a heavy hand over the border area.

Assoc Prof Surachart Bamrungsuk, a military strategist at Chulalongkorn University, said mainland Southeast Asia had traditionally never had a perception of national borders.

People in the region crossed natural barriers to associate socially and culturally before borderlines were drawn by colonising powers.

A hundred years ago, to the west of Thailand, or Siam as it was then, Britain was demarcating the border with Burma, while France was busily doing the same with its colonies to the east.

As a result, the countries in this region were born as the states, following the modern definition.
But they came with borders which had no regard for the social and cultural relationships of people in the areas, the professor said.

A highly spiritual place like Preah Vihear was not exempted from demarcation, even though it was the centre of spiritual gatherings for people whose nationalities could hardly be identified.

Historian Dhida Saraya, who has been studying ancient cities in the region and is the author of Khao Phra Viharn,said the sanctuary was built over a thousand years ago by ancient Khmer Kings to worship Hindu gods. But more significantly, it symbolised attempts to blend old beliefs of different groups of people in the adjacent areas. People were united and the new cult of Devaraja, under which the king is regarded as god, was promoted. It then spread to other regions.

During the disputes over ownership of Preah Vihear in the mid 1900s, the discussion centred largely on where it was located - in Thailand or Cambodia?

In 1959, Cambodia took the dispute to the International Court of Justice. In 1962, the court ruled the sanctuary was under Cambodia's sovereignty, leaving some room for arguments about the surrounding land, where the border between the two countries was not settled.

Ms Dhida said that in order to manage cultural property, the parties need to think of a "cultural boundary", especially in a situation where physical boundaries are unclear.

With the recognition of a cultural boundary, the parties would be better able to to see through other obstacles and work together in preserving the cultural heritage.

She said the Unesco should pay more attention to this aspect to help avoid possible conflict between Thailand and Cambodia.

"According to the evidence so far, people in this area do not associate or disassociate only by the determination of borderlines.

"They have a shared cultural heritage and this should be regarded, especially when the area will be nominated as a World Heritage site," said Ms Dhida. "How can culture be identified by nationalities and borders?"

The Thai working group has put together a plan under which the two countries would jointly restore the area, the director of the Archaeology Office, Tharapong Srisuchart, said.

They were awaiting Cambodia's response to the plan, he said.

The next meeting of the World Heritage Committee is set for the middle of this year in Canada. Many people expect that Cambodia's proposal for World Heritage status for Preah Vihear will be accepted.

Few local people, if any, would welcome the disruption that could follow this as the two countries again dispute ownership of the land, along with the likely closure of the border.

"People normally cross back and forth through the forest and the fields to visit their relatives here and there," said another Thai forest ranger.

"We here don't acknowledge the borderline."

Meanwhile, Uncle Wan still draws his bow across his fiddle strings every morning, and the sweet sound swells into the peace that pervades Preah Vihear, which, in happier times, was there for all people.

RPT Cambodia to get 42 mln usd loan to upgrade rail network - ADB

AFX News Limited

MUMBAI (Thomson Financial) - (repeats to remove extra characters from header)
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the government of Cambodia have launched a project to restore rail traffic between Thailand and Cambodia by 2010, by rehabilitating around 600 kilometers of track and reconstructing another 48 km near the Thai border.

The ADB will prive a 42 mln usd concessional loan for the project -- a vital component of the Greater Mekong Subregion's southern corridor which links Thailand, Cambodia and VietNam -- from its Asian Development Fund.

In addition, the ADB will provide technical assistance to Cambodia to restructure the railway by appointing an international railway operator to operate, maintain and invest in the railway over the next 30 years.

'This is one of the last steps in the creation of a regional railway that will stretch from Singapore to Beijing,' said ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda. Railway services in Cambodia are presently intermittent, and unofficial trolleys with bamboo floors operate along portions of the railway.

Investing in rail upgrade, maintenance, and better service delivery will help revitalize Cambodia's railways, enhance internal commerce and international trade, reduce transport costs, and ease road traffic, the international agency stated.

ADB Breaks Ground on Rail Project

Cambodian passengers sit on a homemade wooden cart for transportation by using rail road in Kampong Chhnang province some 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, Feb. 17, 2008.

By Chun Sakada,
VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
18 February 2008

Chun Sakada reports in Khmer(1.16 MB) - Listen (MP3)

The Asian Development Bank and government officials broke ground on a $73 million railway project Wednesday, beginning a plan to repair the ailing rails from Bantey Meanchey province to Sihanoukville.

The goal of the 650-kilometer rehabilitation is to connect Poipet to Phnom Penh and Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville by 2010. The first stretch will be the 48 kilometers from Poipet to Sisophon.

"Most important is the connection of Cambodia's interior, and connection of Cambodia to Thailand, which was the vision of King Father Norodom Sihanouk," Prime Minister Hun Sen said at Monday's ceremony, which was broadcast on national radio.

The ADB has pledged $42 million for the project, followed by OPEC with $13 million, the Cambodian government with $15.7 million and the Malaysian government with $2.8 million.
ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said at the ceremony the railway was one of the last steps in the creation of a trans-regional rail network that will connect Singapore to China, across Southeast Asia.

Railway service in Cambodia consists now of homemade trolleys made of bamboo and wood, he said.

"The event marks a major milestone in the royal government's policy to revitalize the country's economy and bring prosperity to its population," he said.

"The railway connection to Thailand's railway network and Asia, starting from Sisophon and Poipet, is the main factor to push the Cambodian socio-economic development, to rapidly reduce the poverty of the Cambodian people," Minister of Transport and Communication Sun Chanthol said.

Cambodia: whose tribunal is it anyway?

Monday 18 February 2008

The West is turning the trial of surviving members of the Khmer Rouge - its former allies - into a piece of self-promoting political theatre.

For nearly three decades, Cambodians have lived under the shadow of Pol Pot’s ‘Democratic Kampuchea’, a regime whose policies during 1975-79 turned Cambodia into a ‘land of blood and tears’ - a vast agrarian social experiment that enslaved the population and led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7million Cambodians.

In the years since, no senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge have been punished for the atrocities of Pol Pot’s regime. But time may finally be catching up with the surviving Khmer Rouge. Following six years of acrimonious negotiations between the UN and the Cambodian government, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was established in 2006, with the hope that ‘the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge and those most responsible for serious crimes [would now] be held accountable for their crimes’ (1). A number of prominent ex-Khmer Rouge, including Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Sary, have been arrested and are scheduled to enter the dock in the coming months.

But for all its high-minded rhetoric, it’s unclear whether the ECCC will be able to deliver the ‘justice’ it is promising. The ‘mixed’ (joint UN-Cambodian) tribunal is beset by ballooning budgets and legal red-tape, and the proceedings are crawling along at a glacial pace. Last month, the ECCC revised its budget upwards to $169.7million - up from an original $56.3million - and pushed back its expected finishing date until the end of 2011. Even compared to other international tribunals, which have numerous problems of their own, justice for Cambodia isn’t coming cheap. The hybrid UN tribunal in East Timor had an initial budget of just $6million, while the court in Bosnia & Herzegovina is currently trying 400 defendants on a relatively frugal $10million per year (2). So far, just five defendants have been arraigned by the Phnom Penh court - at an ultimate cost of nearly $34million each - and it has yet to move beyond a series of lengthy pre-trial appeals.

However, since the trials are expected to last at least until 2011, there’s every chance that the defendants will be dead before the ECCC has a chance to hand down its verdict. Pol Pot - ‘Brother Number One’ - evaded justice by dying in mysterious circumstances in April 1998. In 2006, the one-legged Ta Mok - nicknamed ‘the Butcher’ for his ruthless purges - died in prison. Of the current defendants, ex-head of state Khieu Samphan suffered a stroke on the eve of his arrest in November last year (3), and Ieng Sary, Pol Pot’s foreign minister, was admitted to hospital on 4 February this year with heart problems (4). With such frail defendants in the dock, speed and efficiency are clearly of the essence.

But if the tortuous gestation of the ECCC is anything to go by, justice may once again elude Cambodia. Indeed, like other international war-crimes tribunals, the ECCC is marked by power politics, political obfuscation and Western grandstanding. In the years following the deposition of the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese army in January 1979, few nations outside the Soviet bloc paid any attention to the evidence of Khmer Rouge atrocities. According to the cruel dictates of Cold War realpolitik, many governments - including the United States, Britain, Australia, Singapore and China - aided and abetted the bloody Khmer Rouge insurgency against the new Soviet-backed Phnom Penh government. In September 1979, the UN voted to retain Khmer Rouge representation in the General Assembly, a post the Khmer Rouge occupied until 1991.

Meanwhile, Western relief funds flowed to the Coalition of the Democratic Government of Kampuchea (CGDK), a corrupt Khmer Rouge-dominated resistance front, which, as one analyst wryly pointed out, was ‘neither a coalition, nor democratic, nor a government, nor in Kampuchea’ (5). By a dark twist of irony, international funds intended to rebuild the Cambodian state flowed to those most responsible for destroying it.

In the 1980s, journalist John Pilger uncovered evidence that British special forces had offered covert assistance to the CGDK, training Khmer Rouge troops in ‘[land] mines technology’ for use in the ongoing civil war (6). The United States - whose intensive bombing of areas with communist bases during 1969-73 arguably did much to bring Pol Pot to power - pursued a ‘hands-off’ policy, turning a blind eye to China’s continuing support of the Khmer Rouge and the shady activities of the Thai military, which gave its protection to Khmer Rouge top-brass throughout the 1980s and 1990s (7).

With the end of the Cold War and the onset of a UN-brokered peace agreement, Cambodia emerged as the darling of the international NGO community - an ‘aid market’ and developmental blank slate upon which lingering guilt over the West’s connivance in Cambodia’s civil war could conveniently be expiated (8). Free of the paralysing polarities of the Cold War, many Western governments now argued that the time was right for the trial of the Khmer Rouge leadership. In July 1997, Cambodian co-prime ministers Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh requested UN aid in establishing a tribunal to bring the remaining Khmer Rouge to justice. The ensuing negotiations, however, demonstrated just how far local and international notions of ‘justice’ diverged.

The Cambodian negotiators consistently argued that the trials had to take place firmly within the context of Cambodian sovereignty and involve a majority of local judges and prosecutors. Many in the international community, on the other hand, expressed fears that a trial conducted in Cambodia’s court system, and under Cambodian law, could never deliver a ‘fair’ and ‘transparent’ verdict. NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International criticised the weakness of the Cambodian judiciary, which was (and still is) more or less subordinate to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The UN negotiating team, led by Hans Corell, the head of the UN Office of Legal Affairs, steadfastly argued that any tribunal had to be composed of international judges and prosecutors, and preferably conducted in a location outside the country (such as The Hague). At several points, the condescending attitude of the UN towards the Cambodian government threatened to derail the Khmer Rouge tribunal altogether. In February 2002, Corell withdrew from the negotiations, infuriated by the ‘obfuscation’ of the Cambodian negotiators. The resulting deadlock prolonged the formation of the ECCC by nearly a year.

Even when a final agreement on the hybrid tribunal was signed in June 2003, it came under fire from Western human rights NGOs for ‘falling short’ of international standards of impartiality and justice. Due to the ‘precarious state of Cambodia’s judiciary’, Amnesty International argued, the UN General Assembly should ‘make the improvements necessary to bring [the tribunal] agreement into line with international laws and standards’ (9). For Amnesty, no trial was preferable to a ‘flawed’ one - a noble sentiment, perhaps, but one that disregarded political constraints, not to mention the advanced age of most of the defendants.

Western guilt has seemingly given birth to the idea that any legitimate trial must be conducted by the West on Cambodia’s behalf. Some human rights activists would undoubtedly prefer a trial within the legal vacuum of The Hague, shorn of the ‘difficulties’ of dealing with the corrupt and ‘inexperienced’ Cambodian legal system. But if the trials are to finally bring justice to Cambodia and heal the wounds of war, Cambodians must have ownership of the process. It’s their future - not the West’s - that is at stake. As American lawyer Gregory Stanton has argued, the real ‘enemy of justice’ in Cambodia is a well-meaning but misdirected legal purism, which, if heeded, would only give succour to Cambodia’s culture of legal impunity (10). Clearly, some degree of justice is better than none at all.

NGOs and Western governments are right to complain about the corruption of Cambodia’s judiciary. But the impartiality of the current tribunal is equally questionable: under the close scrutiny of the international community, eager to see ‘justice’ done, the pressure on the ECCC to reach the expected ‘guilty’ verdict will be enormous. Dutch lawyer Victor Koppe, ex-Khmer Rouge ideologist Nuon Chea’s defence counsel, is right to ask whether a presumption of guilt is built into the political architecture of the ECCC. ‘The [main] question’, according to Koppe, ‘is whether or not everything in this tribunal is institutionalised in such a way that only guilty verdicts can come’ (11).

He has a point. The ECCC’s claim that ‘fair trials will ease the burden that weighs on the survivors’ (12), is pregnant with assumptions, not least of which is the presumption of guilt. And this raises a further question: how would the surviving victims of the Khmer Rouge react if the defendants - widely acknowledged as responsible for crimes against humanity while in power - were to be acquitted by a fair and impartial court? Seen in this light, the ECCC and its international backers seem less concerned with justice - in the sense of fair and equal treatment before the law - than with stage-managing an elaborate piece of political theatre.

The ECCC graphically demonstrates the problems in using ‘justice’ to achieve social or political aims, whether they be ‘resolution’ for the Cambodian people or local judicial reform. But true justice is more than a public relations exercise. Any war-crimes tribunal that is yoked to a political agenda, however noble or high-minded, is of questionable legitimacy. In this context, the legal purism of the UN and human rights NGOs starts to look less like a concern for the quality of the trial process and more like a case of Western vanity and self-aggrandisement again delaying the arrival of justice in Cambodia.

For all its hype, the UN-backed tribunal process is yet to deliver any tangible results, and whether it will manage to beat the remaining Khmer Rouge leadership to the grave is increasingly uncertain. But as the clock runs down, any measure of justice, even if it is not the ‘sanctioned’ justice of the international community, is surely better than the impunity of the present.

SAAG eyes maiden O&G deal in Cambodia

by Chong Jin Hun

PETALING JAYA: SAAG Consolidated (M) Bhd, an oil and gas (O&G) services firm, hopes to win its maiden O&G deal in Cambodia in two years, as the group attempts to capitalise on its existing power plant operations and an emerging petroleum sector in the fast-growing Indochina nation.

“We hope to secure our first deal in two to three years,” SAAG group chief executive officer Anand Subramaniam told The Edge Financial Daily. “Our power plants give us a foothold in Cambodia to tap the nation’s emerging oil and gas sector,” he said.

Petaling Jaya-based SAAG has existing foreign oil and gas projects in Brunei, Thailand and India, according to its website.

In Cambodia, the company has three power plants with a combined capacity of 20 megawatts. The first generator, capable of 7.5MW, was due to start running in Nov 2007, SAAG said in its filings to Bursa Malaysia.

SAAG’s planned O&G undertakings in Cambodia comes at a time when that nation’s economy is projected to expand about 8% this year, based on the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) estimates.

IMF expects Cambodia’s annual income from oil, with a potential 700 million barrels of petroleum reserves, to rise to US$1.7 billion (RM5.56 billion) by 2021 from US$174 million in 2011.

The oil income forecast is based on on-going exploration off the coast of southern Cambodia by US-based Chevron Corp.

To boost its capital base, SAAG had last month proposed a private placement of up to a tenth of its enlarged issued and paid-up share capital to raise up to RM35.5 million to fund its working capital needs.

“It’s for the expansion of our ongoing and new oil and gas projects,” Anand said.

SAAG’s net profit in the third quarter to Sept 30, 2007 rose more than fivefold to RM7.8 million while revenue grew 53% to RM97.7 million. Cumulative net profit for the nine-month period more than tripled to RM22.8 million while turnover more than doubled to RM350.1 million.

The company told the exchange in June 2007 it had an estimated unbilled RM700 million order book which could last till 2009.

Cambodia To Form Business Dispute Court By 2009

February 18, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Feb 18 (Bernama) -- The Cambodian Ministry of Commerce has finalised a 40-article draft law creating an independent commercial court and arbitration body, said China's Xinhua news agency quoting a local media report Monday.

Mao Thora, Under-secretary of State for the Commerce Ministry, has said that it is hoped that the specialized court for business disputes will be formed by 2009, the Cambodia Daily newspaper said.

Many are hoping that a commercial court would improve Cambodia's capacity to fairly judge disputes in the business sector, and thus move the country further on the road toward a sound market economy, it said.

In a country where the justice system is weak, Mao Thora said the specialized commercial court is needed to ensure investor confidence.

"Investors do not want to filed complaints about business in the civil court. They need a specific court," he was quoted as saying.

The new court could reduce the number of cases clogging provincial courts, impacting the entire justice system, he said.

Bringing baseball to Cambodia

BALLPLAYERS: Cook, center, with the Cambodian national baseball team at the Southeast Asian Games in Thailand in December. “We didn’t win a damn game,” Cook said. “But winning is nothing. The biggest deal is we showed up. We had the guts to be there. We’re satisfied with that.”
(Kevin Glackmeyeer / For The Times)

LOVE OF THE GAME: Joe Cook watches high school players in Dothan, Ala., where he lives. He says he has spent about $300,000 on Cambodian baseball since the fall of 2002 — huge chunks of it coming out of his pocket.

Joe Cook found joy in baseball after he fled Cambodia's killing fields. He's driven, perhaps obsessed, to bring the game home.

By Kevin Baxter
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 18, 2008

DOTHAN, ALA. -- The baseball ground rules are different in Cambodia.A ball hit off the water buffaloes grazing in the outfield is in play, but a ball lost in the adjoining rice paddy is not. And timeout must be called whenever a motorcycle approaches on the dirt road that cuts through the outfield.

"You can't put it in perspective with words," said Jim Small, managing director for Major League Baseball's operations in Asia. "You just need to see it."

But even then you can't always believe what you're seeing.

Shirtless children in plastic flip-flops batting cross-handed. Adults who insist on trying to pitch with both hands wrapped tightly around the ball. And slides that aren't so much slides as they are baserunners falling down, then rolling.

"Teaching baseball in Cambodia," Joe Cook said, "it's not easy."

Cook, a Cambodian refugee who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide to escape to the United States, has spent the last five years trying to turn the former killing fields of his homeland into fields of dreams for a generation that has known little more than war, poverty and despair.

Along the way he's lost his life savings, his car and nearly his marriage. And, Cook insists, some people in Cambodia would like to see him dead.

"I want to walk away from this. I do. But these kids," he said, pointing to a photo of three shoeless children in torn clothes toting bats and gloves through a rice paddy, "baseball brings smiles to their faces."

In December, thanks to Cook, Cambodia fielded a national baseball team for the first time in the Southeast Asian Games in Thailand. It was a milestone as inauspicious as it was historic: Cambodia's first four hitters struck out without even touching the ball, and it took four games for the team to get its first hit.

By then Cambodia had been outscored, 67 to 1 -- which, according to Cambodian ground rules, added up to a tremendous victory.

"We didn't win a damn game. But winning is nothing," Cook said a month later. "The biggest deal is we showed up. We had the guts to be there. We're satisfied with that."

Whether they show up again, however, is anybody's guess. Although the other five baseball teams that played in the Southeast Asian Games are supported by organized and relatively well-financed national organizations, the Cambodian team is supported largely by Cook and whatever donations his nonprofit organization can scrape together.

Lately that hasn't been much. Two months before the games, Cook was far short of the $50,000 he figured it would take to get Cambodia to the competition.

He was also half a world away, in the tiny southeast Alabama town of Dothan, working as a chef at a Japanese steakhouse.

Mark Dennis, a Dothan businessman, helped Cook obtain more than $41,000 in loans, wiring the final $4,500 himself from a neighborhood pharmacy less than an hour before the registration deadline.

"It seems like he's overcome so much to get to this point," said Dennis, who last month took over the bookkeeping for Cambodia Baseball. "I just had a hard time seeing him fail that close."

Despite the victory of showing up in Thailand, Cook hardly feels like a winner these days. He's $41,500 in debt, and Cambodia Baseball has just $1,585 in the bank.

"I've spent all my savings," Cook said, fighting back tears during a recent interview while sitting on a sofa in his cramped second-floor apartment. "I'm so frustrated. I've had enough of this. Do you know how stressed I am? It's a disaster right now."

The apartment's carpet is shabby and stained, the walls grimy and in need of paint. The sofa, which sits next to a broken coffee table, is both an office and a bed for Cook, who leaves the bedroom to his wife and daughter. During his last trip to Cambodia in December, his 4-year-old Hyundai XG350 was repossessed and both the gas and electricity were turned off.

He wasn't thrown out of the apartment because his boss pays the $450 monthly rent.

"I'm the grandfather of baseball in Cambodia," he said. "Yeah, that's great. But I live in a poor way."

About the same time Cook dived headfirst into Cambodian baseball, he also filed for divorce from his wife, Veasna Puk Van. The couple quickly reconciled, but the new stresses are testing that tenuous truce.

"We talk about this all the time," Cook said while translating for Van, who speaks little English. "She thinks it's too much. She's asked me to give it up. We don't have anything."

Major League Baseball has sent coaches to Cambodia, donated $10,000 in equipment and a container to ship it in and paid for Cook to fly back and forth from Alabama -- contributions worth more than $50,000 over the last two years alone.

Then when Small heard Cook planned to outfit his national team in second-hand uniforms donated from Little League teams in Dothan, Major League Baseball stepped forward again and got Majestic, the official supplier for big-league teams, to alter some stock Dodger uniforms, changing the cursive script across the chest from "Dodgers" to "Cambodia."

"When I got to the field in Bangkok the Cambodians were working out on a practice field, and the first thing I was struck with was how great they looked," Small said. "They looked like ballplayers. That's the highest compliment I could give them."

But in accordance with Major League Baseball's policy regarding international baseball programs, Small hasn't been able to give any money.

Local companies and schools in south Alabama have also helped collect, store and ship equipment to Cambodia, but few have donated cash.

And aside from some assistance with visas and other travel documents, the Cambodian government has been more a hindrance than a help, Cook said, greeting him with red tape rather than open arms.

Cook said he had spent about $300,000 on Cambodian baseball since the fall of 2002 -- huge chunks of it coming out of his pockets or those of family members.

But he can't go on that way.

"I'm burning out. I can't do this alone," he said. "I don't want to do anything with baseball in Cambodia anymore. Period."

Father Frank Cancro, a Catholic priest in North Carolina who visited the first baseball field in Cambodia, chuckled when he heard that.

"He's said that at least three times since I've known him," Cancro said. "But he hasn't quit."

As a result, from a misshapen diamond carved out of the middle of a jungle near the village of Baribor five years ago, Cambodian baseball has spread to more than 50 teams in four age divisions in three provinces. Cook estimates there are more than 100 schools, 5,000 children and 2,000 adults playing some form of baseball in Cambodia.

But with regular trips to Cambodia too expensive and too difficult to arrange around his work schedule, Cook directs his fledgling coaches by Internet, downloading videos sent to him from Cambodia each night, analyzing them, then e-mailing back his comments. His website keeps track of the effort and solicits donations.

"I need 2 1/2 years to go to Cambodia," said Cook, 37, a slender man with close-cropped black hair and wire-rim glasses. "To build structure, to build an organization, to teach coaches."

Cook's love affair with baseball began shortly after a Christian aid organization rescued him and what was left of his family from a Philippine refugee camp in 1983, relocating them to Chattanooga, Tenn.

Cook, whose legal name is Joeurt Puk (he began using Cook after taking his first restaurant job), said he spent nearly half his childhood in Cambodia living off tree bark, insects and grass in labor camps run by the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Along the way he lost his father and two sisters, was nearly killed when a booby trap exploded next to him, then survived an artillery barrage that pounded the road he and hundreds of others were following on their escape to a Red Cross camp across the border in Thailand.

"I was starving and I just wanted to end my life," Cook said.

Arriving in Chattanooga as a 12-year-old, he was introduced to a number of marvelous things he had never seen before, such as a flush toilet, television, radio, the mirror.

"Seeing kids running around without having to worry about booby traps or gunshots, explosions. America was like heaven," Cook said. "I didn't know how to grip the ball. I didn't know nothing. But baseball at that time, it was fun.

"I finally found myself happy in America for the first time."

He eventually wed Van, a political refugee from Cambodia seven years his senior, in an arranged marriage that produced two children, a stocky 10-year-old boy named Ankorwat, after the ancient Cambodian temples, and a shy, dark-eyed 5-year-old daughter, Sumuri.

And though he had to start working at a young age, lying about his birth date on a job application and never playing organized baseball beyond Little League, he never forgot the transformative power the game had on his life.

And that wound up turning his life around again nearly six years ago, when he returned to the Thailand border to reunite with his sister Chanty, who everyone assumed had been killed by the Khmer Rouge.

"The community where I was at, it was like nowhere else I had ever heard of," Cook said of the poverty he saw in Baribor. "I saw the happiness in their faces. And my heart just opened. The school got me. The community got me.

"That's what changed my life. So I told the kids, 'When I come back, I'm going to bring baseball. I'm going to bring the American gift.'

"A few months later he made good on the pledge, returning with enough second-hand bats, balls and gloves to field two teams. Working with some schoolchildren, he hacked a clearing out of the jungle, built a crude infield and a tiny pitcher's mound.

The field had unusual dimensions, and just 20 players showed up for the first game on Nov. 26, 2002. Yet that was enough to give the sport the locals called "throwball" a foothold.

"It's called baseball," Cook repeatedly corrected, insisting the children use the English words for bases, bats, balls and everything else associated with the sport.

Fields -- along with English lessons -- soon started sprouting in other towns. Cook built a shelter for abandoned children and began providing meals and schoolbooks. He hired a pair of former teenage prostitutes to work as scorekeepers and administrative assistants after first teaching them to read and write. And then Cook, who started attending church shortly after arriving in the U.S., began offering Christian Bible study classes to a population that is more than 95% Buddhist.

"I've seen the benefit of this," said Cancro, the North Carolina priest who visited Baribor. "I've seen the books and things that have gone to the schools."

Cook insists the country's insular government has cast a wary eye on him and his program.

"The government was very suspicious of what I was doing," he said. "I guess I am in danger because I'm bringing American influence to the homeland. Baseball in Cambodia, it's going to be a way of change."

The government disagrees.

"No, no," said a spokeswoman at the Royal Cambodian Embassy in Washington, who would give her name only as Chey. "If he was in danger, why would he keep going back to Cambodia? There is no danger there.

"But things are changing, just as Cook predicted.

Small, who was in Thailand for the Southeast Asian Games, said the poor, shy children he had seen in Baribor seemed different after putting on their sparkling white jerseys with their homeland written across their chests.

"How cool for them to have a chance to represent their country," he said. "How many of us have ever been able to say that? [And] the Cambodian cheering section. There were probably 15 friends and relatives of Joe's that had come over. Most of them had never been out of Baribor, let alone been on a bus before.

"But they were there to cheer their team. They were so proud."

Which might be why Cook, at least so far, has been unable to quit.

"He's overcome so much to get to this point," said Dennis, the Dothan businessman. "He's a little guy in a big adventure."

Memoirs of a boyhood among monsters

S.J. interpreter chronicles life in Cambodia's killing fields

By Scott Smith
Record Staff Writer
February 18, 2008

Rattana Pok's "When Slaves Became Masters" is available online at Amazon.com for $17, or directly through the publisher at Authorhouse.com for $12.25. The paperback book has 274 pages and includes personal photos of Pok's family.

STOCKTON - Stories told in the pages Rattana Pok's book chronicling his boyhood in Cambodia may be hard for most people to imagine.

As Pok began his teenage years, millions of people around him were dying under Pol Pot's communist regime that purged the nation of its educated upper classes. Many were executed, while others starved or were worked to death in the country's notorious killing fields.

Now 43 and raising his own family in Stockton, Pok has published a memoir of his youth in a book titled "When Slaves Become Masters: A true-life story of a little boy before, during and after the unfathomable evil of Pol Pot's regime."

The book is a long time coming for Pok, who said he decided to spend his own money to publish the book after he couldn't draw interest from a major publishing company. Pok wouldn't say how much it cost him, but breaking even isn't his first goal.

"I'm not going to worry about it," he said. "I want people to understand our people and the horrible things we went through."

Pok, a Cambodian-English interpreter in the San Joaquin County Superior Court, was born in Bommak Choeung Eur, a city in the south of Cambodia. The country fell to the brutal communist regime when Pok was 11.

In the short chapters of the 274-page book, Pok describes the gruesome moments in life he experienced as seen through the innocent eyes of a boy.

In some playful passages, he describes his grandmother giving him a banana leaf that he pretended to ride as a motorcycle, blowing through his lips to imitate a motor's sound.

In darker passages, Pok recalls the long hours he was forced to work in government camps as a child laborer and how he risked his life passing through armed checkpoints to visit his dying father in a neighboring village.

He once came across blood in an orchard left from a pregnant woman murdered by government officials in retaliation for her husband, who ran away. Pok and a group of children at play once came across skeletal remains of others killed in the genocide.

"Not many people know about the suffering," Pok said.

Pok spent many late-night hours writing the book, sometimes staying up until 3 a.m. He wrote for several years, but his plans for publishing it turned serious in early 2007, with some encouragement from friends, he said.

One of those who encouraged Pok was Stockton attorney David Wellenbrock, who read an early draft and gave Pok some suggestions. Wellenbrock even traveled last year with Pok to Cambodia and visited a former Khmer Rouge prison where thousands were tortured and died.

Pok's book is important for local residents to read because of Stockton's large Cambodian community, Wellenbrock said.

"It's important for us to understand this," he said.

Jonathan Pearce, who retired from the Lincoln Unified School District and is a writer himself, is reading Pok's book. He knows Pok as an interpreter for the school district.

"He puts a really personal touch on those terrible experiences," said Pearce, who also read an earlier draft and offered some encouragement. "I told him that he should proceed."

Pok's family finally escaped Cambodia in 1986 to a Thai refugee camp, where they lived for two years before moving to the United States. Stories his wife, Sokeo Chhit, has are equally chilling, Pok said. The couple has four children from the age of 4 to 17.

Pok said he hopes his book is well-read - especially by his own children. Pok said he is proud that his oldest son recently started it.

Most of the time, his children have little patience for hearing his stories.

"In their minds, I don't think they believe those horrible things I went through," he said. He then smiled, describing their response to his tales from long ago and far away. They say, "Dad, this is not Cambodia. This is America."

Tukwila teen a monk no more

Michael Sa-Ngoun came home a Buddhist monk in November 2006. He since has given up his robes and vows, and his aspirations now include buying a new car.

One year after returning from Cambodia as a monk, Michael Sa-Ngoun, here holding dog Peanut, is a regular teenager now, with a job and a girlfriend.

February 18, 2008

By Christine Clarridge
Seattle Times staff reporter

Michael Sa-Ngoun is no longer a monk.

The 19-year-old from Tukwila, who spent two years in a Cambodian monastery because his mother was desperate to stop his self-destructive behavior, is not prone to deep philosophical meditation these days.

He doesn't work very hard to resist the desires of most young men his age, nor does he seek humility at every turn.

It took surprisingly little time, family members say, for him to turn back into a regular American young man after his return from Cambodia a little more than a year ago. He was profiled then by The Seattle Times.

He now works at a car dealership because he likes to make money, but he doesn't know what he wants to do for a living.

He stays out too late with his friends, wastes too much time watching movies, and spends too much money at restaurants, he says. He also doesn't keep his room as clean as his mother wants, nor does he do his chores without being asked.

But he hasn't been in trouble with the law since his return, and some of the things he learned while living the austere life of a monk have stuck with him. He said he still believes in karma, and he does his best to do right by others. He'll capture an ant and release it outside rather than kill it.

"I really do believe in that part, and I try hard not to do anything that hurts someone else," he said.

His mother, Chou Sa-Ngoun, said she was disappointed when most of Michael's enlightened behavior quickly gave way to the material world.

"I wish sometimes that I wouldn't have brought him back from there until he was past a teenager," she said.

But she thinks she may have saved his life. And basically she's OK with how things are.
The issues her family faces now are typical of those of other families with teens, and not the dangerous behavior she once feared.

Says Michael's stepfather, Sanny Sa-Ngoun: "These problems, I can live with. The cops aren't coming to the door."

Left at a monastery

When Michael was about 12, he started skipping school, hanging out with the wrong kids, trying drugs and getting arrested for petty crimes.

His mother tried grounding him and taking away privileges like television and video games. She switched his schools, got him into counseling, let him pay his own fines after juvenile arrests and let him languish in detention centers.

She called the Army, but her son was too young then to enlist. She looked into disciplinary boot camps but found them too pricey.

She begged the state to place him in a temporary foster home, but was told the authorities could do nothing until he committed a more serious crime.

She was afraid he would die violently in a car crash, in a gang altercation or in a drug deal.
Then the couple hit upon an idea while planning a family trip to their ancestors' Cambodian homeland. Sanny Sa-Ngoun thought experiencing hardship would be good for Michael and suggested leaving him behind for a short time. A friend knew of a Buddhist monastery in the Kampong Cham region that would accept Michael as a novitiate if he took the vows of poverty and selflessness.

They flew in November 2004 to Phnom Penh, spent a few days doing tourist things, and made their way to the isolated village of Krolong, where Michael's mother told him he would remain until he had changed. Michael — who did not speak Cambodian or have any of his own money — argued, begged, went on a hunger strike and thought about running away. Finally, he gave up and allowed his head to be shaved and prayers said over him.

He spent the first few weeks in shock and despair before slowly settling into the routine.

In silence, he rose at 5:45 each morning, drew water and laid out rugs, place settings and towels for his teacher and the elder monk, whom he called "Grandpa."

He then set a place for himself and called his elders, and together they ate their meal of rice and meat or fish. He rested for 10 minutes and went to work on chores around the temple and school grounds.

He and the other young monks learned to mix mortar, lay stone and build fences. Alongside his comrades, he prayed and studied the teachings of Buddha, trying to learn to free himself from "wanting things," he said.

They washed at the pump or well, and then he and the other young monks set out door to door among the villagers asking for food in exchange for blessings.

His mother said he could return when he had earned his high-school diploma, which she arranged for him to do online from a nearby village he reached by motorbike once a week.

His return

When he returned to Washington in November 2006, his head was shaved and he was wearing a flowing orange robe. He was nearly silent, and he honored the vows that forbade him from hugging his mother because she's female.

He was overwhelmed at first, he said, by the pace of American culture, the nonstop barrage of images and enticements, the construction, the speed on the freeways.

He wore his robes for several weeks, during which time he was invited to pray and issue blessings at local Buddhist temples.

Because Michael chose not to further pursue a life as a monk once he returned, he was released from his vows and his robes in a traditional cleansing ceremony.

When people found out about what Chou had done for her son, she was deluged with appeals for help from other parents and even went so far as to arrange trips to the village for a few people. But in the end, they all backed out.

"They got scared," she said.

She doesn't blame them. It was a hard thing for her to do, even with her knowledge of the culture and language.

Michael got a job working at a restaurant and then at a car dealership, where he details cars, moves them, runs some errands. He's thought about apprenticing as a mechanic there, but he's not sure he has the aptitude for engines. He pondered joining the National Guard for the college money, but decided he wasn't interested in more schooling.

His aspirations are not far-reaching.

"Really, I just want to have fun with my friends and get a new car," he says.

Though Michael and his mother sent money and care packages to the monastery for a few months after his return, it's been a long time since the last one.

"I try to call them sometimes, but there is something wrong with their phone," he said.
"He's just a teenager"

Michael's mother is sometimes disappointed, after all that he's been through, that he didn't retain a higher level of discipline and consciousness.

"He's slipped," she said one day this month when his room wasn't clean and his chores were undone. "I feel like he hasn't changed that much. Sometimes I think there is something missing in his brain, but then I remind myself that I shouldn't overreact. He's just a teenager with a teenage brain."

Michael dates a 17-year-old girl who has "strict parents," and he stays away from the drugs and friends that got him into trouble before, he said.

"I just stay away from the law, and everything else is easy," he said.

Because he has stayed out of trouble since his return, he will be able to petition the court soon to expunge his juvenile criminal record.

He said he doesn't know exactly what to think now about his time in Cambodia. It seems like a long time ago, in a way, and part of it seems like a dream. He thinks he might have straightened up on his own by now, but also that he might have a longer criminal record if he hadn't gone to Cambodia.

His experience may have acted as a deterrent to his younger brother and sister, who don't want to follow him down that path.

"They don't want to be left in Cambodia," he said.

His mother feels like she did the best thing, trying to shelter him during what she saw as his most vulnerable time. Now she's trying to stop worrying and let him make his own mistakes.
"I guess I'm going to have to. He doesn't really know what life is about, but he won't know until he finds out. We can steer him, but we have to let him fall."

Cambodia Launches Rehabilitation Of Decades-old Railway System

February 18, 2008

SISOPHON (Cambodia), Feb 18 (Bernama) -- The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Royal Government of Cambodia here on Monday launched their joint project to restore the kingdom's decades-old rail traffic system, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

The new project will rehabilitate approximately 600 kilometres of track, and reconstruct another 48 kilometers near the Thai border that was completely destroyed during wartime, said an ADB press release.

ADB is providing US$42 million of concession loan for the project from its Asian Development Fund, it said.

The total cost stands at US$73 million, still with US$13 million of grant aid from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), US$15.2 million from the Cambodian government, and US$2.8 million of grant aid for iron materials from Malaysia.

"This is one of the last steps in the creation of a regional railway that will stretch from Singapore to Beijing," said ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda at the inaugural ceremony in Sisophon, near Cambodia's border with Thailand.

"Soon, trains will be running from Singapore to Sihanoukville," he added.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen also attended the launching ceremony.

In addition to supporting the repair of tracks and bridges, ADB is providing technical assistance to Cambodia to restructure the railway by appointing an international railway operator to operate, maintain and invest in the railway over the next 30 years.

Investing in rail upgrade, maintenance, and better service delivery will help revitalize Cambodia's railways, enhance internal commerce and international trade, reduce transport costs, and ease road traffic, said the ADB press release.

The railway rehabilitation project is a vital component of the Greater Mekong Sub-region's southern corridor, which links Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, it said.

Railway services in Cambodia are presently intermittent, and unofficial trolleys with bamboo floors operate along portions of the railway.

The 264-km Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville route and the 386 km Phnom Penh-Poipet route were built in 1960 and 1931 respectively.

They are the only two railways of the kingdom but will become part of the Asia railway network when the rehabilitation is over.

The network is expected to run 5,500 km, linking Singapore and China and including Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam en route.

Cambodia to get 71.8 mln usd grant for reforms - ADB

18 Feb 2008

MUMBAI (Thomson Financial) - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said it will provide a 71.8 mln usd grant and loan package for Cambodia to improve secondary education, support farmers living around the Tonle Sap lake, foster financial system reform, and rehabilitate major roads throughout the country.

This includes a 27.1 mln usd grant to improve the quality of secondary education and a 20 mln usd assistance package for farmers. The bank said it is also providing an 11.7 mln usd assistance package from its concessional Asian Development Fund to support market-oriented financial system reforms.

The package also includes a 7 mln usd loan to support the rehabilitation of a 15 kilometre stretch of the Southern Coastal Corridor, which runs along the Gulf of Thailand from Bangkok to Nam Cam, Vietnam.

It also includes an additional 6 mln usd loan to help maintain 950 km of roads managed by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

The overall value of these five projects is about 115 mln usd, including a 12.8 mln usd grant from the Australian government and an additional 30.5 mln usd contribution from the Cambodian government.

Indochinese trade conference kicks off in Cambodia

Monday, February 18, 2008
Thanh Nien

A two-day conference to boost investment and trade in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam development triangle opened Saturday in Sihanouk Ville in Cambodia.

During the meeting, representatives from the three nations will review the implementation of projects to develop the area and discuss measures to encourage local and foreign businesses to invest.

The Vietnamese delegation, headed by Deputy Minister of the Planning and Investment Nguyen Bich Dat, comprised officials from the ministries of trade and industry; agriculture and rural development; finance and others.

Source: VNA