Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Cambodians pray at Pol Pot’s grave a decade after his death


(AP) ANLONG VENG, Cambodia - Ten years after the death of brutal Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, his grave has become a symbol of spiritual comfort to some in the village where he is buried.

Villagers pray at the site, asking for blessings of luck, happiness and even protection from malaria _ despite the mayhem he wrought upon their country. He died on April 15, 1998, apparently of heart failure.

"I know it is odd, but I just do as many people here do, asking for happiness from his spirit," said Orn Pheap, a 37-year-old woman who lost a grandfather and two uncles during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror from 1975 to 1979.

"I don’t know how long I can stay angry with him, since he is already dead," she said. Her house sits 100 yards from the grave.

Officials in Anlong Veng, 190 miles north of the capital, Phnom Penh, say only few of the area’s 35,000 residents pray at Pol Pot’s grave.

For most, Pol Pot is remembered as a murderous tyrant with fanatical communist beliefs. Under his leadership, the Khmer Rouge turned the country into a vast slave labor camp, causing the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, forced labor and execution.

But Cambodians believe in the influence of spirits and superstitious forces on their daily lives and fortunes, which may be why some worship at Pol Pot’s grave.

Last week, the grave _ a pile of dirt covered by a knee-high corrugated zinc roof _ was cluttered with clay jars filled with half-burned incense sticks, a sign of prayer and worship.

Many may still view their former tormentor as a powerful figure, said Philip Short, author of "Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare," a biography of the former despot.

"Evil or good is not the issue," Short said in an e-mail. "He has imposed himself on Cambodians’ imaginations, and in that sense he lives on" in the spirit world.

Once a jungle war zone, Anlong Veng is now a sprawling border market town bustling with the kind of capitalist activities Pol Pot and his comrades sought to stamp out. Ramshackle shops are filled with clothing, house wares, pirated DVDs and other goods from nearby Thailand.

Cambodian pop songs blare from a coffee shop near Pol Pot’s grave, which has been designated a tourist attraction. It is among the few remnants of Khmer Rouge history, which the government is trying to preserve.

Some Cambodians have traveled to Anlong Veng to spit on the grave and curse him in anger, said 37-year-old Sat Narin, who owns a nearby clothing shop.

"Given his bad reputation, he should not be venerated," he said. "But somehow he is popular with some people."

Among the worshippers who seek blessings from Pol Pot’s ghost are ethnic Vietnamese who live in the community _ a sharp irony given Pol Pot’s massacres of ethnic Vietnamese during his rule.

A 33-year-old Vietnamese resident, who goes by her adopted Cambodian name of Van Sothy, recalled a nightmare in which she saw a black-clad man sitting on a tree near her hut.

When she described the vision to her Cambodian neighbors, they advised her to bring offerings of fruit and boiled chicken to Pol Pot’s grave to ask his spirit for protection.

"I have prayed at his grave ever since. I just want to show some respect to the spiritual master of the land," she said.

If Pol Pot were alive, he would likely be facing war crimes charges along with five of his former comrades currently detained by Cambodia’s U.N.-backed genocide tribunal. The long-delayed trials are expected to start later this year.

Nhem En, who was forced to work as the photographer at the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh, says he is setting up his own museum in Anlong Veng about the communist group _ not to glorify them but for educational purposes.

He too used to light incense and pray at Pol Pot’s grave, he said, but "only for him not to butcher people again in his next life."

Driver in Thai truck tragedy surrenders

Associated Press

BANGKOK, Thailand - The driver of a truck in which 54 illegal immigrants from Myanmar suffocated last week has surrendered and confessed to working for a human smuggling network, Thai police said Wednesday.

Suchon Bunplong, 38, turned himself in Tuesday after a six-day manhunt, police Col. Kraithong Chanthongbai said.

"He was scared he would be killed by the others involved (in the network), so he surrendered for his own safety," said Kraithong, adding that police were searching for two other suspects identified by Suchon.

The driver said he was hired for $2,300 to take the migrants from the border town of Ranong to the resort island of Phuket in southern Thailand. He was paid half the money in advance and was to collect the rest on arrival, Kraithong said.

The tragedy has shed light on the brutal cost of human trafficking and the plight of desperate job-seekers in parts of Southeast Asia.

Thailand is a magnet for millions of migrants from its poorer neighbors - illegal workers who lack legal protection and are often ruthlessly exploited. The migrants from Cambodia, Laos and especially Myanmar take menial and dangerous jobs shunned by Thais. More than 1 million people from Myanmar are believed to be working in Thailand.

The 54 who died were among 121 people crammed into the truck's sweltering 20-foot container, which was locked and unventilated.

About 30 minutes into the trip, the passengers began pounding on the walls and screamed for help, survivors said last week. They used a mobile phone to call the driver, who briefly turned on air conditioning.

The air conditioning later shut down, and they called the driver again but couldn't get through. One survivor said last week the driver's phone had been switched off.

Suchon told police he ignored the ringing phone because he was driving at night and trying to concentrate on a dark, winding road, said police Lt. Gen. Apirak Hongthong. Suchon said he also feared that if he stopped the truck he would attract attention from other motorists.

About two hours into the journey, Suchon pulled over, unlocked the container and quickly fled when he saw the state of the victims, police said.

Thai authorities said last week that 53 of the 67 survivors would be jailed for two months on charges of illegal entry and then deported. Fourteen of the survivors were minors under the age of 18 who were sent home without trial.

Adoptive parents of Cambodian children forge a bond

Bonna Neang Weinstein will open her Khmer Art Gallery, at319 N. 11th St. in Philadelphia, on Friday night for a New Year celebration for local families with Cambodian children.

Glennon helps Sophina across the monkey bars at East Goshen Park as her other daughters follow.

CLEM MURRAY / Inquirer Staff Photographer
Denise Glennon and her husband, Gary Haubold, with daughters (from left) Clara, 9; Sophina, 6, walking dog Violet; Lucy, 10; and Cecilia, 7. Sophina is Cambodian; her sisters are Chinese.

CLEM MURRAY / Inquirer Staff Photographer
Sophina Haubold, 6, of Malvern, gets a push from her father, Gary, at East Goshen Park. Hers is oneof about 25 families in the group Southeastern Pennsylvania Families With Cambodian Children.
Apr. 16, 2008
By Jeff Gammage
Inquirer Staff Writer

Six years ago, two suburban women met at a typically suburban get-together, a Little People's Music class where both had enrolled their toddlers.

Joan Blair and Bonna Neang Weinstein immediately saw they had more in common than notes and lyrics.

Weinstein is a daughter of Cambodia, a survivor of the 1970s genocide known as the Killing Fields. And Blair has a daughter, Veata, adopted from that war-ravaged Southeast Asian land.

"I thought, 'This is great, but how is she going to keep this little girl interested in her heritage?' " Weinstein said of that day in Elkins Park.

Today, Weinstein, 43, runs the Khmer Art Gallery, just north of Chinatown, a venue alive with the majesty and mystery of ancient Cambodia. On Friday, Blair, 54, and 8-year-old Veata will be among the guests at a grand Cambodian New Year celebration featuring authentic music, dance and food.

Everyone is invited, but Weinstein has issued a special invitation to Cambodian adoptees, for she feels she understands their quandary. Though the United States is her adored, adopted country, "there's still that missing part."

Veata and her young peers occupy an unusual station, even within the complicated world of international adoption. Cambodia opened to American families in the 1990s but closed in 2001 amid allegations of child trafficking, without completing many adoptions in between.

Only about 1,755 Cambodian adoptees live in the United States - children bound by ethnicity and divided by geography. Their coterie is the opposite of the big communities surrounding children adopted from Guatemala, Russia and world leader China, who come by the thousands each year. Because the Cambodian children arrived in the same short span, they have no older generation of role models, and no new arrivals behind.

Four years ago, Denise Glennon of Malvern started Southeastern Pennsylvania Families With Cambodian Children. Her goal "was for my child to know other Cambodian children," she said. "There are so few, particularly in the suburbs."

Today, at the group's events, she notices that all the children are about the same age. "Our group is going to keep going," she said, "but it is heartbreaking."

Children adopted from China have a vibrant community centered on 67,000 children. Almost every big city has a chapter of Families With Children From China, a support and education group.

More than 400 families belong to chapters in South Jersey and the Philadelphia area, where they take part in midautumn celebrations, Mandarin lessons, calligraphy classes, cooking, music and book clubs.

By comparison, the Cambodian children's group has about 25 families. People come from as far as Gettysburg and Rochester, N.Y., for the annual summer picnic.

"Everyone wants this," Glennon said. "They want their children to feel like they're part of, not really a community, because the kids don't know each other that well, but that they're from a very special place."

Glennon and her husband, Gary Haubold, have three daughters from China and one from Cambodia. Sophina, 6, has enormous interest in her Cambodian homeland, but "truthfully," Glennon said, "it's confusing. 'How can I be from there when I'm your daughter?' It's a lot to think about."

And that's before Glennon tries to explain the homicidal reign of the Khmer Rouge, a subject Weinstein knows too well. She was not even a teenager in 1975 when the regime seized Cambodia and began the holocaust of the Killing Fields.

Government workers, scholars and professionals were executed; others were starved and beaten in labor camps. An estimated 1.5 million died.

Weinstein, confined apart from her father and brother, recalled being ordered to dig a retention pond - during the dry season. She was sure she was digging her grave.

Her father escaped to Thailand, and in 1979, after the Vietnamese invaded and drove off the Khmer Rouge, she and her brother made their way there, too. She emigrated to the United States in 1984 and lives in Abington.

Today, many of her countrymen dwell in soul-shocking poverty, in villages where land mines continue to kill and maim. It was desperate, postwar poverty that drove adoptions in the late 1990s.

"The birth parents are very, very poor," said Harriet Brener of Jenkintown, mother of a Cambodian daughter, Mya, 8. For some parents, baby formula is an unaffordable luxury, said Brener, who previously worked helping people adopt from Cambodia. Forced to choose among hungry mouths, they may leave a child at an orphanage.

Cambodian adoptions peaked at 402 in 2000. The next year, amid alarming reports of child trafficking, the U.S. government suspended adoptions. Two Americans who ran a Seattle adoption agency later pleaded guilty to criminal charges, admitting to a scheme in which children were taken from families and represented as orphans on immigration papers.

Advocates say the ban punishes the innocent, with estimates of parentless Cambodian children reaching several hundred thousand. It's unknown when or whether adoptions might resume.

Meanwhile, the American parents of Cambodian children seek community where they can find it.

"There aren't that many of us," said Judy Haupt of Exton, whose 10-year-old daughter, Sophia, attends a Cambodian classical dance class in South Philadelphia.

Blair and her partner, Nancy Kraybill of Elkins Park, take Veata to the same class, trying to provide a tie to Cambodia - an effort that is by turns embraced and rejected. Some days, Blair said, Veata is eager to get to class. Other times, engulfed by the culture around her, she's more interested in High School Musical.

Weinstein wants her Khmer Gallery, in a renovated warehouse basement on North 11th Street, to be a place where Cambodian children feel welcome. She's planning music and language classes.
Walking into the gallery is like stepping into a movie, perhaps Raiders of the Lost Ark, with intricate stone carvings filling room after room. Life-size wooden Buddhas keep watch over smaller deities. Behind a curtain, a windowless room holds beautiful, unsettling art, a memorial to the Killing Fields.

"I live, breathe, sleep and eat culture," Weinstein said. "And Cambodia is not just culture, it's identity."

Cambodians back doctor's snub of French first lady nude

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni (C), Premier Hun Sen (L) and doctor Beat Richner (R) cut a ribbon during the inauguration of the Kuntha Bopha 4 hospital in Phnom Penh, in 2005. Richner, who heads a Cambodian children's medical group, reportedly turned down the sale proceeds of the 1993 picture of Italian ex-model Carla Bruni, who is now married to President Nicolas Sarkozy.


Parents of Cambodian children on Wednesday backed a Swiss doctor working in the kingdom who refused a donation from money raised by the sale of a nude photo of the French first lady.

Beat Richner, who heads a Cambodian children's medical group, reportedly turned down the sale proceeds of the 1993 picture of Italian ex-model Carla Bruni, who is now married to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The nude eventually sold to an anonymous man of Asian descent at a New York auction last week for 91,000 dollars, but Richner told media that he would not take any money since the picture would shock Cambodian sensibilities.

Parents in impoverished Cambodia said they approved of Richner's decision.

"There are many ways that people can raise money and donate it to the hospital, not by nudity," said Bou Koeun, the father of a two-month-old boy who is being cared for at Richner's Kantha Bopha hospital in Phnom Penh.

Song Lai Sreng, 25, whose baby girl is also receiving treatment at the hospital, said the paediatrician had made the right decision.

"Talking about nudity, it is not acceptable in our culture," she told AFP.

Richner told The Cambodia Daily newspaper on Wednesday that Swiss photographer Michel Comte, who took the picture, said he had a buyer lined up who would acquire the photo if the money went to the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospital Association.

But Richner turned him down, the paper said.

Cambodia has a visible sex trade, but at the same time conservatives laud modesty as part of the local culture.

R.I. senators honor late photojournalist

Wednesday, April 16, 2008
By Karen Lee Ziner
Journal Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As Rhode Island’s Cambodian community celebrates Cambodian New Year, Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed yesterday introduced a Senate resolution honoring Dith Pran, a photojournalist whose heroism under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime was documented in the 1984 film The Killing Fields. Dith died in New Jersey on March 30 of pancreatic cancer.

The Senate resolution honors Dith as one of the most dedicated and outspoken advocates for human rights in Cambodia and calls him “a modern-day hero and an exemplar of what it means to be a citizen of the United States and a citizen of the world.”

It states that the United States “owes a debt of gratitude to Dith Pran for his tireless work to prevent genocide and violations of fundamental human rights,” and calls on teachers throughout the country to spread Dith Pran’s message “by educating their students about his life, the genocide in Cambodia, and the collective responsibility of all people to prevent modern-day atrocities and human rights abuses.”

“Dith Pran was a witness to, and a fierce critic of, the greatest atrocities men have inflicted upon their fellow men,” said Whitehouse. “His willingness to share his story brought light to dark places, and hope to millions.”

Reed said, “Dith Pran devoted his life to exposing the horrors he experienced during the Cambodian genocide. He gave voice to the two million men, women and children who were killed by the Khmer Rouge. By sharing their stories and his own experiences, Mr. Dith’s work as an advocate for human rights will continue to have an impact for generations to come.”

As many fled Cambodia during the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge in 1975, Dith Pran sent his wife and children to safety abroad but stayed behind with investigative journalist Sydney H. Schanberg to help ensure that news of the events there reached the outside world.

Captured by the Khmer Rouge, he endured forced labor and beatings for four years until his escape in 1979. He coined the term “the killing fields” to describe the mass graveyards he witnessed during his 40-mile journey across the Cambodian border to a Thai refugee camp.

Dith reached the United States in 1980, and became a photojournalist for The New York Times. He founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project to educate individuals around the world of the horrors he survived.

On March 30, the news that Dith Pran had died spread quickly through Rhode Island, home to one of the largest Cambodian refugee populations in the country, and where Dith paid numerous visits to give voice to the Cambodian holocaust.

Pich Chhoeun, former president of the Cambodian Society of Rhode Island, said, “Without Dith Pran, I don’t think people would be aware of the Cambodian struggle as much as they have for the last 30 years or so. His life, his story — certainly the movie — I think contributed to allowing people internationally to know what happened in Cambodia.”

Cambodia to host AFC Challenge Cup
Apr 16 08

Cambodia will host the Group D qualifying matches of the AFC Challenge Cup 2008 from May 24-28, announced AFC on Tuesday.

Nepal, who were originally scheduled to host Group D from May 10- 14, withdrew last month, citing political unrest.

Macau, Nepal, Cambodia and Palestine will fight it out for a place in the eight-team finals in Hyderabad, India (July 30-August 10) with only the group toppers advancing to the main competition.

The revised match schedule will be released shortly.

2006 runners-up Sri Lanka became the first team to qualify for the finals of the second edition on April 6 when they topped Group A comprising Pakistan, Chinese Taipei and Guam.

DPR Korea, Turkmenistan, hosts India and Myanmar have direct entry to the tournament, while the winners of the 2008 and 2010 editions of the AFC Challenge Cup qualify automatically for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup in Doha, Qatar.

Tajikistan won the inaugural edition in 2006 after defeating Sri Lanka in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

U.N. chief calls for justice in Cambodia

UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- On the tenth anniversary of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's death, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed Tuesday for the senior leaders of the regime to be brought to justice.

"I would like to remind the international community of the urgent importance of bringing to closure one of history's darkest chapters," Ban said in a statement.

The secretary-general said he hoped that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia "will soon deliver long-overdue justice for the people of Cambodia."

"The United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia remain actively engaged in efforts to hold the Khmer Rouge senior leaders and those most responsible accountable for their horrific crimes," he said.

Five former Khmer Rouge leaders have been detained and will face the ECCC, most of them on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

They are: Kaing Guek Eav, the alleged chief torturer of the regime; former Khmer Rouge Prime Minister Khieu Samphan; Ieng Sary, the regime's former foreign minister, and his wife, Ieng Thirith; and Nuon Chea, the top surviving regime leader.

The ECCC, which was established by both the United Nations and Cambodia, became operational in 2006, but the first formal hearings took place in fall of last year.

More than 2 million people died during the party's efforts to transform Cambodia into an agrarian utopia before troops from neighboring Vietnam overthrew the regime. Remnants of the Khmer Rouge continued to battle Cambodia's government into the 1990s before they fragmented in the middle of the decade.

Pol Pot, known as "Brother Number One" during the group's nearly four years in power, died in a jungle hideout in 1998. Ta Mok, the former Khmer Rouge military chief known as "The Butcher," died in a Cambodian military hospital in 2006 while awaiting trial for crimes against humanity.

The tribunal, which includes three Cambodian and two international jurists, is expected to continue until at least 2010.

For Garments, Hope Despite Opposition

By Erik Wasson, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
15 April 2008

Sumedh Chhim reports in Khmer, Part 1 (2.22 MB) - Download (MP3)
Sumedh Chhim reports in Khmer, Part 1 (2.22 MB) - Listen (MP3)
Sumedh Chhim reports in Khmer, Part 2 (1.94 MB) - Download (MP3)
Sumedh Chhim reports in Khmer, Part 2 (1.94 MB) - Listen (MP3)

Duty-free access is key for Cambodia because the US buys 70 percent of Cambodia’s garments and currently charges a 17 percent average tariff on them.

Cambodia fears that at the end of this year, when US emergency quotas on Chinese garments expire, factories will give up on Cambodia’s 330,000 garment workers and relocate either to China or Vietnam, which now enjoys the quota-free access of a full World Trade Organization member.

Hoping a tariff cut will keep factories where they are, Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh traveled several times to Washington in 2007 to press the case.

Representative Jim McDermott introduced a bill in Congress that would cut the tariffs.
“We’re talking about people, about countries where people live on about $2 a day,” McDermott told VOA Khmer recently. “And my view that’s the bottom line. It doesn’t make any difference what color you are or what language you speak, if you’re living on $2 a day, you need some help.”

McDermott, a Democrat who served in the Peace Corps in Africa, introduced the New Partnership for Development bill in October, and this bill would expand duty-free garment access to all least developed countries.

Currently major garment producers Bangladesh and Cambodia are the only developing countries that do not benefit from other special trade preference programs that grant duty-free access.
The bill has the strong support of the US retailers and importers who want to increase their profits by paying less for the garments.

But because of strong opposition from the US textile industry, as well as African and Central American countries, and increasing anti-trade rhetoric by Democrats in Congress running for president, trade watchers in Washington believe the bill has little chance of succeeding this year.

Last month, the US textile industry and garment makers in Africa and Central America wrote to Congress urging it to deny duty-free access to Bangladesh and Cambodia. These nations describe Cambodia as an industrial powerhouse that will cost them jobs.

Under existing preference programs, many poor countries must use US fabric to get duty-free access when shipping garments back to the US.

Restrictions on African garments also limit their use of non-African fabric. These restrictions are important sources of textile jobs in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

“If this act went through, we could lose tens of thousands of US textile jobs because we would lose billions of dollars in yarn and fabric orders currently being exported overseas and turned into clothing and brought back into the United States,” textile lobbyist Cass Johnson, the president of the National Council of Textile Organization, told VOA Khmer. “Those apparel orders would be lost because Bangladesh and Cambodia, two countries that use no US yarns or fabrics, would be replacing those orders with new apparel orders that are made of Chinese yarns or fabrics.”

“That’s because the bill gives them extraordinary new benefits which make it impossible for us or our overseas export partners to compete,” Johnson said. “We send nearly $10 million worth of yarns and fabrics to Mexico, the Andean countries and to the CAFTA region under various trade promotion programs.”

US textile makers see Cambodia’s growing garment exports, up 20 percent from 2006 to 2007 despite a 49 percent decrease in the last quarter of 2007, as a major threat.

“ Bangladesh and Cambodia, even without this new bill, have taken about $2 billion of apparel trade from the region,” Johnson said. “They are super-competitive countries. They have grown 60 percent over the last three years. This bill would supercharge that growth. You would see billions and billions of dollars lost from the region. You’ve got to think: that is potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

The letter to Congress was signed by business groups in South Africa, Lesotho, Kenya, and Madagascar in Africa; and Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in the Americas.

Jas Bedi, the Chairman of the Kenya Apparel Manufacturers Exporters Association, said the bill undermines the African Growth and Opportunity Act, signed into law in 2000, which gives duty-free access to lesser developed African countries.

“Kenyan industry is similar to the rest of Africa [and] is struggling to survive with no gain in market share with the expiry of the Multifiber Agreement since 2005,” he said. “This new bill will not help the situation.”

Lobbyists, including some retail supporters of McDermott’s bill, said that 2009 would be the first opportunity to discuss new benefits for Cambodia. This year several US preference programs expire and when an attempt to extend them and add new benefits for Africa failed in a House committee last month, these supporters were discouraged.

McDermott disagrees.

“My feeling is that there is, there is always time in a legislative session, when we’re talking March, to do something,” he said.

McDermott said that the fight to get his bill passed has become complicated. There is a battle in the US Congress over enacting a new free trade agreement with Colombia.

President George W. Bush has made that bill his top trade priority, but Democrats and union leaders in the US are against it.

The battle is forcing Democrats to choose sides, and they are choosing to oppose greater trade.
Statements by senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the leading Democratic candidates for president, against the cornerstone of US trade policy, the NAFTA agreement with Mexico and Canada, have further motivated Democrats to oppose new trade benefits.

“But there’s quite a bit of time for us to do something,” McDermott said. “We’ve been talking about having hearings on this bill in April. And so, I already think there’s a real possibility that we’ll get a lot of that done.”

McDermott included benefits in the bill to appease worried African countries after they complained last year. One limits the amount of clothing Cambodia could claim duty-free access for to the amount of garment it currently produces.

This could avoid a massive increase or “surge” in new Cambodian garments that would dominate the market. Deapite the pressure, McDermott said that he will not take Cambodia and Bangladesh out of the bill.

“Poor countries, LDCs [lesser-developed countries] ought to be dealt with,” he said. “And if you’re an African LDC, you’re not a whole lot different than an Asian LDC or a South American LDC...The fear of the Africans is that they’re going to lose everything, that it’s all going to be sucked up by the Asians. Well, we put in protections, we put in firewalls that you couldn’t get more than they’re producing already and for the next ten years.”

Lobbyist Johnson said these safeguards are not enough.

“When countries have had these caps before they very cleverly get around them by offering importers the ability to use part of the cap but only if they will bring in new business,” Johnson said. “There are various ways around the cap that countries and importers have used in the past. I’m sure Bangladesh and Cambodia would be no exception.”

Johnson also said that the supporters of the bill are not really concerned with helping Cambodia or making clothes cheaper for American consumers, so much as enriching themselves.

“Major importers and retailers are supporting this bill,” Johnson said. “One of the reasons, and this is one of the stories you don’t hear about this bill, is they get $900 million a year in duty savings. They pay $900 million in duties on apparel goods coming from those two countries and that would be a gift from the US treasury into their pockets, which doesn’t help the people in Bangladesh and Cambodia much but it does help US retailers get a little richer.”

Asked if his LDC bill is dead now that developing countries have joined forces with the US textile industry against it, McDermott noted that his bill has the support of powerful House Ways and Means Committee chairman, New York congressman Charles Rangel.

“When somebody tells me a bill is dead,” he said, laughing, “that makes it even more fun when we make it happen.”

Inflation, Increased Cost of Living Expected to Hurt Cambodian Families

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
15 April 2008

Khmer audio aired on April 14 (7.41 MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired on April 14 (7.41 MB) - Listen (MP3)

With inflation increasing, civic leaders are concerned children will face malnutrition or drop out of school to help their struggling families.

The price of rice and other goods continues to increase, pinching the pockets of many everyday Cambodians.

As far back as 2004, when there was little inflation, 45 percent of Cambodian children under the age of 5 faced malnutrition, said Chea Vannath, former director of the Center for Social Development, as a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday.

That number is likely to now increase, she said.

The world is facing an “economic tsunami,” she said, and it was up to everyone, including the government, private sector and non-governmental agencies to curb the impact.

The UN and IMF have warned of food insecurity worldwide, and already countries like Haiti and Egypt have seen riots over the rising price of goods.

“Some of the countries have no food stores, unlike Cambodia, we have them,” Chea Vannath said.

Still, if the government isn’t careful, the situation could turn “dire,” as the next rice harvest is not until October or November, around the festival of Pchum Ben, she said.

Rice millers and the government should be seeking to buy rice at the price of foreign businessmen in order to help people, she said.

Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, said Monday that inflation was a continuing concern among workers, despite a proposed $6 increase to monthly income.

Workers have not received an exact date as to when the increase will come, he said, also a guest on “Hello VOA” Monday.

The $6 increase to monthly income came after the Free Trade Union threatened sweeping strikes, as the cost of living was surpassing a worker’s monthly income.

The opposition meanwhile has threatened to stage a second rally in coming weeks to protest the rising cost of goods.

Chea Mony said he had not called on all his workers to join one demonstration earlier this month, leaving it up to individuals.

His union is independent, he said.

New Year a Time for Local Tourism

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
15 April 2008

Khmer audio aired April 15 (1.00 MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 15 (1.00 MB) - Listen (MP3)

Local tourism increases around Khmer New Year, the most popular time of the year for Cambodians to move around the country, a trend that is likely to increase this year, a top official said.

“We expect that Cambodian people moved much more compared to last year,” Tourism Minister Thong Khon told VOA Khmer. The increase was “due to good living conditions of Cambodian people and to good infrastructure.”

The exact number of local tourists moving throughout the country is unknown, but officials estimate at least 5 million local tourists travel across the country during the country’s three main festivals: New Year, the Water Festival, and Pchum Ben.

Most of the travel comes at New Year, and this year has seen more, officials said. “Of course they move a lot, because they get money from selling land and because we have a good infrastructure,” said Meung Son, president of Eurasie Travel.

However, Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, said that local tourists may be less than in years past, thanks to inflation.

Only the rich are able to move around this year, he said.

Lake Developers Want ‘Safety’

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
15 April 2008

Khmer audio aired April 15 (1.79 MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 15 (1.79 MB) - Listen (MP3)

The fear of terrorism and the ineffective control of foreign tourists, as well as internal migrants, are all driving the development of the Boeung Kak lake area, officials said recently.

The Cambodian government hopes to bring modern development to the area, to prevent chaotic settlement in the capital, officials said.

“We need to strengthen the security issue and develop modernization construction in Boeung Kak for easily monitoring security,” Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheathvong told VOA Khmer. “There are many complicated security problems for those coming in and those going out, without good security control.”

Phnom Penh has leased the land to developer Shukaku, Inc., in a $79 million deal, but residents say they are not being paid a fair price to leave the lake homes.

“We knew terrorists have easily hidden in there, like CFF and JI terrorist leader Hambali,” he said, referring the Cambodian Freedom fighters and the leader of the Southeast Asian group Jemaah Islamiyah. “If we cannot properly control this area, it will create a security problem for Phnom Penh in the future.”

Members of the CFF came from the area to attack government forces in Phnom Penh in November 2000, and Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, reportedly stayed in the area prior to his arrest in Bangkok in 2003, following the 2002 Bali bombings carried out by JI.

Critics say city government and developers are neglecting the interests of Boeung Kak villagers as they move to clear the area of the makeshift homes jutting over the lake. “Safety and people’s living are very important issues, but Boeung Kak development must provide for the very important interests of Boeung Kak villagers, or the people’s interest will be lost,” said Keo Remy, vice president of the Human Rights Party, which is competing in July’s general elections.

Be Pharum, Boeung Kak villager, said residents supported development.

“But we request that the government find a proper resolution for Boeung Kak villagers, to avoid the suffering with the development like people in Sambok Chap, Koh Pich…in Phnom Penh.”
Phan Sithan, coordinator of NGO Forum on Cambodia, acknowledged that the area was important for security.

“But the people’s living is also an important part of development,” he said.

The government must “seriously consider” the relationship between security and people’s livelihoods, he said.

Small Parties a Target: Group

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
15 April 2008

Khmer audio aired April 15 (1.09 MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired April 15 (1.09 MB) - Listen (MP3)

With general elections fast approaching, smaller competing parties are likely to be targets of threat and intimidation, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said Tuesday.

In a monthly bulletin, the rights group warns that intimidation can include murder, but may be as seemingly small as the knocking down of party signs.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the rights group was wrong in its accusations, adding that smaller parties sometimes do not respect National Election Committee regulations.

Opposition members still face intimidation from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said.

Meanwhile, competing parties such as the Sam Rainsy Party, Human Rights Party and Norodom Ranariddh Party, are still not properly allowed to express themselves, said Hang Puthea, executive director of the Neutral & Impartial Committee for Free & Fair Elections in Cambodia.

Destruction of parties signs is now more frequent in Phnom Penh than the provinces, he said.

International fund eyes Vietnam’s market

NhanDan Online
April 16, 2008

International fund Vietnam Property Fund says it hopes to take advantage of the booming Vietnamese economy by listing on the alternative investment market (AIM).

According to local newspaper Daily Express, Vietnam Property Fund is expecting to raise US $100 million when it is put on the market on April 25.

Following the heading “Peace and prosperity in Vietnam”, the paper said that more than 30 years after the war, Vietnam is emerging as one of Asia’s economic success stories.

The daily applauded Vietnam’s high 7.5% economic growth for the past 10 years, saying the level is expected to be maintained during the next five years.

The paper claimed economic success is leading to an increased demand for real estate development and the Vietnam Property Fund is looking to invest in this area.

The fund will initially focus on investments in real estate companies.

In addition to its Vietnamese portfolio, the company is looking to invest up to 20% of its assets into real estate in neighbouring countries such as Laos, Cambodia and China, the paper reported. (VNA)

Alone once, and lost in Angkor's eerie spell

Just a dozen years ago the temple complex still offered visitors all the solitude they needed to dream Khmer dreams

April 16, 2008

If I had to pick my favourite photo of my 1996 trip to Cambodia, it would be a shot of the sunlight playing with shade on a stone carving of an apsara. But if I were asked what was my most remarkable photo, I would have to choose a picture of a long bas-relief cloister where there's nary a soul in sight.

Perhaps the pictures in themselves aren't worth a thousand words each, but they dramatically illustrate this fact: In 1996 Cambodia had 260,000 visitors, and last year there were more than two million.

In 1996, what has become a virtually risk-free trek from Bangkok to Siem Reap by land or river was still a few years away. The US government discouraged overland travel between Phnom Penh and the gateway to Angkor too, since there was still a chance of being ambushed by Khmer Rouge holdouts.

A dozen years ago there was no need to get up before dawn to make sure you could walk among the Angkor temples in splendid loneliness. There was no jostling for the best shots of the ruins at dusk.

The ancient complex was all but empty throughout the day, save for a few intrepid adventurers - and clusters of local people, mostly children, who tried to reel in riel from the visitors, or better, US dollars, in exchange for batik fabrics, T-shirts and all-purpose krama scarves.

Nowadays, thanks to the peace that came to Cambodia in 1998, visitors complain that the temples are despairingly overrun.

The Indochina War came to an end in early 1975, but 33 years ago tomorrow the even greater horrors that would paralyse Cambodia were just beginning as the Khmer Rouge seized Phnom Penh.

In late 1978, after the worst of the so-called auto-genocide in which some 1.7 million Cambodians perished, Vietnamese forces liberated the country's east and south from the cruel Khmer Rouge overseers. The invaders backed the Maoist extremists into a squirreling crescent of land along the Thai border.

But even as late as 1996, the rulers-turned-rebels still controlled vast areas just several kilometres from the Angkor complex.

At the Tha Phrom temple that year I was the only visitor. Or so I thought - until I heard someone shout, "You!"

I looked back to see a lone soldier headed my way, and for a minute stood paralysed, thinking he was Khmer Rouge. As he came near, though, I saw with relief that he wore a government-flag patch on his shoulder, with its silhouette of Angkor Wat.

"I show you temple," he said, in what sounded part question but mostly statement. Wherever I wandered among the elegant old grounds, where centuries-old trees climbed over the even more ancient stones of the temple, he was close behind.

"This temple was built under King Jayavarman VII," he said, adding nothing to what I'd already read in Lonely Planet.

As we parted ways after the "tour", a few of his colleagues showed up. I half-smiled and nodded at my "guide" and, keeping my head down, walked back to my car and told the driver to go on to the next temple.

Instead of starting the engine, he asked, "Do you have a dollar? That's the usual fee they ask for."

Unsure of who had lost or gained face, I diplomatically went back to pay the soldier a dollar. He smiled and let me take his photo.

These days, with the broad stream of visitors pouring into Angkor, such extracurricular activity is barred by the government.

While I felt relatively safe throughout my trip, only about 13 kilometres away were the pinkish stones of the Bantery Srei temple - the Citadel of the Women. Two years earlier an American woman had been killed near there by Khmer Rouge soldiers.

It was still too close to the frontline to consider a visit in 1996, but my future wife went in '98 and proudly announced that I'd missed the most elegant temple in the area.

I imagine I'll make it there some day, and if there are too many people scrumming for photos, well, they can be Photoshopped out once I'm back home.

Carleton Cole

The Nation

‘Long-overdue’ justice necessary in Cambodia, says Secretary-General Ban

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

15 April 2008 – Noting that today is the tenth anniversary of the death of the notorious Cambodian dictator Pol Pot, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on the United Nations-backed tribunal to “soon deliver long-overdue justice for the people” of the South-East Asian country.

“I would like to remind the international community of the urgent importance of bringing to closure one of history’s darkest chapters,” Mr. Ban said in a statement.

“The United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia remain actively engaged in efforts to hold the Khmer Rouge senior leaders and those most responsible accountable for their horrific crimes.”

The Secretary-General said it was his hope that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – which has been operational since July 2006 – could soon deliver justice.

Under an agreement signed by the UN and Cambodia, the ECCC was set up as an independent court using a mixture of Cambodian judges and staff and foreign personnel. It is designated to try those deemed most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian and international law between April 1975 and January 1979.

Estimates vary but as many as three million people died during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, which was then followed by a protracted period of civil war in the impoverished country.

New breath for the Khmer muse

An immigrant couple in the US helps preserve Cambodian values through poetry - and the way they raise their children

April 16, 2008

Sinan Ung became fascinated with the infinitely varied forms of Cambodian poetry at the age of nine. Over the next decade she wrote dozens of poems about life in her small village in Kandal province. Then came the Khmer Rouge - tomorrow is the 33rd anniversary of the fall of Phnom Penh - and they told her to stop writing.

Owning pens or paper was not allowed between 1975 and '79, so Ung waited for rain and wrote poems in mud with a stick or her finger - until the day she was caught.

"They kicked me," she says. "I knew if they caught me again, they'd kill me, so I wrote in my head. I didn't forget one word of my poems."

Only years later would she have the opportunity to write them down, and she's since taught many Sunday-afternoon poetry classes at Khmer Arts, a shop in the small American city of Lowell, Massachusetts, that she runs with her husband, Molyrath Sim.

Ung and Sim arrived in the United States from a Thai refugee camp in 1981, with their year-old son Poly. They lived with a couple in Lexington, Massachusetts, who had agreed to care for them under a Lutheran World Relief programme for Cambodian refugees.

Following the births of their second son Mony and daughter Molyna, Ung and Sim decided they'd better teach their children about Khmer culture. Even as the couple learned a new language and social system in America, their commitment to honour their native culture increased.

While raising their children in a foreign country, Ung and Sim passed on to them many of the core aspects of Cambodian society - fluency in the language, reverence for elders, Theravada Buddhism and observance of the Cambodian New Year every April.

Once they opened Khmer Arts, they set out to promote and preserve their native culture within Lowell's Cambodian community, the second largest in the US. Their store is filled with Cambodian art, handicrafts and books. Lowell has dozens of Khmer grocery stores and restaurants, but few shops offer traditional Khmer artistry.

Khmer-language books on Cambodian history, Buddhism and grammar line one wall of the shop.

Ung says it's important to pass on the language to young Cambodians, who might otherwise only know English. She lends and occasionally gives books to local Cambodians who can't afford them.
In her poetry classes, Ung explains the complicated techniques and meters that allow for multiple meanings. There are more than 50 distinct forms of Cambodian poetry, she says, and all of them rhyme.

It's meant to be recited as much as it's read. Heard aloud, it sounds more like song than spoken verse. It's often recited in rubato form, in which a rhythmic flow is suddenly broken by briefly closing the larynx.

On breaks from her job at an electronics assembly plant in nearby Burlington, Ung gives regular, informal Khmer-language lessons to co-workers - immigrants who never learned to write their native language. They work the evening shift, which is popular with many Asian immigrants.

Ung and Sim are hoping that the various cultural artefacts and social norms they took for granted early in life can survive being transplanted in Cambodian communities in America, especially after they were almost wiped out by the Khmer Rouge.

Carleton Cole

The Nation

UN urges justice for victims of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide

The Earth times
Tue, 15 Apr 2008
Author : DPA

New York - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday called for Cambodia's courts to deliver a verdict on the mass killings in the 1970s by the country's Khmer Rouge government, whose leader Pol Pot died 10 years ago. Pol Pot led communist troops to topple the US-backed government in Phnom Penh in April, 1975, and launched a country-wide sweep to wipe pout the middle class and intellectuals, resulting in more than 2 million deaths from forced labour and extermination.

He died 10 years ago this week. But Cambodia's efforts to bring the handful of Khmer Rouge survivors to justice have dragged on despite international assistance to establish a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the genocide.

Ban called for closure on the Khmer Rouge cases, which he called "one of history's darkest chapters."

"The UN and the Royal government of Cambodia remain actively engaged in efforts to hold the Khmer Rouge senior leaders and those most responsible accountable for their horrible crimes," Ban said in a statement.

"With the support of the international community, it is my hope that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia will soon deliver long-overdue justice for the people of Cambodia," he said.

No to Naked Carla: Cambodians Teach West a Lesson in Human Dignity

Tue, 2008-04-15

A nude photo of Carla Bruni, the wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was sold at auction in New York last Thursday for 91,000 euros. The photographer had persuaded the seller, German collector Gert Elfering, to donate the money from the sale to charity. Elfering chose the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital Association in Cambodia. The head of the hospital, Swiss pediatrician and musician Beat Richner refused the money.

This article from Courier Mail summarizes his position (there is a discrepancy over whether the amount of 91,000 is in euros or dollars):

Swiss paediatrician Beat Richner, head of a children’s medical care group, said he had turned down an offer of $US91,000 raised at a New York auction last week of the 1993 picture of Italian ex-model Carla Bruni, now married to President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“My decision was taken out of respect for our patients and their mothers,” he said in an interview with Le Matin Dimanche.

“Accepting money obtained from exploitation of the female body would be perceived as an insult.”

In Cambodia “use of nudity is not understood in the way it is in the West”.

He did not wish his institution, the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital Association, “to be involved in the media exploitation of Madame Bruni”.

“The idea behind this gift was to get publicity for the auction and the photographer,” Dr Richner was also quoted as saying. “It was a way of using us.”

In addition to the above remarks, Le Salon Beige, whose readers praise the integrity of Dr. Richner, quotes him as saying:

“My refusal is not a criticism of this photo or of its model. [...] We are not in Hollywood. My decision was made out of respect for our patients and their mothers. They feel as secure in our hospitals as in a pagoda. Accepting money that comes from the exploitation of the female body would be perceived as an insult to their sensitivity and their poverty. At the same time, for Cambodians and their government, Madame Bruni is now seen as the First Lady of France. Our reputation would be stained by what they would perceive as disrespect should we accept money of this nature.”