Monday, 21 April 2008

Khmer New Year rocks LynnArts

PHOTO / ALAN WEBSTER Rossophea Chap carves a large piece of fruit, which he says it took about a day to learn with a lot of practicing and internet research, Sunday at LynnArts.

ITEM Live com
Monday, April 21, 2008
By Richard Tenorio/The Daily Item

LYNN-In a city with a sizeable Cambodian-American population, members of the Massachusetts Cambodian-American community celebrated the Khmer New Year at LynnArts on Sunday.

“I thought it went well,” said planning committee co-chair R. Bobby Pres, a 2002 Lynn Tech graduate who now works in financial services. “This was once again a stepping-stone for us.”

Pres estimated a crowd of 150 to 200 people visited the celebration, which was held in Lynn for the seventh straight year and which celebrates a New Year rooted in the end of the Khmer harvest (its actual date is April 13-15). Pres and fellow planning committee member Judy Khy said that there were differences in the focus of this year’s event. Pres mentioned an emphasis on youth and community organizing, while Khy discussed a greater role of art.

“Usually, Cambodian youth are seen as very threatening,” Pres said, citing the role of gangs. “We try to make them known in a positive light.” He added that a goal of the New Year event was to “push them toward resources and a leadership role in the community.”

Khy, whose primary role was to coordinate volunteer outreach and recruitment, said, “We were able to get more Southeast Asian artists and performers. That was really great.”

The day began with a Khmer blessing dance from three Lynn high school students, followed by performances from 3rd World Entertainment of Lowell, a Lowell ceramic artisan, a spoken-word piece, kung fu line-dancing from the Wah Lum Kung Fu & Tai Chi Academy of Malden, and break-dancing from local Cambodian youth.

Artists had opportunities to sell their work, and attendees had a chance to sample Khmer food.
Pres and Khy both noted the roots of Khmer culture in Lynn.

“We have a temple, and culturally, there are grocery stores, video rental stores, and Cambodian people here,” Pres said. “There are a lot of us.”

Khy noted that Cambodian-Americans in Lynn might celebrate the new year with additional festivities.

“In Lynn, there might be smaller things, like temple celebrations and religious and social gatherings for older folks and families,” she said. “There might also be nighttime events and parties. (The LynnArts event) was the only one I knew of that was open to the entire community.” LynnArts hosted the event for the first time this year, providing its auditorium and both of its galleries. Past locations included North Shore Community College, the Lynn Housing Authority, and the Lynn Tech cafeteria.

“(LynnArts) was definitely a great location,” Khy said. “It’s in the vicinity of public transportation, which is a big plus. Being close to the Lynnway also helps. The parking around the area seems pretty convenient.”

Khy addressed the resilience of the Cambodian-American community, many of whose members escaped from a nation torn by a civil war in the 1970s that resulted in the ascension of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979.

“I think that Cambodian-American celebrations definitely have an undertone acknowledging that the whole Cambodian-American community living in the US (is) definitely a resilient people,” Khy said, “being that they overcame a civil war in Cambodia and have become refugees, they were in refugee camps in countries like Thailand, the Philippines, and Burma ... coming to America, trying to assimilate here, and formed their own communities again.

“Each celebration just speaks to being able to acknowledge that.”

Festival of the Dead

The New Republic
by Christina Larson

The gross exploitation of Cambodia's past.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

An hour's drive from downtown Phnom Penh sits a campus of modern office buildings. The architecture is standard office-park fare, but with fantastic crowns of golden lintels and red tiles--traditional Khmer designs--grafted atop. (The effect is rather like seeing a businessman wearing a papal crown.) The offices were originally constructed for the military, and a sign that reads ROYAL CAMBODIAN ARMED FORCES still hangs on one gate. Elsewhere on the campus, a large bronze statue of a warrior on a pedestal stares down at onlookers, one arm pointing an accusing finger, the other brandishing a club. My guide, an American who works for the United Nations, tells me that it is a traditional Cambodian representation of justice. But, he adds, wrinkling his nose, he doesn't much like it. "It's not what justice should look like," he says. "You know, the lady with the blindfold and the scales."

The question of what, exactly, justice looks like is in the air here because the campus is home to the tribunal that is slated to begin trying five top Khmer Rouge officials within the next few months. Backed by the United Nations, the tribunal represents the first attempt to prosecute leaders of the Khmer Rouge in almost 30 years. After the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 and put a halt to the killing, they held a cursory trial, widely regarded as a sham. In the years that followed, no comprehensive attempt was made to hold surviving Khmer Rouge officials accountable for the estimated 1.5 million people who perished under their rule between 1975 and 1979. History loomed, ominous and inscrutable, and the questions surrounding the Cambodian killings fields, questions that might have been answered through trials, went largely unaddressed. Why had the Khmer Rouge kept such meticulous records--rooms upon rooms of file cabinets containing labeled photos of victims, taken both before and after death? Why were some people killed for offenses as superficial as wearing glasses, while others were not? Why were so many of the guards at the notorious S-21 detention center--responsible for interrogating and torturing tens of thousands--middle-school-aged children?

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998 without ever having to answer these questions. But some of his deputies survive, including the five whose trials are expected to begin soon: Kaing Guek Eav, head of the S-21 prison; Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist; Khieu Samphan, former chief of state; Ieng Sary, former deputy prime minister and foreign minister; and his wife, Ieng Thirith, former minister of social affairs.

It seems obvious that trying these Khmer Rouge officials is a good idea. After all, part of the lingering horror for Cambodians has been the inability to tell a history about precisely what happened to their country during one of the twentieth century's worst spasms of mass violence. At this late date, no trial could possibly address all their questions, but presumably average Cambodians would at least find catharsis in having some answers--and in seeing a token few of the perpetrators held accountable.

But what seems obvious in Cambodia often isn't. The more you know about the trials, the more reason there is to suspect that these proceedings will serve a purpose other than reckoning with the past. And, far from delivering justice to the Cambodian people, the trials may be paving the way for exactly the opposite.

What is at stake as the tribunal prepares to open isn't just the right to define Cambodia's past, but the right to control its future. And that future appears murky. On the one hand, decades after Pol Pot emptied Phnom Penh, the capital city is once again bustling. The old French colonial buildings, today used as government offices and luxury hotels, have fresh coats of yellow paint, and modern condo developments are rising on the city outskirts. Along the Mekong River's new pedestrian-friendly walkway, upscale restaurants and Internet cafes cater to an influx of university students, aid workers, and foreign tourists. Motorcycles are parked en masse on public squares. At night, a few of the fancier downtown homes even have cars parked on the ground level. For the past three years, the country has seen double-digit GDP growth, driven by urban construction, garment exports, and an onslaught of tourists, whose numbers are doubling every three years. (Angelina Jolie's turn in Tomb Raider, filmed among the country's ruins, has helped lure armies of sightseers.)

But, only a few miles outside the capital, the paved roads turn to dirt, the new gas stations are replaced by roadside stalls selling bootleg petrol in used Pepsi bottles, and the electric lines, if they exist, aren't very reliable. It's clear the wealth hasn't spread very far. Compared with other developing countries, Cambodia scores abominably low on a scale (used by the World Bank and others) that measures how much overall economic gains are helping the poor. The problem is inept governance, exacerbated by endemic corruption. Cambodia ranks near the bottom of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, and a proposed anti-corruption law has been held up in the legislature for over a decade. "The country is like a motorcycle. If you want to drive fast, you need gas and a good engine," says Sok Hach, president of the Economic Institute of Cambodia, an independent research center in Phnom Penh. "We have the gas," by which he means money and natural resources. "But the engine is not so good."

The engine is currently in the hands of Hun Sen, Cambodia's prime minister. Hun Sen took power during the country's first multi-party elections in 1993 and has not relinquished it since. In 1997, he consolidated his grip by deposing his co-prime minister and rival, Prince Norodom Ranariddh. Today, he is one of Asia's longest-serving leaders. On his watch, the country has been relatively peaceful, not something to take for granted given Cambodia's recent history. But, although foreign aid dollars and new investments are now flowing in, unemployment remains high, infrastructure lags behind neighboring countries, and the education system is derelict. "The political culture of corruption and impunity means that Cambodians are still among the world's poorest people," explains Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness, a Britain-based watchdog group that last year described Cambodia's ruling tier as a "kleptocratic elite."

Yet Hun Sen continues to win votes with two primary appeals: handouts to peasants come election season, and leveraging the horrors of the past. "The government likes to tell us that the status quo is better than what came before, " says Hach. And that, more than anything else, explains why the government has lately been eager to hold these trials. "It's brilliant politics," says Theary Seng, executive director of Cambodia's Center for Social Development, an independent group that monitors the courts and human rights. "Not only is the government able to whitewash officials' personal histories"--Hun Sen was himself a Khmer Rouge soldier--"but they get to be known across the country, and throughout world history, as the triers of the Khmer Rouge." We were sitting in a conference room of the Raffles Hotel, an old colonial structure refurbished with embarrassing splendor in Phnom Penh. "In the history books, that's all that will be said: 'This Cambodian People's Party, led by Hun Sen, tried the Khmer Rouge.'"

It is probably no coincidence that the trials are moving forward now--just in time for the July elections, when voters will decide whether to keep Hun Sen in office. At least one of the five officials will probably have been tried by then, predicts Ngoun Serath of the Club of Cambodian Journalists. "That," he tells me, "will be something to brag about."

The tribunal is particularly important to Hun Sen's political strategy because, these days, demography is working against him. Seventy percent of Cambodians are under the age of 30, meaning they do not personally remember the Khmer Rouge. Hence the need for visceral reminders of the past, if the ruling party is to cling to power. Clearly, Hun Sen is hoping the tribunal will do the trick.

Every year, for a two-week period known as Pchum Ben (or Festival of the Dead), Cambodians honor their ancestors, including those who died under Pol Pot. On the final day of the festival last October, at a temple near the center of Phnom Penh, I met Ly Setha, a 31-year-old government aide. He was kneeling on the steps outside the pagoda, retying his shoes, incense wafting through the doors. Like most Cambodians, he had lost a close relative during the reign of the Khmer Rouge--his father. And, like many, he was too young to remember. In his mother's stories, which are all he knows, his father fought "valiantly," three-to-one against the soldiers who came to take him away; they hung his severed head in a tree, an ornament of intimidation. An infant at the time, Setha says he will never know what truly happened. His only recollections are ill-defined, the shards of an illogical dream. "I am sad," he told me, "but not because I remember being hurt."

That evening, Setha gave me a tour of the city by motorbike. We zipped past the congressional buildings and the king's palace lit up at night, then down the new commercial drag along the Mekong. Eventually, we stopped at one of the recently opened coffee shops. Inside, twentysomethings sipped dark roasts and stared at the big-screen television. Setha soon became engrossed in the wrestling show "Smackdown," as I ordered a cup of tea. I asked why the menu was printed in Khmer and English. He explained that American phrases had a certain cachet, as young Cambodians now study English in school. They are also increasingly Internet-savvy and attuned to such international phenomena as World Wrestling Entertainment and the U.S. presidential election. After his brief stint as a Buddhist monk--"I thought my head would explode," he said, "to stand still while the world moved by"--Setha went to business school, then got a job as an aide to the chairman of a government anti-corruption commission. He carries English-language newspapers under the seat of his motorbike and methodically quizzed me on American politics. He is a fervent supporter of the main opposition party.

Although Hun Sen's backing remains strong in the countryside, and his Cambodian People's Party (CCP) is expected to win the next elections handily, support is fading among Setha's cohort. "What we remember and what we want is different than our parents," he said. He supports the opposition more out of desire for change than because of specific policies. "Elections in Cambodia are very elemental," says Chiv You Meng, president of the Khmer Youth Association, an organization that conducts get-out-the-vote efforts and lobbies against corruption. "It's a choice between systems, voting for democracy or for the old ways. Many young people believe that CCP is comprised of individuals who represent the old ways."

Cambodia today is at a crossroads. With improved governance it could develop the way of Malaysia, a relatively stable country with a growing economy. Or it could go the way of Indonesia, where a corrupt elite hoarded wealth, allowing resentment to fester until the country erupted in violence and the government was finally toppled. With the recent discovery of Cambodia's offshore oil, expected to come online as early as 2009, the stakes are even higher, as greater resources will soon be available--either to benefit the population at large or to grease the wheels of corruption, sharpening the divide between rich and poor. Of course, the longer Hun Sen retains his solid grip on power, the worse the prognosis. And so the Khmer Rouge trials, to the extent that they're good news for him, may end up being bad news for the rest of Cambodia.

Christina Larson is a contributing editor at The Washington Monthly. Her research in Cambodia was supported by a journalism fellowship from the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Prayer to Pol Pot

The Star Online
Monday April 21, 2008

A decade after Pol Pot’s death, some Cambodians seek blessings from the spirit of the once-feared despot.

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 died.

In Anlong Veng, Cambodia, 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.

Sieng Kim Chean, a 40-year-old Cambodian villager, pointing to the grave of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot in Anlong Veng, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, about 305km north of Phnom Penh.

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,” said Orn whose house sits 100m from the grave.

Officials in Anlong Veng, 305km north of the capital Phnom Penh, say only a small minority 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 labour camp, causing the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, forced labour and execution.

His 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.

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

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. “He has imposed himself on Cambodians’ imaginations, and in that sense he lives on” in the world of spirits.

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 pirated DVDs, clothing, house wares, 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 travelled to Anlong Veng to spit on Pol Pot’s 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 neighbours, they advised her to bring offerings of fruit and boiled chicken to Pol Pot’s grave to ask his spirit for protection.

Incense stick holders stand at the grave of the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.

“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 UN-backed genocide tribunal. The long-delayed trials are expected to start later this year. – AP

Dane faces 20 years or drug smuggling

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post
Written by AFP
Friday, 18 April 2008

Dane faces 20 years or drug smuggling

Authorities have charged a Danish woman who allegedly tried to mail thousands of over-the-counter painkillers out of Cambodia with drug smuggling, a judge said on April 11. Axelexen Johanne Vinther, 45, was arrested at a post office in the Phnom Penh on April 9 as she tried to send 10,761 tablets containing codeine in packages to the United States and Canada, said security official Chhay Sinarith. The pills are readily available in Phnom Penh, but codeine is a restricted drug in most Western countries. “I have charged her with drugs trafficking,” said Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Chan Sinath. Vinther faces 20 years in prison if convicted. (AFP)

Cambodia to get national airline

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post
Written by The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 18 April 2008

Cambodia to get national airline

The Cambodian government will launch a national flag carrier in a joint venture with Indonesia’s Rajawali Group, the conglomerate announced in Jakarta on April 10. The two sides will set up a joint venture with capital of up to $50 million, with Cambodia’s government owning 51 percent of the shares, Rajawali said in a statement. “With a national flag carrier, we envisage our economy and tourism industry will grow rapidly,” Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said in the statement. More than 20 foreign airlines, including Japan Airlines and Dubai-based airline Emirates, currently operate direct flights to the Kingdom.


Tourists, beggars flock to Chong Kheas

April 21, 2008

Cambodian government officials often say that tourism is key to the country’s development. Surely this is not what they mean.

Thousands of tourists visiting Cambodia’s famous floating village have unwittingly spawned a new problem - floating beggars, local media reported Monday. Chong Kneas village has become a popular side trip from the tourist town of Siem Reap, 300 kilometres north of the capital, and authorities are desperate to stem the flow of intrepid beggars that have accompanied the boom, Koh Santepheap daily newspaper said.

The newspaper reported the panhandlers come by outboard, row boat and even propel themselves in plastic buckets and bathtubs to crowd cruise boats and solicit tourist cash, and it is beginning to damage the tourist industry.


Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the problem had become so severe that the issue would be discussed at a regional meeting on Siem Reap tourism issues in a fortnight.

As anecdotal evidence goes, this is a pretty good example of just how useless the Cambodian government can be. It cannot provide jobs for its citizens, so its citizens turn to begging. When the beggars start harassing the tourists, the police don’t have the resources to do their jobs — which in this case is to enforce panhandling laws — because the poverty-struck government cannot provide police departments with anything more than a few pencils and a smile.

Meanwhile, in two weeks time, those same government officials will drive their fancy Lexuses to some tacky 4-star resort in Siem Reap, gather around in the freezing air-con and stare blankly at each other wondering what the problem is, no doubt cursing the Chong Kneas beggars for having the temerity to make problems for the important people.

General election to be held on July 27 in Cambodia

Hemscott Group

PHNOM PENH (Thomson Financial) - Cambodians will go to the polls on July 27 for a general election in which more than 8 million people are expected to cast their vote, an election commission official said Monday.

Incumbent Prime Minster Hun Sen -- the longest-serving elected premier in Southeast Asia, with 23 years in power -- and his ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) are widely expected to win the poll.

Tep Nitha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee (NEC), said that 8,124,391 people had registered to vote before the February deadline.

The last general election, in July 2003 saw the kingdom plunged into a year of political stalemate as parties wrangled over forming a coalition. A government was finally formed in July 2004.

Cambodia has 57 political parties, including the CPP; its coalition partner, the royalist Funcinpec party; Prince Norodom Ranariddh's new eponymous party, and the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, historically the political underdog.

Twenty-three parties contested the 2003 polls, and Tep Nitha said he expected about 20 parties to register from April 28 to May 12 for this year's vote.

About 7,000 local election observers and 40 international monitoring bodies have registered to observe the election, he said.

Local elections last year saw about 68 percent of the country's 7.7 million registered voters casting ballots -- the lowest turnout since Cambodia's first democratic election in 1993.
Tep Nitha predicted that turnout in July will be higher.

The CPP won a landslide victory at last year's commune council elections, further tightening their grip on power ahead of the national polls.

Hun Sen has repeatedly said he will stay on in the post of prime minister if the CPP wins the polls.


Cambodia eyes lucrative European, Chinese tourist trade

M&G Business News
Apr 21, 2008

Phnom Penh - Cambodia will seek to increase direct flights between China and European Union (EU) nations to boost its booming tourism industry, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Monday.

His comments came as Cambodia announced a 17 percent increase in tourist arrivals at about about 400,000 during the first two months of 2008. Tourism is a mainstay of the economy.

'Cambodia needs more flights from the big cities in southern China and they need to be daily,' he said by telephone. 'The EU is also a market that is under tapped due to a lack of direct flights.'

'By 2020 an estimated 100 million Chinese are expected to travel the world. If we can snare just 5 percent, we've got 5 million Chinese tourists,' Thong Khon said.

Siem Reap International Airport, 300 kilometres north of the capital and the gateway to the Angkor Wat temple complex, currently accommodates 37 international flights per day, he said.

But the private French-Malaysian concession company Société Concessionnaire de l'Aéroport managing the airport has announced expansion plans, and the government is keen to capitalize.

Phnom Penh International Airport handles about 30 international flights a day, and the Sihanoukville airport, 240 kilometres from the capital which services the south-western beach resorts is also being set for major expansion.

'The EU is also a place with great tourism potential. At present we have direct charter flights from Finland and Italy, but we would like to see that grow as 60 per cent of our tourists arrive by air,' he said.

'To attract more tourists, we have to put Cambodia on the map.'

U.S. gives Cambodia $2 mln for genocide museum

Mon Apr 21, 2008

PHNOM PENH, April 21 (Reuters) - Cambodia is to build a Khmer Rouge genocide museum and library, funded by the United States, as a permanent reminder of the "Killing Fields" atrocities of Pol Pot's guerrilla movement, its director-to-be said on Monday.

Documentation Centre of Cambodia head Youk Chhang, who has been cataloguing the ultra-Maoist regime's crimes for more than a decade, said the museum would be on the site of an old re-education camp in the capital.

"Genocide does not discriminate. It kept happening in the last century and one way is to use education as a tool help to prevent genocide," he told Reuters.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge soldier who defected to Vietnam in the late 1970s, handed over the land on April 17, the 33rd anniversary of the 1975 downfall of Phnom Penh to Pol Pot's peasant army.

In the next four years, an estimated 1.7 million people were to die of starvation, execution, disease or forced labour.

A $56 million United Nations-backed court has charged five top cadres with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Cambodia has appealed to its donors for another $114 million in funding to see the trials through to a conclusion.

Beggars in boats cause chaos for tourists in Cambodia

M&G - Asia-Pacific News
Apr 21, 2008

Phnom Penh - Thousands of tourists visiting Cambodia's famous floating village have unwittingly spawned a new problem - floating beggars, local media reported Monday.

Chong Kneas village has become a popular side trip from the tourist town of Siem Reap, 300 kilometres north of the capital, and authorities are desperate to stem the flow of intrepid beggars that have accompanied the boom, Koh Santepheap daily newspaper said.

The newspaper reported the panhandlers come by outboard, row boat and even propel themselves in plastic buckets and bathtubs to crowd cruise boats and solicit tourist cash, and it is beginning to damage the tourist industry.

'Among around 50 beggar boats, 24 have outboard motors, 28 are row boats and seven are plastic buckets, but these numbers can vary depending on the number of tourists,' the paper said.

Chong Kneas is home to around 1,000 floating homes, restaurants, schools, boutique farms and even a Catholic church and is part of many organized tours for travelers tired of touring temples.

The inhabitants were formerly mainly fishermen, but the lure of cash has converted more and more to the lucrative begging industry.

Authorities say they do not have the facilities to arrest and detain the scores of beggars.

Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the problem had become so severe that the issue would be discussed at a regional meeting on Siem Reap tourism issues in a fortnight.

'Chong Kneas is a very valuable tourist attraction, so we have to be ready to provide quality, service, sanitation and security and order,' he said by telephone.

U.S. teen founds school in Cambodia

Rachel Rosenfeld, 17, founded the R.S. Rosenfeld School in Srah Khvav village in Siem Reap province, Cambodia.

(CNN) -- During Rachel Rosenfeld's junior year in high school, the unexpected happened She developed a stomach condition that kept her out of school the whole year. While recovering, her sense of purpose changed after reading a New York Times article on the plight of young Cambodians.

The article followed a 17-year-old girl who most likely would have been forced into prostitution if she didn't go to school. The problem was that there were no schools in the girl's village.

Rachel, now 17 herself, remembers how the story inspired her to write letters asking for donations so the girl could go to school.

"Reading that, I really realized how much I was taking my own education for granted before I got sick," Rachel said. "It really touched me and hit home, and I knew I needed to do something to help."

After hundreds of letters were forwarded across the country, Rachel received $52,000 in donations. In December 2007, she attended the opening of the R.S. Rosenfeld School in Cambodia's Siem Reap province. Now, 300 students there can get an education, thanks to funding from an unexpected place.

S Korean Embassy in Cambodia denies accusation of human trafficking

PHNOM PENH, April 21 (Xinhua) -- The South Korean Embassy has denied the accusation by the Cambodian government that its country's marriage brokerage companies in Cambodia engaged in human trafficking, a national media said on Monday.

Ambassador Shin Hyun-suk expressed regret that Cambodian officials had used the term "human trafficking" to identify the way that was legally permitted to arrange "married life in the era of globalization," English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodian Daily quoted his statement as saying.

"I have so far never heard those words of threats, kidnapping, deception and abuse, as well as using force or taking a chance when the victims are weak, for the purpose of making business in marriages between Cambodians and Koreans. They all get married out of their own free will, according to the procedures of both countries," he said.

However, he also admitted that "some aspects of the system of international marriages need to be improved and corrected."

The Cambodian government indefinitely banned marriages between Cambodians and foreigners from all countries on March 29, following the release of an International Organization of Migration report warning of the vulnerability of Cambodian brides, who have been flocking to South Korea in increasing numbers over the past few years.  

Editor: An Lu

Landmine pageant heads for Cambodia

Miss Landmine Angola 2008

Daily Dispatch.

CAMBODIA will play host to Miss Landmine 2009, the controversial beauty pageant’s Norwegian organiser said yesterday.

Miss Landmine parades beautiful female amputee landmine victims on the catwalk as they compete to win prosthetic limbs. Miss Landmine Angola 2008 was crowned the event’s inaugural winner this month, and the pageant’s founder, artist Morten Traavik, says he has his heart set on Cambodia as Miss Landmine’s next stop.

Despite backing from donors, including the European Union, the pageant has drawn howls of protest from rights activists and feminists, who brand it colonialist, racist, sexist and exploitative. Traavik, however, says it raises landmine awareness and empowers the amputee participants .

Bloggers have also had a field day with the idea, with Internet satirists caustically suggesting the theme could inspire further tasteless spinoffs, from Miss Holocaust to Miss Ebola Virus.

— Sapa-DPA

Hold-ups for The Red Sense

Sunday, April 20, 2008
Andy's Cambodia:

Tim Pek's new movie The Red Sense enjoyed a successful premiere in Australia on 8 March. Tim (right) hoped to bring it over to show to audiences in Cambodia but there have been delays.
Here is a report from Antonio Graceffo on the latest news.

Australian Khmer Film Struggles to be Shown - by Antonio GraceffoWhile Cambodian Cinema teeters on the brink of extinction, the Cambodian officials put stumbling blocks in the path of Tim Pek’s Khmer Rouge film, “The Red Sense.”

Tim Pek’s film, “The Red Sense,” depicts the struggle of a Cambodian woman who grew up as a refugee in Australia after her father was killed by the Khmer Rouge. The basic plot deals with the concepts of revenge and forgiveness, as she discovers that her father’s killer posed as a refugee and is now alive and well in Australia . Should she avenge her father’s death, or should she allow the killing to stop? Khmer Film fans and martial artists around the world will know Tim Pek from his work with the Khmer kickboxing film “Krabai Liak Goan,” and his work as director and producer of “Bokator, the Great Angkorian Martial Art.”

His latest film, “The Red Sense” is extremely unique in many ways. It is probably the first movie shot in Australia which was done almost completely in Khmer language. It is also one of the first Khmer movies ever shot outside of Cambodia . The topic of revenge vs. forgiveness is one that most Cambodians live with on a daily basis, in the after math of the Cambodian auto-genocide. In other genocides, certain identifiable groups suffered at the hands of specific perpetrators. In Cambodia , the entire population was collectivized and subjected to horrible torture, starvation, and execution. One hundred percent of Khmer who were alive bwtween1975-1979 were victims, perpetrators or both. The parts of Cambodia , such as Ratanakiri province, came under Khmer Rouge control before 1970. Other regions, such as Pilin, were not surrendered until 1997, which means that some of Cambodia ’s current teenagers suffered, directly under the Khmer Rouge.

When the war was over, and twenty years later, when the surrender came, these Khmer Rouge soldiers and cadre didn’t necessarily move away. Many remained in the villages, where they live beside and among the very people they tortured and whose family’s they killed. With the long-awaited Khmer Rouge tribunal already underway, and the world looking at Cambodia , “The Red Sense” becomes an even more powerful and more poignant film. Why then has it been so hard for Pek, a young Khmer refugee from Australia , to debute his film in Phnom Penh . One would think that in an age when even Khmers have stopped watching Khmer cinema, the powers that be would welcome an international film in Phnom Penh .

According to Tim, he finished work on the film in late 2007, and lodged the paperwork in Cambodia in early January 2008. In an Orwelian twist of nomenclature, The Ministry of Information is the government bureau in charge of censorship and film permission. Tim explains why he wanted to show the film in Cambodia ? “Firstly it’s a Cambodian film, and it’s made by Cambodian living abroad. Second, it’s the message in the movie. I always wanted to examine what reconciliation and forgiveness means for those Cambodians who left the genocidal nightmare of the Khmer Rouge regime, but never escaped it. And how do the survivors of a civil war such as that suffered by Cambodia reconcile the fact that there were no foreign invaders? The only criminals were their own people. And most importantly how do individuals find justice, or forgiveness? What would you do if you ran into the murderer of your parents in the street?”When asked if Cambodia has a law preventing foreign movies from being shown in cinema? Tim answered, “Yes, I believe there are, plenty of them.” There are also strict laws in Cambodia forbidding radio broadcasts in foreign language. The English language station must operate under strict guidelines. But, the first time the Cham ethnic minority wanted to have a Cham language broadcast, they were denied permission. Cambodia even has strict laws about the size of billboards which are written in foreign languages. Everything must be written in Khmer also, and the Khmer letters must be larger than the foreign language script. Tim outlined the many steps he had to go through in the hopes of obtaining permission to show his film. “I was asked for a business registration number, a transferring letter and I sent them all. I paid film fess. Then they needed to have a few meetings amongst other organizers, that’s including the Australian Embassy and so on…I didn’t expect it to go on like this.” What reasons might the government have for preventing Tim from showing the movie? “They think it’s a political issue, which I and other people don’t think it is, it’s the individual related issue.” Tim believes the Khmer film industry is dying. “From my own perspective, and I have seen heaps of Khmer movies, which now have drawn my attention to why our film industry is severely declining. It still can not reach the international standard. If we go back to the 60s and 70s our Cambodian Films were the most prominent ones in SEA. These days most local film makers have very little choice, and they’re stuck within one boundary and can not pursue or expand their creativity.

These are the main obstacles from penetrating to the international market or SEA market, and the audience doesn’t understand that. It’s not healthy if we stay like this. Most films that are allowed to screen in public are PG rated. The most popular film genres are: Super Natural, Ghosts, Romantic, Drama, and Period Piece. These are their best and safest genres. They only distribute domestically and to Khmers living abroad.”

In Cambodia , only one company has a monopoly for dubbing movies. All movies, whether shot in Khmer language or shot abroad, are dubbed. You never hear the actual actors speaking their lines. Worst of all, ALL voices in a movie are done by the same two men and one woman? “Yes, that’s so true. When I heard people talk about Khmer film, the only word I hear first is DUBBING. That’s one of the biggest issue we’re facing right now. We shouldn’t have any dubbing companies at all, unless for foreign films. To me using someone’s voice is like your hard earned 50% of the movie quality is gone.” The dubbing studio is extremely archaic and when they dub, they shut off the original soundtrack and just lay Khmer voice tracks over it. So, you lose all the sound effects, music, and foley. If you are watching a “Die Hard” movie and Bruce Willis says something clever during a gunfight, the gun sounds are suddenly gone, as is the explosion happening in the background, and the same Khmer man who does the voice of Leonardo DiCaprio or Toby McGuire, gives some terrible Khmer version of the original text, and it isn’t funny, and makes no sense. Worst of all, each time Bruce Willis speaks, the dialogue is preceded by several seconds of the audio being cutout. The audio doesn’t return till several seconds after he finishes speaking. If two characters are having a conversation, the background sounds come in and out like a kid dragging a stick along a picket fence.

This dubbing only happens on films shown in the cinema or on TV. For one to two dollars, the original of any movie can be purchased any number of markets in Cambodia . Khmers who can’t even speak English would generally prefer to watch the original “Star Wars,” with all the laser sounds, rather than the Khmer version, which is like a silent movie with dialogue. “No matter how great your movie is, and not to mention a major impact on character’s emotions and body gestures” the quality is lost when they re-dub it. And this dubbing is not just for foreign language films, but also for films shot in Cambodia in Khmer language. They are all re-dubbed by the same two men and a single woman. “That’s the key point I would like to address for all Khmer film makers. If the actors can act, they also can speak. All you need is a little training. Let’s move forward and make a change. Once your Khmer movie is approved, and re-dubbed, there are a number of options of how to get it into the cinema. “There’s always a negotiation. First they like to see your film. Then you can either rent the theater out or share 50/50. The best way is to know someone there and find a distributor.”

Cambodia is one of the most centralized countries in the world, with the possible exception of Lao, where all of the development and services are in exclusively located in the capitol. The first high schools were opened outside of Phnom Penh in the late 1990s and the first university around 2003. “I know that’s there is one cinema in Battambang, one in Siem Reap, one in Svay Reang and a few in Phnom Penh. That was in 2006. Piracy and DVDs are the biggest problem, not only in Cambodia but around the world just a matter of more or less.” Minutes after a film is shown in the cinema, it is available at the markets. Local movies sell for $1. A single ticket at the cinema can cost $1 or more, so a whole family can watch the movie at home for the same price of a single ticket. Tim hopes that if he obtains the rights to show his movie, that it might generate worldwide interest in the Khmer cinema. “I know a few young talented Khmer film makers living abroad. Their works were sensational, and I can see the big potential for the Khmer film industry.” As for the powers that rule the cinema industry in Cambodia, Tim had this to say. “We need their supports if they need us to bring the Khmer film back on track, and I am sure we will.”

Antonio Graceffo is an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia . He is the Host of the web TV show, “Martial Arts Odyssey,” Currently he is working inside of Shan State, documenting human rights abuses, doing a film and print project to raise awareness of the Shan people. He is the author of four books. See his website

Brightly Red Blood April 17 Day, Sihanouk Vengeance

Courtesy of Khmerology at
By Kok Sap
April 17, 2008

On March 30,2008 Dith Pran, the lone Killing Fields advocate lost his life to deadly disease, pancreatic cancer, without seeing the ECCC rendering justice to the crimes against humanity spearheaded by Sihanouk FUNK/GRUNK at Hanoi sponsorship. To be exact 18 days before the infamously 38th anniversary of April 17, 1975, which left Cambodia gruesome experiences for generations to wonder?

This day made the day Siam raided Angkor citadel and Viet’s Canal Vinh Te mass murder a far less shameful. On such day millions of family, lover, wife, husband, friends, children, parent and future were literally in the zero state. Simply, one owns nothing not even own life. This day everyone trusted no other but self in order to escape randomly execution. This day was the hatred creation by one man of all politics color namely Norodom Sihanouk. This man has no remorse and whatever but to boast day in and day out he is the heroic one.

This day millions mourn and grieve deep down inside while the supreme culprit lives comfortably in his palaces. This day millions saw enemies as saviors. This day Cambodia failed own self righteousness and natural laws because of one man, Norodom Sihanouk, fanaticism and endless greed. He treats this day as his victory and heroism while the entire country population swam in own tears and blood. This day the whole world turned its other cheek toward Cambodia. This day shall be the remembrance and lesson that Sihanouk remains the one who put millions in tragedy.

The generation born after 1979, had not have learned the truth. Many are confused and fell in the same path as Sihanouk and his co conspirators did once during the war. The entire educational system was banned from learning own history and geographical facts. This created a new missing link on top of the Year zero survivors. The discord and hatred among fellow Cambodia born folks works its magic to self implosion. This day marks no truth prevalence, if the same tyranny and its originator ended up at the top again.

This day has turned many common men and women to be own victims. Many survivors are going through confusion and remorse to move across the oceans to make new homes. This day that Cambodia government turned people future into its game. This day made Cambodia the isle of peace floated in its own blood. Yet this day remains a mystery to Cambodians.

It has been over 500 years that Cambodia remains a missing link of humanity. This day thousands mourn and ponder quietly on such bloody day. Indeed millions fell at one delusional man filled with fanaticism that put Cambodia in such despicable state of mind and being.

This day as long as Sihanouk is still alive and never put on trial, victims will never see real justice delivered no matter how much fund the world spent on ECCC.

Utica monk: Dalai Lama inspiration for area's refugees

Apr 20, 2008

The Dalai Lama did not choose a life in exile, but Buddhist monk Chamreun Khorl opted to live in a foreign country to serve about 75 refugee families that resettled in Utica after fleeing Cambodia in the 1970s.

Khorl said those families and much of the region's refugee population will be able to draw inspiration from the visit this week by the high-ranking Tibetan monk, who has been exiled from his native Tibet and has lived in India ever since.

The Dalai Lama's compassion in the face of adversity will help the area's refugees as they adjust to their new lives in the United States, said Khorl, who is not attending Tuesday's event at Colgate University.

“It will also raise awareness about Buddhism here,” Khorl said through interpreter Sokhom Teng, another Cambodian monk.

The Dalai Lama is not a spiritual leader for the Cambodians, but Khorl identifies with the Tibetan monk's struggles to reclaim his homeland. That fight, he said, is justified.

“We have the same rules. We have one goal at the end,” he said about the Mahayana form of Buddhism that's practiced in Tibet, China and Central Asia. “All religions have the same goal … to let society be prosperous, peaceful.”

The Cambodians practice Theravada Buddhism, which draws its scriptural inspiration from the earliest surviving records of Buddha's teachings.

For decades, the Dalai Lama has asked China for autonomy for Tibet and has expressed his concern over the excesses of the regime on Tibetans.

In Tibet, countless monasteries have been destroyed. Recently, many Tibetans monks took to the streets in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, to protest the Chinese rule in Tibet.

This fight demonstrates the heart of the religion of Buddhism, Khorl said.

“It's Dharma,” he said, referring to the teachings of Buddha, who denounced social injustice.

Since 2003, Khorl has lived in a temple in Utica where he has recreated a homeland of sorts for the local Cambodians.

Like the Dalai Lama, Khorl zealously works toward preserving their culture in an alien land.

He eats both of his meals before noon, as monks are required to do, he said.

And just like the Dalai Lama, Khorl never shed his monk's habit, even in the dreariest of winters here.

“They need me here,” he said. “Buddhism is important for Cambodian people. It is very deep.”

Mates share bond

RSL veteran Roy Chamberlain enjoys a special bond with mate Tony "Bomber" Bower-Miles. Photo: Chris McCormack

Courtesy of the
21 April 2008
By Blythe Seinor

Just under the surface of the ground across Cambodia, six to 10 million landmines are quietly waiting to explode.

They are the result of more than 50 years of warfare in the country and each one is potentially deadly to anyone who comes into contact with them.

Vietnam veteran Roy Chamberlain has made it his mission to help his good mate Tony “Bomber” Bower-Miles disarm the explosives one at a time.

The Dicky Beach grandfather joined Bomber in 2006 in his fourth year of trips to the country.
“It’s the most dangerous job in the world,” Roy admitted.

“You don’t think about it when you do it, otherwise you shouldn’t be doing it.”

But, for Roy, the end result is much more important than the dangers he might face along the way.

“We do it for the women and children,” he said.

“They’re the innocent ones being killed or cruelly maimed by these mines on an almost daily basis: little arms and legs missing, children blinded, that sort of thing”.

Aside from their work in Cambodia, Roy and Bomber share another common bond: they both fought in Vietnam.

“It’s like a bond, only once you’ve been (to war) and in it, you can understand,” Roy said.
“There’s nothing else that carries the same risk as armed men seeking out an armed enemy on the battlefield. There can only be one result when you meet.”

Roy said the effects of being in a war zone could last a lifetime. “You have intrusive dreams,” he said.

“The sights never leave you.

“You learn to push them into the back of your mind and get on with life.

“You have to.”

He said if he could send out a single message this Anzac Day it would be about the “futility of war”.

“Wars have got to end because it doesn’t solve anything and the cream of the country gets killed,” he said.

Roy and Bomber were recently featured on the ABC’s Australian Story.

People wanting to find out more about Roy and Bomber’s work can visit or phone Roy on 0437 922 166.

Asia’s rice crisis

Daily Mirror
Monday, April 21, 2008

By Brian McCartan

The rising price of rice is part of a global trend in rising food costs, with wheat leading the way, up more than 180 percent on the year, soybeans up 82 percent, soybean meal up 67 percent. But it is rice, with its fundamental place on the plates of Asia’s consumers, that is worrying governments.

Philippine officials have been raiding rice warehouses near Manila where unscrupulous traders have been repackaging government-subsidized rice intended for poor areas and reselling it as high-grade commercial rice at twice the price.

Hopefully, rising prices will encourage governments all over the world to boost production.''

Even in wealthy Korea, consumers went into a near panic in early March when the cost of ramen, an instant noodle made from wheat that is a staple of the Korean diet, spiked in price. Housewives emptied grocery shelves for days to snap up supplies before the increase went into effect.

Higher fuel costs, with crude soaring above US$100 a barrel and threatening to stay that way, have partly been blamed for making fertilizer more expensive, raising the cost of growing rice as well as increasing transport costs. In Southeast Asia, disease, pests and a 45-day unprecedented cold snap from China down all the way to Vietnam in January and February that hurt harvests has also been blamed. Flooding in the Philippines and Vietnam has also contributed to the growing crisis.

Part of the problem, however, has been caused by ill-advised government programs.
Economically disastrous subsidized biofuel programs intended to ease global warming in the United States and Europe have caused a precipitous decline in the amount of agricultural lands planted for other food sources such as wheat and soybeans. .

Low government rice stockpiles have also created an environment in which supply disruptions can result in rapid price swings. World rice stocks have shrunk from a peak of 130 million tonnes in 2000-2001 to 72 million tonnes in 2007-2008, according to US Department of Agriculture figures, the lowest level since 1983-84. That is estimated to meet only 17 percent of global consumption. Nearly half of the world's 6.6 billion people are dependent on rice and are already eating more than is harvested yearly.

In order to curb rising domestic prices, the governments of Vietnam, India and Cambodia have taken steps to lower rice exports. Vietnam reduced its rice exports by almost a quarter last week, ordering authorities to not sign any more rice export contracts and capping exports at 3.5 million tonnes for this year, down from 4.5 million in 2007. On the same day as Vietnam's announcement, India raised the minimum sale price of rice exports by more than 50 percent.

The move effectively ended overseas rice sales except for only the highest grades of rice. Cambodia, suffering from spiraling costs, also announced a two-month ban on rice exports last week. Indonesia, traditionally a rice importing nation, is also reportedly considering a ban on exports to secure its domestic stocks.

Rising rice prices have governments worried about domestic supplies as farmers become increasingly interested in selling to the export market in order to make larger profits.

Governments fear not having enough rice for local consumption and having to spend more on imports driving the price of rice up. Domestically it means that farmers are forced to sell at artificially low rates because they are denied export markets for their crop.

However, in an increasingly interconnected world where farmers and businessmen are well aware of international prices, they are much less willing to sell on the domestic market at prices that are often controlled by the government and are much lower than international rates. This has resulted in the kind of hoarding and speculation that Philippine authorities are trying to fight and that can subvert export bans.

The Indian government, while saying that there is no shortage in the country, is reportedly also concerned about domestic supplies amid fears of higher exports brought on by the scarcity on the global market. India was thought to possibly surpass Vietnam as the second largest rice exporter in the world this year.

In the Philippines, where there is not enough arable land to grow enough rice to feed its population, rice stocks are already low. Government officials have requested that the public save leftover rice and have even requested that fast food restaurants reduce the portion of rice sold with meals.

Thailand is trying to keep domestic prices down through government distribution from its own stocks. Bids from millers will be accepted only if they pack the rice in 5 kilogram bags for the domestic market. Thailand's government stockpile is estimated to be good for only three months, then it will have to buy on the local market to replenish stocks.

While this move may appease consumers, Thailand's rice producers are not happy with the government's current cap on domestic prices. The Thai Rice Packer's Association has demanded that the Ministry of Commerce increase the retail price of rice by 10 percent in April. The association claims the step is necessary due to increasing production costs.

The volatile rice prices have not been a boon to exporters. The common practice is for rice exporters to sell forward at fixed prices and then buy rice on the common market to meet orders. This has resulted in problems across the region as rapidly rising prices leave exporters losing money due to having to buy rice at prices that are much higher than what their export contracts were agreed for when signed several months ago. Exporters who insist on the previous price are finding it difficult to source enough rice to meet orders, forcing delays or even defaults on orders.

For Vietnamese exporters, the problem is compounded because their contracts were signed in dollars.

Thailand's exporters have the same trouble. Indonesia and Iran are expected to want orders for 1.5 million and 1 million tonnes of rice respectively filled in the next three to four months, but exporters are unsure of their ability to meet the demand. The default on international orders could cause up to $5 billion worth of damages.

Courtesy Asia Sentinel

Work to start on Lao-Cambodian power line

Mon, April 21, 2008
The Nation

VIENTIANE--The installation of 115kV transmission lines between Laos and Cambodia will begin by the end of this year, giving Laos a new electricity export market, said a project official.

The power lines will run for 26km, from Hat village in Khong district, Champassak province, to the border, where they will connect with a 54km line from Cambodia .

"The total cost of the Ban Hat Lao-Cambodian 115kV Transmission Lines and Ban Hat Substation Extension Project will be about 23 billion kip (US$2.6 million)," said Project Manager Khamsing Phosalath on Thursday.

Funding was loaned to Electricite du Laos by the government for the installation, as part of grant aid received from the World Bank.

"The installation is expected to be completed by the end of next year," said Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Somboun Rasasombath at the annual meeting of the energy and mining sectors recently in Vientiane .

The project is now seeking tenders for the work and has been advertising for bidders for the last two months.

"A few companies are interested and we will make an announcement of the winning bidder in June," Mr Khamsing said.

The project will allow the sale of hydropower from Champassak province to Siem Pang district in Stung Treng province, Cambodia .

"Transmission is expected to begin by 2010. The initial supply will be about 5MW but it may be increased as needed," Mr Somboun said.

Laos and Cambodia signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on energy purchase in December last year. This was the initial move for the sale of Lao electricity to Cambodia , and an important step in the cooperation of the two energy sectors.

But the two governments have yet to agree on how many megawatts Laos will sell to Cambodia and over what period of time.

Currently Laos has MoUs to provide 5,000MW to Thailand until 2015, and a further 2,000MW after this date until 2020. Vietnam has also agreed to purchase 5,000MW of electricity from now until 2020.

Laos has a combined energy production capacity of about 670MW from 11 major and 40 medium-sized hydropower plants, which generate power for both domestic consumption and export.

By 2020, the Lao energy sector hopes to have an installation capacity of 30,000MW from dams currently under construction or planned along the Mekong River and its tributaries. This goal may be achieved now that more investors are conducting studies at several places in the country.

This is fundamental to the Lao government's intention, announced at the 10 th Asean Summit in 2004 in Vientiane , to become the 'battery of the region'.

Asia News Network/Vientiane Times

Cambodians Mark Khmer Rouge Anniversary

Opposition leaders, monks and villagers took part in a somber ceremony. Today is the 33rd anniversary of the day the Khmer Rouge started their regime in the capital's infamous killing fields.

The 33rd anniversary of "Year Zero," when the Khmer Rouge's brutal rule in Cambodia began, has been marked by criticism because of the slow process to prosecute the group's leaders.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy criticizes the government for the long delay of the trial. He told mourners not to forget the killing fields and urged the tribunal to prosecute the former Khmer Rouge leaders.

[Sam Rainsy, Opposition Leader]:"We must never forget this day and we ask the Khmer Rouge tribunal with the participation of the United Nation to prosecute the former Khmer Rouge leaders in an effective way so as to bring justice to the victims of the Khmer Rouge and their families."

No Khmer Rouge leader has ever faced trial.

During the rule, an estimated 1.7 million people died of starvation, forced labor... and many were executed.Survivors of the genocide want justice to be served.

[Yeng Phai, Khmer Rouge Regime Survivor]:"I want the tribunal to prosecute the Khmer Rouge leaders soon so that I know how they tortured and killed my children and husband. I want the tribunal to punish them the same as when they killed the victims."

A U.N.-backed court recently unveiled a proposal to extend the long-awaited tribunal's three-year life span by two years and drag out the proceedings until 2011.

Tourism package brings couple into Cambodian school

By Chris Gray
Philadelphia Inquirer

SIEM REAP, Cambodia
Let's be honest: It was the specter of tigers, temples and tom yam soup that led my husband and me to honeymoon in Southeast Asia. We wanted an adventure to remember, on a continent where neither of us had been.

But as I researched our trip, I realized that we should spend at least a little time practicing "voluntourism," giving back to people who are still struggling for the basics after decades of war and poverty.

We found a way to have it all in Siem Reap, Cambodia, home of the ancient temple complex Angkor Wat — and Ponheary Ly, a tour guide who considers it her mission to help educate as many Cambodian children as possible.

I found Ly, a Siem Reap native and survivor of dictator Pol Pot's labor camps, through the Asia message board on Ly, 44, is a veteran guide who has arranged private tours of Angkor Wat and other Siem Reap attractions in both English and French — languages she learned in secret during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia — since 2000.

A former English teacher, Ly has also worked for seven years to enroll children in Cambodian schools. While public school in the country is ostensibly free for the first three years, many rural children do not have the $12 necessary for shoes, school supplies or uniforms, she said.

"As a teacher, I knew about the difficulties of the kids and families who couldn't send the kids to schools. Also, I found that the kids are smart, but they don't have any occasion to show how smart they are. To build the country, we have to build the education for all people, especially the kids."

It's a message that Ly's clients — mostly Americans who prefer independent travel with native guides to packaged tours — could support. In addition to touring the temples, more and more visitors asked Ly whether they could visit the schools and donate money for bicycles, supplies and uniforms.

For the schools

Lori Carlson, formerly of Austin, Texas, was one such convert. When she visited here in 2005, Carlson was struck by Ly's background and education. On her return to the States, she founded the Ponheary Ly Foundation (, a registered nonprofit organization that channels money directly to the schools.

As of December, Carlson, 48, had raised $90,000 for five schools — and quit her job to move here to work full time with Ly. She formed a board of directors for the PLF, which distributed school supplies to 1,955 children last fall.

"I believe the travelers who go to visit the temples at Angkor Wat understand they bear at least some of the responsibility to gently nudge these children toward school rather than reinforce the idea that it's good to stand on the corner and beg dollars from tourists," she said.

With such strong advocates, Don and I were excited to meet Ly and do our part. We arrived here to find a city undergoing massive change. The number of tourists visiting Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1992, has exploded in recent years, spurring an increase in hotels, shops, restaurants and other businesses.

While the influx of dollars has been good for many Cambodians (merchants prefer U.S. dollars to the Cambodian rial), it's disconcerting to see barefoot bicyclists ride past $800-a-night hotels. Young children hawk maps, books and trinkets near the temple grounds; tuk-tuk drivers fight over $1 fares.

That's not to say that Don and I eschew luxury (it was our honeymoon, after all). We turned down a $20 room at Ly's simple guesthouse, primarily because it didn't have a pool, which we considered essential to deal with the area's crushing humidity. At $95, our poolside room at Bopha Angkor was spacious yet not ostentatious, and the package included daily breakfast, a traditional Khmer dinner, and a massage.

Just a few hours after we landed, we went to Angkor Wat with Ly's brother Dara as our guide. There are more than 300 temples in the complex, but Dara steered us to the ones that would provide the most interesting backdrops for my husband, the photographer.

As we sweated in the 90-degree heat, I asked Dara about his family's experience under the Khmer Rouge. He told us that his father, a teacher in Siem Reap, was among the first wave of educated people to be killed under Pol Pot's regime. As a result, Dara and his siblings were sent with their mother to the countryside to work.

It's a sobering tale, and we heard more from Ly over the next few days. Ly, who was 13 when the Khmer Rouge came to power, and her siblings survived, mainly because villagers would leave food for them at night.

"We were given this much rice," Ly told us, holding up the tip of her finger. Dara would "crawl out on all fours, like a cat" to get extra food; sometimes, actual cats or monkeys would have gotten to the rations instead, she said.

Still, the extra nourishment kept the family alive — and the Khmer Rouge noticed. Officials asked her mother why her children were still alive when so many other youngsters had died, Ly said. When her mother refused to answer, she was horribly beaten.

Such atrocities were common in the Pol Pot years. Yet most Cambodians don't like to talk about the time under the Khmer Rouge, Carlson said. It's rare to find it discussed in schools, primarily due to the country's Buddhist beliefs, which hold that people — even war criminals — are responsible for their own karma.

Life's lessons

Ly is different, Carlson said. She understands that it's important to talk about the past so it doesn't happen again. We were talking in Ly's van, on our way to deliver lunch to the 476 children at Knar school, out in the Cambodian countryside. On the road, we saw men on bikes toting crates filled with piglets and open huts with children playing in the dirt.

Cambodian families expect all children, no matter how young, to contribute economically, Ly told us. Which is why even the kids who are lucky enough to go to school attend for a half day; at home, they are needed for chores, farm work or other ways to make money.

In addition to making a donation before our trip, we gave Ly $40 for lunch, which buys two noodle packets for each child. That's essential, Carlson said, because if the child received only one packet, he or she would take it home to the family instead of eating it. The school tries to feed the children at least once a day to make sure they have enough energy to learn, Carlson said.

We arrived at Knar School, which consists of several one-story classrooms. As Don carried the boxes of noodle packets into the rooms, the children's eyes grew wide. They straightened in their seats and thanked us by pressing their hands together and bowing.

Carlson and Ly showed us around the school and talked about the improvements that have been made. Incentives such as bicycles, uniforms, and extra noodle packets show the families that there are tangible benefits to their children's attending school, Carlson said.

"I would like to have my country be the same as the other countries," Ly said, with Cambodian children able "to have good education to work well to get out from the poor life."

The children seemed to love school, showing off their uniforms and books. An impromptu game of soccer ensued, with Don in the thick of it. It was an emotional sight for me, which sparked later discussion: Although we had been together several years, Don and I had never talked about the greater good we could accomplish as a couple.

It's a conversation that all newlyweds should have, wherever their honeymoon takes them. For us, road-testing our fledgling marriage in an underdeveloped country not only gave us the adventures we sought, but also set the course for a more permanent path. And that's definitely a trip worth taking.


GETTING THERE: There are no direct flights to Siem Reap from the United States. You can fly there from various Asian cities, including Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hanoi.

WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at Bopha Angkor (, booking the "Poolside Evasion package." The cost was $285 for both of us for three nights, including airport transfers, breakfast, a dinner and a massage for two.

TOURING: We booked Ponheary Ly as a guide by e-mail ( Ly charged us $145 for 21 2 days of touring, which included three half-day sessions at Angkor Wat, the visit to Knar School, and a visit to the floating village on Tonle Sap lake.

MORE INFORMATION: To donate or read more about the Ponheary Ly Foundation, go to Or e-mail Lori Carlson at


Dream Destinations Entry #5: Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Siem Reap immerses you in sheer chaos - tourist-filled busses, screeching motorbikes (often carrying entire families), and the ubiquitous tourist-friendly tuk tuk (motorcycle pulled rickshaw) create a buzzing, honking din that continues day and night. The Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor is not exactly hip, but provides an oasis of old-world colonialism that is strangely entrancing (and the basement bar serves a respectable sidecar at happy hour).

My favorite way to acclimatize is a meal of Amok Trei (steamed fish and coconut milk that is totally addictive), and an Angkor beer or two. Catch a tuk-tuk to Angkor Thom and see the Bayon's gigantic smiling faces and bas-reliefs depicting ancient wars. Even if you are not into architecture, the sheer scope of these ruins and surrounding jungle is awe-inspiring. The (painful) effort to wake before dawn and fight hordes of tourists is worth it for the breathtaking view of sunrise over Angkor Wat. At some point, you'll find yourself contemplating the dichotomy of such an achievement and the still-recent devastation brought about by the Khmer Rouge.

Over the next couple of days, climb the famous towers, visit overgrown Ta Prohm and distant Banteay Srei, spend afternoons browsing trendy boutiques selling local handcrafted silk and carvings. After dark, there is plenty to do; souvenir shopping into the wee hours at the Night Market, sampling the fantastic native Khmer dishes, and drinking and making friends around the aptly monikered Pub Street.

Lon Nol's son returns to Cambodia as KRP leader for general election

Lon Rith, 45-year-old president of the Khmer Republican Party of Cambodia, talks to reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, on April 20, 2008. Lon Rith, son of Lon Nol who ruled Cambodia from 1970 to 1975, left the country in 1973 when he was 11 and has been living in the United States ever since. He returned to Cambodia on Sunday to take part in the National Assembly elections, to be held in July. (Xinhua Photo)

Lon Rith (C Front), 45-year-old president of the Khmer Republican Party of Cambodia, leaves Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, on April 20, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

Lon Rith (C Front), 45-year-old president of the Khmer Republican Party of Cambodia, leaves Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, on April 20, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

Lon Rith, 45-year-old president of the Khmer Republican Party of Cambodia, talks to reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, on April 20, 2008. Lon Rith, son of Lon Nol who ruled Cambodia from 1970 to 1975, left the country in 1973 when he was 11 and has been living in the United States ever since. He returned to Cambodia on Sunday to take part in the National Assembly elections, to be held in July. (Xinhua Photo)
Editor: Wang Hongjiang

PHNOM PENH, April 20 (Xinhua) -- Lon Rith, the eldest son of Lon Nol, arrived here on Sunday from the United States as President of the newly founded Khmer Republican Party (KRP) to stand for Prime Minister candidate in the general election in July.

Lon Rith is welcomed by about one hundred members of his party at the Phnom Penh International Airport.

"I am very happy to meet with you all and we will organize our political party structure to join the competition for July general election," Lon Rith told reporters after arrival.

"I will stand for vote in the general election on July 27 and it depends on the Cambodian people to decide whether they like a republican regime or not," he said.

His party activists created the KRP in Cambodia in October 2007and he became president of the KRP, which has the same name as his father regime, "the Khmer Republic."

The Khmer Republic regime led by Lon Nol ruled Cambodia from 1970 to 1975 after Lon Nol came to power in a coup on March 18, 1970.

Lon Rith left Cambodian in 1973 when he was 11 years old. He is an economist in the United States, a press release from his party said.