Saturday, 17 May 2008

Aussie union goes to bat for beer girls

An ABC beer saleswoman serves drinks at a beer garden on Street 214, Phnom Penh, on May

Written by Peter Olszewski
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

I n late April, Canadian Ian Lubek was trolling Siem Reap's beer gardens and, like other patrons, chatting up the beer promotion girls about their drinking and commercial sex habits.

But Lubek wasn't looking to score a quiet rendezvous after a night of sweet talk over jugs of brew.

Instead, with breathalyzer in hand, the university professor was gathering evidence on how much alcohol these young women consumed - sometimes unwillingly - while working around their hard-drinking customers.

Thousands of miles away, at the same time Lubek was making his rounds of the local watering holes, brewing giant Heineken was holding its annual general meeting in Holland.

It was there that Heineken CEO Jean Francois van Boxmeer delivered a stinging rebuke to the professor, dismissing his data on how much alcohol was drunk by, in particular, Heineken promotion girls.

Through his research, Lubek, a doctor of psychology at Canada's Guelph University, hopes to pressure brewing companies for better workplace protections for promotion girls who commonly drink more than a liter of beer a night, most importantly by implementing rules that prevent them from drinking on the job at all.

But his battle for the sobriety of Cambodia's promotion girls has placed him on the frontline of an intensifying battle between breweries and advocates who say alcohol producers, including international companies, are complicit in the exploitation of these young women.

The growing row has attracted the attention of Australia's most powerful trade union, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, or ACTU, which through its humanitarian arm APHEDA has already made efforts to organize garment and hotel workers in Cambodia, and is now starting to try and introduce mandatory work contracts for beer girls.

"We ... take all our statistics about how much the women are drinking and how dangerous the workplace is right to the beer companies themselves," Lubek told the Post.

"I've delivered talks to the directors at Heineken headquarters in Amsterdam twice, to Carlsberg in Copenhagen and other countries to inform them of the dangers we're finding in the workplace.

"Without the cooperation of beer producers, the ACTU could take the issue to international union delegates in Geneva.

"This is a really important issue and needs national and international exposure to ensure the companies live up to their responsibilities as good employers," the ACTU's international officer, Alison Tate, told the Post from Melbourne.

Promotion girls, whose livelihoods depend on how much beer they sell, often find themselves coerced into night-long booze sessions that can end in sexual assault or other violence.

More regularly, these women often resort to prostitution to supplement their incomes, which hover around $60 a month, leaving them socially stigmatized and vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases.

"We had this issue before where in one of the Dutch newspapers we published our findings at that point and we said the beer girls are drinking over one liter, 1.3 liters or whatever a night," Lubek said.

"A Heineken representative then said ‘Professor Lubek is wrong because it's against company policy for any beer girl to drink,'" he added.

"Then last year at the annual general meeting they promised to clear up the problem, and now they're saying they don't believe my data anyway."

Heineken International's head of group corporate relations, Dr Gijsbert J. Siertsema, defended van Boxmeer's pointed comments, saying no information has ever been presented to back up Lubek's claims of alcohol abuse among promotion girls.

"During our AGM one of the attendees mentioned a number of figures related to beer promoters, but those figures were not supported by further background information or evidence," he told the Post from Amsterdam.

"In that sense, our CEO indicated that he did not know the background of those figures," Siertsema said, adding that Heineken has taken the lead on industry reform, creating the "Selling Beer Safely" program that includes, among other things, training, wage raises and arrangements to take promotion girls to and from work.

"As for our policy regarding beer promoters, we are very clear: BPs (beer promoters) should not sit or drink with consumers," he said.

However, those policies have little to do with the reality of Cambodia's beer gardens, advocates say, where there is little visible evidence of regulation but plenty of instances of on-the-job drinking, harassment and even abuse.

"Our concern is to emphasise the need for proper wages, conditions and safety and respect to be formalized in the employment contract and in the relevant labour law," said the ACTU's Tate."

The ACTU has worked with the international union that represents the brewery industry, the International Union of Food Workers, based in Geneva, to engage brewery companies at headquarters levels to promote workers conditions by trying to establish basic wages and conditions by insisting on the provision of contracts for beer promotion workers."

S’ville coal-fired power plant fuels concerns for health, environment

Written by Nguon Sovan
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Sacravatoon at

Concern has been raised by Cambodian environmentalists and politicians about the environmental impact of a coal-fired power plant costing nearly $400 million that the government plans to build at Sihanoukville.

“Burning coal is the most polluting way to generate electricity,” said Sam Chanthy, the NGO Forum’s environmental awareness and protection project officer.

“From mining to transportation, [electricity] generation and waste disposal, coal causes severe environmental problems that other energy resources do not,” Chanthy said.

He was reacting to the National Assembly’s passing on May 8 of an investment proposal to build the power plant.

Chanthy said coal-fired power plants were the leading source of atmospheric pollution caused by mercury, a potent neurotoxin.

Burning coal also releases other harmful pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates.

“These pollutants cause and aggravate respiratory diseases, damage lung tissue and can lead to premature death.

They can also harm vegetation, crops and water quality,” Chanthy said.He said some other power-generation methods had less impact on the environment and human health.

“Electricity generated by water, wind and solar rays does not have the severe environmental consequences of burning coal,” Chanthy said.

During discussion of the investment proposal in the assembly on May 8, the Sam Rainsy Party’s Yim Sovann said pollutants emitted by the plant would pose a serious threat to health and diminish Sihanoukville’s appeal as a tourist attraction.

The Funcinpec party’s Monh Saphan told the assembly that Cambodia should consider hydropower as a source of electricity rather than burning coal.

In a presentation to the assembly during the discussion, the first secretary of the Ministry of Economics and Finance, Kong Vibol, dismissed concerns about the possible environmental damage caused by the coal-fired plant.

“We have thoroughly assessed this and there is very little impact on the environment and human health,” he said.

Vibol said the proposal to build the plant adhered to Cambodia’s environmental law and standards laid down by the World Bank.

He agreed that hydropower was a better alternative in terms of a reduced effect on the environment and human health, but it was not a viable option in Cambodia because of electricity shortages during the dry season.

The Secretary of State for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, Ith Praing, said the coal-fired plant would help to bring down the cost of electricity throughout the country after it goes into operation in 2011.

Praing said the plant would initially generate 100 megawatts, which would double when it was operating at full capacity in 2012.

“The power will be sold to state-run Electricite du Cambodge for 7.212 cents a kilowatt hour, however the price will fluctuate depending on the cost of coal,” he said.

Praing said the plant will use coal from Vietnam and Indonesia.

The $391-million plant, which will occupy a 70-hectare site at O’tres commune in Sihanoukville’s Stung Hav district, is planned to develop at the end of this year by Power Synergy Corporation, a joint venture between Malaysia’s Leader Universal Holdings Berhad and Cambodia’s MKCSS Holdings, shows the project’s master plan.

Praing said Power Synergy had been granted a concession to operate the plant for 30 years, after which it would be handed over to the state.

A government master plan for developing electric power sources predicts that all villages will have access to electricity or battery power by 2020.

The master plan says 70 percent of all households will have a reliable supply of electricity by 2030, up from the current figure of 18 percent.

Property sales hit a bump as election nears

VANDY RATTANA Construction workers enjoy the view from the top of the Canadia Bank office tower being built on Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh. Property sales have slowed over the past month, real estate agents in the captial say, citing pre-election jitters and campaign commitments as the cause.

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

C ambodia’s red-hot property market has cooled significantly as investors fretting over the outcome of July national elections curb a buying spree that has seen land prices more than quadruple in some parts of the country, realtors and lawmakers say.

This trend, however, is likely to reverse itself as post-poll jitters die away, they add.

Sung Bonna, chief executive of the Bonna Realty Group, said the pace of sales had slowed by about five percent since mid-April and prices that have been on a scorching run for the past three years have flatlined.

While most agree that polling on July 27 is unlikely to be followed by radical land reforms or policies that restrict investment, realtors say people remain wary of change – especially political – and this is playing out in urban and rural property markets.

“In general, businesspeople involved in real estate are waiting to see what the situation is after the national election,” Bonna told the Post, adding that without buyers, property sellers have been forced to cap prices.

“Also, the rainy season isn’t a good time to go out and see land,” he added.

Realtors, however, including Bonna, predict the elections would register as only a small blip on the long-term pattern of rising Cambodian property prices.

“I think real estate will remain a tool that helps the country develop,” said Cheng Kheng, owner of Cambodia Properties Limited (CPL), adding that he expected prices to resume climbing a few months after the polls, once concerns over restructuring subside.

According to Kheng, many of the bigger spenders in Cambodia’s real estate sector have political party affiliations that were demanding more of their time as the election approached.

“I think people who have a lot of money to buy land are busy campaigning for the election.”

But the real estate sector slowdown has also hurt an unprecedented building boom that was a key factor behind Cambodia’s recent double-digit economic growth.

In general, business-people involved in real estate are waiting to see what the situation is after the election.– Sung Bonna

Several mega-projects around the capital appear to be languishing in the financial doldrums, according to economists who say a combination of domestic political concern and shaky global markets has discouraged investment in real estate.

“I don’t think construction firms would want to stop their buildings if they had enough money,” said Kang Chandararot, director of the Cambodia Institute for Development Study.

“But they seem to be lacking finances to finish their projects,” he said, adding that inflation had squeezed project funding, with rising prices for construction materials and labor impacting on new developments.

Cheam Yeap, a lawmaker with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) that is expected to dominate the July polls, said a CPP-led government could protect property investments, something that opposition politicians have demanded as the country attracts more foreign money

Is Ieng Thirith going crazy?

Written by Cat Barton and Thet Sambath
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

Former Khmer Rouge official Ieng Thirith’s deteriorating mental health threatens to disrupt an upcoming hearing before the ECCC, a lawyer for the regime’s former social affairs minister said, adding that he hopes an insanity plea will free his client from pre-trial detention.

Attorney Path Pov Seang told the Post on May 14 that he had Thai-language medical documents that clearly showed his client was not mentally able to appear in court.

Both Thirith and her husband, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, traveled frequently to Thailand for medical treatment before their arrest in November.

“If judges follow the law I hope [she will be released]. They can’t imprison a mentally ill person,” he said.

“I am worried that she will shout during hearing if she does not agree with something – I’ve told her, ‘Please do not shout during the hearing because you do not benefit from it and I am your lawyer, I will help defend you,’” he added.

Thirith is expected to appear before the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal on May 21 to plead for her freedom pending trial.

Family members who have visited her in court have also said Thirith is ill and should be released.

“She is sick therefore it is not easy for her to stay there,” said Seng Rorn, Thirith’s son-in-law.

“It is the work of lawyer and judges to decide [if she will be released on bail] but she is a sick person.”

The likely insanity plea is the latest maneuver by defense lawyers, who in April halted proceedings during a detention hearing for Khieu Samphan, the former Khmer Rouge head of state, with a protest over the lack of translated documents.

At the time, Samphan’s French lawyer, the famed “Devil’s Advocate” Jacques Verges, demanded that thousands of pages of documents related to his client’s case be translated into French, one of the three languages used by the court.

This interruption has underscored the massive backlog of documents in need of translating, and more damagingly, the court’s inability to do so, according to Andre Sirois, an attorney-at-law and professional legal translator working at the ECCC.

“One can only be extremely worried at the sorry state of legal translation, and the translation and interpretation in general, at ECCC,” Sirois said in an undated memo to Michelle Lee, the UN’s top administrator at the court which was obtained by the Post on May 2.

The memo goes on to outline the court’s total lack of qualified legal translators, claiming that the tribunal’s French language website is riddled with errors which were “seriously damaging the image and credibility of the ECCC and its officers at least among the French speaking State Members of the UN.”

Documents are often so-badly translated that they should not be used in court, the memo states, saying, “The result is abysmal.”

Tribunal officials have acknowledged a translation backlog, but the court is seeking nearly $114 million in additional funds to greatly expand its ability to translate documents, they say.

Stock market likely to miss 2009 deadline: govt official

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

Cambodia is likely to miss its deadline to establish a stock exchange by 2009, a top finance ministry official said, adding that the country’s nascent business sector is still too chaotic and dominated by secretive, family-run business groups to support a transparent bourse.

“There are many who are urging us to have a [stock] market soon … but there are many challenges in terms of laws that we are lacking, as well as the performance and management of companies,” said Kao Thach, head of the financial markets unit at the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

One of the biggest obstacles, according to Thach, are the private companies that might eventually list on an exchange.

Most operate in a shadowy world of back rooms and closed bids, and are not likely to submit to the rigorous auditing required to go public, he said.

“The ministry wants [these companies] to prepare themselves” to list, he said. “I urge business people to think about international financial reporting standards – this is the common language for publicly listed companies,” he said.

“Right now is the time for those who want to be publicly listed to change the way they manage their companies … and put their businesses in control of members of a board,” he said.

In September, the government began requiring some 400 businesses to submit their financial statements to independent auditors in one of a series of steps it says is necessary to open a stock market.

Cambodia last year also approved legislation on the issuance of bonds and partnered with South Korea, which provided the country with $1.8 million in assistance with the hopes of opening a bourse next year.

The aim, according to government officials, is to attract foreign capital – Cambodia attracted only $483 million in foreign direct investment in 2006, compared to billions of dollars in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam – and broaden Cambodia’s prohibitively narrow economic base.

Despite an average of 11 percent growth over the past three years, the impoverished country’s is small and heavily reliant on only the garment sector, which accounts for nearly 80 percent of all exports.

Private sector officials agree that Cambodia has many hurdles to overcome before establishing a stock exchange, saying that financial laws in particular need to be strengthened.

“The stock market is not a place where businesses can cheat each other – it is a place for public enterprises to make a fair profit,” said Key Kak, chairman of the accounting firm Morison Kak & Associes.

“The question is … can the authorities monitor and crack down on people who intend to cheat others in business,” he added, also urging companies to agree to open their books to scrutiny.

“Right now is the time for those who want to be publicly listed to change the way they manage their companies.”

“We are no longer an isolated market,” he said. “We can no longer operate using different business practices from other countries in the region – we have to meet certain standards.”

According to Kim Ju Kyung, chief operations officer with the Cambodian Development Specialized Bank, Cambodia has significant potential for capital market growth, but that depended on companies’ participation in the stock market – something that could be severely impacted by the corruption that continues to plague the country’s business sector.

“Corruption creates a bottleneck for financial market development,” he said.

“Surely, corruption is one of the obstacles facing investment here – it will slow down business activity,” he added.

Cambodia consistently ranks near the bottom of the list in the German organization Transparency International’s annual corruption index of.

In 2007 it was listed 162 out of 179 countries, the group said.

A farmer plows in his rice field

A farmer pumps excess water out of his rice field after heavy rain last night in Kampong Speu province, 50 km (31 miles) west of Phnom Penh May 17, 2008. The Cambodian government needs to further support farmers to grow more rice, as its price has doubled recently and the country may find it another pivotal revenue generator, national media said on May 9, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

A farmer pumps excess water out of his rice field after heavy rain last night in Kampong Speu province, 50 km (31 miles) west of Phnom Penh May 17, 2008. The Cambodian government needs to further support farmers to grow more rice, as its price has doubled recently and the country may find it another pivotal revenue generator, national media said on May 9, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

A farmer pumps excess water out of his rice field after heavy rain last night in Kampong Speu province, 50 km (31 miles) west of Phnom Penh May 17, 2008. The Cambodian government needs to further support farmers to grow more rice, as its price has doubled recently and the country may find it another pivotal revenue generator, national media said on May 9, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

A farmer plows in his rice field after heavy rain last night in Kampong Speu province, 50 km (31 miles) west of Phnom Penh May 17, 2008. The Cambodian government needs to further support farmers to grow more rice, as its price has doubled recently and the country may find it another pivotal revenue generator, national media said on May 9, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

Dump closure to uproot thousands

HENG CHIVOAN Collecting cartloads of cans, cardboard, plastic and glass for recycling can earn scavengers at Stung Meanchey rubbish dump more money than many rural households can make farming, but it is a livelihood set to end when the dump closes next year in favor of a larger, closed-off site near the Choeung Ek killing fields.

Written by Mom Kunthear
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

Rights groups fear new wave of homeless to hit Phnom Penh streets

Rising in the pre-dawn darkness, Mean Ny is quickly absorbed into the anonymous throng of scavengers in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey dump, a vast wasteland of sodden rotten trash that grows each day as the capital disgorges hundreds of tons of refuse.

Only a few short kilometers distant, but a world away from the city-center’s wide boulevards, dotted with modernist shopping malls or the metal and concrete skeletons of future skyscrapers, the capital’s poorest pick out a grim living, collecting plastic or aluminum – anything that can be sold for a few cents.

“I have to get up at three or four every morning in order to get things for recycling, like plastic, rubber and paper, before the others,” the 50-year-old told the Post, standing knee-deep in a pile of trash.

This existence, however miserable, still carries with it the familiar rhythms that Mean Ny has grown used to during the past 16 years.

HENG CHIVOAN About 400 families will be affected by the closure of Stung Meanchey, according to local NGOs’ estimates.

But upheaval is not far away, as authorities plan to start closing the Stung Meanchey tip next year, a move which threatens to uproot thousands of scavengers and create a wave of newly homeless in Phnom Penh’s streets, advocacy groups warn.

“There are more than 1,700 children and about 400 families who will face unemployment and loss of income,” said Sry Chanratha, of Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (PSE), a French NGO set up in 1995 that provides education to children at Stung Meanchey.

“We don’t have the ability to help them yet,” said Chanratha, who directs PSE’s social and external school program.

“But we are trying to find funding from other NGOs in order to assist them to get real jobs and houses.”

Municipal authorities say the Stung Meanchey tip, which opened in 1962 as Phnom Penh’s main dump site, is now a 17-acre (6.9-hectare) blight on the rapidly-expanding capital and needs to be closed.

Stinging clouds of dry-season dust and smoke from smoldering trash heaps give way to deep, stinking mud in the monsoon, as the stench of fumes leaking from deep inside the decades of compacted refuse smother nearby neighborhoods.

According to our plan, we will not allow rubbish collectors to work at the new site and we will build a fence around it. – Sao Kunchhon, waste management dept.

“We’re changing the place where rubbish is dumped because we want to make a good social environment in the city and [Stung Meanchey] is too near,” said Sao Kunchhon, director of the Phnom Penh’s waste management department.

“We can’t keep it like this forever,” he added, saying that it is unclear what will happen to the old dump site, but that the government is in discussions with foreign investors who might construct a power plant on the land that would use the accumulated garbage as fuel.

A new landfill capable of eventually handing 1,500 tons of rubbish a day will be opened in Bakou village, some eight kilometers outside the city near the Choeung Ek killing fields, he said, explaining that unlike Stung Meanchey, the dump will be closed to scavengers.

“According to our plan, we will not allow rubbish collectors to work at the new site and we will build a fence around it,” Kunchhon said.

This leaves people like Ny desperate over their future.

“My family’s income will be worse than today because we’ve been depending on this dump since 1992,” she said.

“I feel like I’m going to suffer a lot when the Stung Meanchey dump moves to another place. I really don’t want it to move, but I can’t stop them,” she added.

Despite the pending closure, impoverished Cambodians continue arriving at Stung Meanchey each day hoping to scavenge enough to feed their families, said Mech Sokha, director of the Center for Children to Happiness (CCH), a local NGO based at the dump that helps orphaned children and those with HIV-positive parents.

Like PSE’s Chanratha, Sokha fears that hundreds, if not thousands will be driven onto the streets when the dump closes, adding to the ranks of destitute families and street children living in ragged clusters near the capital’s main tourist areas.

“I’m worried because they will lose their jobs and there will be more street children and homeless old people in the city,” Sokha told the Post, explaining that families could sometimes earn more scavenging for a day at Stung Meanchey than they could in their rural villages.

Workers find themselves at center of political tug-of-war

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP Prime Minister Hun Sen makes a speech during the inauguration of a mosque in Phnom Penh on May 15. Hun Sen and his political opposition have for the first time targeted Cambodia’s blue-collar workers as key assets in the upcoming national elections scheduled for July 27.

Written by Kay Kimsong and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

B etter pay and working conditions for Cambodia’s industrial workers have become the centerpiece of party platforms ahead of July 27 national polls as the country’s politicians seek for the first time to tap into a vast voter pool they had previously ignored, party officials and election monitors say.

The leaders of the country’s three main political parties all went to the workers on May Day this year, appealing to garment factory employees and dockworkers alike for their ballot.

“If you like my leadership, vote for the CPP,” Prime Minister Hun Sen told hundreds of workers gathered at the Sihanoukville port, promising job security if his ruling Cambodian People’s Party was returned to power and calling on factory owners in the country’s strike-prone garment sector to treat their workers like “partners for life.”

Elsewhere, opposition politicians with the Sam Rainsy, Human Rights and Norodom Ranariddh parties were touting higher wages and labor rights in exchange for support in what many observers say will be a one-sided election favoring the CPP.

But despite being the clear favorites, Hun Sen’s embrace of the working classes signals a change in political strategy and marks the rise of industrial workers as a powerful constituent, observers say.

“This is the first time they’ve done this – they see opportunity in the growing number of workers. Before their numbers were small and the workers did not attract the attention of the political parties,” said Hang Puthea, executive director of the Cambodian election monitor Nicfec.

“It is important for the parties to attract workers because their numbers have increased by so much,” he told the Post.

“Each party believes that if they can attract those workers, the parents of those workers who live in the countryside and their friends will also vote for that party,” he added.

A simple calculation reveals exactly how big the worker vote could be: the garment sector alone employs an estimated 350,000 people, each supporting family at home that could multiply the total voter strength by three, five or even ten times, depending on the size of each employee’s family and circle of friends.

Some 8.1 million voters have been registered so far.

The total number of industrial workers is thought to be more than 500,000, monitors say.

“If 50,000 votes can win a seat in parliament, then half a million votes will swing 10 seats,” Puthea said.

That is no small number for Cambodia’s opposition trying to claw back some power from the CPP, which looks set to be able to form a government on its own this year, shedding a coalition government agreement that has been in place since the early 1990s.

All three minor parties are trading on Cambodia’s rising cost of living to give them the leverage they need to swing the workers’ vote.

Double-digit inflation has hurt most the country’s urban workers who during the past year have found themselves priced out of many staple goods.

Aside from promised wage hikes, the opposition has vowed to end pricing monopolies over fuel and curb living costs.

“If you vote for the CPP, you will get only one sarong, but if you vote for Sam Rainsy you will get another $20 [wage] increase,” Sam Rainsy, leader of his self-named party, told some 3,000 garment workers gathered at his party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh on International Labor Day.

Meanwhile, Norodom Ranariddh’s party spokesman Muth Chantha reminded workers that the prince, who remains in exile amid a host of legal problems, attracted investment to Cambodia, creating jobs.

All the pre-election wooing, however, has done nothing to convince labor activists that party leaders have their interests at heart.

Chea Mony, who took over the reins of Cambodia’s largest labor group, the Free Trade Union, in 2004, told the Post that “political parties have been cheating workers since 1993.”

“Every song they sing is sweet,” he said, urging workers not to be lured into a false sense of hope by the rhetoric.

“Consider each party’s policy platform on labor issues before deciding which one to support in the elections,” he said.

Nicfec’s Puthea also said trying to win the workers’ vote was a bit of shrewd international spin-making on the part of the parties.

“If any party can convince the workers to vote for them, it shows that the party supports international labor rights and raises its profile” outside of Cambodia,” he said.

Child labor surges with building boom

TRACEY SHELTON A girl stacks unfired bricks in a kiln at the state-run Prey Konkhla brick factory in Battambang, May 9.

Written by Cheang Sokha and Tracey Shelton
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

B ATTAMBANG – Sy Oeur was 12 years old when she dropped out of school in a desperate bid to keep her impoverished family afloat. Despite her age, she quickly found a job working ten-hour shifts in a brick factory for which she is paid 6,000 riels a day.

She says she doesn’t mind the long hours or dangerous work as she’s happy to be able to help her family.

Behind the glitz and glamour of Cambodia’s recent construction boom is an army of under-aged, under-paid workers such as Oeur. The surge in demand for cheap labor has prompted thousands of children, some as young as six, to abandon their schooling and accept hazardous work in factories or on construction sites.

A new research study released May 8 by local rights NGO Licadho and World Vision draws attention to the gross child rights violations that underpin Cambodia’s latest burst of economic development.

The study was launched in Battambang where an estimated 500 children are currently employed in the province’s 26 brick factories.

“Most of these children are forced to work at the brick kilns because of poverty,” Vann Sophath, deputy director of communication and advocacy for Licadho, told the Post at the launch.

Conditions in the brick factories meet the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) criteria for the “worst forms of child labor,” the report claims. Factory work hinders education opportunities – around 74 percent of child workers do not attend school – and carries health risks ranging from third degree burns from the kilns to respiratory problems from brick dust.

BATTAMBANG – Sy Oeur was 12 years old when she dropped out of school in a desperate bid to keep her impoverished family afloat. Despite her age, she quickly found a job working ten-hour shifts in a brick factory for which she is paid 6,000 riels a day.

She says she doesn’t mind the long hours or dangerous work as she’s happy to be able to help her family.

Behind the glitz and glamour of Cambodia’s recent construction boom is an army of under-aged, under-paid workers such as Oeur. The surge in demand for cheap labor has prompted thousands of children, some as young as six, to abandon their schooling and accept hazardous work in factories or on construction sites.

A new research study released May 8 by local rights NGO Licadho and World Vision draws attention to the gross child rights violations that underpin Cambodia’s latest burst of economic development.

The study was launched in Battambang where an estimated 500 children are currently employed in the province’s 26 brick factories.

“Most of these children are forced to work at the brick kilns because of poverty,” Vann Sophath, deputy director of communication and advocacy for Licadho, told the Post at the launch.

Conditions in the brick factories meet the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) criteria for the “worst forms of child labor,” the report claims. Factory work hinders education opportunities – around 74 percent of child workers do not attend school – and carries health risks ranging from third degree burns from the kilns to respiratory problems from brick dust.

Factory owners “never pay for treatment” when their workers are injured on the job and very few factories have any safety procedures in place, said Sophath.

Protective glasses, helmets and work shoes were almost unheard of among the children interviewed, less than half of whom were wearing gloves, hats or masks during work. Fewer than 20 percent of the children interviewed in the report said they had received work safety information from their employers.

The most common tasks performed by children in brick factories include loading bricks to and from kilns, extracting and grinding clay, and operating machinery. Brick making machines are hazardous as hands or arms can be easily caught in the constantly grinding moving parts.

Children working at the brick kiln receive an average wage of 5,000 to 6,000 riel per day with children under ten years old receiving 1,000 riels.

“Work in the brick factory is quite hard but I do not have any choice because my family needs the money,” said Kouch Chantha, 14, who, like all his siblings, works weekend shifts at the factory.

“I actually do not want to come but I am forced to work here by my mother because if I don’t come here I will have nothing to eat,” he said.

Most children, particularly those of a very young age, begin work alongside their parents and 30 percent said they lived at the factory in which they worked with either their parents or other relatives.

Pressure from parents who rely on their children’s wages to provide for the family means many child brick factory workers are resigned to their fate, said Chea Ravy, a child welfare worker at World Vision’s drop-in center for child workers in Battambang.

“They have only known one thing their whole lives: How can they build a dream?” Ravy asked.

Many factories in Battambang are taking on more child workers due to the recent constriction boom, said Eng Soeur, the owner of Ponlok Thmey Brick Factory which currently employs 50 workers.

February and March were particularly busy months this year as brick prices rose to 400 riel per brick and his factory reported average sales of 150,000 bricks per month.

Although Soeur himself does not allow children to work fulltime at his factory, he does now allow child workers on weekends and holidays.

The construction boom has also resulted in a higher percentage of females working in brick factories.Sok Seth, director of the Ministry of Labors’ Prey Konkhla Vocational Training Center – which includes a state-run brick factory which employs children – estimates that 70 percent of child brick workers are girls as boys are needed for heavier work on construction sites.

“The regulation in my center is not to hire children to work but we cannot enforce it 100 percent because the children sometimes come along for work with the mother,” Seth told the Post during a visit to the center on May 9.

Seth stressed that parents, as well as the brick factory owners, need to consider more carefully the future of their children and the dangers they face in this kind of work.

However, he added that if factory owners ceased hiring children the earnings of many families would decrease markedly, which is why many parents are not happy with the work of NGOs who are trying to combat child labor.

An estimated 1.4 million Cambodian children between the ages of seven and 14, or more than 50 percent, are engaged in some for of labor, mostly in the agricultural sector, according to international agencies.

King Calls on Cambodian Unity for Development

Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni waves while attending the unveiling of a new statue of Daun Penh (Grandmother Penh) in Phnom Penh May 16, 2008.REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea (CAMBODIA)

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
16 May 2008

Khmer audio aired May 16 (964KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired May 16 (964KB) - Listen (MP3)

King Norodom Sihamoni called for Cambodian unity to help develop the country, saying too that people living in the capital play a crucial role.

Speaking at the inauguration of a statue to honor Grandmother Penh, on whose legend the name of the capital rides, King Sihamoni said national unity, helped by citizens of Phnom Penh, was the key to raising Cambodia out of poverty.

The statue, he said, was a testament to the capital.

Phnom Penh was established as the capital of Cambodia relatively recently, but it has been central to the country’s economy and politics for nearly 600 years. It was established along with five pagodas after 1422, when King Ponhea Yat abandoned Angkor to the jungle.

Many tourists these days opt out of seeing Phnom Penh altogether, focusing instead on the rediscovered ancient capital and the temples of Angkor.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema told VOA Khmer Friday he hoped the statue would help tourists reconsider.

Meanwhile, Meach Ponn, an advisor for the Institute of Buddhism, said the municipality should research the stories of other Khmer heroes, such as A Cha and Sva Krala Homkong, to build more statues in the name of Cambodia.

Petition, But No Promises, for National Assembly

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
16 May 2008

Khmr audio aired May 16 (962KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmr audio aired May 16 (962KB) - Listen (MP3)

A million signatures calling for legislation to curb corruption reached the National Assembly Friday, but lawmakers were loathe to promise anything in its wake.

The petition, which collected the signatures over several months, was brought by 150 marching anti-corruption activists who carried banners and stickers and was flanked by a troupe of dancers.

The petition was received by Khoun Sodary, head of the National Assembly’s Commission on Human Rights, “but she made no promises,” Thun Saray, director of the rights group Adhoc, said Friday.

The petition should be a wake-up call to any political party competing in July’s general election, he said.

“If the people’s demands are not met by the fourth mandate of the National Assembly, the people will consider what needs to be done in the fifth mandate of the National Assembly,” he said.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said the petition was very important, but he criticized the National Assembly’s inability to promise action.

“We regret not having the good will to implement the petition,” he said.

Human Rights Party Vice President Keo Remy said the party fully supports the petition and promised it would act if given the mandate by a political win in July.

The Cambodia Watchdog Council, led by union representatives Rong Chhun and Chea Mony, called on voters to make a clear decision in July on parliamentarians with a will to protect the interests of society.

The government has repeatedly promised Cambodians and donors alike the passage of an anti-corruption law, but it has remained in the draft stage for years.

Nascent Group Holds First Protest

By Chiep Mony, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
16 May 2008

Khmer audio aired May 16 (989KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired May 16 (989KB) - Listen (MP3)

The Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, or IDEA, held its first protest as an organization Friday, gathering villagers near the Thai border to demand the lower cost of goods and fuel.

It did not go smoothly.

Police surrounded about 100 protesters in Bantey Meanchey province’s Poipet commune, preventing them from amassing an expected 500 supporters of tuk-tuk drivers, cart-pullers, porters and shop vendors, IDEA Director Von Pov said.

The protesters had planned a 1 kilometer march, he said. They managed only 200 meters. They’d planned to use loudspeakers, but were not allowed.

Banteay Meanchey Police Chief Hun Hean said the group was protesting without permission—a claim Von Pov denies.

“We prohibited,” the police chief said, but we did not pressure their freedom of expression. We just guaranteed traffic safety for the people, vendors and tourists.”

Adhoc rights investigator Sum Chankea called the police action a stifling of free expression.

NEC Considers Two Extra Parties

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
16 May 2008

Khmer audio aired May 15 (752KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired May 15 (752KB) - Listen (MP3)

The National Election Committee will consider two more political parties to contest the July election, officials said Thursday.

The Just Society and League for Democracy parties have yet to be reviewed, said NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha.

The NEC has denied the application of the Khmer United People Party, which has forwarded an appeal to the Constitutional Council.

So far 12 parties have submitted applications to the NEC, of an estimated 57 registered with the Ministry of Interior. That’s 11 fewer parties than in the 2003 general election.

The Cambodian People’s, Norodom Ranariddh and Human Rights parties have all been officially approved, with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party still under review.

The Khmer Republican Party, a throwback to the former prime minister, Lon Nol, is also under review.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections said Thursday it had closely reviewed the registration step of the election process and found no serious irregularities.

Civil Society Organizations March, Carrying Thumbprints to the National Assembly This Morning

Posted on 17 May 2008.
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 560

“More than 40 civil society organizations will march carrying thumbprints to the National Assembly on the morning of 16 May 2008, to push the government to adopt an anti-corruption law. However, the director of an institute of civic studies claimed that this is just an empty game that will not bring any results.

“The Khmer Institute of Democracy [KID] official Pok Puthearith [who was in charge of collecting the thumbprints] told Kampuchea Thmey that his organization and more than 40 civil society organizations will march, carrying thumbprints to the National Assembly on the morning of 16 May 2008, to push the government to quickly adopt an anti-corruption law.

“He added, ‘There are approximately 1,100,000 to 1,200,000 thumbprints to be carried to the National Assembly. The first intention is to push the National Assembly and all politicians to promise openly to the public that, when they win the next term election and have created a government, they must adopt an anti-corruption law without any reservation and very quickly.

The second intention is to show to the public that this thumbprint collecting campaigns aims to push the Royal Government to adopt [an anti-corruption] law without any more delay.’
“Mr. Pok Puthearith continued that this march has already been permitted by the [Phnom Penh] municipality on 13 May, requiring to march from near the Independence Monument.

“Phnom Penh municipality representatives could not be reached for comment on the evening of 15 May 2008; however, the National Assembly Economy and Finance Committee and the Cambodian People Party [CPP] parliamentarian Mr. Cheam Yeap said that the anti-corruption law is still being discussed with the international community; that is why it has not yet been adopted.

“Mr. Cheam Yeap went on to say, ‘Now the anti-corruption law is in the hands of the government. The international community had asked the government to make five changes – first, to clarify the meaning of corruption, second, the composition of the anti-corruption committee, third, rules for property declarations, fourth, the rights and the power of the general-secretariat of the anti-corruption committee, and fifth, penalties.’ Meanwhile, Mr. Cheam Yeap expressed the hope that early next term, the anti-corruption draft law will reach the National Assembly, and then the National Assembly will begin the discussion towards the adoption.

“The director of an institute of civic studies and a constitutional law expert, Mr. Chhim Phal Vorun, mentioned that morally he supports the anti-corruption activities, but he has not yet seen any strategies and measures to prevent, or fight against corruption, therefore this is just a useless activity.

He added, ‘Corruption is an act that we cannot accept morally, but in reality, activities to fight against corruption are useless without first creating strategies, or actions to measure the obvious extent of corruption – without these, it is just an activity deceiving the citizens pretending that we all fight against corruption.’

Mr. Chhim Phal Vorun also said, ‘As the first step to fight against corruption, we must throw away all useless thoughts lying about the reality until today, such as general ideas against corruption and ideas against individuals or groups of individuals in state institutions - these ideas are not useful, but the important thing is to measure the extent of corruption which exists in state institutions, in civil society institutions, and in private institutions. Corruption is everywhere. That is why we have conducted studies to know why there is corruption, and the studies show that it is because these institutions do not have good governance, transparency, and accountability.’

“Therefore, provable actions to fight against corruption requires that the Khmer society as a whole, in the state, in the civil society, and in private institutions, include good governance, transparency, and accountability in their domains.

“Mr. Chhim Phal Vorun expressed his view that actions claiming only a goal is just an empty game – if it is not a realistic action.

“Regarding the call to the government to adopt an an anti-corruption law, the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association president Mr. Rong Chhun has also made a statement to support this demand, saying that it has been fourteen years that this law has been discussed but not been issued.”

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.7, #1642, 16.5.2008

Brothel busts drive sex workers underground

TRACEY SHELTONSex workers wait for customers at a karaoke bar in Toul Kork, Phnom Penh, prior to a nationwide crackdown on brothels this year that has driven prostitutes from organized establishments onto the streets.

Written by Cat Barton
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

A lone, razor-thin girl shivering in the rain underneath a streetlight and a man selling condoms are some of the only remaining reminders of a teeming red light district at the far end of Phnom Penh’s Street 70 that flourished until recently, when a government crackdown put the country’s sex industry under siege.

Country-wide brothel closures and raids on dark parks where working girls and their customers gather are hallmarks of the effort to tackle rampant prostitution in Cambodia ahead of a key assessment next month of the Kingdom’s anti-trafficking efforts by the US State Department.

But advocates say that new legislation enacted in February to curb trafficking and sexual exploitation has really only given authorities a license to rape and rob – evidenced by the spiraling number of reported abuse cases at the hands of police rousting former brothel workers from their perches in parks and on street sides.

“What is happening is that the police are confiscating property – chairs, tables – from outside karaoke bars, they’re taking everyone’s jewelry,” said one source who did not want to be named but who has repeatedly visited public places where prostitutes gathered to monitor the nightly raids by the authorities.

Worse still, allegations and first-hand accounts are piling up that prostitutes are being arrested and some raped before being forced to pay money in exchange for their release, the source said.

At the heart of the problem, advocates say, is a flawed law that equates all commercial sex work with human trafficking, what Cheryl Overs of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) calls a “conflation of prostitution and trafficking.”

“It assumes that sex work is inherently degrading and therefore that you cannot consent to it – like you can’t consent to slavery – so all sex workers become victims of trafficking,” she told the Post.

Critics of Cambodia’s “Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation” said it is so broad and open to interpretation by authorities that even those unwittingly associating with sex workers can be arrested for trafficking.

For example, a mototaxi driver carrying a prostitute to work or a bar owner whose establishment is being used as a rendezvous could theoretically be prosecuted and risk having their property seized.

Offering one’s sexual services for money is now also illegal for the first time, whereas in the past only pimping and procurement could be prosecuted.

This zero-sum approach, with its arrests and mass brothel closures, also does little more than drive prostitutes deeper underground – more vulnerable to trafficking and further away from the legion of public health groups who have been instrumental in curbing Cambodia’s HIV/Aids epidemic.

The Ministry of Health’s National Center for HIV/Aids, Dermatology and STD Control has reported a recent 26 percent reduction in the number of women seeking diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections at their family health clinics.

Implementation of the law is “having serious negative public health consequences and threatens Cambodia’s remarkable success in cutting HIV prevalence from 2.0 percent in 1998 to 0.9 percent in 2007,” said a United Nations, donor and civil society position statement released May 5.

The statement only underscores the infighting caused by the controversial legislation that has hobbled the UN agencies and health NGOs who are meant to be monitoring its implementation.

UNICEF funding and support helped create the legislation but other world body agencies including the UN’s Inter-agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP) have reservations about how it will be enforced and say that without strict implementation, the legislation does more harm than good.

“At all the agencies, the anti-trafficking wing of one is working against the other – this is more than one hand not knowing what the other is doing, they are actively working against each other,” said Overs.

“The Cambodian government itself mirrors that lack of cohesion at the UN level.” One Cambodian institution that is fully behind the new legislation is the police, according to the force’s head of anti-trafficking, Bith Kim Hong, who dismissed concerns over the law’s impact on the control of HIV/Aids.

“NGOs that work with HIV/Aids think differently from the police,” he told the Post on May 13.

“Stopping [brothels] from existing is better than having brothels … when there are no brothels HIV/Aids cannot spread to other people,” he added.

Kim Hong denied reports from groups like the Women’s Network for Unity (WNU) that large numbers of prostitutes were being rounded up under the law’s soliciting clause, only to emerge from jail stripped of their money and possessions, or showing signs of physical and sexual abuse.

“It is not true police are using this law to arrest and extort money from the suspects. We never arrest prostitutes but rather we save them from brothels,” he said.

“We hand them over to the social ministry to take care of them. It is no problem for [prostitutes] when brothels are closed. They can learn different professions from the ministry and local NGOs.”

However, this support from either the government or NGOs is rarely forthcoming, say groups like the WNU, leaving these women little choice but to continue taking more risks.

“When orderly organized venues are being closed, it becomes a buyers market,” said Overs.

Cambodia’s new trafficking law and the ensuing sex industry crackdown serves as a backdrop to next month’s reassessment of the country’s anti-trafficking efforts by the US with significant amounts of funding at risk should the country be downgraded.

Cambodia in 2006 was elevated from the list’s lowest designation, Tier 3, and has remained on Tier 2 Watch since then. In an interview with the Post on May 8, US Ambassador to Cambodia Joseph Mussomeli said “it’s a very close call” as to whether Cambodia is a Tier 2 country or not.

“The issue is, are they doing this just to keep the Americans off their back or are they doing this because they are concerned about their people.

“My view is at the highest levels of government there is a genuine concern for the people of Cambodia that they should not be trafficked,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)

Travel Postcard: 48 hours for shoppers in Phnom Penh

An evening gown is displayed at Ambre, Khmer designer Romyda Keth's boutique, one of Phnom Penh's major shopping destinations for fashionistas late February 2008. The Cambodian capital may be lesser known than Siem Reap for tourists, but its designer boutiques, colorful markets, art galleries and upscale restaurants are worth visiting.
REUTERS/Thin Lei Win

Fri May 16, 2008

PHNOM PENH (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to explore the Phnom Penh? The Cambodian capital's designer boutiques, colorful markets, art galleries and restaurants make for a satisfying shopping weekend.

7 p.m. - Usher in the weekend with dinner at a European establishment, the elegant Art Cafe (Street 108) which holds regular classical music performances and features a French-German menu. Beautiful artwork by local and international artists adorns the walls and is available for sale.

9 a.m. - Grab a sandwich from The Deli on Street 178 and rush over to Khmer designer Romyda Keth's "Ambre", the first stop for fashionistas. This two-storey colonial villa on the same street is the place for cocktail dresses, one-of-a-kind office wear or gorgeous wedding gowns. The friendly staff can make adjustments and you can order tailor-made outfits too. There's also a small, equally luxurious men's collection. Cross the Norodom Boulevard for more shops including Reyum Gallery and Silk & Pepper.

11 a.m. - The next stop is Keo (Street 222), home of Cambodia's haute couture king Sylvain Lim. Having worked for Parisian brands including Balmain and Dior, Lim's designs are classic. Browse through the small collection of prototypes from which you can order. For those with time and money, Lim's bespoke haute couture pieces are spectacular. By appointment only.

1.00 p.m. - Hop over to Street 240 for fuel at The Sugar Palm, a relaxed eatery serving local food -- don't miss the eggplant with pork or beef with ginger. The restaurant is also decorated with antiques that you can buy.

2.30 p.m. - Walk down the length of Street 240 and enjoy the shops. Couleurs d'Asie offers unique silk products in big, bold patterns. Next door is Bliss, boasting paisley-print dresses, massive cushions and home spa products as well as a spa with a plunge pool for a break in between the shopping.

Bead enthusiasts should not miss Water Lilly, showcasing Christine Gauthier's whimsical creations. Opening the hundreds of drawers holding the jewelry is an experience in itself. Le Lezard Bleu offers top-notch home decor: think bronze sculptures, dark wood tables. Two more not to be missed boutiques are Song, with its chic resort wear and Jasmine for silk wear.

5.30 p.m. - Relax with a sundowner at the famed FCC on Sisowath Quay -- make sure you face the National Museum if you want to see the sunset. The FCC is also a good place to combine culture with souvenir hunting: there are photo exhibitions with items for sale, T-shirts and other memorabilia.

7.30 p.m. - Dinner at Metro Cafe, a short walk from the FCC. The best way to enjoy the delicious food is to share. The martinis, especially the tamarind and chocolate, are a must-try.

9 a.m. - The Russian Market can be noisy and busy but it also has lots of good buys and is best early in the morning. Products to take home include shawls, embroidered handbags, woven baskets, paintings and silver jewelry. Don't miss the Tooit Tooit stall inside the market for fun, funky bags and hats, and NYEMO on the outside for colorful soft furnishings and silk handicrafts.

12 p.m. - Lunch at Romdeng on Street 74. Not only will you get delicious, authentic Cambodian food served by former street children, but you can also take the delicious recipes home as the charity organization behind the restaurant published a cookbook.

1.30 p.m. - It may not have the same buzz or variety of stalls, but the art deco Central Market (Psar Thmei) is one of the city's landmarks. The souvenir stalls around the entrance hawking T-shirts and other curios are worth a visit while inside is an interesting combination of shops selling glittering gold and jewelry, electronic goods and second-hand clothes.

2.30 p.m. - For trendy silk outfits, head to Kambuja (Street 110). Local designer Kulikar Sotho specializes in women's clothes, most of which are intricately embroidered.

3.30 p.m. - Take a coffee break, and enjoy some cookies, at the Camory Cookie Boutique on Sisowath Quay, which sells everything from standard chocolate biscuits to more exotic flavors such as palm sugar, sesame and pepper.

4.30 p.m. - If all that commercial activity is starting to irk your conscience, its time to do some shopping that soothes the soul. Artisans d'Angkor on Street 49 is trying to revive traditional craft skills and offers gorgeous silk paintings, stoneware and clothes, Smateria on Street 57 is great for recycled products that are stylish and Rehab Craft on Street 322 offers wood carvings, silk accessories and jewelry made by disadvantaged Cambodians. (Details at

6.30 p.m. - End the weekend the way you started it, enjoying and buying art. Java on Sihanouk Boulevard is a well-known art gallery/cafe which also boasts a cozy atmosphere and simple, tasty fare such as pasta and sandwiches.

(Writing by Thin Lei Win, editing by Miral Fahmy)

Schools face up to KR history

Written by Mom Kunthear
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

After years of politically charged debate, Cambodia’s Education Ministry has approved plans to teach Khmer Rouge history in high schools, a move that will expose many young Cambodians for the first time to a detailed account of one of the country’s darkest chapters.

The ministry has authorized the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), an organization which has extensively investigated the regime, to train 1,000 teachers on how to present this sensitive era to students.

“At the end of 2009 all high school students will learn about the history of the Khmer Rouge,” DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang told the Post on May 12.

Until now, mention of the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 rule over Cambodia was largely absent from school curriculums and most young Cambodians only heard about the atrocities committed by the regime from their relatives.

Up to two million people died of starvation, disease and overwork, or were executed as the Khmer Rouge sought to forge a radical agrarian utopia – emptying the country’s cities and forcing almost the entire population of Cambodia onto vast collective farms.

Cambodia’s government, which includes many former members of the ultra-communist regime, has appeared reluctant to resurrect the country’s painful past by allowing it to be taught in schools.

But many teachers have urged for more information about the Khmer Rouge years to be included in school lessons,“I support and encourage Cambodian students to learn about the … the Khmer Rouge because Cambodian children have to know about the very painful history that their relatives and country suffered” said Chhun Sarum, director of Wat Koh High School.

Knowledge of Cambodia’s past would help the country’s younger generation prevent a similar upheaval, said Chea Vannath, the former head of the Center for Social Development, one of Cambodia’s key civil society groups.

“This is very good information for Cambodian students so that they have chance to study about their own history,” Vannath said.

“I think students will be shocked and some will get angry when they learn about Khmer Rouge, but this will help them to think about what they should do and not do for their country,” she added.

One high school student, 17-year-old Keo Molika, said she had only ever heard fragments of stories about the Khmer Rouge years from her parents, but was happy that the subject would soon be taught in school.“I really want to know about this,” she said.

Diplomatic author reflects on ' particular' love for Cambodia

Historian Milton Osborne achieved a brief notoriety in the 1990s when his book Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness was banned for about four weeks. “I see the photocopied pirated edition still thrives,” said the former Australian diplomat. “Much to my chagrin I see it has dropped from $5 to $3 in the Russian Market. This puts one in one’s place.”

Written by Cat Barton
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of Phnom Penh Post at

A ustralian academic, historian and author Milton Osborne has just published his tenth book, a cultural and literary history of Phnom Penh. A former diplomat, Osborne, 72, first arrived in Cambodia in April 1959 and has been returning regularly ever since. His latest literary offering, titled Phnom Penh, was commissioned by Oxford-based Signal Books as part of their Cities of Imagination series and compiles many of the stories Osborne accumulated during his stints in Cambodia. Osborne spoke to the Post’s Cat Barton by the pool at Hotel Le Royal, where he used to stay for $3 a night in 1966.

Why do you not talk about contemporary politics ininterviews when in Cambodia?

My decision not to talk about this is both self interested and genuinely felt – it is not the job of tourists to come and comment, but it is the job of writers to put what they feel on paper. I have not spared people in the past.

Your 1994 book Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness was banned, what happened?

Yes, it was banned for four weeks or so. Back then there was only one supermarket in town – Lucky Market. One day, soon after the book was released, someone wandered down from the palace and said “I don’t think you should sell that,” and so they took it off the shelves. A month later it was back. I see the photocopied pirated edition still thrives. Much to my chagrin I see it has dropped from $5 to $3 in the Russian Market. This puts one in one’s place.

Which of your ten books are you most proud of?

The two books which have been, in modest terms, not best sellers but good sellers, were Southeast Asia: An Introductory History, which is in its ninth edition. I’m trying to sort out the next edition of that but I find when I have just written a book I am not keen to go back to writing. It has been a very good seller and is now being translated into Khmer by the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap. I’ve waived the royalties for that one. The other is the River Road to China: The Search for the Source of the Mekong, 1866-73 which of all my books – save my first book which was very special to me – this is probably the one I was most pleased with. It was made a “notable book” by The New York Times in 1975.

So do you think the Mekong River Commission (MRC) is able to face the new challenges presented by damming the Mekong?

I think the Mekong governments face what would appear to be the greatest challenge yet in terms of plans to develop new dams on the main tributary of the Mekong River. I say “Mekong governments” as I think the role of the MRC is widely misunderstood – it is a creature of the governments of Mekong delta countries, it has no mandated capacity to direct anyone, certainly not a government. It can’t say a government could or should do this or that. While it does a very important job in terms of research, the challenge is to the governments.

Author William Shawcross wrote the introduction to your new book and said in the first sentence how much you loved Cambodia – is it true?

William Shawcross and I are not close buddies but we keep in touch, having first met at the time of the Cambodian refugee exodus into Thailand in 1980. I was surprised by his first sentence – I hadn’t thought that I loved Cambodia. I think I do in a particular way love Cambodia and Khmers. But of course you must remember some of my closest friends here were killed. So because of this, my love for Cambodia is qualified. I also knew those on the other side, who joined the forces that would become the Khmer Rouge. I don’t think they knew what they were doing. William’s probably right, I do love Cambodia, but in a particular way.

What are your favorite memories of Phnom Penh in the 1960s?

Getting to know Cambodians and developing a small number of close friendships with Cambodians. When I came back as an overage underpaid graduate student in 1966, I had none of the privileges of being a junior diplomat but my friends of 1961 were ready to talk to me again.

What were the expatriates living in Phnom Penh like back then?

Phnom Penh in the 1960s was full of characters. One was the owner of the Café de Paris – a Monsieur Spacesi, a Corsican who wore his Legion of Honor badge next to his (trouser) fly as a comment on all French governments. There were many bars which could have been transplanted straight from the waterfront of Marseilles to the waterfront of Phnom Penh. The French Embassy was full of people who had served in the colonial administration – the deputy head of mission was a very debonair aristocrat who would rotate his first and second wives, which was how he introduced them, through Cambodia and who had a gibbon that lived with him.

What was life like as a junior diplomat?

I lived in an apartment in a building which is still there now. There was no hot water and cooking was done on charcoal braziers and our allowances were so mean we couldn’t run the air conditioning. Eventually there was some kind of inspection and our rooms were declared to be below standard and we were moved. Although it seemed like absolute luxury to me it was probably not quite so good as I thought – when my replacement came for a visit before taking up his post, he was horrified with the accommodation on offer. I thought it was the crème de la crème.

Why do so many Cambodia scholars end up squabbling?

For whatever reason, Cambodia affects people very deeply. Once one becomes convinced that one’s interpretation is the right one then it becomes difficult to accept anyone else’s. After all, it is a country that has been through a horror many would regard as unimaginable.

What do you think is the biggest change in Cambodia?

The greatest difference that has emerged in the last five to ten years is communication – in the 1960s the press was limited, for Europeans, and there was only really the Prince’s paper, Realites Cambodgiennes, which was a mouthpiece for Sihanouk. We always used to joke, if something was not in the Agence Khmer Press (AKP) it didn’t exist. The postal service was unreliable and letters and packages were regularly stolen. In 1960-61 it was very difficult to get BBC or Radio Australia, (but) by 1966 you could pick them up a little better. I think that is why I am such an avid reader of newspapers now – for two years there was nothing I could read. On one occasion it took 32 days for a diplomatic bag to reach Phnom Penh from Canberra. When you see the connectivity with the outside world, now it’s just so different and that is a fundamental change.

Muslims allowed to wear traditional clothes at school

TANG CHHIN SOTHY/ AFP A young girl learns to read Arabic at her home in Phnom Penh.

Written by Nguon Sovan and Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Friday, 16 May 2008

Courtesy of phnom Penh Post at

P rime Minster Hun Sen has directed that all Khmer Muslim students be allowed to wear Islamic attire in class.

“It is the tradition of Islamic people to wear these clothes,” Hun Sen said on May 15 at the opening of the Norunaem mosque on National Highway 5 in Chraing Chamras commune of Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district.

The Prime Minister said that government and private educational institutions must allow Islamic students, especially females, to wear Muslim attire.

“This will enable more Islamic people to have access to education,” he said.

Educational regulations require male students to wear blue pants and a white shirt and females to wear a blue skirt and white shirt, Hun Sen said.

“I now give all Khmer Muslim students the right to dress according to their religious obligations,” he said, adding that in some countries there were bans on wearing Islamic attire in class.

The move was also hailed by Kek Galabru, the president of human rights group, Licadho.“This is a good idea,” she said

She added that the order showed respect for human rights and for Islamic traditions, customs and culture, while Secretary of State for the Ministry of Cults and Religion Sith Ybrahim said he supported Hun Sen’s move “100 percent.”

The decision reflected respect for the beliefs of those other than the Buddhist majority, said Ybrahim, a Muslim.

Philippines bans paedophile Gary Glitter as he prepares to leave Vietnamese jail
May 16 2008
By Karen Bale

POP paedophile Gary Glitter is running out of places to hide as he prepares to leave jail in Vietnam.

British police have sent warnings about the pervert, who was caged for molesting two girls aged 11 and 12, to other countries in south-east Asia.

And yesterday, officials in the Philippines announced that they had banned the 64-year-old beast from their country for life as an "undesirable alien".

Glitter, real name Paul Francis Gadd, fled Britain in 2000 after finishing a four-month jail term for possessing vile images of children.

He tried to move to Cuba but the government refused to let him in.

Glitter then went to Cambodia but his presence in the country caused an outcry and officials kicked him out, branding him "a threat to the security of the country and the national image of Cambodia".

He spent three days in jail before his expulsion on suspicion of sex offences but was not convicted.

Glitter moved on to Vietnam, where he was arrested in 2005 and charged with raping underage girls.

He was held at the airport as he tried to flee to Thailand.

Glitter faced the death penalty if convicted of rape but the charges were reduced after he paid compensation to the girls' families.

He was convicted in 2006 of committing obscene acts with minors and sentenced to three years.

Glitter is expected to be freed from Phuoc To prison in August. He will be deported to Britain on
his release but experts from the Metropolitan Police Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre fear he will try to go abroad again to prey on more kids.

The Met have sent reports on Glitter to several foreign embassies in London. The Filipino authorities are the first to take action to keep him out.

The immigration commissioner in the Philippines capital Manila, Marcelino Libanan, said yesterday: "I have placed him on a blacklist so he cannot enter our country. That is our first line of defence."

A source at Manila's bureau of immigration praised the British authorities for alerting them about Glitter.

The insider said: "The UK authorities are unusual.

"Many countries ignore the problem or try to hide it, believing it reflects badly on them.

"Britain has been very open with us about sharing information on its own citizens if it is believed they could pose a risk to our children.

"It is a very responsible attitude that has allowed us to take measures to stop these men entering our country."

Foreign-run Cambodian school expels girl, 7, for being HIV positive

May 16, 2008

Phnom Penh - The foster parents of a seven-year-old Cambodian girl are considering legal action after a foreign-managed private school expelled the child for being HIV positive.

The Cambodian-owned, British-managed Footprints School in the capital, which bills itself as to international-standard and offering 'well trained, caring, professional staff,' expelled the girl within hours of becoming aware of her HIV status, the parents said.

Her Australian foster mother, who asked not to be named for privacy reasons, said she believed Footprints had acted contrary to Ministry of Education anti-discrimination legislation but said she expected few repercussions against a wealthy private school.

'We just gave the school a list of her medications, but they looked them up and put two and two together,' she said.

'Her teacher asked some pointed questions and I didn't lie to him ... and within 24 hours everyone in the school seemed to know and she was out,' she said.

A woman who identified herself as the director of studies at Footprints said by telephone that the school did not have an HIV/AIDS policy in place and despite the girl's unblemished three months at the school prior to the discovery, she had to leave.

'We are worried about the rest of the children,' she said, acknowledging that the child's HIV status was behind the decision.

But there was also a more cynical reason behind the decision in the lucrative but under-regulated post-war Cambodian private school system, she admitted, citing public stigma surrounding the virus.

'We are a private school, and although we would try to keep information like this confidential, there is no guarantee it would not become public,' she said.

That could result in the school losing business as panicked parents withdrew their children, she said.

But UNAIDS Cambodian coordinator Tony Lisle said Friday it was a clear breech of the child's human rights, based on ignorance.

'There is no reason for her not to be at school. There is no evidence anywhere in the world that a child, even playing in a playground, can infect other children,' he said.

'The school should protect the child's confidentially and treat her exactly the same way they would any other student,' he said. 'There is no reason why this should happen to this or any other child.'

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the region.

Liam chalks up the miles in Vietnam and Cambodia

Liam Lavery during his visit to Vietnam and Cambodia.

Mourne Observer

LIAM Lavery is back home after another successful charity cycle, this time covering over 500km in the heat of Vietnam and Cambodia for the Alzheimer’s Society.

The manager of the Wood Lodge Nursing and Residential Home in Castlewellan completed the feat in February this year, starting at Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and finishing at the world famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Liam, who described that six-day cycle as “amazing,” said: “We cycled 310 miles, an average of 51 miles a day, and it was very hot and humid – 32C in Vietnam and 38C in Cambodia.

“We had a great time in a fantastic part of the world and met such friendly people in countries that have had such recent violent times,” he explained.

“The charity raised between £120,000-130,000 for Alzheimer’s, and we want to thank everyone who made a donation; it was very much appreciated.”

During the trip the 23 cyclists cycled through the heart of the rural Mekong, through rice fields and villages, and used bus and boat transfers to help them on their way.

The group enjoyed many new experiences, such as the culinary delights of porcupine and duck embryos among other things.

They also cycled through the ‘killing fields’ in Cambodia, where thousands were massacred during Pol Pot’s brutal regime.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Liam is already planning his next cycle trek for charity, and plans are already in place to cycle the length of Ireland in May 2009.

Religion in the news


TRAMOUNG CHRUM, Cambodia (AP) — When residents of this poor, Cambodian village need something built, they call on the Lightmans.

The Jewish-American family's latest gift: a mosque.

"We never had such a beautiful mosque in our village," said 81-year-old Leb Sen, a toothless, village elder with a wrinkled face. "The young people said to me that I am very lucky to live long enough to see one now."

Flashing a broad grin, Leb Sen brought his palms together and bowed repeatedly in gratitude toward his American donors — Alan Lightman; his wife, Jean Greenblatt Lightman and their daughter, Elyse.

Alan Lightman, a 59-year-old humanities professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said building the mosque was not part of his family's original plan to improve education in the village, about 44 miles northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.

"It's too much to comprehend. We never imagined that we would build a mosque in a remote village in Cambodia," said Lightman, author of the best-selling novel "Einstein's Dreams."

"It was so strange for us to be there," he added, " ... halfway across the planet, and it's a religion that's far from our religion."

The Lightmans first learned about the village in 2003, when a friend introduced them to various rural education projects. Two years later, the Harpswell Foundation, an organization founded by Lightman to help children and young women in developing countries, built a four-room concrete school, the village's first.

Some of the 600 villagers came to Lightman in 2006 asking him to fund a new health center, a popular choice among the women, and a mosque, which the men favored. He told the villagers they would have to choose one. In the male-dominated community, it was a mosque.

"The men have won again, but the mosque is also very important for preserving our culture and tradition," said 50-year-old Sit Khong, one of the five women in the village who were part of a committee to pick the project. "We will never find enough money to build it ourselves anyway."

The mosque, with the gold-colored inscription "Funded by Loving Gift of Lightman Family" above the front door, opened on May 9. It can accommodate about 200 people and replaces a tiny building on wood stilts that held only 30 worshippers.

The villagers follow Imam-San, a small Islamic sect that incorporates Buddhism, Hinduism and animism. The Imam-San makes up about 3 percent of Cambodia's 700,000 Muslims, who themselves represent only 5 percent of Cambodia's 14 million people, according the U.S. State Department annual report on religious freedom.

Besides mixing in elements of other religions, Imam-San followers pray only once a week, not the traditional five times a day. "In the view of the real teaching of Islam, they are not pure," said Tin Faizine, a 24-year-old Muslim student who was interpreting for the Lightmans.

Elyse Lightman, who is writing a book about Imam-San culture and traditions, said she was happy to help a community that is not fully embraced by either mainstream Muslims or Buddhists, Cambodia's majority religious group.

"You can see why Muslims don't consider them to be their own," she said. "And then Buddhists say, 'Well, you pray to Allah.' So, they're caught in the middle."

She noted that the Imam-San, like the Jews, have faced persecution over the centuries, most recently when the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and abolished all religion.

"I think there is part of me that felt some sort of kinship in this," she said.

About 500 followers of Imam-San from around the country came to this village of wooden houses and mango trees to celebrate the opening of the new mosque.

Sem Ahmad, 57, said he wanted the Lightman family to help build a mosque in his village in Battambang province in northwestern Cambodia. "It is beautiful. I'd love to have the same mosque because we do not have one like this in our village," he said.

But Lightman said this would be his "first and last" mosque, because "I don't think I have the resources or the time to build more mosques."

The mosque was built with $20,000 from his family's savings, not the foundation's funds, he said.

In the future, he plans to focus on education for underprivileged Cambodians, which is his foundation's main goal.

Spokesman denies Thaksin-Phreah Vihear link

( - Pongthep Thepkanchana, spokesman of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, dismissed accusation that Mr Thaksin is behind a so-called plan to trade off land below Phreah Vihear for oil and gas concession.

The government has denied there is any such plan, and has vowed never to yield "one square inch" of Thai border territory to Cambodia, especially around the Cambodian temple.

Mr Pongthep said the disputes over the Phreah Vihear has been unsettled a long time ago.

He insisted that the Thai government will have to protect the benefit of the country, and such accusations are not true.

He refused to answer questions about Mr Thaksin's reported plan to build a casino and entertainment complex on the main island off the Cambodian province of Koh Kong, just south of Trat, saying he knows nothing about it.

Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, a former Thaksin spokesman, addressed roughly the same conspiracy theory, and denied that the project to construct Thai Route No 48 project including four bridges in the south of Trat province near Koh Kong was developed for the benefit of Mr Thaksin.

Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh on Friday confirmed that Mr Thaksin may be on the verge of an agreement to develop the island Koh Kong, off the west coast of the province of the same name.

The road, costing one billion baht, was supposedly built to facilitate the transport of goods from Cambodia to Laem Chabang port in Chon Buri, passing through Trat.

Mr Noppadon told reporters he believes Mr Thaksin will not be able to start a Cambodian business until authorities release 50 to 60 billion baht ordered frozen by the military-appointed committee set up to investigate alleged corruption charges.