Saturday, 28 June 2008

The Bangkok Post
Saturday June 28, 2008

A Cambodian lawyer has urged the United States to extract a written statement from chief terrorist suspect Riduan Isamuddin, who is better known as Hambali, which could vindicate his clients, two Thai Muslims convicted of colluding with Hambali in plotting terrorist attacks.

Cambodia's Supreme Court in March upheld a term of life imprisonment imposed on two Thai Muslims and a Cambodian Muslim convicted of collaborating with Hambali in plotting a terrorist attack against foreign embassies in Phnom Penh between 2002 and 2003.

The two convicted Thais are religious teachers Abdul Azi Haji Chiming and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading.

Five Islamic groups in Thailand are discussing what they can do to help the men. They may ask to have the men serve their remaining prison terms in Thailand, or seek a royal pardon.

However Kao Sopha, the lawyer representing the men, insisted such an avenue would only amount to an admission of the prisoners' guilt.

His clients did not commit any crime, he said in Bangkok yesterday. But he said he was open to the possibility of the men serving their sentences in Thailand in a prisoner exchange programme.

The 37-year-old lawyer is in Thailand to visit the convicts' families and talk to support groups in Bangkok and Yala.

He said the US should ask Hambali to make a statement which would declare once and for all if his clients were guilty.

Hambali was a key member of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) extremist network which authorities believe was responsible for numerous attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings which killed 202 people. Hambali spent months in Cambodia before being captured in Thailand in 2003.

Khunying Amporn Meesuk, of the National Human Rights Commission, said the government has suggested to Cambodia that the prisoner exchange programme be implemented, but Phnom Penh has not responded.

Meanwhile in Pattani, a kamnan was shot dead by gunmen on his way home in Muang district yesterday.

The victim, Dueramae Jehteh, 64, was a kamnan in tambon Klong Maning.

Police said Dueramae left a teashop and headed home when four gunmen on two motorcycles approached and opened fire on him.

Tourism’s dark side: Cambodian villagers displaced in favor of development

Photo provided by LICADHO
According to the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, police burned down 60 homes as they forcibly evicted these Cambodian villagers.

By Milo Anderson
Northwest Asian Weekly

The white sands of Otres Beach sit two miles south of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. It’s less crowded than the larger beaches closer to downtown. Tourists from Europe, Australia and the United States, along with Cambodians on vacation, come to enjoy the sun and the warm ocean and the small, open-air, thatched-roof bars and restaurants that line the sand. At night, Roman candles and Christmas lights reflect off the black water.

Relaxing in beach chairs facing the ocean, the tourists’ backs are turned to the red dirt road that connects them to downtown Sihanoukville, and the tiny shacks beside the road which house the evicted villagers of Spean Chhes.

On April 20, 2007, 150 soldiers and police armed with machine guns, electric batons and tear gas came to Spean Chhes, burned or demolished all the villagers’ houses, cut down their coconut and jackfruit trees and arrested several who resisted.

Of the 100 families that lived there, 80 remain by the side of the road, within sight of the concrete barrier surrounding the site of their old village and a few hundred feet from the tourists on Otres Beach. They have nowhere else to go.

The evictions in Spean Chhes are one example of a widespread problem in Cambodia. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) has documented dozens of cases of land grabbing by wealthy, well-connected individuals and companies throughout the country.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a long history of violence and famine.

In the past two decades it has become a major recipient of international aid money and has developed a tourism and garment industry alongside the traditional subsistence agriculture still practiced in much of the country. Economic development has raised land prices.

Manfred Hornung, a monitoring consultant with LICADHO, said it’s easy to see why Spean Chhes, located next to an attractive tourist destination, was targeted for development. “It’s prime real estate.”

According to Horm Theurn, who cleared land for a farm in Spean Chhes 15 years ago with her family, when the police and soldiers came to demolish the village they said, “It’s your fault because before when we offered you money, you didn’t take it. Now we take the land for free.”

She said she has no idea what will happen to her and the other families. She said they want to return to their land, but they are afraid they will be shot.

Villagers were also worried about their relatives in prison. Fourteen men were charged for fighting the police and soldiers with slingshots, rocks and glass bottles. One man escaped arrest, five were acquitted, one who used a machete was sentenced to four months and the remaining seven men were given the lightest sentences possible.

But when the prosecutor appealed their convictions, the men had to stay in jail awaiting their new trial. After intense lobbying by LICADHO and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the appeals court finally heard the case on April 3, and the men were released a week later.

Hornung said the criminal cases against the villagers were meant to intimidate them and distract them from pursuing a civil case to get their land back, and it’s a pattern he sees in other land disputes. “The government is very successful in keeping people busy getting out of prison,” he said.

According to a 2001 land law, if someone has possessed land uncontested for five or more years before the law was passed, they have the right to claim ownership before a cadastral commission.

However, according to Hornung, no court or commission has ever addressed the issue of land ownership in Spean Chhes. And since residents were not allowed to remove their possessions before their houses were destroyed, they lost documents that may have proved how long they lived there.

“We don’t talk about the rule of law in this office,” Hornung said. “It’s just practicalities.”

The governor of Sihanoukville, Say Hak, who organized the eviction, could not be reached for comment. The information officer for Cambodia’s National Authority for Resolution of Land Disputes, Chum Bun Rong, was unable to say who resolved the question of ownership of the land, or how they reached that conclusion. He also didn’t know what the government plans to do about the villagers living by the road.

The humanitarian organization M’Lop Tapang provides basic medical assistance to the evicted villagers. Setha Thouch, a team leader with M’Lop Tapang, said the children have been hardest hit by the evictions.

During the summer rainy season, Thouch said, the ditches fill with water and many children develop skin diseases. In the dry winter months, cars, trucks and tourists riding in tuk-tuks — small three-wheel taxis — create clouds of red dust that cover everything. Respiratory diseases are common, he said.

Hornung said the unwillingness of Cambodia’s leaders to respect their own laws undercuts the mission of aid agencies.

“They knew how to make a living there,” said Hornung. “Now they are slum dwellers. This is man-made. This is not the poverty in this country.”

For more information, visit the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights at A longer version of this report is available at

Thai court blocks support for Cambodia temple bid

Sat Jun 28, 2008

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A top Thai court imposed an injunction on Saturday against Bangkok's support for a bid by Cambodia to register a disputed 900-year-old Hindu temple on their border as a World Heritage Site.

The Administrative Court's decision came after a legal request by the anti-government People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has whipped up a nationalist frenzy over the Preah Vihear temple, which many Thais believe belongs to Thailand.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the ruins were part of Cambodia, a decision that has rankled with most Thais ever since. Cambodia's move this year to have Preah Vihear accorded World Heritage status has reopened the wound.

The PAD, whose supporters have been camped outside Government House for more than a week, says Bangkok is backing Phnom Penh's bid in return for business concessions in Cambodia for ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thaksin and both the Thai and Cambodian governments deny the claims by the PAD, a motley collection of businessmen, academics and royalists united in their hatred for the telecoms billionaire ousted in a 2006 coup.

It is not known how the injunction will affect the heritage push by Cambodia, which has warned of consequences for its relations with its larger neighbour. The Court said the temporary injunction would be in place until it had come to a full decision.

Fears of a major diplomatic reaction, or worse, over the temple are not overblown, especially since Cambodian politicians are in campaign mode for a July 27 general election.

In 2003, a nationalist mob torched the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh after a newspaper erroneously reported comments from a Thai soap opera star saying the famed Angkor Wat temples belonged to Thailand.

Cambodia should consider Joint inscription of preah Vihear site

By Nophakhun Limsamarnphun
The Nation
Published on June 28, 2008

Unesco's World Heritage Committee is due to meet next week in Canada to consider Cambodia's proposal for inscription of the ancient Preah Vihear temple on the World Heritage list. I believe that Unesco will not approve the Cambodian bid at this stage, despite the Thai Cabinet's recent endorsement of a joint communique between the two countries on this matter.

According to this joint communique - signed by Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama and Cambodian Deputy Premier Sok An on June 18 - both countries agreed to five major points that were based on the results of a bilateral meeting on May 22.

First, Thailand explicitly supports the inscription, based on a map prepared by Cambodia, at the upcoming 32nd session of the World Heritage Committee in Canada.

Second, Cambodia accepts the inscription without - at this stage - buffer zones on the northern and western areas of Preah Vihear temple.

Third, the map presented by Cambodia shall supersede the other maps and graphic references.

Fourth, pending the work of the Joint Commission for Land Boundary concerning western and northern areas of the temple, the two countries agree to prepare jointly the management plan of these areas for consideration by Unesco in 2010.

Fifth, the inscription of Preah Vihear shall be without prejudice to the rights of Thailand and Cambodia on demarcation works of the two countries.

All these points were debated fiercely in the Thai Parliament on June 22 and June 23, with opposition MPs accusing the government of conceding sovereignty to Cambodia.

In my opinion, Thailand's national interest was compromised at least as far as the negotiations over the temple were concerned.

As indicated by former foreign minister Nit Pibulsongkarm, the country's interest would be best protected if the foreign ministry insisted on a joint nomination together with Cambodia for Preah Vihear's inscription as a World Heritage site.

Second, Thailand should make it clear to Cambodia that it would oppose any unilateral attempt for Prear Vihear's inscription.

In the spirit of the founding of Unesco, it is highly unlikely that the UN body will go ahead with the inscription of the site should there be any opposition from a neighbouring country.

In the case of Preah Vihear, built around 1,100BC, Thailand's national interest would be compromised because the endorsement of Cambodia's single-country nomination would serve as a basis that bars any future attempt by Thailand to contest its sovereignty over the temple, which is situated just next to its border.

More importantly, the issue of the surrounding areas, currently in Thailand's territory, would be complicated and the integrity of Preah Vihear complex would be compromised, given that a number of elements of the temple such as a giant reservoir and the Naga staircase are situated in Thai territory.

Again, it would be best for both countries to jointly nominate the temple as the World Heritage site so as to avoid these territorial and management issues.

It would also be considered reasonable if the temple and its peripheral areas are turned into a joint-development area co-owned by Cambodia and Thailand.

Any monetary or other benefits derived from this joint effort could then be shared between the two nations in a fashion similar to the Joint Development Area between Thailand and Malaysia, covering oil and gas resources in the countries' territorial waters.

Academics urge Unesco to defer temple registration

The Bangkok Post

A group of academics submitted a letter to the office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) in Bangkok on Friday, urging the World Heritage Committee to defer consideration of the listing of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site as they opposed Cambodia's unilateral move on the issue.

The academics led by Dr. Tul Sitthisomwong of the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, submitted the petition with 40,000 signatures and handed the letter to Unesco representatives in Bangkok.

A letter in Friday's Bangkok Post (click here and scroll down to fourth letter) from the Unesco director explained that all that Unesco can do is forward the letters, pleas and petitions, since Unesco does not actually select the Heritage Sites.

The officials promised to forward the letter to Unesco headquarters in Paris on Friday.

The petitioners said they objected the Thai-Cambodian Joint communique signed by Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An on June 18 and called for deferring consideration of the listing of the 11th century temple as a World Heritage site.

Dr. Tul said the petitioners want UNESCO to wait for a joint nomination for the ancient temple's listing by Thailand and Cambodia as they believe that the World Heritage status should not be completed without the inclusion of Sra Trao or ancient reservoir and other historic structures on the temple compound.

The Chula medical academic also led some 30 protesters to the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok to submit a letter to the embassy's officials, protesting Cambodian government's unilateral application of the Preah Vihear temple registration.

However, embassy officials refused to accept the letter, saying it was the sensitive issue and told the protesters to submit the letter to Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to forward it to the Cambodia embassy. (, TNA)

Court intervenes


The Supreme Administrative Court on Saturday ordered the government to halt all support for Cambodia's application to Unesco to list Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site. The foreign ministry said it might appeal and the anti-government PAD demanded the government resign.

In an unusual 2am ruling, judges voted nine to three to order the cabinet to suspend, at least temporarily, the Thai support in a joint communique with Phnom Penh.

The communique, signed in Paris on June 18, says that Thailand supports the unilateral request by Cambodia to Unesco to list the temple as a World Heritage Site - but no including the temple grounds, which are still disputed between the two countries.

The judges backed a suit brought by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is trying to overthrow the government.

The suit claims that the application to Unesco by Cambodia could effectively take the temple grounds out of Thai hands, a claim loudly denied by the government and foreign ministry.

The PAD urged the court to nullify the cabinet resolution of June 17 supporting and endorsing Cambodia's map of the ancient temple.

The Unesco meeting to consider the Cambodian appliation begins on Wednesday in Canada. Cambodia is going to attach the Thai cabinet support statmement to its formal application.

A foreign ministry spokesman on Saturday said the ministry could appeal the Administrative Court's order.

The PAD called for the government to resign over the issue, saying that Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama should show his spirit immediately because he had mishandled the temple issue.

"The decision on Preah Vihear temple could not be done by the foreign minister alone, therefore, the entire cabinet must take responsibility as well," said core PAD leader Pipop Thongchai.

He also said the group may try to expand its anti-government protests out of Bangkok and to up-country provinces.

A radical change of fortune

Vorn Mak, left, and Soeur Nhek won the grand prize of the hospital lottery yesterday morning. The couple bought eight tickets. (Mike Hensen, Sun Media)

By JOE MATYAS -- Sun Media
The London Free Press

couple who fled the killing fields of Cambodia more than two decades ago became instant millionaires yesterday when they won the London hospitals Dream Lottery.

Vorn Mak and his wife, Soeur Nhek, said they were speechless when notified by telephone they had won the grand prize.
"We have never won anything before," said their daughter, Claudia Mak, who was with her parents when the phone rang before 8 a.m. yesterday.

After the news sunk in, "we were jumping up and down" with joy and hugging each other, she said.

Vorn Mak has worked as a cleaner at the downtown Hilton Hotel for about 15 years and Soeur Nhek works as a Pennysaver flyer inserter at The London Free Press.

The couple came to London as refugees 21 years ago after fleeing the violence of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia.

"The war was very bad and we were lucky to get away from it," Vorn Mak said.

The couple won a grand prize that included a $650,000 home in the city's southwest, $204,000 in furniture, appliances and electronic goods and a $55,000 BMW vehicle.

But they said they've chosen the cash option of $1.1 million, the largest cash prize in the history of the charity lottery, which supports London Health Sciences Centre, St. Joseph's Health Care and Children's Health Foundation.

The winners said they will take their time deciding what to do with the money before making any life-changing decisions.

"It has been a very good year for the lottery," Dream Lottery co-ordinator Rita Fieder said. "We sold out for the second straight year and we've raised more than $1 million for the hospitals."

Second grand prize winner was John Clymans of Woodstock. His prize gave him the choice of a Doral boat and two Waverunner personal watercrafts, or a $100,000 cash alternative.

Third prize winner was Ruth Fitzsimmons, a Byron resident. She accepted her prize at the dream home location, 1191 Buttonbush Cres., along with her husband of 47 years, Jim.

She opted to take $100,000 cash instead of the prize of two cars and $5,000 cash.

"If she's going to make a habit of winning $100,000, I think I'll stick with her," her husband quipped.

Ruth Fitzsimmons was asleep when her husband got the call.

"At first I didn't believe him," she said

The Fitzsimmons are longtime ticket buyers.

"What a beautiful morning," she said.

A complete list of winners can be found in The Free Press and online at on July 5.

All winners will be contacted with an official letter through Canada Post.

Cambodia photos win global press competition

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meixner, Seth
Friday, 27 June 2008

Photographer Nigel Dickinson has been awarded first prize in the features category of the prestigious Press Photographer’s Year 2008 competition for a series of pictures shot last year in Cambodia.

Dickinson, whose portfolio spans much of the globe, has worked extensively in South East Asia, documenting environmental and rights issues.

His prize-winning work in Cambodia featured Stung Meanchey dump and Cambodia’s last passenger train route from Phnom Penh to Battambang.

“I am very happy and honored to receive this award. It’s humbling to be awarded a prize by one’s peers, fellow photographers and experienced photojournalists,” Dickinson told the Post by email on June 25.

“As a human being and as a journalist, I cannot help but become concerned with what I see and become involved with people and issues,” he added.

“Especially when I witness such a strong spirit, and receive such warmth and hospitality from the Khmer people, who live with corruption, the legacy of the Khmer Rouge, often in poverty and surviving against the odds.

Dickinson’s work can be viewed on his website

Villagers pray to spirits of 'ghost house'

TRACEY SHELTON; Even though no one lives there, the interior of “the house the ghost bought” in Kampong Chhnang province remains mysteriously dust-free.

PHIL CARDEN; Kampong Chhnang’s famed “ghost house” has become a shrine for the superstitious, as well as the focus of 2006 movie detailing the isolated home’s legendary haunting.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton and Nguon Sovan
Friday, 27 June 2008

Passing motorists who glance at the building beside a quiet stretch of National Road 5 in Kampong Chhnang province are likely to assume it's just another farm house.

But a closer look reveals something eerie about the house, known according to local legend as "the house the ghost bought.

"Cambodians who travel often on the highway know better than to pass the house without uttering a word of prayer or presenting offerings to appease the spirits believed to dwell within its splintering wooden walls.

The stairs to the house have disappeared and visitors have to scale one of the wooden stilts on which it rests to gain entry.

Inside, the house is empty apart from burnt incense sticks and a water jug. Despite flapping shutters that open to reveal dusty, surrounding fields, the house is surprisingly dust free.

Phnom Penh resident Chhe Phallin and a group of relatives and friends recently drove the 120 kilometers to the Baribor district house to thank the spirits, whom she believes granted her wish about her father's health."

My father had gone insane, even wandering naked in the streets at night," she said as she made offerings of food and incense to thank the spirits."

I came to the house last month and prayed with incense and begged the spirits for help. Two days later my father came back to my house - normal. Now he looks after my daughter, cleans the house, cooks our meals. What can I say? I have to believe.

"Phallin noted how clean the house was, even though "no one cleans it."

A movie filmed on location by the CamPro Film production company in 2006 tells the popular myth about the house. According to the myth, a young couple who had just moved into the newly built house was approached in a dream by a ghost who offered to buy it for $3,000 worth of gold. The couple agreed and in the morning, as promised, found the gold on their doorstep.

But they did not move out, and after ignoring warnings from the ghost to vacate the house, the couple woke one morning in the surrounding field with their belongings set neatly around them.

The movie shows the couple eventually leaving the house, but for any others who dare to sleep in it, according to the myth, the field awaits.

Huy Yaleng, assistant to the director of CamPro Films, said the company decided to make the movie after hearing the myth about the house. He attributes the movie's popularity throughout the country to a strong Khmer belief in superstition.

"Most of the actors and actresses felt afraid when they realized they would be shooting at a real haunted house," Yaleng said, "but nothing happened because before shooting we prepared a Buddhist prayer to ask the spirit if we could film the movie."

The caretaker of the house is 50-year-old Nhek Phea, whose family lives nearby. Phea said some elements of the movie are based on fact - the house was built in 1993 by his older sister, Samrith Lorn, who tried to sell it a year later for $3,000, an exorbitant price at the time.

But the rest of the myth about the house is based on nothing more than rumor, Phea said.
After ignoring warnings from the ghost to vacate the house, the couple woke one morning in the surrounding field with their belongings set neatly around them.

The myth, he said, began as the result of an offhand comment by a local villager, who had said no one would buy such a highly priced house and it would have to be sold to a ghost.

"The house is now a holy place for believers in spirits," said Phea. "Every day, many people come here to pray to the ghosts - even rich people drive their luxurious cars here to pray for good earnings. They make offerings of roasted pigs, chickens, and fruit, as well as money."

Phea said the cash offerings are donated to a nearby pagoda and nearby families often enjoy the food offerings. Last year one staunch believer in the myth spent $7,000 to build a concrete shrine honoring the ghosts that stands in front of the house.

Phea said he tells everyone there are no ghosts but no one listens. The rumor continues to spread and the house keeps attracting an increasing number of Cambodians from throughout the country.

Although he claims not to make any money from its fame, Phea is happy to maintain the house as a place of supplication and prayer.

"The rumor cannot be stopped," he said. "It's a local belief."

How history shaped the Pearl of Asia

Asia Times Online

Phnom Penh - A Cultural and Literary History by Milton Osborne

Reviewed by Andrew Symon

With Cambodia's national elections on July 27, a new history of the crucible of the country's politics, the capital Phnom Penh, is a valuable guide to what is at stake.

No firm grip on Cambodia's murky modern politics can be attained without an extensive knowledge of the country's often traumatic past. And as Australian academic Milton Osborne recounts in his new volume, the country's past transformations and tragedies have most frequently played out in riparian Phnom Penh.

There is now an uncertain brew combining the new energies and hopes of young Cambodians with a government under the authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen, under whom official corruption runs rampant and culprits act with impunity. While the economy is more buoyant than at any time since the 1960s, propelling vigorous commerce and construction in the city, there are as always inequalities of opportunity and reward.

Set against this is the resilience of ordinary Cambodians, the renewal of traditions and arts that Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge tried to stamp out, and the belief that Osborne finds among younger Cambodians in the future and their courage to call for change to the present political system. "Some subjects have an obvious ending. Phnom Penh is not one of these," the author writes.

Few Western authors can boast Osborne's experience and knowledge of Cambodia and the wider Mekong region. For nearly half a century he has witnessed and analyzed the region's often-turbulent change and written extensively about its history and politics, including, among other books, a biography of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Cambodia's flamboyant and indefatigable royal leader for almost all of the last 50 years of the 20th century, Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness.

His Southeast Asia: An Introductory History, now in its ninth edition, is the definitive short history of the region and commonly used in university classes around the world. Most recently, Osborne has concentrated his energies on the environmental challenges the region now faces from hydropower and other modern developments on the Mekong River and its tributaries.

He returns to Cambodia in this latest book, Phnom Penh: a Cultural and Literary History. The title is a tad misleading, as the book is much more than a cultural guide. The book's central theme is how the course of Cambodian history has created, shaped, buffeted - and during the Khmer Rouge period from 1975-79 - devastated the city. Osborne weaves into the political story a description of the city's architectural development, a colonial creation under the French who in 1865 convinced then-king Norodom, retired king Sihanouk's grandfather and great-grandfather to current King Norodom Sihamoni, to move his palace to Phnom Penh from Udong, located 35 kilometers north of Phnom Penh.

Today the urban focal point remains the royal palace and national museum, which both look out majestically over the junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. Osborne's book is enriched with line drawings of Phnom Penh's palaces, temples, colonial buildings and street life. Yet Phnom Penh is not stuck in a time warp. With Cambodia's economic growth - and seemingly poor town planning - jarring change is on the way, with planned skyscrapers and growing traffic congestion.

True to the book's title, Osborne breaks his journey at several literary way stations. Here he looks at descriptions by visiting writers in the 1920s and 1930s - among others the famous French author and Gaullist minister Andre Malraux, who was convicted of trying to steal ancient statues from a temple complex near Angkor Wat. Another is British writer Somerset Maugham, who Osborne later encountered as a young Australian diplomat in Phnom Penh in 1959 during the grand old man of literature's return visit to the country at age 85.

"I heard him deliver the observation that no one should die before they see Angkor," writes Osborne.

Phnom Penh was a very different world when Osborne first arrived in 1959 as a 22-year-old diplomat with the Australian Embassy. Preparing to attend ceremonies at the Royal Palace, Osborne writes that, "I found I should equip myself with a white sharkskin suit, the prescribed dress for the diplomatic corps at daytime ceremonies. When I later came to wear it with my colleagues in the corps, I cold never rid myself of the feeling that we looked like a rather seedy collection of Italian ice cream vendors."

He returned in the mid-1960s for research towards a doctorate in history at Cornell University in the United States. "As I returned to Cambodia each year. ... I found Phnom Penh's mood increasingly morose as its citizens recognized that the good times had passed and puzzled over whether they might ever return. ... In 1971, I made my last visit before the terrible triumph of Pol Pot's force four years later. Yet with war growing in intensity in the countryside, Phnom Penh was already a city under partial siege." An earlier book by Osborne - Before Kampuchea - recalls these tumultuous times in detail. He sketched the lives and thoughts of Cambodians from various walks of life he met and became acquainted with in his student days in Phnom Penh - many of whom were to disappear in the Pol Pot years. He returned in 1981, while working for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, to an utterly shattered city, with still fresh Khmer Rouge-run extermination centers and exhumed mass graves of the killing fields.

"The smell of human decomposition hung heavy in the air over the lines upon lines of battered skulls lying on the grounds beside the graves," he wrote.

While the city was made a virtual ghost town under the Khmer Rouge, whose radical Maoist regime forced its inhabitants into rural areas to achieve a never-realized agrarian utopia, important buildings and structures generally escaped destruction. The royal palace still stands and the national museum's priceless Angkor sculptures and other collections were mostly left untouched, curiously by a regime that aimed to erase vestiges of the bourgeoisie past and reset the national clock to year zero.

"Much has changed in Phnom Penh since that 1981 visit, and both Cambodia and its capital have attainted an apparent degree of normality," Osborne writes. "Visitors encounter smiling people who appear to have triumphed over a recent past and to have achieved a phoenix-like rebirth from the figurative ashes of the period when Pol Pot ruled," writes Osborne.

Osborne has continued to take stock of post-conflict Cambodia and the wider region variously as a university historian, head of the Southeast Asian branch of the Australian Government's Office of National Assessments, an intelligence analysis group reporting to the Prime Minister, and over the past decade as an independent author.

But as he underlines, the promise inherent in the UN-sponsored 1993 elections and the recent economic surge will not be fully realized as long as the corruption and impunity associated with the long rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People's Party (CPP) remains entrenched. Sadly, there is little chance that the July election, the fourth since 1993, will lead to a healing of what Osborne describes as these "running sores".

With his government's dominance over the national media and well-funded political machine, few expect Hun Sen and his CPP to lose their stranglehold on political power. But with the new hopes and expectations aloft in Phnom Penh, a new chapter is opening on the country which Osborne's new book puts into erudite historical context.

Phnom Penh - A Cultural and Literary History by Milton Osborne, Signal Books, Oxford, May, 2008. ISBN 978 1 904955 40 5. Price US$28.

Andrew Symon is a Singapore based analyst and writer and frequent visitor to Cambodia.

Blind hail introduction of special ballot papers

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sovan Nguon
Friday, 27 June 2008

A leading member of the blind community has hailed a move by the National Election Commission that will make it easier for tens of thousands of sight-impaired Cambodians to vote in the July 27 general election.

“It is very good,” said the executive director of the Association of the Blind in Cambodia, Boun Mao, referring to the commission’s decision to introduce special ballot papers based on a concept he proposed before the 2003 general election.

“It gives a 100 percent opportunity for the blind to cast votes in secret,” Mao said of the voting system, under which sight-impaired voters will use a card that enables them to identify by touch each party according to its position on a list.

“I submitted the concept to the NEC before the 2003 election but they did not use it at that time,” he told the Post on June 17.

Mao, who was blinded in an acid attack in 1993, said about 144,000 blind Cambodians were eligible to vote, but almost all of them had never participated in an election.

“Most of them don’t even have ID cards, so how can they get voter registration cards?” Mao said in an earlier interview before the commission unveiled its decision on June 16. He said the blind also had problems arranging travel to polling stations.

Mao said he had voted in every national election with the assistance of a relative who marked his ballot paper.

“However, I could not be absolutely certain that my relative voted for the party of my choice,” he said, explaining that the need to vote in secret had inspired his concept for special ballot cards for the blind.

Announcing the decision to introduce the cards, commission secretary general Tep Nytha acknowledged that they were based on the concept proposed by Mao.

The blind would continue to be able to have assistants cast ballots for them, Nytha said.

“We will promote the use of the special ballots for the blind, mainly through the radio, for 15 days before election day,” he said.

“We absolutely encourage the blind to register to vote, if they have the necessary identity documents,” Nytha said.

“There is no discrimination against them.”

News of the special ballot papers has already resulted in some members of the blind community deciding to vote for the first time on July 27.

“Through this method I can be certain of voting for the party of my choice,” said Kampot resident Mam Meth, 45, who was left blind after contracting measles when he was 15.

“I really want to vote because I want to use my right as a citizen to vote for a leader I love,” he said.

Nav Chantharith, 36, a native of Kandal province, will also be voting for the first time on July 27.

Chantharith said he had not participated in general elections since 1993 despite having a voter registration card because of his inability to vote in secret and the difficulty of arranging travel to a polling station.

“The special ballot papers for the blind are good because we can be certain of voting for the party of our choice and in secret,” said Chantharith, who lost his sight 33 years ago when he contracted retinitis.

“However, it will be better if Braille is used for the ballot papers because it will encourage more blind people to learn Braille; it’s a means of promoting Braille,” said Chantharith, who works for the NGO World Vision.

However, the NEC’s Nytha said it had no plan to provide Braille ballot papers because of budgetary constraints.

The NEC said earlier this month that 8,125,529 voters were registered for the election, with voting to take place at 15,255 polling stations throughout the country.

Tecotech starts on fiber optic cable to Japan

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Friday, 27 June 2008

In a bid to reduce the costs of telecommunications services in Cambodia, Tecotech Co., Ltd will invest $50 million in submarine cable linking Sihanoukville to Japan and to global networks beyond, Tecotech chairman Huot Vanthan told the Post on June 21.

Pok Sophat, director of the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications’ administration department said that Tecotech would be the first-ever Cambodian company to invest in submarine cable.

“The cable is another choice of gateway that will lower the cost of calls going in and out of Cambodia,” said Sophat.

Satellite communications were simply too expensive, Huot Vanthan added.

“I will spend my own capital and help connect Cambodia to the world,” by cooperating with a US-based firm, said Vanthan, who also operates a specialized investment bank and is a shareholder of Maruha Japan Bank. “We won’t begin to see a return … until the fourth year of operations.”

Tecotech began laying an inland cable from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville last week and was expected to complete this stage of the project within eight months. The whole project was slated for completion in about two-and-a-half years.

The German government has already donated fiber optic cables to connect Poipet and Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, and from Phnom Penh to Bavet, and Svay Rieng along the Vietnamese border, said Sophat.

“We already have six GSM network operators here,” said Vanthan. “So we should have a low-cost cable backbone for them.”

Once the system was up, he added, the price of telecommunications would come down considerably, allowing Cambodia to attract more investors with lower communications costs.

Compared to Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia currently had the lowest level of technology and highest telecommunications costs in the region and was failing to meet its potential as a communications hub at the center of ASEAN.

I will spend my own capital and help connect Cambodia to the world.
– Huot Vanthan

“Our aim is offer cheap telecommunications to the public and to investors,” said Sophat, noting that the National Assembly was expected to soon pass a law assuring fair competition in the telecoms industry.

Cambodia’s open market policy has attracted many telecoms with high potential for growth, he said.

Last year, the Cambodia Investment Board (CIB) approved licenses for several telecommunication companies and the sector brought in a total of $471 million in capital, creating about 1,850 jobs.

Among telecoms receiving the green light in 2007 were Cambodia Advance Communications Co. (CADCOMMS), a 3G network provider with $164 million in capital; (Cambodia) Fiber Optic Communication Network Co., with 100-percent Chinese investment and $28.3 million in assets; and Applifone, a GSM 1800 Mobile network with 75 percent Kazakhstan investment and 25 percent Nepali investment, as well as assets $82.8 million.

Meanwhile, Viettel (Cambodia), a GSM mobile service project 100 percent owned by the Vietnamese People’s Army, will invest $70 million in building a Cambodian arm.

Temple tensions

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kenneth T. So
Friday, 27 June 2008

Dear Editor,I am incensed that after 46 years of silence, now Thailand is protesting against Cambodia for the use of the French-Siamese Commission map made in 1907 that recognizes the demarcation of Cambodia’s frontier.

Why, after all these years, is Thailand objecting to Cambodia’s use of the joined commission map agreed by both France and Siam in 1907? This map was used at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on June 15, 1962.

As history has recorded, the ICJ sided with Cambodia and recognized that Preah Vihear was located within Cambodia. Thailand had accepted the ICJ decision.

The affair of Preah Vihear has flared up again because of Cambodia’s application to UNESCO to include the temple of Preah Vihear on the World Heritage List.

The initial Thai government reaction was swift and negative. They tried to block Cambodia’s application. Finally, due to pressure from Thai academicians and diplomats all over the world, the Thai government relented and no longer opposed Cambodia’s application.

However, as cunning as ever, Thailand threw a wrench into the gears to stop everything in motion. Thailand says that she does recognize Preah Vihear belonging to Cambodia but not the demarcation of the frontier that she agreed by the ICJ in 1962. Thailand insisted on using her own map that had never been recognized by the ICJ.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee will meet on July 2, 2008 in Quebec. One of the subjects of discussion will be on the temple of Preah Vihear.

Thailand knows full well that this meeting is very important for Cambodia. She knows that UNESCO needs cooperation from Thailand before it can record the temple of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site.

Thailand really knows how to play this game. Cambodia should not fall into Thailand’s blackmail and should hold her accountable to the court of international laws.

It is time that Thailand stops bullying Cambodia and acting as if the latter is still her vassal state. As for Cambodia, it is time for her to develop and complete the road to Preah Vihear that ex-Phnom Penh governor Chea Sophara had started.

Kenneth T. So

Thai protests keep border closed

Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP; Thai tourists visit the Preah Vihear temple on June 21, the day before Cambodia closed the nearby border checkpoint with Thailand due to escalating Thai tensions over a map of the temple’s surrounding area.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sambath Teth
Friday, 27 June 2008

The border with Thailand at the Preah Vihear checkpoint will stay closed until Thai protesters near the ancient temple site disperse, amid concerns that the demonstrators might “instigate problems,” said Preah Vihear provincial governor Preap Tan.

“We have to be careful for our people’s security, so we have to close it,” Tan said on June 26.

The checkpoint was closed late on June 22 after the protesters gathered at a market near the main entrance to the temple, on top of a ridge most easily accessed from the Thai side of the border.

The protesters oppose a June 17 decision by the Thai cabinet to approve a new map drawn by Cambodia of the site of the 10th century Hindu monument.

Approval of the map has cleared the way for Cambodia’s nomination for Preah Vihear’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to proceed after years of delays.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An is leading the Cambodian delegation to a UNESCO meeting in Quebec, Canada, in early July at which the nomination will be considered.

“We hope that Preah Vihear will be added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites,” Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said on June 25.

Siphan said he could foresee no obstacles to listing because of a joint communique endorsing the nomination signed by Sok An and the Thai foreign minister, Noppadon Pattama, on June 18.

However, the Thai government is coming under increasing criticism from opposition parties and civil society groups over its endorsement of the nomination.

The government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was condemned over the issue during a no-confidence debate in the Thai parliament last week. The issue has also been taken up by a coalition of anti-government groups which began street protests in Bangkok last month calling for Samak’s resignation.

The arrival of protesters at the checkpoint came after speakers at the street protests began using the Preah Vihear issue to step up their criticism of Samak.

Siphan said the reopening of the checkpoint will depend on the behavior of the Thai protesters.

“The checkpoint will be reopened after the demonstrators disperse and the situation calms down,” he said.

He criticized Thai opposition parties for politicizing the issue and also accused them of instigating demonstrations against Cambodia’s bid to seek World Heritage listing for Preah Vihear.

Siphan also expressed frustration at the attitude of Thai opposition parties towards the 1962 ruling by International Court of Justice granting sovereignty of Preah Vihear to Cambodia.

“Thai opposition party leaders are lawmakers but they oppose the international court’s decision,” he said.

Meanwhile, the closure of the checkpoint has forced Cambodian snack and souvenir vendors at the temple site to suspend operations.

Ley Eang, who runs a cafe at Preah Vihear, said on June 25 his only customers since the closure had been other Cambodians living at the site.

“My shop has had no customers from outside, so business is not good,” Eang told the Post on June 25.

“Some shopkeepers have returned to their home villages for a rest,” he said.

Preah Vihear checkpoint chief Ros Heng dismissed concerns that the closure would lead to food shortages on the Cambodian side of the border.

“We have no problem with food shortages as in past years because there is now road access to the temple,” Heng said.

He said there were dozens of Thai protesters at the market. “We are watching them,” Heng said.

New weapon to fight theft of Khmer relics

HENG CHIVOAN; Looting of Khmer artifacts has prompted the publication of a list of ill-gotten items to look out for.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady and Chrann Chamroeun
Friday, 27 June 2008

The illicit trade in Khmer antiquities has led to the creation of the Red List by an international arts organization as a tool to help customs officials, police officers, art dealers and collectors recognize artifacts unlawfully smuggled out of Cambodia.

To be published in September by the International Council of Museums (ICOM), the Red List describes the types of artifacts most favored in the illicit antiquities market.

It offers sufficient identifying features that "if a customs officer opens a package and sees something similar, they can contact local officials to authenticate it," said Jennifer Thevenot, the ICOM officer in charge of the project.

"It's difficult to say if the looting situation in Cambodia has gotten better. It's still dramatic," said Thevenot. "I can say this from wandering through Paris auction houses."

She noted that "cultural tourism is a main source of income for Cambodia, so robbing artifacts is robbing the country of income.

"Cambodia is one of only four countries to have a Red List. The others are Iraq, Afghanistan and Peru, while similar lists exist for Africa and Latin America.

While she specified the Ministry of Interior's cultural heritage police and Interpol as the most likely officials to make use of the Red List, she said the booklet was an awareness-raising tool that could be easily distributed and interpreted.

Even eBay and other internet trading sites were beginning to monitor the sale of antiquities using the lists, she said.

"It generates international interest and gives visibility to the problem," she said, and, while the list would have no legal authority, it was meant to stimulate domestic and international lawmaking and law enforcement.

A major legal issue for Cambodia, she explained, was that Thailand and Singapore, both popular transit points for the illegal trade in Khmer antiquities, were not signatories of the 1970 UN resolution on the trafficking of cultural heritage which obligated countries to monitor the traffic of antiquities across their borders.

"This could be an opportunity to hold a press conference in Thailand where we could make a pitch for them to become a signatory," said Thevenot.

A consultative group met June 23-25 at Cambodia's National Museum of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh to draft the Red List for Cambodia. The group, which included representatives of the National Museum, the Ministry of Culture, and the NGOs Heritage Watch and Friends of Khmer Culture, agreed to a list organized according to pre-Angkor, Angkor, and post-Angkor periods, in categories of stone, metal, wood, and ceramic works.

The document, to be published in Khmer, English, French and possibly Thai, will also include a list of all cultural heritage laws that impact on Cambodia.

"Looting of Angkor-era relics has been going on for so long that there isn't much left to take, so now the looting of prehistoric items is a bigger issue," said Dougald O'Reilly, head of Heritage Watch.

O'Reilly said the new list would be a boon for a country that, only recently, was viewed as one of the easiest places to pilfer from.Officials at the Angkor complex in the 1990s, he said, used to speak of photographers documenting the temples for dealers in Bangkok who would make catalogues from which collectors could order pieces to be stolen.

Nuon Than, administrative head of the heritage police, said officers in his department were scheduled to receive training on July 4 on how to use the list.

ILO Continues to Provide Funds for the Period of Four Years to a Civil Society Network Against Child Labor in Cambodia

Posted on 27 June 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 566

“Kampot: An official of the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor of the International Labor Oorganization [ILO-IPEC] said on Tuesday, 24 June 2008, that his organization will continue to provide funds for a period of four more years to a civil society network against child labor in Cambodia.

“Mr. M. P. Joseph, a technical advisor to ILO-IPEC in Cambodia, announced this during an official ceremony of civil society organizations against child labor, meeting in the Phnom Pros Hotel in Kompong Cham. In this ceremony the provincial authorities, other departments and units, non-government organizations, and many monks participated.

“He said, ‘The ILO will try to provide more funds to civil society networks against child labor for a period of four more years, until 2012, to strengthen these networks.’

“He added, ‘Anti-child labor networks have been established in three provinces – Kompong Cham, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville - and by 2010, we want our networks to be established in all the twenty four provinces and towns in Cambodia.’

“Mr. M. P. Joseph continued, ‘Two years ago, we had an anti-child labor network only on the national level, which is not enough, as the Royal Government cannot do it all alone.’

“He mentioned, ‘Therefore we all have to join to eliminate all forms of child labor, especially the serious forms. At the same time, the participation from communities, parents, enterprises, factories, and mass media is necessaary. According to a national plan implemented since three years by the government as well as other authorities, there were great achievements. This shows that child labor will be eliminated by 80% in 2015 and will be totally eliminated in 2016.

“He went on to say that for the process to eliminate child labor in Kompong Cham, more than US$3,000 per year were spent. ILO-IPECH even wants to create anti-child labor networks at district level in Kompong Cham, in order to make it stronger in other circles and other provinces.

“The advisor asserted that his organization plans to offer training to members of networks of civil society organization so that they are able to create useful projects to ask for funds from other organizations; training will be offered in the next two years.”

Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.16, #4626, 27.6.2008

Minister Drops Suit Against Opposition Editor

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Friday he was dropping a defamation suit to help a secure election environment.

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
27 June 2008

Khmer audio aired 27 June 2008 (950 KB) - Download (MP3) Khmer audio aired 27 June 2008 (950 KB) - Listen (MP3)

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong announced Friday he will drop his defamation suit against an opposition newspaper editor who was jailed for a week earlier this month.

Hor Namhong said he was dropping his suit against Dam Sith because he did not want to interfere with the political atmosphere ahead of general elections.

The defamation suit, filed in April, stemmed from a story published in Dam Sith's newspaper, Moneaksekar Khmer, which quoted opposition leader Sam Rainsy accusing the foreign minister of involvement in the Khmer Rouge. Dam Sith spent a week in jail following Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigations, worrying observers that press freedom was eroding ahead of July's national election.

"I am very happy to drop the complaint against Dam Sith, in the spirit of compatriotism," Hor Namhong told reporters Friday, following an hour-long meeting with Dam Sith at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "I told Dam Sith that although we occupy different political tendencies, we are all Khmer, and this compromise will lead to a good atmosphere for the election."

Hor Namhong said he would officially request the court to drop the case.

"Hor Namhong doesn't want to be reminded of the past," Dam Sith said following the announcement Friday. "He decided to drop his complaint against me."

"I did not apologize to Hor Namhong," he said of the meeting, "but I only asked that he compromise and he get his complaint out of court, so that I have the right to walk around without restriction."

Um Sarin, president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists, called the minister's decision a "positive step" and "good example for other high-ranking officials."

Thai Temple Protests 'Exploitation': Minister

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
27 June 2008

Khmer audio aired 27 June 2008 (837 KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired 27 June 2008 (837 KB) - Listen (MP3)

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said on Friday he regretted the "political exploitation" of protests in Thailand over the application of Preah Vihear temple for Unesco World Heritage protection.

Thousands of demonstrators led by the Thai opposition party, the People's Alliance for Democracy, have taken to the streets of Bangkok in recent weeks over an agreement between Thailand and Cambodia to allow Cambodia to forward the Preah Vihear temple application.

A small number of protesters made their way to the border temple last week, but they have gone now, and the temple was temporarily closed to visitors as a result.

"I deeply regret that some Thai politicians and political parties have taken this question of Preah Vihear to political exploitation without basis," Hor Namhong told reporters Friday. The protesting "causes injury to friendship and cooperation, which are very good between our two countries."

Thai entrance to the temple remains closed, but the temple is open from the Cambodian side, a Preah Vihear provincial official said Friday.

Preah Vihear temple was built in the 10th Century and its Cambodian ownership disputed. A 1962 International Court ruling sided with Cambodia's claims to the temple, but the borderlands surrounding it remain in dispute.

Group Seeks to Help US-Cambodian Teens

By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
27 June 2008

Khmer audio aired 23 June 2008 (1.98 MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired 23 June 2008 (1.98 MB) - Listen (MP3)

A ceremony at Mosqueda Community Center in Fresno, Calif., was held last week in support of Cambodian teenagers in the US.

The Cambodian Reconciliation Committee, which held the ceremony June 21 to mark its 8th anniversary, seeks to show students the support they have in the community, said organizer Sopheaktra Nou.

The committee helps teens with behavioral problems get back in school and offers family and individual counseling to identify underlying issues.

So far, more than 200 graduates have been helped by the committee, and the June 21 event honored 22 former drop-outs who later returned to school and graduated, as well as 12 graduates from Duncan Poly Tech High, one Fresno City College graduate, and one California State University of Fresno graduate.

"We do this to thank both the students and their parents for the hard work and effort of completing high school," Sopheaktra Nou said. "We believe that the accomplishments of our Cambodian youths must be recognized by the entire community, not just their families.

"Dinny Kim, a Cambodian-American police officer, said young people who don't complete high school face many more problems in later life than people who graduate.

"Parents neglected to pay attention to the child's needs for affection, refusal of or failure to provide needed care, and permission of drug or alcohol use by the child: this parental behavior can lead to the child's poor self-image," Dinny Kim said.

Fresno City Council Blong Xiong said he encouraged the youth to participate and to ask for help.

"Don't be afraid, don't be shied," Xiong said. "I let them know that we are here for them and that they are not alone. We've gone through the same thing that they have, and we are here to support them because their generation is very important."

"I hope the future Cambodian generation stays out of trouble," said Tola Yang, a Cambodian-American deputy district attorney for Fresno County said. "I want them to make sure that they keep their lives straight and make sure they are doing well and not committing crimes."Savy Yang, a radiation therapist and former Fresno high school student, said in the neighborhoods where she grew up the main messages were clear.

"How do I get rich, or at least do well in life?" she said. "An aspiration for every Cambodian-American is to do well, or at least to be able to succeed or fail on his or her own steam, and to be able to take care of their respective families and responsibilities."

No Return Without Election Win: Prince

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
27 June 2008

Khmer audio aired 27 June 2008 (1.05 MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired 27 June 2008 (1.05 MB) - Listen (MP3)

With election campaigning underway, Prince Norodom Ranariddh said from exile Thursday the only way he could currently return to Cambodia was for his party to win the election.

"My return to Cambodia relies really on the result of the election," the prince told VOA Khmer. "The people of Cambodia, if they are willing to see me to go back home, and to help the country…the best way is to vote for NRP."

The Norodom Ranariddh Party, which splintered from the royal coalition party, Funcinpec, ahead of local elections in 2007, is one of 11 parties competing in July's national election, and the only one to be campaigning without its leader at the helm.

Speaking by phone from Kuala Lumpur Thursday, Prince Ranariddh compared himself to former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who, ousted and exiled by a coup, came back to Thailand following a victory of a supportive political party in elections in 2007.

"But the difference between Thakisn and myself, Thaksin will now apparently not make any politics any more, but Norodom Ranariddh will continue," Prince Ranariddh said.

Prince Ranariddh faces an 18-month prison sentence and $150,000 fine, for breach of trust, if he returns to Cambodia unpardoned.

The Cambodian People's Party is widely expected to dominate in July.

Poorhouse purgatory

LICADHO; Inmates at the Koh Kor rehabilitation center eye freedom from behind the bars of the government-run facility in Kandal province on June 17.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cat Barton and Nguon Sovan
Friday, 27 June 2008

They had made it about half way across the Bassac River when 23-year-old Chang Yang Min heard his fellow escapee mutter that he was tired. When he turned around, the boy – whose name he never knew – had slipped below the water.

“He didn’t have the strength to swim all the way across,” Min said. “It took me an hour to do it but I was determined since I knew I’d die if I stayed on the island – the prison guards told me I was to be detained indefinitely.”

On June 21, Min escaped from Koh Kor, a former Khmer Rouge prison which is now a government-run rehabilitation center under the jurisdiction of the Phnom Penh Social Affairs Department.

The center had been open for two months but was abruptly emptied on June 24 as reports that the scores of drug addicts, street kids and mentally ill held behind its padlocked gates were being beaten or starved drew the attention of the United Nations and NGOs.

At least two people died, including one woman whose corpse lay under a dirty tarpaulin in the stifling heat for days and the youth who perished when Min made his swim for freedom.

Koh Kor, in Kandal province’s Sa’ang district, and Prey Speu, a similar center on the outskirts of Phnom Penh that remains open, had been receiving a constant trickle of inmates – for years, in the case of Prey Speu.

But against the backdrop of Cambodia’s new anti-trafficking legislation that has seen a massive crackdown on the sex trade, the nighttime police sweeps that filled both sites had picked up dramatically at the start of this year, rights groups say.

They add that the arrests and subsequent reports of abuse emerging from both centers point towards a government policy gone horribly awry.

“These Social Affairs centers have been part of an institutionalized program of unlawful detention of vulnerable persons who have been arbitrarily arrested on Phnom Penh’s streets,” said Naly Pilorge, director of the Cambodian human rights group Licadho.

“We urge the government to ensure the closure of these centers and to order an immediate halt to the routine round-ups of sex workers, beggars and homeless people from the street,” she said.

Detainees – men, women and children all sharing the same bare space – were held in “appalling conditions” at the government-run centers, according to Licadho.

The group also said there is credible evidence that those incarcerated suffered violence at the hands of their keepers and were forced to subsist on “grossly inadequate” food, water and other basic supplies.

“At Koh Kor it was very difficult. There was not enough food, no mosquito nets or blankets and at night it was very cold,” said Min, a former drug addict who is now homeless.

“There was ... no medicine when you got sick.”

Min was picked up by police on June 16 while walking to visit his relatives in the capital.

The police who arrested him took his $5 and anti-diarrhea medicine – needed for heroin withdrawal. Min was thrown into a truck and driven to Koh Kor. But after five days in detention alongside more than 50 other inmates, some of whom were as young as eight, he was desperate enough to risk swimming to freedom.

UN officials have responded strongly to the detentions, saying that simply removing the city’s poor, infirm, mentally ill, drug addicted or prostitutes from the streets was no solution to pervasive poverty.

“We trust that detaining poor people is not the policy of the Ministry of Social Affairs,” said Christophe Peschoux, representative of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in Phnom Penh.

“But the fact is that in these two cases (Koh Kor and Prey Speu) people were detained and this practice must stop,” he added.

“Rounding up people on the streets and locking them up is not the way to address the problem of poverty.”

On June 25, UNHCHR discussed the issue during a two-hour long meeting with the secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs and his staff, which Peschoux said was “constructive.”

“We know these are very complicated issues which cannot be addressed overnight with limited resources,” he said.

“But the bottom line is that ... locking people in is a form of detention which is illegal and which is a criminal offense.”

Kouy Kimlean, deputy director of Phnom Penh’s Department of Social Affairs, denied that there was any organized program of extra-judicial arrests and detentions.

“The department has no principle to crack down on or collect these [street] people and keep them out of the city,” Kimlean said, adding that she was unaware that Koh Kor was closed.

Koh Kor’s director, Chea Sarun, said, however, that the order to close the center came from the department.

“Now there are only five who have mental health issues left here because they have no relatives or place to go,” Sarun told the Post on June 25, acknowledging the difficulties of looking after so many detainees with few resources – particularly medicine for the ill.

“One [detainee] died of a serious illness which they’d had since they arrived,” he said.

“The center has no medicine, no capacity to help addicts to quit drugs,” he added.

Uncertainty clouds the joy of those newly liberated from Koh Kor, all of whom are aware they may soon fall prey to the routine round-ups which are still ongoing.

“They [Korsang’s clients] are all terrified to be out on the streets at night,” said Holly Bradford, founder of Korsang, a harm reduction NGO which works with thousands of Cambodian drug users.

“So we’ve hired an additional ten staff and shifted our entire programmatic structure to respond to this crisis,” she added.

Some 300 of Korsang’s participants have vanished over the last few weeks. The organization, which was able to locate around 30 who were being held at Koh Kor, has now been inundated with drug users desperate to keep themselves off the streets.

“This is unprecedented,” Bradford told the Post on June 24. “Before when there have been police sweeps maybe ten or 15 participants have been taken away, but to be missing hundreds, no.”

Thousands rally as campaign season begins

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by By Post Staff
Friday, 27 June 2008

With banners flapping and bullhorns blaring, political party activists hit Phnom Penh’s busy streets on June 26 to launch the official one-month campaign season before next month’s national election, Cambodia’s fourth since 1993’s UN-backed voting muted decades of open conflict.

Eleven parties are running in this election cycle – some more convincingly than others – but the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, with deep pockets and strong sway throughout government, is widely expected to strengthen its purchase on power in the July 27 polls.

Self-described “strongman” Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has sworn to maintain a lofty silence throughout the campaign period, delivered some parting shots to challengers earlier in the week warning the Sam Rainsy Party in particular not to employ “people power” to challenge the election results.

“The political party must not grab power through bloodshed,” said Hun Sen, whose own military loyalists ousted Prince Norodom Ranarridh from the premiership in a violent 1997 coup.

“Violence such as that after Kenya’s election, or in Zimbabwe, or the protests in Thailand, must not occur in Cambodia. We will not tolerate it,” the prime minister said.

Hun Sen also urged CPP members to remain calm during the campaign and to ignore insults from opposition activists. Furthermore, he promised a peaceful transfer of power in the unlikely event he is upset at the polls.

Rights groups and election observers already have voiced concern in recent weeks over perceived intimidation – in particular the arrest for defamation of a newspaper editor running on the Sam Rainsy Party ticket and the closure of a Kratie province radio station that was selling air time to opposition parties without government permission.

Mar Sophal, head of monitoring for the election watchdog Comfrel, said that the atmosphere is better than in previous elections, but threats and intimidation against activists continue at the grassroots level.

Opposition party leader Sam Rainsy went so far as to declare next month’s polls “meaningless,” following a request by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court that the National Assembly remove his parliamentary immunity so he can be prosecuted in a defamation case lodged by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

No sense of foreboding was detectable as party faithful took to the streets, however. The clamor, reckless driving and free lunches that come with democracy invigorated politicians and activists of all stripes.

Even Funcinpec, the CPP’s much diminished junior partner in the current coalition government whose former president Prince Norodom Ranariddh was drummed out and followed by many of his royal relatives, claimed a fighting chance in the coming polls.

“People had no faith in Funcinpec when it was led by Prince Ranariddh,” current President Keo Puth Rasmey said of his brother-in-law.

“A lot of people know me and my wife, who is standing as candidate for prime minister.”

His wife – Princess Norodom Arun Rasmey, daughter of former King Norodom Sihanouk – is an apparent lure for the retired monarch’s many loyalists.

Also vying for the mantle of “royalist party” is the Norodom Ranariddh Party, whose founder and figurehead remains in exile and faces jail time for fraud here in Cambodia.

The NRP’s local management has held up the convicted prince’s absence as evidence the elections will not be “free nor fair.”

But one NRP supporter, who declined to identify himself, joined the campaign convoy undaunted.

“I just came for pleasure. I always join a different party before each election. It doesn’t matter if it’s the SRP, NRP or HRP, but I never participate with the CPP,” he said.

As for the HRP, the Human Rights Party of former Funcinpec parliamentarian Kem Sokha, about 1,500 of its activists boarded vans and motorbikes to cruise the capital.

Supporter Pon Tov, 38, said his political choice was a matter of principal.

The HRP “always helps the poor people and the weaker people,” he said, adding, “I don’t think the Human Rights Party will win 100 percent, but I hope we will have some seats in the National Assembly, and we will try our best to win afterward.”

Meanwhile, thousands of enthusiastic activists crowded into CPP headquarters, where the party’s 57th anniversary had been bumped up to coincide with the campaign launch. They shouted and applauded for CPP President Chea Sim, who took center stage to proclaim party achievements.

Hun Sen sat in the rear, adhering to his vow.

Prize-winning poet seeks meaning between the lines

Mey Somony
Suy Vansak, who this month picked up two prizes at the sixth annual Nou Hach Literature Association writing competition, spent five days writing each of his award-winning poems.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sovan Nguon
Friday, 27 June 2008

As a young child, Suy Vansak would fall asleep to the sound of his grandparents retelling ancient Khmer legends such as Tum Teav and the Rithysen Neang Korngrey. The 29-year-old provincial teacher says hearing such stories instilled in him a lifelong love of literature and inspired him to become a writer.

But years of struggling to make ends meet followed; poetry, while hardly a lucrative profession anywhere, is particularly hard in Cambodia where the revival of a literary scene following the devastation of the Khmer Rouge has been crippled by under-funding, lack of a reading public and rampant piracy.

Vansak’s efforts, however, may have finally paid off. The 6th annual Nou Hach Literature Association writing competition, held in Phnom Penh on June 7, awarded him two poetry prizes. This year, the competition attracted 230 writers submitting some 600 poems.

Vansak, a Kampong Thom native, spoke to the Post’s Nguon Sovan about his prize-winning poems and the contemporary literature scene in Cambodia.

When did you first start writing poetry?

I began to compose poems when I was learning in Kampong Cham regional pedagogical school in 1999, where I studied for two years. I have been fond of poetry since I was a child but I did not know how to write it until I studied at this school. This was where I first studied poetry and where I first had access to lots of poetry books. I learned about the forms for composing poems by reading the works of a Khmer poet called Pich Tom Krovil. I read his poems, studied his forms, and began to write my own poems. I feel quite awestruck at the moment as this is the first time in my life I have won an award for my poems. I have entered the competition three times, but I had never won before.

Do you remember the first poem you read?

I read all the poetry books written by Khmer literature professor Keng Vannsak and Tum Teav, which was composed by Piko Som in 1915. When I see poetry books, I always buy them.

Is poetry a dying art form in Cambodia?

Yes it is, because the young generation today prefers modern, exotic songs to Khmer poems. In my experience as a literature teacher, students are not interested in learning about poems, and they always complain to me that poetry is difficult to understand. Some students do not even know how to read poems correctly. I have started a club at school so students can learn poetry and the art of writing, but only a few students are interested. Even among literature teachers, interest in poetry is very low. Some don’t understand poetry composition at all, as they don’t care about it. The [Nou Hach] prize is important as it encourages writers and authors to write. It gives some momentum to the contemporary literary scene.

Could you tell us a little about writing your winning entries?

Before I began to write the poems for the contest, I tried to understand more modern styles of poetry. At the Nou Hach Literature Association, they focus on a more modern way of writing poems than I am used to. So I bought many poetry books of both modern and ancient Khmer poetry and began to compare the differences between old and new poems. I read those books again and again. I came to understand modern Khmer poetry through the works of Keng Vannsak, and Somros Jivit ( The Beauty of Life) by Kun Sron written in 1974, Kert Jea Monos Nis (Born as a Human Being) by Koi Sarun written in 1972, and Chey Chap, Daen Dey Tirk Pnaek (The Land of Tears) by Yin Lout and so many others.

What are your winning poems about?

I wrote five poems for the contest and two of them were awarded prizes, one which is called The Mind of Youth and the other which is called The Palm Tree. I was inspired to compose The Mind of Youth because when I walk to school I always see disabled soldiers who are struggling to walk and begging for money. I felt great pity for them because my father was also a soldier, but he had the good fortune of avoiding serious injury and disability. I can’t help but think: If he were like the men I see on the street, how different would my family’s fate have been? Today, disabled soldiers receive no attention and they have no choice but to beg for money. This is what I wrote about. The Palm Tree is a poem in praise of the palm tree which is the symbol of Cambodia, anywhere there are palm trees, it is said to be Khmer territory.

How do you write your poems?

Each poem took me five days to compose. Khmer poems are very difficult to compose, as they require many rhymes in a single sentence and rhymes connecting one sentence to another. The trick [to learning how to write poetry] is simple: Read as many Khmer poems as you can. With modern poetry, writers compose mostly for the meaning of the poem, that dictates style, but with older poetry the form and verse were paramount. There are 53 forms in Khmer poetry which are used at different times to express joy, romance or sorrow. When we compose poetry, we comply with the forms to shape verses and find rhythmic words. There are clear forms that are used to compose different styles of poems.

How does Khmer poetry differ from Western poetry?

I can’t read English. I used to read translated version of Swedish poems, but to me they sounded inauthentic, not as harmonious as Khmer poems. We cannot say Khmer poems are better than foreign poems though. It depends on the readers. If they are Khmer, Khmer poetry is good; if they are foreigners, they will say foreign poetry is good.

Do you want to be a poet or will you find a normal job?

In the future, I will continue to write poems. The award has encouraged me to write more poems, but I am going to look for another job, like being a writer for a newspaper, magazine or publication to earn an income, because in my job as teacher I earn just 250,000 riel ($62.50) a month.

Why is poetry important in the modern world?

It is important to keep writing poetry; it is still alive in the modern world – for example, as song lyrics. It is important as it helps to educate the next generation to live in harmony, to have affection for their nation, their culture and their traditions.

Five-point action plan to support at-risk kids

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Friday, 27 June 2008

More than half a million Cambodian children, or 14.4 percent of those under the age of 17, are either orphaned or living with a chronically ill parent, according to Ministry of Social Affairs officials who say food security and healthcare are urgently needed for this at-risk group.

The assessment was announced on June 20 as the ministry issued a two-year national action plan to examine for the first time existing services for disadvantaged children.

“The National Action Plan for 2008-10 seeks to address the underlying causes of vulnerability among these children, while also addressing the more specific and specialized needs of children affected by HIV/Aids,” said Minister of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation Ith Sam Heng.

“Of Cambodian children, 8.8 percent are orphans who have lost either one or both parents,” said Keo Borent, the ministry’s director general for technical affairs who also chairs a special taskforce for orphans and vulnerable children.

“In the national action plan, we have five main areas in which we will focus our aid for these children: food, education, health, economic, and psychological support,” he said, with food and health identified as the areas of greatest need.

The plan would focus on the five provinces of Kampong Cham, Siem Reap, Kampong Thom, Kampong Speu and Prey Veng, he added. “These five provinces have more orphans and larger vulnerable populations than the others.”

The taskforce aims to reach half of the Kingdom’s vulnerable households by 2010, officials said.

In addition to 553,000 orphans living in households, Cambodia has 6,121 orphans living in orphanages, according to the ministry’s alternative care report from 2007.

China, Cambodia hold exhibition on economic, trade cooperation

PHNOM PENH, June 27 (Xinhua) -- China and Cambodia jointly launched here Friday an exhibition on the achievements of economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

The exhibition, Exhibition of Economic and Trade Cooperation Achievements in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of China-Cambodia Diplomatic Ties, which will last for three days.

Co-organized by the Chinese embassy in Cambodia, the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce and the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), this exhibition will show the economic and trade cooperation achievements between China and Cambodia at both governmental and non-governmental levels, Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said at the opening ceremony of the exhibition.

The Chinese government and people have provided a lot of aids and preferential loans to Cambodia for its economic and social developments, especially for its infrastructure construction, said Hor Nam Hong, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

China has provided Cambodia with 118 aid projects in the past 15 years, including the office buildings of Cambodian Senate, the National Assembly and the Royal Government and the No. 7 National Road, said Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Zhang Jinfeng.

The trade volume between China and Cambodia increased sharply from 12.95 million U.S. dollars in 1992 to 933 million U.S. dollars in 2007, according to the preface of the exhibition.

So far, China has invested 1.76 billion U.S. dollars to Cambodia, becoming the second largest source of Cambodia's Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), it said.

China and Cambodia established the diplomatic relationship on July 19, 1958.

Editor: Wang Hongjiang

Cambodia denies Thaksin link in Thai temple spat

News Maps
Fri Jun 27, 2008

By Ek Madra

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia denied on Friday claims by a group trying to oust the Thai government that Bangkok had covertly ceded land near the disputed 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple on their joint border.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said there was also no truth in the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) assertion that Thailand had backed Cambodia's bid to list the temple as a U.N. World Heritage Site in return for business concessions for ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"This has nothing to do with that. But these people used it as pretext for their own political exploitation," he told a news conference.

"Thailand did not lose any land -- not even a square centimeter or handprint," he said.

"They took up this issue for political purposes in their aims to topple the Thai government, which would hurt the cooperation and friendship with Cambodia."

Preah Vihear, built by Khmer kings in the 11th century at the start of the Angkorian period, sits on top of a jungle-clad escarpment that forms a natural boundary between Cambodia and Thailand and has been a source of tension for decades.

The site was awarded to Cambodia by the International Court of Justice in 1962 in a decision that rankles with most Thais.

The ruins were off-limits for much of the 1970s to the 1990s, while the temple and surrounding forest were occupied by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia closed the temple again this week for fears a nationalist frenzy whipped up by the anti-Thaksin PAD and the opposition Democrat party during a no-confidence debate in parliament could turn into a major ruction.

Several dozen Thai activists with 40,000 signatures went to U.N. cultural agency offices and the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok calling for a delay in the listing until both countries had settled the dispute.

"We want to tell them that the people of Thailand disagree with what our stubborn government is doing," campaign leader Walwipha Charoonroj, who said she had received help from the PAD, told Reuters.

Fears of a major fallout over Preah Vihear are not fanciful, given that a nationalist mob torched the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh in 2003 over purported comments from a Thai soap star that Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples actually belonged to Thailand.

After the closure, Defence Minister Tea Banh denied a Thai newspaper report he was sending extra soldiers to the border, but said he was "watching the situation closely".

Tea Banh was quoted last month in Thai newspapers as saying Thaksin, ousted in a 2006 coup, was looking to invest in a resort-style entertainment complex on the Cambodian island of Koh Kong.

(Additional reporting by Nopporn Wong-Anan in Bangkok; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Jerry Norton)