Friday, 26 September 2008

Cambodia eyes nuclear plant for electricity

Friday September 26
By Ker Munthit, Associated Press Writer

Cambodia hopes to build nuclear plant to generate electricity

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Impoverished Cambodia hopes to build a nuclear power plant to meet its future energy needs and help offset its dependence on imported oil, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Friday during the first meeting of his new Cabinet.

In outlining his new government's vision, he said one of its priorities will be to expand electrical generation to power its small but growing economy. Increased housing and factory construction will generate more demand for electricity, he said.

Hun Sen offered no hint when Cambodia would actually have its first nuclear power plant, saying it is still "a long distance away for us, but this is our goal."

Building hydroelectricity and coal power plants will be the immediate priority for expanding electricity generation and reducing reliance on imported oil, Hun Sen said.

The government has identified 14 potential sites for hydropower plants and has granted contracts to Chinese companies to build several of them.

Electricity costs in Cambodia are among the highest in the world, and only about 15 percent of the country's 14 million people are connected to the power grid, according to the World Bank.

New Thai PM plans visit to Cambodia next month: Hun Sen

Thailand's Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Thailand's new prime minister plans to visit neighbouring Cambodia next month, according to premier Hun Sen, amid a simmering border dispute between the two countries.

Hun Sen said on Friday that the visit was planned for October 13, but did not say whether he and premier Somchai Wongsawat would discuss the spat over land near ancient temples along their border that led to a weeks-long military standoff.

"If there is no change, there might be a visit by the new Thai prime minister to Cambodia next month," Hun Sen announced during the first meeting of his new government's cabinet.

A Thai foreign ministry spokesman confirmed discussions were being held about a future visit but said no date had yet been fixed.

Cambodia and Thailand are scheduled to resume talks about their borders next Monday, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York.

Bilateral meetings over the issue were postponed in late August amid anti-government street protests in Thailand.

Much of the Cambodian-Thai border remains in dispute, and the slow pace of clearing old landmines from the area has delayed its demarcation.

Tensions flared in July after the ancient Khmer temple of Preah Vihear was awarded world heritage status by the UN cultural body UNESCO, angering nationalists in Thailand who still claim ownership of the site.

Those tensions turned into a military standoff, in which up to 1,000 Cambodian and Thai troops faced off for six weeks until both sides agreed to pull back in mid-August.

Talks to discuss withdrawing the remaining troops from around Preah Vihear were postponed late last month amid the political turmoil in Thailand.

Somchai was elected by parliament earlier this month after his predecessor was stripped of office by a court, amid the ongoing anti-government protests.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 1962 that the temple belongs to Cambodia, but surrounding land remains in dispute.

U.S. Supports Cambodia Tribunal

News VOA
25 September 2008

U.S. Supports Cambodia Tribunal - Download (MP3)
U.S. Supports Cambodia Tribunal - Listen to (MP3)

The United States Department of State has announced that it intends to work with Congress to provide $1.8 million to Cambodia's cash-strapped Khmer Rouge war crimes court. If approved, it would be the first U.S. donation to the U.N.-backed genocide tribunal aimed at trying regime leaders. The court faces a shortfall of $40 million. Foreign donors have been reluctant to provide additional funds due to the allegations of graft and corruption by the court.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the Cambodian tribunal has taken important steps to clean up corruption:

"While the court still has more to do, the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] has made significant strides to overcome international concerns about corruption, mismanagement, and political influence, including adding a new international deputy administrator, strengthening management practices, and establishing procedures to deal with allegations of wrongdoing."

"Nonetheless," said Mr. McCormack, "the court must still take appropriate steps to address the current allegations and hold responsible those involved."

Much is at stake for the Cambodian people. The war crimes court is a means of long-delayed justice for those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge government. The regime was responsible for the deaths of more than 1,700,000 Cambodians from torture, executions, starvation, and forced labor between 1975 and 1979.

The United States strongly supports bringing to justice senior leaders responsible for the atrocities committed under the Communist Khmer Rouge regime.

Virtually all of Cambodia's 13 million people have relatives who perished under the Khmer Rouge. In order for the country to move forward, it is vital that Khmer Rouge leaders be held accountable for their crimes. Respect for the rule of law and the existence of institutions of justice are Cambodia's best defense against future abuses and a fitting memorial to those who lost their lives or loved ones to the Khmer Rouge.

Former Burton man, Jason Baumbach, arrested in Cambodia on sex charges

by Bryn Mickle

The Flint Journal
Thursday September 25, 2008

BURTON, Michigan -- A former Burton man is in a Cambodian prison on charges he had sex with a 13-year-old girl there.

Jason T. Baumbach, 40, was arrested last week for allegedly having sex with a Cambodian girl whose English tutoring bill he paid, according to a report in the Phnom Penh Post.

Baumbach's parents, who still live in Burton, declined comment on the case when contacted by the Flint Journal this week.

"We do not want to comment until we talk to our son, thank you," said his mother, Cheryl.

The arrest came after a month-long investigation by the Cambodian Ministry of Interior's Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Unit, the Phnom Penh Post reported.

The newspaper said Baumbach had been living in Cambodia since last year and apparently met the girl through her sister.

The sex was allegedly in exchange for her $100-a-month English lessons.

A police raid on his Cambodian home turned up pornographic videos, including some with children, the newspaper reported.

A Cambodian prosecutor told the newspaper that officials believe he may have used the videos to teach the girl various sex acts.

Baumbach is being held in Prey Sar prison and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Two local women who visited Cambodia this summer said the country makes no secret that it won't tolerate sex with underage boys and girls.

"There's a warning on the airplane seat in front of you," said Maureen Tippen, a University of Michigan-Flint nursing professor.

Tippen, who spent two weeks in Cambodia on a June health mission with her students, said the country is trying shake its reputation as a destination spot for men looking to have sex with children.U

M-Flint nursing student Nicole Ragnone said tourists are warned they will be jailed for such acts.

"(Baumbach's arrest) is not a surprise," said Ragnone, who like Tippen said she never ran into Baumbach during her stay.

So far this year, seven foreign nationals have been arrested on child sex charges, the newspaper reported.

Baumbach could also face U.S. charges under a 2003 act that makes it a crime here to have underage sex in Cambodia.

U.S. Embassy officials in Cambodia have declined comment on the allegations against Baumbach.

Sultan Congratulates Cambodia's PM

Bandar Seri Begawan - His Majesty the Sultan and Yang DiPertuan of Brunei Darussalam yesterday consented to send a congratulatory message to Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, on his reappointment as the Prime Minister of Cambodia.

In the message, His Majesty extended his warmest congratulations to Hun Sen upon his re-appointment.

His Majesty also looked forward to continue working with the Cambodian Prime Minister to develop the warm friendship and close cooperation shared between the people of Brunei and Cambodia.

In ending his message, His Majesty conveyed his warmest regards and best wishes to Hun Sen for his new term in office. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

Cambodian king pardons half-brother

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press
Published: September 25, 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: Prominent Cambodian politician Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Thursday was granted a pardon for his embezzlement conviction by his half-brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, paving the way for his return from exile.

Ranariddh, who is living in Malaysia, will come home Sunday to resume his political career, said Suth Dina, a spokesman for the party named after the prince.

The king signed a royal decree pardoning "the convicted person named Norodom Ranariddh, who the court has sentenced to 18 months in prison."

In July, a Supreme Court judge upheld a lower court's ruling from last year that found Ranariddh guilty of breach of trust and sentenced him in absentia to 18 months in prison.

The lawsuit was filed by the prince's former colleagues in the royalist Funcinpec party, which he once led.

The court also ordered him to pay US$150,000 in compensation to the party.

The Funcinpec party, which ousted Ranariddh as president in October 2006, sued the prince on a charge of embezzling some US$3.6 million from the sale of the party's headquarters in August that year.

The prince now leads his own Norodom Ranariddh Party, which won two parliamentary seats in this year's general election two months ago.

His party has said the court ruling was politically motivated. He had been living in exile, mostly in Malaysia, long before the court case was initiated against him.

The prince is "happy" about the pardon, Ouk Phalla, Ranariddh's consort, said by phone from Malaysia. She declined to elaborate.

It was not clear what prompted the pardon. But local media have recently reported about behind-the-scenes maneuvering between Prime Minister Hun Sen's government and the prince's party to end Ranariddh's legal trouble.

The two politicians are known for having an on-again, off-again political relationship. They once served as co-prime ministers until Hun Sen staged a coup to unseat his rival.

When Ranariddh was still the leader of Funcinpec, Hun Sen encouraged the royalist party's followers to get rid of the prince for his weak leadership.

Ranariddh fired back, accusing Hun Sen of poking his nose in his business.

The prince and King Sihamoni are sons of former king Norodom Sihanouk.

In a letter to Sihamoni on Thursday, Ranariddh thanked the king for granting him the royal pardon "following intervention" from Hun Sen.

The prince, in a separate letter, also offered "warm congratulations" to his Hun Sen after the country's parliament endorsed him as the prime minister for another five years.

Graft could taint trials at the KRT: defense lawyers

AFP; Nuon Chea in court for a bail hearing in March this year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 25 September 2008

Nuon Chea's defence team requests details of graft claims, saying their client's right to fair trial may be in jeopardy

NUON Chea's defence team at the Khmer Rouge tribunal has demanded the disclosure of any details of court corruption allegations, saying that a graft scandal could threaten their defendant's right to a fair trial.

"We note the recent and well-publicised allegations of corruption at the ECCC and the fact that the Cambodian government has now received the United Nations assessment of the matter," the lawyers, Son Arun, Michiel Pestman and Victor Koppe, wrote in a September 19 letter to court administrators.

"Without speculating as to the veracity of the allegations, we simply wish to raise a general issue: Corruption within the tribunal may adversely affect the accused persons' right to a fair trial," the lawyers said.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Post Wednesday, was addressed to ECCC administration director Sean Visoth and deputy director Knut Rosandhaug.

Even judges concerned

It cited a statement made in August by tribunal Judge Sylvia Cartwright, saying she spoke on behalf of all the judges when she said corruption was a "major issue" at the court.

"Because we have not been informed of either the extent of the allegations or the existence and/or appropriateness of the tribunal's official response to them, we are unable to properly assess the gravity of the situation from the perspective of our client's fair-trial rights," the lawyers said.

The letter also requests details of the efforts made by the UN secretary general's special representative, David Tolbert, to address the issue of corruption and "any resulting or intended ECCC remedial action" towards the issue of graft.

"We regard such information as important to ensuring the essential preconditions of a fair trial," the lawyers said.

Court spokeswoman and newly appointed ethics monitor Helen Jarvis declined to comment on the letter, but said "the amount of time the media has spent on this issue [of corruption] as opposed to the progression of the court is getting out of proportion".

She also said that she believed the letter had not yet been received by its intended recipients.

Allegations that Cambodian staff were kicking back a portion of their salary to their bosses were reviewed by a UN oversight body in New York. Court officials have yet to comment on the results, despite a government statement saying that they have seen the review.

A circular sent in August by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An indicated future graft complaints will remain confidential until reviewed by a government-led task force.

Thai spy plane over temples, RCAF says

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Thursday, 25 September 2008

ARMY officials claim Thai military jets on Monday flew into Cambodian airspace over two key flashpoints along the border.

"Our troops have been standing by about 200 metres from Ta Krabey and this aircraft flew beyond them by a few hundred metres and circled around," said Ho Bunthy, deputy commander of Border Military Unit 402, adding that Cambodian troops were not given permission to fire.

He called it a surprisingly brazen act given current tension over the border demarcation and said he was given no orders on how to respond in the future after reporting the incident to his commander.

The aerial border breach was reportedly repeated around the same time over Ta Moan Thom temple, also without retaliatory shots fired.

"I think the Thais used this aircraft to survey our troops standing along the border," said Neak Vong, deputy commander of Brigade 42, which is stationed outside Ta Moan Thom temple.

Neang Phat, secretary of state at the Defence Ministry, told the Post he would "raise the issue" with Thai officials during negotiations scheduled for next week, but would not elaborate on the authority of military officials along the border to defend the sovereignty of the Kingdom's skies.

Thai embassy officials could not be contacted Wednesday.

Hello happy helmets

Photo Supplied

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 25 September 2008

Royal University of Phnom Penh students are shown wearing their new helmets. As part of its program of corporate social responsibility, the Malaysian telephone company Hello handed out 500 helmets to students Wednesday.

Opposition boycott collapses as SRP strikes deal on NA reform

Heng Chivoan; SRP President Sam Rainsy leaves the National Assembly building after the inaugural session of the newly elected parliament.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 25 September 2008

Lawmakers from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party cancel their planned boycott of the new National Assembly's inaugural session after last-minute talks with CPP officials

THE last-minute collapse of the opposition's planned National Assembly boycott is an early indication the bark of the opposition in the new CPP-majority mandate could be a good deal louder than its bite.

Following 11-hour talks with officials on Tuesday night, Sam Rainsy Party officials agreed to attend Wednesday's inauguration ceremony, leaving a handful of MPs from the Human Rights Party to carry out the boycott alone.

Both parties previously said they would skip the inauguration to draw attention to their allegations that thousands of opposition supporters were barred from voting in the July 27 national poll due to the manipulation of voter lists.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Wednesday that SRP officials approached Cambodian Chamber of Commerce Chairman Kith Meng with a message for the prime minister Tuesday evening, suggesting talks over the planned boycott.

He added that a compromise was reached after midnight, with Sam Rainsy agreeing to attend the ceremony in return for an amendment to the Assembly's internal rules that would formally recognise the role of the Kingdom's opposition parties.

"The SRP requested that the government recognise the role of the opposition ... in order to save face," Hun Sen told reporters after Wednesday's inauguration, adding that the proposed amendment would be passed onto the Assembly after it had been vetted by the NA's legislative committee. "I had no intention of negotiating with those threatening a boycott, but I did so because of peace."

SRP spokesman Son Chhay said the role of the opposition was vital in democracies. He hailed the agreement with the government and the proposed amendment to the Assembly's internal rules as an important step forward.

" I will not allow small-voice parties to hold the majority- voice party hostage. "

"Within the amendment ... the opposition party will be officially appointed by the King and will have some funds from the national budget to help it perform its duties. This is a very important promise from the prime minister," he told reporters at SRP headquarters Wednesday.

In a tacit recognition of the difficulties faced by the SRP in the new CPP-majority government, Son Chhay said that the party's involvement was better for the future of Cambodia than continued non-cooperation. "We quit the boycott because we are thinking of the interests of the nation," he said. "It was difficult to make the decision but we hope that cooperation with the ruling party will help to encourage them to respect the law and the rights of the Cambodian people."

Unprecedented stability

Due to the CPP's landslide electoral victory, which delivered the ruling party 90 seats out of 123, Cambodia has managed to avoid a post-election political deadlock for the first time since the UNTAC era. After the 2003 election, government was paralysed for more than a year as competing factions negotiated coalition agreements, but Hun Sen said the new government would rule with one voice. "From now on, I will not allow the small-voice parties to hold the majority-voice party hostage," he said.

Puthea Hang, executive director of election monitor Nicfec, said the SRP had successfully used its boycott to force some changes, but that CPP dominance would nonetheless be the keynote of the next five years. "We see that the boycott of the opposition was a way of advocating for the CPP to make changes in the NA, but it will still be difficult to establish checks and balances," he said.

Comfrel Executive Director Koul Panha said despite the overwhelming majority won by the CPP in this year's polls, the compromise and appearance of Sam Rainsy at the inauguration was beneficial for both parties.

"I think the opposition was taking a risk [in threatening a boycott], but the CPP was also taking a risk and the CPP understands this," he said. "So they are taking another approach."

HRP holds steady on NA boycott

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Thursday, 25 September 2008

THE OPPOSITION Human Rights Party held firm on their commitment to boycott Wednesday's opening session of the National Assembly, despite a last-minute deal that saw Sam Rainsy Party members change their stance.

HRP President Kem Sokha could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Secretary General Yem Ponharith told the Post their boycott was still in place as they continue to wait for a response from King Norodom Sihamoni to their request for a separate swearing-in ceremony.

"We have not changed our stance on the boycott," he said. "We want the Cambodian people to be clear about our position. The SRP decided to attend, and that is their right. But our alliance remains strong."

He said the SRP informed him of their decision to attend on Tuesday night, but that both parties remain committed to resolving their disputes over July's national elections.

Prime Minister Hun Sen joked with reporters about the absence of HRP members following Wednesday's inauguration."

All political parties participated in the first session [but] I received word that HRP President Kem Sokha and his entourage got stuck in traffic, meaning that he tried to attend but was a bit late making his decision," Hun Sen said.

Yem Ponharith dismissed the prime minister's comments, saying all party members were firmly behind the boycott and had remained at party headquarters.

"I heard about the prime minister's comments. I don't know who could have told him this, but it is untrue," he said.

Puthea Hang, executive director of the Cambodian election monitor Nicfec, said Wednesday that SRP members chose not to wear the proper uniform of elected parliamentarians, suggesting they were not entirely happy about attending the session.

He said they decided to attend to show their respect for the people who voted for them.

The HRP, one of the newest entrants in Cambodia's political arena, won three of the National Assembly's 123 seats.

But the party risks losing them because of its decision to skip Wednesday's ceremony.

Government officials had earlier said any party that refused to attend the swearing-in would be stripped of its posts.

Land concessions under fire

HENG CHIVOAN; Participants at a conference on community peace building at the World Vision offices in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophakchakrya
Thursday, 25 September 2008

Rural communities say the government's economic land concession program is uprooting hundreds of thousands of people for the sake of private local and foreign business interests

MORE than 200 fishing and forestry communities across Cambodia have appealed to the government to end its policy of granting economic land concessions to local and foreign investors.

"The government should be urging investment in development projects for the benefit of all Cambodian people instead of making concessions of forest and coastal land to private investors," said Sim Sean, president of the Land and Forestry Community in Kampong Thom province.

He addressed his comments to a two-day conference on community peace-building at the offices of World Vision in Phnom Penh that ended on Wednesday. The event was sponsored by the East West Management Institute and USAID.

"We need to reduce poverty in Cambodia, but our farmland is being taken away for the sake of private business interests," he said.

"Authorities always accuse us of being opposition party activists when we complain about the loss of our land, and sometimes they throw us in jail," he said.

Chea Sophorn, president of the Land and Forestry Community in Kampong Chhang province said many investors are not interested in development but are simply destroying the country's natural resources.

"The government tells us that investment in forestry land concessions will reduce poverty, but investors sell their licenses to other investors for a profit after they clear-cut all the trees," he said.

Yeng Virak, president of the Community Legal Education Center, said the amount of land made available by the government for land concessions has dramatically increased in recent years.

"I'm concerned that even more people will eventually lose their lands as the government gives more concessions to investors," he said.

Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the government had carefully studied the impact of all land concessions on local communities.

"We have millions of hectares of additional land reserved for these concessions, and we need more foreign investors to increase our GDP and reduce poverty," he said.

The government has signed land-concession contracts with 90 private companies from 1992 through August 2007 under its economic land concession program, according to statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

The concessions comprise 1.178 million hectares of land in 16 provinces and municipalities.

Eighteen suspects sent to court for fishy forgery attempt

Master Mind
Mak Chito said the testimonies of the first individuals taken into custody led to the arrest of Saphan Dara, who Mak Chito called the group's "mastermind". According to the official, all individuals have confessed to their role in the plot.

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Former govt officials, police and military officers are in court for allegedly trying to sell the Fisheries Administration office

EIGHTEEN suspects in police custody for an alleged attempt to sell the Fisheries Administration's office were sent to court Wednesday to testify and to hear the accusations against them.

National Police Commissioner Mak Chito told the Post that 17 of the suspects were questioned in the morning, while Saphan Dara, 34, an RCAF lieutenant colonel who is believed to be the mastermind of th fraud plot, was expected to be sent to court alone later in the day. The suspects include military personel and police officers, as well as current and former government officials.

The 18 are accused of involvement in a plot to sell the offices of the Agriculture Ministry's Fisheries Administration on the corner of Phnom Penh's Norodom and Sothearos boulevards - prime city centre real estate estimated to be worth hundreds of dollars per square metre - through an elaborate scam that involved multiple forgeries.

According to police sources, the group was attempting to sell fake documents that would have authorised the sale of the offices and then taken money off the commissions.

" Our duty is to find and arrest the suspects and bring them to court. "

Up to the court now

"Our duty is to find and arrest the suspects and bring them to court," Mak Chito said, adding, "We expect the court will not release them."

Nhao Thuok, the director of the Fisheries Administration, said the police worked hard finding and arresting the "opportunists".

He said that he strongly believed that the court will sentence the suspects based on the rule of law."The police arrested the suspects and sent to them to court, and the court will punish them," Nhao Thuok told the Post.

From all walks of life

Among the suspects in custody are Men Vichet, 55, a one-star general; Tea Kong, 49, a soldier; Hok Heng, 36, a police officer; Chea Kim Ly, 50, a police officer; Beng Hong Socheat Sela, 41, a land title official; Soung Visith, 40, a former Ministry of Industry Mines and Energy official; Kong Chor, 53, a Senate official; Chau Chek Kamsoth, 49, the president of the Saving Ordinary People Committee; and Hean Soda, 41, a designer and broker. Seven other brokers have also been detained.

Hun Sen Vows Inquiry Into Insulting Leaflet

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
25 September 2008

Khmer audio aired 25 September (936KB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired 25 September (936KB) - Listen (MP3)

Authorities will investigate a leaflet insulting King Norodom Sihamoni, Prime Minister Hun Sen told journalists Wednesday.

Cambodia was a democracy, he said, but insults to the king would not be tolerated.

“This is the ignorance and stupidity of a small group,” he said.

The leaflet criticized the new National Assembly, which was sworn in by the king Wednesday, of being under the control of the Vietnamese and thieves, and called the king a “puppet” of China, the Vietnamese and the Cambodian People’s Party.

A royal cabinet official called the leaflet “cowardly.”

I'm keeping the pot: publican

PHOTO SUPPLIED; Ivy owner Karl Balch displays Pol Pot’s toilet seat.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Peter Olszewski
Thursday, 25 September 2008

Ivy Bar owner Karl Balch is packing it in and moving on after ten years as a Pub Street institution, but he's taking Pol Pot’s toilet seat with him

PUB Street history is in the remaking with the change of ownership of the Ivy Bar.This long-time local institution has been sold lock, stock and barrel, with the exception of one important piece of memorabilia, the former seat of power in this country - Pol Pot's toilet seat.

While some Siem Reap residents are ruing the passing, Ivy owner Karl Balch is celebrating.

"Selling the Ivy seems to be a big deal for a lot of people here, but not for me," he told the Post. "I've had it for just less than ten years, and the way I look at it is that it just took me about nine years to sell it. I want to do other things."

And, of course, the history lives on with Balch, who is a repository of tales, both tall and true, of the good old ‘early days' of Siem Reap's boisterous Pub Street scene.

Balch's story is similar to many expatriates who drifted into Cambodia during the '90s and began sifting through the post-Pol Pot rubble with a vague plan to somehow settle and make a living.

He readily admits that when he surfaced in Siem Reap he was a knockabout drifter, but the age-old saga came into play: He fell in love, became a father and suddenly had responsibilities.

At that point there was no pub on Pub Street, so he decided to create one.

"The backpacker crowd had started drifting into town to see the temples and at night they had nowhere to go. I decided to open a bar, and scored a building."

But it took just a little longer to get going than I thought, and the guys from Angkor What bar opened.

"So they were the first. Then I opened, then Red Piano, and that's really how the Pub Street area got started."

When Balch opened his bar, total cash on hand was $27, and the first real financial fillip to his business came with the filming of Tomb Raiders.

" I was a bit weirded out about it, but I brought it back and hung it on the door of the public toilet at ivy. "

"That film was very good to me and helped me get established," he said. "The Red Piano went more for the directors and producers, so I catered for the crew. There were a lot of them, they liked a drink, and I did well."

During his early days in Siem Reap, Balch also knocked around with NGOs who arrived to begin demining the area, and through this he acquired not only his most famous piece of memorabilia - Pol Pot's toilet seat - but also inside knowledge about Pol Pot's demise.

"According to a lot of the history books, Pol Pot died of old age or of a heart attack," Balch said. "But that's not the story I was told. I was told that he topped himself and planned it carefully."

Flushing out the truth

On April 15, 1998, the BBC reported, "The former Cambodian dictator, Pol Pot, whose regime led to the deaths of millions of his people, has died.

"Journalists who were shown his body in a village in western Cambodia were told he had died of a heart attack. After initial skepticism most of the journalists said they were confident it was Pol Pot.

"Pictures of the corpse on a bed in a jungle shack have also been broadcast on television." Khmer Rouge military chief Ta Mok, who had arrested Pol Pot in late 1997, also claimed Pol Pot died of a heart attack. But because the body was cremated before government officials inspected it, rumours circulated that Pol Pot had either been poisoned or had committed suicide.

Balch claims he heard the true story of Pol Pot's death "straight from the horse's mouth.

"He said, "I went to Anlong Veng in January 2000, just as they were starting to build the road there and demining. We were given permission to go up to Pol Pot's house by the local commander, who gave us a guide."

This guide told us he was one of Pol Pot's longtime bodyguards and virtually considered a member of the family.

"I asked him how Pol Pot died and he said that in the morning of the day of his death, Pol Pot gathered all the bodyguards together, plus his family members, and basically said that the international community wanted him dead so he thought it was time that he should kill himself.

"He said that he was going to commit suicide in the afternoon, that at 1pm he was going to take some pills. He said that after he was dead the bodyguards were to take him back up to the Thai border crossing where they should lay him to rest for a while so that the journalists could look at him."

They were told that they should then cremate him, which is what happened."

As for the now-famous toilet seat, Balch said, "The toilet seat was just lying on the floor and a friend suggested I take it as a souvenir. To be honest I was a bit weirded out about it, but I threw it on the back of my motorcycle, brought it back and at first just hung it on the door of the public toilet at Ivy.

"Then I put it in a locked box and it became an attraction - there have been articles about it in German magazines and guidebooks and in a Canadian documentary.

"I've never been offered anything for it, but I like to keep it as a souvenir anyway."

Youth march for peace

PETER OLSZEWSKI; Marchers for peace last Sunday in Siem Reap.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 25 September 2008

International youth conference stages event in Siem Reap

MORE than 300 students from around the world who had gathered in Siem Reap for a six-day International Peace Conference marched peacefully through the streets of Siem Reap last Sunday, the International Day of Peace.

The students were given permission to march by officials last Friday, and, while there was a large contingent of police stationed along the route, the march was trouble-free, a colourful parade that attracted large crowds of onlookers at several vantage points.

The event was organised by Youth for Peace, and program assistant Sin Putheary told the Post, "The march in Siem Reap went very smoothly. We didn't expect that more than 300 students would join us in this march, and when I walked with them through the streets I felt so happy because I had a feeling at that moment that there is no more war in the world."

One theme of the conference was that, while conventional wisdom has it that older men usually start wars while young men do the fighting, young people in some countries - often the uneducated and uninformed - can be active agents in the agitation to commence war, while in other countries it is the youth who are the champions of peace.

Before the Sunday march, students assembled at the Provincial Teacher Training College on Charles De Gaulle Boulevard.

Youth for Peace Executive Director Long Khet told the gathering that an objective of the conference was to get youth from various countries, especially countries recently war-torn, to share their ideas on how to find justice, peace and reconciliation.

Many of the participants at this conference were invited from countries that had recently experienced war.

"We wanted the students to understand the root causes of the wars, and why the wars happened. We want them to take advantage of their experiences of war by turning them into experiences to help develop their country in the future," Long Khet said.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport's Chey Chap said, "It is an important conference that will help pave the way for youth to find peace and justice in their minds. The Cambodian government always tries its best to provide justice and find peace.

"Siem Reap Deputy Governor Mao Vuthy said, "Youth are seeking a way to turn a conflict culture into a peace culture. This conference is also seeking ways to develop the world in this 21st century."

In Brief: Khmer literacy project launched

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Peter Olszewski
Thursday, 25 September 2008

Education-oriented NGO PEPY last week held its first Khmer Literacy Camp in Siem Reap province's Chanleas Dai village, prompted by the realisation that, while many students in PEPY and other programs are becoming literate and conversant in English, they can't read or write in their own language. The goal of the camp, said PEPY Managing Director Maryann Bylander, was to inspire students to read, using the Khmer books available in the library. The library, to which PEPY added 1,200 books last year, is a valuable resource, but many children at a low reading level are intimidated. Some of the literate kids are encouraged to advance beyond just reading and are creating computer programs to help their younger peers learn to read and write Khmer. Using Scratch, an innovative MIT-developed software on low-cost XO computers from the ‘One Laptop Per Child' initiative, these students draw characters, create animation and design simple games to help teach less-advanced students.

Struggling Writers Emerging, Book by Book

By Pich Samnang, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 September 2008

The novel sat, unpurchased, on a stand outside O’Russey Market. On its cover, a young man carried a beautiful woman in his arms, through rain and lighting. The novel, “If a Heart Has Blood,” was one of the books coming out of Cambodia’s growing literary scene and, like other Cambodian novels, had a message.

“If a Heart Has Blood” tells the story of a singer who tricks her powerful, promiscuous father into sleeping with her. It is the second novel of 28-year-old author You Sophea, who said recently it was meant as an indictment of the practice of “okhnas,” businessmen of high standing, having sex with young girls.

“I’ve written the novel in hopes of getting rid of attempts by some singers to get other women’s husbands,” he said. “Meanwhile, okhnas should stop considering young female singers as sex objects, because if the singers were their own daughters or relatives, how would these okhnas feel?”

The messages You Sophea and other authors hope to convey through their works are not yet going as far as they’d like, and not yet paying as much as they’d like.

Khmer-language literature was nearly destroyed during the Khmer Rouge period, when many authors and intellectuals were executed. Its resurgence has been slow, and, writers say, hampered by a lack of protective laws for intellectual property and a dearth of payment.

Nevertheless, Cambodian literature is making a comeback.

You Bo, vice president of the Khmer Writers Association, said recently more and more youths are becoming interested in literature, though no exact number of writers is known.

The Khmer writers Association has around 200 members, he said, but only around 20 of them regularly publish and sell their work.

Kho Tararith, president of the Nou Hach Literary Association, agreed. More young writers are emerging, but the number is still not sufficient to restore or develop Cambodian literature to an international level.

“The lack of Khmer writers is a result of the lack of support among ourselves,” he said. “I mean, we writers have fears. We are afraid that there is no reader for our work, or our work will not be published, or that our writing will affect politicians.”

“Another reason is that we have no independent publisher,” he added.

In Cambodia, writers make deals directly with printing houses or bookstore owners. There is no publisher involved. The printing house or bookstore buys the work exclusively and can print as many copies as it wants, as many times as it wants, without permission for the writer and without paying royalties.

This can be disappointing, said Mao Samnang, one of Cambodia’s most famous novelists.

She earns between $300 to $500 per novel and churns out one novel about every month.

“In fact, no writer wants to sell his or her intellectual property rights,” she said. “We want the same practices as other countries have. If our work is published for a second or third time, our rights should be requested. We want such a thing, but we cant so far, as our country has not properly protected a writer’s rights.”

Article 19 of the 2003 “Copyright Law” protects a the rights of a writer as permanent. The rights cannot be sold or confiscated, but the law does not provide for the exclusive rights to buy a writer’s work.

“Only when writers can make a profit do they sell their work,” said Khim Sarith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. “This is good, as they don’t have to bother whether their work will be copyrighted or not. If their work is copied for sales by others, that’s the loss of the printing house or book store.”

There is at least one printing house that pays for second or third runs: Neak Meas.

Neak Meas Printing House publishes literary works, but instead of a one-off price for the book, the house pays per number of books published.

“I give a writer 12 cents per book I sell,” said Neak Meas manager Kaing Sopheak. “I print 3,000 copies a time, so that means the writer can get $360 in sales. If I print the book a second time, he will get another payment. He will get extra payments until he dies if the book is still printed.”

“I do this to encourage more and more writers,” he said.

A better system of payment may help, but what would really boost writers is more readers, said Thea Sokmeng, head of the literature department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

“Even some literature student only read the textbooks required by the school,” he said. “They don’t read more for pleasure or to increase their knowledge because they do not have a reading habit.”

Parents must develop this habit in their children by starting to read more from now on, he said.

In Pailin, Former Guerrillas Honor the Fallen

By Mean Veasna, VOA Khmer
Original report from Pailin
25 September 2008

Former Khmer Rouge soldiers in Pailin celebrated Pchum Ben in recent days by meditating and praying to former soldiers who died in the war against the Phnom Penh government.

Surrounded by high, forested mountains 400 kilometers from the capital, Pailin was one of the final strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, which fought a 25-year civil war against government troops following its fall in 1979.

Pailin Deputy Governor Keuth Sothea, a former Khmer Rouge fighter, called other former soldiers to attend a ceremony Friday, to meditate for their fallen friends and family.

A giant stupa has been built in Pailin’s largest pagoda, with the remains of many soldiers interred within.

Chea Sovang, who burned five joss sticks at the ceremony Friday, spoke so softly he could scarcely be heard: “I meditate for friends who were with me when we were in the jungle. We had nothing to eat during the war. And I pity them. They had no parents. They had nothing. And they were injured and died in blood.”

Pchum Ben is a 15-day Buddhist ceremony where Cambodians honor the dead by traveling to the pagodas with food and offerings for the spirits. It ends Sept. 30.

An untold number of Cambodian guerrillas and soldiers died in decades of fighting that only ended in 1996.

“They are good believers,” venerable monk Nhim Sothun, chief of the Ratana Sophoan pagoda, said of the former Khmer Rouge. “They come here because they understand well Buddhism, and they have done real meditation.”

Assembly Approves CPP-Dominant Cabinet

Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses reporters following the National Assembly's approval of 26 Cambodian People's Party ministers.

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
25 September 2008

Khmer audio aired 25 September (81.00 MB) - Download (MP3)
Khmer audio aired 25 September (81.00 MB) - Listen (MP3)

A freshly sworn-in National Assembly on Thursday voted in Prime Minister Hun Sen's executive cabinet, granting as expected all top posts to those loyal to the Cambodian People's Party and spreading lower-level ministry positions among CPP and Funcinpec.

The entire cabinet was approved in a package vote that critics say defied the checks and balances of the National Assembly's right to singularly approve cabinet nominations.

"The fourth legislative government has a duty to push the development and push deeply and widely the implementation of reforms in all fields for prosperity and progress," Hun Sen told the assembled lawmakers.

Missing from the National Assembly's first session were 26 Sam Rainsy Party lawmakers, who attended a swearing-in ceremony Wednesday but boycotted the session Thursday.

Also absent Thursday were three Human Rights Party officials who were elected in July but refused to be sworn in Wednesday. The three officials have said they hope to request a separate swearing-in ceremony after the Pchum Ben festival, which ends Sept. 30.

Both parties have protested the election results from July, where the CPP won 90 of 123 National Assembly seats.

Thursday's appointments marked the formation of the largest cabinet for the government to date, with 248 positions. Some positions had to be added to the government to accommodate former opposition members who joined the CPP ahead of the elections.

"The Human Rights Party disagrees with the new government's composition, which has a bigger head than body," HRP President Kem Sokha said. "So the Human Rights Party did not join the National Assembly meeting."

No ministry positions were given to the Sam Rainsy, Human Rights, or Norodom Ranariddh parties.

But the Norodom Ranariddh Party had one cause to celebrate Thursday: King Norodom Sihamoni announced he would grant a royal pardon to the exiled leader of the party, Prince Ranariddh, following a request from Hun Sen. Prince Ranariddh left Cambodia in early 2007 and was found guilty in absentia of breach of trust, which carries a prison sentence of 18 months and a fine of $150,000.

In a letter to the king and prime minister, Prince Ranariddh said he planned to return Sept. 28, in time to participate in Pchum Ben festivities.

Nine deputy prime minister positions were approved, including one position for Funcinpec Secretary-General Nhiek Bunchhay, as well as 16 senior minister posts, 26 ministers and 196 secretaries of state.

The ministries of Rural Development, Transportation, Education, Health, Culture lost Funcinpec leaders.

Among those promoted, former Phnom Penh governor Chea Sophara, was given minister of Rural Development.

The 26 new CPP ministers follow: Council Minister, Sok An; Interior, Sar Kheng; Defense, Tea Banh; Foreign Affairs, Hor Namhong; Economy and Finance, Keat Chhon; Agriculture, Chan Sarun; Rural Development, Chea Sophara; Commerce, Cham Prasidh; Industry, Suy Sem; Planning, Chay Thon; Education, Em Sithy; Social Affairs, Ith Samheng; Urbanization, Em Chhun Lim; Environment, Mok Mareth; Water Resources, Lim Keanhor; Information, Khieu Kanharith; Justice, Ang Vong Vathana; Inspection, Som Kimsuor; Telecommunications, So Khun; Health, Mom Bunheng; Public Works and Transport, Trang Iv Tek; Culture and Fine Arts, Him Chem; Tourism, Thong Khon; Cults and Religion, Men Khin; Women's Affairs, Ing Kantha Thavy; Labor and Vocation, Vong Soth.

Temple watch: Atmospheric citadel

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Dave Perkes
Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Temple of Banteay Kdei (Citadel of the Cells) is east of Angkor Thom, between Ta Prohm and the ancient reservoir of Sras Srang (Royal Baths). It is an atmospheric temple, but it's often ignored in favour of its more popular neighbour, Ta Prohm.

Approaching from the east, Banteay Kdei is best seen in the morning after sunrise. The four-faced Bayon-style gate glows in the sun with dappled light from the overhanging trees. Entry is via a causeway which leads to a low platform, the Terrace (or Hall) of The Dancers. The complex inner structures are in a partially ruined state, and the central towers have been supported by wires to stabilise the structures. At this time of year the rains add atmosphere and the moat, which is dry for much of the year, begins to fill.

Meanwhile, it's now nearly 12 months since the upper level of Angkor Wat was closed to the public, and work to clean the towers is making slow progress, leaving a large amount of scaffolding on the central tower with no sign of removal. And, although a sign was erected in August saying visitors are not allowed to the top level of Phnom Bakheng hill after 4:30pm, there appears to be no enforcement of this rule at present.

Drama troupes descend on Phnom Penh

Photo supplied; Dance will be a feature of the theatre festival.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear
Thursday, 25 September 2008

The upcoming Lakhaon International Theatre Festival will showcase traditional theatre styles

THE upcoming Lakhaon International Theatre Festival will showcase various traditional theatrical styles from 12 companies from France, Cambodia and a number of other Southeast Asian countries, the director of the French Cultural Centre said Wednesday.

Centre Director Alain Arnaudet said at a news conference that the International Theatre Festival was started in 2007 to promote traditional theatrical styles and help develop new contemporary styles through encounters and exchanges between artists from various cultural horizons, adding that approximately 300 actors and actresses will perform in the festival.

While the festival will present plays from the Khmer classical repertoire that originate in traditional theatrical forms, it will also showcase varied contemporary creations.

"Seven of the twelve plays shown during the festival will be Khmer and will feature nine different theatrical styles," said Arnaudet."This is the second time that the French Cultural Centre will host the International Theatre Festival and we look forward to many more festivals of this kind in the future."

"The most important part for us is that people enjoy themselves and that the actors and actresses have the chance to meet each other and exchange ideas."

Catherine Marnas, a French director-in-residence at the centre from August until October, says she is happy that so many companies representing various countries and cultures will have a chance to perform together.

"Even though I am a foreigner, I like to mix my culture with other cultures. I try to combine what I know about theatre from a Western perspective with what I know about theatre in other cultures," she said.

"My goal is to tie foreign and Cambodian theatre together because I want to respect Khmer tradition."

The Lakhaon International Theatre Festival will be held from October 3-9 at the Chenla Cultural Centre.

Microsoft set to crack down on counterfeits

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Hor Hab
Thursday, 25 September 2008

MICROSOFT plans to crack down on pirated software by forcing users to validate software online, said Pily Wong, the Cambodia country manager. The Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) would come online in the next few days and would give users 30 days to validate their software. Users found with pirated software would see their screens go black every 60 minutes and a warning flashed across the screen.

"We strongly encourage those who have not had the chance to activate their copies of Windows XP Professional to take the necessary steps to do so," Pily Wong said.

"Software is an intellectual property, which depending on its complexity, could be the result of the hard work of up to several hundred thousands of researchers, programmers and testers," Pily Wong said. He estimated that more than 90 percent of all Microsoft products in the Kingdom are counterfeit.


Aussie chefs promote food

Tracey shelton

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton
Thursday, 25 September 2008

A team of award-winning Australian chefs from the Canberra-based School of Hospitality Management are in Phnom Penh to carry out cooking demonstrations of Australian produce as part of a promotion of Australian food being held at Raffles Le Royal hotel. The chefs are winners of the Lifestyle Food Channel Australian Regional Culinary Competition.

In Brief: Khieu samphan's lawyer performs

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Notorious French lawyer Jacques Verges, who is representing Khieu Samphan at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, has been performing two evenings a week on the stage of the well known Madeleine Theatre in Paris. The one-man show, written by Verges, tells the public what it means to be a lawyer and will run until December 29.

"Being a lawyer is not just a technical exercise but also a way to express the humanity of all human beings," said Verges.

In Brief: P'CHUM BEN road accident increase

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Traffic accidents and casualties are expected to increase significantly during the P'chum Ben Festival, the Road Traffic Accidents and Victim Information System (RTAVIS) warned. According to RTAVIS figures, during the week-long P'chum Ben travel period in 2007, 48 people died and 889 were injured in traffic accidents. This is about double Cambodia's weekly average of 26 deaths and 383 injuries, the group said in a statement released Wednesday which aimed to reduce accidents this year.