Monday, 29 December 2008

3,500 families affected this year by land grabs involving army: group

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Monday, 29 December 2008

Military is increasingly being used as muscle by private businesses trying to remove people from land slated for development, Licadho says.

AT LEAST 3,500 families were affected by land disputes involving the Cambodian military in the first 11 months of this year, the human rights group Licadho said Sunday.

"There are 25 cases of land disputes with armed soldiers that affected more than 3,500 families," said Licadho investigator Chheng Sophors.

"These were where the soldiers claimed the [disputed] land belonged to either an individual, their military units or to companies that received a land concession and hired armed guards to expel the people from their land," he told the Post.

He said that Licadho intended to file a report to the Council of Ministers and government ministries, asking for intervention "because soldiers are obligated to serve the people, not private companies".

The military has been implicated in several land disputes across the country that have turned violent, drawing sharp criticism from rights groups.

"The government doesn't seem interested in taking any action against these violent attacks by armed military and police over land disputes," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

"This is a severe human rights violation and a danger to democracy," he said Sunday.

Government officials, when contacted Sunday, said they were too busy to comment.

But Moeung Samphan, a secretary of state with the Defence Ministry, said that these disputes needed to be settled through the national committee established to resolve land grabs. "I cannot elaborate on the Licadho report on these disputes," he told the Post.

He said that Licadho intended to file a report to the Council of Ministers and government ministries, asking for intervention "because soldiers are obligated to serve the people, not private companies

".The military has been implicated in several land disputes across the country that have turned violent, drawing sharp criticism from rights groups.

"The government doesn't seem interested in taking any action against these violent attacks by armed military and police over land disputes," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.

"This is a severe human rights violation and a danger to democracy," he said Sunday.

Government officials, when contacted Sunday, said they were too busy to comment.

But Moeung Samphan, a secretary of state with the Defence Ministry, said that these disputes needed to be settled through the national committee established to resolve land grabs.

II cannot elaborate on the Licadho report on these disputes," he told the Post.

Five more groups urge court to be fair

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay
Monday, 29 December 2008

FIVE more rights groups have demanded that Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun - convicted of murdering outspoken union leader Chea Vichea - receive a fair and impartial hearing in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The pair have spent nearly five years in prison for a crime that many NGOs say they did not commit.

The Cambodian Confederation of Unions, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders are the latest groups to call upon the Supreme Court to exonerate the two men.

The Cambodian Confederation of Unions, whose president, Rong Chhun, was a close friend of Chea Vichea, called their previous trials a "parody of justice".

The UNOHCHR said that if the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Court of Appeal, it would show the world Cambodia had begun "an effort to combat and curb impunity" in the judiciary.

The UNOHCHR pointed out that the first investigating judge dismissed the case and that the men were convicted primarily on the basis of a retracted confession.

Both were "reasons to doubt of the validity of the convictions", the agency said.

NRP, F'pec to align for local vote

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
The departure from politics of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, pictured in a file photo, has paved the way for royalist alliance, officials say.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Monday, 29 December 2008

But officials of both parties are quick to deny any plans for a more formal political partnership

OFFICIALS from the royalist Norodom Ranariddh Party and Funcinpec say they have reached an agreement to cooperate in district and provincial elections scheduled for May next year.

NRP spokesman Suth Dina said Sunday leaders of both parties agreed to help each other in districts where collaboration could win a mandate, but was quick to dismiss any rumour that the parties would formally unite.

"I would like to say clearly that this is not a merging of the two parties. It is simply a strategy to help each party increase votes for the upcoming election," he said.

Cooperation will consist largely of each party voting for the other in areas where a few extra ballots could mean a win for either party, Suth Dina said.

But he added that there are no plans for such cooperation in the next national polls in 2013."If both parties do not work together in the district and provincial elections, they would lose votes," said Lu Laysreng, first deputy president of Funcinpec, who added that if the partnership showed good results, the two parties might work together in the future.

He suggested that a future merger could heal the rift that has seen both parties fall into greater obscurity in recent national polls.

"The separation has made both parties weak. Now that [Prince] Norodom Ranariddh has joined the Royal Palace, all NRP members should come back and make Funcinpec stronger," Lu Laysreng said.

He added that the recent announcement of defections to the ruling Cambodian People's Party is not a concern for the parties."I don't believe they have abandoned Funcinpec," he said.

CPP mandate ensures no May surprise

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng
Monday, 29 December 2008

At least 11,453 commune council members from five political parties will cast their ballots on May 17 in administrative elections for district, provincial and municipal councils.

But with 7,993 of these voters coming from the ruling Cambodian People's Party, critics complain the results are predetermined by the indirect election process.

Only people currently holding seats on the commune council will be eligible to vote.

This means that while council members from the Cambodian People's Party, Sam Rainsy Party, Funcinpec, Norodom Ranariddh Party and Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party will all be able to take part, the latter four parties constitute only about 30 percent of the vote.

"The elections do not reflect the will of the citizens, and we are not happy with the process. But we have to participate, because it is the law," SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said.

Tep Nytha, secretary general of the National Election Committee, defended the administrative elections at a press conference explaining the election rule.

"Whether it is a general elections or an indirect election, it is democratic, especially when compared to elections in some other countries," Tep Nytha said. "The elections will allow political parties and civil society to participate."

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel) has announced plans to boycott the elections, saying the indirect voting will preclude political change. The result of the elections will forever reflect the commune elections in the previous year.

Unlike Comfrel, Puthea Hang, executive director of the Neutral and Impartial Committee on Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Nicfec), said they will recruit 185 electoral observers for the elections.

"We decided to participate in the upcoming elections because we think having an election at the administrative level is still better than an appointment process," Puthea said.

Border talks set for January

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A soldier stands near the Preah Vihear temple.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Monday, 29 December 2008

Officials hope ongoing political turmoil in Thailand will not force another setback for efforts to resolve dispute over contested territory on the frontier

CAMBODIA will resume talks with Thailand over their disputed border in late January, officials said on the weekend, as a tense military standoff at contested areas of the frontier enters its sixth month.

"The next meeting [of the Joint Border Commission] will be held in Thailand as agreed," said Var Kimhong, Cambodia's top border negotiator."

The Thai parliament will hold internal discussions on the border issue first, and after they've approved [the agenda], the two countries will set the schedule.

Cambodia and Thailand have never fully demarcated their 805-kilometre shared border.

But a meeting between Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and his Thai counterpart on November 12 yielded an agreement to scale down troop numbers and begin joint demarcation and de-mining operations from mid-December.

It was the most concrete progress made yet to resolve tensions on the border that escalated after Cambodia first accused Thai troops of entering its territory in July, shortly after Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple was listed as a Unesco World Heritage site.

The incursion touched off the largest recent build-up of troops and military equipment on both sides of the border, finally erupting in a brief gunbattle in October that left at least three soldiers dead.

Thai turmoil an obstacle

While tensions have eased, ongoing political turmoil in Thailand again threatens to stall progress on the border issue, officials said.

Already, demining missions planned for this month have been pushed back, as Bangkok continues to be endure anti-government protests.

"Now we are waiting the approval from Thailand's parliament" before the next round of talks can go ahead, Var Kimhong said.

Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said that, despite Thailand's troubles, Cambodia was committed to keeping the peace on the border.

"Cambodia will avoid engaging in gunfire and will continue to seek peaceful bilateral talks on the issue," he said Saturday.

CMAC hopes to see land mine casualties eliminated by 2012

A deminer displays a type of anti-personnel mine that is common in Cambodia.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by SAM RITH
Monday, 29 December 2008

Agency head, Khem Sophoan, says deaths and injuries due to mine blasts down this year, as land mine authority leadership due to change

AN official with the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) on Sunday set a target date of 2012 for the elimination or dramatic reduction in the number of casualties from land mines in the Kingdom.

"We expect by 2012, there will be almost no one injured from land mines," Khem Sophoan, director general of CMAC, told the Post.

Khem Sophoan said between January and November this year, 244 people were injured or killed by mines - down from 317 in 2007. He estimated that this number would drop to 50 or 60 casualties by 2010.

The prediction follows an announcement Friday that long-time director of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority, Sam Sotha, would be replaced by Chum Bunrong, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Sam Sotha could not be reached for comment on Sunday, but his assistant, Touch Teath, confirmed the replacement, which was made by royal decree from King Norodom Sihamoni.

The assistant could not say what prompted Sam Sotha's removal or what position, if any, he would hold in the future.

"So far, I have not seen the royal decree. We will know at the ceremony what new position [Sam Sotha] will receive," Touch Teath said, referring to a ceremony today to announce the leadership change.

Government spokesman and Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith told the Post Sunday Sam Sotha's removal was a normal rotation of leadership.

"He worked [at CMAA] since 1993 or 1994. He will be given a new position by decision of the Council of Ministers later on," Khieu Kanharith said, adding that Sam Sotha would not lose his government rank due to the rotation.

Rehab centres centralised

Meanwhile, the government announced Sunday that it would assume control of 11 rehabilitation centres across Cambodia that assist land mine survivors, as well as people affected by polio, cerebral palsy, leprosy and other debilitating illnesses.

The centres were first established in the 1980s and 1990s with assistance from the International Committee for the Red Cross, Handicap International Belgium, Handicap International France, Veterans International and the Cambodian Trust.

"According to a Memorandum of Understanding ... between the government and the five organisations, the 11 centres will be transferred to ... the Ministry of Social Affairs by early 2011," Sem Sokha, a secretary of state for the ministry, said Sunday.

Voice from the wilderness

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha, shown here at his offices on December 22, speaks about his party’s role in the current government.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra
Monday, 29 December 2008

The Human Rights Party’s Kem Sokha says efforts to muzzle the opposition during parliamentary debate hurts democracy

With only three lawmakers, your party has no right to speak in the National Assembly. What is your position on this issue?

The Human Rights Party still claims a full right of expression within the National Assembly, as a voice of the minority. We may only be three parliamentarians, but we still represent the 40,000 people who gave us their vote. In the National Assembly, we empower the minority by placing checks and balances on the country's leadership. But if the ruling party monopolises speaking time, we lose these checks and balances that are so essential in a democracy.

The internal rules of the National Assembly specify that lawmakers need to form groups of at least 10 members in order to speak.

But we must ask who created this rule and why. Was it to promote or to reduce freedom of expression? Cambodia's Constitution emphasises freedom of expression of the Cambodian people and the lawmakers who represent them, and when we make a law we must respect the Constitution.

We will continue to push for an amendment of the internal rules of the National Assembly. When the CPP wants to amend a law, everything goes smoothly for them. But why can we not revise rules if this revision would promote freedom and democracy? Some CPP lawmakers tell us we must respect the law, which is easier said than done. We respect the law, but it must be good law.

What is the reaction of your supporters?

The Cambodian people are very unhappy, but I tried to calm them and wait for a resolution. But the CPP behaves disrespectfully because it won 90 seats in the Assembly. If no solution is found, our 40,000 supporters will be very angry, and we will continue to struggle for an amendment. I don't want to worry the Cambodian people, but why is the CPP so worried about our three HRP lawmakers?

According to the internal rules of the National Assembly, if a minority party cannot form a group of 10, it should join another party group in order to be able to speak.


Why doesn't the HRP do it?

We don't join another party because we want to preserve our party's identity. This requirement is wrong in a liberal democracy, and it shows that the National Assembly is not a pluralistic parliament. Here, the big party dominates the small party.

But smaller parties should be able to express themselves regardless of how many parliamentarians it has.

We have also suggested that lawmakers from other parties should be able to form a group with us, and speak with a common voice.

Why do you think these rules are in place?

Parliaments in other countries oblige lawmakers to form groups in order to manage speaking time more easily. But most of these parliaments are divided into ruling parties and opposition, not into groups as in Cambodia. Of course, the opposition is a minority, but they still have time to speak.

In Cambodia, the National Assembly limits freedom of expression because the ruling party is afraid of criticism from the opposition.

Even members of the ruling party don't dare to criticise the head of government because they don't want him to lose his position. If we want to have real democracy and help the government to better serve the nation through constructive criticism, the ruling party must give a voice to the opposition and minor groups in the National Assembly.

Will you request help from the international community or from the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Organisation?

No, not yet. Before the inauguration of the new Assembly [Prime Minister Hun Sen] had already promised the Sam Rainsy Party that he will recognise the rights of the opposition. We will give him some time to fulfill this promise.

Hun Sen has also stressed that he would be unhappy if we sought international support. So we tried to address our grievances directly to Assembly President Samdech Heng Samrin, but he keeps answering that we should respect the rules as they are. We will wait until the end of the year.

If they don't offer a solution, we will seek help from the Inter-Parliamentary Organisation and other democrats to defend the right of lawmakers.

If your effort to amend the internal rule fails, what is your next step?

If we cannot speak within the Assembly, we will seek another forum to present our views.For example, when parliament discusses a law, but we cannot voice our position, we can release statements to the press. We will seek public understanding for our ideas and suggestions through NGO forums and the media. But this is only our last alternative.

If the CPP controls the government, the Assembly and the Senate, and doesn't allow minority representatives to speak, then it encourages demonstrations and protests in the maquis like in the past.

I think they don't reflect enough on this issue. What do they lose if they amend the internal rules and allow others to speak?

Can Cambodia claim it has real freedom of expression?

We have freedom of expression only on the surface, but not in substance.

First, many important channels of information, television and radio, are controlled by the ruling party, even if there are some free media outlets. Second, if they ban the voice of lawmakers, it is even more serious than the freedom of press because the lawmakers are direct representatives of the people.

So, even though the government claims that there is freedom of expression, this is really not the case.

How do you cooperate with the Sam Rainsy Party within the Assembly?

We asked the SRP to speak for us, but we don't want this situation to continue forever. We want to speak for ourselves and have full freedom. The SRP complained too, but when they criticised the government, the CPP threatened the opposition.

To tackle the problem, we have discussed with the SRP to unite into one large opposition and cooperate in debates and in nonviolent protest. In the future, we will unite and create a big party for the next election.

How would you describe the current National Assembly?

The current Assembly is reverting into a Communist assembly, where the state is the party and the party is the state.

The Assembly is controlled by one party, the government is led by one party and the judicial system is controlled by one party.

It is like a communist system, but we will have to see what happens in the future.

Police Blotter: 29 Dec 2008

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by LIM PHALLA
Monday, 29 December 2008


In Aun, a 39-year-old farmer, was shot dead from behind at 7:35pm on Friday in Phnom Krovanh district, Pursat province, while drinking with three other people. The unknown killer escaped, but police said the victim had many enemies.


After an early afternoon of heavy drinking, a 28-year-old construction worker from Battambang, Sok Samnang, broke his neck and died after crashing his borrowed motorbike into a staircase at Wat Rumduol pagoda. The accident occurred at 3:45pm on Thursday.


Two male drug dealers, Leoum Kim San, 24, and Cheo Phal, 22, were arrested at 8pm on Thursday in Thmor Kol district, Battambang province, while they were wandering around in front of Kor Ko pagoda waiting for customers. Police found 40 pills of amphetamine on them.


Chan Buny, 19, his wife Vong Srey Leak, 17, and his sister-in-law, Keo Ny, 19, were arrested at 7pm on Thursday in Battambang province after they robbed two lovers of US$10, a cellphone, two diamond rings and a necklace. They had threatened the man, Seang Serey Sophea, 22, and his girlfriend Khem Sopheak, 22, with blades and an ax.


Chhoeun Vy, a 21-year-old construction worker from Moung Russey district, Battambang province, stole about 100kg of cable from the Spring Park Hotel construction site in Battambang. The construction manager informed the police, prompting them to arrest the perpetrator and send him to court on Friday.


A Belgian man, Guido Van Esbroeck, 48, died after crashing his motorbike into a truck at 9:30pm on Saturday at the corner of Street 106 and Street 77 in Phnom Penh. According to his Cambodian wife, Khin Thida, 44, Van Esbroeck was drunk and had fallen off his bike before, but refused to stop driving. His body was brought to Calmette Hospital by Municipal Police.

Cambodia is ready if Thailand invades

Cambodian soldiers guarding the Preah Vihear temple.

Radio Free Asia
By Chea Makara
27th December, 2008

Translated from Khmer by Khmerization

The Cambodian government has reiterated that Cambodia is ready if Thailand violates the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Cambodia while the current border disputes have not yet been resolved.

Minister of Information and government spokesman, Mr. Khieu Kanharith, has told reporters on Saturday like this: “If Thailand decided to invade, we will not allow them to invade us easily. We have been prepared, even if Thailand has many jet fighters, that we are ready because in the war it is not important if they have jet fighters or not, because in the early stages of fighting they have to consider which side will suffer the most heaviest casualties. So, it is not so easy for Thailand (to invade Cambodia).”

Mr. Khieu Kanharith said that if the fighting along the borders erupted, Cambodian requires around 17,000 to 20,000 troops.

He added that after the clashes between Khmer-Thai troops on the 15th of October, 2008, the Cambodian government has conceptualised three possible scenarios. First, Cambodia and Thailand must resolve all border problems in a total package. Secondly, there will be military confrontations without actual fighting occurring. And thirdly, wars will break out along the borders between the two countries.

Mr. Khieu Kanharith added that the Cambodian government has chosen the second scenario and that is to avoid armed conflict and continue to engage in bilateral talks and the Cambodian government can complain to the United Nations only when Thailand invades Cambodian territories.

Please note that border disputes with Thailand had occurred after Unesco had decided to inscribe the Preah Vihear temple into a world heritage list in July, 2008.

Cambodia and Thailand might meet for border talks in January 2009

Agreements to withdraw Thai troops reached in the Siem Reap talks on 12th November, 2008 between Thai Foreign Minister Sompong Amornvivat (L) and Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong (R) are awaiting the approval of the Thai parliament.

Radio Free Asia
By Sav Yuth
25th December, 2008

Translated from Khmer by Khmerization

Cambodian officials said that the Khmer-Thai Joint Boundary Commission plans to meet for border talks in January next year.

Government officials said that the Khmer-Thai Joint Boundary Commission plans to meet in January after the border talks between the two countries have stalled due to the political crisis and the change of government in Thailand.

Chairman of the Cambodian Border Commission, Mr. Var Kim Hong, said on 25th December that he had received news from the Thai Foreign Ministry through the Thai embassy that all the documents agreed with Cambodia recently will be put to the Thai parliament for approval which will be convened at the end of January next year.

Mr. Var Kim Hong said that the next Khmer-Thai border talks will be held in Thailand but added that there is no timetable yet because they have to wait for the Thai parliament to approve the previous documents first.

Mr. Var Kim Hong said: “The meeting for talks on land boundary issues will be held in Thailand but there is no timetable for the actual planting of the border pillars have been decided yet.”

Mr. Var Kim Hong said he doesn’t know what the results of the talks will be because he doesn’t know about the stance of the new Thai government regarding the issues.

But he added that currently, Thailand has a real government which he hopes this new government will continue to work with Cambodia on resolving the border issues.Recently, the newly-elected prime minister of Thailand, Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, said that his government will work hard to resolve the border issues with Cambodia.

Mr. Hor Namhong, foreign minister of Cambodia, has said that during the third border talks in Siem Reap on 12th November, 2008, he had requested for the withdrawals of all Thai troops from Wat Keo Sekhakirisvarak pagoda and the areas surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.

Mr. Hor Namhong said: “Cambodia had requested Thailand to withdraw all their troops from Wat Keo Sekhakirisvarak, from the areas around the pagoda and from the vicinity of the pagoda. It means that they have to withdraw much further then their present positions. Regarding the troops withdrawal, we told them that after the Thai parliament approved the agreements we all will start the withdrawals.

"There are reports that, in Tatum and Anlong Veng areas in Banteay Meanchey province, Cambodian troops are on high alert because Thai troops are staging military drills in the areas.

Domestic Violence Affects Family Wellbeing and the Development of Society

Posted on 28 December 2008
The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 592

“Phnom Penh: A high ranking official of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs said that domestic violence severely affects family wellbeing and especially also the potential for national development.

“A Secretary of State of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Ms. Sy Define, said that domestic violence affects everyone, whether they are victims or perpetrators, and it affects communities and the nation as a whole.

“Ms. Sy Define pointed out during a workshop about ‘Results of Women’s Forums on Reclaiming Information and Communication Technology to End Violence Against Women’ on 26 December 2008, that harmony in the family is a factor which contributes to develop the country. Women and children must be provided with wellbeing, services, resource management, and opportunities to fully and equally join all sectors of society, and all forms of discrimination in their lives must be prevented.

“Ms. Sy Define added that so far, frequently Cambodian women are still discriminated, even though the Royal Government promotes their rights and provides opportunities for women. She went on to say that domestic violence, human trafficking, sex exploitation, and rape still exist, and these activities are human rights violation which strongly affect Cambodian women and children, adding that domestic violence against women seriously impacts family wellbeing, particularly the capability of children and their development. In total, domestic violence affects everyone – both victims and perpetrators – it affects communities and the whole nation.

“The Executive Director of the Open Institute, Ms. Chim Manavy, said that there are many types of domestic violence against women, including physical and mental violence. She referred to a report which estimated that one among three women of the world, one will suffer from the pain of gender related violence some time in their lives. This may be through beatings, rape, attacks, trafficking, killing, contempt, or restrictions on their moving and walking around freely, and through restricting their social communications. She added that domestic violence against women damages their natural capabilities and the lack of women power is against the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

“Ms. Chim Manavy said therefore that publishing the laws about the rights and related various measures is crucial to reduce and to prevent domestic violence against women, where information and communication technology plays a very important role to prevent domestic violence against women.

“Ms. Sy Define acknowledges the importance to publish rights, laws, measures, and interventions to reduce and to prevent domestic violence against women, for which information and communication technology plays a fundamental role, ‘…but we need more time to promote also the understanding of citizens, so that they change their behavior which is conditioned in their minds since a long time ago.’ Ms. Chim Manavy said that most women who suffer from domestic violence do not dare to speak out, because they are afraid of being looked down by society, and they are afraid to receive more violence. She thinks that to stay quiet under domestic violence is wrong, because staying silent will just make perpetrators feel free to continue and to increase violence. Therefore, women must dare to speak up about such problems. She continued to say that there are many ways to report about violence, where information and communication technology is a safe and most effective tool, which can can be used without fear that other people might know about it.

“The discussions in this workshop will lead to see the root of these problems better, and also to see different solutions, and it will lead to closer cooperation with different institutions to lessen violence against women, and move towards gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights in Cambodian society.”

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.7, #1831, 27.12.2008
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Saturday, 27 December 2008

Vietnam, Cambodia agree to boost agricultural cooperation


VietNamNet Bridge - A senior Cambodian legislator has urged Vietnam to increase its flow of investments into agriculture in his country.

The Chairman of the Cambodian National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Commission, Chheang Vun, made the call while meeting with Vietnamese Ambassador to Cambodia Nguyen Chien Thang on Dec. 25.

Chheang Vun said Cambodia boasts large and fertile farmland acreages which are favourable conditions for investment in agriculture.

The move will benefit both nations as it will help Cambodia learn Vietnam ’s agricultural production experiences and improve the local people’s living conditions, while Vietnam will be able to increase its farm produce output for export, he said.

According to the lawmaker, Cambodia annually exports more than 200 million USD worth of products to Vietnam and imports goods totalling some 1 billion USD from the country.

Ambassador Thang pledged to ask his government to consider Cambodia ’s suggestion, saying that boosting investment in Cambodia is one of Vietnam ’s priorities in order to beef up the bilateral relations.

The ambassador said Vietnamese companies are planning to grow rubber trees on an additional 30,000 ha in Cambodia in addition to over 30,000 ha already planted in Kracheh province.

He also emphasised the importance of cooperation for mutual development in the triangle region shared by Vietnam , Cambodia and Laos .

Vietnam hopes that Cambodia will host a meeting between leaders from the triangle region’s 10 provinces next year to introduce the potentials for development in this area, the diplomat added.
(Source: VNA)

Thailand, Cambodia to cooperate on Preah Vihear

BANGKOK, Dec. 28 (PNA/VNA) -- Thailand would maintain cooperation with Cambodia over the historic and controversial Hindu temple, new Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said.

"In general, it is our intention to cooperate with Cambodia and the UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation)," the Foreign Minister was quoted by The Nation of Thailand as saying.

The minister said Thailand should have a representative in the International Coordinating Committee (ICC) to protect and develop Cambodia's Preah Vihear.

He added that he would not change previous foreign ministry resolutions with Phnom Penh.

The Preah Vihear case would be handled in line with the 1904 and 1907 Siam-Franco treaties, the 1962 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling and the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding on boundary demarcation, he said.

The ICJ ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear belonged to Cambodia but the surrounding land -and access to it- have remained in dispute. (PNA/VNA)

Thailand: Thaksin followers begin 3-day protest

Supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra protest at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Thousands of supporters of the fugitive former Thai premier rallied against new leader Abhisit Vejjajiva Sunday, threatening to engulf the kingdom in a fresh wave of political unrest.(AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)
Supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra protest at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Thousands of supporters of the fugitive former Thai premier rallied against new leader Abhisit Vejjajiva Sunday, threatening to engulf the kingdom in a fresh wave of political unrest.(AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

Supporters of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra protest at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Tens of thousands of supporters of the ousted Thai premier rallied against new leader Abhisit Vejjajiva Sunday, threatening to engulf the troubled kingdom in a fresh wave of unrest.(AFP/Pornchai Kittiwongsakul)

Supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra hold a banner during a protest against the government in Bangkok December 28, 2008. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Sunday that police would not use force against demonstrators who have closed a road at Parliament and begun to attack his coalition government which assumed power less than a week ago, local Thai newspapers reported.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

A supporter holds a portrait of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a protest against the government in Bangkok December 28, 2008. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Sunday that police would not use force against demonstrators who have closed a road at Parliament and begun to attack his coalition government which assumed power less than a week ago, local Thai newspapers reported.REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND)

By DENIS D. GRAY, Associated Press Writer
Sunday, December 28, 2008

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) --Thousands of supporters of Thailand's exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra began converging on Parliament Sunday, vowing to stage demonstrations until the new government holds elections.

But the group said it would not block lawmakers from entering Parliament on Monday, easing fears that the country was in for a repeat of the mass demonstrations that paralyzed the government for months and culminated in an eight-day seizure of the capital's airports by yellow-clad protesters.

This time, it was Thaksin loyalists instead of his opponents who took to the streets.

"Yes, we will move to Parliament. But we will allow MPs to go in and out tomorrow," a protest leader, Korkaew Pikunthong, told The Associated Press.

The alliance — dubbed the "red shirts" for their favored protest attire — says the new Prime Minister Abhisit and his Democrat Party came to power this month through a virtual coup d'etat.

The group — which calls itself the Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship — says the court ruling that dissolved the previous government, which was packed with Thaksin allies, and led to Abhisit's selection as prime minister came under pressure from the military and other powerful forces.

Police closed the gates of the Parliament building Sunday in anticipation of the demonstrations. The new government plans to deliver its policy statement to the legislature Monday and Tuesday.

Police lines were reinforced in an effort to cordon off the Parliament building and Sanam Luang, a field in the historic heart of the capital where the pro-Thaksin group gathered Sunday to hear speeches denouncing the government.

An estimated 10,000 rallied at the field while several hundred gathered around Parliament Sunday night. Protest leaders at Sanam Luang said they would move to Parliament and camp there overnight.

Abhisit told reporters that force would not be used against the demonstrators.

Earlier, police Maj. Gen. Amnuay Nimmano said police would avoid any clash with the protesters but that if the rally veered toward violence, its organizers should disperse the crowds.

Warong Dechgitvigrom, a spokesman for the ruling Democrat Party, said party representatives would go together to Parliament on Monday morning and if it was blocked they would return to party headquarters. He said the government did not plan to force its way into the building.

An Oxford-educated, 44-year-old politician, Abhisit was formally named prime minister Dec. 17 in what many hoped would be the end of months of turbulent, sometimes violent, protests that had their roots in a 2006 military coup that toppled Thaksin.

Thaksin and his backers retain strong support in rural areas but have lost ground recently as former loyalists defected to join Abhisit's government, behind which the powerful military and monarchist figures have thrown their weight.

Forced out of England where he sought exile, facing probable imprisonment should he return to Thailand, Thaksin no longer seems the prime mover in Thailand's political arena -- although some still don't count him out.

Local media has speculated that Thaksin, once Thailand's richest man, has also taken heavy losses in the current financial crisis and no longer has the seemingly bottomless purse to support, and motivate, his backers.

Abhisit, the nation's third prime minister in four months, vowed in his inaugural address to reunite the deeply divided nation and to restore Thailand's tourist-friendly image. The eight-day airport shutdown battered the country's essential tourism industry and stranded more than 300,000 travelers.

Abhisit's Democrat Party had been in opposition since 2001, when Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon, first came to power in a landslide election.

Military leaders ousted Thaksin in September 2006, accusing him of corruption, keeping him in exile and controlling the country for an interim period until new elections in December 2007 brought Thaksin's allies back into power.

He returned to Thailand in February 2008 to face corruption charges but later fled into exile again and was convicted in absentia.

Thailand's recent political convulsions began in August when anti-Thaksin protesters took over the seat of government to demand that Thaksin's allies resign. Since then, a series of court rulings resulted in the ouster of two Thaksin-allied prime ministers.

In October, street clashes with police outside Parliament left two people dead and hundreds injured.

Thailand car production 'may fall 35 per cent'


BANGKOK: Vehicle production in Thailand could fall as much as 35 per cent next year if the global economy continues to worsen, a leading institute said yesterday.

Thailand is a major production and export hub for pickup trucks made by General Motors, Toyota Motor, Isuzu Motors and Mitsubishi Motors - all suffering in the midst of a global downturn.

Thailand Automotive Institute's director Wallop Tiasiri estimated the decline in Thailand would more likely be about 15pc. But he said a gloomier economic outlook in the US and Europe could result in a production drop of 35pc and the loss of 45,000 jobs.

"If the economic situation in major markets, especially in the US and Europe, deteriorates much further, our production could go down by 35pc or to 900,000 units," he said.

"However, I think this worst case scenario will not be realised."

Vehicle production in Thailand hit 1.4 million units this year, up from 1.29m units a year ago, Wallop said.

The sector employs 300,000 people, about a third of them who are subcontracted.

Most analysts have predicted the automotive sector in Thailand would eventually be hit as vehicle manufacturers worldwide are cutting production amid the global financial downturn.

Last month, General Motors said it would stop production at its Thai plant for up to two months.
General Motors and Chrysler earlier this month were granted $17.4 billion in federal loans so they can stay afloat.

"Currently the Thai auto industry is still relatively strong. Every company still has their cash inflow," Wallop said.

"However, we have to admit the slump of the global markets will hit local companies."

Thailand experiences political chaos in 2008

12/27/2008 Source:Xinhuanet

With the usher-in of a new Democrat Party-led government on Dec. 21, 2008, Thailand's political process, which has gone through a three-year nightmare of struggles and battles, seemed to have seen a short break and it will take time for the new government to restore its tourism business, export industries and reputation wrecked by the political chaos.

The struggles between "old clique" loyal to ousted Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the long-time anti-Thaksin group People' Alliance for Democracy (PAD) brought about frequent changes of the Thai government in 2008.

The People Power Party (PPP), seen as a reincarnation of the disbanded Thaksin-founded Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party, won the first post-coup general election in December 2007 and formed a six-party coalition government led by Premier Samak Sundaravej.

Calling the Samak government a proxy of Thaksin, the PAD had kept on organizing mass rallies and demonstrations since May, which came to the climax on August 26 when PAD supporters seized the Government House, forcing the Samak cabinet to work in offices outside the House.

On Sept. 9, the Constitutional Court reached a verdict which disqualified Samak as premier for his "unconstitutional acts" by hosting a TV cooking show while in office

However, then PPP deputy leader Somchai Wongsawat, Thaksin's brother-in-law, was elected later to succeed Samak as prime minister and formed a new government.

The Somchai government intended to amend the post-coup Constitution 2007, which was drafted by a junta-appointed panel and played an important role in bringing down Thaksin and TRT by law. The attempt had prompted more drastic actions by the PAD with an aim to force the Somchai government to step down.

The supporters of PAD continued their months-long occupation of the Government House, sieged the Parliament when the Somchai cabinet delivered government policy address, and went on to seize the two airports in Bangkok on Nov. 25, the day when Somchai returned from Peru where he attended the APEC summit meeting.

The PAD's occupation of the two airports caused the paralysis of air service outbound and inbound via Bangkok for over a week. The political turmoil that also forced the postponement of the 14th the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit, which was to begin later this month in Thailand.

On Dec. 2, Somchai was removed from premiership after the Constitutional Court disbanded PPP on electoral fraud charges related to former PPP deputy leader and former House Speaker Yongyuth Tiyapairat.

In the parliament voting on Dec. 12, 44-year-old Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, which had stayed on the opposition camp since Thaksin's TRT party gained power in the 2001election and later a second time on 2005, was elected the 27th Prime Minister of Thailand to replace Somchai Wongsawat.

With the installation of the Democrat Party-led government, observers expect a short break from the prolonged political chaos in Thailand, as the Democrat Party, which enjoys support from the urban middle-class, especially those from Bangkok and southern Thailand, apparently gets support from the military and the royal institution.

The Abhisit government has pledged to make peace return to the country, but there will be no honeymoon for the new government, analysts said.

"I bless you to work for the peace and order of the nation," King Bhumibol Adulyadej said in a speech after the king swore in Abhisit's new cabinet.

Abhisit said "I will take His Majesty's royal advice to heart. His Majesty wished us to work successfully in order to make the country and the people happy and that is the most important."

The social divisiveness between the pro- and anti-Thaksin have been widening in the past three years and the reconciliation between the two camps is deemed hard to install.

People from the pro-Thaksin group Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship (DAAD) were seen angrily attacking MPs' cars outside the Parliament after Abhisit was elected as new premier, while the PAD has vowed to "return" to fight any new Thaksin-proxies. The two sides had been engaged in violent clashes on the street, causing heavy casualties.

The DAAD is also planning a mass street protest and a besiege over the Parliament on the day of House debate on the Abhisit's government policy address.

A headache for the Abhisit government would be how to calm down and win the hearts of the rural grass-root population in the Northand Northeast, the traditional voter strong base for Thaksin and his allies.

Newin Chidchob, the former Thaksin's right-hand man who had made a turn-about to allow his friends in the House of Representatives to support Abhisit's premiership in the House voting on Dec. 12, reportedly told Abhisit to invest more for the development and benefits of the Northeast and North.

The Abhisit government is expected to inherit at least part of Thaksin's populist legacy in its policy packages, pending debate in the Parliament on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.

The line-up of the Abhisit Cabinet, which was sworn in on Dec. 21, has seen some key posts allocated to the pro-Newin group and a bunch of coalition partners, but that still would not secure a strong alliance.

The leading opposition party, Puea Thai party, a new shelter for the remains of the disbanded PPP, still holds some 200 MP seats in the 480-seat House. Its candidate for premiership, Pracha Promnok, got 198 votes during the Dec. 12 voting, only 37 votes behind Abhisit, who enjoyed the advantage only after the Newin faction joined in the support.

A planned by-election in January might see more Puea Thai candidate win seats in the House.

Meanwhile, the new government is faced with how to restore domestic and foreign investors' confidence in the Thai economy, which has been dealt big blows with a sluggish global trend, and long-time domestic political turmoil, including the recent airport shutdowns that caused the key tourism industry a huge loss.

The World Bank recently projected that the Thai economy will grow only 3.9 percent in 2008, the lowest in a decade, and an even lower 2 percent next year, while Thai economists have expected one million Thais to lose jobs in 2009.

Thailand’s Anti-Government Group to Hold Protest to Force the Dissolution of Parliament

Sun, 2008-12-28

Bangkok, 28 December, ( Thailand's anti-government Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD) Saturday threatened to hold protests against Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva nationwide, to pressure him to dissolve the House.

The three leaders of the UDD said the group would hold a massive rally on Sunday to oppose what it termed as a "coup in disguise" launched jointly by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the military and capitalists.

The demonstrators will not move to Parliament Monday and Tuesday when the new Cabinet presents the government's policy to Parliament, the trio said, adding that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will not telephone to the rally.

Pledging that the demonstration will be held in peaceful manner, they said that it will focus on donations amounting to more than Bt300 million given to the ruling Democrat Party which they claimed are against the law.

Defending the planned charges to be filed by the UDD, Mr. Abhisit, also leader of the Democrat Party, said opposition parties also plan to do the same next week but the government was not worried because it had explained to the House of Representatives earlier.

Meanwhile, Parliament President Chai Chidchob Saturday expressed concern over a planned protest by DAAD protesters on Monday, saying the policy debate may be delayed if the situation spirals out of control.

The government will present its policy to Parliament on Monday and Tuesday (December 29-30).

Chai said he will monitor the situation minute by minute to consider whether the policy debate should be postponed or not.

He said he has not yet considered an alternative meeting venue.

Chai said he believes police will be able to control the situation.

- Asian Tribune -

Cambodia: Supreme Court Tested by Labor Leader’s Murder Case


Lack of Justice Leaves Unionists in Fear for Their Lives

December 28, 2008

(New York, December 28, 2008) - Cambodian authorities should exonerate and free Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, who were unfairly sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2005 for the murder of labor leader Chea Vichea, said three international human rights organizations and the world's largest trade union confederation in a joint statement released today.

The Cambodia Supreme Court will hear the case on appeal on December 31, 2008.

The joint statement was issued by Human Rights Watch, the International Trade Union Confederation, and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture), which have all closely followed the case since Vichea's murder.

"The Cambodian Supreme Court should rely on the evidence and not give in to government pressure when it reviews the case," said Sara Colm, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Born Samang and Sok Sam Oeun have already spent five years behind bars for a crime they did not commit, and it is time for justice to be done in this case."

Chea Vichea, 36, was the founder and president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) and a vocal supporter of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party. He was shot and killed in broad daylight in front of a newsstand in Phnom Penh on January 22, 2004. Vichea was well known for his outspoken efforts to organize garment workers and to fight for improved working conditions in Cambodia, work he continued in spite of death threats.

The investigation into the high profile murder was marred by alleged police brutality and forced confession by one of the suspects, intimidation of witnesses, and political interference in the judicial process. The prosecution and conviction of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have drawn extensive criticism from Cambodian and international human rights activists, union advocates, lawyers, and United Nations officials.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), which sent a fact-finding mission to Cambodia in April 2008 to investigate the murders of trade unionists, has repeatedly expressed strong concerns about the convictions of the two men and called for a fresh investigation into Chea Vichea's murder.

"The lack of justice in this case leaves trade unionists in fear for their lives," said Guy Ryder, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, whose 311 affiliates represent 168 million workers worldwide. "Even ILO leaders who were on an official ILO mission to Cambodia earlier this year were subject to intimidation."

In a report released in November 2008, the ILO sharply criticized the Cambodian government for not effectively stemming a series of violent and deadly attacks against trade unionists. At the core of the problem, the report said, is Cambodia's lack of an independent judiciary, which allows the real perpetrators of such attacks to evade justice. The atmosphere of impunity in Cambodia reinforces the climate of violence and insecurity, the report said, which in turn "is extremely damaging to the exercise of trade union rights."

The ILO report's findings, which could affect the future of Cambodia's important garment industry, noted that during the ILO mission in April, the government "demonstrated an unwillingness to engage in fully frank discussions" and "provided no concrete indications" that it would act upon any of the ILO's recommendations.

In addition to the murder of Chea Vichea, there has been an ongoing pattern of violence against trade union activists in Cambodia. This includes the murders of FTUWKC official Hy Vuthy in February 2007 and FTUWKC Steering Committee member Ros Sovannarith in 2004, and a series of threats and physical assaults against FTUWKC representatives and other trade unionists.

The four organizations urged the Cambodian government to launch a full and impartial investigation into Chea Vichea's murder, as well as an independent and public inquiry into the handling of the prosecution of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun.

"If the Supreme Court fails to provide long-overdue justice by releasing these two innocent men, it will only further highlight the lack of progress toward rule of law in Cambodia," said Souhayr Belhassen, president of the International Federation for Human Rights.

The organizations also urged the Cambodian government to take prompt action to address the key issues highlighted by this case: Cambodia's endemic impunity and lack of rule of law, government interference in the judiciary, intimidation and violence faced by trade union members and leaders, and widespread torture by the police.

"It's time for the Cambodian authorities to finally deliver justice to Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, and stop the widespread practice of torture by Cambodian police to force confessions out of criminal suspects," said Eric Sottas, secretary-general of the World Organisation Against Torture.


The police and court investigations into Vichea's killing were marred by a series of procedural flaws and violations of international legal standards. The police allegedly tortured Born Samnang to obtain a confession. A judge who initially dropped the charges against the two men for lack of evidence was swiftly removed from his position, and the charges were reinstated. The subsequent trial of the two men was conducted in a manner that flagrantly violated Cambodian law and international fair trial standards. In April 2007, the country's Appeal Court upheld their convictions despite the state prosecutor acknowledging that there was insufficient evidence.

Chea Vichea's family members say they believe Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun are not responsible for the crime, as has Var Sothy, the newsstand proprietor who was the key eyewitness to the killing. She subsequently fled Cambodia in fear for her life.

As an example of the politicization of the Cambodian judiciary, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Dith Munthy, is a member of the Standing Committee of the ruling Cambodian People's Party. The lack of judicial independence has been cited in successive UN human rights reports for the past 15 years and is a major concern in the ongoing attempts to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. The Cambodian government has long acknowledged weaknesses in the judiciary and made commitments to address this, but has taken no meaningful steps to do so.

For background on Chea Vichea's murder and the prosecution of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, please see:

November 2008 Conclusions of the International Labour Organization's Committee on Freedom of Association regarding violence against Cambodian trade unionists, at:

June 2007 Licadho briefing paper, "Innocent Prisoners Awaiting Justice," at:;

April 12, 2007, statement by the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, "The Special Representative expresses deep regret over the upholding of the sentences against Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun," at:;

August 10, 2006, written statement by the prime witness to Chea Vichea's murder, at:;

October 3, 2006, complaint about the Chea Vichea case filed by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (now the International Trade Union Confederation) to the International Labour Organization, at:;

Further background documents, at:

Mystery in the jungle

Bayon, a temple near the better-known Angkor Wat, has 49 towers that feature nearly 200 huge carved images of a pleasantly smiling face.

A dancer performs at Angkor, a complex of temples and ruins in central Cambodia that covers 1,000 square miles.

Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century to honor the Hindu god Vishnu, is considered the masterpiece of the Angkor complex in Cambodia.

ELLEN CREAGER; Detroit Free Press
Published: December 28th, 2008

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – For something so ancient, the rock face looked as content as a man who’s just eaten a big slice of peach pie.

“Who made you?” I whispered. “Were you lonely when nobody came to visit for 400 years?”
No answer. Just a smile.

That is the fascination of Angkor, the mysterious temple complex of Cambodia. As at the pyramids of Egypt or the temples of the Maya, visitors here must infer the nature of a civilization from the astounding architecture left behind.

Angkor, located in central Cambodia, probably should have been a winner in last year’s New Seven Wonders of the World contest.

In scope and beauty, it easily beats Mexico’s Chichen Itza and possibly even Peru’s Machu Picchu. It likely lost because fewer people have seen it than the other attractions.

Although 2 million tourists a year visit Angkor now, the site was basically covered by the jungle from 1500 to 1900, then off-limits to visitors due to war and political instability in Cambodia from the 1960s to 1998.

Its masterpiece is Angkor Wat, a funky temple built in the 12th century in honor of the Hindu god Vishnu. Stunningly original, the temple’s five towers were built using porous clay foundations and sandstone exteriors. Put together with an unknown mortar, stones were stacked like a Jenga puzzle, each piece fitting atop the other into tall spires.

Yet Angkor Wat is only one of 72 major temples, and the Angkor ruins area covers more than 1,000 square miles.

There are ways to tour Angkor responsibly, says the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property. Don’t touch, and don’t take anything except photographs. Wear soft-soled shoes so sharp heels don’t leave marks. Don’t brush backpacks or bags against the monuments. Avoid climbing on them except where allowed. Don’t leave graffiti or litter, and talk softly.

Especially, I’d add, when talking to the carvings.

The rise-and- fall story of Angkor is dramatic enough to fill 10 history books.

Between the 12th and 15th centuries, the great Khmer empire spread over what are now parts of Laos and Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Its center was Angkor, the home of the kings, temples, fountains and gold.

A series of attacks by the Siamese and exhaustion of the land by overfarming led to the abandonment of the city in the early 15th century, historians believe.

That’s when most of Angkor fell victim to the jungle for 400 years. There it sat, while nations rose and fell, while America was discovered, while Shakespeare wrote “Hamlet.”

When French archaeologists in the late 19th century rediscovered Angkor and started pulling the vines away and looking at what remained, they were astonished. We still are.

It takes all day for even a bare-bones tour. You can start before sunrise and watch the sun come up over the towers of Angkor Wat, stay all day, then watch the sun go down from a hill nearby.

Some of the ruins have been sufficiently restored so that you can wander the halls and climb the steps. Yet most are only partly put back together, giving the ruins a tumbledown feel, as if you’d just stopped by after an earthquake.

Angkor Wat, built in the early 12th century by King Suryavarman II, is the star of Angkor. But I preferred the Bayon, a nearby temple with 49 towers emblazoned with nearly 200 huge carved images of a pleasantly smiling face. Historians believe the images represent either King Jayavarman VII, who built the temple in the late 12th century, or the Buddhist “compassionate being” Lokesvara or both.

Yet, the Bayon is not just a happy-face ruin. It’s also an ancient art gallery, with wonderful bas-relief murals depicting the ordinary life of the Angkor people – gambling, in childbirth, dancing, cooking, playing, hunting and fishing. These murals not only are a kind of Facebook posting of daily life back then, they illuminate the high standard of living at Angkor in its heyday, when people had enough to eat, and safety, leisure and time to create such art.

You don’t need a guide to visit the Angkor complex, but I would recommend it. The complex is so huge that it helps to have someone show you high points you might miss on your own.

Many tourists get around by tuk-tuk, a cart with an awning pulled by a motorcycle driver. Other sightseers visit by car, van, tour bus, bicycle or even by elephant, depending on what kind of tour they book.

Inside the complex, it’s not just sightseers. Local people gather sheaves of rattan, the reed used to weave baskets. Cattle wander amid the chaos. An ice cream truck parks in a field. At most of the popular temples and sites, persistent children sell sticky rice, baskets, scarves, bracelets, guidebooks, bananas, pineapple chunks and Fanta Orange.

The average tourist needs at least two days to see Angkor, but archaeology buffs will want to stay longer.

One of the most photo-friendly sites is Ta Prohm, a temple monastery. Today, visitors can see the temple much as it was found in the early 1900s, with giant kapok tree roots winding through the doors and windows, so that the stone temple appears to be part of the natural landscape.

Also lovely is Neak Pean, a pond with a fountain as elegant as anything you’d find at Versailles.

Today, the Angkor Wat complex is in no danger of fading away. Huge luxury hotels have opened pell-mell outside the park just in the last three years. About 3,000 new hotel rooms are about to be added to the 7,000 already here.

Naturally, environmentalists aren’t happy about the unregulated hustle and bustle right next to a UNESCO World Heritage site. They worry about the water table under Angkor being sucked dry by hotel wells. They worry that the site’s fragile ruins can’t handle the traffic.

Still, I keep thinking that the kings who built Angkor would probably love all the attention.
From the 1960s to 1998, Cambodia was either at war, crippled by the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime or unstable.

Now, the fledgling democratic nation is trying to make up for lost time in expanding tourism at a frenetic pace in Angkor and Siem Reap, its gateway city.

Ready or not, Tourism Cambodia expects up to 3 million tourists at Angkor by 2010.


GETTING THERE: Fly into Siem Reap’s two-year-old Angkor International Airport from nearby Bangkok, Thailand; Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; or Singapore. There are no direct flights from the U.S.

VISA: It’s needed but easy to obtain through Cambodia’s e-visa program. Get it before arrival for $25 at

LODGING: Most hotels in Siem Reap are new and less than a mile from the gates of the Angkor complex. Try Tara Angkor (about $90-up,

MONEY: Cambodia uses the riel, but it also uses U.S. dollars; no need to exchange money.
TOURS: Most tourists to Angkor go as part of a larger tour of Southeast Asia. However, it’s possible to fly in on your own and hire an Angkor guide through your hotel.

TICKETS: A one-day ticket to Angkor is $20; a three-day pass is $40; buy at the Angkor entrance gate; if you’re on a tour, your guide will take care of this.

SHOPPING: Siem Reap has nice handicrafts at local markets and roadside shops. Look for textiles, baskets and marble statues of Buddha.


• Take a break from the heat every two hours while touring the ruins. Weather can be humid and in the 90s. Wear a hat and sunscreen; carry water.

• Read up on Hinduism and Buddhism and the history of Cambodia to better appreciate what you are seeing.

• Try to shoot Angkor photos in late afternoon when the light is best. Also shoot in black-and-white for a timeless effect.

• Learn a little Khmer language, although most Cambodians who deal with tourists speak some English. For instance, “Angkor” means city. “Wat” means temple.

Water of life springs from Pol Pot's canals

28 December 2008

By Thomas Fuller in Baray, Cambodia

THE dry season has taken hold here, but water is everywhere. It pours out of sluice gates with the roar of an alpine torrent. Children do backflips into the ubiquitous canals and then pull their friends in with them. Fishermen cast their nets for minnows, and villagers wash their Chinese-made motorcycles.

"It's never dry here," said Chan Mo, a 36-year-old rice farmer standing on top of a dike.The reason? The Khmer Rouge canals have come back to life. By the time the murderous government of Pol Pot was toppled three decades ago, 1.7 million Cambodi ans were dead from overwork, starvation and disease, and the country was in ruin.

But the forced labour of millions of Cambodians left behind something useful – or that is how the current government here sees it.

The leaders of the Khmer Rouge were obsessed with canals, embankments and dams. They presided over hundreds of irrigation projects to revive the country's glorious but perhaps mythical past as an agrarian wonderland.

"There has never been a modern regime that placed more emphasis and resources towards developing irrigation," wrote Jeffrey Himel, a water resource engineer, in a recent study of Cambodia's irrigation system.

"The Khmer Rouge emptied all cities and towns, and put practically the entire population to work planting rice and digging irrigation dikes and canals."

Some of the canals were poorly designed – "hydraulic nonsense", says Alain Goffeau, a French irrigation expert with the Asian Development Bank. But many were viable.

The Khmer Rouge built about 70% of Cambodia's 800-plus canal networks, according to a survey commissioned by the UN in the Nineties.

Now, across this impoverished nation of 14 million people, the canals are being rebuilt by a government hoping to take advantage of the world's increasing demand for rice.

The Asian Development Bank is helping to finance the rehabilitation of a dozen canals, adding to projects financed by the Japanese and Korean governments.

"There's a lot of possibility," Goffeau said.

For older Cambodians, the canals are a source of ambivalence. Men like Loh Thoeun, a 61-year-old rice farmer, think back to the basketfuls of dirt he carried away hour after hour.

He recalled the horrors of the Khmer Rouge: the labourers, hands tied behind their backs, who were "dragged away like cows" and never returned, the Muslim families who were thrown down a nearby well. The foremen of the irrigation project in Baray were killed after the canals and embankments were completed, without explanation. Loh said he once saw Pol Pot inspect the canals on what he described as a "speedboat".

Loh had a particularly wide view of the Khmer Rouge earthworks: when he was not digging he was assigned to collect the sweet sap from the top of towering palm trees.

All of the work was done by hand in Baray, a two-hour drive north of the capital, Phnom Penh. There was no talking allowed among labourers. The Khmer Rouge played revolutionary songs and banged hubcaps to encourage the workers. Photos show huge crowds toiling in the dust.

"The earth here is very hard, and when we dug deeper we got to the hardest part – the most compact ground," said Loh, sitting in a bamboo shelter beside his rice fields. "We had to hammer at it. It was like cutting down a tree."

For so many Cambodians, the Khmer Rouge years, from 1975 to 1979, were about digging. Villagers and residents of Phnom Penh, who were forced to move to the countryside, were organised in small work units.

"I was a slave," said Ang Mongkol, now the deputy director general of the Interior Ministry, who was a law student when the Khmer Rouge came to power and was assigned to haul dirt. Ang is leading an experimental project that uses water from the canal to irrigate fields of hybrid rice varieties that promise to yield four times as much as the variety traditionally grown here. Because only about 20% of Cambodia's fields are irrigated, its rice farmers harvest on average half of Vietnam's yields and one-third of China's.

The irrigation system in Baray, which is fed with water diverted from the nearby Chinit River, functioned for several years after the Khmer Rouge left power. But in the mid-Eighties it fell into disrepair and the canals often went dry. It was only in 2005 that the government began rebuilding it.

Today the local municipality hires a maintenance crew to repair the embankments and keep the water flowing.

Loh hopes the canals he built will help double or triple his rice output. "I always recall the past to my children," he said. "I say, 'We have water from this canal that was built by the people. And many of them died.'"

Among the current workers on Baray's canal system is Sim Vy, 48. As a teenager she was also enlisted by the Khmer Rouge to help build the canals here, carrying dirt away on baskets tied to bamboo poles.

She was told she was working for national glory but received only watery gruel as recompense. Now she is paid $55 a month. "I prefer working this way," she said.

A husband-and-wife team do their best to do good for the impoverished sufferers of Cambodia

Florence Doi and Takeshi Terada set out on their Cambodian mission.

Takeshi Terada ministers to children at Banteay Mean Chey province, Cambodia, on Christmas Day 2007.
By Pat Gee
Dec 27, 2008

A retired Hawaii Kai couple is still recycling bottles to raise thousands of dollars to help impoverished villages in Cambodia, but now they hardly need to scavenge for throwaways because others are doing it for them.

When Florence Doi and Takeshi Terada first visited a "black and smelly village" outside of Phnom Penh in 2004 with members of the University Avenue Baptist Church, they were appalled at the sight of "garbage children" picking through rubbish they would sell to survive. They were called "scavenger villages," Doi said. "You would cry," she added.

When they returned home, Doi turned to Terada and said, "Let's be scavengers for them. Let's go out into the beaches and parks, and go into the rubbish cans."

And now the helpers have helpers. Church groups and individuals learned of their mission and are collecting bottles on their behalf.

"I couldn't have done this without all this help," she said. "This has been my happiest year. I want to thank everybody; all the contributions have multiplied. ... The churches offer their help. I don't call them; they call me."

Takahashi Koji of Makiki Christian Church has been collecting bottles for three years -- "that's how much he feels for us," she said. A few days ago a gift arrived in the mail from his church, which consists of a small Japanese congregation, she said.

"I was stunned; my feet and my heart danced when I received a check for $2,635," Doi added.
Other regular donors include Holy Nativity Church (Episcopal) in Aina Haina; the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu in Kaneohe; and the Kaimuki Christian Church.

This will be the first Christmas in four years that Doi and Terada will not be making the trip to Cambodia with an outreach program of the multicultural University Avenue Baptist Church, which sponsors several overseas outreach missions.

It's not that the couple is any less devoted. Doi said they decided to forgo their trip due to the uncertainty of safety conditions, and want to spend the holidays with their Hawaii family for a change.

She reluctantly admits that they are getting older --Terada is 84 and Doi, 78 -- and "we're tired." It's no wonder, with all the sorting and rinsing their recyclables, taking them to the recycling center and holding a weekly garage sale.

They both used to collect bottles at Sandy Beach almost every day, but now Terada goes down by himself twice a week. Since May they've noticed fewer bottles and such, perhaps because more people are recycling, too.

The couple is trying to shrink their Saturday garage sales because it is such heavy work to pick up donations, like furniture, and unload them at home. But because they have a truck and many do not, they feel obligated to pick up items that are guaranteed moneymakers, she said.

"How are we going to stop?" asks Terada, who recently set up a tent in his yard to house the furniture. "You can't say, 'Oh, don't bring anything.'"

The couple started wiring money to banks in southern Cambodia this year and have already sent about $20,000 to what they consider "the poorest of the poor," she said.

Their pet project is to help build a new church for Pastor Tes Kim of the Tuol Sala Church Sreang in Kandal province. They already have sent more than $7,500 this year to purchase a spot of property that Doi picked last year. They plan to send about $10,000 more for building materials.

Then there is a new orphanage of the Heritage of Jesus Christ Church, under Pastor Chum Sarith in Toulklong village in Kampong Speu, that needs help. And the renovation of the New Family in Christ Church in Kampong Cham province, under Pastor Un Vannak, who has two blind children, Doi added.

"I'm so excited. The dreams get more beautiful. ... I pray to God a lot every day. I believe in the power of the Lord," she said. "We've come this far and we can do more."

Foreigner dies in bike accident

Dec 27, 2008

PHNOM PENH - A BELGIAN man has died in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh after driving under the influence of alcohol without a helmet and crashing into a truck, police said on Saturday.

Van Esbroeck Guido's 44-year-old Cambodian wife told police on Thursday she had earlier refused to ride pillion on her husband's bike when he fell off after drinking.

Police said the 48-year-old Belgian continued driving alone and later crashed into a truck as it left a construction site.

'He was very drunk while driving, didn't have on a helmet and later crashed into a truck that didn't give a signal when it turned,' said traffic police chief Tin Prasoeur.

'This year, the traffic accidents are still high...Our traffic police will start to implement the new traffic law by fining those drivers who don't wear helmets,' he added.

Deaths on the roads have more than doubled in the past five years, becoming Cambodia's second biggest killer behind HIV/Aids and resulting in mounting costs for the government.

In a bid to put an end to the carnage the government has pushed through drastic new traffic laws, previously unheard of in Cambodia's free-wheeling road culture.

From Jan 1, drivers' licences will be mandatory, as will helmets for those on motorbikes and seatbelts for motorists. -- AFP