Thursday, 15 January 2009

Palm sugar at Lar Peang village, Kampong Chhnang province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh

Cambodian men weigh palm sugar before selling to buyer at Lar Peang village, Kampong Chhnang province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Traditionally, some rural people spend time to collect the palm juice to produce palm sugar to earn extra income after the rice harvested season.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian young girl eats palm sugar as she sits at her home's front door in Lar Peang village, Kampong Chhnang province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Traditionally, some rural people spend time to collect the palm juice to produce palm sugar to earn extra income after the rice harvested season.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian woman stirs palm sugar in a pan as her daughter eats a little at Lar Peang village, Kampong Chhnang province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Traditionally, some rural people spend time to collect the palm juice to produce palm sugar to earn extra income after the rice harvested season.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian baby girl helps her mother make a fire to produce palm sugar from palm juice at Lar Peang village, Kampong Chhnang province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Traditionally, some rural people spend time to collect the palm juice to produce palm sugar to earn extra income after the rice harvested season.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian woman produces palm sugar from palm juice at Lar Peang village, Kampong Chhnang province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Traditionally, some rural people spend time to collect the palm juice to produce palm sugar to earn extra income after the rice harvested season.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian man sits on the top of a palm tree as he collects palm juice at Lar Peang village, Kampong Chhnang province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Traditionally, some rural people spend time to collect the palm juice to produce palm sugar to earn extra income after the rice harvested season.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

A Cambodian man climbs up a palm tree for collecting palm juice at Lar Peang village, Kampong Chhnang province, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Traditionally, some rural people spend time to collect the palm juice to produce palm sugar to earn extra income after the rice harvested season.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Cambodia aims to roll out forest preservation program

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- The Forestry Administration of Cambodia hopes to implement by September a program designed to prevent development projects from decimating Cambodia's forests, national media reported Thursday.

The program would prioritize the use of law enforcement to crack down on illegal loggers, the identification and demarcation of forest areas, increased community participation in forest conservation, and investment in research projects related to the country's forests, Ty Sokhun, director of the administration, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

Currently, the administration has completed 30 percent of a draft document detailing the program, Ty Sokhun said, adding that they hope to hold forums for public discussion of the program in May and to implement it in September.

"We strongly believe that this program will not only make forests in Cambodia more abundant but also improve the lives of people living in rural communities and reduce poverty throughout the country," he said.

Meanwhile, Keng Pou, a member of the Phnong minority group living in Ratanakkiri province, called for the government to assist local efforts to encourage forest preservation.

"We need the government to encourage us, and support and protect us when we are fighting against illegal loggers," he told the Post.

He said some members of his village have sustained serious injuries while fighting off illegal loggers.

Editor: Xiong

Two Bulls Front Office Members Honored by NBA for Work in Cambodia

Getty Images
A child from the dump where Bill Smith and Joe O'Neil have rescued children.
NBC Universal
Wed, Jan 14, 2009
Two members of the Chicago Bulls were honored by the NBA for outstanding work. It wasn't a player or a coach, and it wasn't for getting the most points or rebounds. Joe O'Neil, the senior director of ticket operations, and Bill Smith, the photographer for the Bulls, Blackhawks and United Center, were given the NBA's Value of the Game Award for their humanitarian work in Cambodia.

Smith and O'Neil have worked rescuing children who lived in a garbage dump in Phnom Penh. Smith first encountered these children when on a trip to southeast Asia, and his guide brought him to the dump. He was horrified to see children foraging through the trash to earn money, and was immediately moved to do something about it. Smith and his wife began by paying to keep three girls out of the dumps, and in schools. From there, Smith continued to return to Cambodia often, and sponsor more and more children.

As friends began to hear what Smith and his wife were up to, they gave money to help. This grew to the point where Joe O'Neil joined in, gave a hand in fundraising, and accompanied Smith on a trip to Cambodia. The two men started a not-for-profit organization, A New Day in Cambodia, to build a center for the children to live in and go to school. They did all of this while working demanding jobs with the Bulls. According to Smith, when the center opened:

It was emotional, gratifying, and a unforgettable experience to watch their faces as one by one the children marched (with all their worldly belongings on their back) into their new residence. Their excitement was contagious and emotional; there wasn’t a dry eye to be found.

Best of all, Smith and O'Neil are known to be extremely humble about their accomplishments. That just makes them even more deserving of the award.
Make a contribution to A New Day in Cambodia here.

Where Sweatshops Are a Dream


January 14, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof

Before Barack Obama and his team act on their talk about “labor standards,” I’d like to offer them a tour of the vast garbage dump here in Phnom Penh.

This is a Dante-like vision of hell. It’s a mountain of festering refuse, a half-hour hike across, emitting clouds of smoke from subterranean fires.

The miasma of toxic stink leaves you gasping, breezes batter you with filth, and even the rats look forlorn. Then the smoke parts and you come across a child ambling barefoot, searching for old plastic cups that recyclers will buy for five cents a pound. Many families actually live in shacks on this smoking garbage.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.

Talk to these families in the dump, and a job in a sweatshop is a cherished dream, an escalator out of poverty, the kind of gauzy if probably unrealistic ambition that parents everywhere often have for their children.

“I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot.”

Another woman, Vath Sam Oeun, hopes her 10-year-old boy, scavenging beside her, grows up to get a factory job, partly because she has seen other children run over by garbage trucks. Her boy has never been to a doctor or a dentist, and last bathed when he was 2, so a sweatshop job by comparison would be far more pleasant and less dangerous.

I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.

When I defend sweatshops, people always ask me: But would you want to work in a sweatshop? No, of course not. But I would want even less to pull a rickshaw. In the hierarchy of jobs in poor countries, sweltering at a sewing machine isn’t the bottom.

My views on sweatshops are shaped by years living in East Asia, watching as living standards soared — including those in my wife’s ancestral village in southern China — because of sweatshop jobs.

Manufacturing is one sector that can provide millions of jobs. Yet sweatshops usually go not to the poorest nations but to better-off countries with more reliable electricity and ports.

I often hear the argument: Labor standards can improve wages and working conditions, without greatly affecting the eventual retail cost of goods. That’s true. But labor standards and “living wages” have a larger impact on production costs that companies are always trying to pare. The result is to push companies to operate more capital-intensive factories in better-off nations like Malaysia, rather than labor-intensive factories in poorer countries like Ghana or Cambodia.

Cambodia has, in fact, pursued an interesting experiment by working with factories to establish decent labor standards and wages. It’s a worthwhile idea, but one result of paying above-market wages is that those in charge of hiring often demand bribes — sometimes a month’s salary — in exchange for a job. In addition, these standards add to production costs, so some factories have closed because of the global economic crisis and the difficulty of competing internationally.

The best way to help people in the poorest countries isn’t to campaign against sweatshops but to promote manufacturing there. One of the best things America could do for Africa would be to strengthen our program to encourage African imports, called AGOA, and nudge Europe to match it.

Among people who work in development, many strongly believe (but few dare say very loudly) that one of the best hopes for the poorest countries would be to build their manufacturing industries. But global campaigns against sweatshops make that less likely.

Look, I know that Americans have a hard time accepting that sweatshops can help people. But take it from 13-year-old Neuo Chanthou, who earns a bit less than $1 a day scavenging in the dump. She’s wearing a “Playboy” shirt and hat that she found amid the filth, and she worries about her sister, who lost part of her hand when a garbage truck ran over her.

“It’s dirty, hot and smelly here,” she said wistfully. “A factory is better.”

Danish Woman Jailed In Cambodia For Trafficking Painkillers


PHNOM PENH (AFP)--A Cambodian court Thursday sentenced a Danish woman to 15 years in prison for allegedly trying to mail thousands of over-the-counter painkillers out of the country.

Axelexen Johanne Vinther, 45, was arrested at a post office in the capital Phnom Penh last year as she tried to send 10,761 tablets containing codeine in packages to the U.S. and Canada.

The drugs can be easily bought at street-side pharmacies throughout Phnom Penh, but are restricted in most Western countries.

Chhay Kong, a judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said Vinther was guilty of drug trafficking and sentenced her to 15 years in jail.

The judge also ordered Vinther to pay a fine of $7,500.

Chhay Kong also sentenced a 28-year-old son of Vinther in absentia to 15 years behind bars and ordered him to pay a fine of the same amount.

Vinther denied she smuggled the drug, calling the verdict against her and her son "unjust."

"I did not commit any crimes. They (judges) don't even know what codeine is. They compare it to heroin. It was never heroin. It is not a hard drug," she said after the court hearing.

"It is something for the pain - painkillers."

Vinther said she would appeal against the verdict within a month and would even seek a "royal pardon" from Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamoni.

Impoverished Cambodia is becoming an increasingly popular trafficking point for methamphetamines and heroin, particularly since neighboring Thailand toughened its stance against illegal drugs in 2002.

However, arrests for violations involving pharmaceuticals are much less common.

Ecstasy threatens Cambodia’s jungles

One of the sassafras oil distilling factory in the jungles of Cambodia. Courtesy of Fauna & Flora International

Abu Dhabi Media

Larry Jagan, Foreign Correspondent
January 15. 2009

PHNOM PENH // The illegal drugs trade is causing significant environmental damage to parts of Cambodia, according to an international aid agency.

In south-west Cambodia the production of sassafras oil, which is used when making the recreational drug ecstasy, is destroying trees, the local inhabitants’ livelihoods and wreaking untold ecological damage, according to David Bradfield, an adviser to the Wildlife Sanctuaries Project of Fauna and Flora International, who is based in the area.

The sassafras oil comes from the Cardamom Mountain area, one of the last forest wildernesses in mainland South East Asia.

“The illicit distilling of sassafras oil in these mountains is slowly but surely killing the forests and wildlife,” Mr Bradfield said. “The production of sassafras oil is a huge operation, which affects not only the area where the distilleries are actually located, but ripples outward, leaving devastation and destruction in its wake.”

The livelihoods of more than 15,000 people who depend on hunting and gathering to survive in the wildlife sanctuary are at risk from the sassafras production operations, which pollute water and kill wildlife.

Cambodian sassafras oil is highly sought as it is of the highest quality – more than 90 per cent pure, according to the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Cambodia, Lars Pedersen. It is a major precursor drug used in the production of ecstasy.

“Massive amounts of sassafras oil are smuggled every year into Vietnam and Thailand from Cambodia,” he said.

Sassafras Oil is made from the roots of the rare Mreah Prew Phnom tree – also known as Cinnamomum parathenoxylon. The roots are first chopped into small blocks of wood and shredded into fibre consistency. This is then put into large metal vats two metres high and about three metres wide. It is distilled over a wood-driven fire for at least five days before the gas is cooled and the oil created.

Apart from depleting the Mreah Prew Phnom, large numbers of surrounding trees are felled to maintain the fires, undermining the area’s biodiversity. At the current rate, Mr Bradfield said, the Mreah Prew Phnom and other species would become extinct in the near future.

Animal life is also threatened. Deep in the jungle, the factories, which have two or three distilling pots each, are heavily guarded and require dozens workers to maintain the stills. These workers live on the surrounding wildlife in the area, with many involved in the commercial poaching of such rare animals as tigers, pangolins, peacocks, pythons, wild cats and wild fowls.

Streams and rivers are being polluted too by the effluent from the oil production. “There are frequently dead fish and frogs floating in the streams near these distilleries,” Mr Bradfield said.

The contaminated water from this area flows down into the rest of Cambodia through the Mekong and Ton Le Sap rivers and, said Mr Bradfield, poses a threat to populations downstream who rely on the rivers for drinking water. “Water tests in the area need to be carried out as a matter of urgency,” he said.

Four years ago the Cambodian government made the production of sassafras oil illegal in an effort to protect the Mreah Prew Phnom tree. Since then the authorities have tried to eliminate the illicit production factories in the Cardamom Mountains with the help of international organisations.

“Law enforcement is the key to suppressing the illegal trade in sassafras oil,” said Mr Pedersen, the Cambodia UNODC chief. “It’s a very lucrative trade, worth millions and millions of dollars.”

About 50 rangers from the forestry ministry, with the support of independent conservation groups and the UN, are currently policing the area; Mr Bradfield refers to them as “the foot soldiers protecting the forests”.

The rangers spend half the month patrolling the dense, leech-infested jungle of the Cardamom Mountains for a meagre salary, Mr Bradfield said, and face the threat of the machine-gun-carrying mercenaries who guard the factories. Many of the factories are also surrounded by anti-personnel mines.

Flora and Fauna International has supported the rangers for years, providing them with uniforms, equipment and training. They assist in building ranger stations and provide technical advice. The UN Development Fund also supported the project between 2004 and 2006.

The rangers’ task is made all the more difficult because of the potential profits smugglers can make from the trade and the lengths they will go to protect their product.

A year ago the Thai authorities seized more than 50 tonnes of sassafras oil near the Cambodian border on its way to China and the US, according to western anti-narcotics agents who declined to be identified, reported to be worth US$150,000 (Dh550,000).

Had it found its destination, where it would have been used to make ecstasy – it would have produced 7.5 million tablets worth more than $150 million, a western anti-narcotics agent said.

Cambodian authorities testing two girls for HIV after Quebec man arrested

CBC News
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Canadian Press

MONTREAL - Authorities in Cambodia are testing two young girls for HIV after their mother claimed a Canadian man accused of sexually abusing them infected her, a local child protection organization involved in the case said Wednesday.

Daniel Lavigne, 68, was arrested Monday and later charged with having sexual intercourse and committing indecent acts with minors, aged 10 and 12. His hometown in Quebec was not known.
Seila Sanleang, director of Action pour les enfants, said his organization had been monitoring the accused since his first of three visits to the country in August.

Information and evidence obtained by the group, which seeks to fight child exploitation and assist victims, was given to police and ultimately helped lead to Lavigne's arrest.

"We are an organization that protects children from child exploitation but we have an investigation team to monitor and investigate the sexual exploitation of children," he said.

The group became suspicious after the man rented a guest house in the coastal town of Sihanoukville, about 185 kilometres southwest of the capital Phnom Penh, and was seen there with the two girls.

Sanleang said the group monitored Lavigne for two days in August and again in September and while they handed over the information to police, it wasn't until his third visit that they finally acted.

Sanleang said Lavigne told him he'd been staying in China between his visits to Cambodia.
He said Lavigne met the widowed mother while she worked as a street vendor in Phnom Penh.

"According to the mother, they met on the street by chance and then they built a relationship and he just wanted to have the relationship with the mother," he said.

"Then he was also introduced to the two girls by the mother and then the relationship between Daniel and the two girls started."

He said the mother also told authorities she'd been infected with HIV.

"The tests of (the children) is underway," he said. "They are waiting for the tests from the doctors."

Canadian officials said they've been in contact with a Quebecer who has been arrested in Cambodia for allegedly sexually abusing two young girls.

Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Monette said Canada is aware that a man has been detained and that an investigation is underway.

"Consular officials have been in contact with the arrested Canadian and they are offering their support and assistance," she said.

"Due to the Privacy Act, I can't confirm other details including the identity of the individual."
Soun Sphan, Sihanoukville province deputy police chief for anti-human trafficking, said Lavigne was arrested Monday at a bus station.

He said Lavigne denied the charges and claimed he was headed to the capital with the two girls whom he he said he treated as his adopted daughters.

The girls told police Lavigne had sexually molested them at a guesthouse, Sphan said.

Until a few years ago, poverty and lax enforcement made Cambodia a prime destination for foreigners seeking sex with minors.

Police have since cracked down and several foreigners are serving lengthy prison terms as a result.

Sanleang said there have been three similar cases involving Canadians in the last few years but that none of them were convicted. There have been a total of about 60 sex offender cases involving foreigners, he said.

If convicted, Lavigne can face up to 13 years in prison.

WB aids Cambodian poverty reduction

VOV News

The Cambodian government signed two grant agreements on Jan. 14, worth a total of US$72.1 million with the World Bank and other development partners to improve the lives of its people and to reduce poverty.

The first agreement for US$20 million supports the Demand for Good Governance Project (DFGG), which aims at improving the government's accountability and responsiveness to the needs of the public, said a press release from the WB.

The second agreement, worth US$52.1 million, provides additional resources to the Second Health Sector Support Program (HSSP2), which is designed to help the government improve the health of the nation’s underprivileged mothers and children, it added. The grants will provide crucial support to the Government of Cambodia's efforts to reduce poverty and ensure that the people of Cambodia enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods, WB said.

"The grant agreements that we sign today will contribute towards the fourth pillar of Cambodia's Rectangular Strategy," Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon was quoted by Xinhua News Agency as saying.

Opposition Parties To Announce ‘Movement’

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
14 January 2009

Two opposition parties expect to announce the formation of a new unified movement Thursday, in an attempt to better compete against the ruling party in elections four and five years from now.

Officials of the Sam Rainsy and Human Rights parties said Wednesday the coalition, to be called the Grand Movement of Democrats in Cambodia, was a step toward a unified party in the future.

But the main point of forming the alliance was a need for “change,” Sam Rainsy said. “We need a new political power structure and a new leader for the country.”

No technical details for the unified movement were available Wednesday, including who would be president of any new party.

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said that in the upcoming commune elections, in 2012, and the national election the following year, the two parties will have joint registration with the National Election Committee.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith reiterated Wednesday confidence in the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and its ability to win the upcoming elections.

Lao Monghay, a senior researcher for the Asian Human Rights Commission, said the current political situation called for action on good governance in the country, and not too much worry over a new opposition movement.

The word “grand,” however, harkened back to the days of the Khmer Rouge, he said, and should be removed from the title.

Court Officials Set for Four-Year Rotation

By Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Original Report from Washington
14 January 2009

National judges and prosecutors will be rotated to new posts following a meeting of the Supreme Council of Magistracy Wednesday, part of reform efforts to reduce corruption.

“Every four years, or a little bit more, there needs to be a change to another place,” Justice Minister Ang Vongwatana said. “Those who are in the same place for a long time, they know all the people, the chief of the court knows all the people, knows the businessmen, and the businessmen know them.”

Friendships grow and make work difficult, he said. “So that’s why there is the principal that they should not stay in one place.”

Cambodia’s courts face continual criticism of political bias and corruption, and donors have pushed for reform, something court officials say they are working on.

No details were immediately available on changes at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, where many of the country’s key trials are held, but Ang Vongwatana said around four or five judges and prosecutors would be moved.

An observer close to the Supreme Council of Magistracy said Tuesday Phnom Penh court’s chief prosecutor, Ouk Savuth, would be moved to the Appeals Court, as deputy-general prosecutor, while his deputy, Yet Chakrya, would replace him.

Yet Chakrya was transferred from Banteay Meanchey provincial court and currently serves as a reserve prosecutor for the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

People Worldwide Search for Cheaper Transportation

Motorbikes and bicycles are a way of life in Burkina Faso

By Kent Klein
14 January 2009

The cost of fuel is rising quickly, and people throughout the world are looking for cheaper ways to get to work and travel. VOA's Kent Klein looks at how people are being affected by these changes. (Part 2 of 5)

As gasoline prices soar, commuting habits are changing. In the developed world, that means fewer automobiles and more public transportation, or abandoning motor vehicles for bicycles. But higher fuel costs are hitting hardest in the developing world, where money is tight.

Joseph Muendo Musyoka lives in a Nairobi slum. He walks three hours between home and work each day. He can no longer afford public transportation. Joseph says life has become very hard. The oil prices have gone up, so he realized that it is better to walk, so he can keep some of that money for his daily use.

Joseph Muendo Musyoka

In much of the world, skyrocketing fuel prices are causing a search for solutions. In Indonesia and elsewhere, one answer is mass transit.

Jakarta commuter Risa Riana is leaving her car behind more frequently as gasoline becomes more expensive. Since the fuel price increase, she takes the bus more often.

But despite governments' best efforts, many people, like Ahmad Suyono of Jakarta, are resisting mass transit. He says he would like to use public transportation, but using his own car is more convenient.

Thailand has spent an enormous amount of money to build a Skytrain, a subway system, and a network of buses to relieve Bangkok's notorious traffic jams. More public transport is on the way. Many people take public transportation, but many remain in their cars.

Sue Bhuyatorn spends an average of two hours a day, driving 20 kilometers between her home and her job at the U.S. Embassy. She enjoys the safety and convenience of her car. And she sees no solution to Bangkok's traffic problems any time soon. "There is, theoretically, but it needs sacrifice, mutual sacrifice of everyone," she says.

In the United States, it's harder to find a seat on buses and trains these days. One dollar a liter for gasoline is the reason - everyone complains about the high gas prices.

The second-largest U.S. city, Los Angeles, is known for its motion picture industry, and for some of America's worst traffic. According to, the average Los Angeles driver spends three days out of each year stuck in traffic.

Despite recent improvements, public transportation in L.A. is not extensive enough for such a sprawling city, and Angelinos are reluctant to give up their cars.

Ramona Marks

But not Ramona Marks. She is one of a small but growing number of people who bike to work. She says she is not only saving money, she is also beating the frustration of driving on L.A.'s freeways. "I get to work invigorated," she said. "I feel like, 'Yeah, I just survived that!'"

For others, change is not by choice. In Kenya, Joseph Muendo Musyoka would like to ride the bus from his home in the Mukuru slum to his job.

But the round-trip would cost him $1.20, and he makes only $1.50 a day. On that, he supports an extended family of eight. Joseph is one of about one million people in Nairobi who earn about $1.50 a day.

Every day, he walks an hour and a half to work and an hour and a half home. He says walking three hours a day is hurting his health. But he has no choice. For now, he keeps walking and hoping that one day he will be able to afford something easier and better

Tribunal Chamber Readies for Duch Trial

By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh
14 January 2009

Trial Chamber officials of the Khmer Rouge tribunal will meet with defense and civil party attorneys Thursday to discuss the upcoming trial of jailed prison chief Duch.

The tribunal judges and prosecutors will discuss with attorneys evidence, witnesses and procedures for the hearing of Duch, whose real name is Kaing Kek Iev.

“We will consider the situation of the parties that will participate in the process,” Trial Chamber chief judge Nil Non said. “We will also consider the question of witnesses, the question of evidence and the management of the hearing.”

The Trial Chamber has received the witness list from prosecutors and must still decide on trial preliminaries by the end of February, he said. The chamber is still waiting for a witness list from the civil parties, he added.

However, Hong Kim Suon, a civil party attorney, said the list of witnesses was sent Wednesday afternoon.

Tribunal prosecutor Robert Petit has said Thursday’s meeting will resolve many logistical issues and pave the way for Duch’s trial, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role as the head of Tuol Sleng prison.

The trial will be the first-ever held by the hybrid tribunal, which stood up in 2006 but has experienced a number of delays in reaching the trial stage for five jailed leaders of the regime.

Canadian arrested for alleged abuse of Cambodian sisters: police

A 68-year-old Canadian man has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing two Cambodian sisters aged 10 and 12

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — A 68-year-old Canadian man has been arrested for allegedly sexually abusing two Cambodian sisters aged 10 and 12 in a popular seaside resort town, police said Wednesday.

Daniel Lavigne was arrested at a bus station in Sihanoukville on Monday, a day after he allegedly abused the girls at a guesthouse, said Be Sivanna, chief of the town's anti-trafficking and juvenile protection unit.

Police accused Lavigne with having sex with underage girls and committing indecent acts against minors, Be Sivanna told AFP by telephone.

"The suspect denied he committed the crimes. He told police he loved the girls as his daughters because he has a love affair with the girls' mother," he said.

"But the girls testified that he sexually abused them," he said, adding that the man would face formal charges in court on Wednesday.

Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-paedophilia push in 2003 to try to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.

Positions of Judges, of Prosecutors, and of Clerks Are Reformed on a Large Scale - Wednesday, 14.1.2009

Posted on 15 January 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 595

“Phnom Penh: The fourth term Royal Government starts to implement reform strategies for the court system as the first priority by beginning to change the positions of judges, of prosecutors, and of clerks countrywide on a large scale.

“The Minister of Justice, Mr. Ang Vong Vathana, told the Kampuchea Thmey that the Royal Government plans to reshuffle court leaders countrywide, but not depending on wrongdoing as the only reason.

“He said that the reform of the court system was made the first priority in order to be in line with the political mechanisms of the new term Royal Government in the second phase of the Rectangular Strategy.

“He went on to say that as the basis of good governance it is necessary to build the legal basis; if the resources of those who implement the law at the basis are not strong and fair, good governance will not function smoothly as it is needed.“

Mr. Ang Vong Vathana said also that reforms of court officials will be made by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy in this morning on 14 January 2009. Reshuffles of court officials are not made only with judges, with prosecutors, and with clerks, but also with court presidents. However, Mr. Ang Vong Vathana did not mention the names of those who will be reshuffled, but just told primarily that a prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Mr. Ouk Savuth, will be replaced by Mr. Yen Chakriya. Mr. Ouk Savuth will be appointed to work as deputy prosecutor of the Appeals Court.

Note: Article 21 of the Cambodian Constitution:

Upon proposals by the Council of Ministers, the King shall sign decrees (Kret) appointing, transferring or ending the mission of high civil and military officials, ambassadors and Envoys Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. Upon proposals by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, the King shall sign decrees (Kret) appointing, transferring or removing judges.

“Mr. Ang Vong Vathana stressed that these reappointments are normal, but some court officials are replaced also due to wrongdoings, and some hold their positions already four years and must be reshuffled. Nevertheless, most of these reforms, as they relate to court officials, are only a change from one place to another place.“Previously, the court system was strongly criticized for being corrupt, and most victims were poor people while most people who won court cases were the powerful.”

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.8, #1846, 14.1.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Canada in contact with Cambodia after Quebecer arrested on child sex charges

By The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - Canadian officials say they've been in contact with a Quebec man who has been arrested in Cambodia for allegedly sexually abusing two young girls.

Authorities in the southeast Asian country say Daniel Lavigne, 68, was charged today with having sexual intercourse and committing indecent acts with minors, aged 10 and 12.

If convicted, he can face up to 13 years in prison.

Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Monette says Canada is aware that a man has been detained and that an investigation is underway.

She says consular officials have been in contact with the man and that they have offered him their support and assistance.

She would not confirm his identity for privacy reasons.

Soun Sphan, Sihanoukville province deputy police chief for anti-human trafficking, says Lavigne was arrested Monday at a bus station in the southern coastal town about 185 kilometres southwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.

He says Lavigne denied the charges and claimed he was headed to the capital with the two girls whom he treated as his adopted daughters.

Sphan says the girls told police Lavigne had sexually molested them at a guesthouse.
Until a few years ago, poverty and lax enforcement made Cambodia a prime destination for foreigners seeking sex with minors.

Police have since cracked down and several foreigners are serving lengthy prison terms as a result.

Restoring Thailand's international standing

By The Nation

In an exclusive interview on "World Beat" with Suthichai Yoon (to be aired at 11pm on Thursday night on Modern Nine TV), recently appointed Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya opened up about his involvement with the People's Alliance for Democracy and his plans to put Thailand back on track in the international community.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Q: What is the difference between Kasit the protestor and Kasit the foreign minister?

A: On the role of foreign minister, I have to work in the framework of the Cabinet for policy direction. And I have to implement policy. As an activist, one can talk and comment on so many subjects - domestic and international issues and so on. But as foregn minister I have to confine myself to the international relations of Thailand. I have to coordinate with other ministers and other agencies. I have to observe policy direction, first of the Democrat Party and second of the coalition government.

Q: So what you said as an anti-Thaksin protestor you cannot say today as foreign minister.

A: Not exactly. I have to maintain integrity, principles and good governance as a person. PM Abhisit came out with nine precepts. Besides upholding the institution of the monarchy, the second precept is honesty, transparency and accountability. It is a continuation of what I have been doing all along. And second is to be able to listen to the people, both to criticism and to suggestions. And to consult them as much as possible in the decision-making process. On this particular point, as an activist, I was not accountable because it was theoretical and an expression of opinion. But we have to really sit down and talk to the civil society, the bureaucrats, to the private sector, to the academics.

Q: Did you regret anything that you said when you were up on stage against Thaksin? Were there things that you shouldn't have said that could affect your position now?

A: No.

Q: Nothing at all? Not even saying that "joining the airport protest was fun?"

A: I did not say it exactly in those words. I think those words were put together by a couple of journalists. But what I was trying to explain on many occasions … that the atmosphere at the protest was non-violent. Second, people were helping one another, to clean up the place, with food, and most of the people there were women, about 60-70 per cent. But the atmosphere was friendly. Not only the food and music, there were substantive issues and so on. I just wanted to convey to the people that it was non-combative; it was very friendly. And I went in order to genuinely find justice for Thai society, for something they believed in - that is accountable government, or a government without conflicts of interest and no abuses of power.

Q: If you were asked now about the occupation of the airports as part of the protest plan that you were involve in, how would you explain that?

A: One has to look at the progression of the event. At first there was no dialogue from the government side. At one time the Somchai government appointed General Chavalit to be the interlocutor between the government and the protestors. And then that disappeared. Then there were many violent acts committed against the protestors. The zenith of the whole thing occurred on October 7. People died. With that non dialogue there was no attempt to respond to the petition of the protestors. There were atrocities committed on October 7 and that led to the increased stakes and conditions and eventually to the airport protest. The response from the government was in terms of threats and use of violence.

Q: Some people called it an act of terrorism - the taking over of the airports.

A: What I understand of the English word "terrorist act" or "terrorism" is that you have to be armed. But it was peaceful in the sense that it was non-violent. One might understand the word "terrorism" differently, using a different dictionary. Who is to judge? I think the judicial process could decide on that one. For any one person to say that was a terrorist act, then what about the atrocities committed not only on October 7 but all over Thailand by people with opposing ideas.

Q: How can we be sure it will never happen again, the taking over of the airports?

A: I think it depends on the behaviour of the government. This government will have to behave in such a way that will not give rise to any deep discontent about their malpractice, about the abuse of power, about atrocities and so on. If the government behaves like a normal democratic government, like in any civilised democratic country, then there should not be any problem.

Q: what are your top priorities now?

A: The immediate one is to organise the Asean summit, as the Asean charter came into force a few weeks ago. We have to act. We have to implement it and push it. Second is to set up the human rights body at the Asean level. We have to go through the range of bilateral relationship issues and see how we can push it further, bilaterally and in the sub-regional context. Third is to be more present and more active in the international arena. In multilateral organisations like the UN and WTO we have to be active participants.

Q: Thailand's image has been shattered by recent events. How do you propose to change that?

A: I have instructed all ambassadors and consulate generals to go out and inform people that the change of government has been peaceful, normal and within the parliamentary system. We are going to be very business friendly, accommodating and so on. We are serious about business. There will not be any conflict of interest. All the infrastructure projects and the procurement systems will be above board, transparent and fair, on a level playing field.

Q: Cambodian PM Hun Sen may have some bad feeling about what you said when the Samak government signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple issue. Do you have any personal apology to give to Hun Sen?

A: No, I don't think so. I think Somdej Hun Sen is a well seasoned politician, a man who fought for his ideological beliefs. And he would have understood what I was doing in my other hat. And my comment was not directly aimed at him or the Cambodian people. My comment was on the former PM of Thailand and his regime. It was just unfortunate that Hun Sen was involved. But it was more of a secondary issue. So I think Somdej Hun Sen, who even took up arms in his younger days, would have understood what I was doing for my country.

Cambodia receives $84.7 million grant from World Bank, aid donors+

PHNOM PENH, Jan. 14 (AP) - (Kyodo)—Cambodia received $84.7 million in aid pledges Wednesday from the World Bank and other donors for three development projects aimed at reducing poverty and improving Cambodians' livelihood.

In a press statement, the World Bank said $52.1 million is earmarked for improving the health of underprivileged mothers and children, $20 million for projects aimed at improving the government's accountability and responsiveness to public needs, and $12.6 million for removing trade barriers and improving the standard of Cambodian exports.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon pledged the Cambodian government will "utilize these grants in an efficient, accountable and transparent manner."

World Bank Country Director Annette Dixon said she hopes the grants will give crucial support to the Cambodian government's efforts to reduce poverty and ensure Cambodians enjoy secure and sustainable livelihoods.

Apart from the World Bank, other donors that contributed to the grants include Britain, Australia, Denmark, the European Commission and the U.N. Industrial Development Organization.

First steps on the Web for a one of a kind educational Khmer Sign Language dictionary


By Laurent Le Gouanvic

Together with the French Young Deaf Institute (IJS), the NGO Krousar Thmey set up an ingenious digital dictionary for Khmer Sign Language learning, a smart way of making the most out of the Web's multimedia possibilities.

Swift and agile fingers in motion, elevated by an invisible pair of wings, will simulate the light flight of a dragonfly, when a punching gesture quickly followed by the fine quiver of a undulating hand will accurately represent fireworks... This online digital Khmer sign language dictionary was recently set up by both Krousar Thmey, the Cambodia-based foundation assisting deprived children, and the French Institut des Jeunes Sourds (IJS, Young Deaf Institute, located in Bourg-la-Reine, France) offers internet users the possibility to browse through a surprisingly poetical world. However, its objective goal is not to promote poetry, but truly to allow Internet 'surfers', through a handy, entertaining and educational tool, to have access to hundreds of words in Khmer, French and English and their equivalent version in Khmer sign language, demonstrated in short video clips. The project is a first in Cambodia and comes as an ingenious and smart feature on the web, where one can already find an extensive list of online Khmer dictionaries.

From Abbreviation to Worry

Created along the same template as the one used for the digital French Sign Language lexical glossary set up in 2000 by the Institut des Jeunes Sourds in Bourg-la-Reine , the Beta version of the digital Khmer Sign Language (KSL) dictionary was launched on the web in December 2008 and already comprises some 130 terms, classified in alphabetical order, from “Abbreviation” to “Worry”, and will gradually be expanded.

The project, mainly intended for the Cambodian deaf and hearing-impaired young adults looked after by the NGO Krousar Thmey but also for the wider public thanks to its availability on the Internet, was supported by several partners, who opted for the “Less is More” minimalist concept, as stressed by Nicolas Anquetil, teacher of Arts and Design at the IJS and main technical idea-man behind the project, on his blog .

Easy as pie and a mouse-click

The original aim, Nicolas Anquetil describes, was to create something simple along the lines of minimalism, a widely-spread concept among web designers, to allow any user, even “devoid of competence in the field of computer technology”, to feel as comfortable with the tool as possible.

The lexical interface proposed by the IJS was designed to both integrate the specificities of the Khmer language and facilitate the use of this application in Cambodia, by Cambodians. It can be installed on any PC thanks to a CD-Rom version and then be accessed through a browser without the need for a network connection. Besides, video-clips and sound were optimised for easy online use and do not require a broadband connection.

In a few clicks, a drop-down menu allows Internet users to choose a term in alphabetical lists provided in Khmer, French or English, and discover its “translation” into Khmer Sign Language, an adaptation of the American sign language (ASL) for use in the Cambodian language and culture. Each term is associated with a video sequence showing a young man or woman demonstrating the appropriate signs to be used in KSL, while a voice-over pronounces the word in Khmer. The official sign is illustrated by a small drawing, showing the different movements to follow. The Khmer-KSL page also provides a definition of terms and examples of contexts in which a word or expression can be used.
A way of discovering a language and a culture

This new tool reflects the vast amount of work that the NGO Krousar Thmey, now proposing education for deaf and mute children, initiated back in 1994. Internet surfers without any particular insider knowledge, whether they be familiar with Cambodia or not, can discover there an extremely rich and universal language deeply rooted in Khmer culture.

For instance, neophytes will take much delight in learning how to say, in Khmer Sign Language, expressions such as the figurative “banana ” , the emblematic “solidarity ”, the jaw-clapping “crocodile ” or the more than scary “reputation ”, which, without making that much of a “racket ” speaks for itself in signs...

This application, full of promise in its development, proves to be an easy and useful way to make the most of the numerous possibilities offered nowadays by the world of multimedia.

Dey Krohom: Residents must present united front in the face of upcoming eviction

Phnom Penh (Cambodia).13/01/2009: Mann Chhoeun, vice-Governor of Phnom Penh, at a roundtable organised by the Club of Cambodian Journalists on Dey Krohom. On the left handside, one of the sons of Srey Sothea, who owns the 7NG company
©John Vink/ Magnum


By Ros Dina

Late July 2003, an urbanisation plan established by the municipality of Phnom Penh provided that the residents of the Bassac settlement, in the heart of Phnom Penh, be grouped on part of the area known as “Dey Krohom” (“Red Lands”) and enjoy the possibility of getting ownership rights. But three years later, the villagers of the Red Lands were informed by a municipal circular that they were going to be evicted. A long struggle started between them, the local authorities and the 7NG company, who was granted the land to build a residential tower and a shopping mall. On 30th December, the dozens of families still opposed to leaving under the current conditions were expected to be forced out. But the threat has not been acted upon yet. The land dispute has drawn out for years but now seems to be closer to the end.

Since 2006, when they found out they had to give way for the 7NG company, the villagers of Dey Krohom have kept repeating they would sell their land for its real market value, not for the slashed price offered to them. They have also recalled the government's commitment to allow them the on-site development of their community. Their words have hardly changed but in this protracted conflict, 1,374 out of the initial count of 1,465 families have already left, that is 93% of them. They have accepted monetary compensations or relocation in the village of Damnak Trah Yeung, in the Dangkor district, over twenty kilometers West of Phnom Penh.

The Club of Cambodian Journalists invited Mann Chhoeun, the deputy governor of Cambodia's capital, to express his views on the situation on Tuesday 13th January. He disclosed the latest offer made by 7NG, that is 20,000 USD – plus food supplies and indemnity for the move – for each of the uncompromising families in exchange for their departure – an increase of 5,000 USD from the previous offer – under the essential requirement that all of the families accept this solution. Srey Chanthou, the director of the company, affirms that the offer was communicated to the residents on the evening of the previous day and is valid until Wednesday 14th January. A rumour says that on Thursday, the day following the expiry of the offer, the eviction of the residents will be actually ordered. Officially, it is expected to take place “in the very near future”.

An exercise in public relations

Mann Chhoeun performed a real exercise in public relations, complete with visuals to illustrate his words. A slide show presented the new environment of the resettled families in the village of Damnak Trah Yeung, where they enjoy running water, electricity, new bicycles they were able to buy on credit, several buses that provide shuttle service to the Demkor market (behind the Chenla theatre) nine times a day, a market, shops... and a nearby factory. The picture painted is one of residents happy in their frail 4m x 12m houses, all on the ground floor...

The deputy governor sent a message to the 91 remaining families, although community representatives claim there are 150 left, and warned that the company will not include in the negotiations the opportunists who have joined the group in the hope of also receiving compensation.

The official then depicted Dey Krohom as a “difficult” area, inhabited by drug addicts and hub of all kinds of traffic. An observer claimed in a low voice 7NG representatives were seen selling “glue” to villagers. As for the famous artists living in this small community – the chapey players Kong Nay and Ta Phe –, Mann Chhoeun alleged the company had solved their problem by offering them to be relocated in the Phnom Penh neighbourhood of Boeung Tampoun.

“We have not acted since the ultimatum of 30th December. The municipality – as the mediator between the company and the residents – has shown treasures of patience and demonstrated its willingness to handle the situation for the best,” Mann Chhoeun argued.

The accusations against 7NG

In the audience, David Pred, director of the NGO Bridges Across Borders Cambodia, contested the initial number of families in the community as shown in the presentation and asked why there was no mention of the corruption that reportedly marred the allocation of the housing lots in the resettlement village. The word “corruption” got lost in the translation into Khmer and Mann Chhoeun replied that if the activist questioned the inflated figure, it meant he was siding with the 7NG company.

David Pred then accused some former community representatives of pursuing their own personal interest, without any consideration for the villagers. The deputy governor pointed out that the residents had accepted their candidacy and had not prevented them from intervening in their name. When the representative of Bridges Across Borders then evoked how intimidation and violence had been used against the residents to sway them, Mann Chhoeun held in his hand a letter from 7NG in which the company instructs their lawyer to withdraw their complaint against one of the Dey Krohom residents, the owner of a coffee shop, who they accused of acts of violence. The deputy governor painted the residents as uncontrollable and rebellious people who did not hesitate to throw bags of urine and feces to 7NG representatives.

Bunn Rachana, from the organisation Housing Rights Task Force, then referred to the land law and asked why the villagers were not allowed to be resettled on site. Her question was answered by Chhim Phalvorin, director of the Institute of demography and specialist of the Cambodian Constitution, and second guest of the Club of Cambodian Journalists. He first observed that “sometimes, people ask for too much money for compensation, as if they were encouraged by others to do so.” He then recalled that Dey Krohom residents had written in 2003 to Prime Minister Hun Sen to ask to be allowed to remain there, which “proves that the residents were aware they had settled there in complete illegality.” The specialist insisted that an occupation is declared legal as long as it is based on a legal ownership title. “If this were the case, the residents could then be entitled to claim for financial compensation based on actual land market value.”

Pursuing his explanations, Mann Chhoeun stressed that the hypothesis of an on-site resettlement had been envisaged in a first time, under which half the land would be for the company and the other half for the residents. “However, the only way to provide a roof for everyone was to build a nine-floor building. But the residents said they did not want to live above the ground floor and further demanded an elevator. Who will pay for the electricity for the elevator? As the 7NG company had land available in the village of Damnak Trah Yeung, they offered to resettle the residents there.”

Undecided residents

On Tuesday afternoon, the residents met at the headquarters of the NGO Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) to discuss a new common strategy as things seemed to gather speed. The NGO representatives present advised them to negotiate a postponement of the eviction ultimatum set by the authorities, by communicating such request to the municipality of Phnom Penh and to 7NG. Their lawyer, Attorney Chiv Sambath, explained this would give them more time to agree on the amount of money they want to receive in exchange for their departure. He suggested they should advocate for the resumption of three-party negotiations as 7NG has made it clear that from now on, it will be the same price for everybody.

“It is starting to be very complicated because nobody has the same opinion. Only a couple of families have told me they would accept 7NG's latest offer of 20,000 USD. Those who own large houses still consider the offer not to be enough. I have probed the residents and their requests are between 30,000 and 60,000 USD. Also, some change their mind along the way, depending on what their neighbours are asking for... It is hard to agree on a consensus,” Chan Vichet, the representative of the families still opposed to leaving, explained by the end of the day.

Discussions between the residents were to continue throughout the evening. They are now in a race against time and more than ever, they must present a united front against the municipality and the 7NG company.

Cambodian journalists accuse government of internet censorship

Submitted by Mohit Joshi
Wed, 01/14/2009

Phnom Penh - Cambodian journalists on Wednesday accused the government of trying to censor the internet with new legislation they say aims at silencing public criticism.

Sam Rithy Doung Hak, a monitor for the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ), said proposed laws to regulate audiovisual content on the internet could jeopardize Cambodia's relatively liberal media environment.

"These audiovisual laws will cover sound and pictures published on the internet, which I am convinced is driven by the government's intention to censor the internet," he said.

Information Ministry officials said earlier this week the laws, which are due to be passed later this year, were designed to prevent potentially defamatory or slanderous material from appearing on the internet.

But Sam Rithy Doung Hak said popular anti-government websites and political cartoons criticizing could be easily censored if the laws were introduced.

"We cannot say clearly how this is going to affect journalists' work since we have not seen the details of this law, but it is our intention to show the international community that it could be used as some sort of government tool to permanently scare online journalists so they don't go too far in criticizing the government," he said.

When asked to rate the current state of media freedom in Cambodia, he said, "our level of freedom is perhaps the best among the worst and the worst among the best."

Cambodia is currently ranked 128th on the US-based Freedom House organization's 2008 press freedom list - a "partially free" ranking shared with Georgia, Kenya and Paraguay.

Kamloops man near death after Cambodia mugging

January 14, 2009

A B.C. man is fighting for his life in Cambodia after a violent mugging.

Humanitarian worker Jiri Zivney was beaten, robbed and left for dead Jan. 9 in Phnom Penh outside a bank machine.

"As he was riding away on his motorbike, they clubbed him in the head and he crashed his bike," family friend Monty Aldoff tells CTV News.

The 46-year-old was transferred by ambulance to a hospital in the capital city, where he is listed in critical condition. Doctors are working to stabilize him so he can be brought back to Canada for treatment.

According to the International Humanitarian Hope Society, the Kamloops resident was in the country delivering medical supplies to orphans on behalf of their agency.

No impartial tribunal in Cambodia

UPI Asia

By Lao Mong Hay
Column: Rule by Fear
Published: January 14, 2009

Hong Kong, China — Cambodia is bound by the Paris Peace Agreements, which were concluded in 1991 to end a protracted war in the country and which obligate Cambodia to adhere to international human rights norms and standards. These include, among other things, the creation of an independent judiciary and the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.

All the specified international human rights norms and standards have now become an integral part of Cambodia's Constitution. This Constitution spells out clearly that Cambodia shall recognize and respect human rights as stipulated in all relevant international instruments. It provides for the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, the guarantee of this judicial independence by the king with the assistance of a supreme judicial body called the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, and the protection of human rights by the king and the judiciary.

However, despite all the constitutional guarantees and protections mentioned above, in reality the Cambodian people have not enjoyed these rights, including the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent and impartial tribunal. There is no such tribunal as yet in Cambodia.

Since the abandonment of communism in the early 1990s, the Cambodian judiciary has not proved to be independent despite continued criticism over its lack of this important attribute. It is very much under political control. Most, if not all, members are affiliated to the ruling party, with the chief justice of the Supreme Court being a member of the party's standing and central committees.

More recently the Cambodian authorities have recognized the obvious, though indirectly. Last October a deputy prime minister, Sok An, announced that the government “will be preparing a workshop on the law and courts,” saying that the government had heard “bad rumors about courts in Cambodia” and it was going “to work very hard to change that.” He added that the government “needed to enforce discipline and make sure that the courts are independent."

As for competency, the courts have recently been found to be short of it. Last year the Senate's Legislation and Justice Committee conducted an investigation into the functioning of the courts and the legal knowledge of judicial officials. After the completion of the investigation in a number of courts in November, its chairman, Ouk Bunthoeun, revealed some of the committee's findings, one of which was the inadequate knowledge base of these officials. "The judges and the prosecutors are facing difficulties implementing the laws …There are a lot of technical terms that (they) don't understand," he said.

The Cambodian courts have also been found to lack impartiality. This lack comes from their lack of independence and from corruption. A survey by Transparency International released in February 2008 found that the judiciary, in tandem with the police, was the most corrupt institution in Cambodia.

A study by an NGO released earlier, in December 2007, said, “ The primary functions of the courts continue to be: 1) To prosecute political opponents and other critics of the government; 2) To perpetuate impunity for state actors and their associates; 3) To promote the economic interests of the rich and powerful.” Ouk Bunthoeun, mentioned above, said his committee had also found the bias and corruption that the courts have been accused of.

The dismal status of the courts of law and the ensuing denial of constitutional right to a fair and public hearing by an independent, competent and impartial tribunal should no longer be tolerated. The king of Cambodia should discharge his constitutional duty, get the Supreme Council of the Magistracy which he chairs, and seek support from the government and the Parliament to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

As the first step, the law on the status of judges and prosecutors that the country's Constitution has specifically stipulated and the government has long promised, was enacted and effectively enforced. This law should affirm and protect the constitutional immovability and independence of this group of judicial officials so as to ensure the security of their tenure. It should prohibit their affiliation to any political party while their tenure is secure.

The Supreme Council of the Magistracy should free itself from political control as well and, like judges and prosecutors, its members should not be affiliated to any political party. This council should effectively enforce its code of ethics for judges and prosecutors and establish the procedure and mechanism for complaints against these judicial officials which should be easily accessible to the public.

In the meantime, the leadership of the country should respect the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, and end their control over it. Furthermore, this branch of government should be allocated adequate resources so that it can properly provide justice and protect human rights.

(Lao Mong Hay is a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. He was previously director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and a visiting professor at the University of Toronto in 2003. In 1997, he received an award from Human Rights Watch and the Nansen Medal in 2000 from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.)

Canadian man arrested in Cambodia for alleged child sex abuse

The Earth Times

Wed, 14 Jan 2009
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Cambodian police said on Wednesday they had arrested a Canadian man who allegedly sexually abused two young girls in the costal resort town of Sihanoukville. Police arrested 68-year-old Daniel Lavigne on a tourist bus travelling from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh on Monday after he allegedly sexually abused two sisters aged 10 and 12.

Regional migration police chief Som Saruen said Lavigne had confessed to "indecent acts" against the children but denied having sexual intercourse with them.

Lavigne told police he was a boyfriend of the girl's mother, who police said was also being investigated.

Som Saruen said Lavigne was scheduled to appear before a court and be formally charged on Thursday.

Hotel Renakse - a Post script

This file photo of the Renakse Hotel was taken shortly before an eviction notice was served January 5 on the leaseholder, Kem Chantha. The inset photo was taken in 1991, shortly before notice was served on Post founding editor Michael Hayes by a legless Vietnam vet. The future of the Renakse is uncertain.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Michael Hayes
Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Phnom Penh Post was born in the Hotel Renakse in 1992. As the latter moves towards an uncertain future, Post founding editor Michael Hayes looks back at a shared past

The Hotel Renakse may be sadly headed the way of too many historic buildings in Phnom Penh, but it will at least be remembered by this reporter for the role it played during the creation of the Phnom Penh Post.

On January 1, 1992, I arrived at Pochentong airport with a letter for then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk in his capacity as Head of State and President of the Supreme National Council requesting his permission to start a newspaper.

Right at the visa counter I was approached by a young man named Pok Essaravuth offering to take me to his sister-in-law's hotel. I told him I needed to find Nate Thayer, who was running the Associated Press bureau at that time. Essa, a Cambodian returnee from Long Beach, said: "Oh Nate, he's staying with us at the Renakse."

And that was the beginning of my three-month sojourn at the idyllic hotel just across from the Royal Palace.

Nate, whom I had only met once before, said the paper was a great idea and that he'd help me in any way he could. We became fast friends.

I delivered my letter to the Palace and then with nothing to do but wait for a response tagged along with Nate as he moved about meeting sources, attending press conferences and cranking out the wire copy. I knew nothing about journalism, so it was a perfect introduction to the new profession I was trying to get off the ground.

By January 16, I was getting restless so I sent another letter to Sihanouk.

Finally, on January 21, an official letter from Sihanouk was delivered to me at the Renakse in which he said I could start a paper immediately.

I remember thinking to myself: "Oh God, what do I do now?

"It was during this time that I met Sara Colm at the Renakse. She had worked for a paper in San Francisco called The Tenderloin Times which was published in Khmer, Vietnamese, Lao and English, and was looking for work in Phnom Penh. I offered her a job as managing editor and Sara thankfully became the paper's first employee.

Sihanouk's permission letter had a caveat. It said that I also had to "comply with the administrative formalities of the State of Cambodia", which meant getting the green light from the Cambodian People's Party.

I sent off a letter to the Foreign Ministry which told me I needed to deal with the municipality. After a letter to them, I was told that I had to deal with the Foreign Ministry. The back and forth was tedious as I didn't even have a computer or a printer or letterhead or anything. I'd sit on the veranda of the Renakse hand-writing letters and then scramble around to find a computer to use to produce final copy.

The Paris Peace Accords had been signed in October, 1991, and by late January UN civilians, police and soldiers were starting to trickle into Phnom Penh.

Covering my first conflict

The first new restaurant and bar to open to cater to all the new foreigners was a place called The No Problem Cafe on Street 178. Like any good journalists, Nate and I found ourselves there nightly.

On one evening I got into a heated discussion with an American Vietnam vet named David who was working for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. He'd asked me who my paper was going to endorse for president before the elections, and when I tried to explain that it was unlikely there would be presidential elections, the message didn't seem to penetrate the booze. The conversation disintegrated from there.

David had lost both legs during the war, but that didn't prevent him from eventually getting out of his chair and punching me five times in the face before I could even blink an eye. A crowd of soldiers prevented the situation from getting worse.

Later, back at the Renakse, I thought it would be good to capture this small bit of history so I took a whole bunch of photos of my bruised face in the mirror before collapsing in bed, only to wake up in the morning and discover that my camera had no film in it.

A small lesson in journalism learned at the Renakse!


Prime Facts Hotel Renakse

- What A 100-year-old hotel with an uncertain future
- Where Across from the Royal Palace on Sothearos Boulevard
- In control The Cambodian People’s Party owns the property
- Outgoing Kem Chantha, who has managed the hotel since 1992, has been given her marching orders despite having a 49-year lease on the hotel
- Incoming Private firm Alexson Inc bought the hotel from the CPP for $3.8 million after a long series of official negotiations that went all the way up the chain to Prime Minister Hun Sen
- The dispute Minister of Religion Min Khin claimed Kem Chantha broke her lease by failing to renovate the historic hotel adequately, allowing it to be sold. Kem Chantha claims she did maintain and renovate the hotel and maintains the eviction notice does not follow proper legal procedure
- The twist The eviction order was signed by Phnom Penh Municipal Court Deputy Director Ke Sakhorn. His nephew is married to Ching Sokuntheavy, the owner of Alexson Inc
- The likely outcome No one knows, but although the hotel is on prime real estate, its location near the Royal Palace could prevent its destruction

Unmarginalising genocide

Photo by: Anne-Laure Poree
Annette Wieviorka (left) and Sylvie Lindeperg in Phnom Penh late last year.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Anne-Laure Poree
Wednesday, 14 January 2009

French historians Annette Wieviorka and Sylvie Lindeperg talk to the Post about their research on the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

FRENCH historians Annette Wieviorka and Sylvie Lindeperg have dedicated much of their careers to tracking high-profile international trials for crimes against humanity. Wieviorka's research has focused on the Holocaust, while the work of Sylvie Lindeperg, a lecturer in film history at the University of the New Sorbonne in Paris, has emphasised the power of images to retell history. They recently published a book together titled The World of the Concentration Camp and Genocide: Watching, Knowing, Understanding.

Thirty years after the Khmer Rouge, not much is taught about the history of the regime.
Annette Wieviorka: It is first necessary to consider the place of history in different cultures. In France, history is very important. It is taught several hours each week at school, and teachers are organised in associations to maintain these standards. The Second World War was introduced in our schools during the 1960s, 15 years after the war. The genocide of the Jews was not introduced until the 1970s, some 25 years after it happened, under the pressure of [author] Serge Klarsfeld. He published Vichy-Auschwitz in 1983 to prove the responsibility of the French Vichy government in the so-called Final Solution. He also instigated judicial processes.

Another thing is that documentation had been collected at the Centre for Contemporary Jewish Documentation, which supplied the French prosecution at the Nuremberg trial. It allowed [historians] Leon Poliakov and Joseph Billig to write the first stories on this period.Sylvie Lindeperg: In earlier years, French history centred on the resistance, and the genocide was marginalised. Eichmann's trial contributed to the emergence of a specific story on the Jews' extermination.

What stays in the mind of many young Cambodians is the moral lessons of their parents or grandparents, who criticise them for not finishing their bowl of rice. What are the risks of this mentality?

Annette Wieviorka: This is rather a psychological question. What the children of former prisoners in concentration camps say is that they never have the right to complain. They feel a weight because they cannot express any pain, any suffering.

Sylvie Lindeperg: Often the dialogue about the experiences skips a generation, from the grandparents to the grandchildren.

The trials of former KR leaders are scheduled to take place 30 years after the fact. In France, trials for crimes against humanity were held well after the fact. What was the significance of these trials for public opinion?

Annette Wieviorka: The question is not when it takes place but how it takes place. It seems the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was not very convincing, whereas Nuremberg, which also took place very quickly, remains a great trial. In France, the trial of Papon, a former high-ranking civil servant of the Vichy's regime, arrived at a time when questions on the war's period involved no more political stakes. There had been huge media coverage. Papon remains the symbol of Vichy.

You worked together on audiovisual archives, in particular on Eichmann's trial. How have these materials contributed to your research?

Annette Wieviorka: I had already written a book on the Eichmann trial. Later the idea came to me to revisit this trial seen from the point of view of witnesses. For my research, images brought information on how the trial was perceived and how the media impacted it.

Sylvie Lindeperg: I have always worked with images. They allow us to rethink the events of history. Images have also a particular power to fix the imagination, they crystallize something. From these images, a series of other stories will emerge.

Interview by Anne-Laure Poree

Royal row over ballet sees calls for control to return to palace

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A Royal Ballet performer on stage in this photograph.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Two princes say that the Ministry of Culture should hand control of the National Ballet to the palace to improve quality and attendanc.

TWO princes who recently left politics have expressed their desire for the Royal Ballet of Cambodia to be removed from under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and returned to the Royal Palace, describing the potential move as a return to tradition.

Prince Sisowath Thomico and Prince Sisowath Chakrey Noukpol told the Post in recent interviews that the Royal Ballet should be returned because it originated in the Royal Palace before being moved to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in 1970.

Both princes left politics in late 2008, and Prince Thomico was recently appointed to the King's advisory council.

" I want to appeal ... for the Royal Ballet to be kept in the Royal Palace. "

"I want to appeal to all members of the royal family to ask for the Royal Ballet to be kept in the Royal Palace, and I also want to appeal to the government about this," Chakrey said. "I don't think the move will cause damage to the ballet because both the royal family and the government work for the nation."

Thomico said other members of the royal family agree with this position but are not willing to come out in public support of it.

Republican era

The Royal Ballet was placed under the control of the Culture Ministry in 1970 by then-prime minister Lon Nol, who changed its name from the Royal Ballet to the National Ballet, Thomico said. The name has since been changed back to the Royal Ballet, but it remains under the control of the ministry.

"Now the royal family wants to reorganise it in accordance with tradition, so it should be taken into the Royal Palace," Thomico said.

He said he believes the Royal Ballet has suffered both in quality and popularity during nearly four decades of control by the ministry, adding that moving it to the Palace could reverse its decline.

Chuch Poeurn, a secretary of state at the Culture Ministry, declined to comment beyond confirming that the Royal Ballet was originally controlled by the palace.


Govt to tackle maternal mortality

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A woman holds her young baby in a Preaek Prolung village, Kratie province.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda and Khoun Leakhana
Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Officials have promised to give financial and training incentives to midwives to help reduce the rate of maternal mortality in rural areas, but some believe education should come first.

THE government has said it will introduce new incentives to midwives in 2009 with the aim of reducing the number of mothers, particularly those in rural areas, dying during childbirth.

Veng Thai, Phnom Penh municipal director of health, told the Post Monday that the government was not satisfied with the current rate of maternal mortality and would try to reduce it by offering financial and training incentives to midwives, ecouraging them to work in remote areas.

"The government now has a policy. If one midwife can help deliver a baby, they will receive 40,000 riels," he said. "In rural areas where we are lacking midwives, we will train people.

"The director added that by 2015, the government aims to reduce the infant and maternal mortality rate by half. "If infant and maternal mortality rate is 40 percent [in a certain area], the government will try to reduce it by 20 percent."

According to Cambodia's latest Demographic and Health Survey, maternal mortality has decreased only slightly over the last decade, with 437 mothers per 100,000 live births dying in 2005 compared with 472 in 2000.

Veng Thai said the recent initiative was responding to NGOs concerned that the current rate would not allow Cambodia to reach its Millennium Development Goals for 2015.

But Ouk Vong Vathiny, director of the NGO Reproductive Health Association of Cambodia (RHAC), said she believed the new policy would not address the root causes of poor maternal health.

"Maternal mortality will continue to be a problem so long as the majority of mothers are using traditional midwives [non-schooled family or community members] to give birth, especially rural people," she said.

According to the UN Development Program, the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel has remained low throughout the last decade in Cambodia - around 32 percent.

Education a priority

Ho Narin, director of Danak Smach commune's health centre in Kampong Speu province, said no government program to educate people on using health personnel instead of traditional midwives so far existed in his district.

"The Ministry of Health should contact relevant authorities to set up a program on educating women about safely giving birth," he said.