Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Cambodia Restores Opposition Chief's Immunity

Wednesday March 11st, 2009

PHNOM PENH (AFP)--Cambodia's parliament has restored opposition leader Sam Rainsy's immunity from prosecution after he paid a fine for defaming premier Hun Sen's party, a lawmaker said Wednesday.

The politician was stripped of his protection last month after accusing the Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, of corruption during elections last year and then failing to pay a $2,500 fine.

His Sam Rainsy Party eventually paid the fine to the country's National Election Committee hours after his immunity was lifted.

Lawmaker Cheam Yeap said the parliamentary permanent committee had voted Tuesday to restore parliamentary protection to Sam Rainsy.

"Immunity of Sam Rainsy has been restored," Cheam Yeap said.

The opposition leader, who is abroad, had called the removal his immunity "unconstitutional," saying under Cambodia's charter, at least two-thirds of lawmakers were needed to approve stripping legal protection of a parliamentarian.

However Cheam Yeap said the decision was made in accordance with the law.

The CPP took 90 seats of the 123 up for grabs in the July ballot, while the Sam Rainsy Party received 26 seats.

Trials in Cambodia Expose the Cogs in a Killing Machine

An archival photograph of the guard detail at Tuol Sleng prison, taken during the Khmer Rouge’s rule in Cambodia in the 1970s. Him Huy, who was a prison guard at the time, is fourth from left.

The New York Times

Published: March 9, 2009

Cambodia — “We were victims, too,” said Him Huy, the head of the guard detail at the Tuol Sleng torture house, who took part in the executions of thousands of people at a Khmer Rouge killing field.

Seth Mydans/The International Herald Tribune
Mr. Him Huy, now 53, oversaw the executions of thousands for the Khmer Rouge. “I had no choice,” he said.

As the prisoners knelt at the edges of mass graves with their hands tied behind them, executioners swung iron bars at the backs of their heads, twice if necessary, before they toppled forward into the pits.

“I had no choice,” Mr. Him Huy, 53, said. “If I hadn’t killed them, I would have been killed myself.”

As the trials of five senior Khmer Rouge figures get under way near Phnom Penh, the capital, they raise questions about the guilt — or victimhood — of lower-ranking cadres like Mr. Him Huy, the people who carried out the arrests, killings and torture, who are unlikely to be tried.

As guard and executioner at Cambodia’s most prominent torture house, Mr. Him Huy personifies the horror of the Khmer Rouge years, from 1975 to 1979, when at least 1.7 million people died of starvation and overwork as well as torture and execution.

But in the severe and paranoid world of the Khmer Rouge prison, guards and torturers themselves worked under threat of death, and Mr. Him Huy saw a number of his colleagues kneel at the edges of their graves for that blow to the back of the neck.

“I used an iron bar about that long,” he said, spreading his hands wide as he told his story late last month, “and about as thick as my big toe.”

At night, sometimes two or three times a week, Mr. Him Huy said, he drove trucks full of prisoners to the Choeung Ek killing field, where he logged them in 20 or 30 or 80 at a time and then confirmed that they had been killed.

He asserted that he had personally killed only five people, as demonstrations of loyalty to his superiors.

At least 14,000 people were arrested and interrogated at Tuol Sleng prison, which was officially known as S-21 and is now a museum. Only a handful survived.

Mr. Him Huy is back home in this village 50 miles south of Phnom Penh. A farmer and the father of nine, he is optimistic, hard-working and quick to smile, seemingly comfortable to be who he is and at ease with his memories. Neighbors seem to like him.

“Even the young people, when they have a party they always invite him,” said his wife, Put Peng Aun. “If there’s a party, he’s got to be there.”

Asked to describe himself, Mr. Him Huy said: “I’m not a bad person. I’m a good man. I never argue with anyone. I never fight with anyone. I have good intentions as a human being.”

But some of those who knew him at the prison remember him harshly. One survivor, Bou Meng, said Mr. Him Huy beat and tortured him, poking at his wounds with a stick. “His face was so mean,” Mr. Bou Meng told the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a private research center. “Today he looks gentle.”

Two of Mr. Him Huy’s co-workers at Tuol Sleng, quoted by the historian David Chandler in his book on the prison, “Voices From S-21,” remembered him as “a seasoned killer, an important figure at the prison and a key participant in the execution process.”

Mr. Him Huy is evasive about the extent of his duties at the prison. But what he did there, he said, he did on pain of death.

“I am a victim of the Khmer Rouge,” he said without hesitation. “I did not volunteer to work at S-21.

“We were all prisoners, those who killed and those who were killed,” he said. “And in fact, for a lot of the staff there, the day came when they were killed, too. In the daytime we’d be eating together, and in the evening some were arrested and killed.”

In a 2001 book about the prison staff called “Victims and Perpetrators?” the Documentation Center calculates that at least 563 members of Tuol Sleng’s staff, about one-third of the total, were executed while working there.

In a way, Tuol Sleng was a microcosm of the nation, where half-starved and overworked people lived in constant fear of being arrested and killed, often for reasons they never learned.

The first defendant in the United Nations-backed tribunal is Mr. Him Huy’s former boss, the prison commandant, a tough, sharp-eyed man named Kaing Guek Eav and generally known as Duch. His trial began last month.

It was Duch who signed execution orders for both prisoners and errant staff members. Indeed, Mr. Him Huy rose to become fifth or sixth in the chain of command after his superiors were pulled from their jobs and killed.

“Yes, I did kill people,” he said. “I did transport people to Choeung Ek. I did verify lists of people at Choeung Ek. But Duch ordered me to do all of that.”

Many Cambodians appear to accept this common defense among former Khmer Rouge cadres: that they had no choice but to be cruel, fearing for their own lives. It is a defense Duch himself has offered in the past.

Chum Mey, another survivor of Tuol Sleng, described 12 days and nights of torture and terror, but without bitterness toward his abusers. “My thought is not to put the blame on Him Huy because I don’t know what I would have done in his place,” he said. “I don’t think I would have been able to disobey.”

Like most other guards and torturers at the prison, Mr. Him Huy was recruited young — easily molded, brutalized and indoctrinated into the paranoia and extremism of this closed world.

The son of a clerk at a fishing company, he joined the Khmer Rouge insurgency at the age of 12 and was transferred to work in the prison when he was 18.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, he spent a year in a local jail as punishment for his role in the regime, as many former Khmer Rouge cadres did.

Thirty years have passed since the Khmer Rouge were ousted by Vietnam. Mr. Him Huy is no different from his neighbors, raising a big family and tending to his beans and corn and rice.

At the end of a long interview, he headed back to his bean field, filling a canister with pesticide and marching down the rows of long yellow beans, swinging a hose from left to right.

He made sure, he said, to walk with the wind behind him so that none of the pesticide would blow back in his face.

No sitting allowed: Pub street cleared

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Stef Bettens
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Police have made good on their threat to push back tables and chairs from the sidewalks of Siem Reap's popular Pub Street after a letter was distributed last month to bars and restaurants in the area ordering them to rein in their furniture. Alex Mills, co-owner of Funky Munky bar, told the Post that a large group of police gave businesses a warning on Monday before enforcing the regulation Tuesday morning. "If anything, it'll make it easier and open up the area more," Alex said, "But I dare say it won't take long before people start sneaking their furniture back out again." Municipal officers cleared Phnom Penh's riverside pavement in January, citing the interest of walking tourists.

Heng Pov to face verdict

Heng Pov after his brief appearance in court on Tuesday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

PHNOM Penh Municipal Court is set to hand down its latest verdict against former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov and five other men Thursday, in connection with the attempted murder of Military Police Chief Sao Sokha in 2003.

Heng Pov, who while in power was a much-feared police boss, is currently serving a total of 58 years in prison for a battery of convictions, including murder, counterfeiting, extortion and kidnapping.

Five of the six suspects, some of whom are already serving prison sentences for other crimes, were present in court Tuesday for what was the final hearing before the verdicts are handed down.

In addition to Heng Pov, the group included Ly Rasy, former deputy police chief of the Minor Crimes Department, as well as three policemen, Am Samkheng, Hang Vutha and Prum Sorphearidth.

Each of the suspects denied the charge and said military police had tortured them while in custody in an attempt to extract a confession.

Briefly appearing in court this morning, Heng Pov's lawyer Kav Soupha said he could no longer represent Heng Pov because his client was no longer able to pay his legal fees.

Heng Pov had previously petitioned the court to unfreeze nearly a million dollars in assets held in the bank accounts, to allow him to pay legal costs as well as medical and school fees for his three daughters.

Heng Pov's wife and his three other children are currently living in Finland, where Heng Pov was granted asylum in 2007 before being abruptly returned to Cambodia by Malaysian authorities.

Following his arrest, police confiscated Heng Pov's home in Chray Changvar and $300,000 in cash from his house in Takhmao, 10 kilometres south of Phnom Penh, where his 25-year-old daughter Pov Vanna and her sisters live.

In early February, the former police chief wrote to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking that he "intervene to allow me to withdraw some money from the bank, with forgiveness".

But the courts have so far been unsympathetic to Heng Pov's requests, refusing to allow him access to his funds.

Legal support
During Tuesday's hearing, Heng Pov rejected the order of presiding judge Iv Kimsry that he accept an alternate lawyer provided to him by the court.


"The court can only appoint a lawyer for poor people," Heng Pov said.

"I will not answer the court's questions until I am able to have the lawyer I chose."

Answering questions from Long Dara, the lawyer of the other four suspects, Heng Pov said that he feared revenge from Sao Sokha dating back to a dispute between them at a restaurant in Phnom Penh in 2002.

He said Sao Sokha had urged him to ease his pursuit of drug traffickers in Cambodia, although he failed to elaborate further.

"From that point on, I told my people to note that if I am killed, there is no one besides Sao Sokha who has threatened me," he told the court.

"I would rather not elaborate further over this or I will be killed in prison."

Prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot presented an anonymous letter and the interrogation notes of Military Police as evidence to the court, but Ly Rasy said the charges of attempted murder against the five were baseless.

"There is no proof and no witnesses that can enforce the charges against us, aside from an unidentified letter and the words of the military who interrogated us, neither of which are credible sources."

Kav Soupha told the Post the case against his client was "a case of revenge" following the strong stance Heng Pov took against corruption during his time as police head.

Long Dara agreed, telling the court there was insufficient evidence to convict his clients.

Heng Pov could face an additional 30 years in prison if convicted of the attempted murder charge. He also faces charges relating to the attempted killing of Koh Santepheap publisher Thong Uy Pang, a case that is expected to reach court later in the year.

Tamil group not a threat in Cambodia

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha and Brendan Brady
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

LOCAL and American officials in Phnom Penh have downplayed the threat posed to Cambodia of a nonprofit group with ties to Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tigers that has offices around the globe.

Spokesman John Johnson said the US government had sent a generic message to all its embassies indicating that the US Treasury had designated the Tamil Foundation, a charity based in the US, as a terrorist group and frozen its assets.

He downplayed the threat of the group operating in Cambodia.

"We got a note from the Treasury, and it's something we are required to distribute to the local government," he said. "It's just a heads-up. It's not something serious here."

Foreign Ministry Secretary of State Long Visalo had forwarded the US embassy notice, delivered on February 18, to the Ministry of Interior as a matter of protocol, said Koy Kuong, who is also a secretary of state at the ministry.

"This is just an exchange of information. We do not have a Tamil Foundation in Cambodia," he said. "The US learned that the Tamil Foundation had established offices in other countries so they are seeking international cooperation, but we have not heard of this group operating in Cambodia."

Long Visalo could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Kieth Chantharith, spokesman for the National Police, told the Post: "We are still investigating the matter, but this issue is not a major concern. We regularly monitor groups operating in Cambodia to make sure they aren't involved in terrorism."

Fifth suspect arrested in Siem Reap kidnapping case

One of the Siem Reap kidnappers shown in a handout photo.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and cheang sokha
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Suspect arrested by military police after fleeing to the capital with ransom paid for return of military chief's daughter.

A FIFTH suspect has been arrested in the kidnapping of a high-ranking military commander's daughter in Siem Reap last Friday, said local officials.

Siem Reap Governor Sou Phirin told the Post the man was arrested in Phnom Penh and had confessed to collecting the ransom before fleeing to the capital. Sou Phirin declined to say whether any of the ransom money had been recovered.

"The police are still looking to arrest more suspects behind this kidnapping. The people behind this are part of a network of family members, but once they are arrested security will improve," Sou Phirin said.

Morn Chakriya, the 16-year-old daughter of Siem Reap's Military Police Commander Morn Samon, was kidnapped off the street on Friday afternoon and bundled into a car.

The high school student was released on Saturday night after private negotiations between her parents and the kidnappers.

Four other suspects were arrested on Sunday and Monday in Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh.

Prak Chan Thoeun, the deputy commander of the Military Police in Siem Reap, said the suspect arrested in Phnom Penh on Monday night had not yet been sent to Siem Reap.

"We are questioning the four suspects and will send them to court," he said Tuesday.

"Our forces are investigating and looking for more conspirators, but I cannot comment in detail as this work is confidential."

Phnom Penh's chief of Municipal Police, Touch Naruth, said the latest suspect was arrested by national Military Police officials. National Military Police head Sao Sokha declined to comment Tuesday.

Bayon to seek more donations for Preah Vihear road repairs

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Funding drive to pay for construction of a further 1-kilometre stretch of road leading up to the disputed Angkor-era temple site.

BAYON television will ask its viewers for an additional US$500,000 in donations as part of its ongoing campaign to improve road access to Preah Vihear temple, according to company representatives.

Huot Kheang Veng, assistant to Bayon Director General Hun Mana, said that the station had already completed a 3.6-kilometre stretch of road, costing $1 million, and was looking to replace a further 1-kilometre section built by former Phnom Penh municipal governor Chea Sophara almost a decade ago.

The old concrete road had many holes in it and it easily made car tires flat.

"We have finished building the 3.6-kilometre road from the hillside up to Preah Vihear temple, but we are planning to extend the road by replacing the old concrete one," Huot Kheang Veng said Monday, adding that the old road was narrow and riddled with potholes.

"The old one does not fit to the new one, so we need to ask for more donations from people."

He said the $500,000 project would link the recently completed road with Keo Sekha Kiri Svarak Pagoda close to the disputed temple ruins.

"We are looking for donations from people, and we are spreading information so people can help assist the project with their charity," he said, adding that Bayon television has received more than $1.18million in donations as part of its Preah Vihear road campaign.

Improving access
Yim Phim, commander of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 8, said Monday that the old concrete road was being removed and that concrete had started being laid on the new one.

"The old concrete road had many holes in it and flattening a lot of tyres," he said.

"We are happy to see the old one is being removed to make way for a new one."

Military engineers are also in the process of paving a road from Anlong Veng district to Sa Em village in Preah Vihear's Chom Ksan district, around 20 kilometres from the temple.

Chum Chamrong, the deputy commander of Preah Vihear province's Military Police, said Monday the road from Preah Vihear provincial town up to the temple was also under construction.

"Roads are being built from different directions towards the temple, and they are helping cars and trucks reach it smoothly," he said.

"But we still have problems on the old concrete road near Keo Sekha Kiri Svarak Pagoda because it has many holes and steel sticks out, which makes it difficult to travel."

The road-building projects at Preah Vihear and elsewhere along Cambodia's frontier with Thailand were ramped up last year as tensions between the two countries rose amid a military standoff over contested territory.

Citing the need to guard Cambodia against incursions by the Thai military, government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, said the isolated border areas needed to be more heavily populated.

Better roads, they said, would open up the region to settlers.

While the border standoff, which erupted in armed clashes in October appears to have de-escalated, soldiers remained stationed on both sides.

Commander Yim Phim called the situation at Preah Vihear "normal", but that troops remained vigilant.

"Our soldiers are at the front line and no Thai armed forces made movements ahead into the disputed areas, but we are carefully watching them," Yim Phim said.

Villagers blockade Kampot dam quarry site over airborne rocks

The Kamchay dam in Kampot province is expected to be operational by 2012.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Work stopped at a quarry supplying the construction of the Kamchay dam, with local residents saying blasting at the site is showering their farms with chunks of stone.

VILLAGERS in Kampot province's Teuk Chhu area have blocked access to a quarry supplying stone for the construction of the US$600 million Kamchay hydropower dam, demanding that the Chinese firm building the dam pay compensation for property destroyed by blasting at the site.

Try Chhoun, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that about 30 Thvear Thmei village representatives blockaded the road Monday morning, angered that the Sinohydro Kamchay Hydroelectric Project Company, a Chinese state firm, had reneged on agreements to pay extra compensation to locals impacted by the operations.

"Sinohydro is breaking stone on a mountain near Thvear Thmei village and promised to pay the villagers according to the distance rock falls down into the village," she said.

Villager representative Korm Penh, 58, claimed her house, farm and mango trees had been destroyed by showers of flying rocks loosed from the side of the mountain by Sinohydro's blasts.

"The explosions of rock have damaged our plantations, and villagers cannot access their corn and beans because they are scared," she told the Post.

I am very scared that [rocks] will fall into the village like bombs.

"I am very scared that [rocks] will fall into the village like bombs."

Korm Penh added that the company and local authorities had promised to compensate the villagers according to the distance the rock was flying from the quarry, but they had received no payments after a year of waiting.

"The rock is flying about 300 metres from the mountain and they promised to compensate us for 100 metres," she said.

"But their promise has been postponed from one week to another, so we have blocked the road until the problem is resolved."

One provincial official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the government granted Sinohydro a licence to break stone on Phnom Dom Mornprey, a local hill, but that the effects of the quarrying had extended well beyond the 5-hectare plot purchased by the company for this purpose.

"The company bought 5 hectares of land from the villagers, but the affected area is larger than what the company bought," the official said.

"We have estimated that the affected area is about 10 hectares. The villagers want to sell their land to the company, but the company has refused to buy."

But Shu Jiang, deputy managing director of Sinohydro, said that the company had only "temporarily" leased the 5 hectares at a rate of $1 per square metre per year to accommodate the "small stones" that fell from the quarry site.

"I think that is a reasonable price. We don't want that much land," he said Tuesday.

"The local people want my company [to lease] more land so they can get more money."

Shu Jiang acknowledged that villagers had yet to be paid for the lease, but said the company was unable to pay while residents refused to come to an agreement about the size of the lease.

"When they agree, I will pay them immediately," he said, adding that local officials were currently in charge of negotiations with the villagers.

The provincial official added that although the road was still blocked as of Tuesday, there had been no violence and that officials were holding talks with Sinohydro. Kampot district Governor Khuy Sean declined to comment Tuesday.

Anlong Veng border skirmish resolved by Thai, RCAF troops

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The dispute focused on a small house built by Thai soldiers in the no-man's land between the neighbouring countries, officials say.

A DISPUTE between Cambodian and Thai troops at a border crossing in Anlong Veng province was resolved Monday after Cambodian soldiers removed a small house that Thai personnel had built in "no-man's land".

Touch Ra, the deputy chief of the Chom border crossing, said Thai soldiers had built the house 100 metres from the gate after seeing Cambodian soldiers ostensibly clearing land in the disputed area.

"Thai soldiers said they built their house after they saw a Cambodian tractor clearing rubbish from the site - they were concerned that Cambodian soldiers were going to build a house on it," Touch Ra said, explaining that neither side was permitted to build there. "After we told them our tractor was simply clearing away rubbish that smelled bad, they returned to their base."

Nuon Nov, a deputy commander of Military Region 4, said Tuesday both sides had met to defuse the situation: "Our soldiers on the front line often meet with Thai soldiers to ensure any problems are solved peacefully - after all, we are neighbours."

Further east in Preah Vihear province, Sao Socheat, also a deputy commander of Military Region 4, told the Post that two weeks ago Thai soldiers had secretly planted cement poles linked with barbed wire at the Anses area in Choam Ksan district, adding that Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers had since removed them.

"We got reports from RCAF troops on the border that there were some places where cement poles with Thai lettering had been placed. We are investigating this," Sao Socheat said, adding that Thai soldiers often crossed into Cambodian territory to erect cement poles instead of demarcation poles along the disputed border.

Cambodia and Thailand have had a tense 12 months, with four soldiers killed in a firefight at Preah Vihear temple in northern Cambodia late last year. A long-standing dispute over the 800-kilometre border has kept the issue in the news for more than a year.

The two governments recently agreed to resolve the issue amicably, and Cambodia's top border negotiator, Var Kimhong, is to meet with his Thai counterpart in Siem Reap in April.

DEY KRAHORM: Evicted residents resettle

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Wednesday, 11 March 2009


An overwhelming majority of families from the recently bulldozed Dey Krahorm community HAS accepted housing at a relocation site in Damnak Trayoeng village, located 16 kilometres outside the capital, a city official said Tuesday. Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun said "nearly 100 percent" of the families who lived in Dey Krahorm in central Phnom Penh had moved to the relocation site. Even Chan Vichet, who served as a representative of residents who were forcibly evicted on January 24, said he had accepted housing in Damnak Trayoeng on February 27. Chan Vichet said he knew of six families who had not taken housing in Damnak Trayoeng and who were asking for US$20,000 in monetary compensation, the final offer made by 7NG, the private company that now owns the land, in the weeks before the eviction was carried out. At the time of the eviction, the city estimated that 90 families remained in the community, while Chan Vichet placed that number at 150. Mann Chhoeun said Tuesday that 7NG would no longer honour the $20,000 compensation offer.

Ruling in hotel case expected: manager

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

THE former manager of the Hotel Renakse said she expected a ruling to be handed down today in one or both of the cases pertaining to the hotel currently before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Kem Chantha, who managed the hotel for nearly two decades, said Tuesday that her assistant had been in touch with a court official who said a ruling would be issued today.

Police and officials, wielding a court order stating that the hotel had fallen into an unacceptable state of disrepair, evicted guests and staff from the hotel on January 6 and barred Kem Chantha herself from its premises.

She has since filed a case with the Municipal Court to save the hotel from demolition. Also before the court is a case filed by the ruling Cambodian People's Party claiming that her 49-year lease on the hotel should be voided.

Kem Chantha failed to appear at hearings in both cases last month.

CPP lawyer Khiev Sepphan said he had not heard that a ruling would be issued today.

On-street parking targeted

A line of cars parked across a side street near Phnom Penh's Wat Botom. Police say they aim to crack down on illegal on-street parking.

The chief of Phnom Penh's Traffic Police, Tin Prasoer, said an average of two to three cars had been fined each day for parking on the street this year. Only about 100 were fined for the same offense in 2008, suggesting that enforcement has been ramped up.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana and Mom Kunthear
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

In a recent proposal, city officials argue that police should be given the authority to close down businesses that permit on-street parking.

CITY officials asked Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema last week to give police the authority to close down businesses that allow their employees and customers to park on the street.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Chreang Sophann said the proposed disciplinary measure, which no officials could elaborate on, is designed to curb traffic congestion and would target hotels, restaurants and business centres.

"I don't know when this would start because we are waiting for a decision from the governor," Chreang Sophann said. "It is a draft proposal and the decision depends on the governor."

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Pa Socheatvong said there are currently no rules governing on-street parking. He said Kep Chuktema and his staff were studying which roads should be free of on-street parking, adding that the practice would likely be forbidden on larger roads.

Chreang Sophann said the decision to draft the proposal was reached during a March 4 meeting at which city officials discussed the problem of traffic congestion on the capital's streets.

A widespread problem
Tin Prasoer, chief of Phnom Penh's Traffic Police, said about 100 motorists were fined for parking their cars on the street last year.

"We just nab their cars and educate them not to park in the street anymore," he said.

Though he acknowledged that police could be more diligent in cracking down on drivers who park on the street, he said the public could also do more to address the problem.

"I want drivers and the people to understand about parking laws, and I think not only the Traffic Police can reduce traffic accidents and traffic jams," he said. "Also the people themselves have to cooperate with us."

He said he hoped public enthusiasm for the proposed crackdown on on-street parking would match that shown for the recent law requiring motorbike drivers to wear helmets.

Tin Prasoer said the capital's most congested road is Monivong Boulevard, in part because many cars park on it.

He said two to three cars parked on city streets have been fined each day in 2009.

Sem Panhavuth, manager of the Road Traffic Accident and Victim Information System of Handicap International Belgium, said he supported the government's apparent desire to crack down on cars parked on the street. He said, however, that focusing on main roads would only push more cars onto smaller streets and would do little to alleviate congestion.

He said police should also be encouraged to crack down on wealthy and powerful drivers who park on the street.

"Some police do not dare to fine some drivers who park in the road because most of them are rich and have power," he said.

Supreme Court rules in favour of K Thom village

Villagers from Kampong Thom province who on Tuesday won a land dispute at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A decade-long land ownership dispute has been resolved in the favour of villagers after their complaints were rejected by two provincial courts.

THE Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a group of villagers in Kampong Thom province are entitled to reclaim a 2-hectare plot of communal land whose ownership has been in dispute for 10 years.

The case marks a rare victory for poor people in a land dispute case against more powerful vested interests, said Chhuon Run, a monitor for human rights group Licadho .

"This is a fair ruling for the poor - they have never before won a case in Kampong Thom against more powerful people, and there are a lot of these cases in this province," Chhuon Run said.

Sixty villagers from Tuol Ampil village in Baray district‘s Sralao commune were in court to hear the verdict.

After the Khmer Rouge was driven out of power in 1979, the villagers allocated the 2-hectare piece of land to soldiers so that they could grow rice.

But, the Supreme Court was told that the village chief and the commune chief secretly gained title for the land from the local land management office in 1999 and then sold it to a local businessman.

The group accused village Chief Pich Sean and commune Chief Kong Heurn of keeping the proceeds of the sale and said the two men had told villagers they could try to sue them in court. Neither man would answer his phone Tuesday to comment on the case.

Unexpected victory
The villagers' representative, Khourn Somon, said that their case was initially rejected by the district court in 2002.

"We then sued in the provincial Appeal Court, but it also ruled against us. So then in 2006, we came to the Supreme Court," he said. "And it is only now that we have attended a hearing and got back the right to control this land.

"This ruling shows that the Supreme Court is fair and cares about us," Khourn Somon said. "Now the Supreme Court will transfer the ruling to the provincial Appeal Court to inform them."

Another representative of the villagers, Hem Peunn, said the group had waited for this result for seven years.

"The courts always failed us - we just wanted to get this piece of community land back."

District Governor Seun Sab said that he did not know about the case because it was not on the register of disputed land.

ASEAN failing on human rights

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nehginpao Kipgen
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations wrapped up a two-day summit in Thailand under the theme "ASEAN Charter for ASEAN Peoples" on March 1. Topics under discussion included more effective community building, enhancing regional resilience against global threats and reinforcing ASEAN centrality in the evolving regional architecture.

This 14th summit was viewed as one of the most covered events by both regional and foreign media. The past 42 years of ASEAN's existence have been dominated by economy and security. Human rights issues were either ignored or evaded.

Five important issues contributed to the popularity of the gathering: It was the first summit after signing a landmark charter that made ASEAN a legal entity; it came amid a deepening global financial meltdown; it was delayed by dramatic political turmoil in the host country; it coincided with ongoing human rights violations in Burma [Myanmar] and the abuse of Rohingya refugees in Thailand; and it came amid renewed interest in the region by the United States.


There has been considerable cooperation and progress on different fronts, excepting human rights. Too much emphasis on economy has overshadowed the brutality of a regime like the Burmese military junta.

Human rights issues represent one fundamental area where ASEAN has failed. The charter calls for greater participation by youths and civil society groups to make the bloc stronger, but the fact is that millions of people from these countries are still afraid to voice their opinions freely.

On February 27, foreign ministers applauded the introduction of the ASEAN Human Rights Body. The final document, which is to be released in July, is designed to promote and protect human rights. It is, however, not empowered to enforce stringent measures to the extent of punishing a member country.

There is a reason behind why a repressive regime like Burma's State Peace and Development Council welcomes such a human rights initiative. For any decision to be taken, it will have to be "based on consultation and consensus", which is similar to veto power in the UN Security Council. The body will also have to follow the principle of "non-interference in the internal affairs of ASEAN member states".

On the opening day of the summit, ASEAN leadership was tested on the very issue they applauded. Two democracy activists from Burma and Cambodia, who were selected to represent their own countries, were barred from attending the meeting when leaders of the two countries threatened to walk out. This is an example of how ASEAN has acted in the past. Whether it will continue to choose appeasement over human rights remains an open question.

Scot Marciel, US deputy assistant secretary of state and an envoy to ASEAN, said: "The sanctions-based approach hasn't worked. The ASEAN engagement approach hasn't worked. There isn't any obvious way ahead."

In his summit-opening speech, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said: "ASEAN will put people first - in its vision, in its policies and in its action plans." This statement has to involve a concerted approach by all ASEAN members. The establishment of the Human Rights Body should be the beginning of an end to rights abuses and a new era of freedom in line with the universal declaration of human rights.

By removing trade barriers and integrating on matters of economy, politics and security, ASEAN looks forward to becoming a European Union-like community in 2015. If this comes to a reality, ASEAN will have a greater leverage in international politics.

In order for the bloc to become a vibrant and responsible body, it needs to protect the welfare of the ruled and not just the rulers. The association needs to review its policy on Burma. Will ASEAN leaders continue to say that it is not our business when neighbours' houses are on fire, women are raped, thousands of villages are destroyed and thousands of people are forced to flee across borders?

The association needs to start addressing human rights problems - the issue on which the body has consistently failed.

Nehginpao Kipgen is general secretary of the US-based Kuki International Forum and a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in Myanmar.

Country should ignore GDP estimates and work, says PM

A farmer plants rice in a paddy field outside of Siem Reap. Prime Minister Hun Sen warned on Tuesday that those laid-off would have to return to their villages to do farming work.

estimated growth in the agricultural sector last year, according to the IMF
At the end of 2008, it was estimated that the country's largest sector grew 2 percent compared with 8.1 percent growth for the rest of the economy
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Hun Sen says the Kingdom's laid off workers should return home to rural areas to contribute to the agricultural sector, which critics say is also in crisis.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen told the country to ignore productivity growth predictions Monday and to instead focus on working in a bid to escape the worst of the economic crisis, as evidence mounted that Cambodia is heading for a recession.

Speaking to farmers in Kampong Speu province, the premier said that laid-off workers should return home to farming jobs in a bid to shore up agriculture as a driver of Cambodia's economic growth.

"We are the ones here [in Cambodia] ... some say 1 percent [GDP growth], some say 2 percent, 3, 4, 5. But these things don't depend on predictions, it all depends on what we do," said Hun Sen. "The agriculture sector is part of our economic growth, we have to try hard nationwide; industry should keep on going, too."

Cambodia was better off than industrialised countries in that their workers had no farming communities to return to in most cases, he added.

The prime minister's comments come after the International Monetary Fund revised down its 4.75 percent growth forecast for 2009 made in December on Friday to minus half a percent. Hun Sen last month estimated 6 percent growth this year.

"Our country is less badly off than others," he said on Monday. "It is not too dangerous."

On Tuesday, however, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said that the garment industry had contracted a huge 72 percent in January compared with the same period in 2008, from about US$70 million to $250 million. More than 20,000 garment factory workers have lost their jobs already this month and 10,000 more jobs are expected to follow, the Free Trade Union of Cambodia said this week.

"We don't want to lose [jobs], but the problem is that the countries that are supposed to buy our products have no money to buy our goods," he said, adding that he hoped the world's main developed economies could recover soon.

Referring to the construction sector, he said it had not been affected severely as no building sites had been abandoned.

"They say the economy is falling, but house prices remain stable," Hun Sen said.

His assessment of the construction sector contrasts sharply with that of the IMF: "Construction activity and foreign investment are ... slowing rapidly as external investors cut back and financing conditions tighten," it said.

Overall, the prime minister said that Cambodia was on the up. "If we compare it to the period we have just lived through during the Pol Pot regime, now it's much better," he said.

Critics question premier
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay disputed the prime minister's assessment that agriculture could pull the country through the economic downturn, saying that cassava and other crops could not even get to market. A Thai blockade against cassava and other crops have seriously affected cross-border trade in agricultural products this year, causing prices to drop, he said.

If we compare it to ... the Pol Pot regime, now it's much better.

"We already face an agricultural crisis," he said, adding that the government needed to do more to develop an agricultural industry that would create demand for agricultural raw materials from the Kingdom's farms. He estimated at least 1 million jobs had been lost in the economy as a whole since the economic downturn first hit the country last year.

"Don't expect to see 6 percent [GDP] growth ... I guess it will be no more than 2 percent," he said.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodia Economic Association, said that the fast-evolving nature and instability of the world economy made it difficult to make a realistic projection of the performance of Cambodia's economy over the remainder of the year and beyond. "But various predictions from different institutions will make it more accurate," he said.


Garment industry unravels

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal and Hor Hab
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

January garment revenues down $180m from last year.

Garment exports - the country's chief source of foreign exchange - contracted in January to less than a third of their value compared with the same period last year, the Ministry of Commerce announced Tuesday.

Ministry officials added that January tourist arrivals also dropped 2.19 percent compared with the number of foreign visitors coming to Cambodia 12 months earlier, in a sign that another key economic driver was flagging in the face of the global financial crisis.

Speaking at a charity golf event in Phnom Penh, Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh said that garment exports generated revenue of only US$70 million in January, compared with $250 million in January 2008, a situation the Ministry of Finance acknowledged was a troubling signal of tough times ahead.

"We recognise that the garment and tourism sectors have been affected to some extent," said Ouk Rabun, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Finance.

Last week the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected that, after years of growth, Cambodia's gross domestic product would shrink by 0.5 percent this year in the most negative assessment yet of the Kingdom's economic health.

This contraction comes largely due to falling demand for Cambodian garments, the IMF said.

"Garment exports are under pressure due to sharply lower retail demand in the United States and the European Union," the IMF said, adding that the highly uncertain outlook for 2010 was tied to regional and global growth.

Cambodian garments to the US generated 62 percent of total revenue for the sector in 2008, while the EU was the next-largest market at 20 percent of revenue.

Cham Prasidh held out hope that consumers would begin spending money again by the end of the first quarter.

"I hope that garment exports will recover in March because consumers - facing constraints due to the crisis - could resolve their problems and start purchasing again," he said.

However, most analysts have projected a prolonged drop in global demand, a view backed by the Kingdom's garment industry, which is facing increasing uncertainty from buyers.

Officials with the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia [GMAC], which holds accounts with large Western brands - including Gap, Nike and Adidas - said that in previous years orders were placed in October for the 12 months ahead.

But given the downturn, these companies are now placing orders on a monthly basis, GMAC officials said, predicting that things will get worse before they get better.

"We don't know about the purchase orders for the year," said GMAC labour officer Cheath Khemara. "Purchase orders have not dropped to an alarming rate at the moment, but it will be even more serious come June because the effects of the economic downturn will likely have spread by then."

He acknowledged that the big international brands had decreased their orders, but refused to give figures. "I am very worried about this decline in purchase orders," he said.

The Free Trade Union of Cambodia said Monday that more than 20,000 garment workers have already lost their jobs this year, with another 10,000 at risk of becoming unemployed as more garment factories face closure.

Tourism, another pillar of Cambodia's economy, also appears to have had a rough start as fewer people travel, the IMF said, citing "cuts in discretionary spending".

Some 218,691 tourists arrived in Cambodia in January, down from 223,581 visitors during the same period in 2008, Tourism Minister Thong Khon said Tuesday.

"We will track this decline in tourism numbers and will try to prevent a prolonged downturn. We will try to attract short-haul tourists to balance out the decline," Thong Khon said.

$15.6m of electricity stolen in 2008

A technician does maintenance on a Phnom Penh powerline.

Losing power
$159.6m worth of electricity produced in 2008
$15.6m stolen last year
9.8pc of total output
11pc of electricity production stolen per year since 2003 Source: Electricite du Cambodge

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Ngoun Sovan and Sam Rith
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

About 10 percent of national grid output taken illegally, less than 2007, says EdC.

ELECTRICITY theft cost state-run Electricite du Cambodge (EdC) around US$15.6 million in revenue last year alone, officials said Tuesday.

According to the national power supplier, around 10 percent of last year's estimated income was lost due to dishonest clients.

"Last year, the EdC supplied 1.14 billion kilowatts of power to about 205,000 families in Phnom Penh, Kandal and Kampong Speu town," Chhin Ing, director of the EdC's business department, said Tuesday. The total value of the electricity supplied for the year was an estimated $159.6 million, he added.

Since 2003, the EdC had lost around 11 percent of revenue annually.

"Of this figure, the EdC lost about 9.8 percent due to power stealing," he said.

He said, however, that the loss was lower than previous years.

"Since 2003, the EdC had lost around 11 percent of revenue annually, which declined to about 9.8 last year due to our strong efforts in both technique and management," he said.

According to local media reports, EdC inspectors last week traced a $3,350 loss to the mansion of tycoon Duong Chhiv, chairman of the Chinese Association in Cambodia, who had his electricity meter fixed to avoid payment.

"Electrical power offences always happen, it is unavoidable; it is like police trying to catch thieves, but we constantly inspect houses to check for and reduce power stealing," Chhin Ing said.

"Offenders will be fined based on EdC's regulations," he added.

However, opposition lawmakers speculated Tuesday that electricity fraud was more likely to stem from corruption within the organisation itself.

"As I inspect, power stealing has been conducted by EdC officials themselves. They have allocated and connected electricity for unscrupulous businessmen or powerful people in order to collect money for their own pockets," said Son Chhay, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

"If there is no reform in management, and if there is no proper punishment for corrupt officials, the loss is the burden of the state."

Progress made on energy training: Govt

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

CAMBODIA faces a significant challenge in finding qualified local engineers to work in the oil and gas industry, but has recently taken steps to ensure qualified personnel will be available, officials said.

Pen Ngoeun, an adviser to the Council of Ministers told the Post this week that US oil giant Chevron would need a minimum of 600 qualified Cambodian engineers for its offshore operation once production begins.

"They will need to have the highest technical skills - these are not manual workers but engineers," Pen Ngoeun said of the employees, adding that Deputy Prime Minister Sok An told a group of American business people Friday that some talented students were being sent abroad to train to meet the expected demand from oil companies.

"We know we currently lack qualified labour," he said. "One benefit [of having local skilled engineers] is that won't have to watch as wages flow out of the country, which would happen if they were foreign employees."

Pen Ngoeun said responsible companies such as Chevron would consider hiring local skilled workers as a tool to develop their businesses.

"Because we are local, we know our geography and understand the Khmer people," he said.

An official at the Ministry of Education, who asked not to be named, said that none of the country's universities offers oil and gas engineering studies. And he said fewer Cambodians were now graduating from Russian universities - which do offer such courses - than in the past two decades.

Sin Mengsrun, vice president for academic affairs at Pannasastra University, agreed that the country faced a shortage in this area. He blamed a lack of interest from students and the fact that engineering was a difficult career. Norton University's rector said an additional problem was that the country lacked lecturers in the subject.

Chevron and the Finance Ministry are reportedly close to finalising agreement on the royalty share for offshore Block A in the Gulf of Thailand.

An architecture of humanity

Helsinki University students in the Expanding Architecture project examine models showing the planned development at Boeung Kak.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Zoe Holman
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

An innovative university project has teamed students with local housing rights advocates in an to attempt to design alternatives for residents displaced by development in Phnom Penh

As the forced evictions from Phnom Penh's Dey Krahorm community in January so clearly demonstrated, interests of developers and residents are all too often in conflict.

The violence of that day did little to advance the idea that architects and planners can cooperate with at risk communities to find development solutions that work to the benefit of all. With the Housing Rights Task Force - a local NGO - warning recently that a further 15 Phnom Penh communities are currently facing eviction, fears of more violent confrontations are running high in the nation's capital.

Against this backdrop, a three-day workshop held at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh last week, centered around the idea of "design as activism", set out to explore a new way forward.

"Expanding Architecture: Designers and planners working with communities under threat of eviction" was a collaborative project involving architecture students from Cambodian universities and the Helsinki University of Technology (TKK), which in 2007 became the world's first UN-accredited Habitat University.

"More than ever, inspired urban design is needed to prevent Asia's cities becoming sites of enormous slum settlements," said Hallam Goad, a representative of the local housing rights advocacy group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), which helped organise the workshop.

Tanzanian architect and TKK lecturer Humphrey Kalanje said he was keen to reinforce in Cambodian and international students the significance of urban development.

"The issues facing us - my country, and your country - are the same: a legacy of colonialism, rapid modernisation and reconciling government and ecology," Kalanje said.

"There is an increasing gap between rich and poor, and this is also true in developed countries. The marginalised exist in all societies."

Participants spent three days examining problems faced by designers in cities affected by forced eviction, with case study visits to sites in Phnom Penh.

Their priority was to integrate pre-existing communities into new developments rather than seeking to relocate them out of sight and mind. They sought to synchronise, rather than juxtapose, the interests of residents and investors through a process of consultation.

This ethos was demonstrated through development plans incorporating residential arrangements into commercial space, ensuring sites remained ecologically and financially sustainable for local communities.

Alternative designs for Boeung Kak lake - the scene of a controversial commercial development that entails filling 90 percent of the lake - for example, included green zones and pedestrian walkways to enhance tourist appeal, a commercial esplanade and high-density office space, fishing enterprises for residents, and a plan to harness the freshwater resource in a sustainable sanitation system.

Students also developed an extensive international tourist campaign, centring on the lake as a natural attraction and the rustic appeal of pre-existing structures.

Photo by: Tracey Shelton

A construction worker looks out over the shrinking Boeung Kak lake, being filled in as part of a commercial development that is displacing residents.

Increasing concern over evictions
The number of people affected by developments such as that at Boeung Kak has increased rapidly over the past decade. STT estimated 11 percent of the city's 1.2 million people are now displaced. In a 2008 survey of 41 relocation sites in Phnom Penh, it counted 15,831 families who were moved, willingly or not, to make way for construction projects.

And while NGOs have generally welcomed development in Cambodia, they say forced evictions without reasonable compensation or legal protection is a major concern.

As a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Cambodian government is obliged to protect the population from forced eviction by ensuring developers adhere to local protocols of consultation and compensation. But a tangible government policy on resettlements is yet to materialise, with a draft Expropriatory Law under consideration by the Ministry of Economy and Finance since 2006.

"Cambodia's laws and policies do not adequately address resettlement issues," the ministry's Resettlement Department deputy director, Sim Samnang, told a recent workshop on involuntary resettlement, stressing the urgent need for a national resettlement policy.

Meanwhile, this legal fissure has left responsibility for resettlement largely in the hands of developers, whose priorities are often shaped by thrift and expediency.

Where politics and law have proved impotent, organisations such as STT have stepped in to advocate for the rights of those affected.

Through a process of direct consultation, STT aims to provide low-key interventions and resources to communities without the means to seek legal recourse. As Goad says, communities often have the skills but lack the tools.

"But we can still encourage, advise support and, most importantly, be with people," he said.

A landscape architect, Goad sees himself as a "bridge", providing alternatives by translating community aims into coherent and workable physical and political demands.

"The key thing about these workshops is exposing design students to some of the wider issues," he said.

"Working with urban poor communities, even knowing they exist, is often a completely new experience."

Project co-founder and lecturer Hennu Kjisik said designers tended to cater to the minority needs of their client.

"We need to fundamentally ask ourselves what our role is," Kjisik said. "We cannot continue to ignore the needs of the majority of the world's population."

Solutions far from easy
The TKK students faced a mammoth task of cultural and technical translation when they arrived in Phnom Penh a fortnight ago.

For many, their case-study brief, coupled with the foreign location and idiosyncratic Cambodian context, was daunting.

"The housing problem here is really quite confronting and unique," Australian student Peter Scott said.

"You can see how the city was completely emptied during the 1970s, and now everyone has just flooded back in. Obviously we can't even begin to understand their city, especially in this space of time, so [the Cambodian students'] local knowledge and experience is essential."

The local students also learned from the project. "Visiting sites and talking to locals, I have really gained some understanding of the reality of the problems and concerns of communities," Cambodian student Sopchaeta Veasna said.

And while a number of innovative answers were devised by the students, the issue remains far from resolved, and solutions far from easy.

For Boeung Kak, it may be too late, but whether this challenge will be met on a local or global scale in coming decades remains to be seen.

As Maurice Leonhardt of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights suggested at the workshop: "The reality is that much of the time in Cambodia the power of the developer and investor is overwhelming."

Phnom Penh Asides: Getting from A to B in Phnom Penh

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kevin Britten
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

IF someone suggested to you that riding on the back of a stranger's motorbike without a helmet was an acceptable form of transportation in London, New York or Sydney, you would think they were crazy. So why is it considered acceptable in Phnom Penh?

Even if Phnom Penh didn't have one of the highest accident rates in the region; even if there were a head-injury unit in the city (the closest is in Bangkok); riding pillion without a helmet would still not be a sensible choice. The human head is simply too fragile to risk impact with the ground.

Firstly, the driver's trustworthiness and blood-alcohol level are unknown. Then, the motorbike itself is generally too underpowered to take a large foreigner at the speed of the traffic.

Foreigners also have an abiding urge to carry bags: handbags of immense size, daypacks, laptop cases, all manner of encumbrances that seem to be part of our lives. To a potential thief, they identify where all your good stuff is, and you've got lots. Did you ever see a Cambodian lady riding with more than a small clutch purse?

Then there is the helmet issue. The new law enforcing helmets is not being applied to pillion passengers on motorbikes. Why? Is it because there is a genuine lack of alternatives?

Tuk-tuks are safer and although they move slower through the traffic, which means that it's unlikely you'll ever be thrown across the ground in an accident.

In most cities in the region, such chariots are not allowed on the major city streets, as they block the flow of traffic. In Manila, you would cross the city in a jeepney or bus, transferring to motorbike-powered vehicle to get from the main road into your suburb or residential area.

The human head is simply too fragile to risk impact with the ground.

There is also a new taxi company offering air-conditioned, metered service that actually works out cheaper than using a (negotiated) tuk-tuk.

If you call the hotline in English, they send a driver who speaks English. The flag-fall is 3,000 riels (US$0.72), the drivers know their way around, the taxis are spotlessly clean and there's no late-night surcharge. Their call centre is not currently up to taking bookings, so you have to call and wait 10 to 15 minutes, but the system is a great development for the city.

The next development has to be some kind of public transportation system, perhaps like Bangkok's system of buses and minivans on the main boulevards fed by subsystems in the residential and commercial areas.

Dismissing Phnom Penh as somehow different and claiming that the motorbike system is somehow fine because it's in place and it works is symptomatic of the thinking of foreign employees of what is loosely (and perhaps ironically) called the development industry.

Meanwhile, tourists and expats alike continue to take their lives in their hands, or rather put their lives in motorbike taxi-drivers' hands, and crossing their fingers while clutching their over-sized fake-Gucci handbags.

Have an interesting Phnom Penh story to share? Let us know about it at:
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The Phnom Penh Post News In Brief

In Brief: Japan donates money to schools

Written by Tom Hunter
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Japan has donated a total of US$217,346 to local authorities and NGOs to improve regional education facilities, officials announced Tuesday. The money, under the Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects, was distributed to the Hun Sen Kandal Regional Teacher Training Centre ($84,934), the Takeo Regional Teacher Training Centre, ($85,420) and the Khmer Asian Friendship Society ($46,992). The money will be used to build new science labs at the Hun Sen Kandal Regional Teacher Training Centre and the Takeo Regional Teacher Training Centre, and to construct a new school building at the Angkanh Primary School in Kampong Thom, officials said.

In Brief: Karaoke ad to send bird flu message

Written by Tom Hunter
Wednesday, 11 March 2009

The government, in cooperation with the UN, will ramp up its bird flu campaign in the runup to Khmer New Year celebrations in mid-April, officials said Tuesday. The Department of Animal Health and Production (DAHP), alongside the Forestry and Fisheries Department and the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, will run a public awareness campaign including a three-minute karaoke advertisement aimed at promoting improved bio-security in the poultry industry. It will also hold avian influenza forums in the border provinces of Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Takeo and Kampot. Popular singer Kat Skhim and comedian Ta Sis will star in the TV advertisements, which focuses on quarantine practices for sick birds, hygiene and responsible farming techniques. The DAHP and FAO are encouraging people to report suspected cases of avian influenza to their hotlines on 012 214 970 and 012 833 795, respectively.

Tourist arrivals in Cambodia down by 2.19% in Jan

PHNOM PENH, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Foreign tourist arrivals in Cambodia dropped by 2.19 percent in January, compared with the same month in 2008, the Phnom Penh Post reported on Wednesday.

It was a sign that another key economic driver was flagging in the face of the global financial crisis, the English-language daily newspaper quoted ministry official as saying.

"We recognize that the garment and tourism sectors have been affected to some extent," said Ouk Rabun, secretary of state of the Ministry of Finance and Economy.

Cambodia received around 2 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2008, a 5.5 percent rise over 2007, but slightly lower than the government's expectation, according to official figures.

Both garment and tourism are the pillar industries of the country.

Editor: Ma Tianjiao

Officials: Tamil group not a threat in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, March 11 (Xinhua) -- Local and U.S. officials in Phnom Penh have downplayed the threat of the non-profit Tamil Foundation, which allegedly had ties with Sri Lanka's separatist Tamil Tigers, the Phnom Penh Post reported on Wednesday.

"We got a note from the Treasury (Department of U.S.), and it's something we are required to distribute to the local government. It's just a heads-up. It's not something serious here," the English-language daily newspaper quoted U.S. Embassy spokesman John Johnson as saying.

The U.S. government had sent a generic message to all its embassies indicating that its Treasury Department had designated the Tamil Foundation, a charity based in U.S., as a terrorist group and frozen its assets, according to the spokesman.

Meanwhile, Koy Kuong, secretary of state at the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, told the paper "this is just an exchange of information. We don't have a Tamil Foundation in Cambodia."

"U.S. learned that the Tamil Foundation had established offices in other countries, so they are seeking international cooperation, but we haven't heard of this group operating in Cambodia," he added.

The paper on Tuesday quoted national police spokesman Keat Chantarith as saying that "we are looking into the case" of the Tamil Foundation, under the request of the foreign ministry.

In February, the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation sent a letter to Interior Minister Sar Kheng, asking him to investigate the actions of the foundation which allegedly supported the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The foreign ministry sent the letter after receiving a diplomatic notice from the U.S. Embassy warning of the existence of the Tamil Foundation, which had offices in many countries.

Editor: Ma Tianjiao

International Posts: The Cambodia Tribunal's Richard Rogers in Phnom Penh

Richard Rogers, chief of the defense section for Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal
Peter Harris

Claire Duffett
Special to
March 11, 2009

On March 31, after 30 years of impunity, senior members of the bloody Khmer Rouge regime will face their first trial before a United Nations-backed tribunal in Cambodia. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), staffed by a mix of international and Cambodian judges, was set up to try the former communist regime's leaders for their alleged crimes during the late 1970s, when forced labor, starvation and the extermination of intellectuals, perceived traitors and anyone deemed useless killed up to one-quarter of Cambodia’s 9 million citizens.

Coordinating the defense team for the ECCC is a British-born lawyer who began his legal career in a far more mundane setting. Daunted by the thought of a dull career defending petty criminals as a barrister in London, Richard Rogers quit his job in the mid-1990s and left for San Francisco, where he became a patent litigator at Coudert Brothers. But his wanderlust and intellectual curiosity drove him to seek out ever more exotic legal landscapes, leading to stints working on international war crimes tribunals in The Hague and several Third World countries.

Rogers now lives and works in Cambodia, where he's helping coordinate legal efforts to bring closure to one of the darkest periods of the country's history. met with Rogers at his office in Phnom Penh to discuss his unique career and the court's many hurdles.

Juxtaposed Notions: Public ignorance enables human trafficking rings

LSU The Reveille

Linnie Leavines


Print this article
Share this article Published: Monday, March 9, 2009

Updated: Monday, March 9, 2009

“We thought slavery ended in the 19th century. We couldn’t be more wrong. Slavery still exists.”

Such is the slogan of the new group on campus, Tigers Against Trafficking, an organization dedicated to fighting modern-day slavery.

Natalie LaBorde, an LSU grad student and founder of the group, was inspired to create the organization after attending a trafficking awareness event in Sydney, Australia, then travelling on a research trip to Cambodia, Greece, Holland and the UK.

While visiting Phnom Pen, Cambodia, LaBorde met several victims of human trafficking, including a 12-year-old mother authorities found working in a brothel.

“When I met her, she was carrying the baby on her hip, as if he was her sibling,” LaBorde said. “I saw many things I would almost rather forget exist.”

Upon her return to the University to complete law school, LaBorde founded Tigers Against Trafficking to combat the horrors she found overseas and in the U.S.

Such activism is vital — especially considering the American public is fond of turning a blind eye to the trade, whether from willful ignorance or a desire to exploit the victims of the system.

In the world of trafficking, the U.S. is primarily a transit and destination country and occasionally a source. The majority of trafficked sex workers in the U.S. are natives of varied demographics.

The public is largely ignorant because they have believed the greatest myth of human trafficking — that it does not exist.

“People don’t understand the magnitude of the trafficking industry and how their daily economic transactions contribute to it,” LaBorde said. “The modern slave trade is a business fueled by demand. We contribute to demand by turning a blind eye to pornography, sex tourism, and forced prostitution or by purchasing products from companies who use slave labor. Consequently, to some degree we are all part of the problem or part of the solution.”

The U.S. tends to be victim-centered when considering trafficking related legislation. The federal government has implemented legislation to counteract human trafficking, including the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, which enforces stricter penalties for those guilty of trafficking and provides financial aid to victims.

“Prosecution with the new stiffer penalties will make this a higher-risk endeavor and will reduce its profitability,” LaBorde said.

This is admirable but only effective to a limited degree. Legislation is only useful if a trafficking ring is found and brought to justice. As long as rings remain unexposed, however, the system obviously cannot execute the law.

Therefore, additional pre-emptive measures must be taken not just by the government, but by Americans.

As citizens, we have three choices: actively support trafficking by soliciting sex workers, passively contribute to it by remaining ignorant or determinedly fight it by campaigning for awareness.

In many ways, civilians are often better equipped for exposing trafficking rings than the authorities are, as a trafficker cannot tell if a civilian is a patron or a vigilante until it’s too late.

Given the number of victims range from 10,000 to 30,000 in the U.S. alone, according to the Task Force for Human Trafficking, the chances of knowing a victim or someone who solicits them is much greater for an average civilian than it is for a member of law enforcement. For this reason, human trafficking awareness is an effective preventive measure.

For the U.S., this type of counterattack is vital, as the U.S. has done much concerning legislation but little concerning prevention.

Trafficking has latched on to the underbelly of our economy and culture, and as long as we do business without discretion and remain passively ignorant, we inadvertently promote human slavery.

Genocide survivor, author and activist to lecture at SSU

University Chronicle

MJ Brickey
Issue date: 3/9/09

Loung Ung, Cambodian genocide survivor, author, activist and lecturer will speak about her experiences in the Cambodian killing fields March 12, 2009, 7 p.m. in the Main Theater of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts.

Loung Ung was born in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Khmer Rouge was a political regime that lasted from 1975-1979 under the communist leadership of Solath Sar, widely known as Pol Pot. Pol Pot's goal was to "restart civilization" in Cambodia, but used many inhumane tactics and executions.

Under Pol Pot an estimated 750,000 to 1.7 million Cambodians died from the unlivable conditions and forced labor or were murdered. This genocide, a word meaning the systematic killing of one ethnicity or people, killed approximately 26% of Cambodia's population.

"Ung will educate students about genocide, the need for us to remain aware of the effects of war on innocent people and the responsibility that we all have to work toward peace." said Shannon Lawson, Assistant Professor of English & Humanities and the Director of the Honors Program.

Lawson also added that the students in the Honors section of English 1105 are reading Ung's first book, First They Killed My Father, as part of their course assignments.

"We are very excited to have her here and hope that we get to meet her," Lawson said. "I mean, how often you get to meet the author of a book you are reading in class"

The book and the lecture start off a research theme that Lawson's students are preparing for concerning the nature of good and evil. Students will do research about genocides and will be asking the questions: What causes evil, and what causes some people to do heroic acts in the face of evil?

Ung has received many positive reviews from well-known public figures such as actress Angelina Jolie, Queen Noor of Cambodia, and U.S Senator Patrick Leahy.

"Loung has written an eloquent and powerful narrative as a young witness to the Khmer Rouge atrocities. This is an important story that will have a dramatic impact on today's readers and inform generations to come," Dith Pran, whose life was portrayed in the film The Killing Fields, was quoted as saying.

Loung Ung's best selling memoirs, First They Killed My Father and Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites With the Sister She Left Behind, is available in Clark Memorial Library and for purchase at the University Bookstore.

The lecture, part of the Jane M. Foster Lecture Series, is Co-Sponsored by the Women's Center, the Center for International Programs and Activities, the Office of the Provost and the Honors Program. Admission to this lecture is free to the public.

Readers can learn more about Loung Ung and her cause at her official website

School could be built in memory of tragic Thoeun

The Surrey Herald

Mar 10 2009
By Vicki Eltis

A 17-year-old student killed when fire ripped through his Cobham home is to get a trust in his memory to raise money for Cambodian villagers.

Esher College pupil Thoeun Sergeant, died in the blaze in Byfleet Road last April when a fire spread through the roof.

His mum Ingrid Morris managed to escape. She adopted Thoeun when he was six years old from an orphanage in Cambodia and wants to help other Cambodian teenagers as a tribute to her son's life.

Former journalist Ingrid, who now lives in Weybridge, said: "Thoeun had a trust fund and I want to set up a charity to add to that fund for Cambodian teenagers. I thought his life would then really have some great meaning. It means out of a tragedy something good will come and I will feel better."

Ingrid wants to focus her fund raising efforts on the Kompong Thom Province, and the village of Leat, where Theon was born.

She said: "There are a number of possible projects but one I hope to start is to build a school. Currently there is a little hut where 67 children aged five to 13 learn in the morning and another 67 learn in the afternoon.

"I had big ideas in the beginning but then you have to think that they don't have electricity, so we have to start with the simple things like desks, writing materials and books."

Ingrid, who is half Swedish, adopted Thoeun with her late husband Karl while living in Singapore. They then moved to Australia, where Thoeun spent most of his primary years.

He was a keen piano player who had been studying English Literature, history and music at Esher College at the time of his death.

Ingrid said: "Thoeun had lots of brothers and sisters who he grew up with in the orphanage and who now live all over the world. He was loved by so many friends from around the world.

"He was very artistic, sensitive and a lovely kid. He was a typical teenager, who had a very difficult start in life but who grew into a lovely, gentle boy.

"He did remarkably well for somebody who started with nothing and who didn't even speak any English."

Friends and family from all over the world raised money for a well in Leat, which they named in memory of Thoeun after hearing about his death.

Ingrid returned from a fact-finding trip to Cambodia on Monday (2) where she investigated possible projects, along with Tabitha UK, a charity which runs the orphanage Theon was adopted from and who she hopes to work with in the future.

Ingrid also has the support of Esher College.

International development officer for the college, Rachel Evans, said: "We are looking for opportunities to support educational projects in Cambodia and it is hoped that in the future students may participate in volunteer work in Cambodia."

Students who are studying leisure and sports at the college are also organising a boat party to raise money for Thoeun's Trust.

Being serious about torture. Or not

Online Journal
By William Blum
Online Journal Guest Writer

Mar 10, 2009, 00:18

In Cambodia they’re once again endeavoring to hold trials to bring some former senior Khmer Rouge officials to justice for their 1975-79 war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The current defendant in a United Nations-organized trial, Kaing Guek Eav, who was the head of a Khmer Rouge torture center, has confessed to atrocities, but insists he was acting under orders.[1] As we all know, this is the defense that the Nuremberg Tribunal rejected for the Nazi defendants. Everyone knows that, right? No one places any weight on such a defense any longer, right? We make jokes about Nazis declaring: “I was only following orders!” (“Ich habe nur den Befehlen gehorcht!”) Except that both the Bush and Obama administrations have spoken in favor of it.

Here’s the new head of the CIA, Leon Panetta: “What I have expressed as a concern, as has the president, is that those who operated under the rules that were provided by the attorney general in the interpretation of the law [concerning torture] and followed those rules ought not to be penalized. And . . . I would not support, obviously, an investigation or a prosecution of those individuals. I think they did their job.” [2] Operating under the rules . . . doing their job . . . are of course the same as following orders.

The UN Convention Against Torture (first adopted in 1984), which has been ratified by the United States, says quite clearly, “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.” The Torture Convention enacts a prohibition against torture that is a cornerstone of international law and a principle on a par with the prohibition against slavery and genocide.

Of course, those giving the orders are no less guilty. On the very day of Obama’s inauguration, the United Nation’s special torture rapporteur invoked the convention in calling on the United States to pursue former president George W. Bush and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture and bad treatment of Guantanamo prisoners. [3]

On several occasions, President Obama has indicated his reluctance to pursue war crimes charges against Bush officials, by expressing a view such as: “I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” This is the same excuse Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has given for not punishing Khmer Rouge leaders. In December 1998, he asserted, “We should dig a hole and bury the past and look ahead to the 21st century with a clean slate.” [4] Hun Sen has been in power all the years since then, and no Khmer Rouge leader has been convicted for their role in the historic mass murder.

And by not investigating Bush officials, Obama is indeed saying that they’re above the law. Like the Khmer Rouge officials have been. Michael Ratner, a professor at Columbia Law School and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said prosecuting Bush officials is necessary to set future anti-torture policy. “The only way to prevent this from happening again is to make sure that those who were responsible for the torture program pay the price for it. I don’t see how we regain our moral stature by allowing those who were intimately involved in the torture programs to simply walk off the stage and lead lives where they are not held accountable.” [5]

One reason for the non-prosecution may be that serious trials of the many Bush officials who contributed to the torture policies might reveal the various forms of Democratic Party non-opposition and collaboration.

It should also be noted that the United States supported Pol Pot (who died in April 1998) and the Khmer Rouge for several years after they were ousted from power by the Vietnamese in 1979. This support began under Jimmy Carter and his National Security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and continued under Ronald Reagan. [6] A lingering bitterness by American cold warriors toward Vietnam, the small nation which monumental US power had not been able to defeat, and its perceived closeness to the Soviet Union, appears to be the only explanation for this policy. Humiliation runs deep when you’re a superpower.

Neither should it be forgotten in this complex cautionary tale that the Khmer Rouge in all likelihood would never have come to power, nor even made a serious attempt to do so, if not for the massive American “carpet bombing” of Cambodia in 1969-70 and the US-supported overthrow of Prince Sihanouk in 1970 and his replacement by a man closely tied to the United States. [7] Thank you Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Well done, lads.

By the way, if you’re not already turned off by many of Obama’s appointments, listen to how James Jones opened his talk at the Munich Conference on Security Policy on February 8: “Thank you for that wonderful tribute to Henry Kissinger yesterday. Congratulations. As the most recent National Security Advisor of the United States, I take my daily orders from Dr. Kissinger.” [8]

Lastly, Spain’s High Court recently announced it would launch a war crimes investigation into an Israeli ex-defense minister and six other top security officials for their role in a 2002 attack that killed a Hamas commander and 14 civilians in Gaza. [9] Spain has for some time been the world’s leading practitioner of “universal jurisdiction” for human-rights violations, such as their indictment of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet a decade ago. The Israeli case involved the dropping of a bomb on the home of the Hamas leader; most of those killed were children. The United States does this very same thing every other day in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Given the refusal of American presidents to invoke even their “national jurisdiction” over American officials-cum-war criminals, we can only hope that someone reminds the Spanish authorities of a few names, names like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice, Feith, Perle, Yoo, and a few others with a piece missing, a piece that’s shaped like a conscience. There isn’t even a need to rely on international law alone, for there’s an American law against war crimes, passed by a Republican-dominated Congress in 1996. [10]

The noted Israeli columnist, Uri Avnery, writing about the Israeli case, tried to capture the spirit of Israeli society that produces such war criminals and war crimes. He observed, “This system indoctrinates its pupils with a violent tribal cult, totally ethnocentric, which sees in the whole of world history nothing but an endless story of Jewish victimhood. This is a religion of a Chosen People, indifferent to others, a religion without compassion for anyone who is not Jewish, which glorifies the God-decreed genocide described in the Biblical book of Joshua.” [11]

It would take very little substitution to apply this statement to the United States -- like “American” for “Jewish” and “American exceptionalism” for “a Chosen People.”