Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Thailand, Cambodia to discuss overlapping maritime claims in April

MCOT English News

BANGKOK, March 24 (TNA) - The Thailand and Cambodia Joint Border Commission (JBC) will hold a fresh round of negotiations on overlapping maritime areas between the two countries when the body meets in Cambodia early next month, Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said on Tuesday.

Mr. Kasit told journalists that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the Thai government to accelerate the process of settling the overlapping maritime areas problem after a number of rounds of talks in the past have failed to resolve the issues.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said the issue was raised at the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, held in Thailand's southern seaside resort of Hua Hin late last month.

The problem of the overlapping areas is rather ‘technical’, Mr. Abhisit said, but appropriate officials are dealing with it.

Although the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in the year 2000 agreeing to resolve contested claims covering 20,600 square kilometres which are potentially rich in natural gas and oil, no tangible headway has been seen.

Panithan Watanayakorn, deputy secretary-general to the Thai prime minister, said the joint meeting will take place April 2-3 in Cambodia’s Siem Reap. It will also consider land area demarcation, methods of restoring peace along the border, demining, border trade, and promoting tourism to improve bilateral relations.

The Thai-Cambodian border has never been fully demarcated, in part because the border is littered with landmines left from decades of war in Cambodia.

The government of Thailand’s former prime minister Samak Sundaravej approved a Bt1.4 billion mine clearing operation on the border, but no progress has been seen so far. (TNA)

Licadho condemns the conviction of a political opponent in Cambodia after a "travesty of justice"


By Ka-set

Licadho condemns the “travesty of justice” that resulted, on Friday March 20th, in the conviction of Tuot Saron, a former commune chief and member of the main opposition party in Cambodia, the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), who was sentenced to three years of prison for “kidnapping and illegal confinement”. A ruling that is “baseless and politically-motivated”, according to the director of the Cambodian human rights organisation in a statement published on Sunday March 22nd.

Confinement or protection?
At the time of his arrest, Tuot Saron was SRP chief in Pongro commune in Baray district, in Kampong Thom province. On Friday March 20th, he was convicted by the provincial court for his involvement, together with three other persons, in the alleged abduction of Tin Norn, a former SRP member who had expressed her wish to defect to the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Men Vannak and Hour Sarath, two of the three other accused who have fled and are in hiding, were also sentenced in absentia to three years' imprisonment, while the third, Thorn Rithy, was condemned to five years in prison. Since his arrest a year ago, Tuot Saron has consistently denied the charges against him. He claims that he and his SRP colleagues “merely brought Tim Norn from Kampong Thom to Phnom Penh after she asked them for protection from intimidation from CPP officials.”

No arrest warrant, but a speech from Hun Sen
First, Licadho notes that Tuot Saron was arrested in March 2008, “one day after Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a speech accusing SRP of intimidating former party members who had defected to the CPP.” He also “demanded that action be taken” against those responsible for the alleged confinement of Tim Norn and such “human rights abuses”. But no court warrant was produced at the time of the arrest of the local SRP official, who was therefore arrested “unlawfully”, Licaho criticises.

No evidence or witness
The human rights organisation then stresses that Tuot Saron and the three other SRP members were convicted “solely on [the basis of] the testimony of Tim Norn, and no other prosecution witnesses testified during Friday's trial [on March 20th].” Yet, the accusations made by Tim Norn herself are questioned by Licadho, who decries the “severe lack of credible evidence”: “Two days after her alleged abduction in February 2008, Tim Norn was interviewed at length by staff of Licadho and the [United Nations] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh”, the organisation says. “At no time did she say that she had been abducted or otherwise mistreated by SRP officials in any way.”

Courts “manipulated” by the ruling party?
“There are compelling reasons to believe that the prosecution of Tuot Saron was politically-motivated, orchestrated by the government to intimidate and threaten opposition party officials and members in the run-up to the July 2008 national [legislative] elections,” said Naly Pilorge. According to the director of Licadho, this new “travesty of justice (...) once again shows how the ruling party manipulates the courts to maintain its stranglehold on power and eliminate its opponents.” She fears that the case “will have long-lasting consequences for democracy in Cambodia (…) [and] sends a chilling message to the opposition and to voters throughout the country.”

Owen Perry elected to executive of Cambodian international business group

Wairarapa Times Age

By Nathan Crombie

Former Masterton district councillor Owen Perry has won election to an executive national business forum in his adopted home of Cambodia.

Mr Perry, who served a single term as councillor and ran several businesses in Wairarapa with his wife Lorna before shifting to Phnom Penh in September to work alongside his younger brother and national company manager John Perry to establish and run a new office and warehouse.

Mr Perry was this week elected to the executive committee of the International Business Club of Cambodia, an organisation that has for the past 15 years worked to attract and encourage international businesses looking to establish markets in Cambodia.

Mr Perry said the organisation involves 63 "leading-edge expatriate" companies based in Cambodia with member companies representing both national and multinational companies and adherence to international standards of best practice the vital criteria of membership.
He said an important role of the organisation is to work closely with the Royal Cambodian Government through participation in government working groups with the IBC committee made up of senior members of the Cambodian business community as either owners of their own companies or chief executives.

"I look forward to working with my colleagues on the committee and of course the Royal Cambodian Government to foster Cambodian and New Zealand relations as there is no New Zealand embassy here, yet," he said.

"Cambodia is developing very quickly and there is huge investment here from China, Korea, USA and Japan for example. Australia is also well represented here with their embassy."

Mr Perry said business involvement from New Zealand is sparse and "the New Zealand Government would do well to investigate the possibility of establishing a presence on the ground in Cambodia".

"Perhaps Wairarapa MP John Hayes can establish some dialogue on this with the New Zealand Government because as Cambodia modernises there will be mutually beneficial opportunities for NZ and the Cambodian people."

"Cambodia, I feel, is where Singapore was in the 70s and 80s when Lorna and I served there with the New Zealand Forces and Cambodia will be the shining star of Asia before too long because the people are hungry to get ahead in life."

Mr Perry drew parallels between the "tangata whenua" Khmer people of Cambodia and Maori in New Zealand.

"Some foreign countries come here with a paternalistic view of helping the Khmer people and in my view to also try and get control of resources or development contracts," he said.

"The current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is very staunch that Cambodian resources stay in the hands of the Cambodian people and good on him.

"So being Maori, I can see similarities in the plights of our two peoples. The constant struggle to retain or regain kotahitanga for tangata whenua is very similar."

Mr Perry said he and Lorna have also been working in Cambodia to establish a regular gathering of expatriate Kiwis in the Asian country and have founded a Kiwis in Kampuchea group that meets regularly and earlier this year gathered 150 people to enjoy a traditional Maori hangi.

Cambodians seek justice

Cambodians Kim San, left, Sun Dary and Sokyoom Kem listen to Dr. Leakhena Nou explain how they can provide testimony for the war crime tribunals. Nou, a Cal State Long Beach professor, founded the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia. (Diandra Jay/Staff Photographer)

By Greg Mellen Staff Writer

Long Beach Press-Telegram

Posted: 03/23/2009

LONG BEACH - For decades, one of the debilitating fallouts for survivors of the Cambodian genocide has been their feelings of helplessness and powerlessness as victims.

A professor at Cal State Long Beach is trying to change that by giving Cambodians the opportunity to give testimony that could be used in the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunals being conducted in Cambodia.

Dr. Leakhena Nou, a medical sociologist at CSULB, is making it her mission to get the word out. And she's doing it one person and one community group at a time. One day it's at the United Cambodian Community. Another it's at McBride Park. A session in Orange County is planned. The more groups, the more testimonies, the better.

"It's a matter of human rights," Nou says of victims speaking out. "They have a right to be part of truth and reconciliation for their suffering and for their own healing."

And while justice may only seem symbolic and too-long delayed, Nou feels it is vital for healing and empowerment for the survivors and the generations that follow.

Nou typically starts by asking groups how many of them were victims of the Khmer Rouge, how many have bad dreams, how many would like justice.

The hands go up, the stories often gush forth.

An elderly Cambodian tells how she lost her entire family to atrocities. Another tells of her husband being pulled from a rice paddy and led to his execution. Another tells of losing 10 children. The stories emerge, each as heart-rending as the next.
For years these victims have mourned the dead but felt powerless to do anything about it. They still suffer from nightmares, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Aaron Va works with the Asian and Pacific Islander Older Adults Task Force. Like Va, the people in his group are survivors. He says all have stories they want to tell but don't know where to go. And they still fear consequences of speaking out.

On Friday at 10 a.m. at McBride Park, genocide survivors will have a chance to fill out information forms and provide testimonials that will be forwarded to the victims' unit of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, which is overseeing the trials.

If there is enough interest, more opportunities will be offered.

Last Wednesday, Nou and a pair of associates attended a Women's Health Forum at the UCC, and on Monday they met with the Asian and Pacific Islander group.

Each time, planned short presentations unfurled into long discussions followed by question-

and-answer sessions about the roles of victims in the tribunals.

All victims and relatives of victims of acts of genocide during the Khmer Rouge reign between April 17, 1975, and Jan. 6, 1979, have the right to file complaints that will be brought to the ECCC.

Through a program called the Cambodian Diaspora Victims' Participation Project, Nou's nonprofit group - Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia - and the Asian Pacific American Institute are gathering victim statements that could become part of the official court proceedings.

Law students and translators will help victims fill out official information forms.

However, time is short as the courts recently announced they will only take complaints for a limited time.

Sean Butler, an attorney helping Nou and her group, said a program has been set up to make it easier for victims to fill out the forms.

"This may be the only opportunity you have (to participate in the trial)," Butler told the crowd.

The first tribunal in Cambodia is currently under way against Kaing Geuk Eav, also known as Duch, who allegedly oversaw the mass torture and execution in prison camps, including Cambodia's notorious Tuol Sleng, or S-21, camp.

A second trial is slated for alleged Khmer Rouge leaders Noun Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith. The court will stop taking complaints 10 days before the second trial, which has not been scheduled.

It is unknown if there will be any more trials or defendants in the perennially cash-

strapped courts.

Victims have two avenues to provide testimony. One is as a civil party, but that requires legal representation in Cambodia and could require travel to participate in the trials. The second avenue, which is free and the one Nou and Butler are assisting in, is for complainants who want to get their stories on the record without being required to testify.

Butler stressed that testimony is voluntary. However, he added that defense attorneys have the right to contact complainants.

And that's what worries some of the elders, who still fear retribution for having their names on the record.

One man worried he'd be targeted when he returned to Cambodia if he testified. Others were mistrustful of the proceedings.

Butler said the best defense for the victims was to testify in large numbers. Similar efforts are being organized in Lowell, Mass., Portland, Ore., Virginia, Chicago and elsewhere. However, Butler could not guarantee absolute safety from threats.

Joshua Bender, who is helping Nou, told the group that his family was victimized by the Nazi Holocaust.

"What helped me understand what happened to my family is the stories and the testimony of my grandparents," Bender said. "Because they had the courage to tell their stories, my community can keep its traditions. I hope through your courage your grandchildren can understand."

"We hope courage comes in large numbers and can help to heal the scars," Butler said.

People interested in testifying and groups with survivors who would like to become involved can contact ASRIC on-line at www.apa.nyu.edu under research and special projects or by calling Nou at 562-985-7439.

PNSB supported Balkis' 'repentance programme' in Cambodia

Teng Chang Khim
The Sun Daily
Maria J.Dass

SHAH ALAM (March 24, 2009) : Permodalan Negeri Selangor Bhd (PNSB) sponsored part of a "repentance programme" in Cambodia organised by Balkis -- the wives of Selangor elected representatives' charity and welfare organisation -- in August 2002, the Selangor State Assembly's Select Committee on Competency, Accountability and Transparency (Selcat) heard today.

PNSB CEO Datin Khairiyah Abu Hassan said PNSB paid RM82,227 for that trip, including more than RM19,000 for library books, RM25,000 for accommodation and transportation for four people, inclusive of RM3,000 allowance for reporters and crew, and RM10,000 for the production of a video clip on Balkis.

Testifying before the Selcat on the second day of a public hearing probing into excesses of Balkis which obtained its funding from the state government and several state owned companies, she said the "repentance programme" involved the repair of a library, purchase of books and cash contributions to orphanages and families living in Muslim villages in Cambodia.

Selcat is chaired by Assembly Speaker Teng Chang Khim while its members are Bkit Antarabangsa state assemblyman Azmin Ali, Taman Medan assemblyman Haniza Talha, Ulu Kelang assemblyman Shaari Sungib, Bukit Gasing assemblyman Edward Lee, Dusun Tua assemblyman Ismail Sani (BN), and Permatang assemblyman Sulaiman Abdul Razak (BN).

Khairiyah: "This was a programme designed to make people repent."

Teng: Who repented?

Khairiyah: Both sides repented. Because when those who visited the country saw how much of suffering there was, they repented.

Teng: So those who were suffering saw that we were rich, and so they too repented?

Khairiyah then said she reserved her comment on the terminology used as it was one that was coined by Balkis.

Azmin: So, did you notice a change or a tinge of repentance in those who went for the trip?

Khairiyah: That is subjective.

Haniza:"Why did the company agreed to sponsor a programme in Cambodia. Is there a lack of poor in this country that you have to go all the way to Cambodia to help?"

Khairiyah: There were 40 other people on the trip, including Balkis members, non-governmental organisation (NGO) representatives, corporate figures and the media.

Balkis president Datin Sri Zaharah Kechik headed the entourage, but PNSB only paid for four of them.

Khairiyah had earlier said that since 2002, PNSB had set aside RM1 million as annual allocation for Balkis every year.

Responding to a question on why PNSB had breached this allocation by giving Balkis RM1.6 million in 2003, she said: "We did not want to say no to a state programme. We have to support state programmes, as a state subsidiary, we are devoted to this."

She agreed that PNSB supported Balkis because it represented the wives of the elected representatives.

Korea Exchange to jointly launch Cambodian bourse

SEOUL, March 24 (Reuters) - The Korea Exchange (KRX) said on Tuesday that it had signed an agreement with the Cambodian government to jointly launch a Cambodian stock exchange by the end of 2009.

The Cambodian government and KRX will control 55 percent and 45 percent of the exchange, respectively, and will jointly operate the bourse, KRX said.

The announcement marks the latest effort by the South Korean exchange to expand its presence abroad.

In November 2008, KRX signed a memorandum of understanding with Laos government on setting up the country's stock exchange, with the South Korean bourse holding 49 percent of the venture.

(Reporting by Jungyoun Park; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)

BBC Asks Hun Sen Government about the Provision of Land to Companies using the Development Concession Image - Monday, 23.3.2009

Posted on 24 March 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 605

Apologies for the delays in publishing - we are almost up to date - last Sunday’s editorial is still delayed - it will come later in the day.

Norbert Klein

“Facing questions by the British Broadcasting Cooperation – BBC – about land concessions in Cambodia, rights abuses against people over land issues, the exercise of power by the leaders of the country, and providing land to partisan merchants’ private companies using the system of economic concessions, a representative of the Hun Sen government, Svay Sitha, responded back and forth repeatedly.

“Some points of his answers make one think that he does not know the process of land issues in Cambodia well. Frequently, he used the word ‘probably’ in his answers to protect the director of the Pheapimex Company, who is close to the prime minister and his family.

“Svay Sitha, who is an opportunist politician, who took the chance to become a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, close to Deputy Prime Minister and Senior Minister Sok An, who is also close to Mr. Hun Sen, and who answerer to the questions, saying, ‘Cambodia hears frequently voices repeated, especially from non-government organizations, that publish things in an attempt to disgrace the government.’

“His explanation shows that he acted as if he were a defense lawyer of the Pheapimex Company of Cheung Sopheap, called Yeay Phou [Grandmother Phou], and of Lao Meng Khin, who is an Oknha, who then became a politician as an advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen. Svay Sitha mentioned three conditions for the government to provide land concession to different companies, including the Pheapimex Company. He explained that unless a company has a clear plan to use the land, has work experience, and has sufficient resources for the operation, when a land concession is offered by the government.

“The Pheapimex Company of Yeay Phou, who is close to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, and who frequently shares her money for the prime minister’s use for different occasions, was focused by the BBC regarding more than 310,000 hectares of state land and citizens’ land, delivered by Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party government to this private company, while by now, there has nothing significantly been achieved from the use of that land.

“Regarding this point, Svay Sitha said that ‘probably’ the government has a reason to allow this company to have the right to control land concessions without activities on that land. Particularly, Svay Sitha seemed not to know what is the progress of land issues in Cambodia well, since he said that both the Cambodian People’s Party [CPP] and Prime Minister Hun Sen conducted so-called land reforms in 1981, in 1988, and in the early 1990s.

“What this secretary of state and spokesperson of the Council of Ministers, who is close to Mr. Sok An, had said shows that he does not know the events and issues which led to different land disputes at the present time. What he raised was in the last period of the State of Cambodia [1989 to 1993] ruled by the CPP with Hun Sen as prime minister, which used the term ‘Economic Autonomy’ as the goal to manage state property, such as factories and land, to be later sold to merchants who piled up the benefits of their money and property, which now changed into another image, by which the government led by the same person and the same partisans use the term ‘Economic Development’ in order to hide the selling of state property and state resources.

“The Pheapimex Company of Yeay Phou, who is a big merchant woman, whose husband Lao Meng Khin became a senator for the Cambodian People’s Party, due to special influences which were mentioned by different press agencies inside and outside of the country. and by observers regarding her close relation with leaders of the country. This company has the right to control up to 350,000 hectares of land in Pursat and in Kompong Chhnang, which is against the Cambodian law, which allows one company to hold only 10,000 hectares of land concessions.

“Particularly, also farming land of people in different districts in Kompong Chhnang and in Pursat, including pagodas and other places of the people, are included in the invading maps of the Pheapimex Company, which has received licenses from the Hun Sen Cambodian People’s Party government. This case triggered strong protests from people until activities of this company were stalled, and Svay Sitha explained that ‘probably’ the Hun Sen government has some reasons to let this company continue controlling land without conducting development activities.

“This is a question of the BBC to seek answers from the Hun Sen government from Svay Sitha, who was made responsible for responding to questions of the BBC over Hun Sen’s government using power and positions to provide land concessions to partisan companies that have close relations, providing benefits.

“What Mr. Svay Sitha answers seems to follow what Prime Minister Hun Sen had told Sok An, ordering him to help clean the reputation of the government over the provision of land concessions and economic concessions to partisan companies, under the pretext of development of crops and of agro-industry. He tried to clarify, saying, ‘There is no such case that companies that have relations with Samdech Dekchor or other powerful persons in the government [receiving land concessions].’

“Recognizing that local companies provide more benefits than foreign companies, Svay Sitha’s answer was as if he admitted this when he said, ‘This principle (to provides land concessions to local companies) is applied when somebody would come to invest leasing land in Cambodia through economic concessions.’

“This explanation of Svay Sitha about the provision of economic land concessions contradicts what a member of the National Assembly, the chairperson of the Commission on Economy, Finance, Banks, and Audits, Cheam Yeap, who is also from the Cambodian People’s Party, had said. Mr. Cheam Yeap said in an interview with Radio Free Asia recently that the government should not lease land to neighboring countries such as Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, for fear of losing land, like in previous historic experiences. He said so after a foreign newspaper had quoted Svay Rieng governor Cheang Am as saying that 100,000 hectares of land along the border is kept for leasing to Yuon [Vietnam].

“Contradicting to what Mr. Cheam Yeap had said, Svay Sitha told radio BBC that the government really provided land concessions to neighboring countries. Svay Sitha said, ‘There were Memorandums of Understanding signed between Cambodia and different neighboring countries for their investment.’

“Anyway, Svay Sitha described Yeay Phou’s company, ‘The Pheapimex Company has capital and the capacity to work, and the company “probably” has the most capital – which means it is better prepared.’

“Answering back and forth repeatedly in an attempt to clean up the bad reputation of the Hun Sen government over his negligence, what led to land disputes and land grabbing from people around the country, Svay Sitha indirectly criticized the former commander-in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Ke Kim Yan, as he was removed from his position by the prime minister over land issues, and the use of troops to protect private interests.

“Svay Sitha’s excuses cannot clean the bad reputation of the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen over the provision of hundreds of thousands of state land as economic concessions to private companies and partisans, and letting land grabbing from people happen around the country, until there is criticism by local and international human rights groups.”

Sereypheap Thmey, Vol.16, #1678-1679, 22-23.3.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 23 March 2009

JBC: Cambodia Ignores Protest against Building Road on Disputed Land

Thailand Outlook Channel
24 March 2009

The Thai-Cambodian Joint Committee reveals that Cambodia is still ignoring documents submitted in protest against the construction of a road on disputed land. Meanwhile, the committee chairman has urged the red-shirts to leave the matter out of political protests.

The Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary or JBC Chairman Wasin Theeravejyarn said that yesterday’s meeting was held to prepare for the upcoming JBC meeting during which Thailand will negotiate demarcation for a land boundary with Cambodia, that will settle the matter for good.

The next JBC meeting will be held in Phnom Penh on April 6th and 7th. Wasin said that Cambodia has already constructed a 4.6-kilometer road onto overlapped land, which violates an agreement signed by the two nations back in 1999. He stated that JBC may raise the issue along with other unresolved issues during the joint session in April.

The JBC Chairman also said that Thailand will continue to use diplomatic means to handle the situation. Wasin said that Thailand must consider the repercussions of sending armed forces in to handle the situation, but said that such measures may be necessary if negotiations fail. Wasin said that JBC is willing to hear from locals before taking any action as those nearby will be effected the most.

The Thai JBC Chairman also said that JBC does not want a third party to step in. Wasin commented that the United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship or UDD red-shirt group should not bring up the issue between the two nations in its rally on March 26th, as it may worsen the situation.

The UDD group formerly stated that Thailand has already given up land to Cambodia. Wasin said that it is not a matter of having lost the land, as Thailand would have lost the land a few years ago already if the matters were to be true.

Wasin said that Thailand has already submitted documents to protest Cambodia’s actions, but he thinks that politics may make negotiations more difficult. Wasin said that negotiations with Cambodia can lead to a compromise, but that it is also depends on how Cambodia responds.

Thai-Cambodian talks on sea border

By: BangkokPost.com
Published: 24/03/2009

Thre government is preparing to hold another round of talks with Cambodia on the disputed sea border next month, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said on Tuesday.

"We expect to hold a meeting on this issue again in April, but it will not be related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Plus 3, Plus 6 summit," the minister said.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen is reportedly planning to send a letter to the Thai government asking for a quick resolution of the disputed sea border, so oil and gas deposits can ber developed.

Mr Kasit said it would not be necessary for Cambodia to send a letter.

Planting the seeds of FRIENDSHIP

Project on Thai-Cambodian border bridges cultural ties through learning about a shared history

Bangkok Post
Published: 24/03/2009
The emphasis on wars and territorial conflicts in national histories has pitched neighbouring countries against one another and fuelled ultra-nationalism. Thailand and Cambodia are no exception. But a group of Thai-Cambodian academics believe they can help turn it around through a new kind of history classroom.

A Group of students from Thailand and Cambodia had a taste of it recently when they met at Buri Ram province to learn how to use the neutral tools of modern science and equipment to help them appreciate their common ancestral roots.

Their two main classrooms were at Phanom Rung Historical Park and Ban Kruat. At Phanom Rung, the students learned together that the religious structures were built based on the sun's position, which originally penetrated its rays through all 15 doorways of the temple on equinox days, both at sunrise and sunset.

That had been the case for the temple's first 900 years. With the gradual shifting of the Earth's core, however, the alignment line changed and people can now observe sunlight going through all 15 doorways either at sunrise or sunset, but not on the same day.

Then the on-site history class was filled with a flurry of activity when each student was given a compass to measure the angles of the temple to see for themselves the change in the structure's alignment.

Another of their "history classrooms" was the archaeological excavation site at Chantobped village in Ban Kruat District, where two skeletons were recently uncovered. The skeletons are believed to have been buried according to ancient Khmer funeral rituals. The students were not only told how the excavation was done, but also got to experiment excavating by themselves.

"The main objective was to show them, not just tell them, that we share the same ancestry," said team leader Col Surat Lertlum. "If we look at traditions in Thailand and Cambodia, we see a lot of similarities that still exist today. I hope the realisation of our shared culture and history will help patch the gap between us and minimise conflict in the future."

This alternative history classroom is an offshoot of the Living Angkor Road Project - a collaboration between Thai and Cambodian archaeologists to survey ancient sites along the route. Leading the Thai team is Colonel Surat Lertlum from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. Through the use of modern technology in geo-informatics, geophysics, archaeology and remote sensing, the team has succeeded in plotting the whole ancient route built under the reign of King Jayavarman VII of the Khmer Empire.

The project, sponsored by the Thailand Research Fund, aims to identify the historic road and community settlement established in the Khmer Empire era. Apart from using modern technology, the interdisciplinary project also involves historical and archaeological research as well as interviewing local communities. The 254km-long ancient route extends from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to Phimai in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand. The project is a collaboration between the Fine Arts Department of Silpakorn University, Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, Prince of Songkla University and Cambodia's Apsara Authority.

The researchers have found much archeological evidence of ancient communities - roads, canals and irrigation systems as well as religious structures - along the whole route. After the completion of the first phase, phase two of this year involves additional village-level surveys being conducted to gain further cultural information. The Cambodian team is led by archaeologists Dr Ang Choulean and Im Sokrithy from Apsara Authority.

According to Col Surat, the alternative history classroom provided youngsters from both countries an opportunity to learn first-hand about the history of this ancient route from the findings in the Living Angkor Road Project. Twelve of the students were from Oddar Meanchey, a border province in Cambodia. About 30 students were from different regions in Thailand, the youngest being a nine-year-old boy from Chulalongkorn University Demonstration Elementary School.

When asked where the idea of a joint learning experience for children came from, Col Surat simply pointed to his head. "It all started here. I thought the research was invaluable and I should make use of these findings. I wanted to start with something local, and since the findings took place at the border, it was best to get people from both countries involved so that they would appreciate their shared hometowns together."

Using integrated learning methods, the project urged the children to consider the motives behind the construction of the ancient structures and the way of life in ancient times. "Such knowledge could be developed into so much more and the most tangible benefit is that it could help develop eco-tourism in this largely neglected area," said Col Surat.

"I believe the knowledge about previous relationships can help form a mutual understanding and positive outlook for the two nationalities from a young age."

At the ancient burial site at Ban Kruat, the students learned that there is no point in arguing what nationalities and race the ancient skeletons were. And that it is more important to learn how they could shed light on lives beyond memories.

According to Dr Naraset Pisitpanporn from the Institute of Language and Culture for Rural Development at Mahidol University, the deceased in ancient times in this region were buried with their heads facing east and their feet to the west. This is because they believed the living should sleep with their head facing south and feet facing north, so the dead should be buried in the opposite direction. He added that in Khmer language the word for south is the same for head and north can also mean foot.

Also found next to the skeletons, one of which was wearing bronze bangles, were pottery, animal bones and numerous ancient iron smelters, which show that this area used to house a community where the metal industry was important. It is believed to date back to the pre-Angkor age.

Outside activity hours, students also had a chance to mingle among themselves and to learn some words and expressions in Thai and Khmer from their peers.

Such joint border activities also benefit local communities, since they help to raise awareness in common cultural history and conservation, said Col Surat.

Initially, Surat planned to invite both children and adults to join these activities, but he thought it would be more effective if the collaboration started with children. "Adults usually already have very set visions and ideas so it might be difficult to convince them otherwise. It is always easier to paint on an empty canvas."

Usanee Chinchaloendee, 17, said she greatly enjoyed learning how and why the Phanom Rung was constructed through scientific methods. "I had previously learned about the history of this place, but I had never measured the angles with my own hands before. It was even more fun to do this experiment with my new Cambodian friends. Although there was a language barrier, we used Thai, Khmer, English and even sign language to get the message across."

Pouch So Cheth, a 16-year-old student from Oddar Meanchey, said he was fascinated by the road from Angkor to Phimai. "To learn about the communities in the ancient times and actually be in the place was very eye-opening."

Ownership was never a topic of their discussions. "We do not think about which construction belongs to which country. It is not what we are interested in. We came here to learn about culture and make friends," said Pouch So Cheth.

Cambodia to send soldiers to Chad, Central Africa for UN peacekeeping mission

People's Daily Online
March 24, 2009

Cambodia will send soldiers to Chad and Central Africa for UN peacekeeping mission, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said here on Tuesday.

"We will send our soldiers to these countries according to the request of the UN Secretary General," he told a university graduation ceremony.

Cambodia has already sent 3 groups of soldiers for mine clearance in Sudan for UN peacekeeping mission, he said, adding that the country never sent troops to war-torn countries.

Meanwhile, the premier didn't mention when and how many soldiers would be sent to the two countries.

In 2006, Cambodia sent 135 deminers to Sudan for UN peacekeeping mission, and then 139 in June 2007 to replace the old ones. The deminers were renewed again in 2008.

Additionally, Cambodia once joined international military exercises respectively held in Bangladesh and Mongolia.

In 2010, Cambodia will host a large-scale ASEAN-U.S. military exercise at its Sihanoukville Port.  


Cambodia advocate Mickey Sampson dies

Thomas Davidson
Thomas Davidson - Mickey Sampson, a former community college professor, prayed for a sick Cambodian at the man' s home in the village of Preak Thom.

Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2009

By Jim Warren - jwarren@herald-leader.com A former Louisville community college chemistry professor who worked to improve sanitation and preserve safe drinking water supplies in the nation of Cambodia has died.

Michael Lynn "Mickey" Sampson died last week of a heart attack, according to a statement from Resource Development International-Cambodia, the private non-profit organization that Sampson founded.

He was 43.

Mr. Sampson had lived in Cambodia since moving his family there in 1998. He previously was an assistant professor of chemistry at Jefferson Community and Technical College, which at the time was part of the University of Kentucky community college system.

Mr. Sampson, a Louisville native, first visited Cambodia in the early 1990s while on sabbatical from his teaching duties. There, he saw firsthand the nation's widespread water and sanitation problems and decided to do something about them.

Resource Development, the organization that Mr. Sampson founded, made ceramic water filtration and distribution systems; developed programs to warn Cambodians about the risks of contaminated water, and created TV programs for children promoting health and literacy.

According to a statement from Resource Development, Mr. Sampson had been experiencing health problems for some time. He died Thursday in Bangkok, Thailand, after flying there to see a specialist. Mr. Sampson's body will be returned to Cambodia for funeral arrangements, the resource organization said.

Mr. Sampson is survived by his wife, Wendi, two sons and two daughters, his parents and one brother.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 OR 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255

A study of sacred places in ancient Cambodia: the Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient at work in Koh Ker

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 14/03/2009: Eric Bourdonneau, historian and archaeologist, Member of the EFEO (Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient).
©John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

In the Northern Cambodian province of Preah Vihear, the eponymous temple acquired some international fame with its listing in July 2008 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and because of the border dispute with neighbouring Thailand around the area. However, another highly sacred place in the same province, which deserves some attention: the Koh Ker archaeological group, located 50 miles northeast of the Angkor complex, has long been inaccessible. A week ago, the Phnom Penh branch of the French Ecole Française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO) launched a campaign to excavate this exceptional site.

The particularity of Koh Ker
To this day, only Henri Parmentier carried out an important study of Koh Ker, back at the beginning of last century and as part of research at the EFEO . Since then, a few archaeological soundings have been made by archaeologists from Apsara (the authority in charge of the site management) but no important excavation was carried out, thus leaving the site surrounded by mystery. The site used to be a temporary capital founded by Jayavarman IV – he later settled there in 921AD. That period of time was short but crucial in the history of the Khmer empire, the epicentre of which revolved around the Angkorian era in the present-day Siem Reap province.

A few sculptures from Koh Ker found their way to the Phnom Penh National Museum: here, a giant Garuda is on display at the entrance, welcoming visitors and there, a dancing Shiva is the evidence of a true revolution in Angkorian art.

To Eric Bourdonneau, a lecturer at the EFEO and a professor at the Phnom Penh Faculty of Archaeology, the site is a remarkable group for many reasons, whether it be in terms of architecture, with its mount-temple culminating at 115ft, a record height, or in terms of iconography, as it introduces “narrative scenes via the staging of sculpture in the round [three-dimension sculpture] when up until then, temple iconography was limited to a few divine representations displayed in the narrow frame of the lintels and pediments of the structure.

Having a small artificial hill talk…
In Koh Ker, non-believers might not detect the presence, in a straight line with the main temple (Prasat Thom) – the development of a plan controlled by lines had never been observed previously and conveyed the expansion of the divine here below –, of an artificial hill, named the “Tomb of the White Elephant” as a reference to a Khmer legend. The hill is indeed the centre of Eric Bourdonneau’s research and he intends, with two excavation campaigns, to find out about the secrets of that place: which part did the hill play in the layout of the ritual of Prasat Thom?

The historian and archaeologist, who specialised his research in the study of great sacred sites in Cambodia, seems to have his own theory, even though he wishes to remain cautious on the topic for the time being. What he can tell us at least, is that “the erecting of that hill – which is unique, or nearly unique in the field of archaeology relating to ancient Cambodia – is to be classified among the many innovations which come together with the ‘exploit’ of King Jayavarman IV, i.e. the transformation of the King’s place of activity (the capital and its Royal sanctuary) into a ‘natural’ sacred place, just like Wat Phou”. The latter, the EFEO expert details, is located on the western bank of the Mekong in the far South of Laos and was probably the most important of all sacred places in ancient Cambodia. The successive Kings were always intent on placing their reign under the protection of the divinities present in those places, which stood out due to their sacred worth.

“The Tomb of the White Elephant”: the legend
The tale, as it has been handed down throughout the centuries, is that of a white elephant, then King of all elephants. His daughter, Eric Bourdonneau recounts, “Had great beauty; she was descended from the gods and was taken away by the King of Cambodia who empowered her as first Queen in the Kingdom. The white elephant – well-identified in ethnological literature as both the sign and the source of Royal power – desperately tried to find his daughter but died of exhaustion before succeeding in weakening the compound of the Royal palace built by Jayavarman IV. A mausoleum was constructed nearby in his honour: this mausoleum is the hill located to the West of Prasat Thom”. And today, at the top of that hill, a small structure shelters the image of the white elephant.

Excavations will lead to more digging
The excavation campaign is part of a wider research project about the great sacred places of ancient Cambodia, and was started in 2007 by the Phnom Penh archaeological branch of the EFEO. It comes after more than a decade of efforts to constitute, under the direction of Bruno Bruguier, an inventory of the odd 3,000 sites and a series of archaeological maps covering the whole of Cambodia. “The idea is to study the different ways in which the divine is present”, Eric Bourdonneau explains. “And I call ‘sacred’ places where the divine was not erected by devout followers but appears in a natural way. Man only makes this presence more obvious, but it is already there.”

It would be bad manners to disturb a place that is somewhat “inhabited” and where cult is of high importance. On Tuesday February 17th, a ceremony was organised on the site of Koh Ker, as if to obtain consent to start digging and opening up the ground to divide it into two so-called diagnostic trenches. The ground was cleared of mines prior to the operation. The digging work required some thirty workers supervised by Eric Bourdonneau and an archeologist who is not part of the EFEO, and was carried out in collaboration with two young archeologists from Apsara. The first campaign should last for about 6 weeks and will be followed by a second digging mission during the next dry season, in March/April 2010.

SRP calls for probe of Siem Reap violence

Military police man a checkpoint in Siem Reap's Anlong Samnor commune following outbreaks of violence Sunday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun and kyle sherer
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Siem Reap provinceLocal officials and rights groups say armed confrontation between police and villagers is the result of long-simmering land dispute between rival communes.

WITH some villagers in prison, others in hospital with serious bullet wounds and more still missing, the mystery surrounding the swift yet brutal eruption of violence Sunday in a long-simmering Siem Reap land dispute continues, with opposition lawmakers petitioning the National Assembly for an investigation.

In a formal request to parliament Monday, Ke Sovannroth, the Sam Rainsy Party's representative from Siem Reap, asked for a probe into Sunday's fighting between rival communes and local authorities in Chi Kraeng district, which saw at least four people injured.

Some 90 armed security personnel, sent by local authorities, opened fire on a crowd of about 300 Chi Kraeng villagers when they prevented the arrest of community representative Kim Savoeun, the SRP said.

Chi Kraeng villagers have been locked in dispute with neighbouring Anlong Samnor commune over a 92-hectare plot of land for years now, the SRP added.

"Authorities should have solved the problem peacefully because they have tried to solve this dispute several times already," Ke Sovannroth said in the party's request to the National Assembly.

In a statement Monday, Siem Reap's provincial Department of Information said that troops opened fire on the crowd in Chi Kraeng district at 9am Sunday, as they confronted about 100 villagers carrying machetes and wooden sticks.

The department said police and military police were sent to enforce a court-ordered arrest warrant for Kim Savoeun, who was hiding among the crowd.

According to the statement, villagers from neighbouring Chi Kraeng and Anlong Samnor communes are disputing the plot of land that abuts the two communes, and that authorities have made many attempts to resolve the problem.

Nou Puthyk, provincial coordinator for Cambodian rights group Licadho, told the Post that the group would launch its own investigations into both the land dispute and the response by the authorities.

"We visited three victims today with serious bullet wounds," he said, adding that a fourth injured man was being treated in hospital.

"We are undertaking a thorough investigation to clear up the problem of who has the right to the 92 hectares of farmland."

He said that provincial Governor Sou Phirin ruled on February 2 that Anlong Samnor residents could continue farming the land, while Chi Kraeng commune residents would receive a social land concession.

Sou Phirin said Monday that he regretted the violence and that those injured would have their medical bills paid for.

Despite Sunday's violence, 155 Chi Kraeng families continued Monday to squat land, in what Anlong Samnor commune chief Seng Young described as an "invasion".

He said that the altercation erupted Sunday when Anlong Samnor farmers attempted to harvest their rice but were forced to call the police when Chi Kraeng farmers refused them access to the land.

"My people tried to harvest their crops, but the people from Chi Kraeng village went to fight them and took the crops," he said.

"The police went to settle the problem, but the Chi Kraeng people wanted to fight the police instead," Seng Young said.

"They don't listen to the governor or the military police. They just fight whoever goes near them."

Licadho's Nou Puthyk said that of the 40 people arrested, those who were allowed to return home had to sign a statement promising not to continue the dispute.

Those remaining in police custody are accused of masterminding the violence and could be charged with robbery for allegedly taking the land, Ty Sovinthal said.

Chhuon Leng, a Chi Kraeng villager, also confirmed that only nine people, including representative Kim Savoeun, remained in prison, while the other 30 had been released.

"There are still people who are missing, and we are looking for them now," he said.


Govt launches fresh action against CD, DVD pirates

A selection of the bootleg DVDs for sale in a Phnom Penh market on Monday.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

80,000 netted in citywide crackdown to be destroyed Friday.

ACITYWIDE crackdown on vendors selling pirated CDs and DVDs has netted over 80,000 illegal items in Phnom Penh as of Friday, according to officials, who warned that all stores that continue to sell the items will face hefty fines.

Suom Rithy, Tuol Kork district deputy chief, said few vendors had heeded earlier government directives to cease selling bootleg CDs and would face further action in future.

"According to Article 63 of the government directive banning the sale of pirate CDs and sex DVDs, most of the sellers are doing so illegally," he said, adding that 20,000 counterfeit CDs were confiscated in Toul Kork's Teuk Laak commune in 2008.

"We have announced that they must stop selling pirated CDs, but [vendors] did not listen."

Up in smoke
Mom Soth, director of the municipal Department of Culture and Fine Arts, said that 80,000 pirated CDs had been collected in the raids, and that the items would be burned at a government ceremony on March 26.

"We find it hard to control fake CDs because it is difficult to find who makes them and where they are produced," he said, adding that many vendors and producers of the goods were tipped off about raids and were able to close their stores in advance.

Kong Kanpara, chief of the Film Department in the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said the government had made an inter-ministry effort to enforce copyright laws and stamp out counterfeit CDs, but that fighting against the flood of fakes sometimes proved fruitless.

"We take action against fake CDs every year in Phnom Penh and the provinces, but ... this business is bigger than ever," he said.

"We can't find who makes these things because the materials are kept at home."

However, Kong Kanpara said the fight was worthwhile, since the pirating of local films had all but paralysed the domestic film industry. He added that Cambodia used to produce around 50 films each year, but that the number had dropped to only seven or eight as the profit margins of production companies had been eroded by the sales of pirate DVDs.

As part of its latest crackdowns, he said vendors found selling pirated films and music would be fined 7,500 riels (US$1.82) per CD or DVD, and that any cafes or other venues screening illegal pornographic DVDs would be fined up to 20 million riels and sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Som Sokun, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said bootleg CDs and DVDs were not only a violation of copyright, they also undermined legitimate products by price undercutting - but he said the way forward would be difficult.

"We are taking action against fake CDs, but we cannot do it all at once," he said. "We will try to reduce it step by step."

Govt remains committed to health budget: Hun Sen

Prime Minister Hun Sen shown here in a file photograph.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Shortage of midwives and access to care emerge as key issues during national health care summit meeting.

PRIME Minister Hun Sen told more than 400 public and private-sector health workers Monday that the global economic crisis would not cause the government to fall short of its public health spending commitments.

"The expenses on the health sector remain a priority," he said during his opening remarks at the two-day National Health Congress at the Hotel InterContinental in Phnom Penh. "I can guarantee now that we have enough money to meet the budget."

The 2009 budget calls for US$123 million to be allocated to the Ministry of Health, marking a 21.5 percent increase over last year.

In his speech, Hun Sen also called for expanded training of doctors and nurses willing to work in rural areas, particularly those specialising in reproductive health who could work to combat the Kingdom's high maternal mortality rate.

Midwife shortage
The 2005 Cambodia Demographic and Health Survey, which provides the most recent reliable maternal health data, states that the maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births increased from 437 in 1997 to 472 in 2005, a figure cited last week by UN Resident Coordinator Douglas Broderick during a forum at the National Assembly.

During a presentation following Hun Sen's remarks, Eng Huot, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Health, cited "remarkable progress in midwife deployment" at health centres, but he said a shortage persisted.

Sann Chansoeung, deputy general for health at the ministry, told the Post Monday that there are 3,200 trained midwives in Cambodia and that 79 out of 967 health centres have no midwives. He said he believes Cambodia needs at least 100 more trained midwives.

Eng Huot said too few medical students were interested in reproductive health.

He also said some health centres lacked the supplies needed for effective reproductive health care and said others were doing an insufficient job of reaching out to pregnant women in rural areas.

Eng Huot emphasised that efforts to expand access to and improve the quality of all forms of health care had been hindered by infrastructure and staff limitations.

Addressing the need for more health care workers, Hun Sen said, "We do not want people to die because there are not enough doctors, nurses and midwives in hospitals. The development of the country does not depend just on the economy and finances but also on the health and intelligence of the people."

Three-month drug investigation ends in raids of three labs

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

More than two tonnes of illicit chemicals seized during weekend raids in Kampong Cham province and Phnom Penh.

THREE drug laboratories were raided by drug police over the weekend, leading to four arrests and the seizure of more than 2 tonnes of illicit chemicals, officials said Monday.

The raids, one in Kampong Cham province and two in Phnom Penh, marked the culmination of a three-month investigation into a network of suspected traffickers, officials said.

"It is a great result after having investigated these labs for months, and we will continue to track other associated labs," said Moek Dara, director of the Anti-Drug Department at the Ministry of Interior.

A house in Kong Meas district, Kampong Cham province, was raided Saturday, leading to the arrest of Sieng Lonh, who was in possession of over 2 tonnes of chemicals.

The next day, police and local authorities raided two other locations, in Phnom Penh's Russey Keo district and Tuol Sangke commune, where a Cambodian woman, Khun Sam, and two Chinese men, Yao Sao Ying and Mi Yang, were arrested.

"We know there are more drug labs in other places to be raided," Moek Dara said, adding that drug-processing equipment was also confiscated in the raids, though it had not yet been set up for production.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Prosecutor Sok Roeun said the four suspects were sent to the court Monday.

So far this year police have arrested "hundreds" of criminals for drug-related crimes as part of a crackdown on illicit substances, Moek Dara said.

NEC to finalise election logistics

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chhay Channyda
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

THE National Election Committee said it will hold a meeting today to officially approve the order in which political parties are to be listed on ballots for upcoming council elections scheduled for May.

Also at the meeting, which the NEC said election monitors and political party representatives are welcome to attend, the committee will decide how many ballots to print in each province.

Four political parties have registered candidates: the Cambodian People's Party, the Sam Rainsy Party, the Norodom Ranariddh Party and Funcinpec.

Tep Nytha, the NEC's secretary general, told the Post Sunday that provincial election committees had already determined the order in which parties will be listed. Once these orderings are approved, he said, the NEC will begin printing ballots.

"Sequential numbering is one of the processes that adds fairness to the voting for each political party and leads to fewer complaints and dissatisfaction," he said.

Tep Nytha said the number of registered candidates varies widely from province to province. In Kampong Thom's Baray district, which Tep Nytha said was the most heavily contested district in the Kingdom, 146 candidates are registered. By contrast, 10 candidates are registered in both Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces.

MTV EXIT wades into controversy

Photo by: AFP
An excited crowd enjoys one of the performances at the MTV EXIT concern in Siem Reap in December. Extracts from the concert were broadcast nationwide Saturday.

MTV's campaign focused on trafficking
MTV's EXIT Foundation campaign "to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking across Asia Pacific" kicked off last year with a highly publicised documentary, Traffic, which included the personal stories of victims of human smuggling, traffickers and the police who track them. The show was produced in more than a dozen Southeast Asian languages, while the flagship English version was narrated by Hollywood star Lucy Liu. Cambodia's leading pop star Preap Sovath narrated the version broadcast in Cambodia. Girls anxious for higher-paying jobs abroad are duped into sex work, the show explained. It also highlighted the practice of debt bondage.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Brendan Brady
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Critics take aim at MTV's EXIT campaign, claiming it unwittingly bolsters new anti-trafficking laws that they say have resulted in the victimisation of Cambodian sex workers

ON Saturday, the newest instalment of MTV's anti-trafficking campaign was broadcast in Khmer language on Bayon TV. Clips from a concert series last year were interspersed with sound bites from local luminaries of the hip-hop scene, including singer Phou Khlaing, who introduced the TV event as part of "a campaign about freedom - about our rights as human beings to choose where we live, where we work, who our friends are and who we love".

Yet while the MTV EXIT Foundation (MTVEF), a branch of the popular US-based music channel dealing with social issues, intended with the recent broadcast and its series of concerts last year to use its name to support awareness among youth about the risks of human trafficking, it also stepped into the deep end of a simmering controversy including the Cambodian and US governments, rights groups and sex workers about the right way to treat prostitution.

The problem, some rights groups say, is that THE MTV EXIT (End Exploitation and Trafficking) campaign is inadvertently throwing itself behind a recent law that removes from Cambodians the right to engage in prostitution and has allowed police to brutalise sex workers with impunity.

In 2008, the government launched a controversial law that outlawed prostitution and classified all sex workers as victims of trafficking. Under the Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, offering one's sexual services for money became illegal for the first time. In the past, only pimping and procurement could be prosecuted.

The law, according to Cheryl Overs of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) conflates prostitution and trafficking by "[assuming] that sex work is inherently degrading and therefore, you cannot consent to it ... so all sex workers become victims of trafficking".

In the months following the law's implementation, police carried out a series of raids on brothels and street-based prostitution that critics said gave police free rein to rape and rob sex workers. They say the law has done little more than drive prostitution deeper underground - making sex workers more vulnerable to trafficking and pushing them further away from the public health groups that have been instrumental in curbing the country's HIV/AIDS rates.

The MTV EXIT campaign "only highlights the issue of sex slavery", said Ly Pisey, a spokesman for the Women's Network for Unity, a collective of Phnom Penh-based sex workers.

MTV should have consulted first with sex workers and sex worker groups.

"We must respect the right of women to be sex workers if that is how they chose to support themselves.

"We support having legislation against trafficking, but the current law has led to the rape and arrest of sex workers," she added. "MTV should have consulted first with sex workers and sex worker groups."

The campaign, critics like Ly Pisey say, will be seen by audiences as reinforcing the government's anti-human trafficking agenda.

The problem is already compounded by US support for the legislation, modelled after its own anti-trafficking laws. Rights groups say the legislation was only passed in Cambodia in a misguided attempt to meet anti-trafficking standards imposed by the US State Department that are a prerequisite for receiving US aid funds.

"The US government has ignored what has happened. Now, it seems MTV is doing the same," said Ly Pisey.

Andrew Hunter, who works with the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in Bangkok, blamed MTVEF for failing to tailor its campaign to the Cambodian context.

"By going into Cambodia with no understanding of the desperate situation on the ground ... campaigns like this can whip up a frenzy of anti-sex work sentiment in an already oppressive environment," he said.

No support for law
For its part, MTVEF has tried to elide the debate, arguing that its message is solid and that it would risk dragging itself into local politics were it to tailor its message around the conflicting opinions of groups in each country it works in.

"MTVEF is fully aware of the recent anti-trafficking law passed by the Cambodian government," the group said in a statement to the Post.

"MTVEF through the MTV EXIT campaign has never promoted this or any other anti-trafficking law, since we are a non-political educational campaign.... However, MTVEF is also not responsible for the laws of any government."

It also said it was logistically impossible to expand its message. "MTVEF understands that human trafficking is a complex issue. Subsequently we cannot and do not profess to include every single facet of the issue within our programming," MTVEF said.

The group also denied that its message was prescribed by US policy since it receives funding from the US government. MTVEF said it "retains editorial control of all of its programming and does not necessarily share the opinion of its donors".

The US embassy in Phnom Penh would not specifically address criticisms of its support for the anti-trafficking law. In an email from spokesman John Johnson, it would only say: "Improving understanding and cooperation on anti-trafficking issues continues to be a high priority in the relationship between Cambodia and the US".

"To that end, the United States has supported the MTV EXIT campaign, which helped to raise awareness about the dangers of trafficking with thousands of Cambodians through live concerns and TV broadcasts."

Not a free choice
But Lin Sylor, who works with local anti-trafficking NGO Afesip, disagreed with the premise of those who have criticised MTV.

"People don't choose to be prostitutes," she said. "Poverty - often pressure within poor families - makes them do it."

Removing the industry prevents people from being pushed into it, she said.

Lim Tith, with UNIAP, a United Nations project on Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia that worked closely with MTVEF on the campaign, acknowledged police abuse carried out in the name of the law, but said MTV should not be blamed for police malfeasance.

"The campaign is about raising awareness - telling people how to help," he said. "The issue of abuse against sex workers is a different issue.

This does need to be discussed with policymakers."

Such explanations have done little to assuage critics, one wing of which formed an informal group, MTV No EXIT, appropriating the group's slogan.

Sara Bradford, who works with APNSW in Phnom Penh and started the informal movement, wrote in a December comment piece in the Post that "for MTV, a network with one of the largest audiences globally, to spotlight such a huge subject and only provide selective information on the issue is the ultimate insult to its viewers."

She told the Post by phone: "Audiences don't realise what they are indirectly supporting - the conflation of sex work and trafficking - which lessens the focus on people who have actually been trafficked."

Exams bring usual financial stress

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mom Kunthear and ChraNn Chamrouen
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

As exam time rolls around again, parents say the obligatory bribe amounts are increasing.

AS first-semester high school exams began across the country Monday, many parents cursed the endemic corruption of Cambodia's education system as they handed over cash to ensure their children passed their exams.

Kim Dara, father of a student at Chhbar Ampov High School, recently forked out over US$50 to ensure his son passed all of his exams.

Though his son will still sit the exams, his actual score will not be recorded due to the deal his father has made with his teachers.

"This is a serious problem for me, as I am not a rich man," he told the Post Sunday.

"I cannot stand the corrupt behaviour, and I think all students should be assessed by their actual capabilities, but still I am afraid my son will fail so I pay the money."

Kim Dara divvied his generous bribe between the various test subjects for which his son was required to sit, making sure teachers of the essential subjects - mathematics and literature - received the largest amounts.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said he has heard numerous reports of similar cases, with the general sum of 20,000 to 40,000 riels (US$4.87 to $9.74) sought per paper.

"This is a serious problem, and it's imperative the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport take measures to solve it immediately," he told the Post Sunday.

He added that if the practice was not stopped, it would seriously undermine Cambodia's education system.

"CITA does not have the authority to stop or reprimand the teachers in question, but we can send a recommendation to the ministry. However, this problem indicates a wider issue. The teachers demand this money because they are not being properly looked after by the government, and in a way they don't have any control either," he said.

However Chay Cheb, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Education, said corruption was merely hearsay.

"This rumour begins every exam day and it is not true," he told the Post.

Rising price of land drives SR prison out of town, once again

According to a recent government report, there are currently 11,020 men and 668 women incarcerated in Cambodia's prisons. Current spending per day on prisoners is 1,500 riels (US$0.36) per person, and the Ministry of Interior said it will request raising this figure.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Siem Reap prison will be relocated for a second time, as govt takes advantage of rising property prices and sells off public buildings.

INMATES at Siem Reap prison will be relocated for the second time in recent years, as rising land prices and enticing development opportunities continue to push public buildings to the fringes of the popular tourist town.

The prison, which is currently located centrally, near the provincial police station, will be moved to Chreav district, 9 kilometres outside Siem Reap town.

"We have moved some of the prisoners to the new prison already because it is reaching the time for the development company to claim [the site]," said Khem Sopheak, deputy chief of the prison.

...the government will move [the prison] to a place worth a lower price.

"I am not sure why we are moving the prison, and I don't know the name of the private company which is taking over the land or what they will develop," he added.

Nou Puthyk, Licadho provincial coordinator, said the rising property value of inner city municipal buildings and markets was motivating the government to sell the land to private developers.

"The reason they are moving the prison is because they are following a government development project. When a public building is on land that can be sold for a high price, the government will move it to a place worth a lower price.

"When they move it to a new place, it is hard because everything must be built from scratch, even the plumbing," he added.

Guards at the prison said Sbong Sarath, governor of Preah Sihanouk province, has the rights to the land. He declined to comment on Sunday.

Chhem Savuth, chief of the prison, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Prime location
The original Siem Reap prison, a colonial building in the centre of town, was moved to its current place by petroleum company Sokimex, who turned the building into the five-star Sokha Resort Hotel in 2000.

Some of the prison guards expressed concern about the newest location, saying they will struggle to afford the now longer trip to work.

"We have begun moving some of the prisoners to the new location already. It is about 15 kilometres from the old location, which makes it difficult for us to get to on our small salaries," Pen Rith, a guard at the prison, told the Post.

"The new place is also far from the nearest village - about 2 kilometres. But I must respect my job, and even though it is far, it is my duty," he added.

Old battlefield to welcome thousands for New Year

Photo by: AFP
A tourist smiles at a soldier stationed at Preah Vihear temple in July last year.
The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Ta Moan Thom Temple opened up by new road, border stability.

HUNDREDS of tourists have flocked to Ta Moan Thom temple in Oddar Meanchey province ahead of the Khmer New Year, following the completion of a new road to improve access to the remote border province.

The area around the small temple, which was drawn into the Preah Vihear conflict last year, continues to be a source of tension between Thai and Cambodian troops. Last month, Thai shells landed on the Cambodian side of the border.

Despite this, Neak Vong, deputy commander of Brigade 42 based at Ta Moan Thom, told the Post that more than 600 people visited the temple on Sunday.

"We are seeing that many tourists are coming to visit Ta Moan Thom temple, and they are giving encouragement to our soldiers," Neak Vong said.

"Ta Moan Thom is changing from a place accustomed to armed conflict to one that serves tourists. It is no longer a battlefield."

Kao Houn, governor of Ampil district, where the temple stands, said that between 30,000 and 50,000 Cambodians visited the temple last Khmer New Year. But he said visits dried up later in 2008 as armed tensions grew following the listing of Preah Vihear Temple as a UNESCO World Hertiage site in July.

But now, tensions have eased and the final 9-kilometre stretch of road connecting the temple to Rom Chong village - which is linked into the provincial infrastructure - is complete.

"From now on, we will have tourists visiting the site every day, but the military commanders are asking them to come just twice a week to the temple itself, since they [still] need to provide security for the people amid the tensions between the two sides," he said.

Kao Houn added that he had asked the provincial governor to authorise the building, about a kilometre from the temple, of a village for the military and a new market for the tourists.

"Many thousands of people will visit the temple over the New Year. We will make sure they are safe," he said.

Thais seize border rice paddies: military

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

THAI soldiers have prevented two Cambodian farmers from cultivating rice paddies along the border in Banteay Meanchey province's O'Chrov district, Cambodian military officials based in the area said Sunday.

Sing Touch, deputy commander of Border Military Unit 503, said 15 armed Thai soldiers forced farmers in O'Chrov district's Sila village to cease their cultivation Friday, claiming their were operating illegally on Thai soil.

"Farmers have temporarily ceased their cultivation because we are working to resolve this with the Thai soldiers. Then they will be able to continue their farming," he said Sunday.

"These soldiers have constantly tried stirring up problems along the border by claiming land here and there without respect for Cambodian sovereignty. Cambodian farmers have farmed rice on this land for many years."

Sar Chhong, deputy police chief of O'Chrov district, said the two Cambodian farmers have worked their 14-hectare lot since about 1993 and criticised the actions of the Thai military.

"We see that the Thai soldiers are attempting to make problems along their border with Cambodia. There is no reason to demand that Cambodian farmers stop farming their land."

He added that on questions of sovereignty, local officials could do little and that the incident had been reported to higher levels of government.

Provincial Governor Ung Oeun said he was too busy to provide a comment Sunday.

Thai embassy officials could not be reached for comment.

River reservoir


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Tracey Shelton
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Work continues on underground reservoir No 4 along the riverside east of Kandal Market in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. The largest of the four riverside reservoirs, No 4 is nearly complete but construction of a pumping station and river outlet isn't expected to conclude until October.

Cambodian stock exchange deal signed

Share prices are displayed at the Korea Exchange (KRX) in Seoul. KRX on Monday signed an agreement with the government of Cambodia to establish its first exchange, a project that is expected to be set up by December at the earliest.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Cambodia and SKorea signed a joint-venture agreement for the Kingdom’s first exchange, but no launch date was set

THE Cambodian government and the Korea Exchange (KRX) signed their long-awaited agreement to set up Cambodia's first stock market on Monday, in what authorities called a "historic event".

The signing ceremony was originally slated for February 19, but the KRX chairman was unable to attend, citing health problems.

"The agreement reached today is another step forward in building necessary infrastructure ... for the smooth operation of the market," said Aun Porn Moniroth, secretary of state of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

Authorities say the exchange will start small, with up to five companies listed.

But even with the contract signed, National Bank of Cambodia Governor Chea Chanto said authorities have no fixed date for the stock exchange launch. The launch was originally set for September, 2009, but the global economic slowdown led authorities to delay until December.

With the economic situation worsening, Finance Minister Keat Chhon said even that date could be in question.

"We cannot say for sure that the launch date will be December. We are working according to our plan," he said at the ceremony.

We cannot say for sure that the launch date will be in december.

He said that the government is "following a clear roadmap" on the exchange and that the launch date depends on the progress of publicity, training and infrastructure.

Despite the slow economy and the unclear launch date, business leaders said they were enthusiastic about the planned market launch.

"The stock exchange is a very important thing [for the business community] because it will make companies more transparent," said Douglas Clayton, managing partner for Leopard Capital, an investment fund in Phnom Penh.He said that the timing of the stock exchange launch is not the most pressing issue facing the exchange. "It doesn't matter so much when the exchange opens - it will take a few years for the market to gain traction," he said.

John Brinsden, vice chairman of ACLEDA Bank, said business leaders are pleased the exchange is moving forward, but that the government needs to clarify the rules governing securities.

"I think the exchange will go ahead - I don't see the global economic situation ... affecting the launch. The Ho Chi Minh City exchange started small," he said.

The agreement gives the Ministry of Finance 55 percent of shares and the remaining 45 percent will be in the hands of KRX.

Korean Exchange CEO Jung Hwan Lee said the exchange could be an important step forward for the Cambodian economy.

"The securities market was one of the key factors behind Korea's prompt recovery from the Asian financial crisis," he said.

South Africa aims to narrow trade gap

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

SOUTH Africa's ambassador to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, Douglas Gibson, is in Phnom Penh on a mission to boost exports and to balance the country's trade deficit with Cambodia, he told the Post on Monday.

Bilateral trade is a small US$2.1 million, with Cambodia exporting about $1.7 million worth of goods to South Africa in 2009, 98 percent of which are textiles.

Cambodia imports about $463,000 from South Africa, 65 percent of which are vegetables, according to South African government figures.

"South Africa means business, and we want to do business in Cambodia," said Douglas Gibson, who is based in Bangkok.

South Africa is running a large global trade deficit of $10.9 billion and a current accounts deficit of $23 billion, The Economist figures show, which the government hopes to reduce, said the ambassador. South Africa is a leading producer of high-quality wines and agricultural goods, which the ambassador says could be in high demand in Cambodia.

"We are a major agricultural country - for example, our apples are some of the best in the world ... we also have a 350-year old wine industry," said Gibson on Monday. "We aren't here to reduce [Cambodian] exports, but to increase overall trade," he said.

The ambassador said that his country has no plans to set up an embassy in Cambodia, and that a high-level visit would have to be considered after the country's elections scheduled
for April 22.

South Africa aims to narrow trade gap

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by George McLeod
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

SOUTH Africa's ambassador to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, Douglas Gibson, is in Phnom Penh on a mission to boost exports and to balance the country's trade deficit with Cambodia, he told the Post on Monday.

Bilateral trade is a small US$2.1 million, with Cambodia exporting about $1.7 million worth of goods to South Africa in 2009, 98 percent of which are textiles.

Cambodia imports about $463,000 from South Africa, 65 percent of which are vegetables, according to South African government figures.

"South Africa means business, and we want to do business in Cambodia," said Douglas Gibson, who is based in Bangkok.

South Africa is running a large global trade deficit of $10.9 billion and a current accounts deficit of $23 billion, The Economist figures show, which the government hopes to reduce, said the ambassador. South Africa is a leading producer of high-quality wines and agricultural goods, which the ambassador says could be in high demand in Cambodia.

"We are a major agricultural country - for example, our apples are some of the best in the world ... we also have a 350-year old wine industry," said Gibson on Monday. "We aren't here to reduce [Cambodian] exports, but to increase overall trade," he said.

The ambassador said that his country has no plans to set up an embassy in Cambodia, and that a high-level visit would have to be considered after the country's elections scheduled
for April 22.

PM rejects EIU report

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Nguon Sovan
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

PRIME Minister Hun Sen rejected Monday the conclusions of a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) that rated Cambodia as one of the least stable countries in the world in the face of the global economic crisis.

Hun Sen said the EIU, which is part of the Economist Group that publishes The Economist magazine, compiled the report for political aims.

Cambodia was ranked fourth in terms of threat posed, equal with Sudan and ahead only of Zimbabwe, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

That meant it was considered less stable than war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Our neighbour [Thailand] is facing difficulties - demonstrations every day and serious political risk, and yet that is not stated," Hun Sen said at the opening of a two-day national health conference.

"This group dares not speak about some people and some countries."

The EIU report warned that Cambodia is one of the nations most at risk of serious social unrest due to the global crisis.

The London-based research body said economic upheaval and a global pandemic of unrest could disrupt economies and topple governments over the next two years.

The EIU classified the risk in 95 countries as high or very high in its report (up from 35 at-risk nations in 2007). The organisation said it believes there is a 60 percent chance that measures under way to revive the global economy will work. This report's conclusions deal with the 40 percent chance that those measures don't work.

Hun Sen said the report's findings were inconsistent.

"Some countries in our region are still at war - for example, Sri Lanka. Why is it not considered risky, too? Why Cambodia, which is at peace? Why not analyse the risk in 1970 and that of the Pol Pot regime as well?" he asked. "[The EIU] has a political aim - that much is absolutely clear - but we don't much care what it says. The most important aspect is our soundness."

He said the EIU had underestimated its growth forecast for Cambodia in 2005.

"I used to try and tell them in late 2004 when we launched our public financial reforms - they forecast 2.4 percent but Cambodia achieved a record rate of 13.3 percent." The EIU report stated in its introduction: "The political risks from the economic crisis are increasingly dire. Dennis Blair, America's new intelligence chief, says political turmoil from the global recession has replaced terrorism as the country's biggest security threat."

Trade program launched

Minister of Commerce Cham Prasidh (right) and European Commission Charge d‘Affaires Rafael Dochao Moreno at Monday’s TDSP launch.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Kunmakara
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Govt, donor plan to fund initiatives aimed at boosting overseas trade

THE Commerce Ministry and development partners Monday launched a US$12.6 million program aimed at expanding Cambodia's international trade.

The Trade Development Support Program (TDSP) focusses on streamlining cumbersome bureaucratic processes and promoting Cambodian products for export to foreign markets, according to the World Bank, which will provide oversight for the project.

The funding is to support training workshops and overseas trips to allow Cambodian representatives to network with foreign commerce officials.

"With global trade expected to shrink in 2009 for the first time in 27 years and Cambodia's economy under real pressure, we need to find wider export markets and bigger investors for Cambodia," said Qimiao Fan, World Bank country manager in Cambodia.

Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh said the government was intent on diversifying the range of Cambodian exports - a critical advance, he said, if Cambodia was to brave the global economic downturn.

The project is financed by the European Commission, The Danish International Aid Agency DANIDA and the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation.

"I believe that we can and should make some quick wins by building on progress that has been made in several areas," said Qimiao. "First, the government should further strengthen Cambodia's regional integration with its close neighbours and ASEAN partners, and second, it should promote higher productivity and greater diversification in agriculture."

He noted that Cambodia has not avoided falling victim to the global economic crisis, with downward trends in garments, tourism and construction.

Tom Barthel Hansen, of DANIDA, said that TDSP will support private sector development, with an emphasis on expanding employment opportunities in rural areas.