Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Cambodia's poor fight for their homes

Toronto Star
Despite 'good' law to protect needy landowners, developers gain increasing amounts of property

May 06, 2009

Olivia Ward


In a rundown enclave of the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, hundreds of poor people can't sleep at night. They're afraid to go to work in the morning for fear their homes will be gone when they return.

Today the clock has run out for the community of 150 families, slated to become the latest victims of clearance projects that have rolled across Cambodia since its land became a prize for developers.

The 26-year-old community is to be evacuated, according to a notice from the municipality dated yesterday. Although residents are appealing, they have seen the dire results of other forced eviction orders, which human rights groups say are contrary to Cambodian law.

A recent clearance in the community of Dey Krahorm left the majority of families homeless after some 250 police and contractors for the company claiming to own the land arrived in the early hours, drove out the residents with threats and tear gas and levelled the village.

Now the Phnom Penh community – known as Group 78 – is facing a similar fate.

"The authorities have offered them compensation of $5,000 (U.S.) and a plot of land, without shelters, 20 kilometres outside the city where there are very limited job opportunities," said Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher, who is monitoring the eviction site.

"There is no clean water supply, no electricity or sanitation," she said in an email to the Star, adding the residents turned down the offer – "to travel to the city from their current work places would cost them more than their expected daily earnings."

Human rights groups say the community has a strong claim to ownership under a 2001 land law passed after genocide and civil war left many Cambodians landless. The Khmer Rouge destroyed public documents, so few had papers to prove ownership. But in 2003, the government brought in a "social land concession plan" to give the poor more secure land tenure.

In spite of fines and jail terms for those who violate the land laws, developers have managed to take over increasing amounts of farm and urban land. In some cases they have made deals with corrupt community leaders to seize the land, pushing the residents out to remote areas without shelter or transportation.

"Cambodia's land law is good," said Mekh Sokhan of the NGO Forum on Cambodia in the newsletter of the Danish charity DanChurchAid. "But the law is not implemented by the authorities."

In Phnom Penh, highrises have sprung up in the last five years with hotels, condos and restaurants sprouting from the once devastated landscape. Prices have doubled, and in spite of the economic meltdown, the wealthy continue to boost the real estate market.

Woman held in Laos jail won’t face a firing squad

Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

A pregnant British woman accused of drug trafficking and being held in a jail in Laos will not face the death penalty because of her unborn baby, a spokesman for the south-east Asian country has revealed.

The announcement came as a British lawyer and diplomat failed to secure access to prisoner Samantha Orobator.

Foreign ministry spokesman Khenthong Nuanthasing told reporters that even if she were convicted of trying to smuggle 1.5lbs of heroin, 20-year-old Ms Orobator would not be sentenced to death because she was expecting.

He said that anyone found in possession of more than 1.1lb was subject to the death penalty “but there is another provision of criminal law... that the death penalty will not apply to pregnant women”.

The spokesman said the trial of Nigerian-born Ms Orobator would now not be held until next week to give time for an appropriate lawyer to be appointed to defend her. “It might take some time,” Mr Khenthong told the Associated Press.

Campaigners remained concerned about Ms Orobator, particularly since much about her case and the allegations against her remain unclear. The London-based charity Reprieve said it believed Ms Orobator was five months pregnant, reportedly after having been raped while inside Phonthong prison. An Australian doctor who recently visited her said she is due to give birth on September 6.

Mr Nuanthasing initially said the young woman had been pregnant before she was taken into custody nine months ago. He later said that she may have lost the baby while in jail.

“If this is true, then Samantha has already had one miscarriage in that terrible prison,” said Reprieve executive director Clare Algar. “In light of the new US State Department report on the deplorable conditions, the need for proper health care is vital.”

Residents brace for evictions

Residents of the Rene Descartes community destroy their businesses in compliance with a City Hall eviction notice.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by May Titthara
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

ONE community facing eviction on Tuesday watched its deadline pass quietly and heard they will have a chance in court to defend their claims to the land, while another had their businesses shut down by authorities, in what residents say is an attempt to force them to accept the government's relocation terms.

Daun Penh district authorities put up additional fences around the community living next to the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes, Cambodia's oldest international school, blocking access to ground-floor businesses.

Residents of Group 78, however, saw their eviction deadline come and go, and even received a court date when they will have a chance to present evidence explaining that they should be allowed to stay.

"Now, we have a court warrant to show our evidence to them on May 18 at 8am. It is a good chance for us," said Lim Sambo, a Group 78 representative.

Yin Savat, a lawyer for the Community for Legal Education Centre, said the court warrant should put off a forced eviction until after the decision.

"According to the law, City Hall cannot implement their eviction letter because we have filed a complaint to the Court already to cancel it," he said.

"I have a court warrant. If tomorrow they come to pull our houses down, it means they did not respect to the law."

Meanwhile, across the city near the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes, 37 families say they are being squeezed out of their homes and have no power to fight back.

The district deputy governor said the eviction deadline for the community has been extended to May 15, but residents say authorities have closed down the community's businesses.

In Daravuth, a resident of the Descartes community, said "[District authorities] said they will allow us to live inside the fences, but we cannot do business. We will only have a small gate to go in and out," said In Daravuth, a resident of the Descartes community.

He said the community still wanted to negotiate with City Hall, even though authorities said they had ceased discussions on April 29.

"I do not react to the authorities because they have guns and power. We're simple people. We can only stand and watch them do anything they want," In Daravuth said.

Kem Vichet, a village representative, said that the new green fences were just a tactic to force the community to accept the government's relocation terms.

"They did this to force us to accept their compensation because we are impoverished," he said, adding that now they can only "wait for an intervention from the French embassy".

Sok Penh Vuth, Daun Penh district deputy governor, said, "We just came to put a fence to close this area. We did not use violence against them.

"They can live inside their house," he said, "but I hope everything will be finished by this week. There are only 10 families [who have not agreed to relocation terms] left."

Sok Penh Vuth denied that the residents were being compelled to take the money and leave.

"We do not force them to take the compensation. They volunteer to take it, and now City Hall is thinking about their demands for more money," he said.

Chan Soveth, a monitor at the rights group Adhoc, disagrees and warned that a forced eviction could become violent.

"First, they [the authorities] put the fences surrounding the area. Later on, they will stop them from entering and cut off the electricity, and then the violence comes," he said.

The government says it will pay US$10,000, $7,000 or $5,000 to each family living near the Lycee Francais Rene Descartes depending on how long they have been on the land, as well as supply a 4-metre-by-8-metre empty lot in Thnot Chrum village, Boeung Tumpum commune - an area that residents say is often flooded.

Last month, housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut said about 120,000 people had been displaced or evicted in the last two decades ago, working out to about one in 10 residents of Phnom Penh.

A spokesperson for the French embassy was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

SRP lawyer faces Bar inspection

Photo by: Sovann Philong
Mu Sochua at the press conference at which she announced plans to sue Hun Sen.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Meas Sokchea
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

PM's defamation complaint could lead to disbarment.

THE lawyer representing opposition MP Mu Sochua in her defamation case against Prime Minister Hun Sen could be banned from practising law if the Cambodian Bar Association rules that his comments at a recent press conference were defamatory to Hun Sen.

Hun Sen's lawyer, Ky Tech, told the Post that Kong Sam Onn would be sued as well if the Bar Association found he was at fault.

"I filed a complaint with the Bar Association on Monday," Ky Tech said. "If the Bar's disciplinary council finds he was at fault, he will be stripped of his licence to practise, and Mu Sochua will need to find another lawyer to take on her case."

Ky Tech said Kong Sam Onn was at fault because of statements he made when outlining his client's case at an April 23 press conference called by Mu Sochua, a lawmaker for the Sam Rainsy Party, to announce she would sue Hun Sen for defamation.

Mu Sochua's case stems from what she said are derogatory comments about an unnamed woman that were made by Hun Sen and broadcast nationally. Mu Sochua said those comments clearly referred to her.

The lawsuit resulted in a countersuit by Hun Sen, who claimed that Mu Sochua had defamed him by saying the comments he made referred to her.

Kong Sam Onn rejected the allegation that he had defamed Hun Sen. He told the Post that he had made no errors that would justify his expulsion from the Bar. His comments at the press conference simply outlined his client's case and were not defamatory, he said.

"If I have made a mistake, then it would be the first mistake and would not warrant ousting me from the Bar because I am not a dishonest man," he said. "I will be very sorry if I am ousted from my profession, but I am not strong enough to face them down."

Kong Sam Onn said all of his clients - Mu Sochua included - would need to find new lawyers if he were disbarred.

"Then I will become a simple person without a job, and I will have to look for another job to which I can devote my life," he said.

Mu Sochua told the Post on Tuesday that she would be very sorry to see her lawyer disbarred. She said the threats to her lawyer had been a heavy burden and meant he would likely be unable to defend her in court.

"So I would like to appeal to the Bar Association to consider this issue properly and in terms of the law, and I would like to call on all lawyers who have a conscience to seek justice under the law," she said.

"I will find another lawyer, but it is difficult for me to enjoy equal rights under the law."

The president of the Bar Association, Chiv Songhak, told the Post Tuesday that his organisation had received Ky Tech's complaint and said the issue was under inspection.

"We have already sent the complaint to the inspectorate, and they are working on the case," he said.

"The next step will be its consideration by the disciplinary council."

Potential punishment
Chiv Songhak said Kong Sam Onn could face three types of punishment: receiving a warning, having his licence suspended or being disbarred as a legal professional.

"But I can't say whether [Kong Sam Onn] has made a mistake or not," Chiv Songhak said, adding that it was for the disciplinary council to decide the case.

Heang Rithy, director of the Cambodian National Research Organisation, who also holds a doctorate in law, said Kong Sam Onn could be sued for alledgedly defamatory comments made at the press conference - if he, in fact, made any.

He said that defamation was only a minor offence under Bar Association rules, although the rules left it unclear whether defamation could lead to a member being expelled.

House on fire


The Phnom Penh Post

Wednesday, 06 May 2009

People race to save items from the Choup Mith Cafe on street 113 near Tuol Sleng after a fire broke out in the upper floor of the building Tuesday morning. No one was injured in the blaze, but at least three families lost their homes before the flames were brought under control, firefighters said .

Cops confiscate illegal police and RCAF licence plates

Phnom Penh Traffic Police at the junction of Monireth and Mao Tse Tung boulevards, where they are confiscating licence plates.

Changing Plates

- 140 drivers with RCAF plates have registered to switch to civilian plates by Tuesday
- 60 drivers with police plates have also registered
- The applications should take about one week to process

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Robbie Corey-Boulet
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Crackdown on unauthorised plates has led to a surge in applications for civilian plates at vehicle registration office.

POLICE on Tuesday continued removing unauthorised police and military licence plates from vehicles throughout the capital, but officers said they had not yet begun administering punishments specifically outlined in the law that prohibits civilians and low-ranking officials from using such plates.

Sar Leng, deputy director of the Ministry of Interior's Traffic Office, said the ministry on Monday received 25 police plates that had been removed from vehicles not authorised to bear them.Traffic Police officers have been tasked with removing police plates, while Military Police officers are in charge of removing RCAF plates.

National Police Chief Neth Savoeun wrote a letter in February to officers instructing them to begin enforcing in May a law already on the books that outlaws the use of unauthorised plates.

Article 91 of the Land Traffic Law, which went into effect in March 2007, gave the drivers of private vehicles bearing such plates one year to switch to private plates.

The law stipulates that violators face two to five years in prison and a fine of between 4 million riels and 10 million riels (US$970 and $2,424), but Phnom Penh Traffic Police Chief Tin Prasoeur said he did not know when officers would begin administering fines or making arrests. He said he would wait until he received approval "from the top" before taking those steps.

Rush to register
The onset of the crackdown on unauthorised plates has triggered a flood of applications this week at the capital's vehicle registration office, said Tat Sreng, its director. As of Tuesday morning, the owners of 140 cars bearing RCAF plates and 60 bearing police plates had visited the office to register for civilian plates, he said.

He said many of the registrants had been motivated to switch to civilian plates after Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a speech last week warning against the use of unauthorised plates.

Tat Sreng said the applications would in most cases take about one week to process.

Hun Sen said in his speech last week that vehicles bearing unauthorised police and military plates would "be included as property of the state".

The Land Traffic Law does not stipulate that vehicles with unauthorised plates will be confiscated.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap referred to the threat of vehicle seizure as "a stick or a sharp sword to warn" violators.

Sar Leng said he did not believe it would be necessary for the government to seize cars, noting that the crackdown combined with Hun Sen's remarks had led many violators to take steps to comply with the law.

Four dead in B'bang karaoke club fire

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Thet Sambath
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

THE FAMILIES of four females killed Sunday in a fire at a Battambang karaoke club are considering filing complaints in provincial court to receive compensation from the club's owner, the Battambang district police chief told the Post Tuesday.

Police said the four females had been locked inside the club at the time the fire broke out.

Thuch Ra said the families will seek compensation from the club owner.

"They will accuse him of carelessness and for being responsible for the deaths of their relatives," he said.

The four females, who worked at the club, were locked in the room where the fire started, police said. They died at 2:40am on Sunday. Thuch Ra said police believed the fire was caused by a "faulty electric wire".

He identified the victims as: Hou Leak, 15; Srey Mao, 19; Srey Touch, 17; and Sambath, 22. All were from Kampong Chhnang province except for Sambath, who was from Battambang.

Thuch Ra said the families had not yet filed their complaints because "they are too busy preparing for the funeral".

The fire severely injured another female employee of the club as well as the son of the club owner, Buth Teu. Five houses located near the club were completely destroyed by the fire, while three other houses sustained damage.

Rangers leave Bokor Natl Park

Photo by: Mark Roy
A workers'-eye view of a cement factory on Bokor Mountain.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mark Roy and Cheang sokha
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Wildlife Alliance has suspended funding for park ranger operations at Bokor National Park, where a private developer is currently building an international hotel and casino.

THE WILDLIFE Alliance has called on the Ministry of Environment to explain why it handed over the park ranger training station at Bokor National Park to a private developer, which resulted in the rangers being excluded from the park.

The government granted the Sokha Hotel Group a 99-year lease for a US$1 billion development at the Bokor hill station in January 2008.

The Sokha Hotel Group said when the deal was announced that the development, to include an international hotel and casino, would take 15 years to complete.

In the meantime, approximately 50 rangers who formerly worked in the park have been moved to its edge, where they work from a building on the road that leads to the entrance.

Longtime supporter
The Wildlife Alliance and other NGOs began supporting ranger patrols within the park in 2003.

But Tim Redford, deputy director of field operations for the Wildlife Alliance, said Wednesday that the group had suspended funding for operations in Bokor.


The Wildlife Alliance had supported training and salaries for rangers as well as the contruction of a ranger base on Bokor Mountain. The support had also allowed for the provision of trucks, radios and other equipment.

The Wildlife Alliance would not confirm when the rangers left or were removed from the park. But in an email to the Post, Redford wrote, "For now, though, I can say we have ceased all funding and support for Bokor until the MoE [Ministry of Environment] explains how they can turn over the entire park, World Bank/USAID training centre and equipment, and numerous other important topics without prior stakeholder discussions."

Access denied
Unfettered road access to Bokor National Park is currently being denied to tourists as well as park rangers.

Svay Vuthy, assistant to Sok Kong, chairman of the Sokha Hotel Group, said the road was being rebuilt and had been closed because of concerns about potential danger to tourists.

"We are working with machines like excavators and breaking stones, so we are concerned it might cause danger," he said. "We occasionally open the road for tourists during the traditional ceremony."

Svay Vuthy said the Sokha Hotel Group had originally planned to spend two to three years building the road but that work had been delayed.

"We have been working on the project so far for about a year and have faced difficulties with fog and rain, so the project is running a bit more slowly," he said. "The whole project was planned to take 15 years, but we will wait to see the real situation. Incidentally, when tourists are going up there, if there are tourists or cars driving up the hill, it disturbs our work."

Nem Sinuon, director of Kampot's Tourism Department, said the closure of the road to Bokor Mountain had upset many tourists.

"We want the company to open one side of the road so tourists can still visit the mountain," he said. "We do not know when the road will be opened, and we have received lots of complaints from tourists about the road being blocked. They visit Kampot because they want to see Bokor Mountain. They are not satisfied with the road closure and do not want to see the other places we recommend."

The road was opened briefly by developers for six days during Khmer New Year.

It is now closed again, and access to the area continues to be tightly controlled.

'Drunk' prison chief locked up as multiple inmates escape jail

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Eight men have escaped Preah Vihear prison since the new head was appointed a month ago, but officials say monitoring has improved.

THE head of Preah Vihear's provincial jail has been imprisoned on suspicion of conspiring to release prisoners and suspects.

Deputy Prosecutor Thol Kimheung issued the detention order against prison Chief Sar Saing on Friday and charged him and two guards with conspiracy.

"I have handed over the case to the investigating judge to determine whether they conspired or simply acted carelessly," Thol Kimheung told the Post. "If the court finds them guilty of conspiracy, they will be punished. If it is simply dereliction of duty, they will be dismissed."

Thol Kimheung said seven prisoners had escaped from the prison on Thursday night after Sar Saing and his guards got drunk with them. The inmates who fled were guilty of crimes such as murder, rape and robbery.

Thol Kimheung said 12 prisoners had fled the jail so far this year due to carelessness or conspiracy by the guards.

"And we are concerned that the escaped prisoners might commit other crimes," he said, adding that he had issued arrest warrants for all 12.

Improved security
Ros Chanthy, the deputy chief of the prison, admitted prison officials had been drinking with the prisoners but blamed the escapes on carelessness rather than conspiracy.

"Now we have strictly improved our monitoring of all prisoners," Ros Chanthy told the Post. "I have made reforms with my staff."

Ros Chanthy said that as soon as he had learned the men had escaped, the guards tried to pursue them. But they failed to find them because it happened at night and the prisoners fled into the surrounding forest.

Hor Neath, the provincial coordinator of local human rights group Adhoc, said some escapees had been convicted of crimes while others were awaiting trial.

"I believe that they meant to free the prisoners," he said, adding that since Sar Saing's appointment as prison chief a month ago, eight prisoners had managed to break out of the newly built jail. One man escaped on April 13 and the group of seven on Thursday night. Four additional prisoners escaped in February.

Crime Update: Thieves rob coffee shop

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Crime Update

Ten people were robbed at gunpoint of cash, jewellery and mobile phones at an upmarket coffee shop in Phnom Penh on Monday morning, an official and victims said, adding that no one was injured in the incident and that the value of the goods stolen was not known.

Ouk Phan, the commune chief of Boeung Keng Kang II commune, was one of those robbed at the Deli coffee shop on Sihanouk Boulevard near the Yukunchor High School west of Monivong Boulevard. He told the Post on Tuesday that the robbers wore masks and helmets, making them impossible to identify."Two of the men pointed their weapons at me and tried to take my ring, but weren't able to. They demanded money and I agreed to give them US$250," he said. "One of them hit me while another threatened the other customers with his gun, telling them to be quiet, and then took their jewellery, phones and cash. "An eyewitness who knows the identities of the attackers said the five-man gang arrived on two motorbikes. Two of the gang stood guard outside the coffee shop during the raid. No one has been arrested in connection with the robbery. Ouk Phan said he was working with national Military Police and local police in the search for the men.

Devolution reforms struggle to bridge ethnic divides in highlands

An ethnic Phnong boy in Mondulkiri province's Sen Monorom district.


Rights workers have expressed concerns over the living conditions of about 100 ethnic Tumpuon in Ratanakkiri province's Lumphat district, who have fled their villages in fear of arrest in connection with a local land dispute. Pen Bonna, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said the provincial court issued an arrest warrant in April for eight villagers accused of "grabbing" rubber plantation land belonging to the local DM Group. The villagers had planted crops on land allegedly belonging to the company. "About 100 men in the village have fled their families to hide in the jungle out of fear, and the women are living in the village alone without working," he said. "It is a serious abuse of their rights, and we are investigating the issue in order to find which men fled their homes." Pen Bonna said the dispute - over 200 hectares of community forests and 100 hectares of farmland - dated from 2005, when local authorities tried to convince people in Tatang and Oul villages to sell their land for a rubber plantation. Villagers, however, claim they never approved the sale. Provincial police Chief Rir Ray declined comment on the issue Tuesday, saying he was in hospital. VONG SOKHENG

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sam Rith and Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Indigenous minority representatives say they have seen little benefit from administrative reforms.

WITH Cambodia's 11,353 commune councillors set to elect a new series of sub-national councils, local communities may soon get a greater say over local development and the direction of government resources.

But for Cambodia's indigenous minority communities - long isolated from the Khmer majority by the twin tyrannies of culture and distance - the administrative reshuffle could prove a dead letter in the face of a major local concern: land-grabbing.

The government's much-touted decentralisation and deconcentration (D&D) reforms will take another step forward May 17 when commune councillors go to the polls to elect new councils at the provincial, district and municipal levels.

In its 2005 Strategic Framework for D&D Reforms, the government claims the policy, which kicked off with commune council elections in 2002, will allow indigenous minorities to "participate in decision making" at lower levels of government and will strengthen poverty alleviation efforts in indigenous communities by building up local economic capacity.

But the reforms will face stern challenges in Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces, home to the majority of Cambodia's estimated 220,000 indigenous highlanders.

In recent years, a booming economy has triggered a scramble for mining and agricultural concessions in the region, pitting indigenous communities against powerful economic interests.

Since 2004, Ratanakkiri has seen a long-standing dispute between residents of Kong Yu village, an ethnic Jarai community in O'Yadav district, and a rubber company owned by Keat Kolney, sister of Finance Minister Keat Chhon.

In December last year, ethnic Phnong protesters in Mondulkiri's Bou Sra commune burned tractors belonging to the Khaou Chuly rubber company in protest over a 10,000-hectare rubber concession they claim has led to the loss of community farmland.

Despite some economic gains and increased representation on commune councils under the reforms, many community representatives said land grabbing by powerful economic interests continues unabated.

‘Added hardships'
Ngeat Vandy, 30, a Phnong representative in Mondulkiri's Dakdum commune, said decentralisation had brought the community material benefits such as roads, schools and hospitals, but lamented that land issues had not yet been addressed.


He said also that open discussion was "limited" in the commune, and that local people were threatened and warned against protesting local developments: "We cannot talk about the opposition parties."

The provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, Sam Sarin, said that despite the reforms, many indigenous communities still lacked a forum for airing concerns to the province's 105 commune councillors, most of whom are themselves indigenous.

As a result, protests over the combustible issue of land appropriation have been followed with the arrests and detention of local dissenters.

"In implementing the decentralisation, local authorities listen more to the top levels than to the people," he said.

In Ratanakkiri province, local attitudes are much the same. Chhou Savath, 58, a representative of the province's indigenous peoples, said that although minority representatives dominated local commune councils, they had done little to increase the responsiveness of government and had created "added hardships" for locals.

"People have no hope," he told the Post in March. "Local officials are on the side of private companies and the people who have money and power."

Dam Chanthy, director of the Highland Association in Banlung, said that the reform policy would bring benefits because it offered an opportunity for "people who are weak to share their ideas", but that the practice was lagging behind the theory due to the lack of local knowledge about the reforms.

"In order for decentralisation to be implemented smoothly and effectively, the government should offer more training to local officials," she said.

The CPP's parliamentary representative in Mondulkiri province, Roth Sarem, admitted indigenous people were concerned about land issues, but said that local authorities did "not have the right" to make rulings on such disputes.

"Some of those land issues have been solved and other issues are being considered at the top levels," he said.

But Tinn Loung, the ethnic Tumpuon chief of Yeak Loam commune, said that the reforms had been implemented well in the commune and that people "participated actively" in the development of their communities.

Last year, local opposition to the development of Yeak Loam lake, a tourist site controlled and administered by the Tumpuon communities that ring its shores, helped veto the plans, he said.

"The Yeak Loam development plan is still in the hands of the community, and the provincial leaders did not make any decision after people in the community rejected it," he said.

Local cooperation vital
Groups working with ethnic minority groups said that the key issue in the policy's implementation was the working relationship between commune councils and indigenous institutions.

"Sometimes there is a concern that the new structures are influenced by politics, whereas the old structures have more respect traditionally," said Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia.

He said that the government should think carefully about how existing cultures will be impacted by the actions of the elected commune councils.

"The challenge is how these two can work together more effectively," he said.

But Stephen Ehrentraut, a researcher with background in decentralisation and minority issues, was more pessimistic, saying the reform "in its current design" was institutionally and linguistically incompatible with the indigenous participation.

"It does not recognise and utilise indigenous organisations, which are mostly village-based," he said by email.

"Rather, it replaces and overrides those institutions with village chiefs and commune councils claiming authority previously exercised by indigenous institutions."

In an unpublished paper, Ehrentraut also criticised the World Bank's Rural Investment and Local Governance Project, which is helping support government reform efforts at the commune level, arguing that its ethnic minority safeguards were "insufficient".

While the World Bank is one of the few donors to back its safeguards policy with a detailed study, he said it had not translated into effective protection.

"[My] findings highlight the challenges faced by the Bank and other development agencies in supporting indigenous peoples in countries whose governments have neither legal frameworks nor political will to recognise indigenous rights," he wrote.

However, the World Bank claims it has implemented special measures to ensure ethnic minorities are able to participate in and benefit from the allocations of commune development funds.

Louise Scura, the Bank's lead natural resource economist, said that the organisation's current indigenous people's policy, endorsed in May 2005, required governments to carry out social assessments and seek community support prior to initiating local development projects - including those carried out under the World Bank project's auspices.

The Bank's regular supervision of the rural investment project ensured its safeguards policies were reviewed periodically and that any adjustments were made in partnership with the government, she said, but added that addressing issues relating to highland peoples required "higher-level policy dialogue", extending beyond the scope of the project.

A long way to go
Overall, Scura said that it was too early to tell whether decentralisation would benefit ethnic minorities, adding that it would take "several decades at minimum" for the reforms to be fully weighed up.

"In most countries, the process is typified by periods of progress and reversal, [and] Cambodia is unlikely to be an exception," she said.

Leaving D&D aside, Chhith Sam Ath of the NGO Forum said the issue of land security also boiled down to the government commitment to enforce laws and sub-decrees codifying and protecting the land tenure of indigenous minorities.

He said enforcement was weak in remote areas and that the process of applying for communal land titles under the 2001 Land Law was "very slow".

"It doesn't mean the government is not taking action," he said. "It's all there. It's just a question of implementing it."

Bridging ideals and realities

Peter Maguire (inset), author of Facing Death in Cambodia, and Cambodia's war crimes court.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Ahead of the release of a new book on international law, legal scholar Peter Maguire discusses the KRT and its ‘glass half-full' optimism.

What is the subject of your new book?
America's relationship with international law, the Nuremberg trials, and the laws of war in the post 9/11 era. In the spring of 2001, I defined the American duality as "the yawning chasm between our words and deeds" after the 9/11 this duality was forced out into the open for all to see.

In your book Facing Death in Cambodia, you contrast "perfect" international justice with justice that victims can "see, smell and feel". How do you see this difference on the eve of the first Khmer Rouge trial?
Throughout the 1990s, the most basic distinction in both the customary and codified laws of war-the distinction between soldiers and civilians-all but disappeared in places like Sarajevo, Kigali, Dili and Freetown. Instead of Apache helicopters and the decisive use of force, the United Nations promised the victims "justice" in the form of war crimes trials. However, the application of that justice was selective, uneven, and absurdly expensive. Perhaps there was a "new era of human rights" in places like New York City and Cambridge; however the decade will be better remembered for the West's feeble responses to genocidal civil wars that vied for its increasingly fragmented and unfocused attention.

You have written also that all war crimes tribunals signify failure - a failure to act, or a failure to deter. How much do you think the legacies of failure are driving the Khmer Rouge trial process?
The Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal is all about failure and three decades of cynicism. The 1970s saw King Sihanouk's dangerous and duplicitous dance of neutrality; the Lon Nol coup; the US secret bombing campaign; China's unflinching political, military, and economic support during the Khmer Rouge's genocidal reign. During the 1980s, it got even more cynical, the atrocities were now clear for all to see, yet the US, China, Thailand, and UN continued to prop up the Khmer Rouge in the name of geo politics. When the UN finally occupied Cambodia during the 1990s, there was no mention of war crimes accountability and the Khmer Rouge was treated like a legitimate political party. In the late 1990s, Hun Sen, using a deft combination of military force and diplomacy, broke the back of the KR. At this point, the UN assumed a very sanctimonious attitude towards the war crimes court. If nothing else, distrust between the Cambodians and UN was well established.

In your view, should more defendants be indicted by the tribunal?
This court has not earned that right. UN officials talking about more indictments is kind of like the executives at AIG or Citibank asking for new Gulfstream jets and end of the year bonuses. The ECCC original budget was somewhere around $53 million, and the trials were supposed to take three years. Today that budget has ballooned to $170 million and they now want five years. This court has taken more time to indict a handful of geriatric Khmer Rouge leaders than it took to try every single (5000+) German and Japanese war criminal after WWII. The case against Brother Duch is rock solid; not only has he confessed to his crimes, unlike the KR political leaders, there is solid body of irrefutable documentary evidence against him. The Tuol Sleng records are as damning to Brother Duch as the Morning Reports were to the Einsatzgruppen leaders, the Einsatzgruppen case took Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz two days to present and led to fourteen death sentences (only four were carried out).

How far can, and should, the government cast its net?
All of this talk about new indictments is premature. Before anything else, the ECCC needs to prove that it can function as a legitimate court and that it is not a terminally corrupt arm of the Cambodian government. If they cannot slam dunk this blood-stained butcher in a timely manner, they deserve neither money, nor international support.

The Khmer Rouge trial has been justified on the grounds that it will help reform the judiciary and provide "closure" for Cambodia. Are these realistic aims?

I am not a shrink and can't comment on "closure" as it is a psychiatric term, not a legal one. It is highly unlikely that this court can reform the Cambodian judiciary given the corruption that has already been uncovered. The problem with the ECCC is that the human rights industry has grossly oversold it. Defense attorney Richard Rogers put it best when he said, "If people expect this tribunal to exorcise all their demons, then they're going to be disappointed." War crimes trials, at best, can punish the guilty and exonerate the innocent. During the 1990s, the therapeutic legalists argued that trials can teach historical lessons and provide vague and impossible to measure things "truth," "reconciliation," and "healing." The idea that war crimes trials can "re-educate" societies is based upon the assumption that the Nuremberg trials transformed Nazis into law abiding democrats. The fact is that neither assumption stands up to analysis. However, people do not know this because the lines separating journalism, scholarship and advocacy grew extremely blurry during the 1990s. Criticism of international law or Nuremberg, beyond the ritualistic complaints about ex post facto law and victor's justice was considered to be in bad taste in most academic circles and as a result, analysis of the trials rarely went deeper than Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson's opening address.


What is your view on Gregory Stanton's comment that "perfection is the enemy of justice"?
I have great respect for Greg Stanton, he, Craig Etcheson, Steve Heder, Youk Chhang and a handful of others have kept the issue of Khmer Rouge war crimes accountability alive after nearly everyone else had given up. However, there are baseline standards that a war crimes trial must meet in order to be credible and the Khmer Rouge tribunal has yet to meet these standards. That is not to say that they can't or won't, but they have not tried a single case! Despite my criticism, I am pleasantly surprised that this shotgun marriage tribunal has made it this far. That said, they are running out of time and money and a Cambodian administered Truth and Reconciliation Committee might be a good plan B. In their owns organic ways, Cambodian institutions like DC Cam and the Center for Social development, led by inspiring individuals like Youk Chhang and Chea Van Nath Youk, have led the way for Cambodians. Cambodian institutions like these may have to step in if the UN and the Cambodian government fail.

It seems to me that the UN has now adopted similar attitudes in its approach to corruption in the court, but what are the limits of this logic?
It is no shock that one of the few issues where Cambodian and UN officials agree is that they need to keep a lid on the results of the UN's corruption inquiry. Nobody who is directly involved wants these trials to end anytime soon, UN war crimes trials are the best paydays many in the human rights industry will ever see. Today the annual budget of the ICTY runs over $300,000,000. However, these expensive, open ended war crimes trials are vestiges of a long bygone era. While I support many war crimes trials, even this one, I do not support the kind of uncritical "glass half full" optimism that David Rieff best described as "the kind of rhetoric that gives hope a bad name."

Has the court been successful in balancing its legitimacy and relevance to an international audience with its legitimacy and relevance to a Cambodian one?
Not especially, the recent Berkeley survey found that 85 percent of Cambodians had little or no knowledge of the Khmer Rouge tribunal. This supports my informal findings that most Cambodians' greatest concern is filling the rice pot twice a day. Many cannot understand why the aging genocidists who destroyed their country and killed their families are given the presumption of innocence and elaborate trials while moto taxi thiefs are often killed on the spot and the children of the elite, quite literally, get away with murder.

Journalist John Pilger recently wrote that a just trial would also include the indictment of American officials responsible for the aerial bombing of the country during 1969-73. Do you agree?
The question of who should be indicted is fast turning into an international legal version of "fantasy football". If we are going to include Henry Kissinger, we certainly can't leave out those Chinese leaders who were by far the Khmer Rouge's most generous and significant patrons.

What is your view on the Responsibility to Protect and other interventionist doctrines formed in the immediate post-WWII period?
This an extremely subjective and slippery slope as demonstrated by the constantly "evolving" positions of humanitarian hawks like Michael Ignatieff, Sara Sewall, and Samantha Power who were left flat footed when the Bush administration high jacked their doctrine and applied a more messianic version to the war on terror. After 9/11 Muslims became the infidels of the Neo Just War era. In the cases of Sewall and Ignatieff, they simply got with the new program: Ignatieff became an advocate for torture and American empire, while Sewall cheered the US invasion of Iraq, and helped to author a US counterinsurgency doctrine based partially on US policy in El Salvador during the 1980s. Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power was quick to point out atrocities in Darfur, but conspicuously silent about American conduct in the war on terror. It is no coincidence that today all are politicians or policy makers today - that is the reward for staying within the permissible boundaries of the debate.

How do you see the future of international war crimes trials?
International Criminal Courts with perfect legal mechanisms mean little without enforcement capabilities that extend to the major powers. I don't see this changing anytime soon. Maybe the Spanish Gonzalo Boye will prove me wrong, but I doubt it.

ASEAN ministers meet on economic crisis

Photo by: Sara Vat
ASEAN economic ministers meet Tuesday in Siem Reap.

Written by Kay Kimsong
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Hundreds of billions of dollars in crisis-fighting funds from G20 and ASEAN discussed at economic meeting in Siem Reap

ECONOMIC ministers from the 10 ASEAN-member states met in Siem Reap Monday and Tuesday to formulate economic strategies to alleviate the worst effects of the global economic crisis in the region.

During the two-day Economic Ministers' Retreat, chaired by ASEAN Deputy Secretary General Sundram Pushpanathan and Cambodia's Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, member states debated how they would absorb a US$370 billion emergency currency swap fund jointly organised by the G20 and ASEAN nations.

"We discussed our strategy to deal with the crisis and help each other, especially ASEAN members who are facing serious problems," said Sok Sopheak, director general of the Ministry of Commerce. He said the fund - made up of $250 billion from the G20 nations and $120 billion from the ASEAN countries, China, Japan and South Korea - would allow member states to borrow money to bolster their economies in the face of the worsening global crisis.

Fighting the downturn
Ministers also discussed reducing the impact of the economic crisis by bringing representatives from the private sector to the table.

The billions in assistance would focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, and companies involved in export and import.

Sok Sopheak said Cambodia's exports had fallen due to the global economic crisis and that the construction and tourism sectors had also seen a drop-off.

"Whenever we understand that we are facing huge problems, we raise the proposal to borrow funds based on criteria that have been stated in the policy," he said.

We discussed our strategy to deal with the crisis and help each other.

Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Minsitry of Commerce, said ASEAN trade ministers would also put together a long-term plan to adopt the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint, a European Union-style system combining a common currency and unrestricted trade between member states.

But he said that ASEAN should concentrated on freeing up the flow of people and goods between states rather than breaking down borders altogether.

Nguon Meng Tech, director general of the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, agreed that the private sector would benefit from the development of closer trade and investment links between ASEAN countries.

GMAC pushes for passage of new trade union rules

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Garment workers protest outside the Yung Wan garment factory in Takhmao province in January.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Manufacturers’ association says industrial action is hurting the garment sector and calls for legislation on top of the Labour Law to rein in unions

THE Garment Manufacturers' Association of Cambodia (GMAC) has urged the government to fast-track a law regulating trade unions to relieve pressure on a sector that it claims has been besieged by a recent spate of strikes and demonstrations.

"We would like the government to adopt a union law as soon as possible to help the garment sector survive because too many trade unions are causing problems for the sector," GMAC President Van Sou Ieng said Monday.

"We want the government to allow just one union in each factory to reduce the number of strikes and demonstrations."

Van Sou Ieng was speaking at a two-day workshop organised by the Cambodia Federation of Employer and Business Associations (CAMFEBA) discussing what Cambodia can learn from trade union legislation in South Africa. Van Sou Ieng is also the president of CAMFEBA.

Cambodia's labour legislation does not limit the number of unions that can exist in a factory.

According to GMAC figures there are 1,569 unions operating in Cambodia compared to just over 300 factories.

Van Sou Ieng said that proliferation of unions prompted frequent demonstrations, causing buyers to lose confidence in the productivity of the garment sector in Cambodia.

"I think that the government must make the brave decision to draft a union law as too many strikes can cause damage to Cambodia's reputation," he said.

But union officials said the law was unnecessary since legal provisions relating to union activities already existed under the Kingdom's Constitution and the 1997 Labour Law.

"I would like GMAC to work with unions under constitutional law to clarify what is allowed to be carried out .... We welcome any action against illegal strikes and demonstrations held by any unions," said Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Cambodia.

He said garment industry operators also had obligations to obey existing labour laws and provide satisfactory conditions for garment workers.

"GMAC must help to urge investors to obey the law because there will be no strikes or demonstrations if investors respect the law," he added.

Dragan Radic, a senior specialist in employer activities at the International Labour Organisation, said that a law specifically for labour unions would improve industrial relations; but it was important that Cambodia also establish effective institutions to enforce any new laws, as well as existing ones.

"I think that even if the government develops a good law, it will not be effective if the country lacks a good law enforcement system to support it," he said.

Officials at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs could not be reached for comment.

New Anco water plant goes online

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Chun Sophal
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

The president of Anco Brothers said Sunday that a new water-treatment plant at Kbal Chay in Preah Sihanouk began supplying water to the Sihanoukville Water Supply Authority (SWSA) last month.

Phu Kok An, who is also a senator for the Cambodian People's Party, said the 4,000 to 5,000 cubic metres of water provided each day was being sold at a price of 1,000 riels (US$0.24) per cubic metre to the SWSA.

He said the plant would eventually be able to supply 50,000 cubic metres of water per day and would "ensure a sustainable supply of water in this town for 30 years".

Anco Brothers announced last year that construction of the plant would cost US$4 million, but Phu Kok An said the cost had risen to $5 million, in part, he said, because the company decided to increase the volume of water it would be able to supply.

"I know water demand in this area will increase, so I was determined to expand the treatment plant to be as big as possible to respond to future needs ... when this town becomes industrial, and an oil-producing area," Phu Kok An said.

With the water from the Anco Brothers plant, SWSA will be able to serve 4,000 families, said SWSA Director Tim Sitha.

The province has an estimated 140,000 families. Authorities hope to supply clean water to 80 percent of the province's families by the year 2015.

Tim Sitha said that the water was being supplied to families at a cost of 1,500 riels to 2,000 riels per cubic metre.

Building codes under debate in push to improve disabled access

Photo by: MARK ROY
Ngin Saorath (right) accompanies Eang Chan Dara as he negotiates the wheelchair-friendly access ramp at the new Ministry of Social Affairs building.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Mark Roy
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Cambodia’s large community of people with disabilities is hoping that a draft law due for debate in the National Assembly will result in an improvement in their quality of life

Cambodia's building access codes may soon be changed in an effort to provide equal access to public buildings for people with disabilities.

If passed, the draft law - due to be debated before the National Assembly later this month - has the potential to impact on the property management and construction industries in the Kingdom.

The draft law would require the provision of access for disabled people to all public places.

The requirements would apply to all buildings and premises that are open to the general public, including buildings already in use, as well as those yet to be constructed.

A range of benefits would flow from the implementation of the legislation, said Disability Action Council Executive Director Thong Vinal. The private sector would benefit from incentive investment and tax deductions and get quality and capable employees, he said.

Paul Clements, chief operating officer with ANZ Royal Bank in Cambodia, said ANZ Royal adopted ANZ Group policy in its property standards.

"Accordingly, where we are building new or redeveloping old sites, we are ensuring we cater for disabled customers and future disabled staff," Mr Clements said.

"For example, ANZ Royal is completing a new office and branch at Tuol Kork which is expected to be completed by August.

"At a cost to ANZ Royal directly, we are paying for the cost of the lift services which will assist customers and staff access the various floors."

Ngin Saorath, Executive Director of the Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation (CDPO), which helped put forward the draft legislation, said it was important to have full participation of people with disabilities in every sector.

"What we need is for people with disabilities not to have to live in isolation," he said.

95 percent of public buildings in the country have no disabled access.

The proposed law seeks rights for people with disabilities, including the right to hold a drivers' licence and the provision of disabled parking bays through a prakas from the ministry responsible for public works and transport.

Under the draft law, public places are defined as "areas, buildings, premises and transportation means owned by state, public or private entities which are open to general public such as ministries, departments, institutions, roads, resorts, cultural centres, sporting places, recreational places, educational establishment, hotels, hospitals, health centres, restaurants, transportation systems, etc".

Ngin Saorath said people with disabilities had been waiting a long time for the changes.

"In 1996, CDPO and other NGOs initiated this draft law, which was compiled from international law," he said.

"In 2001 the CDPO took the draft proposal to the Ministry of Social Affairs, who adjusted it to suit Cambodia's national laws. In 2005 the proposal was studied by the Economic, Social and Cultural Observation Unit to ensure it fit with a broad range of requirements."

The draft proposal was presented to the National Assembly for discussion last week, but has yet to be debated.

The new Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation building, which was opened on March 18 this year, set an exemplary standard for disabled access, with a ramp, handrails, an elevator and toilets with disability-friendly access.

However Ngin Saorath said accessibility for disabled people to buildings in Cambodia was still very low.

"Ninety-five percent of public buildings in the country have no disabled access," he said.

Hang Phyreak from Cambodian Architecture and Construction Company, who worked on the disability-friendly Epic Arts building in Kampot, said it was not difficult to make a fully accessible building, as the requirements were already well understood.

"It doesn't cost much, it just adds a little bit of cost in terms of materials," he said.

"Design can be a little bit extra but not much."

Realty association wins ASEAN admission

Written by Soeun Say
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

The National Valuers Association of Cambodia has been accepted as a member by the ASEAN Valuers Association

The ASEAN Valuers Association (AVA) has formally accepted Cambodia as a member following a three-day conference late last month in Hoi An, Vietnam, the president of the National Valuers Association of Cambodia told Prime Location last Thursday.

"We are very grateful to have become a member of the ASEAN Valuers Association even though our country still has little experience when it comes to valuing real estate," said Sung Bonna, who is also first deputy secretary general of the Real Estate Developers Association of Cambodia and president of the Bonna Realty Group.

The AVA was established in 1981 with five founding members - Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines - and has since been extended to include Brunei and Vietnam.

Its governing council is composed of seven real estate valuers from each country.

Cambodia had previously been recognised, along with countries including Laos and Myanmar, as an AVA "observer".

The AVA convenes a congress every two years that provides, according to its website, "a valuable platform to share views" and "exchange knowledge and information and foster comradeship and fellowship".

... our country still has little experience when it comes to valuing real estate.

Sung Bonna said Cambodia's membership in the group would allow real estate agents to gain experience managing property transactions and valuating property while encouraging transparent practices that would keep the market stable.

Sear Chailin, the director of Visal Real Estate, said he welcomed the news of Cambodia's acceptance to the AVA.

"I'm happy to hear that," he said, adding, "Please stop saying that Cambodia's property market is in a downturn - we must say that the market is fine". But Kong Vansophy, general manager of the US$1 million Dream Town development in the capital's Dangkor district, said AVA membership would have little effect on the domestic real estate market in the short term.

Ngy Tayi, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said he believed participation in the AVA would give Cambodian realtors important experience that could be applied in the effort to turn the sector around.

Preah Vihear temple on a road less travelled

Monks and tourist climb the steps to Preah Vihear temple.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Stephen Westwood
Wednesday, 06 May 2009


by Stephen Westwood

Visiting Prasat Vihear makes for a memorable experience

THE Preah Vihear temple (Prasat Preah Vihear) is not overrun with foreign tourists. In fact, we were unfortunate when the pickup we were in got called back from halfway up the mountain to collect two foreigners, the only others I saw there.

Still, they didn't hang about too long, and I had the privilege of exploring the site with my Cambodian friend Pia and her parents, who had so graciously arranged our trip to Preah Vihear province.

A memorable afternoon followed. The teetering mountain temple, with grand staircase approaching from the north, can barely be sighted from the frontier settlement at the southern base of Chuor Phnom Dangkrek (Dangkrek mountains).

As long as you are not an opposition politician, you can get a ride up the escarpment along switchbacks of new concrete and visit both the temple and the troops guarding it.

The soldiers potter about, fetching water from the ancient reservoir, hanging out their washing and waiting.

As long as you are not an opposition politician, you can get a ride up the escarpment.

Pass lintels magnificently carved with Vedic apparitions and follow a damaged lingam-lined causeway. Then descend a series of stone staircases to the north, watched by antique lions, some of them so weathered they look half-melted.

At the bottom of the steps, there is a small market serving the soldiers and the trickle of mostly domestic visitors.

A few metres beyond, garlands of razor wire choke the tiny crossing into Thailand.

A couple of affable Cambodian army regulars tend to this garden of bright steel, the old foe out of sight for now - although from the temple peak, movement was visible in Thailand on the broad, industrial tourism-sized road leading to the closed border.

Turbulent past
The temple was only reclaimed for Cambodia, or re-annexed by the French colonial administration, in 1907, after some centuries of rule by Thailand (then Siam).

There are things you shouldn't say among these peaks - Pia tells me - at the risk of bringing a deadly curse on yourself.

Indeed, some terrible things have happened in the area.

In 1979, the Thai army forced thousands of Cambodians to walk a bloody path down from the Dangkrek mountains through miles of heavily mined territory, shooting those who refused or struggled -all in the name of repatriation.

The Vietnamese army, embarking on an ignominious 10-year occupation, retrieved the survivors and walked them 112.6 kilometres to Kampong Thom.

In 1962, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, awarded ownership of the temple to Cambodia, stating that the 1907 map clearly showed Preah Vihear as being in Cambodia. This judgement is the legal foundation for the world's recognition of Cambodian sovereignty over the site.

Thailand eventually reluctantly handed over the temple but didn't withdraw from the surrounding land, in contravention of the 1962 ICJ judgement, claiming the border has never been officially demarcated.

After peace returned to Cambodia with the extinction of the Khmer Rouge as a military force in 1998, the Thai and Cambodian governments agreed to stop their dispute over the temple in the interest of commerce.

The ownership dispute reappeared in June 2008 after UNESCO awarded World Heritage status to Prasat Preah Vihear.

Hence, the Cambodians' garden of razors: no tourists from troubled Thailand until their government and army relent.

Lift your head to mount the staircase again, and you can spy sentinels in the form of mighty seven-headed naga at the very top, glaring north, guarding the bones of the temple.

At this monument, it is hard not to think about Cambodia's near-mortally wounded national identity. Then it is hard also (for me, anyway) not to ponder the derelict state of the ideology of nationalism and nation-states, even of the ideology of internationalism, that simply cannot keep up with the realities of globalisation.

Distant past at National Museum

Written by Tom Hunter
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

THE latest exhibition at the National Museum of Cambodia provides an interesting opportunity to delve into Cambodia's mysterious pre-Angkorian past.

"Angkor Ancestors" showcases artefacts excavated from two sites in Siem Reap province, both of which have unveiled new findings that have significantly improved understanding of pre-Angkorian life.

L'Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient (EFEO) has been excavating the two sites near the Western Baray reservoir of Siem Reap since 2003.

The artefacts excavated at both sites represent some of the oldest evidence of civilisation in Cambodia.

"The findings are very important for the National Museum of Cambodia," said Hab Touch, director of the National Museum.

"Very little is known about this period, and this exhibition is an opportunity for people to learn more about prehistoric Cambodia."

Learning about the past
The display of pottery jars, skeletons and tools will help both the public and scholars learn more about this period of Cambodia's history.

Christopher Pottier, a French archaeologist from EFEO, said the overall objective of the dig was to find out more about the diet, habits and evolution of this civilisation, which existed in Cambodia in the seventh and eighth centuries.

"This project was not a treasure-hunting mission, but rather aimed to uncover information about how these people lived and get an idea of their daily life," Pottier said.

Excavating one of the sites proved a difficult task, given the location of the site in the centre of the predominantly submerged baray.

"We only had one month during the driest period of 2004 to excavate the site before the rains covered the area with water," Pottier said.

That year, the group dug up complete human remains from a shallow grave in the middle of the baray.

The skeleton, dating from between 2000 BC and 3000 BC, was found only 10 centimetres under the surface of the baray, which was built during the 11th century by slave labour.

"Angkor Ancestors" opens at 5:30pm this evening at the National Museum and runs until the end of the year.

Police Blotter: 6 May 2009

The Phnom Penh Post
Written by Lim Phalla
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

20-year-old Ael Ol was arrested by police for hurling a stone at Thay Buntheng, 42, and severely injuring him Saturday night at a dance in Thnal Baek Lech village, Chamkar Leu district, Kampong Cham province. Police said the suspect had been using drugs and could not control himself.

An 84-year-old woman was robbed of 4.9 damleung (783.7 grams) of gold, US$2,000 and an unspecified number of riels while she was sleeping in her house in Ta Ngov village, Phnom Penh, on Sunday. The victim was known as Prak Moeun. The thief pointed a handgun at her and slapped her on the face twice.

Drunk husband attacks wife
53-year-old Pich Neang was cut five times with an ax by her drunken husband, Vorn Choeun, 59, because she had blamed him for drinking too much. The event happened on Thursday in Chambork Khpuos village, Sam Prouch commune, Stung district, Kampong Thom province. The husband then escaped while the victim fainted.

Two brothers were arrested by Kamrieng police on Friday in Damnak Sala village, Battambang province, for stealing rice that was being transported to Thailand. The brothers were identified as Duong Kimleang, 23, and Duong Kimlay, 21. They both live in the village. Police said there were about 20 thieves in total, but the others ran away before police could catch them.

Vuth Eang, 37, was seriously wounded after three robbers attacked him with an ax. The robbers were also armed with two guns and stole 20,000 baht (US$575) from Vuth Eang's house in Santepheap village, Malai district, Banteay Meanchey province. Vuth Eang fell unconscious and was taken to the hospital the next morning. Police arrested three suspects, but their identities have not been released because the police are still investigating.

The Phnom Penh Post News In Briefs

In Brief: Child rape cases on the rise

Written by Mom Kunthear
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

A senior child rights monitor at the rights group Licadho said Tuesday that the first period of 2009 saw an increase in the number of child rape cases reported compared with the same period last year. "There were 31 cases reported in the first three months of 2008, and now there are 65. So that makes us worry," Pean Rathamanith said, adding that Kampot, Battambang, Kandal and Phnom Penh have the highest numbers.

In Brief: Nuon chea to remain behind bars

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Detained former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea is to remain in prison until at least September after judges on Monday dismissed a request by his lawyers for his release. In a press statement Tuesday, judges claimed that provisional detention was "still a necessary measure to prevent the [detainee] from exerting pressure on witnesses or destroying evidence" and to preserve public order. Nuon Chea has been in detention at the ECCC since his arrest in 2007.

In Brief: Defence appeals graft decision

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Three other defence teams at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have joined lawyers for Nuon Chea in appealing a decision on the issue of corruption at the UN-backed court. Lawyers for Ieng Thirith, Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan have filed appeals over the court's decision in April not to take investigative action on an alleged kickback scheme at the court. Though judges claimed it was not in their jurisdiction to investigate such claims, lawyers argued Monday that judges have the inherent power to ensure the integrity of their own proceedings, and wihout such an investigation their clients' rights to a fair trial would be violated.

In Brief: Swine flu renamed

Written by Nguon Sovan
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

THE National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) said it plans to change the official name of swine flu to H1N1 to avoid potentially serious repercussions on the country’s pork industry. The flu that broke out in Mexico has not been detected in Cambodia, said Pao Samy, secretary general of NCDM on Tuesday. He said that the flu spreads in cold weather, rather than hot climates like Cambodia. Sok Touch, director of the Health Ministry’s Department of Communicable Disease, said Tuesday that the government would use the new name from now on. “The virus did not originate from pigs, so if we use the term ‘swine flu’, it will have a serious impact on the pig business in Cambodia.” He said that health officials are on alert to strengthen disease tracking and preparedness.

In Brief: Power imports to begin

Written by Nguon Sovan
Wednesday, 06 May 2009

Electricity imports from Vietnam are set to commence next month, which officials say will reduce the number of blackouts in Phnom Penh. "The city will no longer have block-by-block power cuts as of next month when the 200 MW line from Vietnam to Phnom Penh is scheduled to come into use," said a senior Electricite de Cambodge (EdC) official who asked not to be named. "It will double the electrical supply capacity and around 200,000 families in Phnom Penh, Kandal, Kampong Speu and Takeo will be able to access the power." He said that EdC is currently capable of supplying 190 MW of electricity to 280,000 families in Phnom Penh and Kandal. Demand for electricity in Phnom Penh has far outstripped supply, and city officials resort to blackouts to make up for the shortfall.

Lunch to benefit Cambodian school

Wicked Local Cambridge
Posted May 05, 2009

Cambridge — All are welcome to join Cambridge Rindge and Latin School students and teachers at a benefit lunch Saturday, May 9, at 11:30 a.m. at the Elephant Walk restaurant at 2067 Mass. Ave.

Tickets are available at Local luminaries will be at the event, including new school Superintendent Dr. Jeff Young, CRLS Principal Dr. Christopher Saheed, and MIT Professor and author Dr. Alan Lightman. Proceeds will support their trip to Cambodia for service learning projects and for the dedication of the Cambridge School.

The Cambridge School for Cambodia opened last winter near Phnom Penh. Cambridge students and families, with the help of Cambridge businesses, universities and nonprofit organizations, raised enough money last year to build a school named for the city. For more information, visit

The National Press Council of Cambodia Celebrates the World Press Freedom Day Supported by UNESCO - Tuesday, 5.5.2009

Posted on 6 May 2009

The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 611

“Presidents of thirteen press associations and organizations gathered at the Tonle Basak Restaurant yesterday evening. This was a big party where 90% of the journalists in Cambodia participated, to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, supported by UNESCO in Cambodia; also officials from some embassies participated.

“The president of the National Press Council of Cambodia, Mr. Om Chandara, said during that event, ‘We celebrate this event to express our gratitude towards the journalists who worked hard during the whole previous year. We express our gratitude also to the supporter, UNESCO, which assists us in supporting the National Press Council of Cambodia in the past and at present.’

“During that occasion, the president of the Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists and former president of the first-term National Press Council of Cambodia, Mr. Oum Sarin, made a statement welcoming the World Press Freedom Day, and he spoke to the national and international participants about previous activities of the National Press Council of Cambodia, seeking true information for the citizens and promoting press freedom in Cambodia. At the end, the secretary-general, Mr. Ek Visarakhun, expressed his gratitude toward UNESCO and all journalists that attended the event.

“The National Press Council of Cambodia was created in early 2007, and this organization was recognized by the Ministry of Information and the King of the Kingdom of Cambodia as an independent organization, which has the intention to protect journalists from violations of the freedom of expression and from different crimes against them.

“So far, the situation of the freedom of expression in Cambodia has been assessed by national and international observers, saying that it has declined dramatically, because murderers who killed journalists like Mr. Khim Sambou of Moneaksekar Khmer have not been identified by the authorities, some journalists were put into jail as a result of fulfilling their mission to cover information, and some others are being threatened by wicked merchants conducting illegal logging, exploiting gold mines, and trafficking contraband. It has been claimed that most of those merchants are backed by powerful people. Anyway, the National Press Council of Cambodia has its network everywhere in the country, and they are actively observing scandals affecting the national economy, natural resources, and injustice in society. The president of the Khmer Association for Democracy from the branch in Ratanakiri, Mr. Sok Sovann, said that his association directly visits places where different crimes occur, especially crimes resulting in the destruction of natural resources, such as the forest, and mines. The editor-in-chief of Khmer Eysan based in Ratanakiri, Mr. Kim Savoeun, called on international organizations such and the World Bank and UNESCO, and especially the Royal Government, to help curb crimes against the forest and against natural resource in the northeast of the country, otherwise Cambodia will lose those valuable natural resources in the near future."

Sereypheap Thmey, Vol.16, #1708, 5.5.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Photo Release: TMD Bangkok reaches branding milestone with launch of Smart Mobile in Cambodia

TMD Bangkok, Thailand’s integrated marketing and brand development firm, hit a recent milestone with its launch of Cambodia’s newest telecoms industry contender Smart Mobile. In Phnom Penh, the launch of Smart Mobile was presided over by H.E. So Khun, the Honorable Minister of Posts and Telecommunications for the Royal Government of Cambodia.

From left to right:
Smart Mobile CMO, Kirill Mankovsky, TMD Bangkok Managing Director, Kirk J. Bentham , TMD Phnom Penh Media Coordinator Naro Sophal

For more information, please contact:
TMD Communications Co. Ltd.
Ms. Pemika Wongaiyara
Tel. 02 661 6848 or

Thai exports to Cambodia drop considerably

MCOT English News

SIEM REAP, May 6 (TNA) – Thailand’s exports to Cambodia have dropped dramatically since people’s purchasing power in the neighboring country has been undermined by the global economic meltdown, according to the Foreign Trade Promotion (FTP) office in Phnom Penh.

Jiranan Wongmongkol, the FTP office director revealed Thailand’s exports to Cambodia in the first quarter of this year declined by around 24 per cent from the same quarter last year, and the agency expects exports for the whole year to drop by some 30 per cent.

Thailand’s annual exports to Cambodia total around US$2 billion or 70 billion baht in value but exports this year are expected to reach just $1.6 billion as Cambodian purchasing power shrinks.

Key export items affected by the economic meltdown include textiles, building materials and consumer products.

Mrs. Jiranan said Thai entrepreneurs based in Cambodia had begun to experience difficulties in running their businesses as their Cambodian counterparts are exposed to the financial liquidity crunch.

Entrepreneurs had adjusted their strategies by attempting to reduce inventory costs and selling products for cash, she said. (TNA)

Harry Potter in Cambodia

The New York Times

May 5, 2009

By Nicholas Kristof

I’ve written occasionally about Bernard Krisher’s work in Cambodia, building schools and keeping girls in school through American Assistance for Cambodia. Bernie is a former journalist who developed a passion for Cambodia and has devoted his life to raising living standards there. Late last year, my own family visited Cambodia to see the opening of a school that we donated through Bernie.

One of the frustrations in trying to teach kids to read there is that, frankly, there aren’t a lot of great books to teach with. And exciting stories that might entice young people to read often aren’t translated into Khmer, the Cambodian language. So a few years ago, Bernie convinced J.K. Rowling to donate the rights to the first book so that a low-priced Khmer version could be published, so as to hook young people into reading. Now J.K. Rowling has agreed to donate the rights to the second book in the series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so that it can be published in Khmer as well. The upshot will be another cheap page-turner to get young Cambodians to read more — and kids in huts around the country will be starry-eyed about broomsticks and owls and Harry’s adventures. So, thank you, J.K. Rowling and Bernie Krisher!

Cambodia puts 3,000-year-old pre-Angkor relics on show

Cambodia's National Museum in Phnom Penh on Wednesday opened an exhibition to demonstrate some archeological findings prior to the Angkor Era (802-1432), which was the most glorious period in the history of Cambodia.

The "Angkor Ancestors" show mainly features a recreation of an excavation site at the Angkor Wat area in Siem Reap province, complete with pottery shards and a 3,000-year-old skeleton.

Organized by a French research institution and the museum itself, the exhibition is the first ever held in the kingdom on the pre-Angkor period, said museum director Hab Touch.

"This is an opportunity for scholars as well as the public to understand prehistory. We know so little about it," he said.

The artifacts on display were found at two sites within the Angkor Wat area, a 2,000-year-old village location and a 3,000-year-old burial place.

Currently, the Angkor Wat is the most welcomed tourist destination in Cambodia.

Before the Angkor Dynasty, there were two dynasties governing Cambodia, respectively called Funan and Chenla.

(Xinhua News Agency May 6, 2009)