Thursday, 14 May 2009

Courtney’s Cambodian travel experience

Volunteering: Courtney Payne spent most of her school holidays in Cambodia visiting orphanages and this school.
Fairfax Media


SIXTEEN year old New Norcia girl Courtney Payne spent her recent school holidays enriching the lives of orphanage children in Cambodia.

Miss Payne was one of eight students from St Brigid's College who, along with six teachers, all flew to Cambodia to visit orphanages and offer their time.

Miss Payne fundraised and sold a lot of chocolate to take part in the 10-day experience.

Several people also donated some goods and money for Miss Payne to take to the orphanages.

Miss Payne handed over some of the money or used it to buy rice and even a house at one orphanage.

“It’s amazing what $100 can buy you in Cambodia,” Miss Payne said.

Miss Payne found it to be an eye opening and enriching way to spend her school holidays and recommends those who have the opportunity to do anything similar to take it.

“It was an amazing experience, I loved visiting and helping out at the different orphanages we visited,” she said.

“I made me realize how lucky we all are here in Australia.

“If anyone ever gets the opportunity to do something like this - to go for it.”

Rediscovering South-east Asia: Cambodia

Rapids form in rivers that run down from the Cardamom Mountains in Koh Kong, Cambodia.

Thu, May 14, 2009
The Straits Times

By Cheryl Tan


Koh Kong, Cambodia

In Cambodia, the majestic Angkor Wat gets the lion's share of attention from tourists, so much so that the country's beautiful rainforests remain largely unexplored.

The coastal province of Koh Kong, along the south-west border of Cambodia and Thailand, is home to the Cardamom Mountains.

Says Ms Janet Newman, who owns the eco-themed Rainbow Lodge in Koh Kong province: "It is the perfect place for jungle trekking and overnight camping."

The 41-year-old Briton set up her lodge last year after falling in love with the area. The lodge has seven bungalows with balconies overlooking the Kep River.

There is more nature to enjoy when you take a speedboat from Krong Koh Kong town to visit the Koh Por waterfall and Tatai river and waterfall.

The Peam Krasaop Wildlife Sanctuary comprises 260 sq km of mangroves, which is more than one-third the size of Singapore. Here you will find a 1km-long mangrove walk with a 15m-high observation tower where you can catch lovely panoramic views.

Also, do not miss the dolphin tours to catch a glimpse of these endangered Irrawaddy marine mammals, which are known to swim near the coast. As a bonus, watch fireflies twinkle after sunset.

The make-shift bamboo train rail transporting firewood in Cambodia.


Battambang, Cambodia

This quaint riverside city, known for its French colonial architecture and friendly people, is fast becoming the next tourist hot spot. For a ride to remember, take the bamboo train, an open-air transport made of bamboo planks and fitted with a simple motor.

A Vietnamese farmer at work along the Mekong Delta.

Called a norry, the bamboo train runs on actual train tracks and is the most popular and convenient mode of transport in the region.

There is one drawback to riding on the norry: You have to be ready to hop off quickly when you hear a train approaching from the opposite direction - on the same track.

Similar to the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap but far less popular is the Prasat Banan temple, which has five towers.

Its hillside location makes it a great place to take in the bucolic splendour of the surrounding countryside.

Local guide and taxi driver Suong Sambath, 39, says: "There are not many tourists here, so it is great for those who want to get away from the capital."

He also suggests a visit to Phnom Sampheu hill as it gives travellers a quick history lesson on the Khmer Rouge atrocities.

If gruesome history is not your thing, maybe gastronomy will suit you better. Sign up for Khmer cooking classes at the Ch'neainh Ch'neainh cooking school (US$10 or S$14.50 per person), which includes a trip to the local market to buy your own ingredients.

Of course, you will need to know what authentic Khmer food tastes like. Do your research at local restaurants, whose menus start from US$4 for a plate of fried rice or noodles.

Women in Politics - Politics/Society


Men Samon (CPP) and Mu Sochua (SRP), two distinguished women politicians answer Ouy Bounmy about the participation of women in politics. This is a sequence extracted from the Equity Weekly TV show # 42, broadcast on 9/03/08, produced by UNDP and TVK, with support from SIDA, AusAid, Canadian International Development Agency and Irish Aid as part of the SDEP (Strengthening Democracy and Electoral Processes in Cambodia) project of UNDP CAMBODIA. For more information, visit our website:

Cambodian "Killing Fields" Survivor, Ambassador Sichan Siv, Bestselling Author of Golden Bones, Will Visit the Long Beach Public Library May 19th

May 14, 2009

The Long Beach Public Library Foundation will present "killing fields" survivor's story of success at the Main Library in Long Beach, CA on Tuesday May 19th from 5:30.-7:30p.m. Ambassador Sichan Siv will tell his tale of endurance and triumph rising from Pol Pot prisoner to U.S. Ambassadorship to achieve the American Dream.

Long Beach, CA (PRWEB) May 14, 2009 -- Daring escapes from war horrors coupled with meteoric rises from tragedy's ashes are often thought to be only the stuff of Hollywood films. But the dramatic and courageous life of The Honorable Sichan Siv - a refugee from the Cambodian "killing fields" and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations - is a true story.

The Long Beach Public Library Foundation is pleased to present Ambassador Siv on Tuesday, May 19, to tell his amazing and inspiring story from his best-selling book, Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey from Hell in Cambodia to a New Life in America. This will be the Ambassador's first appearance in Southern California.

While war raged throughout Southeast Asia in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Ambassador Siv was a young intellectual and graduate student in Cambodia. He was part of the target demographic that dictator Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge sought to eradicate, resulting in the infamous "killing fields" or rice paddies dotted with millions of skulls.

Siv was captured and placed in a slave labor camp, but made a daring escape though the jungle to Thailand. After months in a refuge camp, he entered the United States. Once here, through diligence and hard work, he rose to the heights of the U.S. government.

Tuesday, May 19 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Main Auditorium, Long Beach Public Library
101 Pacific Avenue, Long Beach

Tickets are available for $30 by calling (562) 628-2441 or purchasing online at The event will include a live reading by Ambassador Siv, book signing and refreshments. Books will be available to purchase.

The non-profit Long Beach Public Library Foundation supplements and supports the Long Beach Public Library. The Foundation's programs include Family Learning Centers at each of the city's 12 libraries, as well as the Raising A Reader program, which has graduated more than 5,700 parents and pre-schoolers from its reading readiness course. Among the Foundation's most prominent programs is the annual Long Beach Reads One Book, when the entire city spends a week celebrating a selected book and its author. Funds from Ambassador Siv's appearance will support these programs.

Long Beach Public Library Foundation
101 Pacific Avenue, Long Beach, CA
562/628-2441 -
Contact: Sara Pillet

Memorial ceremony for slain matriarch offers little solace to Cambodian family

A photo of family matriarch Leam Sovanasy, 76, placed in a Buddhist shrine inside the family home in Long Beach. (Stephen Carr/Staff Photographer)

From left, Valerie Tubaces, Chad Sovanasy and Samantha Bunma hold a photo of their mother and family matriarch Leam Sovanasy, 76, who was was found brutally stabbed to death in her Long Beach home January 31, 2009. (Stephen Carr/Staff Photographer)

By Kelly Puente, Staff Writer

LONG BEACH - Mother's Day had always been a crowded and festive occasion for the Sovanasy family.

Each year, dozens of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren would flock to the small home on Peterson Avenue to pay their respects to 76-year-old Leam Sovanasy, a mother of 10 and Cambodian family matriarch.

But on Sunday, the family was instead mourning a tragic loss.

"Mother's Day was the worst day of our lives," said Sovanasy's daughter, Samantha Bunma.

Leam Sovanasy was found brutally stabbed to death in her home on the morning of Jan. 31, and the family say they are no closer to finding the killer.

Bunma said the family believes the murder could have been the result of a home-invasion robbery, but for now, no one but the killer knows what happened.

Family members now fear for their own lives.

"We're always looking behind our backs," Bunma said. "We're afraid to sleep. Each day we live in fear."

In keeping with Buddhist tradition, the family on Monday held a special prayer ceremony to mark the 100th day of Sovanasy's death. While the ceremony is meant as a final prayer to say goodbye, many are having a hard time letting go, Bunma said.

"Who could do this to a 76-year-old woman?" she asked. "She didn't have the energy to fight anyone."

Sovanasy was rarely alone in the home she had lived in since 1980, but on that Saturday morning at about 10:30 a.m., it seemed as if everyone was busy, her daughter said.

Sovanasy's husband, Lek Lot, and a son-in-law, had gone to fix a broken water heater at their Buddhist temple on Hill Street. Bunma, whose family also shares the home, was away at work while her two teenagers slept.

Son Chad Sovanasy, who lives in the back house, didn't hear anything unusual, the family said. But when he came out to wash his car and check on his mother at about 11 a.m., he discovered a horrific scene.

Sitting in the home where their mother was murdered, Bunma, 42, and youngest daughter Valerie Tubaces, 37, showed pictures of Sovanasy and talked about her life in Cambodia and struggles to keep the family together.

They said her death was a sad ending for a woman who survived the Cambodian Killing Fields and the loss of her first husband and three children.

As the bloody Khmer Rouge regime took power, Sovanasy fled Cambodia with her remaining seven children and spent three years at a refugee camp in Thailand before immigrating to Long Beach in 1980.

"She would always say, `things will be better when we go to live in the U.S.,"' Bunma recalled.

A devout Buddhist, Sovanasy maintained many of her Cambodian traditions, but also embraced American culture. The great-grandmother was a huge Lakers fan, her daughters said.

She married Lek Lot in 1980 after the two, both widowed and alone, connected at a Thai refugee camp. The daughters said Lot is now in the hospital suffering from kidney failure and depression.

"He's having a very hard time," Tubaces said. "He feels like he should have been there."

They said each family member has a way of remembering Sovanasy.

Bunma says she sleeps in her mother's bed to keep her spirit company. Tubaces wears a crystal heart necklace with her mother's picture.

"We're still going to be in mourning until we find an answer," Tubaces said. "The big question is why."

The investigation in ongoing, and police are asking for the public's help. Anyone with information is urged to call LBPD Homicide Detectives Russ Moss or Teri Hubert at 562-570-7244., 562-499-1305

French school evicts Cambodian locals

The existing residents say they have nowhere to go

By Guy De Launey
BBC News, Phnom Penh

San Limsreang knew it was over when the "green screen of death" arrived.

These corrugated metal fences are a common sight in Phnom Penh, encircling communities destined for eviction.

At least two dozen police officers accompanied the workmen sent by City Hall as they dug holes, banged in fence-posts and erected the screen in front of the grocery stalls and coffee shops at the rear of the Lycee Rene Descartes.

Limsreang and his neighbours looked on fearfully as their homes were cut off from the street. They knew all too well what usually happened to communities marked in such a manner.

Limsreang and his family face eviction after living in their home for 30 years
The 68-year-old had been hoping for a peaceful retirement after a varied working life.

He had worked as a banker, a vet and a civil servant - and for 30 years his ever-expanding family had made their home on the fourth floor of a building behind what is now one of Cambodia's elite schools.

Now the Lycee Rene Descartes wants to expand.

And along with its landlord, the French embassy, it has asked the local authorities to clear Limsreang's building so that it can be used for the school.

The lycee insists that the building belonged to the school before the Khmer Rouge arrived in 1975; now it is merely taking back its rightful property.

The residents, however, say they were ordered to live behind the lycee after Vietnamese-backed forces ousted Pol Pot's government in 1979.

Labelled 'squatters'
"We wanted to go back to my old house but other people were occupying it," Limsreang says.

"After 1979 everyone ended up living in different houses. At that time all the houses belonged to the government - that's why we had to do that."

The new regime did not allow much flexibility. As well as being directed to live in the building behind the lycee, many were told to work in the school which took over the site.

Later the residents took jobs with the local government or the civil service.

They lived rent-free, but were officially registered by the authorities, and took their right to live in their homes for granted.

"It's a horrible feeling because they say they're doing this for us - for us the students "

Raimondo Pictet, student at the lycee and protester

That turned out to be overly-optimistic. When peace returned to Cambodia in the 1990s, so did the Lycee Rene Descartes.

At first the school co-existed with the residents, but an expanding demand prompted the lycee to seek the removal of the community.

"This site belonging to the embassy must go back to the school," says Pierre Olivieri, the co-ordinator of a parents' committee pressing for the move.

"We're the only French school in the world with a squat - even nations at war like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan don't have that.

"It's not good for the image of France or Cambodia."

The residents resent being labelled as "squatters", and they were unwilling to leave for the compensation on offer - a few thousand dollars and a plot of undeveloped land on a reclaimed lake on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Limsreang says that City Hall made a series of threats to evict his community - and said it would give them nothing if they did not accept the terms.

Fearing the worst, some families signed the deal and moved out.

The only ray of hope for the residents was the support of some of the students at the Lycee.
'Regularly criticised'

A student demonstration before Khmer New Year in April brought much-needed publicity to the community's plight.

"It's a horrible feeling because they say they're doing this for us - for us the students," says a 17-year-old protester, Raimondo Pictet.

"For security reasons and for our well-being, these people are being evicted. Well they're human beings too - and they also have a well-being.

They have children who are also going to school - and if they're evicted they won't be able to finish their school year."
The French lycee wants to expand its facilities
Raimondo's efforts have not been appreciated universally.

He says he has been insulted by some students' parents, and a local newspaper published a disparaging comment from the school principal.

But the residents behind the lycee say they are grateful for the students' involvement.

"I'm really excited that teenage students understand about human rights," says Limsreang, before he is interrupted by his son Vichet, a medical student.

"Yes, but it's not good for the French government. Maybe they don't give a damn about human rights issues in Cambodia.

"But we're living here legitimately, and we want to leave here with a fair amount of compensation. We don't want to get rich or anything."

The French embassy did not respond to several requests for an interview.

After weeks of pressure, the remaining residents have now agreed to go.

They say they are sympathetic to the needs of the school, but frightened that their relocation might turn into another forced eviction in which they could lose everything.

Money row over border fight

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A Cambodian soldier stands at the site of a market that burned during the most recent flare-up of fighting at Preah Vihear.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Cheang Sokha
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Cambodia, Thailand each demand compensation for damages

Government officials warned Wednesday that while Cambodia continues to seek a peaceful resolution to its border dispute with Thailand, its patience will run out, as both sides demand compensation over the latest bout of fighting.

"Our solution is very patient, but this is limited and one day when our patience is over, we will use another mechanism," said Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On Monday the ministry sent a diplomatic note to Thailand demanding US$2.1 million in compensation for the destruction of a market near Preah Vihear temple that was destroyed when clashes broke out on April 3.

The government blames Thai rocket fire for the blaze, which destroyed 264 stalls.

Koy Kuong said the ministry has not yet received an official response from Thailand over its demands.

But a spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry told media on Tuesday that not only would Thailand refuse to pay, it would seek compensation from Cambodia over the deaths of three Thai soldiers.

"We have always clearly stated that area belongs to Thailand and that Cambodian soldiers illegally trespassed into our territory," Tharit Charungvat told AFP on Tuesday.

"We are working on the amount of compensation that we are seeking from Cambodia too, as our soldiers died," he added.

Koy Kuong downplayed the Thai spokesman's remarks, saying, "We do not consider the comment of the Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman as the stance of the Thai government because we have sent an official diplomatic note and they have not responded yet."

In its note to Bangkok, the government said the loss of the market was "causing great hardship and misery to 319 families who have lost their entire livelihood".

It added, "The Royal Government of Cambodia demands that the Royal Thai government take full responsibility."

Cambodia was awarded Preah Vihear temple in 1962, but Thailand is laying claim to 5 square kilometers next to it.

Ethics on trial in Bar inspection

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Neth Pheaktra and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Legal experts say a lot in balance in investigation of SRP lawyer

AN INVESTIGATION into lawyer Kong Sam Onn, who is representing opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua in her defamation suit against Prime Minister Hun Sen, could have a chilling effect on the profession, legal experts warned this week, ahead of a ruling by the Cambodian Bar Association that could see the attorney lose his licence.

While he said it is the Bar's right to initiate proceedings, which had so far been conducted according to the organisation's internal rules, Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodia Defenders Project, said the case had to be handled carefully so as not to have a chilling effect on other lawyers.

"If Kong Sam Onn is sanctioned, I think it will affect other lawyers in the country," he said.

"They won't dare to defend or say anything related to high-ranking or powerful people out of a concern they will be sanctioned and lose their professional licence."

Mu Sochua, one of the Sam Rainsy Party's most outspoken members, brought suit against Hun Sen, saying that during a speech in April he had called her cheung klang, a Khmer term meaning "strong leg", which she said can also be a derogatory reference to a woman.

Lawyers for Hun Sen, who is countersuing Mu Sochua, filed a complaint against Kong Sam Onn with the Bar on May 1, asking that he be disbarred for allegedly violating the organisation's code of ethics by saying at a press conference that the prime minister had defamed his client before a court ruling had been made.

"[He] judged and condemned Samdech Prime Minister before his client had sent the complaint to the court," said Ky Tech, the prime minister's attorney.

"According to the law, lawyers don't have the right to make an analysis or a judgment - only the court does."

But the move has been criticised by rights groups and legal experts, who call it political interference in the courts.

Kong Sam Onn said Tuesday that he expected the case would be subject to political influence and that equality before the law would "not be respected" because of the players involved.

"I am confronting a top leader of the government. There is political pressure," he told the Post.

"[I]f I committed a fault then I will find other job. But if the decision is unjust, it will devastate me, not only now but for the rest of my life."

He added that in the event he was disbarred he would take legal action to ensure he is allowed to continue practising.

Ethical obligations
Other legal experts said the ethics of the legal profession obliged lawyers to provide defence counsel to any one who required it - even senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime.

"If there is political influence and pressure from other individuals or institutions, it could really have a bad effect on the abilities of the Bar and the profession," said Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Centre, a Cambodian legal aid group.

He said that the Bar Association's involvement with the Khmer Rouge tribunal made it all the more important that its investigation of Kong Sam Onn be carried out transparently.

"I hope that the Bar is really thinking about what it is doing and that they will safeguard their credibility," he said.

But Ky Tech dismissed suggestions of political pressure on the Bar, saying that he was tasked by the prime minister of defending him and would do so according to the law.

"The general opinion is that there is pressure from the government, but I think it is a fabrication. My complaint to the Bar Association will determine whether Kong Sam Onn has acted professionally or not," he said.

"This case will not affect the defence, nor discourage lawyers from carrying out their duties."

Chiv Songhak, president of the Bar Association of Cambodia, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

UN urges disclosure of 'files'

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Military police watch as spectators queue up to enter the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Robbie Corey-Boulet and Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 14 May 2009

UNAKRT says any information of wrongdoing by UN officials at the Khmer Rouge tribunal should be handled by them

AUN spokesperson at the Khmer Rouge tribunal said Wednesday that he "would expect" government officials to hand over to the world body the findings of a government-led monitoring effort targeting foreign workers at the UN-backed court.

"We would expect that the government or anyone else who has any information of misdeeds by UN staff members at the [tribunal] would submit such information to the UN," said Lars Olsen, spokesman for the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials.

"[The UN] will then process such information in accordance with UN global procedures, specially emphasising due process," he added.

Officials with the Cambodian side of the court declined to comment.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan described files kept on foreign staffers at the tribunal in an interview with the Post Tuesday, saying government officials were "monitoring" international staff in an effort to detect corrupt acts "that might discredit" the court's work.

However, he said Wednesday it would be misleading to refer to the effort as "monitoring". Rather, he said, officials were "verifying" certain complaints of misdeeds given by a source he declined to name.

"We didn't believe the complaints [of wrongdoing] in a file we were given, so we are verifying them in good faith," he said.

He declined to elaborate on the verification efforts, or whether information would be sent to the UN.

'No breakdown of trust'
Several lawyers and court monitors said on Tuesday that the government's decision to maintain files on foreign staffers amounted to inappropriate interference and even intimidation.

They also expressed concern over what Michelle Staggs Kelsall, a court monitor for the East-West Centre's Asian International Justice Initiative, described on Tuesday as "a complete breakdown of trust between" the Cambodian and international sides of the court.

Phay Siphan said Wednesday that such concerns were unfounded.

"There is no breakdown between the two sides," he said. "We are still talking."

But Olsen said there were "no more meetings scheduled" between Cambodian officials and Peter Taksoe-Jensen, the UN's top legal official who has travelled to Cambodia several times to discuss the establishment of an anti-corruption mechanism at the court that would satisfy international donors, many of whom are reluctant to fund the Cambodian side of the court because of unresolved graft allegations.

Several donor countries were silent on the issue Wednesday. Fabyene Mansencal, first secretary of the French embassy, declined to answer questions for this article.

No one at the European Commission delegation to Cambodia or the Japanese embassy was available for comment.

Disputed K'kiri land planted: villagers

Written by Sam Rith
Thursday, 14 May 2009

A RUBBER company belonging to Phnom Penh businesswoman Keat Kolney has begun planting rubber trees on land in Ratanakkiri province that has been the subject of a dispute with Jarai ethnic minority villagers since 2004, villagers said Wednesday.

Seven families from Kong Yu village in Ratanakkiri's O'Yadav district lost farm plots of up to one hectare each when workers employed by Keat Kolney's Progressive Farmers Association began a three-day process of measuring, digging and planting on the land, village representative Sev Twel said Wednesday.

Some 270 of the 450 hectares have already been planted with rubber trees, and in February 2007, Keat Kolney thumbprinted documents promising to halt work on the remaining 180 hectares until the case was resolved by the provincial court.

Sourng Sophea, a lawyer from the Community Legal Education Centre, described the company's actions this week as illegal and a violation of the court ruling.

Despite fears about further losses of crop pasture as planting season approaches, villagers have taken no legal action over the recent planting, since two criminal complaints relating to the case were dismissed by the court last February.

However, Sev Twel told the Post villagers would welcome a face-to-face meeting with Keat Kolney. "We would applaud her if she would come to talk to us," he said.

The controversy arose following the 2004 sale of the 450-hectare plot, which villagers claimed they were duped into selling by claims the land was required by the prime minister for disabled army veterans.

Group wants capital housing

A girl from the Group 34 community on Wednesday. Destroyed by a fire last month, the community now consists of ramshackle temporary shelters.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Christopher Shay and Sam Rith
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Phnom Penh’s Group 34 appeals to authorities trying to evict them that they will accept housing in the capital, not nearly 50 kilometres from the city

LIVING in shelters built from donated tarpaulins and the charred remains of their old houses, residents of Group 34 near Sovanna Market in Phnom Penh say they are prepared to leave, just not to a community 49 kilometres away.

During the Khmer New Year, a fire destroyed 150 houses in the community. Then, authorities prohibited community members from rebuilding their homes, only to construct temporary shelters.

While police place the blame solely on one resident for setting the blaze, many villagers suspect he is only a scapegoat.

"People who have power or money hired this man," Touch Sophoan, a community representative, said Wednesday.

Despite suspicions about the arson, many residents are willing to move.

On Monday, the community sent a letter to the Phnom Penh Municipality and the Senate requesting to be relocated to Prey Khla village in Phnom Penh's Dangkor district.

Mann Chhoeun, the deputy governor of Phnom Penh, said Wednesday he had not yet received the letter from the Group 34 community but that a final decision about the Group 34 land had not been made.

We just have 10 fingers to beg them not to take us to where there is no school.

But residents say authorities will move them to a relocation site near Oudong mountain, almost 50 kilometres away from Phnom Penh. Last week, the Tomnup Toek commune chief confirmed they would be moved to Kandal province.

The letter stated that the community has been living in that location since 1993 and that they needed to live in Phnom Penh to make a living, saying they were a community of construction workers and street vendors.

Touch Sophoan said if they were moved far away they would have no way to feed themselves or their families.

"What we earn in one day, we eat," he said.

The community found a specific plot of land in Dangkor district that the owner was willing to sell that could hold the 258 families in the community.

"We need 7,224 square metres of land in order to build houses for 258 families ... and 9,030 square metres of land for drainage," the letter said. "That land belongs to Thoang Chantha."

Thoang Chantha said Wednesday that he had received no calls from the Phnom Penh Municipality about his land, but that it would cost US$30 per square metre.

Touch Sophoan said that the community's proposal would allow the government to get some positive coverage after being condemned by domestic and international rights organisations for their treatment of other evicted communities.

"If the Phnom Penh Municipality responds by forcibly evicting us, they will be criticised by civil society groups and newspapers.... But if they take us to Dangkor, maybe they will get compliments from these organisations."

While some residents threatened violence if police came, resident Van Ny said they had nothing to fight back with.

"We just have 10 fingers to beg them not to take us to where there is no school and water for our children," she said.

Traffic law crackdown to begin next week

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Khuon Leakhana and Sam Rith
Thursday, 14 May 2009

TRAFFIC police say they are planning to crack down on speeding, drunken driving and driving without a licence, with drivers being dealt fines as soon as next week.

"Previously, we only fined drivers who didn't wear helmets or used mirrors. Now we are starting to check for peoples' driver's licences," Him Yan, deputy commissioner police in charge of traffic in Phnom Penh, told the Post on Monday.

According to officials, only 2 percent of the Kingdom's almost 1 million motorbike drivers have a licence.

El Narin, deputy Phnom Penh Traffic Police chief, said drunken driving and speeding checks would also be enforced from Monday.

"We received the order to implement these laws this week, but due to the holiday, we will implement them next week," he said.

Licence process to improve
According to Cambodian traffic law, drivers caught without licences can face a maximum penalty of two months in jail, or a fine of up to 200,000 riels (US$50).

Him Yan said that police hadn't been able to enforce the law in the past because they knew getting a licence was expensive and difficult.

"But we are now looking into this process, so as to be able to enforce the law," he said.

According to El Narin, drunken drivers will not be fined, but required to sober up at a police station before travelling home. Drivers caught speeding, however, face fines and risk being taken to court if they violate the law "in excess", he said.

Global Witness welcomes sand export ban as first step to reform

A dredging vessel extracting sand from the Tonle Bassac in this file photo.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Vong Sokheng and Sebastian Strangio
Thursday, 14 May 2009

INTERNATIONAL corruption watchdog Global Witness has welcomed the recent decision by Prime Minister Hun Sen to ban sand exports from the country, calling it a "first move" towards the sustainable management of the country's natural resources.

"Sand dredging is just one example of widespread environmental malpractice," said Global Witness campaigner Eleanor Nichol in a statement released Tuesday.

"This must be the beginning, not the end, of action to counter natural resource mismanagement and exploitation in Cambodia."

Global Witness also called for an end to the "untransparent allocation of onshore oil and mining concessions" and a review of the concessions already existing in the Kingdom.

The comments came three months after Global Witness released its "Country for Sale" report, alleging high-level corruption and nepotism in the country's extractive resources sector.

The report also included information about a large-scale sand-mining operation in Koh Kong province, where thousands of tonnes of sand per week were being extracted from the area and shipped to Singapore by the Hong Kong-based Winton Enterprises.

In a letter dated Friday, Hun Sen announced a blanket ban on sand exports, in order to "protect the stability of the natural environments of both rivers and marine areas".

Pech Siyon, director of the Koh Kong provincial Department of Industry, Mines and Energy, said local authorities had ordered a "temporary" stop to the export of sand.

But he said companies continued to extract sand from the province's coastal estuaries, pending an examination of the operations by a special interministerial committee.

In a statement released April 6, the Cambodian ambassador to the United Kingdom accused Global Witness of engaging in "virulent and malicious campaigns" against the government, and called for financial backers to cut off funds to the group.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said that despite the positive reaction of Global Witness to the ban, the government would continue to serve the needs of the Cambodian people, rather than outside pressure groups.

"We don't pay attention to this organisation. We just [want to] make sure our people have enough food and are happy," he said Wednesday.

Bridge work


The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Heng Chivoan
Thursday, 14 May 2009

A labourer works on a construction site near the new Monivong bridge, which is scheduled to be inaugurated on May 27, Meanchey district Governor Kuoch Chamroeun said this week. It is hoped the new bridge will reduce traffic snarls that plague the area during rush hour and have led to an increase in accidents, Kuoch Chamroeun said, adding that about 50,000 travellers use the old bridge each day.

Junkyard approach to demining

Photo Supplied
Gary Christ’s first demining machine detonated land mines by dropping a weight on them with an electromagnet.

Written by KYLE SHERER
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Inventor Gary Christ left Siem Reap this month to trawl Chicago’s scrap yards for the raw materials needed to build the second prototype of his innovative demining machine

An ASPIRING inventor has created a machine that he thinks will speed up Cambodia's demining program, if he can persuade the organisations in charge of ridding the country of the deadly devices to help fund and develop it.

Gary Christ, a regular volunteer worker in Siem Reap, cobbled together his own demining machine two years ago in a workshop at his Chicago home and, after receiving feedback from the Mines Advisory Group, he returned to the United States this week to start work on a second version.

Christ's demining machine was welded together from a 60-year-old tractor, scrap metal, old tyres, wooden boards, a 450-kilogram weight and a giant electromagnet. It looked like something built to track down and flatten the Roadrunner, but Christ believes his design can clear a field of land mines for less money and with greater speed than the professionally manufactured alternatives.

The genesis of the machine lies in Christ's work with the Angkor Association for the Disabled, which provides assistance to land mine victims. Christ and the association have been struggling to establish a farm in Cambodia, so that land mine victims can support themselves instead of relying on begging. Christ was raised on a farm in the US, and joined the association as an agricultural adviser. But working the fields in Cambodia brings an entirely new set of challenges.

"When we farm in America we take out trees and rocks," said Christ. "Here, it's land mines."

Gary Christ.

The association had to abandon its first fledgling farm in Battambang province last year because the area was rife with mines. But the setback only cemented Christ's longstanding desire to take action against Cambodia's mine infestation.

"Cambodia is 10 years behind their demining schedule," said Christ. "The 2010 proposed deadline is not going to be met. But I believe I have a machine that will speed the process."

The starting point of the US$40,000 machine was the 60-year-old tractor that Christ learned to drive on, which he armoured against shrapnel with old tyres and wooden boards. The tractor was the driving vehicle for Christ's land mine detonator, which operated on a very straightforward principle.

"When you think of how a land mine is activated, it's by a footstep. So that's what this machine does." Christ's machine replicated a human footfall by using an electromagnet to drop a 450-kilogram metal slab, which stomped on land mines with enough force to absorb the brunt of the explosion. In its testing phase, the prototype tractor crawled through fields, periodically dropping the weight on mines. The bottom of the metal block was formed by a series of free-hanging pegs, which allowed the weight to effectively cover uneven ground.

Christ's electromagnetic stomper is competing against the mechanical flail method, a World War II-era design that involves continually whipping a series of chains into the ground in front of the driving vehicle. The flail technique is a leading method for demining, but Christ sees it as inefficient. "I was raised on a farm and we used flails for various applications. But it's a lot of weight, and it takes a lot of power, and it gets tangled up in the brush. With a flail, gravity wants to go one way, but you're making it go another way instead. It's a lot of energy being wasted, really. I wanted to make something simpler that uses less power and doesn't get tangled."

Christ is building his new demining machine in the same way he built his last one: by himself, in his own time and with a small amount of money. "It would be nice to have a big budget," said Christ. "But doing it with just a little money, you get to see if your heart is in it. You can't just go down to a shop and buy parts for it. That's what creates innovation. That's how I've always built things."

The budget for the new machine is $20,000, and to complete it for half of what he spent on the first version, Christ has hammered out a shoestring construction strategy. "How will I start? In prayer. Then I'll go to the scrap yard. In Chicago we have so much industrial scrap. You can buy the pieces for one-tenth the cost. I'll load up my truck with stuff and cut, weld and fabricate it in my workshop."

If all goes to plan, the new machine will be two-and-a-half metres long by one-and-a-half metres wide, far smaller than its burly predecessor. It will also be remote-controlled, making it safer to operate. Instead of dropping a weight with an electromagnet, it will have a 600-kilogram weight attached to a hammer system. Finally, it will be powered by compressed air.
"The machine will work on compressed air instead of really high-powered motors and hydraulic systems," said Christ. "It'll keep the costs down because when the engine's running it stores the energy."

Christ hopes to finish the new machine in December and will present it to the Cambodian Mine Action Centre. His ultimate goal is to work with Aki Ra, curator of the land mine museum, and start producing the machine in Cambodia, providing manufacturing and demining jobs for disabled Cambodians.

The Lake Clinic launches improved medical boat

The TLC-1, aka the Charming Duckling. Supplied

Written by KYLE SHERER
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Floating Siem Reap-based medical facility provides health care services to hundreds of Cambodians in floating villages during the rainy season

JON Morgan of Siem Reap-based The Lake Clinic brought the floating health care centre -cum-boat TLC-1 back to the Tonle Sap on April 30 for a test run after giving it a makeover and a nose job at the Sweline boat yard in Phnom Penh.

Low and stagnant waters limited the boat's performance, but when the water levels rise it will provide medical treatment to people in the floating villages who are so isolated that Morgan said many have never seen a doctor.

The boat became fully operational last October and treated 914 people in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces before the year's end.

The crew dubbed the boat the Charming Duckling, but it has since undergone a major metamorphosis.

"We've modified it as much as the boat would allow," said "Captain" Morgan.

The first priority was reshaping the bow of the boat, which produced a rough ride in the turbulent waters of the Great Lake.

"Living on the lake last year with storms and metre-high waves, we saw the benefits of a more traditional configuration that splits waves instead of pounding them. So we gave her a nose job. The new bow also gets her close to the riverbank and allows easier loading."

Another major change was adding skegs to the bottom of the boat, a type of keel that will make it more stable.

"The boat has a flat bottom, so it can go through shallow water. But it's susceptible to being pushed. Skegs provide the boat with the ability to track a straight line."

But even with the improvements, navigating the Tonle Sap is a challenging and unpredictable endeavour.

"[The] Tonle Sap is a very dynamic environment. It rises 6 to 8 metres each year as the glaciers melt in Nepal and flow through the Mekong River, reversing its direction. A lot of people think it's the rainy season that fills the lake but it's actually the glaciers," Morgan said.

The erratic behaviour of the lake was demonstrated in this year's test run that, due to conditions on the water, was more of a test crawl.

"In Phnom Penh, the water was beginning to flow up the river, but there wasn't any flow closer to the lake. The new ship didn't have much of a chance to show us how she handled because the prop was buried in the mud for 75 kilometres."

Consequently, a trip that takes five to six hours when the water levels are high took the crew 12 hours and forced them to travel at a measly 3 kilometres per hour.

Despite the unglamorous start, Morgan predicts a good season. He said The Lake Clinic is about to sign a deal with the Ministry of Health that will make it easier to reach agreements with provincial health departments, and he is already designing a second, better boat.

"It's on the drawing board. It'll be larger, faster and maybe even better in shallow waters than the current vessel."

Permaculture hits Siem Reap at orphan-run Harmony Farm

Sian Vannak and Hoeuy Han at Harmony Farm

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 14 May 2009

TWO young Cambodians, Sian Vannak and Hoeuy Han, hope to transform agriculture in Siem Reap through permaculture, a system that emulates relationships found in nature to maximise organic agricultural yield while minimising the use of resources, funds and human labour.

They formed the Cambodian Children Rural Development Organisation in August 2007 to create a self-sustaining homestead for rural orphans.

With money from sponsors, they purchased a 90-metre-by-125-metre plot of land across the road from Beng Mealea temple, and named it Harmony Farm.

They are designing the farm according to the principles of permaculture.

"I grew up in the orphanage," Sian Vannak said. "There are many poor children in the countryside, but the orphanages are in town. I want to teach the children from the countryside to help themselves."

The pair have built a prototype of their future farm in the backyard of the orphanage and school.

In covered trays they experiment with fruit tree saplings to determine which species are hardy enough for the farm's rocky soil.

Nearby, they compost rainwater, cow manure and human urine in a large cistern to create nutrient-rich, sprayable fertiliser for the lettuce and soup vegetables growing in compact plots.

Lemon verbena and lemongrass are scattered throughout to serve as insect deterrents and soup ingredients, fulfilling the principle that garden elements should "stack" multiple functions.

Next week, they begin construction on a compost toilet designed by Sian Vannak, which filters human waste into useful fertiliser.

The pair learned about permaculture last December in a course at Siem Reap's Singing Tree Cafe, and efforts are under way to host another course next December.

Siem Reap Scene...

The Blue Chilli Drag Revue

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Centre for Khmer Studies is receiving a collection of roughly 800 books and government documents belonging to Leonard Overton, a US diplomat who worked in Saigon and Phnom Penh during the 1950s and '60s. The Overton collection is expected to arrive later this month and will contain official material from Cambodia's French colonial period.

The collection will be the latest addition to the centre's library, which director of operations Michael Sullivan says is the country's largest publicly accessible library outside of Phnom Penh. A new library building is under construction and is scheduled to open in December.

The gay-friendly Golden Banana Resort launched last Saturday with a daylong party that began with a traditional Buddhist blessing and ended with a one-hour cabaret show by the Blue Chilli Drag Revue. The dancers hailed from the Blue Chilli club in Phnom Penh and performed to drag classics from Liza Minnelli and Dreamgirls.

General manager Dirk de Graaff said the Golden Banana Resort is aimed at independent travellers and hopes that by targeting a niche market the resort will more easily weather the global financial downturn.

De Graaff said the crowd reaction to the Blue Chilli Drag Revue was so positive he is considering turning the party into a regular feature on the Siem Reap social calendar.

The show was also a buildup to the five-day Cambodian Pride Festival in Phnom Penh this week.

The newest downtown sector in Siem Reap to turn trendy is Alley West, running off The Passage near Pub Street.

Until recently it's been a fairly drab, neglected strip but has become home to Elizabeth Kiester's Wanderlust fashion store, the innovative seafood restaurant Samot and the Sports Bar.

But now it's starting to buzz with the opening on the weekend of the ultra-smart Picasso wine and tapas bar. This is the latest venture by Thilo Krueger, proprietor of Tell Restaurant.

A neighbouring venture is the new Poetry store, co-owned by artists and designers Loven Ramos and Don Protasio.

This quirky store stocks jewellery, clothing and stuff best referred to as, well, stuff. This includes designer sketch pads, poetry in a box and individually designed ceramics billed as "Urban stories of love and redemption on ceramics to bring out the Barbara Cartland in you".

This store harbours an obsession with tuk-tuks.They feature on the cover of the designer sketch pads, are part of a T-shirt line and are emblazoned on hand-held fans.

Co-owner Protasio said raising the tuk-tuk to an art form is part of the store's philosophy of giving a different take on something Cambodian.

The Angkor Hospital for Children is considering taking a controversial step and charging outpatients a US$2 fee, a source at the hospital said.

This measure has been brought about by a drop in donor revenue, which is afflicting many NGOs.

The hospital's director has reportedly sent a letter suggesting the introduction of fees to the board in the US, but many staff are resisting the move because they say part of the hospital's mandate is that it has from day 1 been a free hospital.

There is also a fear that fees will drive patients to Siem Reap's other free children's hospital, Kantha Bopha, and there is fierce, bitter rivalry between the two institutions.

Hospital sources also report that there is a move to make all hospital staff pay an obligatory "donation" from their monthly salary to help fund the hospital.

Geoffrey Whitty, owner of Fine Star Wines, organised another of his renowned Siem Reap community functions on Saturday night at the new Sojourn Boutique Villas complex, which is just far enough from Siem Reap's town centre to be considered in the country.

The night featured a fashion show by Eric Raisina, and several of the models were wives of hotel general managers in attendance.Raisina also showed video clips of his African fashion shows.

Wine tasting was another feature of the night, and some of the wines sampled were from The Winery of Good Hope in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Good Hope's owner and winemaker, Alex Dale, also attended and gave a talk.

Fancy a $32.50 plus tax hamburger? Raffles Grand Hotel is holding a hamburger promotion at its Cafe D'Angkor and Elephant Bar until May 31.

The Giant Texas 32-buck-plus burger is billed as the "largest burger in town", and at that price it ought to be. The main ingredient is 400 grams of ground wagyu beef.

Another budget-busting burger is the salmon teriyaki model, with cole slaw, pickles and chips at a mere $30.50 plus tax.

The cheapest item is the $10 "old fashioned hamburger".

Meanwhile, Cambodian BBQ and Banana Leaf are staging a "which one is which" game as part of a promotion called the Dhabu Amazing Race, organised by Exotissimo Travel.

The race kicked off Wednesday and will continue on Saturday with 10 teams of seven people competing. On the final day, Tuesday, 90 people will hopefully contest.

Hindu myths at Angkor

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Dave Perkes
Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Hindu re-creation story of a tug-of-war between gods and demons, pulling a giant snake wrapped around a mountain and rotating a turtle to churn the ocean into milk, is hard for many Westerners to visualise or understand. In simple terms, the Hindu gods (Asuras) wanted to re-create the universe to extract the nectar of immortality. They used the mountain (Mandara) as a churning tool with the giant underwater serpent (Vasuki) as the churning rope. The gods took the tail end and the demons (Devas) the head. The serpent began to vomit venom that threatened to poison the ocean. The god Vishnu took the poison, which turned his throat blue. Eventually, the mountain began to sink under pressure. Vishnu reincarnated himself as a giant turtle to support the pivot and complete the process, which took 1,000 years. The East Gallery of Angkor Wat, The Sea of Milk or Eternity, depicts the serpent, turtle and mountain with the sea life being destroyed by the whirlpool caused by this action. Vishnu with his sword stands imposingly on top. The reliefs are halfway through a two-year renovation process scheduled for completion by 2010.

600 workers at Camko City protest over pay

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A worker continues construction Wednesday at Camko City after a protest the previous day.

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Subcontractor misses deadlines to complete payment of monthly wages prompting strike action and protest

SIX hundred construction workers at Phnom Penh's Camko City satellite city held a protest over unpaid wages Tuesday, saying they would cease working until their wages were fully paid.

When the workers went to receive their monthly wages on April 25 from Hanil Engineering and Construction - the company contracted to build Camko City - they were turned back and told they would receive payment on April 30, a construction worker said. The labourers returned on the 30th but only received half their wages. After not receiving the remainder of their payment on Monday, the workers protested and went on strike, he said.

"It was not a big violent protest ... but some of us threw rocks to the building, and most of us expressed anger," said Heng Pov, 30, who has been a construction worker at Camko City for about year. "The company lied to us again and again about our salary."

Kheng Ser, assistant to the vice president of Camko City, said the strike had nothing to do with the developer, but was a matter that needed to be resolved by the subcontractor, Hanil Engineering and Construction.

"We as the developer are not in charge of paying workers," he said.

The development, slated to cost around US$2 billion, is scheduled to be finished on time in 2018, said Kheng Ser.

Hanil Engineering and Construction was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

The construction company, according to workers, says they will pay everybody on Wednesday.

Until then, work at the Camko City site is inching forward, but on Wednesday there was no evidence of continued protest.

About 1,000 labourers work at the Camko City site, and the roughly 400 workers who did receive their full salaries appeared to be back at work on Wednesday.

But many of the unpaid workers are staying home until the 20th, Heng Pov said, slowing construction in some areas.

"If, on May 20, we don't get payment then we will strike again," he said.

The construction workers are paid about US$4 a day, and Heng Pov said that if they were paid on time, they would all be happy to work on the project until completion.

Sok Sovandeith, president of the Cambodia National Federation of Building and Woodworkers, said that the workers should receive timely payment or they would go hungry.

"If they are not paid for a week, they will have nothing to eat for a week as well," said Sok Sovandeith.

He believes that, as a major international company, Korea-based Hanil Construction and Engineering wants to pay the workers on time, but the process is often slowed by international bureaucracy and poor communication with subcontractors.

"The company does not want to do that. They want to pay them faster, but money is slow," he said.

Earlier this year, a few hundred workers also went on strike to demand that their salary be paid on time, and once payment was settled, work continued.

Despite the strikes, there is no union or labour leader emerging amongst the workers, Heng Pov said.

New buoys on Mekong to help boost trade

Written by Kay Kimsong
Thursday, 14 May 2009

THE first in a series of floating navigational aids, aimed at improving the safety of river travel and enhancing Cambodia's potential for domestic and international trade, is to be launched Thursday on the Mekong, said Mom Sibon, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.

In total, 57 buoys will be released along the 100-kilometre stretch of the Mekong between Kampong Cham and Phnom Penh.
"It's important to have buoys, signs, and lights along the waterways because ... some areas of the Mekong are deep and some are shallow," Mom Sibon said.

By making river transit easier, the navigation aids will cut transport costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a Mekong River Commission (MRC) statement said.

"Improving the safety of navigation on this river is vital for the economic development of our country," said Tram Iv Tek, the Minister of Public Works and Transport.

The MRC, which helps Mekong basin countries manage their water resources, says that currently the river is difficult to navigate. Changes in sedimentation, river depth, water flow and seasonal variations raise the cost of river transit.

"By using rivers in a more efficient manner, export potential can improve, and this will, in turn, help Cambodia achieve its poverty alleviation goals," said Hiek Phirun, the navigation program coordinator at the MRC.

In the first quarter, river transit sunk 22 percent compared to the same period last year.

A royal life in pictures

Written by Post Staff
Thursday, 14 May 2009

King Norodom Sihamoni was born May 14, 1953, and was named after his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, and mother, Queen Norodom Monineath

King has royal pedigree in arts

King Norodom Sihamoni takes to the stage to congratulate disabled Chinese artists at Chaktomuk Conference Hall in Phnom Penh on January 17, 2008.

Written by Nathan Green
Thursday, 14 May 2009

While his father was synonymous with the arts and politics, King Norodom Sihamoni leaves the politics to his brothers to focus on his born love for classical dance and Khmer culture

Unlike his brothers, who were active in Cambodia's royalist Funcinpec party and have waged protracted power struggles with the current premier, King Norodom Sihamoni has dedicated most of his life to the arts, especially classical dance.

In this regard, he has taken after his father. While King Norodom Sihanouk was certainly no shrinking violet when it came to Machiavellian manoeuvring, arguably his greatest positive legacy was the flowering of the arts under his patronage in post-independence Cambodia.

He was also responsible for introducing his son, then Prince Norodom Sihamoni, to the arts, even collaborating with him on The Little Prince, which was shot by the King in Cambodia when the Prince was 14. Filmed among Angkor's temples, the 18th- century story was about the just reign of a young orphaned prince over a small kingdom and his struggles against his uncle's evil wife.

By that stage, the young Prince had already moved a long way down the road to a life in arts, according to Julio A Jeldres, Sihanouk's official biographer.

Czech upbringing
While he was introduced to art by his father at an early age, it was his experiences in Prague, where he was sent by his father at age 6, that arguably led him to favour performance arts.

The Ministry of Education of what was then Czechoslovakia, placed a tutor, Karel Polak, at the young prince's service. One of his duties was to escort the young prince to the theatre, opera and films. The language barrier meant the young Prince initially warmed to ballet, finding the physicality of the art form easier to grasp than the strange new language he would eventually come to master.

In December 1962, Polak reported that the prince's scope of interests had widened proportionally with the improvement of his Czech language skills, Jeldres told the Post by email. "Initially, he was interested only in ballet, but now he has added film and opera to his favourites. Sometimes he invents various plots that he can even express in Czech, or by dance and music," Polak wrote to Sihamoni's parents.

According to a school report reproduced in the book Royal Ties, which was published in English by the Czech government in 2006, Sihamoni had, for his age, a "highly superior knowledge of music, especially opera, and in the field of literature, dramatic arts and film".

As a student, then-Prince Sihamoni portrayed the title character in the Tchaikovsky ballet The Nutcracker Suite at the Prague National Theatre. In 1975, aged 22, he graduated from the Czech Academy of Performing Arts, where he wrote a thesis titled "Utilising European Classical Dance in the Cambodian Dance Culture".

He then left for North Korea for a year of cinema studies, which was interrupted by a trip to visit his parents in Cambodia in October 1975 following the Khmer Rouge uprising. Forced to work in the fields for a month, he was allowed to return to Pyongyang, but on his next visit the following year he was detained under house arrest alongside his parents.

This interrupted his plan to enrol in doctoral studies in ballet or theatre history at Charles University, while political events in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s also prevented his return after Cambodia's emancipation from the Khmer Rouge.

Instead, Prince Sihamoni taught and danced in France following the fall of the Khmer Rouge, spending the years from 1981 to 2000 at the Marius Petipa conservatory, the Gabriel Faure conservatory and the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart conservatory in Paris. In the late 1980s, he created his own dance company, Deva, which performed in France, China and North Korea, and produced two dance films, titled Dream and Four Seasons.

In 1993 he became Cambodia's ambassador to UNESCO, where he was involved in the international efforts to protect and preserve Angkor Wat and other Khmer temples in Cambodia. He also drew the world's attention to the traffic in stone antiquities from Angkor Wat and promoted exhibitions of Khmer art outside Cambodia and tours of the Royal Ballet to France and other countries.

He relinquished the position upon his 2004 coronation but his ties to the organisation continued. In 2006, UNESCO selected him to deliver the message for International Dance Day, an honor previously bestowed on dance greats like US choreographers Robert Joffrey and Merce Cunningham.

Today, says Jeldres, King Sihamoni takes a keen interest in Cambodian art, personally attending events if his schedule allows, or sending a senior member of the royal family.

However, because the King reigns and does not rule, much depends on the willingness of the royal government to fund the arts.

Constitutional limits make King's role hard to sell to young Khmers

Students wait for King Sihamoni to pass on Independence Day, 2007.

Written by Hay Phirum and Keo Kounila
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Civil war may have temporarily banished the monarchy from Cambodia, but the founding document of the modern Kingdom is the biggest threat today to the King’s future relevance

Just as two decades of civil war in Cambodia disrupted the royal line itself, it also broke a link between generations when it comes to respect and love for the royal family.

Though its borders have always shifted, Cambodia had been a kingdom for hundreds of years when then-prime minister Lon Nol abolished the monarchy and established the Khmer Republic in 1970.

While deposed King Norodom Sihanouk remained ever-present in Cambodian politics during the two decades of civil war that followed, on his return as King in 1993 he found his power greatly diminshed by the new Constitution.

King Norodom Sihamoni inherited this diminished role for the monarchy on his coronation as King in October 2004.

Ya Eem Chea, a 23-year-old senior in banking and finance at the Royal University of Law and Economics, said Constitutional limits on the King's power were regrettable.

"The King and the Royal family should be more involved in economic, social and religious matters in the country, but they cannot go against the Constitution at all," she said.

She pointed out the important role the monarchy had always played in shaping Cambodia. Retired King Norodom Sihanouk in particular had been an indefatigable figure during his reign, she said, achieving many things for Cambodia, including independence from France in 1953.

Due in part to these constitutional limits, while older Cambodians continue to hold the Cambodian Royal family in high esteem, many young Cambodians question the royalty's relevance, said Tha Piseth, a media studies sophomore at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. "Young people of my age do not really care or know about the King or his family because they do not know the history of Cambodia very well," he said.

The king ... should be more involved in economic, social and religious matters.

But the 20-year-old said the King and the Royal family still had a huge role to play in shaping the country's future and helping boost its economy, culture, traditions and politics.

Lyda Chea, a 22-year-old English-language student at the Institute of Foreign Languages, said that as the royalty became less active, there was a danger they would be forgotten entirely.

"If they're becoming increasingly less active, we can forget if there's a king here," she said. "I am not sure if there is another king in line for the future ... and every Cambodian like me is concerned that without the King, the country could run into chaos."

Educating the young
Professor Sambo Manara, a teacher of Cambodian history at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, blamed the education system for what he said is a diminishing respect for the King and Royal family among young Cambodians.

"From the past until now, Cambodian people have always given a high value to the king because many good things came from kings," he said.

Although the King today does not hold executive power like the monarchs in the past, he said, he still has an important role as protector of the Cambodian people.

"To Cambodians, having a king is like having a big umbrella,"he said.

"We don't want to predict that Cambodia will not have a king. The concept of having a king is very important for Cambodia because his presence aids in its development. "

When Sihamoni became King

Retired King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath prepare to bath their son during his coronation ceremony.

Words of wisdom From King father to the New King

During his coronation address, King Sihamoni shared the advice he received from his father, King Norodom Sihanouk, when he was elected King. The following is an extract: "But, my son, what you should bear in mind above everything else is this: to be a pure patriot you must always be "clean", that is to say uncorrupted. In all that you do, you must only think of the higher and vital interests of the Homeland, the Nation and the people.

You must banish favouritism and injustice, and prevent members of the family, courtiers and flatterers from using you for their own interests. You must always give priority to the poorer classes, those who suffer and truly deserve assistance. And last but not least, you must realise that to be a great King, you must be very humble before the People. As a King, one is never the master of the Country, the Nation and the People. One is – and always will be – their SERVANT in all circumstances."

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Liam Cochrane
Thursday, 14 May 2009

Norodom Sihamoni was crowned King of Cambodia in a three-day ceremony that began on October 28, 2004. The Phnom Penh Post’s coverage of the historic occasion is reprinted below

Newly crowned King Norodom Sihamoni has received a warm reception during his first Royal visit to the countryside, with farmers flocking to see and touch the little-known monarch just days after he ascended the throne in a spectacular and historic three-day coronation ceremony.

King Sihamoni travelled to Kampong Speu province on November 3, wasting no time in fulfilling promises to serve the nation faithfully and spend a few days of each week visiting people outside the capital.

His symbolic rite of passage into the Kingdom's highest office began on October 28, coinciding with the full moon. Brahmanic prayers were uttered to ask the tevadas, or angels, to bless the new king and the ascension process.

Early the following morning, Sihamoni's parents, retired King Norodom Sihanouk and Queen Monineath, bathed him with water taken from Phnom Kulen in Siem Reap province.

Queen Monineath kissed the new King on his shaved head, and Sihanouk was visibly delighted during the bathing ritual, described as "touching" and "very spiritual" by onlookers.

In the afternoon of October 29, Sihamoni was carried through the grounds of the Royal Palace atop a golden palanquin in a colorful procession of silk-clad guards with spears, nine Brahman bakus, 52 Buddhist monks and women carrying miniature trees painted silver to offer to the king.

With the lawns and sculptured hedges carefully trimmed and yellow flowers abundant, the grounds of the palace provided a picturesque backdrop for the regal parade.

As a brass band played, the King passed by a military honour guard to reach the Tevea Venichhay hall, where he walked up the red-carpeted steps followed by his entourage, who carried religious statues, scrolls, animal horns and a cat.

Inside, top government officials including King Sihamoni's half-brother Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Prime Minister Hun Sen respectfully greeted Sihamoni, who wore a white jacket embroidered with gold, an orange and green sash, traditional silk pants and black leather shoes. In the background, traditional Khmer music was played on xylophones, gongs and stringed instruments.

During some of the long chanting of Buddhist prayers, Sihamoni appeared to be joining in, a throwback to his days as a Buddhist monk. His demeanor was sombre and his movements slow, deliberate and almost ballet-like.

After the entrance of heads of foreign diplomatic missions in dark suits or traditional costume, Sihamoni returned for the Brahmanic part of the ritual, lighting a candle before one of the nine bakus placed a leaf from an orange tree behind his right ear.

In a break with tradition, King Sihamoni did not sit upon the elevated throne, said to represent Mount Meru, and did not wear the gold-and-diamond crown or golden slippers that sat among the Royal regalia beside him.

The Royal House will remain a transparent house ... and for me there will never be an ivory tower.

Kong Som Ol, minister of the Royal Palace, proclaimed every aspect of the Kingdom as belonging to Sihamoni as he read from two scrolls and British Ambassador Stephen Bridges paid his respects to the new King.

King Sihamoni addressed the dignitaries as journalists clambered to listen and take photographs through the windows of the hall. "As from this happy and solemn occasion, I shall devote my body and soul to the services of the people and the nation, pursuing the exceptional work accomplished by my august father, grandfather and great grandfather," said King Sihamoni.

As the speech ended, the haunting moan of trumpeted conch shells sounded three times, a drum was struck and the first boom of a fireworks display rang out from the Chroy Changvar side of the river.

With explosions of color lighting up the twilight, King Sihamoni walked slowly from the hall to the Chanchaya Pavillion on the palace's eastern wall for a reception with diplomats, government officials and members of the Royal family.

Journalists from as far afield as Moscow and Holland were impressed with the tradition-steeped rituals of the ceremony, and longtime Cambodian watchers were grateful for a colorful, good news story from a country known for war and tragedy.

On Saturday, October 30, thousands of schoolchildren and soldiers were bussed to the square in front of the palace where they were joined by other citizens eager to see their King's first public address to his people.

Thousands of small Cambodian flags were strung from lampposts outside the palace, streets were cleaned, gutters whitewashed and gardens tended, giving Phnom Penh a much-needed facelift. At night, shrubs in the Hun Sen Park gardens glimmered with decorative lights.

King Sihamoni did a lap around the square in a convertible Mercedes as crowds cheered "cheyo". Afterwards, he took his place at a balcony in front of the palace.

His Majesty was welcomed by speeches from Senate President Chea Sim, Norodom Ranariddh, president of the National Assembly, and Hun Sen.

There was a telling moment when Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema welcomed "King Norodom Sihanouk" before quickly correcting himself, "Er, Sihamoni" - showing that even top officials are still getting used to the change.

King Sihamoni's speech quoted his father at length, indicating his continuing influence.

"I thank you with all of my heart for having come so joyfully and in such great numbers to express your sympathy and affectionate consideration," said King Sihamoni.

"My august father, at the very moment of my election as King of Cambodia by the highly respected Throne Council, said to me:

"My son, you greatly fear having to take on a responsibility that seems too heavy for you who lack experience as a servant of the homeland, the nation and the people. But it is by being in contact with the people and the realities of the country that one learns how to become more and more capable of serving, defending and developing Cambodia and the Cambodian nation'."

Sihanouk told his son that a king must be "uncorrupted" and "humble" and Sihamoni pledged to follow his father's guidance.

"My respected and beloved compatriots, I will always be your faithful and devoted servant. I will never live apart from the beloved people."

"The Royal House will remain a transparent house ... and for me there will never be an ivory tower. Every week I will devote several days to visiting our towns, our countryside and our provinces, and to serving you," Sihamoni promised.

The new King and other dignitaries released white doves and balloons from the crowd floated into the sky, bringing the address to a close.