Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Khmer Rouge survivor describes torture at S-21

By SOPHENG CHEANG Associated Press Writer

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - One of three living survivors from the Khmer Rouge's main torture center testified Tuesday that he endured beatings, electric shocks and had his toenails pulled out but was spared execution because he knew how to fix cars.

Weeping as he spoke, 79-year-old Chum Mey said he cries every night and any mention of the Khmer Rouge reminds him of his wife and baby - both killed under the regime whose 1970s rule of Cambodia left an estimated 1.7 million people dead.

Three decades after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, a U.N.-backed tribunal is piecing together Cambodia's dark past with the trial of Kaing Guek Eav - better known as Duch, who headed the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh between 1975-1979.

Duch sat impassively and listened as Chum Mey spoke.

"I was beaten for 12 days and nights. I was beaten day and night. I could hardly walk," said Chum Mey, who was arrested in early 1975 and remained jailed until Vietnamese troops ousted the Khmer Rouge regime and liberated the prison inmates in January 1979.

First he was hit with sticks, then subjected to a week of torture with live electrical wires.

Like most prisoners at S-21, Chum Mey was forced to make confessions that suited the regime's radical communist perspective. Although most apparently were innocent, many confessed to being spies for the CIA, Russia's KGB or Vietnam.

"I kept responding that I didn't know anything about the CIA and KGB, but they used a pliers and twisted off my toenail," he said. After extracting one big toenail, torturers shifted to the other foot. "They tried to twist the other one off with the pliers but the nail didn't come out so they pulled it out with their hands."

"I confessed that I had joined the CIA and KGB but it was a lie. I said it because I was so badly beaten," he said.

Some 16,000 men, women and children were detained and tortured at S-21 before being sent for execution at the "Killing Fields" on the outskirts of the capital where thousands were killed and their bodies dumped. Chum Mey is thought to be one of only seven survivors, and one of three still alive today.

Chum Mey's torture stopped once his captors realized he had a useful skill. He was put to work fixing his jailers' cars, tractors, sewing machines and typewriters.

"When I was tortured, I no longer felt like a human being. I felt like an animal," he said. Prisoners were kept shackled in cramped cells, and ate, slept and relieved themselves in the same spot.

A fellow survivor, Vann Nath, 63, testified Monday that he ate his meager meals - three teaspoons of porridge twice a day - next to corpses and was so hungry that he considered eating human flesh. Vann Nath escaped execution because he was an artist who took the job of painting portraits of the Khmer Rouge's late leader, Pol Pot.

Duch is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. Senior leaders Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Ieng Sary's wife, Ieng Thirith, are all detained and likely to face trial in the next year or two.

Duch has previously testified that being sent to S-21 was tantamount to a death sentence and that he was only following orders to save his own life. He is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and murder.

Second Khmer Rouge victim talks

Chum Mey cried as he told the tribunal about how he was tortured

BBC News

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The second of three living survivors from the Tuol Sleng detention centre run by the Khmer Rouge has told a Cambodia tribunal how he was tortured.

Former mechanic Chum Mey, 63, told the United Nations-backed war crimes court that his toenails were torn out and he was subjected to electric shocks.

He said he was tortured repeatedly for 12 days and nights.

His testimony follows that of another survivor, the painter Van Nath, in the trial of prison director Comrade Duch.

Chum Mey told the tribunal he had been working at a sewing machine factory in 1978 when he was brought to Tuol Sleng to be tortured on suspicion of espionage.

"While I was walking inside I said (to a guard), 'Brother, please look after my family.' Then the person kicked me on to the ground," he said, adding the man swore at him and told him he would be "smashed".

Chum Mey told judges he was photographed, stripped and handcuffed before being taken to his interrogators.

"They asked me to tell them the truth - how many of us joined the KGB and CIA," Chum Mey said, referring to the Soviet and United States intelligence agencies.

"I told them I did not know any CIA or KGB. Truly, I did not know those terms."

"I kept responding that I didn't know anything about the CIA and KGB, but they used a pliers and twisted off my toenail," he said.

"I confessed that I had joined the CIA and KGB but it was a lie. I said it because I was so badly beaten."

Chum Mey's torture stopped once his captors realised he was able to fix cars - and they put him to work mending machinery.

Van Nath

On Monday, fellow survivor Van Nath described how hunger had driven him to eat insects, and said he had also eaten the food beside corpses of starved fellow prisoners.

About 15,000 people were detained at Tuol Sleng in the late 1970s, but only seven are thought to have survived - three of whom are still alive today.

The tribunal has already heard plenty from Comrade Duch himself - as well as a number of expert witnesses.

"The conditions were so inhumane and the food was so little," Van Nath told the tribunal, as he broke down in tears. "I even thought eating human flesh would be a good meal."

Comrade Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, is accused of overseeing the torture and extermination of prisoners at the jail.

Earlier in his trial, the 66-year-old admitted responsibility for his role as governor of the jail, and begged forgiveness from his victims.

But he also insisted that he did not hold a senior role in the regime, and that he had had little choice but to work there.

Four other former Khmer Rouge leaders are currently in detention at the court, and are expected to face trial in 2010.

Vann Nath, first survivor to testify, shares his hope for justice but interrogation misses the mark

Phnom Penh (Cambodia). 09/05/2001: Vann Nath during the shooting of “S-21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine” by Rithy Panh ©John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

Only one day, as scheduled by the Trial Chamber, to hear a crucial witness such as painter Vann Nath, whose life was spared in the death antechamber only thanks to the portraits of Pol Pot he was asked to make… One may have wondered whether that would be enough. However, the hearing on Monday June 29th was adjourned earlier than planned. The first survivor of S-21 called to testify since the start of the trial on March 30th recounted his experience with dignity, simplicity and precision, without ever resorting to dramatic effects. But the judges and the parties were often short of questions, most of which were off the mark.

A few preliminaries…
Before hearing the highly-anticipated witness, president Nil Nonn announced the Trial Chamber’s decision to withdraw from the witness list a number of people originally scheduled to testify. For instance, Nic Dunlop, the photographer who had discovered Duch and penned “The Lost Executioner”, will not appear in court, nor will “KW06” and other similarly code-named witnesses. The judge explained the aim was to carry out a “speedy trial” and avoid redundant testimonies.

As for the theory of joint criminal enterprise, which the co-Prosecutors wish to apply in this trial, the Chamber was considering to make a decision on this mode of responsibility “at the same time as the judgment on the merits.”

Incomprehension over the arrest
Centre stage for Vann Nath, 63 years old and seriously weakened by illness. Deep voice, half-closed eyes, and natural nobility. His answers were well-articulated, precise and honest. Like those he offers to the young Cambodian generation, until now severed from the memory of the Khmer Rouge tragedy, in his tireless work to preserve and transmit history. He recounted his story, the one he told in the book “A Cambodian Prison Portrait – One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21”. On December 30th 1977, he was arrested by the Angkar, the organisation concealing the Communist Party of Kampuchea, while he worked in the rice fields in North-West Cambodia. Summoned under a false pretext, he ended up being subjected to a tough interrogation and accused of being a “traitor.” He turned silent for a moment, controlling his emotion, before resuming his story.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 29/06/2009: Vann Nath, survivor of S-21, the detention and torture centre directed by Duch, testified in the latter’s trial ©Stéphanie Gée

The Battambang native did not understand what fault he may have committed. His interrogators suggested he must be guilty. “Try and remember because the Angkar never makes a mistake when it arrests someone,” he recalled being told. He was led to a room where he discovered a whole array of torture instruments – from plastic bags to pliers – and a blood-stained chair. He was inflicted electroshocks until he fainted and was reanimated by having water splashed at him. He was then asked to give the names of his “accomplices.” Back then, he feared imminent death. Deprived of food, he and others were taken by truck to an unknown destination. On arrival, they were taken out of the truck, blindfolded and tied together around their necks with the same rope. They barely managed to stand. “The guards around us laughed and kicked us. I did not understand what I could have done, what I was accused of.”

In S-21, Vann Nath lost his humanity
Vann Nath talked about the “inhumane” conditions imposed on the prisoners in S-21, the fateful destination of this trip. Only a couple of spoonfuls of rice gruel twice a day, very strict rules for prisoners, such as the prohibition to talk, to make any noise, to do anything, even move, without being authorised to do so by the guards. “I lost my humanity there… It was a relationship you can only imagine between humans and animals,” the painter said gravely. And when the prisoners were ordered to do exercise while their feet were shackled to the same beams, they did so in a state of unimaginable weakness and with the energy of despair. “We had to keep jumping until the guards ordered us to stop.” Washing consisted in guards splashing fifteen prisoners at once with a hose for five minutes. “So, we never really washed and we suffered all kinds of skin diseases, while the floor remained wet after the shower…” Wracked by hunger, he recounted, those who managed to catch insects fallen off the ceiling gulped them down, unbeknownst to the guards. Death was constantly lurking. “We sometimes ate our meals next to prisoners who had already died. It didn’t do anything to us because we were reduced to an animal state.”

Vann Nath turned into a portrait-maker for Pol Pot
After a month of this treatment, he was called to the ground floor. There, “Brother of the East”, the name Duch used to hide his identity – something he realised after the Democratic Kampuchea regime fell – told him the Angkar needed a portrait. He showed him a photograph of a person he did not know and who was none other than Pol Pot. For the first time since he was interned, he was authorised to eat rice. “My jaw ached so much I could barely chew.” The first portrait he made was a failure. He requested to paint in colours, as he did not master black and white. He realized it would be his last chance, but he passed the second test and therefore painted until early January 1979, when the regime fell.

When the president incongruously asked him how he took out his clothes with his legs shackled, Vann Nath brought his foot close to his face, in sight of everyone, and made a demonstration, as if he had done that gesture on the very eve. The old painter confirmed that he was not interrogated in S-21. But he heard, on a daily basis, the cries and screams that came from the building.

By being posted in the artists’ workshop working for the glory of the regime, located within S-21, Vann Nath enjoyed better detention conditions. Better food, right to sleep on a mat without being chained… Very often, or even everyday, Duch came to inspect the workshop. “Each time he came in, we had to go and stand in a corner and wait for his instructions. We had to fear and respect him as the most eminent Angkar person in the prison.” If an artist did not work well, he ended up subject to the whims of the guards who would correct him.

Paintings to depict the horror
Vann Nath answered the questions soberly, while, a few meters away, the accused remained impassive. Drawings and paintings by the witness were shown on the screen, illustrating the detention conditions and acts of torture inflicted upon the prisoners, as he saw them, as they were reported to him, or sometimes, as he imagined them. Vann Nath commented the images, the ones after the others. He could have been usefully provided with a rule to allow him to point out the details better. Here, a scene of suffocation by immersion into water, as a prisoner who suffered the experience described it to him; there, a naked woman whose “female attributes” were taken away, with pliers on her nipples, and an interrogator near her taking insects, millipedes, out of a box. “A prisoner, a carpenter, told me he had been asked to feed the insects,” the witness reported. Another picture was of a man whose nails were being ripped off. The man, who later became the director of the Tuol Sleng Museum created in the very premises of S-21, and since deceased, had asked Vann Nath to paint this torture scene, which he had experienced. He also immortalised with his brushes the picture of a man carried away like an animal, hands and feet tied to a stick, because he could no longer walk. A scene that “shocked” him, as the blindfolded man was still alive.

The day when Phnom Penh was captured by the Vietnamese troops, they were a dozen to be ordered to leave the premises. On January 10th, Vann Nath decided to go back, despite the fear of being killed by the Vietnamese. When he arrived in the deserted capital, he was welcomed by “friendly” Cambodian soldiers accompanying the neighbouring country’s military. When he returned to his home in Battambang, he reunited with his wife, but discovered that their two children had not survived.

Testifying against oblivion
Judge Lavergne then asked him to explain the difficulties encountered after his release from S-21 and the tragic experience he lived there. “The sufferings and the separation I had to endure during the year of detention and for the duration [of the regime] cannot be easily forgiven. I tried though. I tried to forget, but these are memories that still haunt me. You cannot forget. I don’t think I can ever forget what happened to me.”

“As we have seen, you have painted many pictures – you even came back on the site shortly after your release to paint pictures [in S-21]. You have participated to documentaries. You have written a book. Could you tell us why it is important for you to be able to testify?”, judge Lavergne asked him. “I had this thought while I was still detained. I told myself that if I survived and if I was able to leave S-21, I would gather these events to show what happened, so that young people knew the sufferings we went through. […] I wanted those who arrived with me in S-21 not to be forgotten and [I wanted people to know they] had committed no crime that justified their arrest. […] I had to say it. […] That is why I was determined and tried to explain this story to the young and the children, in various programs, so that the young generation knows what happened and so that history does not repeat itself.”

Justice for the dead
“Do you expect anything special from this trial?”, the French judge continued. “From the start, since 1979, I never imagined that one day, I would be able to stand before a tribunal and share my experience for the public and the young people, so that they understand what happened to me. Today, I have the possibility to testify publicly. It is a privilege and I am not asking for anything else. What I wish is something immaterial: it is justice for those who are dead. My only hope is that justice be given. That is what I expect from the Chamber. And I hope that in the end, when the tribunal is finished, justice will have been rendered, that it will be tangible. That is the result I am waiting for.”

The judge then returned to an incident between another painter, Bou Meng, and Duch. Vann Nath recalled that Bou Meng was tortured for a mistake he made, although he did not know which one. He was taken away and only reappeared two weeks later, chained, very pale and with long hair. When he saw him, his heart started beating very fast. Duch asked him to kneel before the others and apologise. Later, he asked if “despicable Meng could still be useful or whether he should be used to make compost.” The painter did not understand the meaning of those last words, which he then took literally. He asked that Meng be forgiven and given a second chance, a request that was heard.

In the afternoon, surprising questions that bore no relevance for the substance of the case were asked to Vann Nath. For instance, judge Ya Sokhan asked him whether he looked at the plate number of the truck that took them to S-21… Alternatively, he was made to repeat what he had already explained.

The painter reported an anecdote, when a member of the interrogators’ unit asked him for some of the cement he was preparing for a Pol Pot sculpture. “I thought it was to plug a crack in a water jar.” But shortly afterwards, he saw a prisoner come back with cement on his head…

In S-21, “Duch controlled everything”
That was all for the judges and the floor went to the co-Prosecutors, who had 30 minutes. Robert Petit made his comeback after being absent from the trial since April 20th. “Did you confess anything [when you were interrogated in Kandal]?”, “Do you recognise the premises on this aerial shot of S-21?”, “Could you tell us in which building you were detained when you arrived in S-21?”, “Where was the artists’ workshop?”, “So, when Duch came to visit you in the workshop, he had to go through the whole compound?” Nath was not quite sure. “Did Duch ever look scared, depressed or anxious to you?” Nath answered: “S-21 was his dominion and he was its chief. I can’t see what he would have been scared of. He controlled everything. His subordinates respected and feared him. I think he was a smart chief and back then, I saw him rather as an efficient director.”

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 29/06/2009: Kar Savuth, co-lawyer for Duch (in the background), during Vann Nath’s testimony at the ECCC ©Stéphanie Gée

Robert Petit then requested if two video clips shot in Tuol Sleng a few days after the fall could be shown – the judges decided that the two items would be added to the case file subject to a review of their relevance and authenticity during the trial. He argued that the witness could help establish the interest of the footage for the Chamber. As the defence issued objections against the videos, saying they were fabricated images, the president recalled, the Chamber decided to postpone to a later date discussion on those items and therefore rejected the request. The co-Prosecutors had no more questions.

Vann Nath saw Duch hit detainees
The civil party co-lawyers had ten minutes for each group. They resumed the interrogation but also missed their target. One of them seemed to discover that Vann Nath made his series of paintings describing scenes in S-21 after the fall of Pol Pot’s regime… The witness consistently answered with honesty, distinguishing clearly the times when he inferred facts, when he reported what he had been told or what he had witnessed, and when he did not know.

Alain Werner, co-lawyer for civil party group 1, returned to Bou Meng’s humiliation, when he returned to the workshop, as Vann Nath described it in his book, and noted an interesting detail: “You wrote that the accused kicked Bou Meng in his head, just in front of you, and Bou Meng collapsed on the floor. Do you remember that?” “Yes, I remember it.” It is a cause for regret that there were not more questions asked during this day on Duch’s attitude in S-21, while the witness used to see him regularly. The Swiss lawyer asked him for the reason why the artists were posted “in a place within S-21, in the middle of the cries of those being tortured” and not outside. But Vann Nath answered he did not know. He confessed that although he was shocked to hear the prisoners’ screams, he ended up getting used to it.

Why Vann Nath did not want to join as a civil party
Kar Savuth, the Cambodian co-lawyer for the accused, tried to get the witness to say it was possible the guards tortured the prisoners without Duch’s knowing. But Vann Nath stated he could not draw such a conclusion based on what he saw. “Did you ever see [the accused] torture a prisoner during your detention?” “Severe torture, no. But he did hit and kick prisoners,” the witness answered.

His international colleague, Marie-Paule Canizares (who was standing for François Roux in his absence), asked Vann Nath to explain why he had not wished to join as a civil party. “People have different goals. As for me, my main concern is to take care of my health. I was afraid I would not be able to come regularly to the trial. Secondly, I think it is not a purely personal issue. This is something that is of interest to all of the Cambodian people. So, I did not want to become a civil party. But if the Chamber wishes to hear me as a witness, I am entirely ready to testify. Also, in general, people who become civil parties ask for reparations. But in my case, I am not asking for any reparation.”

A question of the defence rejected
Then, the lawyer asked the following question to the witness: “Do you think that the position of the accused, who recognises the great majority of the crimes he is accused of as well as the victims’ suffering, can help you and other victims to consider that justice is given, at least partially?” The international co-Prosecutor intervened, observing that “the question may pertain to plea, but is certainly outside of the expertise, knowledge and definitely the relevance of the witness’ testimony” and called the “irrelevant” question to be rejected. The president agreed with Robert Petit and recalled that only “questions related to the facts must be asked.” The defence had no more questions.

Vann Nath was thanked for his participation by the president before the hearing was adjourned earlier than usual. Shame. By asking him better questions, the witness would have likely been able to shed more light on the role played by Duch in S-21 and contradict an accused who has recognised his crimes but also multiplied omissions and lies in his statements.

Tomorrow, another S-21 survivor will be called to take the stand.

Khmer Rouge jail survivor 'tortured'

Patrick Falby
June 30, 2009

A rare survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime's main jail says torturers ripped out his toenails and gave him electric shocks to make him confess to being a Soviet and US agent.

Former mechanic Chum Mey described to Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes tribunal on Tuesday how he pleaded for his life as he was tortured for 12 days and nights at the 1975-79 communist movement's Tuol Sleng detention centre.

The 79-year-old is the second survivor to give evidence at the trial of prison chief Duch, who is accused of overseeing the torture and extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the facility.

"Because I kept telling them I didn't know about the KGB and the CIA, they used pliers to twist my toenails. The nail was completely detached from my toe, they pulled it out," Chum Mey said.

He then stood in the centre of the courtroom and removed his sandals to show that his toenails had grown back deformed.

"I have been paying so much attention to the court and I would really like the court to find justice for me," said Chum Mey, who has been regularly attending hearings since they began in February.

The former inmate described how he buried his two-year-old son who died of illness as the hardline Khmer Rouge emptied the capital Phnom Penh in 1975, and talked of his two daughters who disappeared under the regime.

Chum Mey said he had been working at a sewing machine factory when he was brought to Tuol Sleng in 1978, while his pregnant wife was held in an adjacent "re-education centre".

They were reunited - with their then two-month-old baby that his wife had given birth to - when the regime collapsed in 1979 but he lost them again when they came under fire from invading Vietnamese troops.

"I cry every night. Every time I hear people talk about the Khmer Rouge, it reminds me of my wife and kids. I am like a mentally ill person now," he said, weeping.

During his time at Tuol Sleng, Chum Mey said he was repeatedly tortured on suspicion of espionage. The regime was paranoid about interference from all sides of the Cold War divide.

"While I was walking inside (after arriving) I said (to a guard), 'Brother, please look after my family.' Then the person kicked me on to the ground," Chum Mey said, adding the man swore at him and told him he would be "smashed".

Chum Mey told judges he was photographed, stripped, handcuffed and yanked by his earlobes to interrogators.

"They asked me to tell them the truth - how many of us joined the KGB and CIA," Chum Mey said.

"I'm still longing to know the reason why I was accused of being CIA and KGB because I knew nothing about them."

Chum Mey went on to describe how interrogators beat him as he pleaded for his life, and proceeded to torture him for 12 days and nights.

He trembled in pain after they pulled out his toenails and heard "some sort of sound" after they subjected him to electric shocks, he said.

The torture finally ended when he falsely confessed to being a CIA and KGB agent, Chum Mey said, and his life was then spared because he was put to use repairing sewing machines and a water pump.

"The method used was always hot. It was never cold, as Duch has said," Chum Mey said, describing degrees of torture.

Earlier in his trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the 66-year-old Duch begged forgiveness from the victims after accepting responsibility for his role in governing the jail.

He has stated he did not believe most confessions extracted under torture, but rejects claims by prosecutors that he had a central role in the Khmer Rouge's iron-fisted rule and says he never personally executed anyone.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998, and many believe the tribunal is the last chance to find justice for victims of the communist regime, which killed up to two million people.

Four other former Khmer Rouge leaders are in detention and are expected to face trial next year.

CAMBODIA Novices, seminarians share challenges

The 12 novices and seminarians pose for a photo at a Marian grotto after their gathering

PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- Young women and men training for Religious life or the priesthood in Cambodia have realized that they share similar challenges.

Four seminarians and eight novices training to be nuns gathered June 18 at the major seminary in Phnom Penh to share their experiences in embracing their vocations.

According to seminary rector Father Bruno Cosme, this was the first such gathering for these young men and women from across Cambodia.

Seminarian Se Sath, 27, told UCA News after the gathering: "I learned a lot from the others. I thought living in the seminary was difficult and strict, but when I heard the girls talking about their lives in the convent, it seems more difficult."

He added that during the gathering, participants motivated one another to press on with their vocations despite obstacles.

Sath, the only Catholic in his Buddhist family, had a difficult time entering the seminary. "My mother said if I became a priest she would disown me. Three of his Buddhists friends also rejected me," he told participants.

Sath is the oldest of six children from a farming family. In Cambodia, as in other parts of Asia, the family members count on the eldest male child to support them.

Sath was baptized in 2005. In 2008, he joined the local Church's Emmanuel program when he felt called to the priesthood. Young men meet several times a year to share their faith, pray together and reflect on their vocation during this program.

"Sometimes I cry when I think about my poor family. I am the oldest child but cannot support them," he shared.

Gnep Sokny, a novice with the Lovers of the Cross congregation, said she found the gathering useful. "It is good to get to know the boys and how they work, because in the future we will work together," she told UCA News after the gathering.

During the meeting, Sokny, who also comes from a poor Buddhist family, shared that she too received no family support when she decided to join the Religious life. Moreover, she comes from a broken family. Her parents divorced shortly after she was born and her father has never called her kun (daughter), she shared. "I never received love from my father," said the 24-year-old.

Sokny was baptized in 1998 and later joined the Samuel program, which is similar to the Emmanuel program, but which is for young women.

Seminarian Phan Borey told UCA News that the gathering made him realize how others have suffered. He was fortunate -- his family supported his vocation.

He too had joined the Emmanuel program that "helped me get to know my own life, what I want to be, and discern God's call." Borey, now 29, is studying philosophy at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

According to Father Cosme, the gathering was significant because the participants will work together to build a future for Cambodia when they are fully professed or ordained. At present, Cambodia has five seminarians and 10 novice nuns.

The Catholic Church in Cambodia has around 50 priests, only five of whom are local Cambodians. Among the 80 nuns or so, only five are locals.

Cambodian PM to visit France in July


PHNOM PENH, June 30 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced on Tuesday that he will visit France on July 13 to strengthen the bilateral cooperation.

"We will be absent from the country for a short period of time because I will visit France and I also will meet with French President late afternoon on July 13 if the schedule is not changed," he told a University graduation ceremony in Phnom Penh.

"I will be invited to join a ceremony of French Army March on July 14," he said, adding that he will attend his son's graduation ceremony in an army school in France.

France played a key role for Paris Peace Accord for Cambodia in1991. France also provides funds to Cambodia in several projects, including rule of law, good governance, and agricultural and health improvement.

France colonized Cambodia from 1863 to 1953.

Editor: Zhang Xiang

Artist recounts S-21 ordeal

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Vann Nath testifies Monday in the trial of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, known during the Khmer Rouge regime as Duch.

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

RENOWNED artist Vann Nath wept from the dock at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Monday as he recalled in vivid detail the hellish living conditions at Tuol Sleng prison, where, he said, detainees routinely fell asleep to the sound of screaming and the smell of decomposing bodies.

Vann Nath avoided becoming one of the more than 12,000 Tuol Sleng detainees who were executed by painting portraits of Khmer Rouge regime leaders.

In the first survivor testimony heard during the trial of prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, Vann Nath described for the court a facility in which victims were treated as subhuman.

"The condition was so inhumane and the food was so little," said Vann Nath. "We were inflicted with torture physically and mentally. We were between animals and human beings."

The 63-year-old, who was imprisoned at the facility in 1978 for one year, is one of only four Tuol Sleng survivors expected to testify at the tribunal this week.

Early in his time at the prison, he was personally selected by Duch to be imprisoned in a workshop outside the jail cells on the prison grounds.

There he was asked to paint portraits of Pol Pot, a man he said Monday he did not recognise at the time.

"[A guard] gave me a big photo and I did not know who he was ... he asked me to do a big portrait," Vann Nath said.

"I was trembling holding the brush. I knew if I did not paint well I would be in big trouble," he added.

Duch listened attentively as Vann Nath described how he remembered the ex-jailer: "He was one of the leaders who was clever, vigilant, and showed his power," Vann Nath said, keeping his head and eyes to the floor.

"We were afraid and had to respect him.... Every time he entered the room I dared not sit in a chair. I stood up and waited for his instructions," he added.

Judges presented several of his paintings to the court and asked the artist to carefully describe them. Vann Nath explained that only some were based on things he had seen, adding that others were based on the recollections of prisoners. Despite his viewpoint fom outside the cells, Vann Nath told judges that he still saw evidence of torture: "I saw the blood stains on the floor, I saw the torture implements."

He confirmed that he had been taken by guards to see a woman leap to her death from the upper floors of the prison. He said another woman claimed to have been tortured with poisonous insects - a claim Duch has denied.

Vann Nath was arrested by Khmer Rouge soldiers in December 1977 while working in a rice paddy in Battambang province. He was accused of trying to overthrow the regime and was sent to Tuol Sleng prison the following year.

He was separated from his wife and children and did not see his children again. He said Monday that he hoped Duch's trial would provide some form of catharsis.

"The suffering and separation that happened to me during the one-year period cannot be easily erased from my memory," he said.

"I never imagined that I would be able to sit in this courtroom today to describe my plight, my experience. I hope by the end that justice can be tangible, can be seen by everybody, something I expect as a result of this chamber. Even though I've tried my best to forget, it still haunts me."

Dispute over footage
Co-prosecutor Robert Petit requested judges' permission to ask Vann Nath questions on controversial footage of Tuol Sleng shot by Vietnamese soldiers soon after they entered Phnom Penh in 1979.

The request was dismissed on the grounds that it was unclear whether the footage was genuine or propaganda produced by the authorities in Hanoi, as defence lawyers have claimed.

Port traffic up 10pc in PP: official

Written by Ros Dina
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

PHNOM Penh's port has seen a spike in container shipments in recent weeks, an official said, as garment makers take advantage of the benefits of its association with Vietnam's new Cai Mep deepwater port to cut costs and the time of shipment.

Most garment containers are currently shipped through the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, but some manufacturers are starting to make use of the capital's facility.

Eang Veng Sun, deputy director of the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port, said 100 containers of garments had been shipped via the capital's port in each of the first three weeks of June.

"Recently, we have seen an increase of more than 10 percent - we've never had that before," he said.

Eang Veng Sun said the increase was due to the benefits of Cai Mep port, which opened June 1 - ships leaving there can sail directly to other continents. That contrasts with Sihanoukville, where all ships have to stop at Singapore.

Hin Theany, liner division general manager of Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL), a shipping company, said half of goods her firm contracts to send now go through the capital. She said in the past five weeks almost 500 containers of garments had gone to the United States via Phnom Penh to Cai Mep.

"MOL is the first to ship goods out of Cambodia via Cai Mep," she said.

Hin Theany said clients benefitted from a quicker service to port: It takes just an hour to transport garments from the capital's factories to the port in Phnom Penh, compared to up to seven hours to Sihanoukville.

May visitors down 2.5pc on last year

Written by Nguon Sovan
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

THE number of foreign tourists visiting the Kingdom dropped 2.5 percent in May compared with the same month last year.

Ministry of Tourism statistics show 145,500 tourists visited the country last month against 149,300 in May 2008, and visits to Angkor Wat were down by 14 percent to 62,200. That was partly offset by visits to Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province up 8 percent to 83,400.

"Unlike Phnom Penh or Preah Sihanouk province which have business activities, Siem Reap is purely a tourism hub," said Kong Sopheareak, director of the ministry's statistics and information department. "So when foreign tourists are hit by the financial crisis, numbers of tourists to Angkor Wat also drop sharply."

He said numbers would rise in the second half once the national airline launches in July, and that the year should end 2 percent up on 2008.

But optimism was not shared by Ho Vandy, co-chairman of the government-private sector tourism working group, who said he does not believe tourism will see a boost in 2009.

Animal trafficker hurt in alleged revenge hit after pangolin escape


Apangolin, also known as a scaly anteater, is a mammal that feeds on live termites and ants. The animal is covered with keratin scales that protect it from predators. Pangolins are valued for their meat, which is said to promote blood circulation.

Written by Chrann Chamroeun
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Relatives claim an animal smuggler set ablaze the house in which his courier was sleeping after the man let valuable pangolin escape.

A MAN employed to transport wildlife illegally was severely burned last week because of a dispute over an escaped pangolin, rights groups officials and relatives said.

Leang Saroeun, 27, was sleeping in a cottage in Veal Veng district in Pursat province when the cottage was reportedly set on fire by the soldier who had employed him.

The victim's wife, Laet Heang, who is six months pregnant, said that the soldier, Ou Bunthan, employed her husband to cut wood and allowed him to live in the cottage in return.

She said the soldier also has a sideline business smuggling wood and animals.

Leang Saroeun's mother, Iv Lim, said Ou Bunthan told the victim to transport a pangolin weighing 9 kilogrammes to Pursat town on June 16, adding that the scaly mammal broke free.

"My son called his boss to tell him it had escaped, but he didn't believe him," she said. "He accused my son of selling the animal and told him to pay 1.5 million riels (US$361)."

She said her son did not have the money but promised to find it. Iv Lim said the soldier told her son to go back to the cottage and stay there. Overnight on June 18 the cottage was set on fire, and her son was badly burned.

"We took him for medical treatment in the province, but they couldn't treat him, so we brought him to Phnom Penh. However, it would have cost US$150 - which we can't afford - so we brought him home," she said. "We are calling for assistance to heal him, and for the authorities to arrest Ou Bunthan."

The Post was unable to reach Ou Bunthan for comment.

The case was reported to local human rights group Adhoc. The group's Pursat coordinator, Phuong Sothea, described the act as "more brutal than deeds committed under the Pol Pot regime". He said he did not believe justice could be served at the local level in this case.

"But I am undertaking a thorough investigation and will file the complaint with the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of Magistracy requesting that they look into the case," he said.

The Pursat prosecutor, Top Chan Sereyvudth, said he was waiting for the police report before considering the case.

"But it is slanderous to say that Ou Bunthan burned Leang Saroeun," he said. "The district police chief at Veal Veng told me that what really happened is that the victim was angry with his boss after being told to leave the cottage and tried to burn it down with petrol after stealing the groceries. The flames set his body on fire, and the police took him to hospital."

Fuel vendors asked to reconsider price hikes

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
Pump prices have risen steadily in recent months, up another 100 riels a litre this week

Written by Kay Kimsong
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Minister of Finance Keat Chhon calls on major fuel retailers to think first before continuing recent increases at the pump

FINANCE Minister Keat Chhon summoned most of the major fuel companies to his ministry Monday, warning them against hiking fuel prices further.

His move comes as the price of crude oil continues to rise, as has the price of fuel on the forecourt, which is up around 100 riels (US$0.024) per litre since last week. The market price for a barrel of benchmark Brent Crude oil is currently US$69, up from around US$48 three months ago.

"The main purpose of the meeting was to ask companies to consider carefully their position before setting their retail prices on the forecourt," a Finance Ministry official said speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Post understands that Sokimex Petroleum, Total Cambodge, PTT, Phavimex and Mekong Petroleum were called in. Caltex Cambodia and Malaysia's Petronas did not attend.

Heu Heng, deputy director of marketing for Sokimex, said Keat Chhon had asked them to consider their pricing and did not want firms to take advantage of rising international prices by hiking the cost to consumers.

"The ministry did not ask companies to cut our [filling station] prices, but a ministry official did request that companies think about our retail prices to avoid hurting consumers," said Heu Heng, adding that most companies agreed the current retail price was "reasonable".

Bin May Mailia, a local petroleum analyst who also attended the meeting, said the ministry had asked firms to consider carefully before increasing prices. Most companies attending had agreed and said they would consider whether they could lower prices.

Bin May Mailia said the trend in oil prices was upwards in recent months and predicted that if that continued then the price of fuel locally would rise, too. He said most companies import from Singapore.

Seng Chong Ly, the network manager for Total Cambodge, confirmed that pricing was discussed, but did not provide further information. His firm currently charges 3,950 riels (US$0.96) per litre.

Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said people were facing a double challenge: lower incomes and higher fuel prices. CITA regularly calls on the government to force fuel firms to charge less.

"Fuel now costs almost one dollar per litre, while the average Cambodian earns just two dollars a day," he said.

Rong Chhun called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to compel fuel companies to follow his recent call to hold prices.

"I think that the prime minister's order has not really succeeded," he said. "I would like to see that the order the PM has made is respected," said Rong Chhon.

Phnom Penh tuk-tuk driver Kun Lean Sy, 36, said the drop in tourists combined with increasing numbers of tuk-tuk drivers meant times were tougher.

"We are almost fighting with each other trying to get customers because they represent our profit," he said.

Prices released Monday showed fuel costing from 3,850 to 3,950 riels per litre for the five major retailers, up from 3,750 to 3,850 riels per litre a week ago.

Rambutans on the run

Photo by: Sebastian Strangio

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A local fruit cart provides a point of stillness in the chaos of the Sunday night traffic on Sihanouk Boulevard, when well-dressed young Cambodians - often three or four to a motorbike - take to the streets en masse.

Tuk-tuk drivers angry over confiscations and fines

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Tuk-tuk drivers wait for fares along Street 240 in Phnom Penh last week

Written by Khouth Sophak Chakrya
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Police chief stands by measures against drivers parked on major roads, saying they contribute to traffic congestion

MORE than 1,000 tuk-tuk and motorbike drivers thumb-printed a petition over the weekend protesting the decision by Traffic Police to confiscate 10 tuk-tuks that were parked on Sisowath Quay and Sothearos Boulevard on Friday morning and to fine the drivers 100,000 riels (US$24) each.

Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Association (IDEA), said he met with municipal officials including Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naruth Friday afternoon to express the drivers' anger.

He said drivers wanted officials to allow tuk-tuks to park on Sisowath Quay and Sothearos and Norodom boulevards.

"The car drivers can park on these roads, so why can't tuk-tuk drivers park there?" he said.

Touch Naruth said Sunday that tuk-tuks were prohibited from parking on those three roads because they would contribute to traffic congestion.

He said police would continue to confiscate illegally parked tuk-tuks.

Chan Vuthy, 32, a tuk-tuk driver stationed in front of the FCC on Sisowath Quay, said he had paid a fine of 10,000 riels several times previously for parking there, but that police had never confiscated his tuk-tuk before Friday, when they took it to the Daun Penh district police station and fined him 100,000 riels.

Govt rejects criticisms of demonstration law

Written by Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

THE MINISTRY of Interior on Sunday dismissed complaints from civil society groups regarding a new draft law on peaceful demonstrations.

"Every procedure that is written in the draft law on demonstrations will be adopted according to international procedures and is similar to laws in developed countries that exercise democracy," ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Sunday, echoing a statement issued by the ministry on Friday.

Under the draft law, currently at the National Assembly, demonstrations involving more than 200 people would need to take place between 6am and 6pm. The law would also place restrictions on protest locations and would make organisers responsible for any damage to public property inflicted by participants.

The president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, Rong Chhun, said Sunday that he feared the law could be used to silence critics.

"For example, if I want to hold a demonstration at the Ministry of Education, but the authorities say the location for the demonstration needs to be very far away from the ministry, and there are no pedestrians walking near the demonstration, then the demonstration means nothing and our demands will not be heard," he said.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the Sam Rainsy Party, said opposition lawmakers would call for amendments to the draft law that would eliminate restrictions on the size and location of demonstrations.

Lightning deaths in 2009 so far surpass total for all of last year

Written by Sam Rith
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Experts say lightning has become a more frequent occurrence due to climate change, and that the danger of being struck is as great as ever.

LIGHTNING strikes have killed more people so far in 2009 than in all of 2008, Keo Vy, a communications officer at the National Committee for Disaster Management, told the Post Monday.

In the first six months of 2009, lightning killed 100 people in Cambodia and injured 39. Last year, there were 95 lightning deaths and 22 injuries.

Officials said they were working to distribute information about how to avoid being hit by lightning, particularly in rural areas.

"The most important thing is that when we receive information [relating to a storm], we broadcast the information through the television to let people in provinces and districts know which areas will get hit by a storm with rain and lighting," said Phang Sareth, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.

Phang Sareth also said the ministry handed out brochures teaching people about lightning safety tips.

The ministry's brochure advises people to leave flooded zones when they see thunderclouds above them. It also encourages them to stay more than 4 metres away from trees during thunderstorms and to avoid carrying metal objects that could become lightning rods.

When we receive information ... [we] let people know which areas will get hit.

Phang Sareth blamed the increase in lightning deaths on global climate change.

"The temperature in our nation and others all over the world is increasing annually," he said, adding that this made lightning more frequent.

Keo Vy said the risk of being struck by lightning in Cambodia will remain high until the end of the rainy season in September or October.

Belgian's history as a paedophile catches neighbours by surprise

Photo by: Photo courtesy of Mon Ny
Convicted paedophile Philippe Dessart poses one of his sponsored children, Mon Ny, during a trip to Siem Reap province.

Written by Eleanor Ainge Roy and May Titthara
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Banteay Meanchey Provine

Philippe Dessart sponsored a dozen children in Sisophon, one of whom became his victim.

ONE Wednesday afternoon earlier this month, a group of women and children gathered in an alleyway behind the University of Management and Economics in Sisophon, Banteay Meanchey province, and stared at a photograph of a smiling barang.

The man in the photograph looked altogether plain, with a large body, round face and thin, grey hair. But the women and children - who had just been told that the man, Philippe Dessart, had a history of paedophilia - looked shocked. One of the girls, Mon Ny, 12, began to cry.

Five years ago, Mon Ny was one of 12 children to have been sponsored by Dessart, a Belgian who operated through the French NGO Enfants du Mekong.

Dessart kept hidden from the families of the children his criminal past, which included a three-year jail term in Belgium for child rape and torture. While one of the 12 children, 17-year-old Han Sopheak, was abused by Dessart, the rest - Mon Ny included - have fond memories of him.

"I always kept everything he gave to me," said Mon Ny. "But now I don't want to keep it anymore because he is not good like I thought. I really can't believe that he is a bad guy."

Dessart was released on April 15 from Prey Sar prison, where he served three years for indecent acts committed against a minor. His sentence was cut short by 15 years because of a 2006 change in Cambodian law stipulating that his offences - which did not include sexual penetration - amounted to "indecent acts". Previously, all sex crimes fell under the category of debauchery.

Waiting at the gates to greet him was his Cambodian fiancee, Han Mao, the stepmother of his Cambodian victim, Han Sopheak. (Their names have been changed to protect their identities.)

Huon Tim, child protection coordinator for the child rights NGO Action Pour les Enfants (APLE), which led the investigation that put Dessart behind bars, said the Belgian plans to marry Han Mao and settle in Cambodia for good.

Han Sopheak, whose biological parents are dead, has moved out of his stepmother's home and is currently studying in Phnom Penh. But his 10-year-old brother still lives in Sisophon, and APLE investigators and neighbours said they were concerned for his welfare.

"For me paedophilia is an incurable sickness, and in my experience working with paedophiles, I can say 80 percent commit another crime after their release," Huon Tim said.

Dessart could not be reached for comment for this story. Han Mao declined to comment on the pending marriage.

Though the Dessart case has prompted outrage among child rights groups and some government officials, the majority of Sisophon residents interviewed for this story said they were unaware of Dessart's past, while others said they had chosen to ignore it.

Lack of safeguards
Martin Maindiaux, country director for Enfants du Mekong, said the NGO did not have the resources to run background checks on its sponsors.

From the very beginning philippe was a difficult sponsor.

He said Dessart, who sponsored 10 boys and two girls through the NGO, placed high demands on his children, asking them to write frequently.

In a letter to Mon Ny, he wrote, "It has been nearly six months already since I adopted you and I have never received any letter from you. I am unhappy and frustrated."

Maindiaux said: "From the very beginning Philippe was a difficult sponsor, and with time he became impossible to manage."

Dessart travelled to Cambodia on two or three occasions to visit his sponsored children. He took them on two trips - once to Sihanoukville and once to Siem Reap. Although he wanted to travel alone with the children, Enfants du Mekong insisted that staff accompany him, a condition to which he begrudgingly agreed, Maindiaux said.

Maindiaux said Enfants du Mekong ended his sponsorships in 2005 when he began to talk about moving to Cambodia permanently and marrying Han Mao.

Khy Saony said she never suspected Dessart would abuse Han Sopheak, as she was unaware that men could have sex with men, a claim repeated many times in recent interviews in Sisophon.

Enfants du Mekong staff and other children who went on the trips said Han Sopheak's behaviour became more aggressive and demanding as his relationship with Dessart developed.

"At the beginning Sopheak was a very nice boy, polite and respectful," Maindiaux said. "But as Philippe started to pay him a lot of attention, he changed. He became rude and aggressive."

Dessart continued to live in Sisophon even after Enfants du Mekong terminated the sponsorships, and Toek Thla commune officials said they believed he was in love with Han Sopheak's stepmother.

The officials said they were unaware of Dessart's recent stint at Prey Sar, saying they believed Dessart had been in Belgium for three years.

"We never knew foreigners could do bad things, and we thought Philippe was a very generous man who was in love with the victim's mother," said Hov Sovann, a deputy commune chief.

"The family is quiet. They keep to themselves. But we see now that they have been trying to hide a big secret."

At the time of Dessart's arrest in April 2006, Han Sopheak's stepmother, who APLE and neighbours said was genuinely convinced he was in love with her, refused to believe that he had abused her stepson and offered to take his place in prison herself.

"Her trust of Dessart was so strong that even when her son eventually admitted the abuse she still refused to believe it," said Khoem Vando, an evidence analyst at APLE.

APLE dropped the case soon after the arrest and did not pursue the possibility that Dessart could have abused other children in Sisophon.

Huon Tim said recently that this might have been a mistake, adding that the other children Dessart sponsored - such as Mon Ny - had no knowledge of his history of paedophilia.

Oun Sath, an anti-human-trafficking officer in Serei Sophoan district, said officers there were well aware of Dessart's past and would continue to monitor him while he remained in the district.

"If we find out he still has sex with children we will arrest him - we are not careless," he said.

He said he believed Dessart had flown to Belgium on June 4 to obtain permission to marry Han Mao, but APLE investigators said they believed he had travelled to Bangkok.

MP's trip to US not an attempt to escape prosecution: SRP

Written by Meas Sokchea
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A SAM Rainsy Party spokesman said Monday that lawmaker Ho Vann's decision to leave Cambodia was not made out of fear that he would be prosecuted for defamation and disinformation.

Yim Sovann told the Post that Ho Vann, who flew to the US on Friday, had planned to leave the country long before his parliamentary immunity was stripped by the National Assembly on June 22.

"He did not flee," Yim Sovann said. "There is nothing to be scared of."

He said Ho Vann would visit family in the US before travelling to Italy for a conference hosted by the UN Development Programme.

"I will also fly to participate in that mission," Yim Sovann said, adding that he did not know when Ho Vann would return to Cambodia.

Ho Vann has been sued for defamation and disinformation by 22 senior army officials who charged that he denigrated the quality of academic degrees they received from a Vietnamese military institute in an interview with a local newspaper. Ho Vann has said he was misquoted by the newspaper.

Senior Cambodian People's Party lawmaker Cheam Yeap said Monday that Ho Vann would have his immunity restored if the court found him not guilty of defamation and disinformation.

Mu Sochua still abroad
Mu Sochua, the other SRP lawmaker whose parliamentary immunity also was stripped by the National Assembly on June 22, travelled to the US that same day. She told the Post that she would return to Cambodia on July 6.

Mu Sochua faces defamation charges stemming from a speech given by Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 4 in Kampot province. She filed a defamation lawsuit against the premier, alleging that he had defamed her in the speech. Hun Sen then filed a defamation suit against her, arguing that she had defamed him by saying the comments in the speech about an unnamed woman referred to her.

Lawyers skirmish over who should be called to disciplinary council

Written by Meas Sokchea
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Attorney for Mu Sochua says complaint against him is politically motivated and his accuser, Hun Sen's attorney, should appear before the bar.

THE two parties involved in a high-profile Bar Association complaint squared off Sunday over who should be required to appear before the association's disciplinary council.

Kong Sam Onn, the lawyer for opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, was found guilty of violating articles 4, 6 and 15 of the Bar Association rules earlier this month and has been summoned to face the disciplinary council on July 7, the association announced last week.

But the embattled attorney on Sunday said the person who brought the complaint, Hun Sen's attorney Ky Tech, should also be required to explain the details of his case before the council.

Politically motivated
Kong Sam Onn dismissed the Bar Association's decision as politically motivated and said he had not erred while representing opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua, whose defamation suit against Hun Sen is at the root of the dispute.

"This is a general issue. It is not a defamation case. It is a matter between an attorney and his client. I don't know how else to describe this except to say that it is also a political issue as well," Kong Sam Onn said Sunday.

But Ky Tech said he had no obligation to appear before the Bar Association because he had not been accused of any wrongdoing.

"The law does not say that the plaintiff must appear before the disciplinary council. As I understand the Bar Association procedures, if the council had found anything wrong in accusations against the defendant, then they would address them with the defendant," Ky Tech said.

He added that so far the council had not asked him to appear.

Evidence is sufficient
Suon Visal, general secretary of the Bar Association, said Monday that the council was allowed to summon Ky Tech, but that it had already heard enough evidence to reach a decision in the Kong Sam Onn case.


But he added that his absence could, under certain circumstances, weaken the evidence submitted in the complaint.

"According to procedure, when someone sues another person, the plaintiff appears in court to clarify issues of evidence," Suon Visal said. "If not, the case could be weakened."

He added: "If the complaint does not include enough evidence of wrongdoing, the court must rely on testimony by the plaintiff to determine the case," Suon Visal said.

He also dismissed any suggestion that the Bar Association was under political pressure and said the council's actions in the case were in strict accordance with the law.

Dolphin report could lead to false information charge

Photo by: Christopher Shay
Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River face imminent extinction drew criticism from the Cambodian government, which said Monday that the group could face charges of publishing false information

Written by Sam Rith and Marika Hill
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Official says govt is waiting on response from WWF, which in a recent report said the Irrawaddy dolphin was near extinction.

A GOVERNMENT official said Monday that the conservation group WWF could be charged with publishing false information if it did not revise a recent report stating that Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River were on the verge of extinction.

Touch Seang Tana, chairman of Cambodia's Commission to Conserve Mekong River Dolphins and Develop Eco-Tourism, said WWF had not yet responded to a letter he wrote last week about the report.

"I am still waiting for their reply," Touch Seang Tana said. "When I get their reply I will organise a meeting and invite top government officials to listen." He said officials would bring false information charges if the report was not corrected.

WWF Country Director Teak Seng said Monday that the group planned to respond to the letter, but that he did not know exactly when it would do so.

Nicole Frisini, a WWF communications officer, declined to comment when asked whether a response was forthcoming.

Touch Seang Tana said of Teak Seng, "We still respect him and his NGO, which is famous all over the world. He has to keep his honour. If I were him, I would admit a mistake. If I was invited [to provide an explanation] today, I would respond by the next day."

The report, released earlier this month, stated that 88 Irrawaddy dolphins had died since 2003, 60 percent of which had been calves under two weeks old that succumbed to a bacterial disease.

"This disease would not be fatal unless the dolphin's immune systems were suppressed, as they were in these cases, by environmental contaminants," said Dr Verne Dove, the author of the report and a WWF Cambodia veterinarian, in a press statement that coincided with the report's release.

The report estimated the population of the the Irrawaddy dolphin at between 64 and 76 members.

At the time of the report's release, Touch Seang Tana dismissed its findings as "all lies" and said his own research indicated that the dolphin population had grown in recent years.

The threat to pursue false information charges came three days after Hang Chakra, the editor of an opposition-affiliated newspaper, was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 9 million riels (US$2,167) for articles he published that charged government officials with corruption.

Under the UNTAC Criminal Code, publishing false information carries a potential prison term of between six months and three years and a fine of up to 10 million riels.

US aid 'constrained': Oxfam

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
The United States embassy compound in Phnom Penh opened in January 2006

Written by Sebastian Strangio
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Report cites US aid successes but points to long-term challenges

US aid assistance to Cambodia is hampered by resource shortfalls, conflicting directives and a lack of long-term strategic planning, according to a report released by Oxfam America on Wednesday.

The nine-page field study claims that USAID, the US government's aid agency, has achieved many successes in Cambodia but is still subject to constraints that have "sidelined" it and prevented it from effectively carrying out its development mission.

"With limited resources, USAID struggles to meet its core mission while juggling increasing demands from Washington," stated the report, based on interviews conducted with US officials, NGOs and government officials in late 2008.

The report highlights several successes of US aid, including the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), which has provided legal aid to Cambodian communities facing eviction from their land.

But the report also cites civil society concerns about the future of Washington's commitment to Cambodian NGOs, fears that could be linked to a "lack of strategic long-term planning", according to an unnamed USAID staffer referenced by Oxfam.

The report also claims that USAID's proximity to defence and diplomatic officials - all housed in the fortified US Embassy compound near Wat Phnom - had "inhibited" its development work.

"The closer we get to the State Department and the Defence Department, the more our agenda gets pushed aside," said another USAID staffer.

CLEC Executive Director Yeng Virak said he was grateful to USAID for its support but added that he was unsure about the agency's long-term strategic planning, specifically whether it is "relevant and responsive" to local needs.

Chea Vannath, the former executive director of the Centre for Social Development, said she was concerned by what she described as US-centric means of establishing aid goals, but noted that America contributed significantly more development aid than Britain and Canada.

She said that despite inflexible rules and guidelines, the US supported many local initiatives, and that NGOs were given discretion in how to spend funds. "Sometimes we have to be flexible, too," she added.

Ongoing engagement
Brian Lund, regional director of Oxfam America, said the report was part of an "ongoing process" of determining which elements of US aid were working, describing it as an opportunity for "new dialogue and new thinking".

He added that USAID staff, despite being housed in the imposing embassy compound, were happy to work with Oxfam on development issues.

"From my perspective, the majority of the people who work out of that centre are keen to be engaged [and] always clamouring to do more," he said.

"That's where I concentrate my interest - not on whether there's a wall there."

When contacted Monday, US Embassy spokesman John Johnson did not comment on the report specifically, but said that the United States' priorities in Cambodia would remain focused on "the development of a peaceful, stable Cambodia with emphasis on economic growth and the
development of the health and education sectors".

The US provided 6.7 percent of Cambodia's development assistance during 2002-07 - an average of US$41.55 million per year. America is the fifth-largest foreign donor to the Kingdom.

Takhmao explosion injures two

Written by Vong Sokheng
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Blast near Hun Sen's house causes no fatalities: Cabinet.

AN EXPLOSION near the Kandal province residence of Prime Minister Hun Sen injured two military officials Sunday night, one of them seriously, according to a press release issued by the prime minister's Cabinet.

The reported injury count could not be independently verified, and the site remained closed to reporters and rights group workers who attempted to access it Monday.

The statement said the explosion occurred after a military truck loaded with ammunition caught fire at 7:30pm.

Residents on Sunday reported hearing a series of explosions that lasted between 10 and 15 minutes. Chea Savath, a monitor for the rights group Adhoc who went down to the site, said he heard reports from residents that the series of explosions was punctuated with nine loud blasts that sounded like "heavy bombs".

He said rights group officials and others were not allowed direct access to the site, adding that Adhoc had no choice but to take the government's word on the number of injuries.

"The incident is related to national security. Therefore, all of the authorities have tried to keep silent," Chea Savath said.

He added: "I think there were not many serious casualties. I think it just made several hundred villagers afraid and shocked."

The Cabinet statement said: "After the fire was completely put out, following a detailed report to Prime Minister Hun Sen, he authorised the Cabinet to report this regrettable incident to the public."

Heng Ratana, director general of the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC), said CMAC teams had cooperated with local authorities and soldiers to rid the site of pieces of ammunition that had not detonated during the series of explosions.

He said villagers, living two kilometres from the premier's residence in Takhmao town, did not report any casualties.

"It is safe now," Heng Ratana said.

Oracle signs software agreement

California-based Oracle has seen its products supplied in three deals in Cambodia this month.

Written by Nguon Sovan
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

National Bank of Cambodia, microfinance institution Prasac and Advanced Bank of Asia all approve deals to purchase variations of Oracle's Flexcube software from local subsidiary

ASUBSIDIARY of California-based software giant Oracle has signed agreements to provide software under its Flexcube suite to the Kingdom's central bank.

A commercial bank and one microfinance institution (MFI) have also bought Flexcube software from Oracle, the world's largest business software company.

Oracle Financial Services Software Limited, which is a majority-owned subsidiary of Oracle, is to announce today that the National Bank of Cambodia has agreed to use the Flexcube Core Banking package, and that Prasac, an MFI, has agreed to use the Flexcube Universal Banking package.

The Post has also learned that the Advanced Bank of Asia has signed up for one of the eight available Flexcube packages, although CEO Madi K Akmambet would not elaborate.

In its press release, Oracle Financial Services Software predicted that the software would help the central bank to standardise its operations and incorporate best practices.

Oracle Flexcube will help automate National Bank of Cambodia's ... processes.

"Oracle Flexcube will help automate National Bank of Cambodia's current processes for operations across deposits, loans, foreign exchange, money markets, securities, funds transfer and asset management," it stated.

Thai Saphear, who heads the governor's office at the NBC, was quoted in the same press statement as saying that the central bank, which is also the nation's banking regulator, sees the technology as an important way to modernise its systems.

The general manager of Prasac said that his company was the first local microfinance institution (MFI) to use another of Oracle's Flexcube offerings, Universal Banking, for its transaction records.

"We are preparing ourselves to become a commercial bank in the next five years, so we are starting to get ready now," Prasac's Sim Senacheat told the Post. "That's why we decided to use the Flexcube Universal Banking software ... from now on."

Sim Senacheat said Prasac had selected the loans, savings and general accounting modules in the package.

"We have many offices and this software uses a centralised database, which makes it easy to administer transactions," he said, adding that the software cost US$1 million with annual fees of US$72,000.

Sim Senacheat said that modernising Prasac's systems would help it gain a competitive advantage, which would allow it to serve its clients better. He said staff software training would be finished by July.

Prasac has 95 offices and 1,250 staff in Cambodia. It has loaned US$53 million to 86,000 clients, and Sim Senacheat said that once the system was up and running the MFI would be able to take deposits from clients.

Two local partners - interFlex Co Ltd and Neeka Ltd - will help to implement the program for the NBC and provide hardware and support services.

Google meeting held at Royal University

Written by Hor Hab
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Google engineers from US, China and Singapore confer with representatives from Southeast Asia.

GOOGLE engineers from the United States, China and Singapore met on Thursday with users from a number of countries in the region at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

The group spent four days at RUPP sharing experiences and ideas and looking for creative ways to solve problems ranging from health and knowledge-sharing to social networking.

Mark Smolinski, a director of Google.org in Southeast Asia, said the event marked the first time the company had come to the Kingdom to organise an event with local users and Google developers.

It is a chance for students to engage with some of the technology.

Smolinski said the purpose was to improve awareness and collaboration, and to keep users informed.

"Google@RUPP is great for students because they can have four days interacting with 18 engineers from Google in California, China and Singapore," he said.

"It is a chance for students to engage with some of the technology that they are developing themselves, with help and guidance from Google engineers," Smolinski said.

"They spent four days looking at new ideas and working out how to put these tools together to support technologies needed in the region by collaborating with local developers and those from Google."

The 75 participants came from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. Smolinski said collaboration among attendees would continue via the corporation's Web site.

Phal Des, the director of the IT centre at RUPP, said the event would help to increase cooperation and sharing of information worldwide.

He has organised a team of 15 students to interact with engineers and developers from Google and other countries.

"Students will have learned a lot from this, especially from Google's engineers and from developers from different countries," said Phal Des.

Andrew McGlinchey, Google's product manager for Southeast Asia, said many people were using the company's products on a regular basis.

"I was very impressed with the students and people here," McGlinchey said.

"They are very enthusiastic about Google's technology, and the way they interacted and asked questions was very smart."

Rebuilding the rights of starving music fans

Photo by: Vinh Dao
Punk wok: Beijing’s Rebuilding the Rights of Statues – Hua Dong (left), Ma Hui (rear) and Liu Min – turn up the heat at their gig at Chinese House last week.

Written by Mark Roy
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Fed up with a diet of Phnom Penh cover bands, a throng of contemporary music enthusiasts headed out to witness some cutting edge new sounds

IT'S not that I think the music scene in Phnom Penh is bland. It's just that if I hear the turgid caterwaul of yet another distorted electric guitar playing yet another appalling medley of middle-of-the-road American pap rock, I might just do something drastic. I might just defenestrate a Stratocaster.

OK. So I do think the music scene in Phnom Penh is bland.

Is it life in exile that makes Western expats hanker after the nostalgic sounds of The Eagles, Guns 'n' Roses, Santana, or Bon friggin' Jovi?

These white-bread Southeast Asian cover bands are a guilty pleasure, the sonic equivalent of tucking into fast food. And they leave you feeling just as bloated and ill.

But last Thursday night, lovers of alternative, or at least original, music had a rare chance to burn off a few calories of rage to the post-punk, post-industrial sounds of Beijing-based outfit Rebuilding the Rights of Statues.

On a hot, humid Phnom Penh night in a crowded room at Chinese House, the frenetic flurry of sound from this three-piece band came as a blast of fresh air. Hard up against the low-key stage, punters bounded and bounced off one another as singer/guitarist Hua Dong, bass player Liu Min and drummer Ma Hui powered through a set tight and percussive as machine-gun fire.

The sound and the fury was offset by numbers dripping with harmony vocals and the light breathiness of Liu Min's red melodica. And the red floor tom, set centre stage and flanked by the two guitarists, was belted frenetically by Hua Dong in one song in a kind of post-apocalyptic bossa nova.

And though the band does draw on the past - indeed, the trio point to their retro influences in the shorthand version of their name - their songs are all their own, albeit sung in bizarrely accented English.

Rebuilding the Rights of Statues (aka Re-TROS) is heavily influenced by the late 70s/early 80s sounds of The Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Wire, Gang of Four and Joy Division.

The cover art on their album Watch Out! Climate Has Changed, Fat Mum Rises... could have come straight from the design desk of Peter Saville at Factory Records, and their song Bela Lugosi's Back points a black nail-varnished Gothic finger straight to Peter Murphy of Bauhaus.

But the crystalline, edgy sounds of Hua Dong's Telecaster and the heavy throb of Liu Min's bass bring to mind more contemporary bands: The Strokes, Interpol - even The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Unfortunately, Re-TROS also borrow from the '80s a tendency to the slow, introspective, art-rock dirge, in numbers the band's set could well have done without. But it did allow Hua Dong a little breathing space from the sweaty, energetic ferocity of his vocal delivery.

It's punk. It's energy. It's the new sonic youth of Asia.

And on the subject of ferocity - how does a band in China even begin to perform a song like TV Show, with Liu Min's backing refrain "hang the police"?

It's a gob in the eye of that state's record of police brutality.

It's Johnny Rotten spitting out "God save the queen, the fascist regime" over again.

It's punk. It's energy. It's the new sonic youth of Asia.

And while the Pistols were never the world's most accomplished musicians (guitarist Steve Jones learnt to play on amphetamines using a Les Paul stolen from Mick Ronson at a David Bowie concert) it's attitude that gets people going every time - not virtuosity.

But as they moved effortlessly from the 4/4 format of punk to explore more complex time signatures, intricate rhythms and vocal melodies, Re-TROS also showed they were not afraid to push the boundaries of their genre.

The highly appreciative crowd drew them back for an encore.

Re-TROS so impressed legendary musician and producer Brian Eno (Talking Heads, Roxy Music, David Bowie, Devo, Coldplay, U2 ... should I go on?) when he came across them in a studio in Beijing that he took time out to collaborate with them on three tracks for their debut EP Cut Off!

Along with fellow Beijing punk outfit Carsick Cars, this band is one to watch. Do it online at www.myspace.com/rebuildingtherightsofstatues.

And just like after a good Sichuan hot pot, this punter left Chinese House hot and sweaty but wholly satisfied.

Police Blotter: 30 Jun 2009

Written by Lim Phalla
Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A 30-year-old man riding a motorbike was killed on National Road 1 in the Peamror district of Prey Veng province when he was run over by a truck. The vehicle cut his body in half. The man, identified by authorities as Ra, was trying to get away from a horse that was jumping wildly on the road.

Two thieves were arrested when they snatched a bag that contained 200 riels and an old cell phone from a 24-year-old in Battambang province while she was riding a motorbike along National Road 5 on Thursday. The police arrested Men Vichet, 22, and Chhay Saroeun, 26. Men Vichet was once imprisoned for three years for stealing.

A 27-year-old woman in Phnom Penh attempted to jump off the fourth floor of her building Saturday night. The woman, Vorn Veasna, threatened to kill herself because her 46-year-old lover was ignoring her. The couple lived many years together and has a daughter. The woman at last came down after the police spent four hours calming her down.

A body of a woman was found beneath a bridge in Bateay village in Kampong Cham province by villagers early Sunday morning. The woman had been strangled and badly cut in the face, police said. Her identity was not verified, but police believe she was in her early 30s.

A police officer shot and wounded a 21-year-old man at a dance in Kampong Cham province Thursday. The police officer claims to have fired his gun to calm and disperse a gang fight. The victim, Bien Sokhom, was taken to the province hospital, and the police officer was arrested.

A 29-year-old motor taxi driver was arrested by Kien Svay police Friday morning for allegedly snatching a necklace from a student who was travelling home from school on National Road 1 in Kandal province.