Friday, 10 July 2009

Abhisit creating more tension over Preah Vihear

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

Dear Editor,

Since Preah Vihear temple was registered by UNESCO as a World Heritage site in Cambodia on July 7, 2008, I have been following the situation closely by reading your online news as my main source, and other online sources.

I found that Thailand often aims to make claims without any credibility or basis in fact over the Preah Vihear temple and the surrounding land.

Although I have never blogged about those nonsenses, I have decided to write this letter to you and offer my opinion after hearing that the current Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has made a statement that could start a new chapter of violence.

According to the Thai daily newspaper The Bangkok Post [June 17, 2009], Abhisit said that "the registration of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site had brought about conflict and losses, and this would appear to be against UNESCO's objectives in having heritage sites."

In fact, such a statement does not solve the conflict but creates a new one.

It appears that the dispute did not start after the registration of Preah Vihear as a World Heritage site. It started decades ago, although the World Court ruled in 1962 that the Preah Vihear temple belonged to Cambodia.

The gunbattles and loss of lives that happened after the listing of Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site were purely created by Thailand in order to make it easy to claim and appear to be against UNESCO's objectives.

This is very dangerous because Thailand could continue to promote violence by trespassing in order to support its theory.

The real problem is not what the Thai prime minister has said, but it is because the Thai troops keep trespassing, and that is a fact.

To solve the conflict, the simplest solution is not to create a new one.

From day one when the Thai prime minister came to power without a vote, I started to question his knowledge and ability to solve this conflict and correctly interpret the verdict of World Court's rule in 1962.

Unfortunately, he failed that test.

Florida, USA

Send letters to: or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.

The views expressed above are solely the author's and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.

A former S-21 nurse’s tale of a family of fallen revolutionaries

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 15/02/2009: Civil party Khoeum Meth continued her testimony, followed by a former Khmer Rouge nurse, also a plaintive
©John Vink/ Magnum (file picture)


By Stéphanie Gée

On Thursday July 9th, before the parties interrogated by turns Mrs. Chim Meth (or Khoeum Meth), president Nil Nonn reminded them they “must not ask questions that are long or disconnected from the facts.” The survivor, whose place of detention before she was sent to the Prey Sar re-education camp remained unclear, was followed by a former S-21 nurse. Part of a revolutionary family that was purged by a paranoid regime, she inaugurated a new category of civil parties: people who voluntarily served the murderous Angkar before being crushed in their turn by the hellish system.

What did the civil party say yesterday?
Very quickly, a small controversy started over the civil party’s photograph, taken in 1977 and presented in court on the previous day. Marie-Paule Canizarès, co-lawyer for the accused, declared that if all parties agreed to say the photograph was taken in Prey Sar (S-24), the defence would accept that the document was put before the Chamber. Kim Mengkhy, one of the lawyers for Mrs. Chim Meth, protested. “We are not sure where the photograph was taken. The civil party said it had been taken before her arrest, so it cannot have been at S-24…” The French lawyer maintained her stance: “I am going through my notes from yesterday, following the statement of the civil party who, asked by Your Honour whether the photograph had been taken in Prey Sar or in S-21, answered very precisely that it was in Prey Sar. Therefore, I believe that in light of the civil party’s statement, there can be no doubt over the conditions in which the picture was taken.”

Martine Jacquin, co-lawyer for Chim Meth, could be heard protesting in her microphone, which she hadn’t realised was still off: “I do not agree. That is not what she said.” She took the floor again, this time officially: “According to the notes we took, the civil party stated that the picture had been taken in her unit when her biography was made in her unit, and that at the time, she hadn’t been particularly worried about it. Afterwards, when she arrived at the detention centre, the biography and photograph were already there. The accused said it was done in Prey Sar, but for the civil party, she first went to the detention centre and then, she was sent to Prey Sar, while the photographs were made before.”

It turned out that the two lawyers were right, quoting from two different extracts of the civil party’s testimony – after the author of this article verified recordings of the French interpretation of her statement. This illustrated the ambiguities in her testimony, which were not picked up, starting with the location of unit 17, which the civil party belonged to and sometimes located in Prey Sar, sometimes in other places… The only constant on this point of her story was that the photographs were taken before she was arrested.

Duch: the photograph was taken in S-24
Judge Cartwright decided to clarify things with the accused and asked him on what grounds he inferred that the picture, although displayed in S-21, actually originated from Prey Sar. Duch simply returned to the confusions made orally by the civil party, highlighting that she had actually declared the photograph had been taken in Prey Sar, “according to the transcript.” So, actually, the judge pursued, you are relying on Mrs. Chim Meth’s words and you do not have any other argument to support the conclusion you made yesterday? “Any person sent to S-21 was photographed by our staff and a number was also required, especially for people who came from S-24,” he answered without answering and said he hardly knew the relevant procedure that prevailed in Prey Sar. “In principle, people sent to Prey Sar had to be photographed, except for the children, as far as I remember,” he added however. And when the picture does not bear any identification number as is the case here, what does that mean?, the national co-Prosecutor asked Duch, without receiving any satisfying reply.

Mystery over Mrs. Chim Meth’s place of detention
Return to Chim Meth’s interrogation. The Cambodian co-Prosecutor sought to verify Duch’s assertion that each division had its own detention centre (cf. previous day hearing). Did she see prisons in her division, the 450? The civil party did see women from her unit “disappear” but “we were told they were taken to be re-educated. I wasn’t told they were taken to be imprisoned. It was impossible for me to know whether there was a place of detention for these people within the unit.”

In her unit 17, no interrogation or torture, but a quota to fulfil: transplanting at least one hectare of rice per day. Chim Meth described the difficult working conditions, in particular the plough that had to be pulled manually throughout the rice fields, in spite of exhaustion and injuries.

The international co-Prosecutor presented on the screen a statement made by Chim Meth to the Centre for Social Development (CSD, an NGO), as a preliminary step to her application as potential civil party. “This document, was it read to you and do you think it is authentic?”, he asked her. “I recognise my handwriting. I wrote it based on my own feelings.” The co-Prosecutor requested that the document be retained as an element of evidence and sat down. Silence. His speaking time was not yet over. He stood up again. “In this document, you noted that on the second day, you realised you were in Tuol Sleng. Can you tell us more?” “Actually, I knew it only when CSD brought the documents with my photograph. That’s when I realised that I had been detained in a prison which I didn’t know at the time was Tuol Sleng. I only knew I was imprisoned in a building oriented East-West.”

“In the same document,” the co-Prosecutor continued, “you stated that you realised the prison was directed by Duch.” There again, the civil party made a divergent statement. “I did not personally see or recognise Duch. But comrade Meng, who was detained there with me, […] told me [someone named] Duch was now the chief of the Tuol Sleng security office. I learned that when I was detained in Prey Sar.”

Last question from the co-Prosecutor: “Yesterday, you told the Chamber that when your co-detainees went to wash and came back, they warned you by saying: ‘better to die rather than go and wash.’ In your opinion, what may have been the reason for that warning?” Chim Meth said she never found out…

Civil party lawyers chided by the president
Martine Jacquin, co-lawyer for the civil party, then returned at length to the personal story of her client – who was raised by her grandparents and forcibly recruited as a teenager in the Khmer Rouge army. This warranted her two calls to order, separated by a few minutes, by the president, who accused her of asking questions that were off-topic and outside of the temporal jurisdiction of the tribunal (from April 17th 1975 to January 6th 1979).

Her Cambodian colleague, Kim Mengkhy, quickly requested to interrogate the accused: in your opinion, what did Chim Meth’s picture in S-21 prove? Why did someone like Chim Meth, who came from the same district as you, have to be sent to Prey Sar and be treated like a slave? Did you know her father, a high-ranking police officer, educated and native from the same district as you? You said that women’s interrogations were entrusted to women, yet the civil party was interrogated by men… Etc. He was inexhaustible. The president intervened: “Do you think the accused is able to answer a flurry of questions?”

Duch selected the questions. He said he did not know the civil party’s father and the photographs “were taken for the superior echelon concerning any detainee they wanted a picture of.” He concluded, on the tone of a studious student to his teacher: “If you have other questions, ask them to me one by one.”

“I am responsible before the court”
The lawyer was not flustered. He had three minutes left: “The accused said that in all the cases, he was emotionally responsible to all the victims for the crimes committed. Can you tell Mrs. Chim Meth present here whether your emotional responsibility applies to her and if so, to what extent?” “Regarding Chim Meth, I am not emotionally responsible,” Duch answered. “I am fully responsible for the crimes committed before the court.”

A confused testimony
Time for the defence. “In this text – which you told us you wrote yourself –, you claimed you were electrocuted. But when you answered a question from the president yesterday, you said you had not been electrocuted. Why the discrepancy?”, Kar Savuth asked Chim Meth. “I did not suffer electroshocks at the detention centre, in Prey Sar, but in my unit, when I was asked to write my biography,” the civil party specified.

“I do not know if I was detained in Tuol Sleng”
When she recently went to Tuol Sleng with CSD representatives, Chim Meth explained to Marie-Paule Canizarès, she was unable to determine whether she had been detained there, as she had been blindfolded. “Is it then fair to say that the only element that makes you say today you may have been detained in Tuol Sleng at the time is the picture of yourself displayed there?”, the lawyer asked. “When I saw my own photograph, and that of other women from my unit, I did not realise I had been detained in Tuol Sleng. […] As I said, I did not know if I was or had been detained in Tuol Sleng. I was imprisoned in a detention centre. Was it Tuol Sleng or not? I did not know.”

Recommendations to the judges regarding a fragile civil party
Chim Meth’s statement was over. Another civil party was waiting to enter the courtroom. But before that, Silke Studzinsky, co-lawyer for civil party group 2, which includes the forthcoming witness, made some “preliminary remarks.” “Today,” she warned, “our client will dare to reveal her story, which is much larger than what is recorded in the civil party application form.” It seemed that this civil party started opening to her lawyers about her past only “very recently.” Silke Studzinsky announced the program for her client’s testimony: her personal relationship with well-placed Khmer Rouge parents, the training she received to become medical staff, her two older brothers who worked in S-21, and a word on the accused. Cautious, the lawyer insisted: “Our client is feeling particularly anxious about taking the floor today before the Chamber. […] It is therefore to be expected that she will be overwhelmed by emotion. […] I ask the Chamber to take this into account. […] I ask you to give time to the civil party without inviting her to control her emotions […], to wait until she recomposes herself or to plan for a recess.”

To judge Cartwright, she specified that her team had met the civil party three times, including once “a very long time ago.” The New Zealand judge recalled to the attention of the civil party lawyers that the Chamber had asked them to provide them with some guidelines on how to treat the witnesses and shot the following comment in Silke Studzinsky’s direction: “We are all experienced judges. I am not sure we require the advice you just gave us.”

A Khmer Rouge civil party at the stand
Mrs. Nam Mon, a 48-year-old farmer, took her seat. In mid-1975, when she was 15, she joined the tiny medical staff of S-21 (three members). The life of that Khmer Rouge family was turned upside down when the father, who worked in “logistics,” was arrested in 1977. One of the older sons – two of them became guards in Tuol Sleng – received the order to execute their father. The ones after the others, they turned to detainees. Six of her relatives did not come back from S-21. Only Nam Mon survived.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 09/07/2009: Mrs. Nam Mon, farmer and former nurse under the Khmer Rouge, during her testimony at the ECCC
©Stéphanie Gée

Accused of betraying the Khmer Rouge cause, she was also arrested early 1978 and was detained for three months at S-21, before being transferred to the Prey Sar re-education camp. There, she was assigned for the five months she spent in the camp to digging pits to bury the dead children. Then, she was sent to another prison shortly before the arrival of the Vietnamese. Nam Mon was still only a child, she recalled, when her father, a “small shopkeeper” joined the Khmer Rouge revolutionary forces. “He was then an informer in Phnom Penh.”

A president who loses patience
The petite woman, who kept her arms stuck to her body and lowered her eyes every time she spoke, gave a vague story, sometimes answering beside the point, which resulted in Nil Nonn becoming irritated and lecturing her: “Please, listen to the question carefully.” The illiterate woman’s answers seemed at times to exasperate the president, while he tried to have her identify the S-21 building where she worked, without using any map… “When you entered through the main gate, was it the building on the left or on the right?”, the judge repeated, lost as to how to phrase the question. The civil party multiplied her answers, with little clarity. “Are you sure you remember which way is East and which is West?”, the judge seemed to worry.

It was only much later that it was decided to show on the screen an aerial picture of Tuol Sleng, which the civil party still struggled to make sense of. When the Cambodian co-Prosecutor suggested to print the document to make it easier for Nam Mon, he was immediately rebuffed by the president, who exclaimed most inappropriately: “Wait until it is your turn to speak.” A countless number of plans and photographs of S-21 exist, which could also have been shown to the civil party.

During her three-month captivity in S-21, early 1978, Nam Mon found herself in the hands of interrogators with whom she was unable to argue her statute as a colleague. “They were new. I didn’t know them. The guards were constantly changing.” Her father was detained for six months – a long time in a prison such as S-21.

A number of elements in her story caught the attention: that her relatives were killed, according to her, in S-21 at a time when executions took place on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, in Choeung Ek, to avoid epidemics, or that her mother did not work under the Khmer Rouge before her arrest, as she indicated. The former S-21 nurse may also be able to shed new light on the medical experimentations and the practice of drawing blood that were allegedly performed on S-21 prisoners and which Duch has finally started acknowledging since very recently.

The hearing was adjourned earlier than usual. In spite of an additional recess and the presence of a member of the Victims Support Unit by her side, it became too much for Nam Mon when she was shown the picture of one of her disappeared relatives. She is scheduled to come back and finish her testimony on Monday July 13th.

(translated from French by Ji-Sook Lee)

Supreme respect


The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

Monks from several Phnom Penh pagodas, including Wat Ounalom, Saravan, Biphork Rangsy, Bhuddhgausajar, Srashchork and Kors, march Thursday towards Wat Botum to pay their respects to Supreme Monk Non Nget.

KR Tribunal: Bar takes no action on KRT lawyer

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009
Georgia Wilkins

KR Tribunal

The Alaska Bar Association has decided to take no action against Michael Karnavas, defence lawyer for Ieng Sary, after judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal threatened to sanction him in March for publishing court documents on an independent Web site. Karnavas said Thursday he felt "vindicated" by the bar's decision, which stated that the judges' "breach of confidentiality" over their Web site did not warrant a formal investigation. "I feel vindicated and can only hope to get a hearing before the pretrial chamber on this matter," Karnavas said. Lawyers took down a selection of documents from the Web site in March, but denied any of them were confidential.

King Father Sihanouk returns from Beijing

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009
Sam Rith

After nearly a year living in the Chinese capital, the King Father returns to Cambodia, earning praise from members of civil society and local politicians.

KING Father Norodom Sihanouk and his wife Queen Monineath Sihanouk arrived safely in Cambodia on Thursday at 3:30pm at Siem Reap International Airport, the first time he has been on Cambodian soil in almost a year, said Prince Sisowath Thomico, who arrived from Beijing with Norodom Sihanouk.

Sisowath Thomico said the 87-year-old King Father had been cured of his third bout of cancer and appeared healthy, adding that he did not yet know his schedule for his two months in Cambodia.

Politicians and members of civil society alike celebrated the arrival of Sihanouk, expressing their respect for the former King and head of state.

An independent leader
Kong Bora, a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian, said Thursday that all politicians should look to Sihanouk as a model of political independence.

"The Sam Rainsy Party considers the King [Norodom Sihanouk] as the father of national independence who reconciled all politicians from all political parties," he said.

Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), said on behalf of civil society he was very happy that the King Father was back in Cambodia and wished he would stay longer.

"The return of the King Father is good for our Khmer society. His presence in the country will make the citizens feel warm," he said. "We want to have him stay in Cambodia - his homeland - forever, rather than stay in another country."

If after this ... examination my cancer does not reappear then i can return.

But according to a letter from the King Father on Monday, he will fly back to Beijing on September 3 at the behest of his "very eminent Chinese doctors" with King Norodom Sihamoni, who will have a health examination in the Chinese capital.

Medical tests
The letter said that he planned to stay in China until at least February 2010, when he will undergo both a PET scan and an MRI.

"If after this double examination, my cancer does not reappear, then I can return to Cambodia," he wrote.

Sihanouk wrote that he was honoured and happy to be staying in Cambodia from Thursday through September 2, where he will be "in the midst of my lovely compatriots".

Sihanouk was crowned King at age 18 in 1941 with French approval, but in 1953 he helped Cambodia win full independence from France.

Two years later, he abdicated the crown to his father so he could pursue political office. Norodom Sihanouk ran Cambodia from 1953 to 1970, when he was deposed by Lon Nol.

Afterwards, Sihanouk entered into an uneasy alliance with the Khmer Rouge, who came to power in 1975. During that time, he remained under house arrest in the Royal Palace.

Sihanouk returned to the throne in 1993 until he abdicated the crown to Norodom Sihamoni in 2004.

Editor pleads for PM's pardon

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

OPPOSITION newspaper publisher Dam Sith has issued a "sincere apology" to Prime Minister Hun Sen after a government lawyer filed defamation, disinformation and incitement lawsuits against him at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Dam Sith apologised to the prime minister for "serious mistakes" committed while at the helm of the opposition-aligned Moneaksekar Khmer, pledging to cease publication of the newspaper if he receives a pardon from Hun Sen.

"In the past, I repeatedly failed to act properly and seriously affected the honour of Samdech [Hun Sen] and the CPP leadership through my Moneaksekar Khmer newspaper," Dam Sith wrote.

"I am asking for the highest permission of Samdech to forgive me so that I can escape the court charges against me."

He added: "In exchange for the generosity of Samdech and the CPP leadership, I promise to discontinue the publication of Moneaksekar Khmer after I receive a pardon from Samdech."

Dam Sith received a summons Tuesday from Phnom Penh Municipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Sok Kalyan, asking him to appear July 14 for questioning over a series of articles published in the newspaper earlier this year.

Sok Kalyan declined to comment when contacted on Thursday. But Long Dara, the government lawyer who filed the lawsuits, said the letter had reached Hun Sen, who ordered him to withdraw the complaints against the publisher.

"He has written a letter of apology acknowledging the mistakes he has made.... We will drop the complaint today [Thursday]," he said.

He said that since February, Moneaksekar Khmer had continually published articles that sought to "incite" conflict between government leaders.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said he was unsurprised by Dam Sith's appeal to Hun Sen and did not blame him for requesting a pardon.

"The government is now using the court to silence freedom of expression. We are not disappointed with [Dam Sith] - we have pity on him," he said.

'Critical phase'
But following the apology, and subsequent pardon, of Sam Rainsy Party lawyer Kong Sam Onn on similar charges Tuesday, civil society groups say the country is entering a critical phase in its democratic development.

Kong Sam Onn had filed a defamation lawsuit against Hun Sen on behalf of SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua in April, prompting accusations of professional misconduct by the Cambodian Bar Association and a defamation lawsuit from government lawyers.

"I think this is the beginning of the end for press freedom in Cambodia," said Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies.

He also expressed fears the fate of Moneaksekar Khmer - one of only two opposition newspapers in Cambodia - could parallel the fate of former opposition newspaper Sralanh Khmer, which went over to the ruling party after its editor Thach Keth defected to the government in 2006.

He said, "If the editor-in-chief has apologised to the government, it is very likely he will receive a pardon from the prime minister and then either the newspaper will be shut down or it will [start] publishing as a pro-government newspaper."

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, also highlighted the Sralanh Khmer situation, but said that civil society activists were unsure about when the current crackdown will end.

"It's a growing concern that any of us could be charged and potentially thrown in jail or be pressured to join the CPP," he told the Post.

"That would be a new low, a terribly new low. The question is when it will reach the point of no return."

New S-21 abuse claim

Photo by: AFP
Civil party Chin Meth testifies Thursday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, where she described living conditions at Prey Sar.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009
Robbie Corey-Boulet

Court hears witness who altered her story from her application.

ACIVIL party told Cambodia's war crimes court Thursday that one of her brothers who was working as a guard at Tuol Sleng prison was ordered to execute their father before he himself was killed.

Nam Mon, 48, said she worked as a medic at the secret detention facility, also known as S-21, until she was arrested in 1978. She said she, her father, her mother and all four of her brothers were detained there, and that only she escaped execution, after being sent to Prey Sar, or S-24.

Her testimony was prefaced by comments from her lawyer, Silke Studzinsky, who said that Nam Mon's story had been altered since she originally applied to become a civil party. Studzinsky said her client had come forward with her new story about 10 days ago.

Four civil parties had their testimonies challenged by judges and lawyers this week, including two whose testimonies were said to have deviated from their civil party applications. The trend has raised concerns from one defence team that the applications have not been thoroughly vetted.

Under questioning from Presiding Judge Nil Nonn, Nam Mon said she heard about the story of her brother killing her father from a fellow medic and did not witness the incident herself.

"I did not see him, but [the other medic] told me about the incident," she said. "She said that my brother was ordered to kill my father, and that he was later on executed, too."

She said she worked as a medic at Tuol Sleng beginning in 1975, and that two of her brothers worked as guards. She also said she saw her father shortly after he was arrested, and that she was later accused of being "a daughter of the traitor".

In an interview Thursday evening, Studzinsky said Nam Mon had not changed any aspect of her original story, but rather had elaborated on the details of how her family members were killed as well as her own role at Tuol Sleng.

"We can just say that she added more," Studzinsky said. "It's an amendment."

Nil Nonn challenged Nam Mon to demonstrate her knowledge of, among other things, the precise location and organisation of Tuol Sleng.

Her account of Tuol Sleng diverged in several respects from those offered by other witnesses and civil parties. She said she was interrogated in the same room where she was held, whereas others have reported being taken to a separate interrogation room. She said guards tightened the shackle that had been placed around her ankle during interrogations, though she did not mention other frequently cited torture methods such as beatings and electrocution.

Although shackle-tightening has not been one of the torture methods frequently cited, Studzinsky said she had "no doubt" that Nam Mon's account was true.

"We do not know about how female prisoners and staff members were then treated," Studzinsky said, noting that no other female Tuol Sleng survivors had testified at the court.

In her prefatory remarks, Studzinsky said her client's testimony would include references to prison chief Kaing Guek Eav's personal and physical involvement "in treatment towards two of her relatives who were imprisoned in Tuol Sleng". No such references were made Thursday, and Studzinsky declined to elaborate Thursday evening, though she said she hoped the topic would be raised when testimony continues Monday morning.

Female detainees
Also Thursday, the court heard the conclusion of testimony from Chin Meth, a civil party who described how women who were detained during the Khmer Rouge years tried to help one another overcome beatings, forced labour and thoughts of suicide.

Chin Meth, 51, said she was recruited against her will to fight for the Khmer Rouge in 1974 and joined an all-female soldier unit.

She said the unit was trained to use weapons including rocket launchers, grenades and AK-47s. Because she could not handle them, she was tasked with carrying weapons and ammunition to soldiers at the front, she said.

She was eventually arrested and detained for 15 days at a facility she could not identify before being sent to Prey Sar. At the first facility, she said she was beaten with a stick, and she described how a fellow detainee tied a krama around her leg to stanch the bleeding from wounds she sustained.

She said she was detained in a cell with two other women, and that the three of them contemplated suicide.

"If there was a tool nearby, then we would all agree to commit suicide," she said. "However, in that room there was no tool.... We thought of committing suicide, but we had no opportunity."

She added: "We understood one another very well. We knew the suffering, and we knew that we could not stand the situation. We wished that we could be living peacefully with our parents. We were betrayed. That's why we made the decision to commit suicide together."

King begs: Plant trees

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009
Khouth Sophak Chakrya

King Norodom Sihamoni decries illegal logging at a convention marking National Forest Day.

KING Norodom Sihamoni has called on Cambodians to stop logging illegally and start planting trees to prevent Cambodia's forests from disappearing.

"If you continue to pull down our forests, you will continue to kill yourselves and your communities and your nation," he said Thursday .

"Please, all illegal loggers stop logging the forest and stop producing saffron oil because it a drug. Please move to tree planting and farming to protect our natural forest resources," he said.

The monarch's plea came at a convention to celebrate National Forest Day in Krakor district, Pursat province.

He prayed that Forest Day would remind all Cambodian civil servants, armed forces and citizens to "love the forest" and protect and conserve Cambodia's natural resources.

"If everyone plants one tree, we can produce millions of trees per year," he said.

Govt defends 'crackdown'
Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun said that in the pursuit to crack down on illegal logging, the government had uncovered 266 cases of "forest and wildlife crime" in the first half of 2009.

But Yeam Ly, president of the Association of Protection Development for Cambodian Environment said: "The government may plant 1,000 trees per year, but some high-ranking officials work with illegal loggers to log more than 10,000 trees per year."

City court removes director of Centre for Social Development

Court officials meet with members of the Centre for Social Development on Thursday to discuss the injunction.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

Theary Seng sacked amid claims and counterclaims as officials execute temporary injunction.

CITY authorities have intervened in a long-running internal dispute at the Centre for Social Development (CSD), a local rights organisation, temporarily removing the organisation's executive director following an injunction filed by a long-standing opponent.

On Thursday, officials arrived at the organisation's office to implement the temporary injunction, dated June 16, replacing chief Theary Seng with Vi Huoi, who claims to represent the CSD's board of directors.

"I am responsible for carrying out the preservation warrant to temporarily suspend Theary Seng as CSD's executive director and replace her with Vi Houi," Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Sok Kolyan told CSD staff and reporters during a two-hour meeting at CSD headquarters.

Competing claims
But amid the claims and counterclaims of Theary Seng and Vi Huoi, both of whom claim the legal high ground in the dispute, it remains unclear who has the right to legitimate control of the organisation.

Representatives of Theary Seng, who has served as executive director of the CSD since 2006, rejected the court ruling, claiming in a press release Thursday that Vi Huoi was part of "an unauthorised group of individuals" attempting to seize control of the organisation.

They also claim a previous attempt to have Theary Seng removed as head of the organisation, undertaken by Vi Huoi in May 2008 and then filed to the Ministry of Interior in August, was rejected by the Ministry as "baseless".

Theary Seng said by email from France that the injunction had come "out of thin air", and that the issue had already been decided by the Ministry of Interior.

"This injunction in effect is an indictment of the authority and mandate of the Minister of Interior," she said.

"This is an issue of harassment and abuse of process and reflects once again the absurdity, the brokenness of the judiciary in Cambodia."

Her lawyer Ang Udom added during Thursday's meeting that she felt "hopeless, concerned and pessimistic" about Vi Huoi's appointment.

"We know very well that he doesn't have enough capacity to implement [his duties] and he is not good at communicating with donors," he said.

But Vi Huoi rejected the accusations, telling the Post that he had resorted to legal action because Theary Seng refused to comply with a 2008 board decision terminating her from her position.

"When the board hired her, she signed a contract, she did not respect it, and she went out and formed a new board, which is not legal according to our Constitution," he said.

He added: "The injunction is a legal issue, and we have to respect the law - the law is above us all."

Chan Soveth, a monitor for local human rights body Adhoc, said the court's warrant appeared to follow the law, but expressed concerns the organisation would suffer as a result of the change in leadership.

"I feel worried that the work will not go smoothly because staffers are not happy with the new board," adding that Theary Seng's absence overseas would only make matters worse, he said.


Thai Web site reignites spat over territory

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

ANEW Web site launched by Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Saturday has put itself into the forefront of the current border dispute, claiming parts of Cambodia as "lost" Thai territory.

According to local media reports, the new Web site ( ), which is intended to improve Thailand's national image, includes a video showing the country losing sections of territory to France, Britain and China.

The video also reportedly describes sections of present-day Cambodia - including Siem Reap, Battambang and the disputed Preah Vihear temple - as lost parts of Thailand.

When contacted Thursday, officials ridiculed the view of history aired on the Web site, saying the Thais were bending the truth for political purposes.

"They are twisting the facts of history. It is completely exaggerated," said Phay Siphan, spokesman for Council of Ministers.

"This is a chance for us to explain that the Thais are using history for their political affairs."

Phay Siphan said there would be a response from Cambodian historians to the claims contained on the Web site but that the Council of Ministers would not take any action on the issue.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said he had not seen the video, but that he would investigate the claims and take action if necessary.

"I will ask the relevant officials to collect information from the Thai government's Web site and translate it. Then we will discuss it later," he said Thursday.

In 1794, Thailand - then known as Siam - annexed Siem Reap and Battambang provinces from the declining Khmer kingdom, but the territories were returned following a March 1907 treaty between Thailand and France.

Thailand retook the territories with Japanese support in 1940-41, but they reverted to Franco-Cambodian control after the war.

Thai Embassy officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Lack of films prompts ministry cancellation of national festival

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009
Mom Kunthear

Cinemagoers and filmmakers alike call for more government investment in the sector as plans for biannual National Cinema Festival are nixed.

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said Thursday it will not hold its biannual National Cinema Festival this year, as too few films have been released to sustain a competition.

"It is not because we lack money. Rather, it is that we are lacking in productions, and the quality is still low," said Som Sokun, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

The festival, which has been held sporadically over the last two decades, was first held in 1991 and again 14 years later in 2005.

Som Sokun said the ministry was taking the decision to cancel the festival as a wake-up call to boost the quality of local productions.

"As we all already know, most Cambodians don't support or are not interested in Khmer films," he said.

"From now on, we are thinking about quality. We will think about quality even if we only get one good film a year, and we want to find good hooks to make our films more enjoyable to Cambodian audiences," he said.

Quality costs money
But Ly Bun Yim, a writer and filmmaker, said Thursday that in order to improve the quality of Cambodian films, serious financial investment is needed.

"There are some aspects of Cambodian films that remain poor in quality - for example, production value is still below international standards. This is mainly because the industry does not have enough money to produce good films and cannot compete with Western movies,"

Chinda Ny, a student at Chaktamok high school, said that young people want to support local cinema, but that the quality of Cambodian films does not match those of other countries and that many people don't bother watching them.

"I want the government to consider how it can improve Khmer films by any means because I know there are many Cambodian people like me who would like to watch Khmer films, not just Western ones," she said.

Municipal official threatens Group 78 families: villagers

Residents of Group 78 prepare sweet potatoes for sale on Thursday. Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun met with 10 families from the community during meetings in which residents said he threatened them with forcible eviction if they did not leave by a July 17 deadline.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

After individual meetings, 10 families say a Phnom Penh deputy governor tried to bully them into accepting inadequate compensation to leave area.

PHNOM Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun told residents of Group 78 that if they did not leave their houses by July 17, 500 police and military officers would be called upon to forcibly evict them from their homes, residents told the Post after a Thursday meeting.

"[Mann Chhoeun] did not allow us to say anything," said Li Navy, a 42-year-old Group 78 resident. "He tried to force us to decide between one of three choices to move from our houses ... before July 17 or the police will bulldoze our houses."

Mann Chhoeun confirmed he had met with 10 families from Group 78 on Thursday morning and that, if the families did not move by July 17, he would be forced to "take administrative measures and bulldoze the community on the 17th".

The families met with Mann Chhoeun one at a time, and as each family left, they told the Post that they were threatened by the deputy governor.

"[Mann Chhoeun] told us if we did not move ... our valuables would be destroyed on July 17 by bulldozers," Li Navy said.

[Mann chhoeun] told us if we did not move ... our valuables would be destroyed.

The government is offering the community a choice of three compensation packages. The residents can choose from a 5-metre-by-12-metre plot of land in Trapaing Anchanh and US$5,000, a 4-metre-by-7-metre flat in Borey Sensok and $1,000, or $8,000.

Market value for the land is much higher than the government's compensation offers.

The 260-metre-by-45-metre plot of land next to the new Australian Embassy sits on prime inner-city real estate.

According to an independent property valuation by Bonna Realty, the land is worth more than $15 million, or about $1,300 per square metre.

Of the 86 families in Group 78, only eight have agreed to accept government compensation, Mann Chhoeun said, setting up a potential showdown between police and community members next week.

Residents claim that they have occupied the land since the 1980s and have repeatedly sought legal recognition that they own the land, according to the Group 78 lawyer Yin Savat.

The 2001 Land Law states that those living on a plot of land for five years prior to the passing of the law can apply for official ownership.

But Mann Chhoeun told the Post that the community was living illegally on state property and property owned by the Sour Srun company.

"Those people took public land and land owned by the Sour Srun company to be their own," he said.

"An identity card and a family book is not enough to certify the land they are living on is their homeland," he added.

Mann Chhoeun said Phnom Penh was being generous with their offers.

"We pity them, so we will provide them with some land and money so they can live in another place," he said.

According to the Cambodian constitution, the government has the right to evict people from either state or private land for the "public interest", but Article 44 of the Cambodian constitution stipulates the government must pay "fair and just compensation in advance".

"If the Phnom Penh authorities decided to bulldoze the homes of villagers without appropriate compensation ... they will violate the nation's constitution and the land law," Yin Savat said.

Mu Sochua seeks new legal representation

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

SAM Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua said Thursday that she has asked lawyer Sok Sam Oeun to replace her former attorney Kong Sam Onn, who defected this week to the Cambodian People's Party after Hun Sen filed a defamation suit against him. But Sok Sam Oeun says he has not yet agreed to defend the embattled legislator.

Mu Sochua said Thursday she picked Sok Sam Oeun, the executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, because she knew he would not be susceptible to intimidation by the situation.

"I have decided to take lawyer Sok Sam Oeun to defend me. I have already asked him, and he agreed. But he told me to write a letter to ask permission from the court first," Mu Sochua said.

"He is really a very brave lawyer. Some lawyers look brave, but when pressure bores down, they admit defeat," she said.
But Sok Sam Oeun said he has not accepted the position.

"I have not agreed with her yet. My organisation helps the poor, but she is rich," Sok Sam Oeun said.

Inflation rises 1.8pc in June

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A shopper pays for groceries at Lucky Supermarket in Phnom Penh. Food prices have climbed – along with the price of fuel – which contributed to 1.8pc CPI inflation last month, the government said.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

Latest consumer price index data show inflation is picking up steam following May’s 1pc increase, a trend the government blames on food and fuel prices

THE cost of living in Phnom Penh rose 1.8 percent in June compared with the previous month, the government's latest consumer price index (CPI) figures show.

The figure was an increase on the previous month, when prices increased 1 percent, according to government data.

San Sy Than, director general of the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) at the Ministry of Planning, said the rise was due to higher food and fuel prices.

His deputy, Khin Song, said the increase ought not to raise concerns.

"The reason for the rise is because we are in the season when fishing is prohibited," Khin Song said, adding that food prices always increase during the fishing ban of June to August.

Khin Song said food prices tend to drop once the fishing ban expires at the end of August. And he predicted that food prices would not climb higher than they had last year.

The NIS figures showed that petrol prices were up almost 8 percent on the month, which caused transport prices to climb 3 percent. Despite the climb, petrol still costs one-third less than it did a year ago when it hit 5,700 riels a litre.

The other category item that drove the monthly cost of living figure higher was food, which was 2.3 percent higher overall.

The food basket was more expensive due to a rise in the cost of vegetables (up 5.9 percent), rice (3.4 percent), and bread (3.3 percent). The price of fish climbed 6.2 percent.

Khin Song said that was no surprise since vegetables and rice typically cost more in the rainy season when most farmland is flooded.

The monthly increase means that the cost of living is still 4.9 percent lower than in June 2008, a slight narrowing of the 5.7 percent lower figure recorded in May.

Economist Kang Chandararot, the president of the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, said the rise in the cost of foodstuffs would be seen by some as good news.

"This is a good sign for the economy, especially for farmers who still have rice and vegetables in stock available to sell," he said. "It indicates that their hardships are gradually easing."

The CPI for June was 131.8 when measured against the base figure of 100 calculated for October-December 2006. June's CPI is down from June 2008, when the CPI was 138.5.

The index was driven lower during that period by declines in the price of rice (down almost 19 percent over 12 months) and pork (down 15 percent).

The CPI is made up of a weighted basket of 259 household items costed in markets in the capital. The items include food, drinks, fuel, electricity, clothing, rent and telecoms.

Import-export tax revenue drops 22pc, says govt

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

THE government's tax take on imports and exports dropped 22 percent to US$280 million in the first half of the year compared with the same period last year, it said Thursday. The $78 million decline was outlined by Customs and Excise at its June monthly meeting.

The Kingdom's main imports are vehicles, spare parts and construction materials. Its major exports are garments and agricultural products.

Pen Siman, the director general of Customs and Excise's general department, said the main reason for the drop was a 60 percent decline in vehicle imports. He said 20,000 to 30,000 vehicles, most of them second-hand, were imported last year, and taxation on them represents a key revenue source.

Pen Siman would not be drawn on a precise figure, saying only that the Kingdom collected more than $500 million in 2008 from imports and exports.

Kum Nhem, the deputy director general of Customs and Excise's general department, told the Post that the drop in the number of vehicles being imported was a concern. He explained that import taxes are more valuable as the rate levied on imports is higher than that levied on exports.

"In my opinion, the global economic crisis is the main reason for the drop in tax revenue as it has caused a big drop in imports," Kum Nhem said. "We have tried our best to collect these taxes, but if imports and exports keep decreasing like this we won't be able to increase tax revenues at all."

Economist Kang Chandararot, the president of the Cambodia Institute of Development Study, said tax collection would improve by the end of 2010.

"That is when the world economy will have recovered and the tax-collection system will be better organised," he said.

Five to 10 companies set to list at exchange, SECC says

Electricite du Cambodge, the Kingdom’s state-run power company, is expected to be among the first three companies to list on the Cambodian stock exchange once it opens trading.

The Phnom penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

Commission director general offers road map to making initial public offerings, saying public trust and use of international accounting standards are critical

BETWEEN five and 10 companies are preparing to list on the forthcoming Cambodian stock exchange, an official at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Cambodia (SECC) said Thursday.

Speaking at a workshop at the Hotel Cambodiana outlining the road to initial public offerings (IPOs) in Cambodia, SECC Director General Ming Bankosal said that yet more companies were waiting to make a decision on whether to make the necessary auditing and accounting improvements that would be required to list.

"We would require companies that list on the Cambodian stock exchange to be leading companies ... those companies must be profitable to persuade people that have capital to invest to generate profits together," he said in a speech at the conference. "If they can make profit together, then the Cambodian economy will grow more quickly."

The path to issuing an IPO would also require auditing by an internationally accredited firm, Ming Bankosal said, along with the necessary staff training and computer systems that would all add to the financial cost of meeting the necessary requirements.

"The companies we want to list ... [must have a] good reputation and should be trusted by the public," he said.

Ming Bankosal declined to name the companies that had begun making the necessary preparations to list on the exchange.

Sources close to the stock exchange planning process have previously told the Post that Electricite du Cambodge, Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority and Sihanoukville Autonomous Port - all state-owned - would be the first companies to list.

Government officials have, however, refused to confirm the identities of the first companies in Cambodia scheduled to issue IPOs.

Sam Ganty, a US-trained financial expert who has worked at the Foreign Trade Bank and Canadia Bank, said last month that it is mostly a handful of private banks that would qualify without making significant auditing improvements, given that many banks in the Kingdom already conduct international-level bookkeeping.

Given delays to the opening of the exchange - which had previously been scheduled for December - companies will likely have a while longer to make necessary preparations.

On Wednesday, contractor World City Co Ltd of South Korea told the Post that the Ministry of Economy and Finance had rejected its designs for the four-storey exchange building on the basis it was not considered sufficiently Khmer in architectural style.

CDN opens $1m media centre in the capital

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

A US$1 million centre opened Thursday in Phnom Penh aimed at improving the country's digital TV and satellite broadband services, officials said.

The centre has been set up by the Cambodia DTV Network Limited (CDN), a subsidiary of Thailand's satellite TV operator Thaicom Public Company Limited.

Thaicom was formerly known as Shin Satellite, a division of the Shin Corporation set up by Thailand's former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said Thursday that the DTV system was the first to bring together almost all of the nation's TV channels and offer them on a single platform broadcast directly to households across the Kingdom.

The only TV station not signed up is CTN, the Cambodian Television Network, which is owned by the Royal Group.

"DTV brings information to districts, schools, the armed forces and especially to the people at the border, so I hope CTN will join in the future," Khieu Kanharith said.

He added that the service would also be broadcast on a trial basis to people in the area of southern Vietnam known to many Cambodians as Kampuchea Krom.

Jiroj Srinamwong, CDN's general manager, said DTV had been deployed to more than 50,000 families in Cambodia over the past year in a cooperative effort with the state broadcaster TVK.

"The demand for satellite TV in Cambodia is increasing in everyday life, in schools and in public administration as well as in the industrial sector," he said. "DTV is applicable in all areas where the cost of electricity is high and unreliable because it can work off a battery."

Future mobile access
Khieu Kanharith added that by the end of the year people would be able to access TV shows using compatible mobile phones in areas with 3G coverage.

"All means of media access and broadcasting will be available, and the country will stop analog broadcasting by 2015," he said.

CDN set up operations in Cambodia in February 2008 and aims to provide digital TV across the country with a focus on rural areas where the majority of Cambodians live, it has said.

The company will establish another eight dealers in the provinces before the end of the year, it said.

The DC power version of its DTV set will have a retail price of US$78, which pays for the satellite dish and a set-top box unit with a battery connection.

Tourist crossings into Poipet increase 25pc

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

Figures for first six months show increase on same period last year, tourism official says.

THE number of tourists crossing into Cambodia through the Poipet land crossing on the Thai border rose one-quarter in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year, an official said Thursday.

Chhung Lim, the director of the provincial tourism department, told the Post that 152,600 foreign nationals had come through Poipet so far this year, up from 124,300 in the first six months of 2008.

"We are seeing this increase because we have quality infrastructure, a quick service and good security," he said. "Also many travel agencies are offering competitive prices to enter Cambodia overland here."

Chhung Lim said another reason - accounting for one-third of the increase - is that citizens from Laos, Myanmar and the Philippines use the crossing as a visa run before returning to Thailand.

The largest increase was crossings by Vietnamese citizens, whose numbers were up more than threefold to 13,500 visitors. Chhung Lim said many Vietnamese citizens travelling to Thailand preferred the cheaper overland option through Cambodia.

The largest drop was in Thai tourists, down almost half to 12,200 visitors.

Sao Bunrith, the chief of the immigration police at the border crossing, said the rise in tourist crossings at Poipet came despite the problems of the global economic crisis, Thai political unrest and swine flu.

"These days we are seeing 900 to 1,000 tourists crossing daily. Whenever the political situation in Thailand is quiet, the number of tourists crossing our checkpoint always rises," he said. "Most are coming overland to see Angkor Wat."

Ho Vandy, the co-chair of the Tourism Working Group and head of the national travel agent association, welcomed the increase.

"That's a good sign for our tourism industry because we have recently been working hard to improve our service and cut costs to attract tourists," he said Ho Vandy.

Chhung Lim said South Koreans made up the third-largest group of foreign nationals crossing at Poipet with 9,900 citizens (down 41 percent).

The number of UK nationals was up 13 percent to 8,700, and US citizens were up 12 percent to 5,600.

Oil interests tread a fine line in Cambodia

Stephane Dion, managing director of Total Cambodge.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

Stephane Dion, managing director of Total Cambodge, says stability of the Kingdom’s market for oil will someday be guaranteed by domestic production, but for now it depends on Singapore.


What price changes have you introduced this year on petrol and diesel?

Prices at the pumps reflect the international price of oil products and the cost of bringing these products here.

The international price reference in this region of the world is the MOPS (Mean of Platts Singapore), which is quoted daily in Singapore.

If you look at the MOPS cycle between January 2 and June 30, 2009, the MOPS price increased by 84 percent for gasoline (Mogas 92) and 33 percent for diesel. In the same period our pump price has increased by 29 percent for gasoline (from 2,950 to 3,800 riels/litre) and by 16 percent for diesel (from 2,850 to 3,300 riels/litre).

This shows the efforts that Total is making to control the pump price. Unfortunately, it also implies that further price increases will be necessary.

What was the substance of the recent meeting with Minister of Finance Keat Chhon?

In the meeting ... [on June 29] His Excellency Keat Chhon expressed the government's concerns over the increase in oil prices and the potential consequences for inflation and people's purchasing power. Representatives from the oil companies present pointed out that international crude oil prices have doubled in recent months.

Everybody said how they are aware of the impact of oil prices for a country like Cambodia and are making efforts to keep prices low.

On behalf of Total, I pointed out that Total has just blazed a trail in Cambodia by launching Excellium 95.

This is a new-generation fuel that reduces the fuel consumption of gasoline engines by an average of 3.7 percent compared with regular 95 octane gasoline while also cutting pollutant emissions.

Not only does Excellium 95 address environmental concerns, but it also addresses the primary concern of both the government and the customers - namely price.

If you look at one litre of Excellium 95, it sells at 3,950 riels/litre, which is between 0 percent and 2.6 percent more than the super sold by our competitors.

What effect would it have if Cambodia was pumping oil from its own reserves?

Producing crude oil and natural gas in Cambodia and refining it in adjacent countries would increase the supply.

It is less easy to calculate the changes that might occur in the domestic petrol market, but it would certainly help control pump prices. It is also easy to predict that this would help the economy by bringing an influx of revenues and directly or indirectly generating business.

So, as far as Total is concerned, it can only encourage the Cambodian government to move forward quickly with the upstream sector and sign exploration contracts with world-class oil companies - exploring, drilling and hopefully finding and pumping natural oil and gas.

Local and international organisations have voiced concerns over how the government will spend future oil and gas revenues. What is your view on that?

That is a very long debate that happens in many countries. It isn't my role to comment on what NGOs say, and I don't have experience in the upstream sector to judge this.

Companies such as Total do what we can to help put together an appropriate framework that would enable production to proceed transparently and according to the rules so that revenues can benefit everyone.

What are your thoughts about expansion in Cambodia?

We have touched on the upstream sector, and it's no secret that Total has been in discussions with the government to obtain [a number of onshore and offshore] concessions. So that's one possible area.

We do intend to add petrol stations where there is demand, for instance in the newly developed parts of Phnom Penh, but I don't have specific numbers.

We have two stations in both Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. And we have stations in the main cities and on main roads. The most populated parts are covered by our network, and we will extend that to other provinces.

Why does Sokimex and not Total have the contract to supply petrol to government ministries?

We weren't asked to tender, but we would be happy to do so if asked. If there was an open tender for all companies, Total would be happy to participate.

Cambodia has again been criticised for corruption, most recently by NGOs and by the US ambassador. To what extent did Total have to provide incentives to officials here?

I won't comment on this because it is not my role to comment on statements by NGOs and the US Embassy.

Total abides by a very strict code of conduct and complies 100 percent with all the regulations of the countries in which it operates. This applies to our operations in more than 130 countries in the world.

The perils of pet ownership

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009
Charlie Brooker

To normal, kind, and loving people, pets are a source of cute, absolute love, but to me, they represent the perpetual looming spectre of imminent death

Sorry to brag, sorry to lord it over you like this, but I've got a cat flap. Yeah. A little feline-sized door-within-a-door for a cat to walk through. A cat flap! Beat that.

I didn't even have to install it. It came with the flat, courtesy of the previous owners. As a child I never dared to dream that one day I'd own my own cat flap, and even now that I do, I sometimes have to pinch myself and remember that yes: This is real.

This is my cat flap. And it lives in my door.

I don't have a cat though.

I don't have any pets. Yet people keep telling me to get one, just like they keep telling me to get a wife.

Anyway, back to pets, and people telling me to get one.

Assuming the stone's being thrown by a powerful robot, I live a stone's throw from a dogs and cats refuge, a building full of lonely-looking furry creatures with gigantic pleading eyes. I could go in there and walk out with armfuls of puppies and kittens.

But I won't. Or rather can't. I just can't. Why?

Because animals die, that's why. And they die too soon. They've got short life spans.
I had a cat once. And I loved that cat. But eventually the cat died, and I don't know if I want to go through that again.

Literally every time I stroke someone else's cat or dog, all I can think is, "Yes, it's lovely, but it'll die". Every time I envisage myself owning a pet, my mind immediately floods with pre-emptive grief.

What if it got run over? Or it choked on something?

What if it got run over? Or it choked on something?

What if I tripped and fell and dropped a Yellow Pages on its head?

I just couldn't bear it.
Yes, I know humans die, too, and usually leave even sharper grief in their wake when they do so.
But you can't go through life without becoming at least vaguely attached to at least one or two humans in some form or another.

The pain they'll cause is unavoidable. Whereas pets seem easier to cut out. I know, pet lovers, I know. The joy your pets give while alive far outweighs the grief of their passing.

You might even argue that foreknowledge of your pet's future death actually lends to your delight in their comparatively fleeting existence even more resonance.

That's all very well. I still don't want to come home one night to find a dead cat on the floor.

When I asked the Internet whether I should get a pet, I got a variety of responses.

One person suggested buying something dangerous, like a scorpion or a tiger. That way, rather than worrying about its death, I'd be worrying about my own. Our day-to-day existence would turn into a nail-biting contest in which only one of us would make it out alive.

Someone else suggested a virtual pet, like a Tamagotchi. I had one of those years ago: accidentally put it through the washing machine in a jeans pocket and felt like a murderer.

Taxidermy also got a mention. True, a stuffed pet wouldn't die. But it would stand around in a glass box, advertising death.

And that's what I see when I look in the mirror. I see death.

The ageing process and death.
And a mop. The mop's often propped up against that wall at the back I can see from the mirror.
It's not relevant to the discussion. I just threw it in to lighten the mood.

I suppose what I'm getting at here is I'm just too damn angsty to own a pet.

Which is a pity because, like I say, I've got a cat flap.

And whenever people see it they go, "Ooh, have you got a cat?" and I have to explain that I don't, because of death and everything, and it's a bit of a conversation-killer to be honest.

And it's happened so many times now that every time I see the cat flap, I think about the cat I don't have, and how much I'd like one if only it wouldn't die, and then I realise I'm mourning a theoretical cat, which in turn leads me to contemplate how little time I have in my own life, and how I shouldn't really waste it in morbid mental cul-de-sacs, and that makes me sad.
The cat flap makes me sad.

Which is why I'm going to stop typing now and brick the bastard up. Who's laughing now, cat flap? WHO'S LAUGHING NOW?

Goals galore in CPL's first stanza

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009
Ken Gadaffi

A half-dozen front-runners emerge to vie for the league’s 1-million-riel top-scorer prize, along with the sides likely to be competing in the Super Four tournament at season’s end

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Kirivong Sok Sen Chey’s top scorer, Julius Chukwumeka (right), tries an audacious curled effort at the Spark FC goal during their Cambodian Premier League match at Olympic Stadium on May 20.

Goals light up CPL first chapter
The first half of the Cambodian Premier League season witnessed plenty of goals, with no fewer than 59 players able to find the back of the net. The FFC has created a prize of 1 million riels (US$240) for the season's top scorer as an incentive for players.

Nigerian born Prince "Uche" Justine of Spark FC presently leads the pack with a sublime nine from nine games, while homegrown hero and current Hun Sen Cup golden boot holder, Kouch Sokumpheak of Khemara Keila closely trails with seven. Also in the running is Olisa Emeka Onyemerea of Preah Khan Reach with six goals to his name, while boy wonder Keo Sokgnorn of Phnom Penh Crown and Nigerian Julius Chukwumeka of Kirivong Sok Sen Chey keep sight of the leaders with five each.

A total of 137 goals were scored in the first stanza of the CPL, with Naga Corp providing the top offensive stat of 26 goals. Naga have the distinction of scoring five in a single game twice already. Unsurprisingly, early relegation candidates Post Tel Club and Phouchung Neak have the worst attacking record with 6 goals apiece.

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Khemara Keila’s gifted striker Kuoch Sokumpheak celebrates scoring against Post Tel Club on June 7.

On the other hand, league leaders Preah Khan Reach have the tightest defense, conceding just six goals compared to the woeful 23 let in by Post Tel.

With hostilities set to resume this weekend, the battle for the top scorers' award will be fierce, with frontmen vying for the top prize. If Uche Justine's purported move to Phnom Penh Crown transpires, who can predict what tally he will end the season with after playing with some of the league's best providers.

With clubs pursuing a top-four finish to qualify for the Super Four post-season competition and lower sides looking to claw their way out of the relegation zone, the second half of the CPL season promises to provide many more exciting goals.

CPL Mid-season Roundup

Preah Khan Reach (PKR)
The military police side have outdone themselves in the race for this year's Cambodian Premier League (CPL). With reigning champions Crown snapping at their heels just 3 points back, they will look to continue their fine form in the second half. The team has been a little quiet during the mid-season transfer window, but if they succeed with the signing of former Nigerian youth international Michael Ekene and Cameroon-born Allen Njoh Njoh to add to an impressive squad that includes Olisa Onyemerea, Sam El Nasa and Khoun Laboravy, they look unlikely to relinquish their top position. (BPL equivalent: Liverpool)

Phnom Penh Crown
Old soldiers never die, as they say and Crown have proved it again. Barely four weeks ago, the league champions and Cup holders were down in seventh position, but three consecutive wins have seen them lifted up to second. They are the team most likely to dethrone PKR from the top spot, with manager Makara Be looking set to add the league's top scorer Prince Uche Justine and former Naga striker Usman to replace loaned-out striker Jean-Roger Lappe Lappe and Tunji Ayoyinka, who is set to leave for Turkey soon. The double champions will surely be firing on all cylinders when the league resumes this weekend. (BPL equivalent: Manchester United)

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Phnom Penh Crown’s talented young forward Keo Sokngorn (right) bursts through the Naga Corp defence during their Samdech Hun Sen Cup final March 28.

Naga Corp
The 2007 champions have continued to falter when it matters most. With an glittering array of stars like Meas Channa, Sunday Okonkwo, Chhim Sambo, Teab Vathanak and Yemi Oyewole, and the amount of support the team gets from its wealthy sponsors, Naga should be winning nearly everything. They churned out some good result towards the end of the first stanza but will have to work hard in the second to guarantee the other two heavyweights don't run away with it. (BPL equivalent: Chelsea)

Khemara Keila
Khemara started the season with a gut-wrenching loss to Kirivong Sok Sen after taking a two-goal lead, only to fall 2-4. The team stuttered in the early rounds but found their feet towards the mid-season break. Manager Salang Kang believes his modest and young side can go all the way to qualify for the super four, after which anything could happen. With international star striker Kouch Sokumpheak staying fit and remaining in cracking form, his goals and buildup play will go a long way to help the 2006 champions realizing their dreams. (BPL equivalent: Arsenal)

Kirivong Sok Sen Chey
The Team from Takeo surprised everyone by heading the table for the better part of the first rounds. However, the past three games have seen the team run out of steam with only one point from a possible nine. It seems inevitable that they are on a downwards trajectory, and the incessant change of technical crew has done little to help their cause. Even with the club's top scorer, Julius Chukwumeka, netting regularly, the defense continue to let in late goals, not indicative of a team aspiring for a top finish. The club has been busy in the mid-season and has reportedly snapped up a pair of players from struggling side Phouchung Neak. (BPL equivalent: Wigan)

National Defense Ministry (MND)
The team more popularly known as the "Army" by locals have endeared themselves to the hearts of many neutrals. MND are the only side without a foreign player in their team, and are thus lacking in the physicality and football knowledge required at the top level. However, the youthful side make up for that deficiency with their pace and passing game. They have failed to live up to expectation in the first round, and despite losing the same number of games as Crown, they have drawn nearly half of their games in the first round. If MND can turn their draws to wins in the second half of the season, they will surely be able to break into the top four. (BPL equivalent: Fulham)

Spark Fc
The Spark Entertainment Centre team has been entertaining the fans this year. After going three games without a loss, they fell in three straight and drew three more. The team lies in the seventh position, and with a financial crisis threatening to disband the recently promoted side, one only hopes that the team can avoid relegation and attract new sponsors for the next campaign. (BPL equivalent: Hull City)

Build Bright United (BBU)
Meas Samoeurn of BBU has been modest about his team's achievement when the team was flying high at the beginning of the season. Aside from the revelation of Spark, BBU is the team that has finally given the big teams a run for their money. With a stunning victory against Crown earlier in the season, the team has never really looked back. Unfortunately, BBU were distracted by university league games, and lost the coveted top-four spot to Khemara Keila. With the signing of former PKR striker Augustine Ogbemi, the team is set to reclaim their elite position, despite their lowly current placing of eighth. (BPL equivalent: Tottenham)

Post Tel and Phouchung Neak

Barring a miracle, both clubs seem doomed for relegation with a collective effort of just four points. The transfer window saw the Navy side loose some of their best local legs, while Post Tel's gloomy financial situation didn't allow any star signings either. With 9 points separating Post Tel from relegation zone, a string of good results and loss of form by other teams might see a turnaround for the team. (BPL equivalents: Middlesbrough and Newcastle of last year)

University students show fair play

Photo by: NICK SELLS
A student volleyball player from Norton University (yellow vest) springs to spike through the guards of Build Bright University students during their University Championship game inside Olympic Stadum on Thursday.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

National University Championships conclude Thursday with a well-attended volleyball final at Olympic Stadium, wrapping up along with tournaments in basketball, football and athletics

ONCE per year, university students across Cambodia are given respite from their studies for a two-week period in July. The sporting elite from the academic world swap textbooks for trainers and seminars for stadiums to take part in the University Championships.

The competition has a 10-year history, with both competitors and supporters eagerly anticipating the opportunity to compete against their peers. Each university provides teams to participate in four different disciplines: football, basketball, volleyball and athletics, with the events mainly played in Phnom Penh's Olympic Stadium.

This year, five institutions took part in the event: Build Bright University, Norton University, University of Technology, Human Resource University and Mekong University. Despite the fact that there were 50 percent fewer teams competing than the previous year, the standard of play remained high.

With the court still looking dangerously wet just minutes before the final day of the basketball tournament, a number of cleaners tried their best to soak up puddles with the limited tools available.

Going into Wednesday's game, Human Resource University had already clinched the crown, meaning their game against Mekong University was academic.

The champions, playing in red jerseys, put on a basketballing master class against Mekong University and raced into a 34-22 lead by half-time. Their most effective work was done off the boards, with Touch Sothearith often gathering crucial rebounds and launching swift counterattacks that the Mekong defence was powerless to prevent.

There was a brief rally from Mekong after the interval, inspired by Phat Sarum, as they scored eight unanswered points to close the gap to just four. Their respite was short-lived, however, and despite barely budging from second gear, Human Resource soon regained their dominance and ran out a comfortable 15 points ahead, 56-41.

It was a hugely enjoyable occasion, with one of the most striking aspects being the exceptionally high level of sportsmanship on display. Players always helped one another up, apologised to one another after fouls and respected the referee's decisions.

Mak Chanphirun, General Secretary of the Cambodian Basketball Federation, was clearly delighted with the way the tournament had gone: "Human Resource University certainly deserved their title, but this year was one of the most competitive we have had, with all the teams quite evenly matched," he said. "There were a lot of games decided by just two or three balls, which made it very exciting, and I think this is a good thing for the competitiveness of the championship and for the game as a spectacle."

Photo by: NICK SELLS
Cambodian Basketball Federation General Secretary Mak Chanphirun.

However, despite paying huge testament to the players' efforts and to the friendly-yet-competitive nature of the event, Mak Chanphirun voiced concerns over Cambodia's ability to take the game to the next level.

"It is difficult for the players to improve because there aren't many tournaments, which means there isn't much opportunity for them to train," he remarked. "When the University Championship is coming, they will usually train for two or three months beforehand. If we had more competitions in Cambodia, the players would train more, and the standard would improve; that is where we would like to get to eventually."

It was a sentiment echoed by Lor Syngharith, Assistant Coach of Cambodia's national team, who stated that basketball is still not popular in Cambodia compared to other sports. "This is largely down to the fact that the equipment needed to play it is expensive," he noted. "Especially when compared to football or volleyball, and this makes it less accessible for the people. These other sports are already played everywhere and it is easier for the public to do so, so it will be difficult for basketball to catch up."

Following what was a hugely enjoyable occasion for all concerned, such comments, if realistic, seemed to be overly negative. Thankfully, there were no such downbeat ruminations Thursday, despite the fact that players and fans alike had to assemble at the ungodly hour of 7:30am for the volleyball final.

With a packed arena to entertain, the players of Build Bright and Norton Universities soon set about putting on a most intoxicating show of sporting prowess and drama. With the final played in a best-of-five series, it all seemed set for a whitewash when Build Bright took a two sets to zero lead, winning the first 25-23 and the second 25-20.

The Build Bright supporters were in full voice, exchanging good-natured songs and cheers with their opponents on the other side of the arena. Out of nowhere though, Norton turned their game around in the third encounter and had two match points at 24-22, only for Build Bright to pull it back to 24 apiece.

The noise was incessant, and when Norton deservedly took the set 27-25, the joy and celebrations were a sight to behold. A fourth set ensued, and with the score at 24-23, there was a net battle Build Bright thought they had won only for the referee to intervene and controversially give the point to Norton.

The game then see-sawed dramatically, with both teams throwing away match points before Norton took the series to a fifth and final set, in which they eventually triumphed 31-29. It seemed, however, that their heroics had taken the wind out of them, and when Build Bright triumphed by five clear points in the final set, the mixture of excitement and exasperation was tangible.

Smiles, though, were a permanent fixture on the faces of both sets of players and on the thousands of supporters who had added so much to the spectacle. It had been a thrilling morning of sport, at times exhausting just to watch, and this is something to be cherished.

There is a preoccupation here with how Cambodian sport measures up against that of other countries, a constant worry and dissatisfaction about the quality on display. At the moment though, most sports are in their infancy, and there is none of the pressure involved in most Western countries, where footballers are millionaires in their teens and entire futures can depend on how a basketball player performs in a single college game.

If there was an overriding emotion which prevailed at the University Championship, if one adjective could be used to describe it, it would be fun. And in the end, isn't that what sport is meant to be all about?

NOCC hold seminar to promote national sporting talent

National Sports Foundation General Secretary Vath Chamroeun speaks during the seminar Wednesday.

48-year-old Keo La shows off her Petanque medals won in previous SEA Games and competitons.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 10 July 2009

THE National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC) held a seminar at the Sunway hotel in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to help promote their activities and attract sponsors and funding for the development of sport in the Kingdom.

According to a handout from the NOCC, a master plan has been drawn up to improve the talent of local athletes for international tournaments.

"We understand right now that sport [has] become more and more popular in Cambodia," reads the NOCC's glossy pamphlet. "People are proud when our athletes win the international tournaments."

NOCC's stated objectives include developing talent through modern training and coaching, identifying and nurturing future athletes, improving the living conditions of athletes, training in sports ethics and the providing of legal assistance to athletes for the management of their image.

The National Sport Foundation, an industry and marketing department of the NOCC, is responsibility of attracting and managing funds for the development of Cambodian athletes. General Secretary of the Foundation Vath Chamroeun said they will be looking in many different areas, both in the private and public sectors, for investment and sponsorship to help raise capital to be directed to athletes and sports federations. "Now we are just starting to promote [our cause]," said Vath Chamroeun Thursday. "If we have sufficient [support] we will look to help federations' administration. Athletes are the same as soldiers - they represent our country. So, everybody must support them."

The NOCC's new Web site was officially presented at the seminar by NOCC President Thong Khon and technical advisor Chriv Kosona, with Vath Chamroeun calling it "an important tool in Cambodian sports promotion".

Sporting achievers receive plaudits
SEA Games medallists were also honoured in a presentation by NOCC General Secretary Meas Sarin, with the tracksuit-clad athletes proudly showing off their gleaming decorations.

The FOCC claimed they currently organise national championships in tennis, tae-kwondo, wrestling, boxing, athletics, beach volleyball, petanque (which they call simply petan) and 25 other sports, as well as frequent international friendly matches.

Thong Khon said Thursday that they were looking to send over 100 delegates to the upcoming 25th SEA Games in Vientiane, Laos, this December, although over 200 were sent to the previous Games in Thailand 2007. Cambodia's most successful discipline during those games was petanque, with the team finishing second overall to Thailand, capturing two golds, three silvers and two bronzes.

This year, the NOCC will be organising delegates for the seven events named above, with more sports welcome to join providing their fund themsleves.

Thong Khon said the NOCC trains around 340 athletes in their sports training centre, located in the grounds of Olympic Stadium, but called on all public to provide support for their drive for greater Cambodian sporting achievements.