Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Jailed Cambodian editor loses appeal hearing

Hang Chakra (R) at his arrival in court for appeal hearing (Photo: DAP news)

The Sun Daily
Phnom Penh (Aug 11, 2009) : Cambodia's Appeal Court today rejected the appeal of a newspaper editor jailed in June on disinformation charges.

Hang Chakra, the editor-in-chief of Khmer Machas Srok, was jailed by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for one year on June 26 and fined 9 million riel (2,250 dollars) for articles written earlier this year alleging corruption in the office of a senior government minister.

Hang Chakra's lawyer, Choung Choung Y, said the ruling by Appeal Court Judge Seng Sivutha was unfair because his client had not printed false information.

"I will meet with my client and appeal to the Supreme Court," he told the German Press Agency dpa.

The court's June ruling was condemned by human rights groups and media rights organizations which expressed concern that the conviction was part of a growing crackdown by the government on critical voices.

Sara Colm, country specialist for Human Rights Watch, said the Appeal Court decision was "more than disappointing."

"This is yet another indication that the space for opposition journalists and NGOs and human rights defenders in Cambodia is shrinking," Colm said.

"The fact that this was upheld on appeal will only solidify the control of the ruling party over the press and dissenting voices."

Some donor governments have also spoken out. On Friday, the European Union's representatives based in Phnom Penh met with government officials to voice their misgivings.

In a statement released after the meeting, the EU representatives expressed concern over "a number of instances in which criminal charges of defamation and disinformation have been used against representatives of civil society, the media and the political opposition."

The government has this year brought a number of defamation and disinformation charges against opposition parliamentarians, media workers and members of civil society. -- dpa

Britain is 'a safe haven for evil'

Jack Straw said he would change war criminals law

The Press Association


The Government is doing too little to close legal loopholes which make Britain "a safe haven for evil," MPs and peers have warned.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw announced last month that he would change the law to ensure suspected war criminals living in the UK could not escape prosecution.

A 10-year extension of the cut-off period to cover crimes committed as far back as 1991 was hailed as a victory for victims of the Rwandan genocide and other conflicts.

And the Government said it would also reconsider the definition of a UK "resident" amid warnings many serious criminals were able to visit and pass through the country with impunity.

But a report by the Joint Committee on Human Rights said the Government's failure to go further meant there would remain "impunity gaps for the world's worst criminals".

It said the UK should copy the US and allow anyone "brought into or found in" the country to face prosecution for crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes in internal conflict. That would bring it more into line with other heinous offences such as war crimes in international conflicts, torture and hostage taking which have no "residency" requirement.

Ministers told the committee the UK did not aim "to become a policeman for the world". During its inquiry, the committee heard evidence that the UK Borders Agency had investigated 1,863 individuals in the UK for genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Campaign group Aegis told members there were "significant numbers of suspected war criminals and genocidaires who are either in the UK or have visited this country."

The committee also questioned why ministers had set the cut-off point for genocide and war crimes in internal conflicts at 1991, as well as crimes against humanity, when international law allowed alleged crimes committed in those two categories as far back as 1948 and 1949 to be prosecuted.

Having different cut-off dates was not "an exercise beyond the capacity of the UK Government or beyond the understanding of the public", the report said. It also called for a specialist war crimes unit to be set up and given "resources commensurate with the seriousness of the crimes they need to investigate and the importance of leading the world in bringing international criminals to justice."

Hundreds hand in petitions to protest Cambodia land grabs details on government ministries targeted (1st Lead)

Asia-Pacific News
Aug 11, 2009

Phnom Penh - About 300 Cambodians handed in petitions to government ministries and organizations in Phnom Penh to protest the growing national problem of land grabs and forced evictions.

Seng Sokheng, a spokesman for the group, said the petitions represented the concerns of 15,000 villagers in 19 of the kingdom's 24 provinces and municipalities.

He said the petitions were submitted to the National Assembly, the cabinet of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Council of Ministers, the National Authority on Land Disputes and three government ministries.

'Some ministries were happy to receive the petition, and others were not,' Seng Sokheng said of the reaction the villagers had received.

Organizers said 200,000 hectares of land are at risk in this predominantly rural society, where more than 80 per cent of the population lives in the countryside. The petitions contained more than 15,000 thumbprints, a standard way of signing in Cambodia, where literacy rates are low.

The land seizures are carried out by companies with government connections or by politicians and the military. Development is the standard reason the government gives for granting mining or land concessions.

In a statement, the organizers said forced evictions, displacement and landlessness are reaching 'crisis proportions.'

'Evictions and land confiscation continue in Cambodia, despite calls by the World Bank, the ADB [the Asian Development Bank], the UN and Cambodia's donors for the government to enact a moratorium on forced evictions and land confiscation until it establishes effective conflict resolution mechanisms and relocation procedures meeting international standards,' they wrote.

The organizers said communities are being driven into poverty by land grabs, and their efforts to find peaceful solutions are met with intimidation, court action and even violence from the police and military.

'When we try to protect our legal rights, we receive intimidation,' villager Pol Cheoun from Battambang province in western Cambodia said in the statement. 'We want the government and the donors to know what is happening. We are losing our land, forest and fisheries we depend on. We are getting poorer and poorer, and the rich are getting richer.'

A community activist from the northern province of Oddar Meanchey told the Cambodia Daily newspaper that he is in favour of development, 'but I don't want to see development lead people to tears.'

Amnesty International wrote last year that 150,000 Cambodians are at risk of losing their land.

The Blood Vessels and the Spine to Sustain Democratic Development in Cambodia Are Almost Totally Cut Off – Monday, 10.8.2009

Posted on 11 August 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 625

“In 2009, major donor countries seem to be disappointed with their efforts in which they have donated almost US$4 billion since 1993 to support the development of the economic and social infrastructure, of democracy, and of the rule of law in Cambodia – but there is little progress.

“Major donor countries such as the United States of America, Canada, Germany, Australia, and the European Union, have cut down their financial aid to non-government organizations that act to strengthen and to expand democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia. Due to financial problems, some international organizations had announced to reduce their activities and their personnel in Cambodia. Some non-government organizations were forced to reduce staff and to close down some of their branches at some provinces.

“These donor countries have changed their attitude, keeping quiet about democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, in contrast to their previous attitude more than 10 years ago, when they frequently openly criticized. Moreover, aid for the Royal Government was no longer linked with conditions about human rights and democracy.

“Observers in Cambodia said that democracy in Cambodia did significantly progress between 1993 and 1997, when Cambodia was ruled by a government with two prime ministers: the first prime minister, Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh, and the second prime minister, Mr. Hun Sen. After the bloodshed of the coup in July 1997, the progress of democracy slowed down.

“Since 2004, Cambodia has been entirely controlled by the Cambodian People’s Party government, where the democratic space was becoming narrower. The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) said in its report on human rights for 2008, ‘The space for democracy and politics is becoming narrower.’

“Civil society officials said that the blood vessels and the spine supporting democratic developments are almost entirely cut off, because the court system is corrupt and not independent, the role of the opposition party in the National Assembly is restricted by muzzling their freedom of expression, and by not including opposition parliamentarians into the commissions of the National Assembly; press freedom and the freedom of expression are limited and under threat, and the roles of non-government organizations are limited etc…

“The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Cambodia released a report on 15 June 2009 with the title ‘A briefing note on freedom of expression, defamation and disinformation,’ expressing their concern, ‘The use and abuse of defamation and disinformation lawsuits dangerously undermine constitutional freedoms of opinion and expression and democratic development.’ The United Nations warned that these restrictions can cause the fragile development of democracy in Cambodia to derail.

“[The US based NGO] Human Rights Watch condemned the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s verdict released on 4 July 2009 finding Ms. Mu Sochua guilty and ordering her to pay Riel 16.5 million [approx. US$4,100] for defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen. This organization considers this verdict as a serious threat against the freedom of expression and democracy in Cambodia.

“On 6 July 2009, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that he will file an accusation with the court against anybody who calls the present regime, which is a ‘constitutional monarchy’ a ‘dictatorial regime.’ Mr. Hun Sen said that if ones call an individual or the Royal Government a dictator or a dictatorship, that is alright. The Prime Minister had previously said publicly that there had been accusation that he gathers power for himself alone, and he had agreed with it, because many fellow officials do not act according to their roles and just wait, until there is an order from the Prime Minister.

“Civil Society organizations had voiced their concern about the change of the attitude and of the politics of donor countries, and this can lead to serious impacts and threats against the progress of democracy in Cambodia, and can make billions of dollars of aid provided to build democracy and the rule of law in Cambodia since 1993 a failed investment.

“Civil society organizations reminded the 18 signatory countries of the Paris Peace Agreement of 23 October 1991 that they have the international legal obligation to guarantee the progress of democracy and the respect of human rights, specifically to help to guarantee and to protect the integrity of the territory of Cambodia. Democracy, human rights, integrity, and territorial integrity are still major delicate issues.”

Khmer Amatak, Vol.17, #635, 10.8.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Monday, 10 August 2009

Khmer Rouge prison chief admits torture


August 11, 2009

The Khmer Rouge's main jail chief has admitted for the first time before Cambodia's war crimes tribunal that he tortured a prisoner personally.

Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, is on trial for overseeing the torture and execution of about 15,000 people at Tuol Sleng detention centre in the late 1970s.

Duch's confession came a day after a guard, Saom Meth, told the court that he saw his boss beat an inmate with a rattan stick.

"Regarding the testimony of comrade Meth, in general, it is true," Duch told the court on Tuesday.

"The point that I went to torture a prisoner at Tuy (an interrogator's) location, I would not deny it," the 66-year-old former maths teacher said.

But Duch said the most serious crime he committed was the "political indoctrination" of his staff at the prison, also known as S-21, to make them consider the inmates as enemies of the Khmer Rouge party.

"That was the most serious crime that I committed, and that I am responsible for more than 10,000 lives lost at S-21," he said, adding that he was also "the one who initiated" the arrest of many people.

"All the crimes committed at S-21, regardless of forms of torture used and regardless whether the special forces used or transported the prisoners to be executed somewhere else, they had to do it because of my instruction," he said.

"I do not deny all these crimes, I accept them," Duch said, adding that he also used to enter a room where a "very humble" Briton was being interrogated.

Earlier on Tuesday, Saom Meth told the court that he heard an ex-colleague report to record-keepers that many foreign prisoners, including Americans, were burned on the street.

The prison in the capital Phnom Penh was at the centre of the Khmer Rouge's brutal campaign of repression and was later turned into a genocide museum after the movement was overthrown by forces backed by neighbouring Vietnam.

Led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities in a bid to forge an agrarian utopia, resulting in the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork and torture.

VN, Cambodia agree on ‘special rapport’


PHNOM PENH — The commissions for external relations of the Central Committees of the Communist Party of Viet Nam and the Cambodian People’s Party are to jointly work to further co-operation and strengthen relations between their parties.

This was agreed at talks in Phnom Penh on Sunday during a working visit by the Vietnamese commission led by its head Hoang Binh Quan, which ends today.

During the talks, the two sides outlined their political and economic situations and shared experiences on external activities.

The Cambodians agreed to a proposal to increase high-level meetings to exchange views and experiences and work to educate and provide information which would help people from both nations learn more about the traditional relationship.

They also agreed to work to prevent hostile forces from distorting and destroying their special rapport.

The Vietnamese delegation also visited Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni, and met Cambodian People’s Party Chairman and Senate President Chea Sim, CPP Honorary Chairman and National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin, and CPP Vice Chairman and Prime Minister Hun Sen. — VNS

Strong quakes strike in Indian Ocean, Japan

Tuesday 11th August, 2009

IANS Monday 10th August, 2009

Washington/A tsunami watch was cancelled for South and Southeast Asia after an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale struck in the Indian Ocean, while a second earthquake, with a magnitude of 6.6, struck in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Japan Tuesday.

The earthquake in the Indian Ocean was centred about 262 km north of the Andaman Islands and took place at 1956 GMT, the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Denver, Colorado, reported. It struck in the early Tuesday (local time) and was 30 km below the earth's surface.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii issued a tsunami watch for Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand, saying the earthquake was strong enough to produce a tsunami along coastlines within 1,000 km of its epicentre.

However, it cancelled the warning a few hours later 'as sea levels indicated that a significant tsunami was not generated'.

The quake in the Pacific Ocean took place at 2007 GMT, about 170 km southwest of Tokyo, the USGS said. No tsunami watch was issued.

The quake was felt in Japan's central province of Shizuoka, but there were no early reports of damage or injuries. The epicentre was about 20 km below the seabed.

On Sunday, a 6.9-magnitude quake shook Tokyo and surrounding areas.

In December 2004, an earthquake at sea generated a massive tsunami that hit the shores along the Indian Ocean, leaving 230,000 people, mostly in Indonesia, dead.

Blogs Taking Off in Cambodia

Matt Reed

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- Like many young Cambodians just now getting used to the idea of surfing the web, Mean Lux only recently heard about blogs. But his work traveling this country's back roads may soon bring a rush of Cambodians to the blogosphere.

As part of a project launched by a pro-democracy nonprofit, Mean spent most of June in dusty provincial capitals showing high-school and university students how to publish an online diary.

In an interview last week, he said the most common question was whether people in other countries could read blogs from Cambodia. He said they could.

"They also asked, 'How will people know where my blog is?' I said, 'How will they know what your phone number is? It is the same way,'" he said.

In one town, Mean wasn't able to get a reliable connection to the internet, which is not surprising considering that until two years ago, net access in Cambodia was only available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, a tourist destination in the north. (The International Telecommunication Union estimated that only 25 in 10,000 Cambodians were net users in 2003, one of the lowest internet-penetration rates in Asia.)

Nonetheless, about a dozen students who attended Mean's training sessions were inspired to create their own English-language blogs after the three-hour workshop.

One of those blogs, called Youth Vision, contains five brief postings written in rough English. Another, entitled Cambodian Children, laments the fact that many Cambodian children can't go to school because their families are too poor, or because they do not live near a school or have access to transportation.

Nearly all of the blogs are heavy on photos. And much like Cambodia's stale, state-run television news, many of the images are unremarkable group photos from official-looking meetings and training sessions.

For example, a blog entitled Battambang Network reports on a workshop held at a university in Battambang, a provincial capital near the Thai border.

"Fifty-five Youth Network members attend(ed) the meeting, including 10 monks," the post said.

Other blogs keep it light, looking at the new venue as a way to network with others: "What are you doing? How are you?... If you have free time, can you join with us?" asks the blogger behind sonn-veasna, in what is a typical first post for many of the trainees.

Despite the modest beginnings, the local office of the International Republican Institute, or IRI, which sponsored the project, is excited about the potential for Cambodian blogs to generate more political dialogue.

"There's a growing interest. It's not overwhelming, but it's growing," said Alex Sutton, the IRI's resident program director.

Officials from IRI came up with the idea for the training workshops after hearing of the website of Cambodia's retired King Norodom Sihanouk.

Sihanouk, a revered figure in Cambodia and a political force for the last 60 years, has published his scanned-in, handwritten scribblings online since 2002. He often comments, usually in French, in the margins of local news articles and hasn't hesitated to criticize Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government. His writings have prompted sharp responses from Hun Sen in public speeches.

"The reality is that internet access is limited," Sutton said last week. "But the value of blogs is not in who is doing it. It is the power of how much conversation it then generates face to face, or on radio or television. It's the buzz they create."

Blogs in Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, would create even more of a buzz. At least that's the thinking of the coordinator of a group planning to unveil Khmer-language blog software in the next month.

"Our purpose is to foster and facilitate communication for democracy. Blogging fits really well into that," said Javier Sola, coordinator of Open Forum of Cambodia's Khmer Software Initiative.

Cambodia has a free press law, implemented in the 1990s in the aftermath of its 1993 U.N.-sponsored election. But the government has authoritarian tendencies, and it's common for politicians to sue newspapers -- as well as other politicians -- for defamation.

But young people make up most of the country's population (the median age in Cambodia was under 20 in 2004), and one of the more inspiring sights in Phnom Penh is the rows of English-language schools behind the royal palace, where high-school and university students flock for private lessons in the afternoon and evening. Studying computers is also popular, and Cambodian youth enthusiastically take to new technologies, such as text messaging, as soon as they're introduced.

Harvard University's Global Voices Online, which recently predicted that the Cambodian blogosphere was "ready to take off," lists more than 20 blogs produced by Cambodians, not counting expatriates and Cambodians living abroad.

Bun Tharum, an Open Forum employee who has been blogging since June 2004, has ventured beyond his usual personal observations of life around Phnom Penh in recent weeks. He posted parts of a local news article on government corruption and about the problem of domestic violence.

Bun Tharum writes his twice-a-week postings at internet cafes on weekends, or at the office during the week. Whether he will start writing serious criticisms of the government is still in question.

"Oh, I'm afraid to. But maybe I'll start later," he said. "As more people learn to blog, then I think the government will try to shut them down."

Mean, who conducted the provincial trainings, recently started his own blog and has invited his friends to post as well.

Photos of his workshops make up most of the entries. In one post, he calls the Battambang training, in which several blogs were created, "a good start."

Hundreds expected in Phnom Penh to protest land grabs

Tue, 11 Aug 2009
Author : DPA

Phnom Penh - Hundreds of people were expected in Phnom Penh Tuesday to deliver to the government a petition protesting land grabs and forced evictions. Organizers said representatives from 19 of the kingdom's 24 provinces and municipalities would hand the petition to the office of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the cabinet and three government ministries.

They said 200,000 hectares of land are at risk. The petitions contain more than 15,000 thumbprints, a standard way of signing in Cambodia, where literacy rates are low.

The land seizures are carried out by companies with government connections, politicians and the military. Development is the standard reason the government gives for granting these mining or land concessions.

In a statement, the organizers said forced evictions, displacement and landlessness are reaching "crisis proportions."

"Evictions and land confiscation continue in Cambodia, despite calls by the World Bank, the ADB [the Asian Development Bank], the UN and Cambodia's donors for the government to enact a moratorium on forced evictions and land confiscation until it establishes effective conflict resolution mechanisms and relocation procedures meeting international standards," they wrote.

Organizers said communities are being driven into poverty by land grabs, and their efforts to find peaceful solutions are met with intimidation, court action and even violence from the police and military.

"When we try to protect our legal rights, we receive intimidation," villager Pol Cheoun from Battambang province in western Cambodia said in the statement. "We want the government and the donors to know what is happening. We are losing our land, forest and fisheries we depend on. We are getting poorer and poorer, and the rich are getting richer."

A community activist from the northern province of Oddar Meanchey told the Cambodia Daily newspaper that he is in favour of development, "but I don't want to see development lead people to tears," he said.

Amnesty International wrote last year that 150,000 Cambodians are at risk of losing their land.

One witness at the stand without reason, another summoned with reason

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 10/08/2009: At the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, at the ECCC
©John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

And one more witness that didn’t matter! Nothing new was brought by Chhun Phal, though his hearing on Monday August 10th exceeded the half-day initially scheduled for it… No sense or reason here. Why let witnesses who were not worthwhile come to the stand and shorten the time for the testimonies of those who help advance the trial? One could not help questioning the competency of the judges. In the air, there was a feeling that the trial was now over in the minds of the judges, who now contented themselves with respecting the established schedule without making further efforts in the search for truth. The second witness to appear was more interesting and claimed he saw the accused hit a detainee.

Civil parties at the stand soon
President Nil Nonn listed the victims who joined Duch’s trial as civil parties and announced that 18 would be heard by the Chamber soon – a total of 35 hours have been allocated for their testimonies. The defence will be given a chance to contest the application of the latter civil parties on Monday August 17th. They already warned that the accused expressed doubts over the validity of the application of at least five civil parties, arguing that the documents featured in their files were “insufficient” to prove that the victims they represent were actually detained at S-21.

A president concerned with verifying the witness’ reliability
Chhun Phal, a 47-year-old rice farmer whose childlike face often broke into a smile, started being interrogated. He used to be a guard inside S-21, which he referred to as “Tuol Sleng.” “Can you remember in which town or province this place is located?” “I did not know in which province or town it was.” Laughter broke out in the public gallery.

The president attempted to make him describe the building where he was on duty and those nearby. But without any map or photograph to help, it was the confusion and the exchange became absurd. Nil Nonn appeared little convinced by the witness who struggled to understand the questions he was asked. Then, the president pulled out the usual questions. What were the detention conditions? How were the prisoners dressed? What were the food rations? How did they wash? How did they take their clothes off [when they were sprayed with a hose] since their ankles were shackled? Etc. Except this time, the president failed to hide his doubts over the reliability of the testimony and seemed keen to verify whether Chhun Phal really worked at S-21, which was not the object of this trial…

“Did you see foreigners be detained?”, the judge asked him. “For example, Westerners, people with blond hair, hairy chest and pale complexion?” This description of “Westerners” seems to have become a standard definition in the trial.

A witness who did not know Duch
The witness assured that, to get a prisoner out of his cell, the group leader was alerted for him to appoint a guard who would take the detainee to an interrogation room. For his part, former S-21 guard Kok Srov, heard on July 27th by the Chamber, had affirmed that “the interrogators were those who escorted the prisoners” to the interrogation rooms, while the guards only opened and closed the door of the cells. Did the prisoners who were taken away in the evenings return to their cells? If not, what happened to them? “Only the hierarchy knew what happened…”, said Chhun Phal, who “never met or saw” Duch at S-21. “Who was the director of S-21?” “I do not remember. I did not know his name,” the witness stated. However, he did know the killing field of Choeung Ek where he was once assigned the task of burying bodies in a grave pit.

A witness hesitating to confirm what he said during the investigation
“Did you note if there were many detainees who were lying there before being buried?” “I am unable to give you an exact number. If I told you it was a high number, it would not be the truth. If I told you it was not a very high number, it would not be the truth either.” A ripple of laughter ran through the audience, especially among the many villagers present in the public. No, he was never led to dig grave pits. Yet, the judge reminded him, he declared in January 2008 to the investigators of the office of the co-Investigating Judges that one month before the Vietnamese troops arrived on January 7th 1979, someone named Sueur, his group leader, asked him to dig a couple of pits at Choeung Ek. “I think I have forgotten [I said that],” Chhun Phal eluded. The president attempted to freshen up his memory, but the witness answered beside the point: “Yes, I was given the task to bury bodies.” Nil Nonn rephrased his question: “Do you maintain this statement, that your group leader ordered you to dig grave pits at this place?” Silence. The witness’ counsel requested time to consult with his client. After discussing with his lawyer, Chhun Phal was again asked to answer this question. “Yes, actually, I dug pits as I explained it to the investigators.” This illustrated the impact of an observation by the defence, earlier in the trial, to remind former S-21 staff members called to testify that they must be aware of their right to remain silent when their statements before the Chamber may incriminate them.

On the presentation of written documents to an illiterate witness…
The president gave the floor to the prosecution. The Cambodian co-Prosecutor showed on the screen a photograph of the blackboard listing the Santebal rules and asked him if he saw these rules displayed anywhere at S-21. The witness’ lawyer intervened: his client was illiterate and the question should be asked in a different way. The observation was “pertinent,” the president approved. The co-Prosecutor rephrased his question, but received no answer. As the president invited him to move to the next question, the international co-Prosecutor took over and returned to Chhun Phal’s declaration to the investigators of the office of the co-Prosecutors, in which he declared he “could read and write Khmer.” “Is that accurate?” “Under Pol Pot, I was young and I received only limited education. So, I can only read a little. I never studied Khmer and I don’t know all the alphabet.”

Chhun Phal heard about rapes at S-21
To the same investigators, he claimed rapes had taken place at S-21. The witness confirmed. However, he did not witness any himself or met any victim of it, so he could “not say anything about it.” Then, what was his basis for such an assertion? Silence. Did colleagues tell him about it? He explained that his group leader told him that guards who raped prisoners must be arrested. Then, Anees Ahmed presented a photograph of the witness’ biography written at S-21. “Is this your biography?” “I am not sure because my biography was written by my group leader and I never saw that document.” Chhun Phal’s lawyer intervened again: his client was unable to read a document in Khmer, so he should not be presented with such documents. Unnerved, the international co-Prosecutor reminded that in the minutes of his statement to the office of the co-Prosecutors, the witness said he could “read, write and understand Khmer.”

The witness does not recognise nurse Nam Mon
Hong Kim Suon, for civil party group 4, interrogated him on the S-21 medical staff. “If there were some of its members here today, do you think you would recognise them?” Chhun Phal doubted it because “too many years have passed since.” The lawyer then presented him Nam Mon, a civil party who testified on July 9th and 13th and claimed she was a nurse at S-21, which Duch contested. The petite woman approached, standing straight, and stood between the table of the civil party lawyers and that of the co-Prosecutors. A few short seconds passed before Chhun Phal declared her face was not familiar to him and added there were no female medical staff who worked in his building. Repetitive questions then ensued.

The prisoners’ washing: innovation of the witness
Turn to the defence. “[In your statement to the office of the co-Investigating Judges,] you said you had to spray the prisoners and here [to Hong Kim Suon], you said you passed the hose to each detainee so they could wash.” Kar Savuth asked him for a clarification, as the witness contradicted his previous statement by now claiming that the hose circulated between the prisoners. No, Chhun Phal did not see any inconsistency on this point: “I said I held the hose, then I passed it to each prisoner.” Turnaround or mistake in the minutes of his statement? In any case, he was the first to give such a version of the washing. Up to this point, survivors as well as former S-21 guards affirmed that a guard would spray the detainees with a water hose from the cell door. The witness also confirmed to Kar Savuth that there were “no rules prohibiting any communication between the guards.”

The defence scores
Marie-Paule Canizarès, Duch’s international co-lawyer, standing in for François Roux, away for two weeks, pursued. “Before the co-Investigating Judges […], you declared you did not know the defendant [Duch]. This morning, you confirmed this statement to the Court, by saying you had never seen or met him. […] Can I infer that, as far as you know, Duch actually never came to the building or buildings where you have worked?” “Yes, that is correct.” That was one more witness presented by the office of the co-Prosecutors whose interrogation worked in the favour of the defence.

Phal’s psychology, according to Duch
Duch could only recognise this former subordinate. “He was among those I asked to come from Kampong Chhnang […] and he was younger than 16 at the time. He met the criteria I had established, in particular his class background: he was a poor peasant. So, he had a very limited level of education, as it was obvious in his testimony today. […] I did not want to choose people who were already shaped by anyone. So, I had to select people I could train psychologically and politically. I think that the Chamber also understands comrade Phal’s psychology. He wished to have nothing and know nothing. He did not even know who his superior was and did not know my face or voice – and he did not seek to know them. In my opinion, it does match the fact he was a S-21 staff member.” When the witness cited Sueur as group leader, Duch said he was comforted in this opinion as Sueur was initially recruited as his messenger before being later assigned to digging pits at Choeung Ek. However, the accused noted some “confusions” in Chhun Phal’s testimony.

Saom Meth sheds light on the special prison at S-21
Next at the stand was Saom Meth, a 51-year-old farmer wearing glasses. The clarity in his answers alluded to a certain level of education, which contrasted with that of the previous witness. He was assigned by the Angkar to the messengers unit of the “State prison at Dampeng, near Monivong [the main prison], which was then headed by Nath” and then relocated at S-21. Surprisingly, he dated the change of premises to 1977. There, he kept watch over prisoners outside, in particular at the S-21 “special prison.” Then, late 1978, he was transferred “by Him Huy” to Prey Sar, where he dug canals and built dykes for farming purposes, without knowing if he was then one of the detainees. Shortly before, his brother had been arrested and sent to S-21.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 10/08/2009: The recent influx of visitors prompted the tribunal to buy new chairs for the tribunal canteen
©John Vink/ Magnum

The witness did not know what Duch’s role at S-21 was, but suspected he was the director. He shed light on the special prison, located South from the S-21 buildings, which has been only skimmed in this trial. It comprised of four buildings, as he remembered it, and its goal was to “detain high ranking cadres, sector or zone cadres, regiment or brigade commanders.” His deduction came from the observation that these individuals were placed in “separate cells” with “a guard assigned to keep watch for each of them.” Saom Meth had to be on duty at the door of detention cells. In this special area in S-21, only the prisoners who did not act obediently were cuffed in addition to having their ankles shackled.

Witness says he saw Duch hit a detainee
These important prisoners – about a hundred of them, according to the witness – could wash without their shackles being taken off, once or twice a week, with a bucket of water placed at their disposal. Their interrogations took place in their very cells and, in some circumstances, somewhere else. Thuy was one of the regular interrogators for these detainees. The witness recounted seeing him hit a prisoner with a stick until he started bleeding, before administering electric shocks to his toes and ear until he fainted. After inspecting the cell, Saom Meth left for lunch and when he returned, he saw Duch “at the wooden house.” “Did you see Duch hit the detainee?”, judge Ya Sakhon asked him. “Duch used a rattan stick to hit the detainee. He did not beat him a lot before I went my way and returned back home.” The witness said he saw Duch come “occasionally” to the special prison – “it was inevitable he had to go there,” to inspect the cells there, he added.

Judge Lavergne continued. “[To the investigators of the co-Investigating Judges,] you declared – you were asked what kind of torture the interrogators used on the prisoners and you said –: ‘they would hit the prisoners to make them talk, or they would electrocute them, rip off fingers and toes, push needles under their nails, wrap them in a plastic bag to suffocate them, sometimes they would strip the prisoners naked and electrocute them on their genitals or ears. I watched furtively from the window while I was on duty.’ […] Do you confirm what I have just read? Are those things you saw personally?” “Yes, that is correct. I apologise, I forgot to mention them.” Saom Meth added gravely: “What I said at the time is true. I did not exaggerate anything. I only told the truth and I won’t say anything that is not the truth.”

It is expected that Duch will contest at least several points of his testimony on the next day.

(translated from French by Ji-Sook Lee)

CAMBODIA Nun is 1st local Salesian to take vows

Sister Mary Tang Sovathanak takes her first vows -- Photo by Ly Sovanna


PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- The Salesian nuns in Cambodia have cause to celebrate. For the first time since the congregation started here 16 years ago, a local member of their congregation made her first vows.

Wearing a white habit and with her head covered, Sister Mary Tang Sovathanak, 29, described the occasion as "a special day" since she is now a "bride of Christ."

"I don't have anything to give him back," she said, "only my life to him."

More than 150 people attended the special Mass, concelebrated by the heads of the three Church jurisdictions in Cambodia, to mark the occasion on Aug. 5.

Monsignor Antonysamy Susairaj, apostolic prefect of Kompong Cham, where Sister Sovathanak comes from, presided at the Mass, held at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for girls at Tek Thla, Phnom Penh.

Sister Sarah Garcia, superior of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco in Cambodia said she is overjoyed at the occasion. "My prayer is that she will be able to live out her journey faithfully," she said.

All the other 20 Salesian nuns in Cambodia are foreigners.

Bishop Susairaj, in his homily, said he is aware that Sister Sovathanak's parents may not be entirely happy with her decision. However, he reminded everyone that being a nun does not mean leaving one's family.

Moreover, the bishop asserted that Sister Sovathanak, in responding to God's call, "will help many young people who need education" through her ministry.

The bishop also pointed out that Sister Sovathanak's mother was one of the first Catholics in Kompong Cham when the Church revived here in the 1990s after decades of civil war and religious persecution.

Sister Sovathanak studied at the Don Bosco Vocational Training Center for girls, run by the Salesian congregation, and graduated in 2003 in secretarial and computer studies. It was while studying at the center that she first decided to become a Salesian nun.

Sister Sovathanak is the first Cambodian nun of the Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco -- Photo by Ly Sovanna

"I was attracted to the simple life of the nuns. They are always smiling and putting their lives in God's hands, even though they encounter problems." Moreover, she said, "holiness does not come from just impressive deeds, but also from small acts carried out with love."

Sister Sovathanak is the oldest in her family of four children. Her father, a Buddhist, is director of a primary school, and her mother, a Catholic, is a vendor at the local market.

Speaking after the ceremony, Sister Sovathanak's father, Tang Phirom, 51, admitted he had wanted his daughter to marry and have children, but now accepts his daughter's decision.

The Salesian Sisters in Cambodia run a secretarial and computer program, a food and home management program, and a literacy and sewing program for girls in Phnom Penh and Battambang. They also run two kindergartens, one primary school, and a hostel for 20 high school girls in Phnom Penh.

Out of a total of about 100 nuns in Cambodia, only seven are Cambodians.

Investment in Cambodian tourism reaches $354 mln in half year


PHNOM PENH, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- The investment in Cambodia's tourism reached to about 354 million U.S. dollars in the first six months of this year and is a leading field that got the most investment, the local media said on Tuesday.

"Council for Development of Cambodia (CDC) approved about 1.22 billion U.S. dollars investment projects totally from private companies and 354 million U.S. dollars of the total is on tourism investment project," the khmer language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea quoted the document from CDC as saying.

Agricultural field stands second row after tourism with 323 million U.S. dollars and next field is industry with 303 million U.S. dollars.

In total, Cambodia received 53 investment projects for the first half year and tourism field attracted seven projects, while agri-industry has 12 projects, garment industry with 14 projects and three in energy projects.

If we consider on the projects for the first six month of this year, it increases four projects but the investment capital went down about 3.2 billion U.S. dollars compared with the same period of last year, it said, adding that for first six month of last year, Cambodia yielded with 49 investment projects with about 4.43billion U.S. dollar.

Editor: Li Xianzhi

Cambodian tax revenue rises in July, down year-on-year


PHNOM PENH, Aug. 11 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian government's tax revenue rose in July over the previous month, but down over the same period last year, local media reported on Tuesday, citing a report from the General Department of Customs and Excise.

Customs and Excise reported revenue of 51.4 million U.S. dollars in July, an increase of 200,000 U.S. dollars over June. But revenue was 13.6 percent lower than that collected in July 2008.

Kum Nhem, the department's deputy general, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying the decline in tax revenue was due to a worsening global economic climate that had less impact last year on imported and exported goods.

"It is more difficult for us to get higher revenues in the current circumstances because the financial crisis is putting too much pressure on goods coming in and going out of Cambodia," he said.

Kum Nhem said the department was confident the decline in coming months would be minimal and cited steps taken to increase tax revenue on sand exports, a sector from which it has not yet been fully effective in collecting taxes.

"We expect tax revenues to increase significantly in November and December because of an increase in transportation during the dry season, which is usually much busier than the rainy season," Kum Nhem said.

Tax revenues for the first seven months of this year reached 331 million U.S. dollars, according to data provided by the excise and customs department, and more than 500 million U.S. dollars in 2008.

Editor: Li Xianzhi

SRP MP's son shot and killed following minor traffic altercation near Wat Botum park

Yont Thauron lay death at the scene

Three of Yont Thauron's friends also suffered gunshot wounds and remain in critical condition at Calmette hospital.

Pictures by Bun Ry from Koh Santepheap Newspaper

SRP MP's son gunned down

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A woman mourns the death of Yont Thauron, son of SRP lawmaker Yont Tharo, who was shot Sunday after a traffic accident.

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Chrann Chamroeun

Yont Thauron shot and killed following minor traffic altercation near Wat Botum park.

THE son of an opposition parliamentarian was shot dead late Sunday after an unresolved traffic accident near Wat Botum park.

Yont Thauron, the son of Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Yont Tharo, was shot after his car was involved in a minor traffic accident while returning from a wedding. Three of Yont Thauron's friends also suffered gunshot wounds and remain in critical condition at Calmette hospital.

"It was a cruel and brutal crime," said Yont Tharo at Kandal province's Wat Samrong Andeth on Monday, where family and friends gathered to mourn the 25-year-old military police officer. "They shouldn't have used guns to attack my son and his friends, who were not armed, over a minor traffic accident that could have been resolved peacefully."

According to the police report, Yont Tharo said, his son's Lexus collided with a number of motorbikes near Wat Botum park, and Daun Penh district police arrived on the scene to mediate the dispute that ensued.

A few minutes after the accident, Yont Thauron was gunned down at a noodle stall across from the park.

He added: "Police told me that they have already identified the perpetrators ... some of whom are also police officials, who used licensed guns to attack my son and his three friends."

SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the "brutal" shooting reflected the decrease in social morality, and that authorities should bring the perpetrators to justice.

"We are calling for authorities to arrest perpetrators and punish them comprehensively to give justice to victims' families and give trust to all people in the security guaranteed by Cambodian Constitutional law."

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said that police were "burning their hands and legs" to find the perpetrators, which he said have been identified by police.

"As soon as we arrest them, we will send them to court to charge them," he said.

Daun Penh district police chief Yim Socheat could not be reached for comment Monday.

Yont Tharo said that following the traditional funeral at Wat Samrong Andeth, the body was set to be cremated at 6pm Monday.

Ex-guard says Duch hit inmate with stick

Photo by: Robbie Corey-Boulet
Witness Sam Meth testifies Monday in the trial of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Robbie Corey-Boulet

Reports S-21 chief inspected high-level prisoners' quarters.

A MAN who said he worked as a guard at Tuol Sleng prison told Cambodia's war crimes court Monday that he saw prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, beat a detainee with a rattan stick as well as personally inspect the rooms in which high-level detainees were held.

The testimony of Sam Meth, 51, could cast doubt upon Duch's previous assertions that he was a hands-off manager who had little firsthand knowledge of abuses perpetrated at the secret detention facility.

Sam Meth said he guarded high-level former cadre who had been sent to Tuol Sleng's "special prisons", which he described as wooden houses and concrete apartments located near the central compound.

He said he witnessed interrogators employing torture methods ranging from severe beatings to electric shocks that knocked victims unconscious.

One time, he said, he saw Duch holding a rattan stick inside a villa that housed a male detainee while guards stood at the entrance.

"Duch actually used the rattan stick to beat the detainee," he said. "He did not beat him much before I left and walked to my place. He beat him on the back."

Sam Meth said he also saw Duch conduct occasional inspections of prisoners' quarters.

"I guarded prisoners on the second floor, and from above when I looked down I saw him walking and inspecting those houses from the east to the west, and then he returned," he said.

Duch has previously said that he spent the vast majority of his time as prison chief annotating detainees' confessions in his office in a house away from the prison, and that he only learned the particulars of atrocities committed there after it closed.

Defence attorneys have not yet been able to question Sam Meth, who began his testimony Monday afternoon, though Duch's Cambodian lawyer Kar Savuth told the Post Monday evening that he did not believe the witness's account.

"I do not believe him. Many witnesses who have been called to testify never said Duch tortured or even interrogated prisoners," Kar Savuth said.

He declined to say what he planned to ask Sam Meth on Tuesday, though he said he would not have many questions for the witness.

Digging mass graves
Also Monday, a witness told the court that he dug mass graves at the Choeung Ek killing fields and filled one with naked, bloodied corpses.

Chhun Phal, a 47-year-old rice farmer who said he worked at the killing fields for about one month before the fall of the Khmer Rouge in January 1979, recalled that it took a group of workers "an hour or two" to deposit bodies into one 3-by-2-metre pit.

"I had to rush to bury them, and I failed to pay more attention to the condition of the bodies," he said, though he added that some of the victims had sustained injuries to their throats and necks.

"Their mouths were bleeding," he said.

Chhun Phal at first denied having dug mass graves and said the bulk of his work at the killing fields was agricultural.

"I was only asked to do farming and water the rice fields, and when Angka needed me to work more, then I would be assigned to work more," he said.

"But I only came to [an execution site] once."

But Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn referred back to testimony Chhun Phal gave to co-investigating judges in January 2008, during which he reportedly said he had been asked to dig "two or three pits".

After consulting with his court-provided attorney, Kong Sam Onn, Chhun Phal said he stood by his 2008 testimony.

Chhun Phal said he was recruited from his village in Kampong Chhnang province to join the Khmer Rouge in 1975, at which point he was sent to a military training school in Takhmao, Kandal province. He was then sent to work in the rice fields and dig canals at Prey Sar prison farm, or S-24, before being posted as a guard at Tuol Sleng.

Asked to comment on Chhun Phal's testimony, Duch said he acknowledged that Chhun Phal worked at Toul Sleng. As a poor, uneducated teenager, Chhun Phal fit the profile of cadres he hoped to recruit, he said.

Corruption complaint
A legal consultant for the defence team of former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea said Monday that he met with Appeal Court Deputy Prosecutor Hang Sitha about a criminal complaint that accused officials of involvement in a kickback scheme in which Cambodian employees were forced to hand over portions of their salaries to top tribunal officials.

The original complaint was filed in January, but the Municipal Court ended its investigation in February, and there have been only two meetings pertaining to the appeal.

Andrew Ianuzzi said he was discouraged by the 90-minute meeting, during which, he said, Hang Sitha did not demonstrate strong familiarity with the case file.

Hang Sitha could not be reached for comment Monday evening.


Trafficking law impeding HIV efforts: experts

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Nathan Green


The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health called for the repeal of punitive laws that conflate sex work and trafficking on Monday, warning they are impeding efforts to slow the spread of HIV in Southeast Asia.

Anand Grover cited Cambodia's 2008 Law on the Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation as an example of punitive laws that had set back the fight against HIV.

He was speaking at a press conference at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, in which the UN called for the removal of all laws that hinder effective HIV interventions.

The rapporteur, an independent expert, also took aim at the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), indicating the Cambodian government is not alone in its difficulty in tackling trafficking without stepping on the rights of sex workers.

Grover condemned a programme in India in which police had been trained by the UNODC to "rescue and rehabilitate" brothel workers as "unacceptable".

He cited one case in which police took 47 sex workers from Delhi brothels against their will and kept them in "the hellhole of Calcutta". Twenty-five managed to escape.

"It is unacceptable, and it is a consequence of conflating sex work with trafficking," Grover said. "Unfortunately, it is instituted by international pressures, and it is based on prejudice and ideology."

Jeffrey O'Malley, director of the HIV/AIDS team at the United Nations Development Programme, said the introduction of anti-trafficking legislation in Cambodia changed the patterns of sex work but did not change the number of commercial sex transactions.

He called for a global end to police interference in the delivery of essential HIV prevention programmes and services to any high-risk groups, including men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, people who use drugs, prisoners and detainees.

The removal of punitive laws was identified by UNAIDS, the UN's joint programme on HIV and AIDS, as one of nine priorities to slow the spread of HIV, O'Malley told reporters.

"AIDS is going to be with us for at least the next 20 years. We need cost-effective and sustainable approaches to HIV prevention and treatment," he said.

Kyung Wah-kang, the UN's deputy high commissioner for human rights, said issues surrounding the decriminalisation of prostitution were complex but called for governments in the region to take a human rights- and public health-centred approach to all laws involving communities at risk of HIV infection.

"Members of these vulnerable groups do not forfeit their human rights just by belonging to these groups," she said.

O'Malley said crafting legislation to crack down on human trafficking without catching sex workers in the net was a challenge, but pointed to the recent decriminalisation of sex work in New Zealand as an example of how it could be achieved.

Nathan Green, who has been reporting from Bali since last Monday, travelled to Indonesia on a UNAIDS-funded trip.

NagaWorld Casino union leaders appear in court for questioning

Photo by: Sovan Philong
NagaWorld Casino workers gather at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday to support 14 unionised ex-workers who face criminal charges in connection with wage protests.

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Chrann Chamroeun

Fourteen laid-off employees face criminal charges including defamation, perjury and incitement.

FOURTEEN laid-off union leaders from NagaWorld Casino appeared at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday morning to answer questions in relation to four criminal charges filed against them following protests for increased pay at the casino and entertainment complex.

Sok Narith, one of the 14 laid-off workers and the vice president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers Federation, which represents around 1,000 NagaWorld employees, said five of the workers were questioned by court officials.

The rest have been ordered to return to court for questioning today and Wednesday.

He said the unionists have been charged with incitement to discrimination, defamation, perjury and incitement to the commission of a felony or misdemeanour, but rejected all of the allegations.

"We have told the court's clerk that we could not accept any of the charges against us, as we haven't committed any of the crimes since we were fired from jobs on February 26, 2009."

Sok Narith added that NagaWorld had fired the unionised employees and brought charges against them because it did not want demands for increased annual salaries, suitable working conditions and other incentives to cut into the company's bottom line.

"We made a thorough examination before we made a decision to petition the company, [and] the company's income has increased from year to year," he said, adding that NagaWorld's profits rose from US$85.4 million in 2006 to $193.5 million in 2008.

'Unjust' action
Phen Samphos, 34, a former casino executive who had worked for NagaWorld since 1994 before he was fired in February, told the Post on Monday that the charges were "very unjust" in comparison with the peaceful steps the workers had taken to improve their working conditions.

"We just requested that employers respond to our requests, but there was no response except the charges against us," he said.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, agreed, saying the legal charges were being used to "silence the voices" of the union representatives and undermine their claims for higher wages.

"The judicial system makes people lack confidence, and the court's decision to charge 14 NagaWorld union leaders with various crimes has been done under [at the behest] of powerful and rich men," he said.

He said CCHR would be sending monitors to the court to ensure a just resolution to the case.

KOREAN CON: Cheated locals still not repaid

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Mom Kunthear


Thirteen people from Kampong Cham province who were duped into paying thousands of dollars for the chance to work in Korea last month have yet to receive their money back, according to Bun Kuntha, deputy governor of Kampong Cham's Chamkar Leu district. The 13 lost US$15,500 in total after they paid a woman who promised to find them work abroad but then absconded with their money. About a dozen other people from the original group got their money back when the perpetrator was detained in Phnom Penh, but she has since been released.

Koh Kong villagers complain to Hun Sen over disputed land

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Chhay Channyda

VILLAGERS from Koh Kong province's Tuol Korki commune in Mondul Seima district filed a complaint to Prime Minister Hun Sen's cabinet last week over a land dispute with the provincial Forestry Administration.

Cha Rien, 45, a representative for the group of more than 200 families, said that his group filed their complaint with Hun Sen's office last Wednesday, in the hope that the prime minister would help them reclaim land that many families claim to have lived on for decades.

The Forestry Administration, however, says the villagers are squatting in a wildlife conservation zone.

"Local authorities know we have lived here for years," Cha Rien said, adding that many of the families cultivate farmland in the area.

Lim Leang Se, the deputy chief of Hun Sen's cabinet, said on Monday that his office had not received the complaint from the villagers, and that he could not comment on the case.

Kim Sok Khem, chief of Tuol Korki commune, said that in addition to complaining to Hun Sen's office, villagers lodged a complaint with the provincial governor, Yuth Puthang, on July 30. Officials from the governor's office told the commune members that more investigation was required in the case and asked them to remain calm, Kim Sok Khem added.

Villagers will stage a protest in Phnom Penh if their problem remains unresolved, Cha Rien said. "We are waiting for a resolution from Prime Minister Hun Sen," he said.

Mak Heang, chief of the Forestry Administration in Koh Kong province, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Preah Vihear soldiers plan joint ceremony

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Thet Sambath

CAMBODIAN and Thai soldiers stationed at the border near the disputed Preah Vihear temple complex plan to hold a joint ceremony this week to promote good relations between the two groups.

Ten Navun, a first lieutenant with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) stationed at the border, said that the ceremony will take place in Ta Thav, about 7 kilometres from the temple, and that it is tentatively scheduled for Saturday.

"Both sides agreed to hold the ceremony together at Ta Thav in mid-August. Our ceremony's purpose is to develop understanding and ease tensions between the two groups," Ten Navun said. In addition to soldiers from Cambodia and Thailand, monks and government officials from both countries are to be present at the ceremony, he added.

Ros Heng, governor of Chom Ksan district in Preah Vihear province, said Monday that though he hoped the ceremony would bring some good, he doubted it would have a long-term impact.

"We all support this ceremony, but ceremonies and blessings won't stop the tension here. The important thing is that the Thais respect their agreements with Cambodia," he said.

Experts say World Heritage listing for Banteay Chmar will take years

Photo by: Roger Mitton
The Angkorian Banteay Chmar temple in Banteay Meanchey province.

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Roger Mitton

But officials remain hopeful of winning the coveted designation from UNESCO

Banteay Meanchey Province

THE listing of Banteay Chmar temple as a UN World Heritage Site will take at least two to three years, say government officials and scholars who met at a conference on the issue in Sisophon over the weekend.

Banteay Chmar is one of Cambodia's most neglected but most spectacular temple sites. There is a concerted effort to help the site win a coveted World Heritage listing, but the process will not be easy, and there are many hurdles to overcome, officials said.

Currently, not even the preliminary submission of an application for a listing to the National Commission for UNESCO in Phnom Penh has been completed.

"We are not ready to submit the application yet," said Chuch Phoeurn, secretary of state at the Ministry of Culture, who visited Banteay Chmar on Saturday with provincial governor Oung Oeun and other dignitaries and international experts.

More data still needs to be collected to establish that Banteay Chmar possesses "outstanding universal values" that make it a site of great historical and architectural distinction.

Chuch Phoeurn said Banteay Chmar will be able to meet the requirements because it is unique and its architecture differs from the famous Bayon temple in the Angkor complex.

Banteay Chmar is well known for its intricate carvings and long walls of bas-relief. Vast and ruinous, it is one of the few temples to feature the enigmatic Bayon-style giant faces with their mysterious smiles.

It was built by King Jayavarman II on the site of an old Hindu temple in the late 12th or early 13th century. In its original state, a 9-kilometre-long wall enclosed the temple, which was one of the largest Buddhist monasteries of the Angkor era.

Most of the more than 100 scholars attending the three-day Sisophon conference agreed that Banteay Chmar has the credentials to be listed, but they concurred that it is likely to be a long, slow process.

Governor Oung Oeun said: "I will be very happy if this temple can be listed as a World Heritage Site, but before we can achieve that goal a lot of work needs to be done."

Once the initial submission is made and approved, it must then go to the president of UNESCO to confirm, and then it must receive the nod from Prime Minister Hun Sen. Only then will it be submitted to UNESCO in Paris.

If Paris judges it to be a worthwhile bid, a team will be sent to Banteay Chmar to verify the submission - and if they tick it off and UNESCO approves, it will be listed. "It is a long two- to three-year process," said Chuch Phoeurn.

As well as these bureaucratic and cultural hurdles, there are major infrastructure and access problems to sort out, officials warned. The road leading to the site is in poor condition and is often washed out in the rainy season.

John Sandey, Asia Pacific field director of the Global Heritage Fund, which is helping Cambodia restore the temple, said at the conference:

"There are major deficiencies like a lack of water and electricity at the site that must receive attention. No water, no tourists." And no World Heritage listing - for the moment.

Opposition publisher to appeal prison term

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Meas Sokchea

IMPRISONED newspaper publisher Hang Chakra is set to appear at the Court of Appeal this morning to contest a defamation conviction handed down by Phnom Penh Municipal Court in June.

Choung Chou Ngy, the lawyer for Hang Chakra, said he had informed authorities at Prey Sar prison, where the publisher is currently being held, to release him for today's hearing.

"I will appear in the court as well to defend Hang Chakra and face the prosecutor and government lawyer," Choung Chou Ngy said.

The lawyer said his client's prospects were promising, provided the court was free of political influence, and added that Hang Chakra was willing to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if his appeal was dismissed by judges in the lower court.

False information
In a hearing on June 26, Hang Chakra, the publisher of opposition-aligned daily newspaper Khmer Machas Srok, was found guilty of publishing disinformation, sentenced to a year in prison, and fined 9 million riels (US$2,250).

The subject of the government lawsuit was a series of articles published in April and May, alleging corrupt activities by officials under Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.

Government lawyer Suong Chanthan, who is representing the officials who brought the disinformation charges against Hang Chakra, could not be reached for comment Monday.

Drought ravages west

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Thet Sambath

DROUGHT is ravaging parts of Pursat and Battambang provinces, destroying thousands of hectares of rice paddies, say local officials.

"My province is facing big droughts in a few districts. The rice plants can now be burned because thousands of hectares have died," said Pursat provincial Governor Chhay Sareth.

"If there is no rain this week, thousands more hectares of rice will die." He said local authorities were helping by pumping water into the rice paddies, but that lakes were drying up due to the demand.

Cheam Chan Saphon, director of Battambang province's Agriculture Department, said his province has lost 13,000 hectares, and that rice seeds were being distributed to farmers whose crops were lost.

Government tax revenue rose in July over the previous month, according to a report last week by the General Department of Customs and Excise, but year

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Children at the Light House Orphanage watch television on Monday. The Council of Ministers has approved a draft law that would legalise international adoptions.

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Vong Sokheng

THE proposed International Adoption Law approved last week by the Council of Ministers is set to open the door to foreign adoptions for the first time in nearly a decade, though uncertainty remains regarding the details of the legislation.

In a statement released on Friday, the Council of Ministers said that the goal of the legislation is to ensure transparency and security in the international adoption process.

"The draft law's purpose is to regulate the principles, conditions, and procedures for international adoption, with the goal of guaranteeing the protection of children's rights and interests," the statement read.

Seng Lim Nov, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, said Monday that the Council would like to see the law passed as quickly as possible. "This law is considered a high priority, and we hope to have it in the National Assembly within the next week or two," he said.

International adoption was suspended in Cambodia in 2001 amid concerns about child trafficking and the lack of adequate legal mechanisms to control the practice. Cambodia is a signatory of the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption, an international agreement that sets forth principles for the adoption process, and the Council of Ministers statement said that the new legislation would be in keeping with the protections for children outlined in that agreement.

Am Sam Ath, a monitor for the local rights group Licadho, said the government will have to work carefully to ensure that fraud and child-buying, which were endemic to the Cambodian adoption process in the past, do not resurface after the proposed regulations take effect.

"I hope that the draft law on adoption will establish a sufficient legal framework and other safeguards that protect the best interests of children," he said.

No single parents allowed
Though the full details of the adoption law have not yet been released, a cabinet official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the law would prohibit adoption by single parents.

"Our cabinet worries that foreigners who want to adopt as single parents may be untrustworthy," the official said.

Minister of Social Affairs Ith Samheng could not be reached for comment on Monday. In February, however, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong raised concerns in a meeting with French officials about international adoptions by unmarried individuals.


Photo by: Sovan Philon
Sok Vangsa, who came to LHO in 2007, says she would be reluctant to leave.


The Light House Orphanage (LHO) in Phnom Penh is just one of the many organisations in Cambodia that exist to serve orphans and other at-risk populations throughout the Kingdom.

Khan Sophean, manager of the orphanage, said that the organisation has adopted 98 children from Phnom Penh and eight other provinces around the country. In spite of the pending International Adoption Law, he said, the orphanage remains focused on preparing children for a life in Cambodian society.

Though visitors may serve as godparents to one of the children at the orphanage, the organisation does not allow children in its care to leave for adopted homes.

Supported by international donors, LHO offers vocational training and general-knowledge classes for the youths in its care.

Im Dina, a disabled 19-year-old, came to LHO from Kampong Speu province one month ago. He said the organisation provides all he needs of a home.

"My new life is here because they provide me with food and other benefits including education," he said. "This is all I need, right here."

Sok Vangsa, 16, from Kampong Chhnang province, came to LHO in 2007 because her parents could no longer support her. She said that with the education LHO provides and all the friends she has made there, she would be extremely reluctant to leave.

"I think that the atmosphere here is good, and I have many friends," she said. "I don't want a foreigner to care for me because this organisation gives me everything I need."


Cambodian tax revenue sees mixed returns, down from '08

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Men walk in front of the General Department of Customs and Excise on Monday in Phnom Penh. The department announced a slight rise in collected tax revenue in July.

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Chun Sophal

General Department of Customs and Excise reports $200,000 rise in income from last month, but figures remain 13.6pc down from same period last year

Government tax revenue rose in July over the previous month, according to a report last week by the General Department of Customs and Excise, but year-on-year revenue for the month was down compared with the same period last year.

Customs and Excise reported revenue of US$51.4 million in July this year - an increase of $200,000 over last month. But revenue was 13.6 percent lower than that collected in July 2008.

Kum Nhem, the department's deputy general, said Monday the decline in tax revenue was due to a worsening global economic climate that had less impact last year on imported and exported goods.

"It is more difficult for us to get higher revenues in the current circumstances because the financial crisis is putting too much pressure on goods coming in and going out of Cambodia," he said.

Kum Nhem said the department was confident the decline in coming months would be minimal and cited steps taken to increase tax revenue on sand exports - a sector from which it has not yet been fully effective in collecting taxes.

"We expect tax revenues to increase significantly in November and December because of an increase in transportation during the dry season, which is usually much busier than the rainy season," Kum Nhem said.

Son Chhay, a Sam Rainsy Party member, said tax revenue should be much higher than reported, despite the marginal rise announced for last month, and that the government has yet to take appropriate steps to eliminate corruption among customs officers.

Some customs officers allow the transportation of goods through the Phnom Penh Port without requiring the payment of required taxes, Son Chhay said, adding that this practice accounts for much more lost revenue than reported.

"I think the government is still able to collect more tax revenue this year if they were willing to change the way collection is conducted, if they were to set a plan according to law," he said.

Tax revenues for the first seven months of this year reached $331 million, according to data provided by the excise and customs department, and more than $500 million in 2008.

China's investment in Cambodia fixed assets dives amid downturn

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Nguon Sovan

The Kingdom eyes more diversified involvement from Japan, whose investment grew from zero last year to just under $5 million so far in 2009

FIXED-asset investment in Cambodia by China and South Korea plunged in the first half of 2009, while Japan's fixed assets spiked during the same period, according to a report from the Council for the Development of Cambodia released earlier this month.

Chinese investments dropped more than 93 percent, and South Korean capital declined nearly 58 percent, the report stated.

Chinese investment by fixed assets in Cambodia dropped to US$242.43 million, from $3.86 billion during the first half of last year," the report said. "Korea was down to $109.2 million from $258.09 million last year."

Fixed asset investments by Japan during the same period, the report noted, hit $4.76 million in the first half of this year, up from nothing last year.

Yun Heng, deputy director of the Evaluation and Incentive Department at the Cambodian Investment Board, an arm of the CDC, characterised the decline in investments as the result of smaller-scale projects this year.

"When we look at the [Chinese and Korean] figures, it's bad, but those countries still have a similar number of ongoing projects. They're just smaller than last year's projects," he said.

Yun Heng said most of the South Korean investments related to real estate, agriculture and tourism, while Chinese investments focused on real estate, garment factories, mining and hydroelectric dams.

Japanese investment typically targets tourism, Yun Heng said, but added that Cambodia hopes to see this diversify into the IT and manufacturing sectors.

Lee Hyoung-seok, deputy director general of the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, said Monday that it was inevitable during times of economic crisis that investments would drop.

"[Investment] has definitely dropped because of the global recession and the real estate downturn, so Korean investment opportunities in Cambodia are now smaller than they were two or three years ago," Lee said. "Investors ... are watching the economic environment before making further investments."

Motorola wins rights to radio distribution

The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Ith Sothoeuth

ROYAL Cambodia Co Ltd last week struck an exclusive agreement with Motorola to distribute two-way radio systems in the Kingdom.

Kith Meng, chairman of Royal Group, of which Royal Cambodia is a subsidiary, said at a press conference following a signing ceremony on Thursday that the agreement represented a new phase of partnership between the two companies.

"We have cooperated with [Motorola] since 1992. At that time, we didn't have any formal agreement. Now, we exclusively distribute their radio system solutions," he said.

Chew Guan Sing, Motorola's vice president for system sales in South and East Asia, said the company offers radios that receive both analog and digital signals. "The world is going digital because it is more effective and secure," he said. "We hope our customers in Cambodia will soon understand the advantages of our digital systems."

Royal Cambodia's Kith Meng said imported Motorola radios be marketed to two types of customers: the private sector and the government. "The first we call private trunking ... for companies, factories or private security companies," Kith Meng said. "We can also sell to government bodies such as the National Police, [military] police and soldiers at the border."

Motorola's latest technology comes at a steep price - ranging from US$1,000-$2,000 per radio, Kith Meng acknowledged, but he said the advantages outweigh the expense.

"No matter how expensive the products are, people will purchase them if it means maintaining security," he said.

Chem Sangva, director general of inspection at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, said the agreement with Motorola could bring much-needed stability to the radio systems sector.

"Until now, radio sales have been hit-and-miss in terms of quality and security. Digital systems are easier to control," he said.

Blending rock with opera - and a Cambodian twist

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Him Sophy, pioneer of Khmer rock opera, explains his art to an audience at Phnom Penh's Meta House.


The Phnom Penh Post
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Roth Meas

Khmer theatre director Him Sophy explains how his debut production appeals to audience members young and old by pioneering a whole new art form

In recent years, an exciting new art form has begun to appear in Cambodia, one which contains an intoxicating mixture of modern and classical music.

The man behind such melodies, Him Sophy, has named it Khmer rock opera.

Him Sophy studied music at the Royal University of Fine Art, before and after the Khmer Rouge regime.

He also won a scholarship to study in Moscow and graduated with a master's degree in 1993, before adding a doctorate two years later.

In 2001, the Asian Consulting Group awarded him sponsorship to complete an internship in the US, which is where he initiated Khmer rock opera.

This musical hybrid contains a unique mix of rock instruments, such as guitar and drums, and traditional Cambodian instruments.

Sophy says that "our teenagers love rock music. I mix traditional and modern rhythm sections together and try to make it typically Khmer."

The musical virtuoso feels it is important to keep things fresh, in order that audiences' interest remains piqued.

"If we never come up with anything new, if we stand still, our art will gradually disappear because people become bored by it," Sophy stated.

He is also excited by this new form because Khmer rock opera is one of the few styles which is capable of satisfying both older audiences and teenagers, due to its mixture of traditional and modern melody.

Of course, plenty of art and music already exist in Cambodia.

Lakorn basak is a traditional dramatic style, which looks similar to opera, but many Cambodians, especially teenagers, find it difficult to engage with, as the style has not evolved since its early days.

Photo by: Sovan Philong
An elephant advertises the piece's Phnom Penh premiere.

Him Sophy enjoys the freedom of creating something new without copying from others, yet retains a deep admiration for his ancestors as the inventors.

Arguably their greatest achievements were the temples, but obviously all the temples look different.

So, Sophy reasons, if that is the case, he can certainly make Khmer rock opera different from lakorn basak without compromising the culture.

The first Khmer rock opera, Where Elephants Weep, was performed internationally in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 2007, before its Cambodian run at the Chenla Theatre.

The production required subtitles, as the actors sang in English, and vice-versa when they sometimes spoke in Khmer.

Eventually, Sophy hopes all dialogue will be in Khmer, but he feels that at the moment it is important to retain English as a means to spread Cambodian art and music.

Where Elephants Weep took years to complete, due to Sophy's time requirements in recruiting a strong team and testing traditional Cambodian instruments.

The story follows Sam, the Khmer protagonist, who escapes the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia and makes his way to the United States via a refugee camp in Thailand.

He builds a successful career in the US but decides to return to his roots and is ordained as a Buddhist monk.

Sam is a bit clumsy and unversed in Khmer customs upon his arrival, initially committing faux pas such as shaking hands when greeting people.

Having finally settled into the life of a monk, Sam's world is turned upside-down when he becomes enchanted by a beautiful Cambodian pop singer, Bopha.

However, Bopha's brother, Khan, is an opportunist who hopes to use Sam as a platform for financial gain.

So begins a treacherous story of love and loss, despair and redemption.

The production at Chenla Theatre was recorded and broadcast on Cambodia's biggest television network, CTN, in December 2008.

A repeat airing was scheduled to take place but was cancelled due to a perceived confliction with many Buddhist monks in Cambodia.

Him Sophy maintains he dealt with that controversy, by removing the phrase 'monk wears Buddhist robe but embraces woman' from the production, claiming it was nothing more than a translation mistake.

Where Elephants Weep made a huge impression during its run in Cambodia.

Audiences who were lucky enough to see it soon spread the word, and it has garnered a huge number of followers and enthusiasts, who hope the production will be repeated at some stage.

However, Him Sophy is unsure of the chances that will happen, revealing that it costs too much money to perform the Rock Opera even once. Khmer audiences may have to wait to have their appetites satisfied, as the performance at Chenla theatre last year cost around US$1 million.