Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The banning of Miss Landmine Cambodia violates rights to freedom of expression

Photo by: GORM K GAARE
Miss Svay Rieng, Korn Savourn, in her promotional photo for the now-cancelled Miss Landmine Cambodia contest

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Chheat Sreang

Dear Editor:

I am writing to express my utter dismay at the government's decision to cancel the Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009 beauty pageant.

This decision, taken in the apparent interest of land mine victims, strikes at the heart of the self-worth of the participants and land-mine victims in general, and is further evidence that the government has little or no regard for freedom of expression in Cambodia.

Miss Landmine Cambodia was organised in order to "highlight globally a very serious and unnecessary social problem".

In a country with 25,000 amputees among 63,000 land mine victims, this kind of awareness-raising is badly needed. Nevertheless, whether such awareness-raising is required and, indeed, whether the competition itself is one of good taste are irrelevant considerations in the discussion at hand.

The lnternational Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia acceded in 1992, and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia guarantee freedom of expression to all Cambodians.

The Miss Landmine Cambodia beauty pageant would have represented a rare opportunity for members of a marginalised group within Cambodia to exercise their freedom of expression, a freedom which is formulated on the basis of dignity and justice for all.

How long will we wait until the government embraces ... the people they purport to represent?

The decision to cancel the competition is testament to the sad reality that this "freedom", like so many others that are said to be guaranteed to all Cambodians on a nondiscriminatory basis, exists only in the abstract.

The government has stated that Miss Landmine Cambodia 2009 "would make a mockery of Cambodian land mine victims" and undermine their "dignity and honour".

The ICCPR states that freedom of expression may be subject to limitations where the rights and reputations of other citizens so require.

However, the beauty pageant had received the endorsement of the Cambodian Mine Action Group and the Cambodian Disabled People's Organisation. lt is apparent that the decision to cancel this pageant is entirely disproportionate and constitutes yet another violation of freedom of expression.

Whether this decision was motivated by prejudice or a genuine interest to protect what were believed to be the best interests of Cambodian land mine victims is beside the point.

The participants have the right to determine their interests and the decision to take part was theirs and theirs alone and should never have required government approval.

In 2007, at the inaugural Miss Landmine competition in Angola, the first lady of Angola presented the winners with their prizes.

The decision to cancel the Cambodian competition represents yet another blow to freedom of expression. One must ask: How long will we wait until the government embraces the rights of the people they purport to represent?

Chheat Sreang
Project Coordinator
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR)
Member of the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia (AFEC)

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.

Khmer Rouge Verdict Expected In Early 2010

CBS News
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Aug. 26, 2009

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Expects To Deliver Long-awaited First Verdict In Early 2010

(AP) A verdict in the trial of the Khmer Rouge's chief jailer _ its first senior leader to face justice _ is expected early next year, the tribunal's spokesman said Thursday.

Kaing Guek Eav _ better known as Duch _ headed the Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison, where up to 16,000 people were tortured and later taken away to be killed. He is charged with crimes against humanity and his trial began in March, more than 30 years after the ouster of the ultra-communist group, whose 1975-1979 reign left an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians dead.

"We expect that Duch's hearing can finish by the end of September or early October and a verdict will be announced early next year," tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said.

The U.N.-assisted tribunal has been dogged by delays caused by internal disputes and corruption allegations that repeatedly forced it to push back the start of proceedings.

The tribunal is a legal hybrid, operating under the framework of Cambodian law but with mixed teams of Cambodian and U.N.-selected foreign prosecutors, defenders and judges.

Duch (pronounced DOIK), 66, is the first senior Khmer Rouge figure to face trial and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions.

Senior leaders Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Ieng Sary's wife, Ieng Thirith, are detained and likely to face trial in the next year or two.

Slowdown mars poverty reduction goals in Asia

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MANILA -- Large pockets of extreme poverty and hunger persist in Asia, where the global downturn makes it more difficult to achieve UN goals to reduce the ranks of the poor, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said Wednesday.

Supporting smaller businesses, where most Asians are employed, is key to fueling domestic demand and growth, the Manila-based lender said in a report on key economic indicators.

In 19 Asian economies, including the most populous China and India, more than 10 percent of people live on less than $1.25 a day and more than 10 percent are malnourished. This is despite the region's success over the last 15 years in cutting the number of poor from one in two to around one in four, the report said.

Nepal is the worst off with 55.1 percent of its population surviving on less than $1.25 a day. In China and India, 15.9 percent and 41.6 percent of the population live below the poverty line, respectively.

Income gap remains wide in many other countries.

More than 30 percent of Tajikistan's population suffers from hunger, as do 20-30 percent of the people in Armenia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Mongolia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and East Timor, the ADB said.

Among the so-called UN Millennium Development Goals is cutting in half extreme poverty and hunger by 2015 and reducing maternal mortality by three-quarters over the same period.

The report said that Asia faces serious challenges in meeting goals linked to sanitation and maternal deaths, which remain unacceptably high in countries such as Afghanistan, Nepal and Laos.

About 1,800 out of every 100,000 Afghan women die in childbirth while more than a quarter of urban households in 13 countries still lack access to improved sanitation, the bank said.

The ADB's chief economist Lee Jong-wha said it was too early to say if current positive economic signs in Asia and other economies mean a global recovery is taking hold.

For Asia to cope with the global downturn, it needs to strengthen domestic demand to sustain growth, said chief ADB economist Lee Jong-wha. Global demand for Asian exports was expected to remain sluggish, but the region could see a V-shaped recovery in 2010, he said.

"It's unlikely that Asia can export its way out of this slump, as they did after the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis," Lee told The Associated Press. "This crisis clearly shows that Asia cannot rely only on external demand but must diversify its sources of growth and revive its domestic industries."

"A return to a fast-growing developing Asia will require some rebalancing of growth toward domestic demand in the region as a whole," it said.

Governments should focus not only on fiscal stimulus and large enterprises but also on supporting small and medium-sized enterprises - where most Asian workers are employed - to build a substantial urban middle class with spending power, he said.

They could do that by strengthening infrastructure, particularly transportation and electricity links, and removing regulations to make it easier to do business.

Lee said the ADB will revise its growth forecast for Asia in September.

In March, the bank predicted a 3 percent growth rate in 2009 for emerging East Asian economies and 6 percent growth in 2010, which is still below the 9.7 percent expansion in 2007. (AP)

Group of 40 Senators Not to Approve Agreement between Thailand and Cambodia over Border Dispute

26 August 2009

The group of 40-senators will not approve the Thai-Cambodian draft agreement of settlement of the border dispute, which is scheduled for the Parliament meeting this Friday.

The committee for politics and public participation development of the Senate, together with a civic group observing the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia on the Preah Vihear Temple, organized a seminar entitled 'Preah Vihear Temple: a 4.6-square kilometre area and "the Country's Prestige and Sovereignty", led by Senator Kamnoon Sittisamarn.

Their plan is to petition the government to re-consider the draft agreement made between Thailand and Cambodia to resolve the 4.6 square-kilometre overlapping border area.

Senator Kamnoon revealed the seminar discussed the overlapping border area, and gave a presentation of evidence that showed the Foreign Affairs Ministry supporting the listing of Preah Vihear Temple as Cambodia's World Heritage site.

Kamnoon said the committee had an opinion that the temporary bilateral settlement would eventually lead to the listing of the Preah Vihear Temple as a Cambodian World Heritage site with Thai endorsement. He said that if this happenned, Thailand would lose its sovereignty in the 4.6 square-kilometre overlapping border area.

Kamnoon vowed that the group of 40 senators would oppose the government's attempt to draft the agreement between the two countries.

Their plan is to petition the government to re-consider the draft agreement made between Thailand and Cambodia to resolve the 4.6 square-kilometre overlapping border area.

Senator Kamnoon revealed the seminar discussed the overlapping border area, and gave a presentation of evidence that showed the Foreign Affairs Ministry supporting the listing of Preah Vihear Temple as Cambodia's World Heritage site.

Kamnoon said the committee had an opinion that the temporary bilateral settlement would eventually lead to the listing of the Preah Vihear Temple as a Cambodian World Heritage site with Thai endorsement. He said that if this happenned, Thailand would lose its sovereignty in the 4.6 square-kilometre overlapping border area.

Kamnoon vowed that the group of 40 senators would oppose the government's attempt to draft the agreement between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Senator Paiboon Nititawan revealed that the draft agreement between Thailand and Cambodia on the 4.6 square-kilometre overlapping border area had indicated that Thailand should withdraw its troops from the overlapping area.

He said the agreement would allow Cambodia to take advantage of the overlapping area to support the World Heritage site requirement.

He also added that the government should abolish the resolution made by the former government in 1993 to develop the overlapping area with the Cambodia.

Psychiatrist says Khmer Rouge trial can help heal

A Cambodian man watches a TV showing Chhim Sotheara, a psychiatrist from Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO), speak at a genocide tribunal, at a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2009. Chhim Sotheara told genocide tribunal Tuesday that by bringing former Khmer Rouge leaders to prosecute was the best way to eradicate Cambodian traumatically from their bodies after its contain over three decades ago.(AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

By SOPHENG CHEANG,Associated Press Writer
AP - Wednesday, August 26

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A psychiatrist testified Tuesday that prosecuting the former leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge can help ease the mental trauma of hundreds of thousands of victims who suffered under the brutal communist regime three decades ago.

Dr. Chhim Sotheara of the Transcultural Psychosocial Organization _ which promotes community mental health programs _ testified at the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who commanded a Khmer Rouge torture center when the group was in power from 1975-79.

A U.N.-assisted genocide tribunal is seeking justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died in Cambodia from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition as a result of the regime's radical policies.

Chhim Sotheara said according to his research, 14 percent of Cambodians, or about 800,000 people, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder related to the Khmer Rouge's rule. The destruction of families and communities deprived people of their traditional pillars of psychological support, he said.

"The trial of the former Khmer Rouge leaders is an opportunity for the victims who had suffered and who have been traumatized for many years to overcome their trauma through justice," Chhim Sotheara told the tribunal.

He said the government should also hold public reconciliation forums to help heal the victims' pain.

Asked for comment by the judges, Duch (pronounced DOIK) agreed that people's psychological damage remained a problem.

"The consequences are tremendous and extensive and long-lasting. Even at this time, the consequences are still ongoing," Duch told the tribunal.

Duch is the first of five senior Khmer Rouge figures scheduled to face long-delayed trials and the only one to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. His trial, which started in March, is expected to finish before the end of the year.

He could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Cambodia has no death penalty.

Lao, Cambodian border demarcation makes progress

News Desk
Vientiane Times
Publication Date: 26-08-2009

Laos and Cambodia will continue border demarcation, aiming to increase communication, trade, investment, tourism, and security in shared border areas.

Since 2000, Laos and Cambodia have completed 86 per cent of the border demarcation work along their 535km of shared border. Just over 120 demarcation points have been identified including 108 single posts and 13 double posts.

Since 2007 to the present, Laos and Cambodia have resolved six of nine remaining border points.

According to a press release issued by the ministry of foreign affairs, Lao and Cambodian border officials met on August 21-22 in Siem Reap , Cambodia .

The Lao delegation was led by Deputy Prime Minister and minister of foreign affairs Dr Thongloun Sisoulith and the Cambodian side by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of foreign affairs and international Cooperation Hor Namhong.

The meeting was held in an atmosphere of friendship under four basic principles that the two countries had jointly approved.

During the meeting, the two sides unanimously resolved remaining border points in the area near the Xe Lamphao River.

In addition, the two sides also shared ideas on remaining issues and agreed to seek mutually acceptable solutions.

The meeting assigned Lao Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Bounkeuth Sangsomsak and Cambodian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Long Visalo to lead boundary technical committees from their respective countries to conduct further detailed surveys before reporting to their governments.

Cambodian court jails US man for child sex

Michael James Dodd from Washington DC, was arrested in October last year while staying with the girl at his rented house in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. -- PHOTO: AFP

A Cambodian court on has sentenced a US man to 10 years in prison for soliciting sex with a Vietnamese girl

PHNOM PENH — A Cambodian court on Wednesday convicted and sentenced a US man to 10 years in prison for soliciting sex with a 14-year-old Vietnamese girl, a judge said.

Michael James Dodd, 60, from Washington DC, was arrested in October last year while staying with the girl at his rented house in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

"I sentenced the US man to 10 years in jail for soliciting sex from the 14-year-old girl," Judge Chan Madian of Phnom Penh Municipal Court told AFP.

The judge also ordered Dodd to pay 5,000 dollars in compensation to the victim.

Dozens of foreigners have been jailed for child sex crimes or deported to face trial in their home countries since Cambodia launched an anti-paedophilia push in 2003 to try to shake off its reputation as a haven for sex predators.

US sex offender given 10 years in jail in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A Cambodian court sentenced an American man on Wednesday to 10 years in prison for sexually abusing a teenage girl.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Chan Madina found Michael James Dodd of Washington, D.C. guilty of soliciting sex from a 14-year-old girl. He was arrested in October 2008 at his rented house in the capital, Phnom Penh, in the girl's company.

Dodd was also ordered to pay 20 million riel ($4,878) in compensation to the girl's family.

Florida's Department of Law Enforcement lists the 60-year-old Dodd as a sex offender and details his last registered address as Syracuse, New York. The department's Web site says he was convicted in July 2002 of sexual abuse of a child.

Cambodia has long been a magnet for foreign pedophiles because of poverty and corruption in law enforcement. But the country's police and courts have stepped up action against sex offenders in recent years.

Khmer Rouge court attracts more participants than other int'l trials+

Aug 26, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 26 (AP) - (Kyodo)—The U.N. backed Khmer Rouge court announced Wednesday it has had more participation from the public than any other international court since it began hearing on March 30.

Reach Sambath, chief of public affairs section of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, said so far 20,250 people from 11 provinces and cities around the country and from 22 other countries have participated in Case 001 -- the hearing for Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, former chief of infamous torture center known as S-21 or Tuol Sleng prison.

"There is no court in the world that has more participants than this court. The interest is so high," he said, adding, "I think it's because the crimes took place here and the court also takes place here in the same country and as well the victims of the crimes."

Reach Sambath said the average number of public participation is 311 people on daily basis.

Among the total 2,103 foreign participants, the most are French at 531 and followed by Americans at 459.

Fifty-four Japanese have taken part in the process as of this date, he said.

Duch is one of five Khmer Rouge former leaders being tried by the ECCC.

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal: the start of a very long reconciliation process?

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 25/08/2009: Sotheara Chhim, psychiatrist, during his testimony on a screen in the press room on Day 64 in Duch’s trial at the ECCC 

© John Vink/ Magnum


By Stéphanie Gée

Sotheara Chhim, Cambodian psychiatrist and director of the Phnom Penh based organisation TPO (Transcultural Psychosocial Organization), was heard as an expert on Tuesday August 25th. A testimony that was necessary to assess the trauma of the victims of the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian society and its impact, both individual and collective. Unfortunately, the interpretation struggled, as some of the doctor’s answers were cut and the technical vocabulary was confused. The expert explained how the Khmer Rouge Tribunal could represent a starting point for healing and reconciliation and believed this process must be completed by another – later – mechanism on reparation.

The Khmer Rouge’s work of destruction
Dr Sotheara Chhim started by painting a very dark picture of the social situation under the Khmer Rouge, marked by a climate of distrust and fear resulting from a people categorisation in particular, the destruction of Khmer culture and its religious foundations, the ban on the freedom to worship decided by the new rulers of the country, keen to erase the past. “Cambodians thus suffered a massive psychological impact. People used their beliefs as a basis to solve their problems and confer a meaning and logical explanation to what happened around them. But the destruction of these beliefs resulted in a psychological deficit. So, when they encountered a problem, people could no longer find any solution. The Khmer Rouge did not allow them to pay tribute as they were taught by tradition or to practice their religion. The Khmer Rouge also forced families to separate. 
Children were taken away from their parents. While at a young age, they need their parents’ love, they were deprived of it. In addition, people were tortured, deprived of food, and this also contributed to the trauma. […] [Children] were also forced to spy on their own parents and some of them even killed them. This experience left a more than bitter taste in the mouth of these children, because the Khmer Rouge destroyed the health of each of these beings by forcing them to work excessively and not giving them decent enough accommodation. Also, there was the state of constant fear in which people used to live, over a long period of time.”

Many people traumatised, few psychiatrists
The practitioner claimed 40% of Cambodians over 18 had suffered and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A recent study under the direction of U.S. scholar Jeffrey Sonis stated a PTSD prevalence of 11.2% in the whole Cambodian population. Dr Sotheara Chhim stressed it was an important proportion compared to the small number of psychiatrists in the Kingdom – they were 32 – while they were barely 10 in 1994, for a population of 14 million.

A trauma that is present or ready to reappear
He explained that the patients treated by his NGO, TPO, constantly relived past events. One would feel the tears coming when the rain started to fall, reminding him that under the Khmer Rouge, they were exposed to the weather all the time. Another would have the same nightmare over and over again, in which he was chased by Pol Pot’s men trying to kill him. “Some victims who experienced these events suffer from depression and struggle to hang on to life. They lose the sense of effort needed to be parents for their children. […] Due to these traumatic events, many people have sunk into alcohol. Some have developed hypertension problems or chronic illnesses.”

The lack of psychological and psychiatric services in the country after the Khmer Rouge period only amplified the victims’ trauma, the doctor acknowledged. So did the concern, for many, to provide for their families’ immediate needs, in a logic of survival. “This does not mean that people are not traumatised, but that they did not have the opportunity to be treated. And one day, this trauma will reappear or has reappeared. […] However, following the creation of this tribunal, people may remember the past and put aside their daily survival and now focus on their mental problems because this trauma has reappeared. The tribunal can help them face their trauma and focus on its treatment.”

A whole society marked by the Khmer Rouge tragedy
Dr Sotheara Chhim argued the impact of this tragedy was inevitably felt in the generations who did not experience the Khmer Rouge regime directly, even though no relevant study has been carried out. He gave as an example the impact that a survivor racked by alcoholism may have on his or her entire family. He reminded that countries that went through important conflicts often faced rising violence, domestic in particular, and Cambodia was no exception.

By dismantling the family unit, the Khmer Rouge threw children into an “identity crisis.” “They no longer knew if they were the children of their parents or the Angkar,” which also indoctrinated them so they would execute any order, including the most barbaric ones. “Now, they are the parents and they reproduce what they experienced younger with their own children,” the psychiatrist insisted.

Truth and justice, a source of healing
In response to judge Lavergne who interrogated him on the impact of a trial like Duch’s on victims with psychological disorders, Dr Sotheara Chhim replied it may help them to overcome their trauma to see justice be given and it may allow them to get the answers to their questions through the trial proceedings. But he warned: if the judicial process may allow them to heal their wounds, it was still a long road to overcoming their trauma, as many survivors continued to function as if nothing had happened.

In Democratic Kampuchea, the supreme Angkar, the abstract ruling body which concealed the Communist Party of Kampuchea, was constantly invoked in all the decisions implemented. Yet, the expert noted, “during the trial, we heard former Khmer Rouge shift the blame on the Angkar themselves. Some used the Angkar as a shelter to deny their responsibilities under the Khmer Rouge. This can create even more suffering for the victims, as they come up against this denial of responsibility. Consequently, the healing process depends on the good will of the accused in particular, in terms of telling the truth, showing who was behind the crimes perpetrated by this regime. If that does not happen, the psychological wounds inflicted upon the population will not heal. We have seen it. Some civil parties do not accept the apologies made to them because they deem them inappropriate and insincere. There can be no complete process there. That being said, they may find some kind of relief in expressing what they have to say.”

The importance of victims’ participation to the trial
International co-Prosecutor Vincent de Wilde then listed a series of sagacious questions. “For the victims who joined as civil parties and for Cambodian society at large, what is the importance of their active participation to the trial, in public, before the nation? Can the other victims identify with these civil parties’ action and can that play a cathartic role for Cambodian society, without being a miracle solution?” Dr Sotheara Chhim concurred. “By coming to testify, these victims somehow made this trial their forum, where they can express publicly emotions buried for all these years and show that what happened under the Khmer Rouge did really happen.” He added that to this day, this chapter of Cambodian history had not featured in school curriculum and was not talked about either. “There was like a silence conspiracy. People avoided talking about it.” The psychiatrist hoped the testimonies made before this Chamber would contribute to breaking that silence.

A healing difficult to accomplish outside the country
The sadness felt by survivors over the loss of relatives under the Khmer Rouge as well as their anger seemed to increase with time. “We have observed that it was the case in particular of people who were outside the country during the time of Democratic Kampuchea and lost relatives here, although they had access to psychological care,” the co-Prosecutor pursued. “Do you think there was a transfer onto the civil party of the fear and suffering the civil party imagines their deceased to have experienced?” For victims living abroad, the expert specified, it was no less difficult for them to overcome their trauma, as they were far from their homes, in countries that did not share the same traditions or beliefs, not to mention the same language or past. So, although they experienced better living conditions there, “they still lost something.” To illustrate his words, he evoked a Cambodian patient based in Australia, for whom the treatment he received did nothing to alleviate his suffering. “In fact, it was difficult for him to practice his religion. He came back to Cambodia and was thus able to pray for the soul of his parents. It provided him a lot of psychological relief. When he returned to Australia, he was feeling much better.”

Why the lack of forgiveness to the accused?
Vincent de Wilde continued. “How can you explain the lack of pity […] of the civil parties – apart from one exception – towards the accused as well as the total lack of forgiveness towards an accused who has cooperated and expressed regret, at least to some extent? Must justice be done first to break the lock of impunity, before other steps may be envisaged towards the acceptance of apologies or, at an even later stage, forgiveness and reconciliation? In other words, are we only at the start of a very long process towards reconciliation?” In Dr Sotheara Chhim’s view, it was important to first understand the needs of the victims, the causes of their post-traumatic stress and their wishes. Then, “if justice is given, the civil parties will be able to draw the consequences and they may forgive. This forgiveness is a fundamental key to open the door to psychological healing. In the absence of forgiveness, it is very difficult for this psychological healing to take place, which impacts on national reconciliation. So, here, there is a willingness both from the accused and the victims to try and work together for the truth to emerge, a truth that can be accepted by the victims.”

Both torturer and victim?
The Belgian co-Prosecutor then interrogated him on the meeting between civil parties and the accused that took place in a trial. “If an accused, any accused, tries, through his repeated words, to also place himself on the side of the victims and thus share their suffering, in what psychological state may the victims or civil parties end up, faced with this confusion of roles that may lead them to believe that the torturer is also a victim or that victims may have also been torturers? What is the impact of that kind of speech on civil parties?” The expert recognised the crucial importance of such a question. He did not want to venture on the case of former Khmer Rouge leaders and even less so those indicted by the tribunal. So, he discussed the situation of children who were taken away from their parents by the Angkar, forcibly recruited and sent to the frontline or ended up posted at S-21. “At first glance, they are both victims and authors of crimes. […] It is a complex circle.”

The balance between the justice of men and that of Buddha
“One civil party told us about the clash between his personal suffering and the concept of karma, while also stressing some degree of clash between the justice of men and the justice of Buddha,” Vincent de Wilde recalled. “In light of the main religion in this country, can karma play a role in the fact that a number of victims do not dare to participate in a legal process before the justice of men and prefer to refer only to the justice of God and not fight as much as they might do in a different culture?” Dr Sotheara Chhim highlighted the fact that the majority of Cambodians believed in Buddhism and therefore in the principle of karma and considered that “vengeance is not a solution to problems.” In his view, “there must be a balance reached between the concept of karma and that of the justice of men so that justice may be given.” However, he deemed, that pertained to each person’s individual action and choice.

Kambol (Phnom Penh, Cambodia). 25/08/2009: Visitors from Stung, the district of the accused, who left their homes at 3am to attend the hearing on Day 64 in Duch’s trial at the ECCC
© John Vink/ Magnum

The victims’ fear about testifying in public
The expert later repeated that the psychological healing of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime depended on the honesty of the accused and the former Democratic Kampuchea leaders. “We know who those responsible are, but the lack of acknowledgement of responsibility is a further burden on the victims’ shoulders […]. Cambodians are angry with that failure to recognise their responsibilities.” They were also reluctant to come and testify before the Chamber. As civil party co-lawyer Alain Werner observed, some of their clients had felt “too fragile” at the last minute to come and speak and face the accused. “There are several causes,” Dr Sotheara Chhim explained. “First, there is the psychological aspect and the fact that the victims were not treated. I admire the civil parties who found the courage to testify. […] Some say that by watching the trial and seeing the accused, they had flash-backs, they remembered, and the pain was therefore revived. […] They also lack self-confidence and do not feel safe enough to be able to speak in public and they continue to live in fear today. The Khmer Rouge taught people to distrust one another. They made them spy on one another. […] The victims often told us they didn’t trust anyone.”

Justice must be given “in several steps”
For his part, Kar Savuth, Duch’s national co-lawyer, questioned a potential healing for survivors, given that those responsible for the other 200 prisons that existed under the Khmer Rouge, as well as other known torturers, were not prosecuted today. The psychiatrist stressed it was important that justice be given in several steps. “There are the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia], which constitute a somewhat symbolic justice because those most responsible for the Khmer Rouge crimes are being judged here. For the psychological healing of all the victims at the community level, another reconciliation mechanism must be established.” He did not know what form it should take, but expressed his conviction that NGOs, local authorities and the government must join their efforts to set up “a joint reconciliation forum.” He suggested the creation of local courts as an option.

Too soon to talk about forgiveness?
As for his international colleague, François Roux, he returned to the issue of forgiveness – “a slow process,” as the witness described it – “which certainly goes beyond this hearing.” “I do not quite understand that one may ask here a victim who came to express their suffering: are you ready to forgive? That is not today’s debate. You recalled that it is only from the moment that justice is done that, possibly, something may happen between the victims and the accused. But am I right to say that it is too soon today to suddenly ask a victim: are you ready to forgive?” I am not an expert in forgiveness,” Dr Sotheara Chhim said. However, he agreed it was “too soon” to talk about forgiveness “because nothing has been clearly shown yet.” “This process may happen once the trial is over? Forgiveness is both an individual and collective process. […] But some will remain locked in their anger until the end of their life.” He added that this issue of forgiveness was a recent one in people’s minds. For the time being, he hammered, “the most important thing is to reveal the truth.”

Preparing the victims to see some of their expectations disappointed
Then, François Roux claimed it was important to take “a few illusions” away from the victims, by warning them they would not necessarily have all the answers to their questions, “though legitimate,” and that “in spite of that, they will have to seek healing.” “Who can understand Pol Pot? That we seek to establish the reality of the facts, yes. But why the Khmer Rouge regime? Will someone be able some day to explain the ‘why the Khmer Rouge regime’?” The expert considered it was important “to know the truth and that justice be done. That is what the victims wish. Those are the conditions that may lead to the healing of psychological wounds. I think it is difficult to attain this objective. In my view, everybody can project a version of truth according to their understanding. That depends on the degree of acceptability of the truth for the victims. In a word, it is difficult to disclose the truth and those who know the truth are the executioners and God.” No civil party lawyer returned to the issue of forgiveness and its acceptance, which was so skilfully reclaimed by the defence to their advantage.

Duch, ready to hear the victims discuss their trauma
It was the turn of the accused to speak on the contents of the expert’s testimony. From the outset, Duch specified he “did not have any knowledge on psychology,” but considered what had been said to be “positive” because it had no bias.” He recognised that the “immense” consequences of the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge “will still be felt for a long time.” He then again said he accepted the responsibility of the crimes committed at S-21 and deserved “the sentence that will be deemed fair by the Cambodian people.” “When I find myself faced with the victims, the widowers, the orphans, I understand that they condemn me and I bow to these victims. […] I regret that not all had a chance to speak.” Such was the case of Mr Chau Seng’s widower (a former minister under the Sangkum Reastr Niyum who was interned at Boeung Trabek and eliminated at S-21), who chose not to join as civil party, he noted, to “cast a stone at him.” However, he said he was ready to believe she experienced “something that had a long-term psychological impact” and bowed to her “from a distance.” Duch ended his declaration by expressing his “respect” to the public crowding the gallery and including… people from his native village in the province of Kampong Thom.

Cambodian intellectual property law to draw drug firms: govt official

PHNOM PENH, Aug. 26, 2009 (Xinhua News Agency) -- A senior Cambodian Commerce Ministry official said he hopes a draft law easing intellectual property restrictions on imports and exports of essential medicines will encourage major manufacturers of generic drugs to set up operations in Cambodia, local media reported on Wednesday.

The Law on Compulsory Licensing for Public Health will be submitted to the Council of Ministers "soon" and is expected to be passed by the National Assembly by the end of this year, Var Rath San, director of the Ministry of Commerce's Department of Intellectual Property Rights, which drafted the law, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

The law would bring Cambodia into line with the World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations allowing developing countries to bypass patents when importing and exporting drugs used to treat serious diseases such as malaria and HIV.

"Hopefully, foreign investors and large foreign pharmaceutical firms that are not eligible to produce generic drugs at home will come to set up factories to produce generic drugs for local and overseas pharmaceutical markets," Var Rath San said.

The WTO's 1995 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) allows developing countries to issue a compulsory license to drug manufacturers, allowing them to produce a patented drug without the consent of the patent owner.

A "proper fee" must be paid to the patent holder, but the fee is determined by the government according to its ability to pay.

Ministry of Health Secretary of State Chou Yin Sim said the law will help expand the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector in Cambodia.

(Source: iStockAnalyst )

Cambodia needs to be more than dressmaker to the world

By Anne-Laure Porée
Posted Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Defying the gloom descending on the tourism sector brought about by the global crisis, the capital’s airport recently launched a hopeful initiative: a new airline. Cambodia Angkor Air was launched to boost tourism between the capital and Siem Reap near the famed ruins of Angkor Wat. With tourist arrivals falling sharply since late last year, this may signal a triumph of hope over reality. If anything, the hopes and fears surrounding Cambodia’s tourist revenue and garment trade underline how the fortune of the country has become intertwined with the larger world.

Since peace came to Cambodia in the last years of the last century, the country has emerged as a poster child of globalisation in South-East Asia. In the middle of this decade, Cambodia enjoyed double digit growth and even hoisted itself up to 6th place in the rank of the fastest growing economies for the 1998-2007 period.

And now the country is experiencing the downside of dependence on the world. The sectors most affected by the crisis - tourism and garment export - are the ones that have seen the most development thanks to the integration of Cambodia into the global economy a decade ago, after peace was restored in the country.

At this time, the economy was opened to foreign investors, who poured money into the garment industry, taking advantage of supports granted to Cambodia such as the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) and the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP). This status provided access to the American market and it enabled other Asian investors - Chinese in particular - to get round their own quotas or the Least Developed Country status conferred upon them by the United Nations.

But the happy days are now threatened by the shrinking world market. Of the four major pillars of Cambodian economy - the garment industry, tourism, construction and agriculture - three are seriously impaired by the global crisis. With 70 per cent of Cambodia’s garment production going to the US, the declining American economy, choosey shoppers and stay-at-home tourists have led to job losses in Cambodia.

The figures released in late July by the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) showed a worse than anticipated loss: exports dropped almost 30 per cent and one garment worker in six lost her job in the first six months of 2009. Most of these workers are women who transfer a substantial part of their earnings to their family living in rural areas in order to supplement farming-based incomes. In some villages, every family has one or several members working in the garment factories based in the Phnom Penh suburbs. Some go for unpaid leave or part time jobs, some enter prostitution, but most decide to go back to their village in order to work in the rice fields.

According to Van Sou Ieng, GMAC president, Cambodia is much more severely affected by the crisis than other Asian countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Bangladesh or China because the industry sector in Cambodia is less competitive. “We need more time to produce than China or Vietnam,” he says. Though the government helps with profit tax exemptions or export charge reductions, there’s no miracle cure for Ieng.

Tourism - the second pillar of the economy - has suffered from the economic crisis, and the fallout from the swine flu. In Siem Reap, located next to the famed Angkor temples, a spot visited by more than 1 million tourists in 2008, the situation is described as “catastrophic” by hotel managers. The hotels’ occupancy rate has fallen 25 per cent compared to the same period in 2008. Several three- or four-star hotels have definitely closed their doors, and the mid-range hotels have been multiplying promotional offers for months.

The drop in western tourists’ arrivals (down 14 per cent during the four first months of 2009 according to the Minister of Tourism) has a direct impact on tourism generated incomes - foreigners spent US$1.6 billion in 2008. The Ministry of Economy and Finance expects a drop in tourism growth of 7 to 8 per cent this year.

The construction sector is also affected: many foreign investors have delayed, reduced or slowed their projects. The capital Phnom Penh started to change face in 2008 with the building of huge towers, business centres and shopping malls but activity slid in the second half of 2008, leaving workers without employment. Such trends have had significant consequences, particularly among the banking sector. The Acleda bank, which has the largest branch network in all provinces, reported a fall in profits in the second quarter of 2009 because of late payments and less lending. The Cambodians, who speculated on land as investment, are now facing difficulties because the prices of land and real estate have plunged and they can’t sell and get cash.

The hardest hit, of course, are the poorest of the poor who count each riel. For them, any drop in income, as well as any unexpected crisis, immediately results in cutting down the number of meals a day.

Agriculture, the fourth pillar of the Cambodian economy and the least exposed to global currents, could bolster the country’s 2009 growth, which is forecast at 2.1 per cent. The agricultural sector (with 4.3 per cent growth expected in 2009 depending on weather conditions) is essentially based on rice farming and fishing.

But the part of agriculture that has drawn foreign interest proves to be a mixed blessing.

In northeastern Mondolkiri province, plans by a French company to set up a rubber plantation have created a conflict that symbolises the double edged sword of globalisation. For several months, Bunong, a Montagnards ethnic group, has been fighting against the project - as their farmland gets swallowed up by the rubber company that has an agreement with the Cambodian government. The company is expected to make huge profits, a part of which could return to the community via the salaries of the plantation workers and the development of a new city.

The crisis has forced the government to pay attention to those left behind by globalisation. “We thought that the private sector could solve every problem but we have to reconsider the role to be played by the State in order to palliate the deficiencies of the market,” says Hang Chuon Naron, Secretary General of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The crisis has also led the leader of political opposition Sam Rainsy, former Economy Minister, to call for injecting government funds into the economy and for pushing reforms, in particular against endemic corruption. But the government would rather let the storm blow over, waiting for growth to come back in developed countries, hopefully pulling the country out of its recession in the process.

In the meantime, some hopes turn to the mineral, oil and gas resources development. But the revenues from these productions will be mainly derived from exports of raw materials with no local added value, whereas imports of manufactured goods will increase. Even after growth returns, Cambodia will still have to figure out how to hitch its industry to the global economy profitably rather than be a supplier of garments produced by cheap labour. Cambodia is beginning to learn the challenge of being part of an integrated world.

Recession threatens families

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Fourteen-year-old bookseller Vichet waits for customers along the riveside on Tuesday.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Post Staff

Layoffs among parents augur a rise in child labour: experts.

A STEEP decline in Cambodia's garment exports for the month of July has forced officials to reassess the strength of the global economic downturn and its impact on the country, as child welfare experts warn that the Kingdom's most vulnerable citizens - its children - may have the most to lose.

Official figures released Tuesday showed a 26.4 percent plunge in garment exports for July compared with a year ago and a 17.5 percent slide from June, - the latest in a series of grim economic indicators that prompted an admission by the head of the Cambodian Economic Association that the worst of the crisis could still be ahead.

Standing in the path of that slide, says Bill Salter, head of the International Labour Organisation's subregional office in East Asia, are Cambodia's children.

"The trend threatens to push 200,000 people back into poverty and erect new financial obstacles in front of children trying to access education," Salter said Tuesday during the launch of a national workshop studying the impact of the global economic crisis on child labour.

An estimated 40 percent of children aged between 7 and 17 years are currently engaged in some form of child labour, the group ChildFund Australia said in June.

Child labour rising
ILO officials said earlier this year that the number of children working in hard-labour conditions in Cambodia had grown from an estimated 250,000 in 2002 to about 300,000 this year.

The government has acknowledged the risks facing children, especially as families dependent on the garment sector - the Kingdom's largest industrial employer - suffer job losses or salary cuts that could prompt them to pull children out of school and into the workforce.

Cambodia's garment sector, which accounts for about 90 percent of the Kingdom's total exports, has borne the brunt of an economic downturn that can be linked directly to the rising numbers of children being forced into work, the ILO's Salter said, as cash-strapped families increasingly view education as a financial burden.

Veng Heang, director of the Department of Child Labour within the Ministry of Labour, said the link between the global crisis and child labour was no surprise.

"We knew that the economic crisis would impact children," he said Tuesday, adding that a rise in instances of child begging, scavenging and domestic labour would not be unexpected.

Warnings over deteriorating child welfare came amid protests by thousands in the garment sector over slashed pay.

More than 70,000 garment workers have been laid off since the crisis began, industry analysts say, with another 100,000 under threat in the next two years.

Nearly 3,000 employees at the Sky High Garment Factory in Daun Penh district went on strike on Monday to protest drops in their salaries, inadequate working conditions and unexpected work stoppages.
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Child labour force set to rise

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Fifteen-year-old Dara works under the hood of a car in a mechanic’s shop in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Vong Sokheng

The impact of the global economic crisis in Cambodia threatens to push more children out of school and into the workforce, child welfare advocates warn.

THE number of children in Cambodua forced into labour will rise as the recession tightens its grip on the local economy, child welfare experts warned.

"The global economic downturn threatens to put more children at risk of dropping out from school or being sent to work," Bill Salter, director of the International Labour Organisation's subregional office in East Asia, said on Tuesday.

"The trend threatens to push 200,000 people back into poverty and erect new financial obstacles in front of children trying to access education."

Speaking at the launch of a national workshop investigating the impact of the global economic crisis on child labour, Salter said the ongoing decline in garment exports would have a profound impact. Garment industry analysts suggest that more than 70,000 workers have been laid off since the crisis began, Salter said. At least 100,000 more jobs are expected to come under threat over the next two years.

As family incomes continue to dwindle, more parents will resort to sending their children to work in order to earn enough money for food and other basic necessities - to the detriment of the children's health, nutrition and intellectual development, he warned.

"The current economic crisis can push back our achievements on many fronts," he told the attending delegates.

"The decline in wage employment in Cambodia's garment, construction and tourism sectors will put much financial pressure on poor households.

Parents unable to feed their children will likely view expenses on transportation, books and uniforms as a burden, hence pulling their children out of school. With these consequences in mind, we must consider how we can urgently tackle the challenges ahead."

Veng Heang, director of the Ministry of Labour's Department of Child Labour, decried the lack of scientific research on the subject, but said the government has so far removed 22,000 of the total 253,000 children involved in the worst forms of child labour in Cambodia.

It is hoped a further 12,000 children will be helped this year, he added

Sam Rainsy to appear in France over defamation

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Cheang Sokha

OPPOSITION leader Sam Rainsy has been ordered to appear before a French appeals court in October in connection with a defamation and disinformation lawsuit filed against him by Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, a Sam Rainsy Party spokesman told the Post Tuesday.

Yim Sovann said Sam Rainsy had been sent a summons asking him to appear before the court on October 8, adding that the opposition leader, who is currently in France, planned to comply.

"He has collected more evidence for challenging the case," Yim Sovann said.

Hor Namhong filed the lawsuit against Sam Rainsy following the May 2008 publication of his autobiography Rooted In Stone, in which the opposition leader accused the minister of heading the Boeung Trabek "re-education camp", where diplomats and government officials from the Lon Nol and Norodom Sihanouk regimes were incarcerated by the Khmer Rouge.

A French court on January 27 ordered Sam Rainsy to pay a symbolic €1 (US$1.43) fine to Hor Namhong.

The Tribunal Correctionnel in Paris also ordered Sam Rainsy's publisher, Calmann-Levy, to remove from any reprinted copies a passage calling Hor Namhong a "collaborator ... suspected of causing the death of several people".

Yim Sovann expressed optimism that the appeals court would rule differently.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, declined to comment on the case, calling it the minister's personal matter.

Workers continue strike at garment factory

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Chhay Channyda and Mom Kunthear

THOUSANDS of garment workers from the Sky High garment factory Dangkor district have staged a two-day strike this week to protest poor working conditions and low wages.

Mai Vathana, coordinator for the Khmer Youth Federation of Trade Unions, said Tuesday that around 3,000 workers protested outside the factory on Monday. About 300 returned to work on Tuesday morning, but most resumed their strike.

Workers' grievances included a 1,000-riel reduction of monthly wages, a lack of compensation or assistance for those who lose vehicles on company property, and unpredictable, indefinite work stoppages.

Factory owners "cheat workers", Mai Vathana said, adding that her employers had failed to honour previous agreements including a promise to build a child-care centre on factory grounds.

Khieu Savuth, deputy director of the Department of Labour Disputes at the Ministry of Labour, said Tuesday that his ministry would host a meeting today to mediate the dispute.

"We will try to find a compromise on this issue because we don't want to see this protest happen again and again," he said.

Mai Vathana said that over the two days of the strike, workers had not heard anything from factory owners.

Khieu Savath, however, was hopeful that an agreement could be quickly reached.

Expert describes trauma felt by KR victims

Photo by: AFP
Psychological expert Chhim Sotheara testifies on Tuesday about the trauma endured by Khmer Rouge survivors.

Every time in their dream they see the khmer rouge, who are chasing them.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Robbie Corey Boulet

MENTAL health problems resulting from the trauma of the Khmer Rouge years have largely been ignored and, if untreated, could continue to fuel social ills such as alcoholism and domestic violence, a psychologist who has spent years counselling survivors and relatives of victims told Cambodia's war crimes court Tuesday.

"Some foreigners probably are in doubt why, after 30 years or so, Cambodian people still suffer from this trauma, and the answer is that Cambodian people have not had the appropriate opportunities to be treated," said expert witness Chhim Sotheara, executive director of the mental health NGO Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation.

He cited the Kingdom's lack of psychological experts - he said there are 32 now - as well as victims' struggle with dire economic circumstances, which he blamed for diverting attention away from mental health problems.

"The majority of the victims are living in poor conditions. Their living standard is poor. They are busy dealing with their daily life," he said. Later, he added, "They might forget the trauma, but this trauma does exist with them, and one day they will realise it."

Chhim Sotheara said survivors whom he has counselled have exhibited problems ranging from depression and recurrent nightmares to physical conditions such as hypertension.

"A victim told us that he saw [his] dead wife and children in his dreams," he said.

"And the wife and the children cried out for help, asking for justice in the dream. And many victims shared with us that every time in their dream they see the Khmer Rouge, who are chasing them."

Chhim Sotheara also pointed to high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among Cambodians.

A University of North Carolina School of Medicine survey of Cambodia released earlier this month found that more than 14 percent of respondents older than 35 and nearly 8 percent of those aged 18 to 35 met PTSD criteria on a common questionnaire.

The effect of the tribunal
Chhim Sotheara said he believed the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, and the four other Khmer Rouge leaders being held at the tribunal could jump-start the process of coping with nationwide trauma.

He said Duch and other accused persons brought before the tribunal could facilitate reconciliation by being honest.

"The psychological healing by the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime is dependent on the honesty that the accused or former leaders of Democratic Kampuchea show or express or acknowledge," he said. "We all know who are responsible for the killing of the Cambodian people."

Duch's Cambodian co-lawyer, Kar Savuth, asked the witness whether he believed the tribunal could actually heal psychological wounds, particularly given that only a handful of Khmer Rouge were set to be tried.

In response, Chhim Sotheara said the tribunal would offer "symbolic justice", adding that a mechanism should be established to administer justice at the local level.

Expense could threaten petition for Pen Bonnar's return: organiser

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Chrann Chamroeun

ETHNIC minority villagers in Ratanakkiri province said Tuesday that a petition campaign seeking the reinstatement of a former provincial human rights advocate faces a shortage of finances and may have to be cancelled.

Chuk Savath, 50, from O'Chum district, said he began the campaign last week to appeal to provincial Governor Pav Horm Phan for the return of Pen Bonnar, a provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho, who was reassigned to Phnom Penh on August 6.

Pen Bonnar had represented ethnic minority villagers for nearly a decade until provincial judge Thor Saron suggested earlier this month that he leave the province or face prosecution on charges of defamation, incitement and terrorism.

Pen Bonnar has denied wrongdoing and says no charges have yet been filed.

Chuk Savath said he has collected thumbprints from about 100 villagers in O'Chum district, but plans to visit three others - O'Yadav, Borkeo and Lumphat - were in jeopardy because he could not afford to continue much longer.

"I am worried that my money has almost run out," he said, adding that appeals to other supporters of the ousted rights coordinator have refused to help the campaign for fear of being arrested.

Chuk Savath acknowledged that he had doubts that the campaign would do any good, but that he was committed to honouring Pen Bonnar's work on behalf of the province's ethnic minority communities by seeking his return.

Pav Horm Phan could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but Morn Saroeun, deputy provincial governor, told the Post that villagers had every right to conduct the campaign.

"People are free to petition the governor. I believe he will consider the petition when he receives it, but I can't say which way he will decide," Morn Saroeun said.

Pen Bonnar expressed his gratitude Tuesday for the efforts to return him to the province.

"This is a success for ethnic minority communities to show such bravery in standing up to local authorities to seek a non-violent solution," he said.

He added that whether or not he would be allowed to return, he was resolved to continue supporting the villagers.

"I want to complete my mission to train villagers to understand their legal rights," he said.

Fishing communities in peril

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Tha Vichhay, 20, prepares his fishing net for a day's work in Tuol Krosang village, Sa'ang district, Kandal province last week.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Khouth Sophakchakrya

Global economic crisis has brought disaster to some Cambodian fishermen as high operating costs and rising debt eat into already meagre profits, experts say.

FISHING communities around the country have been disproportionately affected by the global economic crisis - saddled with debt as operation costs rise and fish yields decline, officials at a workshop on Cambodian fisheries said Tuesday.

The workshop, titled "The Global Economic Downturn and the Food Security for Fishermen in Cambodia", was hosted by the Fisheries Action Coalition Team (FACT), an environmental group, and featured representatives from the government and fishing communities.

Though the economic crisis has affected sectors across the economy, fishermen have been especially vulnerable, said Mak Sithirith, executive director of FACT.

Low yields in the past few years have reduced revenue for fishermen across the country, and rising costs of equipment and fuel - driven by external factors - have cut into their profit margins.

"Fishing communities are currently falling deeper into poverty, while the prices of rice, oil and other commodities remain quite high," Mak Sithirith said, adding that the rising price of fish at the market did little to offset these expenses.

In a survey of 1,000 fishermen conducted by the Cambodia Economic Association over the last few months, 90 percent reported debt of some kind, typically to help pay for business expenses, said the association's president, Chan Sophal.

Um Meng, 66, chief of the Patsanday fishing community in Kampong Thom province, confirmed that he and many others in his community had taken on large loads of debt as fish yields declined in the past few years - debt that is compounded with each financial setback.

"We don't have the money to pay [lenders] back, so our debts are now increasing," he said.

Chan Sophal called on the government to provide land grants to some fishermen and support the transition from an overcrowded industry.

Fisherman Um Meng said that some in his province had attempted to take this transition into their own hands, but had been arrested for illegally clearing forested areas.

Sam Nov, deputy director general of the Fisheries Department at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, urged fishermen to get more of their catch from private ponds in order to increase fish yields in larger bodies of water.

He acknowledged that many fishermen have resorted to illegal activities, such as clearing forests and wetlands or fishing out of season, to supplement their meagre earnings, but said these activities are "not a good solution" and that they are "devastating fishery resources".

Many fishermen, however, say they feel that they have no choice other than to engage in such activities.

Others, like Kin Sok, 49, the chief of Vatanak village in Kratie province, told the Post outside the workshop that although he and his fellow villagers refrain from illegal fishing themselves, they fear that their resources may nonetheless be in jeopardy from others.

"We do not catch fish during the spawning season because we're afraid they won't be able to breed, but when the fish move downstream, other fishermen who live along the Mekong River catch them using illegal fishing nets and tools," he said.

Thais defer ceremony at border once again

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Thet Sambath

A joint ceremony designed to promote good relations between Thai and Cambodian troops stationed on the border at Preah Vihear has been postponed for a second time.

The festival was intended to ease tensions at the site of the 11th century temple, where soldiers on both sides had described near-constant tension since UNESCO accepted Cambodia's application to enlist Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site in July 2008.

Speaking to the Post on Tuesday, Brigade 8 Commander Yim Phim said a declaration of peace by Royal Cambodia Armed Forces Commander Pol Sareoun and General Songkitti Jaggabatra of the Royal Thai Armed Forces on Monday had smoothed relations.

"Now, the situation is better because our soldiers on the front line have stopped carrying weapons," he said. "Before, it was very tense: Our soldiers were carrying guns all the time, and they were on alert to defend against any attack".

Thailand delayed the ceremony because of domestic commitments, said So Dorn, an officer with Battalion 404.

Weak rainy season poses threat to Kingdom's rice

Photo by: Tracey shelton
Women harvest rice in Kandel province last season.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Cheang Sokha

Agriculture centre says that a sustained absence of rainfall could cause severe damage to thousands of hectares of farmland across the country

THE Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture (CEDAC) expressed concern this week that thousands of hectares of rice paddies across the country will face severe damage if the Kingdom's current drought continues.

In a statement released on Tuesday, CEDAC said that eight provinces in particular - Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Pursat, Kampong Thom, Kandal, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng and Takeo - have been most severely affected by the weak rainy season.

"This drought is a significant problem for Cambodia, especially for rice farmers," the statement said. "To help cope with this challenge, CEDAC is calling for some urgent assistance to farmers and other stakeholders."

Thach Rotana, director of the Svay Rieng provincial agriculture office, said that in his jurisdiction roughly 3,000 hectares of planted rice had been affected by the drought, with 40 hectares completely destroyed. His office is planning outreach efforts to help the affected farmers, he said.

"We are going to cultivate and distribute 15 hectares of rice seedling to farmers," he said. "We hope that rain will arrive by the Pchum Ben holiday [on September 18]."

Chan Tong Yves, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said Tuesday that so far this year, about 40,000 hectares of paddies around the country have been affected by the drought.

"If there is no rain within the next few weeks, more rice will be affected and damaged," Chan Tong Yves said.

"We are collecting rice seed and gasoline [for irrigation equipment], and have ordered local officials to provide assistance."

Although acknowledging the current problems, Chan Tong Yves also pointed out that low rainfall levels are typical for this part of the rainy season, and that Cambodian farmers have cultivated 200,000 more hectares of rice so far this year than they had at this point in 2008.

Rail upgrade will uproot hundreds

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Tuol Kork residents on Tuesday walk past one of many houses marked for demolition as part of the Singapore-Kunming rail project that is expected to affect several neighbourhoods.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
May Titthara

Plans to repair or rebuild sections of the Kingdom's rail lines will require the removal of homes located too close to the tracks, officials say, and residents fear they will receive no compensation.

GOVERNMENT plans to upgrade the Kingdom's railway lines could see the dislocation of hundreds of families in four communes in the capital, residents said Tuesday.

The plans, agreed in June by a joint venture by Australia's Toll Holdings and the Royal Group, include a major upgrade to the Kingdom's two principal lines running between Phnom Penh and Poipet, and between the capital and Sihanoukville.

The upgrade is part of a larger project to integrate Cambodia into the Trans-Asian Railway network that is to connect Singapore to Kunming, China.

Svay Chinda, from Boeung Kak 1 commune in Daun Penh district, said she does not oppose the plans, but that she must be fairly compensated for the loss of her home.

"My house will be impacted once they begin clearing away the land 3.5 metres on either side of the tracks," she said. "I am not against this plan, but authorities should think about how to compensate us fairly."

Veth Darith, chief of Boeung Kak 1 commune, said the government has only just begun to assess the potential impact of improvements on residents in his commune.

"Our subcommittee is beginning to study [this], and they've begun in my commune before continuing on to others," he said.

"We must clear 3.5 metres of land on either side of the tracks. On our first day of study, we identified 50 out of 2,408 families that will be affected by the project," he said.

Veth Darith added that he had no information about compensation, and that he was only responsible for conducting the impact study.

The railway project will affect residents in three Daun Penh district communes, Veth Darith said, including Boeung Kak 1, Boeung Kak 2 and Srah Chak, as well as Teuk Lak 1 commune in Tuol Kork district.

Chreang Sophan, deputy governor of Phnom Penh, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, but Yit Bunna, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, said the government has no obligation to offer compensation.

"We are asking people to remove their homes from state-owned land," he said.

"We have no compensation for them. We can only provide money to help them relocate or pull down their homes."

Penh Samrith, also from Boeung Kak 1 commune, said authorities gave no advance warning of the threat to residents' homes.

"We are simple people. No one explained the government plans to us. They just came to us and said that within a week they would set a deadline for us to leave," she said.

The railway upgrade is being funded by a US$42 million loan from the Asian Development Bank approved in March.

Cambodian authorities have estimated the total cost of the project at about $73 million, with some additional funds coming from the government.

Approximately 600 kilometres of the Kingdom's railway lines were damaged or destroyed during more than two decades of civil war, according to information compiled by the ADB.

Paul Power, an adviser to the Cambodian government and a project leader for the ADB's involvement in the railway upgrade, said last week that integrating Cambodia into the TAR network would provide substantial economic advantages.

"It makes Cambodia the hub of transportation between China and Singapore," he said

Union seeks back pay for primary educators in Prey Veng province

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Mom Kunthear

Teachers say the government has not paid them for extra days worked during the 2007-08 term after they were promised a bonus by Hun Sen.

RONG Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), on Tuesday submitted a letter to the Ministry of Education on behalf of more than 5,000 primary school teachers in Prey Veng province who say they are owed back pay for extra days worked during the 2007-08 school year.

In an effort to improve education in the provinces, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced in 2007 that primary teachers who work on Thursdays - when primary school is normally not in session - should receive additional salary of 10,000 riels (US$2.41), Kong Dee, a primary school teacher in Prey Veng, said Tuesday.

"When we asked the [provincial] education department for our money, they said they could not pay it," Kong Dee said.

Rong Chun said he agreed to intercede in the long-running dispute.

"I had a meeting with primary teachers in Prey Veng at the end of last month, when they asked for my help in recovering their salary," he said.

"Working without being properly paid can affect teachers' motivation as well as their standard of living," he said.

Kim Sokum, vice director of the Education Department in Prey Veng, acknowledged that a letter had been sent to the Ministry of Education through his office.

"We are trying very hard to resolve this matter," Kim Sokum said, adding that the ministry said it was considering the matter but could not say when teachers could expect to receive their unpaid salary.

But Pau Som Ang, deputy director of the Department of Informal Education at the ministry, said Tuesday that the ministry had not yet received any letter from the teachers association.

Rong Chhun, an advocate of increased salaries for Cambodia's teachers, drew sharp attacks from the government in March following a survey issued by CITA that said inadequate salaries led to increased corruption and high dropout rates in the Kingdom's schools.

Traffic Law: City Hall shifts focus to seatbelts

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Chhay Channyda

Traffic Law

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema has instructed municipal officials to begin informing drivers about the importance of wearing seatbelts, adding that those who fail to do so will soon be forced to pay fines under the Land Traffic Law. During a meeting at City Hall Monday, he said 90 percent of drivers do not wear seatbelts. "For my own driver, I will not go with him if he is not wearing a seatbelt," Kep Chuktema said. "We must respect the law." Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth said car drivers were generally less likely than motorbike drivers to listen to instructions from police officers, though he said police would still work to "educate them about wearing seatbelts". He said officers would begin administering fines "soon", though he did not mention a specific date. Sung Chanthan, who has driven a car in the capital for the past seven years, said he routinely flouted the seatbelt rule because he found wearing one to be "uncomfortable". Nevertheless, he said he supported City Hall's plan to enforce the rule, which he said would make roads safer.

Afghan Diary

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Michael Hayes

IN spite of the likely international perception that Kabul is a city under siege, many aspects of life for the three million residents here go on as normal.

There were huge weddings before the start of Ramadan at glitzy, neon-lit, industrial-sized reception halls than can hold up to 5,000 guests. Kids are out regularly flying kites all over town. And many people go out of the capital for picnics on Fridays, the Muslim holy day.

One of the most popular picnic destinations is the Panjshir Valley north of the city.

Ten days ago I hooked up with some folks, and we all drove up there to have a look.

Sixty kilometres north of Kabul, past the fertile Shomali plateau, the road splits at the town of Jabal ul Saraj. The right fork heads northeast, and after 10 kilometres, you enter a narrow gorge that is the entrance to the valley.

The 100 kilometre-long Panjshir Valley, mostly inhabited by ethnic Tajiks, gained fame during the 1980s as an area that the Soviet army could not subdue. They assaulted the valley from the air and on the ground on at least nine occasions, taking enormous casualties, but never took full control for long.

When entering the valley, it's easy to see why. The road is literally carved into the side of the rock face, with a raging river ready to engulf anyone who takes his eye off the mark. It was easy for mujahideen to hide in upper cliffs and harass the Soviets every inch of the way.

The gorge eventually opens up and reveals a long, winding series of flatlands astride the river with orchids and rice under cultivation. Scattered villages hug the slopes. The scenery is magnificent, with peaks rising above 4,500 metres on both sides.

There's also heaps of destroyed Soviet military hardware - tanks, APCs, artillery - in the river, in fields or just stacked up as scrap. At one bend in the road, picnickers now stop for the proverbial happy snap sitting atop a lined-up row of mangled tanks, recently adorned with election campaign posters.

Frustrated by their inability to conquer the valley, the Soviets eventually decided to make it uninhabitable. Whole villages were razed and their roofless stone shells still remain empty as a testimony to the troubled past.

Ahmad Shah Massoud is the most famous Tajik to hail from the Panjshir. He led the resistance to the Soviets, and then to the Taliban in the '90s. An al-Qaeda suicide bomber posing as a cameraman killed him two days before 9/11.

His people are now building a huge shrine at his tomb halfway up the valley, which sits proudly on a promontory offering expansive views up and down the river. Those wishing to pay their respects and tourists alike now regularly visit the site.

We found a place along the river that served up hot lamb kebabs, rice pilaf, bread, yoghurt and sliced onions. Young boys splashed in the river and families sat along the embankment enjoying the cool breeze.

It was a world away from the war with the Taliban in the south and elsewhere.

Expect more periodic dispatches from former Post publisher Michael Hayes as he travels through Afghanistan

Exports fall 26.4pc in July as crisis in Kingdom continues

The garment sector, responsible for about 90 percent of Cambodia's exports, has been severely hit this year.

If this situation continues, the economic crisis ... will get unavoidably worse.

Exports slide 2009

January down 14.62pc
February down 18.35pc
March down 35.24pc
April down 18.08pc
May down 12.13pc
June down 17.5pc
July down 26.4pc
Source: Camcontrol

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Chun Sophal

Latest government figures show deterioration on export data from June, when total exports fell an annualised 17.5 percent

FIGURES released Tuesday by the Kingdom's import-export inspection body showed July exports plummeted an annualised 26.4 percent, a larger decrease than in June, suggesting the worst of the economic crisis is not yet over for Cambodia.

After showing a fall of 17.5 percent in June, Camcontrol figures indicated that exports fell to US$249.94 million last month from $339.43 million in the same period last year, meaning that the garment industry, which is responsible for about 90 percent of Cambodia's total exports, had not yet overcome the worst of the drop in global demand, particularly in key markets the United States and Europe.

"The decline in exports has affected Cambodia's economy since the beginning of the year and is not something new," said Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodia Economic Association.

"If this situation continues, the economic crisis in our country will get unavoidably worse and worse."
Aside from garments, the Kingdom's next largest export is agricultural products such as corn, beans and rubber.

Last week, the Ministry of Commerce said that garment exports had fallen 18 percent in the first half of the year to $1.27 billion, compared with $1.54 billion in the same period in 2008.

The Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) said Tuesday that it did not have the latest figures for garment exports. Business Development Manager Kaing Monika warned that although some markets, including Asia and Europe, had picked up in recent months, the United States - Cambodia's biggest export market by trade value - was showing relatively few signs of recovery.

"Whether it will get worse or improve, I am not sure yet because the impact of the global economic crisis is still continuing," he said in an interview Tuesday.

Though Cambodia's export figures continue to decline, a number of other export-dependent economies in the region have seen recent improvements, including China, Singapore and Taiwan.

Hong Kong, however, saw its exports worsen in July, down 19.9 percent year on year compared to with 5.4 percent in June, government figures said Tuesday.

Cambodia's total trade also declined last month compared to June.

The Kingdom recorded $574.52 million in total trade volume in July, down 24.2 percent on the same month last year. In June, the annualised total trade figure fell 16 percent, according to Camcontrol figures.

Despite the depressing figures, Khuon Savuth at Camcontrol's General Directorate said Tuesday that Cambodia's trade volumes regularly fluctuate, and that this year's total export volumes will not be severely affected, despite the effects of the global economic crisis.

"I think that the decrease in value of Cambodia's exports and imports may be about just 18 percent compared to last year," he said.

Official figures showed that July imports fell 22.4 percent year on year to $324.58 million from $418.4 million in the same month last year. Last month imports were down an annualised 14.5 percent to $360.1 million.

Much of Cambodia's imports are raw materials for the beleaguered garment industry such as cloth and thread, as well as foods and construction materials.

Hun Sen meets with Japanese oil firms

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Chun Sophal and Sam Rith

PRIME Minister Hun Sen met representatives of two Japanese oil companies at his Takhmao home Tuesday morning to discuss oil exploration rights in the Gulf of Cambodia, an official said.

A spokesman for Hun Sen, Eang Sophalleth, said the companies were Tokyo-listed Marubeni Corp and state-owned Impex Corp.

The companies had already submitted applications to the National Cambodian Petroleum Authority (NCPA), Marubeni Executive Officer Teruo Asada, who led the delegation, told the prime minister, according to Eang Sophalleth.

Eang Sophalleth said Hun Sen welcomed the approach. "The stance of the Cambodian government is to make applications to seek oil in Cambodia as transparent as possible through open bidding and to maximise the benefit to Cambodian people," Hun Sen reportedly told Asada.

NCPA Director General Te Duong Dara refused to comment as he "did not attend the meeting".

Marubeni Corp's energy division has oil and gas interests in the United States, the North Sea, Qatar, Equatorial Guinea and the Gulf of Mexico.

Impex Corp, which is 29 percent owned by the Japanese government, is Japan's largest oil exploration company.

Hun Sen last month said that French oil giant Total had been granted exploration rights in an area in the Gulf of Thailand at the centre of an ownership dispute between Bangkok and Phnom Penh.

However, the agreement is now reportedly under a cloud amid rumours the government is reconsidering its terms.

Traditional mat weavers face threat of imports

Photo by: SOEUN SAY
An employee of Noun Yoy weaves a mat the traditional way in Kang Ta Noeng commune.

The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Soeun Say


ATRADITION of mat-weaving stretching over at least five generations in one Cambodian family is under threat from machines in Vietnam and Thailand that can do the job faster and more cheaply.

But Noun Yoy, 64, a Cambodian sedge-mat craftswoman, says the commitment to quality she inherited from her grandparents - and is in turn passing on to her grandchildren - will ensure a future for the family business.

"Their mats are made using machines, and we use our hands only," she said. "We can't compete with them on price, and they also have the edge in terms of designs, but we can compete ... on quality."

Although mat-weaving has been in the family for generations, it was not until 1990 that Noun Yoy formalised the craft into a business, setting up a small company called Khmer Mat Kang Meas Craft.

"My grandparents and my parents passed their skills on to me. I had faith in myself that if I set up a handicraft business making sedge mats that I would have the ability to survive and earn money too."

The business, located in Kang Ta Noeng commune, in Kampong Cham province's Kang Meas district, employs six craftswomen, each earning US$40 to $50 per month.

Like many owners of small businesses in Cambodia and around the world, Noun Yoy has seen a downturn in business amid the global financial crisis after many "great" years of operation.

The business reached its peak at the height of the property boom in 2006 and 2007, she said, selling between 200 and 250 mats per month at between US$4 and $7.50 each. In recent months, sales have slumped to between 100 and 150 mats per month, picking up during traditional Cambodian wedding season, Khmer New Year and the Pchum Ben holiday, she said.

As a result of the financial crisis, Cambodian consumers are being more careful, Noun Yoy said. That caution also means would-be customers are more likely to pick a cheaper mat from Vietnam or Thailand.

Production has fallen from eight or 10 mats a day to just three or four as a result.

The business sells its wares locally, as well in Takeo, Kampot and Kandal provinces. It also has supply agreements with most major markets in Phnom Penh, she says.

The temptation to drop her prices to compete was strong, she said, but the practice had been devastating for many other weavers in the village who were already making small margins due to the high price of raw materials, which are sourced locally or imported from Kandal province.

"Almost all of the people in my village made sedge mats, but there have been many bankruptcies lately among those who dropped prices but still failed to secure additional orders," Noun Yoy said. "I have survived because I have always tried to build a good relationship with my clients. I always take good care of them."

Sedge-mat weaving is a labourious and time-consuming process. After harvesting, sedges must be sorted, sliced, dried and dyed before they can be woven. Weaving, which is still done by hand in most of Cambodia, usually requires two women operating one loom.

Noun Yoy acknowledges that there is little she can do to speed up production to compete with the threat from abroad, but she is not ready to give up hope.

"I want to ask the Cambodian government, as well as local and international NGOs, to send some international experts to help our handicraft makers develop new designs and lift their quality so we can compete with international mats," she said. "I think that if the government does not help us, there will be even more bankruptcies in my village."