Friday, 11 September 2009

Angkor Thom

Silent witness Zhou's report brings the ruins of Angkor Thom to life
Steve McCurry / Magnum Photos

By Tim Kindseth Wednesday
Sep. 09, 2009

As you stand atop elephant terrace and gaze east across the Royal Square of Angkor Thom — the last capital of the Khmer empire that dominated Southeast Asia for some 600 years until the Siamese sacked the city for good in 1431 — you feel a bit like Shelley's traveler, standing before Ozymandias' half-sunk, shattered visage. All around are lifeless things — retaining walls of blotchy laterite, and sandstone temples that speak little of Angkor's former grandeur and its golden spires. There's no hint of the regal festivals that once took place right here, viewed from this same vantage by mighty kings beneath parasols of red silk. But there is an eyewitness report of life at the gilded Angkor court. In fact, it is the only one: Zhou Daguan's A Record of Cambodia: The Land and Its People.

Little is known about the elusive Zhou, a Chinese contemporary of Dante, who spent nearly a year in Ganpuzhi (or Cambodia, a land of "southern barbarians," frighteningly "coarse, ugly and very black," according to Zhou) before sailing back to China in July 1297. He was born in the 1270s in the bustling, cosmopolitan port of Wenzhou and was recruited, possibly as an interpreter, for an official mission to deliver an imperial edict to Khmer King Indravarman III on behalf of the Mongol Yuan Emperor Chengzong in 1295. That was the same year that a ragged, unrecognizable Marco Polo arrived back in Venice, jewels sewn into his grimy pants, from the court of Kublai Khan — Chengzong's grandfather and predecessor, who had died the year before. Sometime in or before 1312, Zhou published A Record before fading into obscurity.

As the chronicle of a diplomatic sojourn, Zhou's patchy account reads at times like an official dossier instead of an exotic travelogue about a perfumed and misty land. He lists Cambodia's trade goods (kingfisher feathers, rosewood and beeswax in return for Chinese pewter, celadon and combs), stripping its flora and fauna of the romance of place in a manner more reminiscent of a CIA Factbook entry than Polo's Il Milione. "For vegetables," he writes, "they have onions, mustard, chives, eggplants, watermelons, winter gourds, snake gourds, and amaranth. They do not have radishes, lettuce, chicory, or spinach."

Still, there's no better guide to Angkor Thom than Zhou's text, which breathes life into the mute, inanimate temples — unlike most of the Angkor-related books hawked in the tatty gateway tourist town of Siem Reap. Those are mostly bogged down with encyclopedic elucidations of Hindu and Buddhist iconography, with which Zhou hardly bothers. The Bayon, with its weird smiling heads, widely considered to be hybrids of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara's face and that of the Bayon's famous Buddhist builder, Jayavarman VII, is for Zhou simply a "gold tower." The few times he does play the amateur art historian or archaeologist, he gets it wrong, as when he mistakes a massive recumbent bronze Vishnu (now at Phnom Penh's National Museum) for a Buddha sculpture.

The prurient Zhou far more relishes (to our unending entertainment) relaying strange customs and fantastical tales he's encountered, like the Khmer women who urinate standing up ("and that is really funny"); the ceremonial, contracted deflowering of young girls by priests, which Zhou details in one of his longest passages; the stealing of human gall bladders; and the nine-headed serpent spirit that turns into a woman and with which the King must couple each night in a chamber at the top of the Phimeanakas (which is still standing). "If for a single night he stays away," Zhou tells us, "he is bound to suffer disaster."

True or not, with Zhou's deliciously bizarre anecdotes as your guide (as well as his descriptions of daily life, from midwifery to mosquito nets to the wraparound sampot many Cambodians still wear today), the ruined capital suddenly becomes a Cecil B. DeMille production, overrun with slaves and lepers, loud with fireworks and boar fights. Imagine, there's Indravarman III standing next to you on the Elephant Terrace, bedecked in golden bangles, a four-pound pearl strung around his neck, both of you sweating buckets in the midday sun. He invites you for a dip in the royal pool nearby, as he should. Cambodia is "unbearably hot," as Zhou complains, "and no one can go on without bathing several times a day." That much hasn't changed.

Cambodia charges Japanese man for sex with minor+

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 11 (AP) - (Kyodo)—A Cambodian court has charged a Japanese man with child abuse for having sex with a minor, offenses punishable by seven to 15 years in prison, a prosecutor said Friday.

Kry Sok Y, deputy prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, told Kyodo News that Atsushi Kato, 40, from Aichi Prefecture was arrested Monday in Phnom Penh and was charged Wednesday after allegedly confessing to having sex with an underage Cambodian girl.

According to Kry Sok Y, Kato bought sexual favors from a 13-year-old girl for $15 on Aug. 7.

Kato and the girl both allegedly confessed that money had been exchanged in return for sex.

Kato was arrested after he met with the girl at a rehabilitation center in Phnom Penh where she was sent for education after she was discovered working at a brothel in the city.

In July, another Japanese man was sentenced by the same court to six years in jail for taking photos of nude Cambodian children.

In recent years, many cases of child abuses by pedophiles have been reported in tourist centers such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.

The Khmer from the diaspora: is a new generation back? (1/2)

By Barbara Delbrouck

For nearly thirty years, Cambodians have fled their country. But a reverse trend seems to have started in the last few years. The children of those exiled have grown. Now adults, some have decided to return to Cambodia to work here, launch a project or create their company. Who are these Khmer from elsewhere and what are they looking for in the land of their ancestors? Ka-set met with them. First article in a two-part investigation.

“Caught” by Cambodia
The stories of “repat Khmer,” a nickname given to “repatriated Khmer” by some French people with Cambodian origins, often start with a trip. They discovered or rediscovered the country of their parents and decided to stay here. Temporarily or not. Such was the case of Auray Aun, deputy regional director of “Aid and Action,” a French NGO working in education. Eight years ago, he left a well-paid job in a PR firm in Paris to start an adventure with a friend: going round Asia and Latin America and meeting with NGOs working in education. The country of smiles was one of the places visited during their trip. “It was a very powerful time,” Auray recalled. “I was welcomed by my family and I really liked what I saw. The people, the country… It was magical. So much so that my travel companion was afraid I would stay. Of course, we finished the trip together, but by the end of my stay in Cambodia, it was clear to me I would come back to work here.”

It was also the case of Rapytha, a French-Khmer woman in her forties, who decided, after a trip in the region, including barely two days in Cambodia, to “come and give it a shot” here with her French husband and their two children. She has worked at the Phnom Penh airport for four years. “Now, we are here to settle for good. We stopped wondering every year whether we were going to go back.”

As for him, Franck Touch, whose mother is French and father Cambodian, came back to the land of his ancestors seven years ago and started the IT company Khmer Dev in Phnom Penh. During a tourist trip with his mother in 2001, she began searching for information on the family of her late husband, whom they had never heard from since they fled Cambodia in 1971. Carrying photographs, they travelled to his native province, Kampong Thom. There, Franck was reunited with his grandfather and discovered the existence of this large family, half of whose members died under the Khmer Rouge. “I will always remember it,” he recounted with emotion. “It triggered something, something in relation to Cambodia.” In the flight back to France, he decided he had to “do something in this country.” Director of an IT firm in France at the time, he resigned barely two months after his return. “The job didn’t matter. What mattered was the country. I wanted to come back to Cambodia at any cost.” In the end, Franck was sent by his bosses to start a subcontracting company.

Then, there are those who simply stayed longer than planned, like Putsata, a Khmer-American journalist: “I always told myself that for my 30th birthday, I would go back to the country where I was born. I didn’t know how, but I knew I had to find a way.” Indeed, as she blew her thirty candles, she received a one-year scholarship to do research abroad. During that year, she renewed with her family who had stayed in Cambodia and investigated land evictions in Ratanakiri province. “I simply fell in love with the country,” the journalist said enthusiastically. “There is something here that hooks you. Maybe it is the fact it is a beautiful country with a dark history. Maybe it is the landscape… Maybe it is a bit of everything, but in any case, I was caught and four and a half years later, I am still here.”

A role for the Khmer from the diaspora?
“There are different types of diaspora Khmer,” Auray Aun believed. “Some are searching for their identity. I think that is something all or most share. Others come to work and they already have something in mind, a life project or something. Then, there are those who feel rejected in France and come and look for something here.”

“I wanted to face my Khmer culture and discover this culture,” Putsata confirmed. “For the first time, I faced identity questions I did not in the States. I mean, you always have a few, but here, you are faced with them every single day. You have to deal with them and ask yourself: this morning, am I Khmer or American?”

It was also in search of his identity and the country he left ten years later that Rattana came back. After arriving in the States at 13, he had to struggle hard to catch up after seriously falling behind due to six years without school. “Everything I did, I did it to prove I wasn’t stupid,” the self-made-man confided with some pride in his voice. In 1990, after graduating from a mechanical engineer school, he returned for the first time to Cambodia, where he eventually decided to settle down. “There was so much to do here. I felt that, whatever I would do, it would always be to the benefit of society. […] The idea was to share what I knew so that, hopefully, some people would suffer less.”

For Putsata, it was simply a matter of assuming her share of “responsibility.” “We were lucky enough to be able to escape. So, we should return something back to the community. It is our country after all,” she said enthusiastically. Kosal, a Khmer from Belgium, shared her vision. “All the young people of the 1979-1980 generation have a very important role to play for Cambodia,” the young idealistic man considered. “We were born after the war. We had the opportunity to go to school. So, it’s people like us who should come back and give a hand.” With his cousins, Kosal created an organisation to help Cambodian orphans and was planning to come back to settle here as soon as he gathered the required funds.

Such exalted discourses made Hisham Mousar’s hair stand on end. “They [the young Khmer from the diaspora] ‘do not have’ a role to play, but they ‘can have’ a role to play,” protested the legal expert, in charge of a project at the Royal University of Law and Economics. “It is really hard to find yourself in an identity crisis. You must not create the feeling that young French-Cambodians must absolutely return to Cambodia, because it risks uprooting them as Cambodia is a foreign country to them. Their country is France,” Hisham hammered. In his view, if French-Cambodians “have a role to play” in Cambodia, it was essentially as French people, whilst having the advantage of being in a privileged situation to understand Cambodian society, if they wished to do so.

Watch out for neo-colonialism...
Davy Chou also considered this idea of “role” had to be taken “with a pinch of salt” to avoid falling into “some kind of colonialism.” “I feel like people arrive with some high ideas,” the French-Khmer movie director lamented. “There is a saviour stance I don’t like much.” That was why Davy insisted on keeping in mind he was here to learn as much as to give. “It helps me morally to know there is an exchange,” he confided. This view was shared by Rapytha, who sought to instil initiative within her colleagues at the airport, by stressing that foreigners also had things to learn.

For his part, Yoti Mousar found in Cambodia a place in society he had never managed to find in his host country. He arrived in France in 1981 at three and grew up in the suburbs, surrounded with foreigners like him. “I was completely deprived of any points of reference. I didn’t feel really French. We only saw foreigners. Not much to form an identity,” he recounted. After years of identity questions in France, he decided to settle in Cambodia. Now in charge of the IT service at the French Cultural Centre in Phnom Penh, Joty was elected delegate for the executives. But he relayed the requests of all employees to the management, in particular the Cambodians who sometimes struggled more to make themselves understood. “Here, I have the opportunity to mix a little with all kinds of social backgrounds. That’s more difficult in France. So, I found a way back to my roots as well as emancipation at the same time. That’s the paradox of my return.”

From the lack of interest to passion for a country: a post-traumatic symptom?
If a few days in this country were sometimes enough for them to decide to settle here, the very idea of a return could sometimes take years to mature in the minds of diaspora Khmer. “I never had any interest in Cambodia,” said Davy, who came back for a one-year project. “Until I turned 22, I barely ever asked any questions to my parents about the past, which sounds crazy to me now. There must have been a block unconsciously.” Interviewed four months after his arrival, Davy already knew his story with Cambodia was not over: “I know that my life will be changed by it. That is something I hadn’t planned. Yet, it was obvious. One year in your parents’ country while you’d never left France…”

As for him, Hisham Mousar had a love-hate relationship with his native country before managing to reach a balance. Until he turned 19, he hated anything Asian. “Like it was second quality,” he confessed. But when he returned to Cambodia for the first time in 1994, he completely fell in love with the country… and one of its inhabitants, whom he married. From detestation, he then moved to a period of idealisation of his native country. “I was going through a kind of cultural terrorism, when I thought only with extremes,” the thirty-something analysed, both alarmed and amused. Back in France with his wife, in addition to his law studies, he joined the Institut national de langues et de civilisations orientales (INALCO), where he learned the Khmer language and civilisation. He got wholeheartedly involved in associations, considering that the Cambodian youth lacked representation in France. With other French-Cambodians (though he had a personal preference for the term “French with Cambodian origins”), he participated, among others, to the creation of the Union of the Cambodian Section Students at the INALCO, the organisation Asia-Youth Aid, the magazine “L'Ecrit d'Angkor” and the social website “The Young Khmer.” After three years of identity crisis, Hisham found his balance by putting his musings in writing. “What healed me was telling myself I had only one receiver, one brain. It had been made in France, so I was French,” he concluded. “From then on, I stopped asking myself questions about my identity.”

In a nine-page text, the legal expert sought to demonstrate that the young French with Cambodian origins were essentially French. In his view, if they did not really become aware of their Cambodian identity, that was because they had “no incentive” to do so. First, because of the country’s tragic past, which broke the passing of memory. “You cannot be drawn to something you don’t know or understand,” he argued. In addition, the country’s development state would stir a feeling of inferiority among young Khmer in France. Yet, highlighting their French identity, their “French national intelligence,” could instead enable them, in his view, to turn the tables on that inferiority which was an unfair burden on them.

A difficult return for the family
For the parents, it was not easy to understand why their children wanted to return to the country they struggled so much to leave. Many never came back and retained an idea of the country that was sometimes at complete odds with reality. That was Putsata’s experience when she returned to Cambodia the first time. “It was not at all that dangerous place they [my parents] had described me! War is long over now, but that was the last image they kept from Cambodia. So they will always associate the country with war and suffering.”

Others, like Davy’s parents, thought it was a waste of time their child did not have to “inflict” upon him or herself. “She [my mother] felt like it was a debt I was paying them, some kind of returning the favour because they provided me with education,” he still remembered with astonishment.

That their child settle in Cambodia was paradoxically often the opportunity for the parents to overcome their trauma and dare to set foot for the first time again in their home country, like for Putsata’s parents. “They are starting to understand and renew with the country in a way they may never have, if I hadn’t come here. I think they needed a reason to come.”

The return was never easy for the exiled, who discovered a country totally different from the one they left. A country safer than they had imagined, but that no longer had anything to do with the place of their childhood. Some also left disillusioned by the state of the country and tended to “paint a black picture.” Davy was able to observe these reactions in his parents during their first return. Of his three months in the country, his father only retained the extreme poverty, but he later suggested going back with their family. On the opposite, his mother reacted almost too well. “She would tell me lots of things. She was amazed by everything. She would speak to everyone in the street…”, Davy remembered. But on the third day, she suffered the after-effects and confided to her son she felt like she had “overplayed her euphoria” and she “no longer found her place.” It took her three weeks to regain some optimism.

Different areas of work, but the same vision
Auray Aun was one of those many Khmer from the diaspora who decided to get involved in the NGO sector. “I wanted to participate to the development trend, but that can happen in more than one way,” he hurriedly specified. “My brother would like to come back to start a business and also contribute to the economic development.”

Entrepreneur Franck Touch would not disagree with that point of view. He precisely lamented the heavy tendency of Khmer from the diaspora to go and work in NGOs. In his view, the high number of NGOs in Cambodia created a double-edged situation in which Cambodians would prefer to get a job in an organisation because it was perceived to be better paid and less intensive, rather than in the private sector. The businessman deemed the trend sterile on the long run: “That is not good at all for Cambodia. The best thing to do is to boost the country: create assets in the economy, give work to young executives, accompany them, train them, create an elite.” Kosal followed this advice, as he wishes to train high-skilled welders when he starts his own metal construction company.

In addition to their work, some were involved in activities allowing them to share their skills. For instance, Rattana started a family farming business with the aim to “show the example” and prove that Cambodians have the capacity to “make money with agriculture,” like other countries in the region.

The right time to come back?
Franck did not hesitate to advise Khmer from the diaspora to come back. He believed it was the right time because the country was safe for over ten years and the needs in human resources, driven by economic growth, were huge. “It is easier to get out of the crisis here,” the businessman asserted positively.

In any case, Khmer from the diaspora would not return to their roots without an economic advantage to do so, according to Chhaya, director of the NGO Khmer Institute of Democracy (KID). “There are only a handful of people who come and say they will be happy to earn just enough to go by,” the Khmer from Australia claimed. Joty, whose salary is higher than a local staff but much lower than expats’, acknowledged that material perks were not insignificant: “Here, in Cambodia, I rent a 100m2 flat. I could never have dreamed about it in France.”

An easy life? Rapytha insisted on warning diaspora Khmer against any illusion of an easy life in Cambodia. By focusing too much on this material comfort, some risked ending up “trapped,” abandoning a return to France, not out of attachment to Cambodia but fear of not enjoying a similar lifestyle. Frank Touch was also keen to issue such a warning and he encouraged diaspora Khmer to return to Cambodia, but “only if they really love the country. Not just because they are fed up with France or the States…”

(translated from French by Ji-Sook Lee)

The second part of this investigation “To be or not to be Khmer: the diaspora’s difficult return to Cambodia” (2/2) will be published tomorrow, Friday September 11th 2009

Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk prefers to be cremated

By Rasmei Kampuchea

Phnom Penh: The former King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk, told his people if he dies he prefers to having his body cremated.

During the meeting with Bun Rany Hun Sen, wife of Prime minister Hun Sen and president of Cambodian Red Cross, which took place on August 29, he said the stupa was built already for him in the royal palace.

The former King, who is 86 years old, explained that for Christine people, their body will be buried, but for him, his body shall be cremated through the Khmer tradition.

"My wife (former Queen Monineath) also agrees that her body should also be cremated when she dies," said Sihanouk.

He said his cancers have been treated by Chinese doctors, but he was recommended to have medical checkups and treatments every 7 months.

Cambodian Parliamentarian and Vital Voices Global Leadership Award Honoree Mu Sochua...

Cambodian Parliamentarian and Vital Voices Global Leadership Award Honoree Mu Sochua Appears Before Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission

U.S. House of Representatives, Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, 1 - 3 p.m.

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Mu Sochua, Cambodian Parliamentarian, human rights advocate and Vital Voices Global Leadership Award Honoree appears before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission as a witness in a hearing entitled, 'Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Cambodia.'

As international governments, news agencies, and UN rights experts including the Special Rapporteur on the independence of lawyers and judges have recently reported, there is concern about Cambodia regarding attempts to curtail the rights and freedoms of lawyers, journalists, and members of the political opposition.

A 2008 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report indicates that Cambodian government enforcement of certain laws has been selective, and The Washington Post reported on July 29 that "a heightened crackdown on journalists and opposition activists ... has provoked new concern that the government is engaging in widespread abuse of the nation's legal system to muzzle its
detractors." In addition, the June 2009 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report released by the U.S. Department of State, ranks Cambodia as a Tier 2 Watch List nation, marking a regression from the previous year's ranking that indicates efforts to combat human trafficking have not been adequate or proven effective. Cambodia is a source, transit and destination country for victims
of human trafficking for the purpose of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.

Parliamentarian and opposition party member Mu Sochua will present testimony on the condition of human rights and the rule of law in her native Cambodia from the perspective of a lawmaker and internationally recognized advocate for equal rights and democracy.

The hearing will take place in Room 2200 in the Rayburn House Office Building from 1-3 p.m. on September 10.

Mu Sochua
Mu Sochua returned to her native Cambodia in 1991 after 18 years in exile, and has worked tirelessly ever since as one of her country's leading advocates for human rights, working to stop human trafficking, domestic violence and worker exploitation. She joined the newly formed government, eventually becoming the Minister of Veterans and Women's Affairs -- and one of only two women serving in the Cabinet. While serving in the government, Mu negotiated two international agreements with neighboring countries to help curtail human rafficking in Southeast Asia and launched a campaign to bring NGOs, law enforcement officials and rural women into a national dialogue and education program to help protect women and girls victimized by trafficking and boost prevention efforts nationwide. In 2005, Mu Sochua was co-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work against sex trafficking of women in Cambodia and neighboring Thailand.

Vital Voices honored Mu Sochua with the 2005 Human Rights Global Leadership Award for her efforts to stem the tide of human trafficking. To highlight her work, Mu Sochua, was profiled in Seven, a documentary play written by seven recognized women playwrights that tells the stories of 7 Vital Voices Global Leadership Network Members.

Vital Voices Global Partnership
Vital Voices Global Partnership is a leading NGO that identifies, trains, mentors and empowers emerging women leaders and social entrepreneurs around the globe, enabling them to create a better world. Vital Voices works with women defending human rights, expanding economic opportunities and strengthening government and civil society by equipping them with the
capacity, connections, and credibility they need to unlock their leadership potential. Since 1997 the Vital Voices staff and team of over 1,000 partners and pro-bono experts and leaders, including senior government, corporate and NGO executives, have trained and mentored more than 7,000 emerging women leaders from 127 countries. Vital Voices has a four star Charity Navigator rating, awarded to charities that exceed industry standards and outperform other organizations in their field.

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission
The mission of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms in a nonpartisan manner, both within and outside of Congress, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments. In particular, the Commission shall:

-- Develop congressional strategies to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms reflecting the role and responsibilities of the United States Congress.
-- Raise greater awareness of human rights issues among Members of Congress and their staff, as well as the public.
-- Provide expert human rights advice to Members of Congress and their staff.
-- Advocate on behalf of individuals or groups whose human rights are violated or are in danger of being violated.
-- Collaborate closely with professional staff of relevant congressional committees on human rights matters.
-- Collaborate closely with the President of the United States and the Executive Branch, as well as recognized national and international human rights entities, to promote human rights initiatives in the United States Congress.

-- Encourage Members of Congress to actively engage in human rights matters.

Cindy Dyer, Vital Voices Senior Director of Human Rights

SOURCE Vital Voices Global Partnership

Cindy Dyer, Vital Voices Senior Director of Human Rights, +1-202-446-0503,

Preah Vihear temple hostilities over : Thai and Khmer army chiefs

By Rasmei Kampuchea/Asia News Network, Deutsche Presse Agentur

Phnom Penh - Cambodian and Thai armed forces chiefs said 13 months of sometimes-fatal hostilities around the ancient Preah Vihear temple are at an end.

Military top brass of Thailand and Cambodia meet in Phnom Penh on Monday.

After the meeting, Thai Supreme Commander Gen Songkitti Jaggabatra said the dispute would no longer be allowed to damage relations between the two kingdoms.

"I would like to clarify again that there will be no more problems between Thailand and Cambodia. The border will not be the cause of any further disputes," he said.

"Cambodia and Thailand can not live separately. As Asean members, both countries shall not be in any cannot confrontation," said Songkiti.

At least seven soldiers from both sides were killed in occasional clashes around the temple complex since mid-2008 in a tense standoff that has had other members of the Asean regional bloc concerned.

Meanwhile Songkitti's counterpart; Gen Pol Saroeun echoed; "We have the same view. Our goal is to achieve peace and solidarity with each other as siblings."

Their meeting came just days after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced Cambodia would cut the number of troops stationed at Preah Vihear after Thailand reduced its forces to just 30 soldiers.

Preah Vihear Temple has been at the heart of controversy between Thailand and Cambodia. In 1962, the World Court granted ownership of the temple to Cambodia. The conflict erupted again after the Unesco listed it into the World Heritage List, a move that draw opposition from the Thai side.

Evictions hit Cambodia's poor, group says

Villagers in northwest Cambodia set court documents on fire in protest over a land dispute.

By Miranda Leitsinger

(CNN) -- Villagers march more than 300 kilometers from northwest Cambodia to ask the prime minister to save their homes from developers. Some 400 families in the country's south learn their farmland had been given to developers only when bulldozers arrive.

Such examples of forced evictions and land conflicts are cited by the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC) in a report, "Losing Ground," released Thursday.

The report was a collection of voices from people rarely heard and "present a painful look into the lives of people affected by forced evictions and intimidation, mainly the rural poor," said CHRAC, a network of 21 non-governmental organizations.

"The voices in the report belong to Cambodians who have been or are facing eviction. Most have insisted that their names and photographs be used, believing that openness will bring justice and appropriate solutions," the group said, adding that such trust is "the springboard for the next stage of Cambodia's recovery from decades of civil strife."

An estimated 150,000 Cambodians live at risk of forced eviction, Amnesty International said in its 2008 report on the country. Read about AIDS patients who were resettled to an isolated area

Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, deputy director general of Cambodia's Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, said the government was committed to finding the best solutions for not just squatters, but the entire population, and that it is drafting legal guidelines on squatter resolution. He also said the government rejected the term forced evictions, saying that meant people were forced off land they legally owned.

He noted that various factors affect land use and ownership in the country: The 1970s ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime abolished all legal and regulatory documents regarding land, strong economic growth has contributed to demand for land, particularly in urban areas, and the pace of urbanization has stepped up in recent years.

"Many people illegally occupy land that does not belong to them," he said, later noting: "What has happened now with the resettlement, or the relocation, of people is the fact that the government is implementing the law."

"I am very sure that those who claim to be on the land before the legal land owner, most of them do not have any proof at all," he said. "Most of the cases that people -- illegal squatters, settlers -- have claimed that they have been on that land since, let's say 1979, are not true. If you study the legal development of Cambodia, you will understand, and not many people understand, including the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) themselves."

Amnesty said poor Cambodians share the plight of many impoverished people around the world. The group cited the forced evictions of thousands in Angola, violence and insecurity in Brazil's shantytowns, and social services denied to Roma in Italy.

"There are more than 200,000 such communities, home to 1 billion people around the world," the group said.

"In Cambodia for the last two years, Amnesty International has been focusing on forced evictions as one of the country's most serious human rights violations today," Amnesty said in a statement on CHRAC's report. "The increasing number of land disputes, land confiscations, and industrial and urban redevelopment projects hurt almost exclusively people living in poverty."

People fighting evictions "experience harassment at the hands of the authorities or people hired by private businesses. The rich and powerful are increasingly abusing the criminal justice system to silence communities taking a stand against land concessions or other opaque business deals affecting the land they live on or cultivate," Amnesty said.

CHRAC said development of Cambodia, recovering from the Khmer Rouge genocide and ensuing decades of conflict, "must not negatively affect" people's lives.

"Our communities are losing land and natural resources. These are the resources that people have depended on for generations," CHRAC said.

The report details evictions across the country.

One group of villagers walked from the rice bowl of Battambang in the northwest to Phnom Penh to deliver a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, seeking help in two long-running court fights with businessmen who claim to own a total of 200 hectares of their land.

"We didn't have enough money to get the bus to Phnom Penh. We had to walk. It was our last hope. We had to see Hun Sen or we would lose our land," said Chim Sarom, 45.

They delivered their letter, but Sarom said they were unsure whether he ever got it. She said authorities gave them money to go home and were told an official would visit them.

Foreign Ownership Rights Publicly Debated

Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 11 September 2009 02:37

The draft law on providing the ownership rights for private units of co-owned buildings to foreigners on Thursday was put forward for consultation with the private sector, developers and other general law experts to improve the law before it goes before the National Assembly later this year.

Breton Sciaroni, head of Sciaroni and Associates, expressed gratitude that the Land Ministry had put the draft law forward for consulting with the private sector, though he said that there are some points that private sector needs further explanation from the Government side before the law is introduced.

Matthew Rendall, member of a Government working group on real estate and a partner at Sciaroni and Associates law firm, said at the consulting meeting that the private sector needed an explanation about some points of the law. “Can a co-owned building can have private units involving foreign ownership not exceeding 49 percent of the total amount of private units in a co-owned building?” Rendell asked. Sek Setha, undersecretary of state of state of Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, and chairman of the working group for strengthening the new law, clarified that the 49 percent of surface buildings would exclude ground floor and land plot. If the building was sold and they would be compensated according to the proportion of the building’s value.

The draft law on providing ownership rights in private units of co-owned buildings to foreigners has 6 chapters and 25 articles.

The law provides ownerships rights in private units and the right to use common areas of co-owned buildings to legally qualified foreigners who are considered by the Government “to be useful to the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Setha said.

According to the draft law, “legally qualified foreigners” refers to “foreign nationals, whether natural or legal persons, who enjoy legal capacity according to Cambodian laws and who have legally entered into or legally registered with Cambodia.”

“Foreigners who are considered by the Government to be useful to the kingdom of Cambodia refers to foreigners who have contributed to national economic development or have provided assistance in social and cultural sector in environmental and natural resources protection or have provided assistance in the physical infrastructure development in Cambodia,” the draft law said, adding that this law determines general principles, rights and obligations for foreigners who have ownership rights in private units of co-owned buildings and use rights relating to the common areas, as well as procedures for registration of these rights.

According to the law, foreigners may have ownership rights in private units of co-owned building only from the first floor up. Foreigners are not authorized to acquire ownership rights in the ground floor.

Sek Setha said that each building will have its one committee management for controlling and consult with other residents in the building and for those people who want to buy the parts of the building; they need to ask the chairperson of the building.

Foreigners are not authorized to acquire ownerships rights in private units of co-owned building located with thirty 30 km of the any land borders, except for co-owned building located in special economic zones or in important urban areas as determined by the Government, the law stipulates.

Phnom Penh Police Closing in on Armed Robbers, Arrests Made

Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 11 September 2009

Phnom Penh Municipal Police, cooperating with affiliated military police, are closing in on a gang of armed robbers. There are 6 suspects hoped to be arrested this week, a high ranking police told DAP News Cambodia. In a possibly related case, Russey Keo district police chief had been removed from his position, though the reason for his removal has not be revealed.
Ya Kim I, Phnom Penh military police chief, said that there have been no robberies since the end of August, as an increase in the number of armed officers on the streets had helped ensure security in Phnom Penh.

“All of [the robbers] are staying in silence while our armed forces increase security. However, we are still operating our duties,” he told DAP News Cambodia on Thursday.

“Thousands of Phnom Penh police officials are deployed at all main targets, such as markets and other places. Our forces can be mobile in time if any event takes place,” he added.

One NGO official recently told DAP News Cambodia that robbers loot with impunity as police relax. The police often do work 24 hours in Cambodia, the anonymous NGO worker noted. But Touch Naroth, Phnom Penh commissioner, told DAP News Cambodia on Thursday that progress was being made. “We arrested three suspicious men involved in robberies on Wednesday as they were ready to operate,” he said. “All of them were arrested at 12:30 pm in Russey Keo district and confiscated two guns from them.”

“They suppose that we are would be neglectful, and they think that they can operate at noon, but they cannot be out of our operation. We are ready 24 hours,” he asserted.

The Phnom Penh commissioner added that police on Wednesday arrested another three suspicious men in Dangkor district who confessed that they used had committed four robberies.

The arrest made vendors happy. “We know that Phnom Penh police recently arrested some suspicious men, therefore, we appreciate and encourage them to arrest other suspicious men,” Cheang Vann, a vendor in Russey Keo district, told DAP News Cambodia.

The vendor claimed that robberies that resulted in the recent killings of two vendors had made many fearful. “We suggest the police continue to ensure security in Phnom Penh.”

Thais Files Complaint Thais by Preah Vihear, Surrounding

Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 11 September 2009

People Alliance’s Democratic (PAD) lawyer is to sue other Thais involved in a previous agreement to allow Cambodia to inscribe the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site.

Speaking on ASTV on August 8, Virak Sumkhamkitt, Anti-Corruption People’s Movement Director and a PAD lawyer, claimed that Kasit Piromya, Thai Foreign Minister, should clarify why he has been “selling the nation” with the draft agreement passed National Assembly to approve and support Cambodia’s right to inscribe Preah Vihear as a World Heritage Site.

Their target is to file complaint those who involving selling the nation according to Article 119 citing that “Those who make the nation and sovereignty be ruled and controlled by any other nation or country will be killed or imprisoned of the rest of their life.”

Also, Thai constitutional Article 129 specifies that “Whomsoever supports wrong-doing will be charged as wrongdoers.” However, the date filing is not confirmed yet, but the PAD and other orators pointed that it will be done soon. The PAD´s warning came following the Thai Defense Minister and Foreign Minister claims on Thai TV 11 that “Thailand has not lost any territory which is controlled by the Government.”

One PAD member claimed that Kasit has changed his manner and is now demanded to divide land by guidelines.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, on Thursday could not be reached for comment.

Koy Koung on Monday told DAP News Cambodia that Thai mistakes stem from the fact that Thailand uses its own map in the territorial dispute with Cambodia.

“The real solution is to solve by international map, it has not to be used by its own map,” said Koy Kuong, adding that “It is Thai mistake which uses its own map to solve with Cambodia.”

Cambodian high ranking officials on Friday last week rejected claims from the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) in Thailand that Thailand lost 4.6 square-kilometers to Cambodia. The Cambodian officials stressed that such a stance is not the official line of the Thai Government.

“This claim is not Bangkok’s government’s stance and [they are] willing to solve with the Cambodian Government,” Koy Kuong told DAP News Cambodia.

“This protest is from only Thai nationalism group to claim Cambodia invaded Thailand,” Koy Kuong confirmed. “If the two governments have not solved the problems yet, they cannot claim it is the sovereignty belonging to Thailand.” Va Kimhong, president of the Cambodian Border Committee could not be reached for comment on Friday.

“Thailand should not say that they lost around 4.6 square kilometers of their land in accordance with an international ruling of June 15, 2009,” he has previously told DAP News Cambodia.

“Thailand cannot say as the area and the surroundings of the area do not belong to Cambodia. When they said they lost land, it is not based in reality or evidence.”

Preah Vihear temple has indeed suffered damage recently—from Thai bullets and shrapnel fired during two skirmishes with Cambodia that resulting in several deaths and many injuries. The previous Thai Government supported Cambodia’s effort to inscribe Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site, in addition to the wealth of internationally recognized documents and maps that clearly show that the land belongs to Cambodia.

Kratie Fisheries Administration Provides 3,000 Fish to Armed Forces

Written by DAP NEWS -- Friday, 11 September 2009

The Provincial Kratie Fisheries Administration on Wednesday handed over about 3,000 fish to armed forces stationed in the region to reduce hardships, a Fisheries Administration official said.

Fisheries Administration District Chief Sean Kin said that the donation is “to improve food security and nutrition for all Cambodian forces in this region.”

Provincial Kratie Commander Pen Sok Khoeun said that “We are very grateful and thank the Fisheries Administration for their support,” he said “Although, my members get a salary from the Government, our forces struggled to grow various vegetables and livestock to support their living, so we are now supported by the Fisheries Administration. We are very happy with this gift.”

The Fisheries Administration provided many breed of fish to raise in a 20m x 30m pond that is about 2.5 m deep, Pen Sok Khoeun added. “Next year, we plan to dig a pond to ask the Fisheries Administration to provide technique and study plan,” he stressed.

Around 14,000 fish were distributed to 73 ponds across Kratie province, especially in upland areas, according the Fisheries Administr-ation reported.

Work cut out for them

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:03 May Titthara and Kim Youthana

Roughly 100 science students demonstrated Thursday in front of the University of Health Science, complaining that the institution had unfairly blocked too many of them from advancing to the next level. They say only 500 students made the cutoff, whereas they were previously promised a quota of 700 students. "We need school, but the school does not need us," said student Him Sokneag. The students say they will draw 3,000 people to a protest today.

Cambodians testify in US

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Children from the Group 34 community, one of several affected by an increasingly bitter fight over land rights.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:03 James O'toole and Meas Sokchea

Witnesses attack government's human rights record at congressional hearing

HUMAN rights and freedom of expression are under grave threat in Cambodia today, a panel of Cambodian witnesses told representatives from the US Congress on Thursday at a hearing in Washington.

Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Mu Sochua, Licadho rights group president Kek Galabru and Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) labour programme head Moeun Tola were invited to testify in front of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a congressional body that monitors human rights norms around the world. Copies of prepared remarks were obtained from all three by the Post.

Cambodian democracy is "experiencing an alarming free fall", Mu Sochua said, according to the testimony. Having refused to pay court-ordered compensation to Prime Minister Hun Sen in connection with her defamation conviction last month, Mu Sochua warned that she will be sent to prison in the absence of intervention by the US and other donor countries.

Moeun Tola's testimony focused on labour conditions in the Kingdom, which he said had deteriorated sharply in the last few years. He expressed concern for the security of union organisers in Cambodia, citing the murders of officials from the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia including Chea Vichea, Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy. Moeun Tola also criticised Cambodia's lack of a minimum wage, and said that in the only industry with such a standard in place - the garment industry - wages are "insufficient, especially in light of rising costs of food, health problems related to work and other necessities".

He called for the US to institute duty-free status for Cambodian textiles and to urge the Cambodian government to fully implement the 1997 Labour Law.

Kek Galabru highlighted the status of land and housing rights in Cambodia, noting that more than 250,000 people have been victims of land-grabbing since 2003 in the 13 provinces in which Licadho operates.

"Cambodia's increasing landlessness is a recipe for future economic and social instability," she said.

She also cited recent threats to freedom of expression, outlining several of the nine criminal complaints the government has filed against members of media, opposition and civil society organisations since April of this year.

In view of these developments, the Licadho president said that her organisation "believes that the country is facing the gravest threat to its democratic development since the 1997" factional fighting.

Mu Sochua echoed these criticisms, calling for visa sanctions on officials suspected of corruption and a suspension of US aid to the Ministry of Defence until a regulatory framework is established for mineral and petroleum concessions.

Govt denies repression
On Wednesday, the Cambodian Embassy in Washington released a statement defending its government's record on human rights, though it did not mention the congressional hearing specifically.

"Like any democratic country in the world, Cambodia cannot [allow] the proliferation of voluntary public defamation and disinformation intended to create social disorder," the statement said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, repeated his criticism that the hearing was "unfair" because no representatives of the Cambodian government were invited.

"The opposition groups have never said anything good about the government," he said Thursday. "Whenever there is good news, they ignore it."
Though all three witnesses called for specific reforms in US policy toward Cambodia, it is not clear whether the hearing will generate any substantive changes.

Chea Vannath, an independent analyst and the former executive director of the Centre for Social Development, noted that the commission has no legislative authority in Congress, only the ability to make recommendations.

"In the political structure of the United States, it takes more than a hearing to change policy," she said. Still, she added, such events are important because of their "indirect effects", and their capacity to raise awareness of rights issues.

"This is an international mechanism to promote the rule of law, democracy and international standards," she said.

"I am one of the thousands of innocent journalists, trade union leaders, teachers and villagers who are tried by a judicial system that is well known for corruption, for incompetence and for acting under the control of the government and those who have political influence and money.... As the direct result of widespread corruption in the courts, Cambodian families find themselves in debt as bribes must be paid to court officials and to judges just to have access to justice or to be free from legal persecution."
- Mu Sochua, SRP parliamentarian

"The Cambodian authorities regularly use violence or the threat of it to restrict workers' rights to peacefully protest over legitimate labour rights issues. Peaceful gatherings outside factories by striking workers have repeatedly been forcibly dispersed by armed police in recent years. In the process, strike leaders and workers have been injured and may be unlawfully arrested. Local government authorities routinely reject requests for unions to march and rally in public areas."
- Moeun Tola, head of labour programme unit, CLEC

"Cambodia is currently facing a crisis in human rights, which constitutes a backward slide in the country's democratisation and efforts to promote good governance. The international community, including the United States, made a significant contribution to bringing peace and the concept of democracy to Cambodia in the early 1990s. Sadly, the hard-won steps which have been made toward pluralistic democracy, and toward economic and social development, are now in danger."
- Kek Galabru, president of Licadho

Twisted Traveller nets 4th suspect

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:03 Laura Snook and Chrann Chamroeun

A 61-year-old man from Hawaii has become the fourth US national removed from Cambodia on suspicion of child sex crimes under an international law-enforcement operation targeting Americans who travel to Cambodia to exploit children for sex.

Richard David Mitchell was charged on Wednesday with engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country by a court in Hawaii. According to the affidavit, witnesses reported seeing Mitchell engaging in sex acts with a 13-year-old girl on the curb of a street in Phnom Penh in August 2008.

He was initially arrested by Cambodian police, but was returned to the US on September 5, where he was taken into custody by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison and a fine of up to US$250,000.

"Child sex tourism is a scourge: adults preying on the young and vulnerable to satisfy their dark sexual desires," Wayne Wills, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Hawaii, was quoted as saying on the ICE Web site. "There can be no place for the abuse of foreign children by our citizens."

Mitchell was charged under an initiative dubbed Twisted Traveller. Led by ICE and the US Department of Justice, it specifically targets American sex offenders who travel to Cambodia to have sex with children.

Last week, three US nationals became the first to be charged under the initiative.

If convicted, they face jail terms of up to 30 years for each one of their victims.

Rough weather to continue

A vendor sells sandwiches to motorists amid the downpour in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.

We have six boats prepared for helping victims if the water rises higher.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:03 Tep Nimol and Mom Kunthear

Ratanakkiri officials prepare for evacuation as government says it is unsure when destructive rains and floods will cease

OFFICIALS in Ratanakkiri province said they were prepared to evacuate roughly 2,000 families in two districts where water levels surged to 13 metres Thursday, as a week of wretched weather continued in three provinces across the Kingdom.

"There has been flooding in five communes within those two districts," said Pav Hamphan, Ratanakkiri's provincial governor.

"There will be one more district affected by floods if the rain still falls every day."

No one had been reported injured as a result of the Ratanakkiri storms.

The head of one of the affected districts said officials were prepared for an evacuation.

"We have six boats prepared for helping victims if the water rises higher," Kong Srun, Lumphat district's governor, told the Post Thursday.
"I think those boats are enough for us because the water isn't rising fast enough to make us worry," he said.

Wet weather nationwide
Three provinces - Ratanakkiri, Kratie and Kampot, where two men drowned earlier this week - have been hit with flooding, said Ly Thuch, deputy president of the National Committee for Disaster Management.

But he said the conditions weren't yet severe enough to spark a countrywide flood alert.

"The water isn't high enough yet," Ly Thuch said.

"We will issue an alert when the water reaches 22 metres."

In Kratie province, water levels had swollen to 17 metres in five districts, said Chen Hong Sry, the province's deputy chief of Cabinet.

Floods in Kratie destroyed almost 2,500 hectares of rice paddies and more than 1,200 homes on Wednesday.

After days of rough weather throughout the country, meteorologists were unable to say Thursday when the rains would end.

"I don't know when it will stop," said Seth Vannareth, director at the Department of Meteorology at the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology.

"I will announce later if [the rain] affects more people and when it's expected to end," she added.

Jailed publisher writes Sok An letter of apology

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:03 Meas Sokchea

IMPRISONED opposition newspaper publisher Hang Chakra has written a letter of apology to Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, officials said.

Minister of Information and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said he has delivered it to the deputy prime minister.

But since Hang Chakra, 55, has already been convicted of defamation, the letter alone doesn't guarantee the journalist's release, Khieu Kanharith said. "I delivered a letter to Excellency Sok An," he said. "How he will decide depends on him because he is the plaintiff."

Journalists who have been lobbying on Hang Chakra's behalf said they hoped the move would facilitate his release. "I hope he will be allowed to leave prison," said Touch Nora, president of the Cambodia Watch of Journalists Association.

Hang Chakra was convicted of defamation and publishing false information for a series of articles alleging corruption against officials under Sok An. He was sentenced to one year in prison and fined 9 million riels (US$2,187). The Court of Appeal rejected his case on August 11.

Airspace talks planned

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:03 Vong Sokheng

THIRTY top officials from the Royal Thai Air Force are to pay a one-day visit to Phnom Penh on September 14 for discussions with their Cambodian counterparts about cooperation, training and "maintaining mutual respect for airspace sovereignty", Defence Ministry spokesman Chhum Socheat told the Post Thursday.

The meeting comes a month after the head of Thailand's Chanthaburi-Trat base apologised to the Cambodian government for violating Cambodia's airspace in Pursat province.

Chhum Socheat said Thai Air Force Chief Marshal Itthaporn Subhawong and his subordinates would meet with Defence Minister Tea Banh, Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) Commander in Chief Pol Saroeun and Soeung Samnang, commander of the Royal Cambodian Air Force.

He said the visit was part of a broader effort to improve military cooperation between the two countries.

Illegal chemists pose consumer health risk

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
A customer buys medication at a pharmacy in Phnom Penh. New figures from the Department of Health indicate that half of Cambodia’s pharmacies are operating illegally.


The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:02 Khoun Leakhana

HALF of all pharmacies in Cambodia are operating illegally, putting customers increasingly at risk, health advocates have told the Post.

Only 1,000 of the country's roughly 2,000 pharmacies have been formally registered, according to Yim Yann, project coordinator for drug quality at the NGO Global Fund R6.

Yann said it is crucial to shine a light on "illegitimate pharmacies" because many often sell fake drugs - a serious problem highlighted by the 1999 deaths of at least 30 Cambodians who took counterfeit anti-malarial drugs, according to the World Health Organisation.

"[The government] has not taken any clear strategy to crack down on this problem effectively," Yim Yann said.

Sun Sary, director of the Hospital Department at the Ministry of Health, acknowledged there were many pharmacies that lack licences but added that the ministry is urging more pharmacies to register.

Health advocates, however, want the government to take tougher measures.

"I think the government should close down those pharmacies that are found to be run illegally," said Ny Chakriya, head of the investigation department at the human rights group Adhoc.

He claimed the government is reluctant to shut down unlicensed pharmacies because they still bring in tax income.

Banteay Meanchey vendor Um Vannak, 42, has had a mixed experience with unlicensed pharmacies. "I once had typhoid, but just a simple illness only. I went to a pharmacy and I was injected with [a drug], which cured me effectively," she said. Six months later, however, the illness returned - and that time, medicine from the unlicensed pharmacy had little effect.

Even so, Um Vannak said people in remote areas will continue buying medicine at their nearest pharmacy, licensed or not, because they are convenient.

"I never see a cross sign or a medicine glass case at places where people like buying medicine when they are sick," Um Vannak said.

In 2001, the government-led Council for the Development of Cambodia counted 1,876 private pharmacies in the country, of which 80 percent were operating illegally.

The World Health Organisation considers counterfeit medicine to be a "global public health crisis".

Report cites govt bias in land-dispute cases

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:02 Chhay Channyda

Mechanisms to resolve land disputes have been at best ineffective and at worst used as tools against those most vulnerable to rights abuses, rights groups said Thursday.

Speaking at the launch of a new report on land rights, Ny Chakrya, monitoring head for the rights group Adhoc, singled out the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes and the court system as "mechanisms that have not helped the affected people".

He said land-rights abuses were likely to continue, particularly in light of the government's use of the courts to silence protesters. "The courts have been used to solve land disputes by putting people who complain in prison," he said, noting that Adhoc knew of 150 people who were arrested in such disputes in 2008, as well as 50 so far in 2009.

Chiv Keng, president of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, dismissed the claim that the courts were being used by the government against the poor. He said those who complained about the court system were often "losers" in land disputes. "So, of course, they shout that the court is unjust," he said, "but we follow the law in reviewing land cases."

The event at the World Vision office in Phnom Penh marked the publication of "Losing Ground", a report from a coalition of local NGOs that reviews recent land disputes in the capital and in the provinces. It also marked the local launch of Amnesty International's Demand Dignity campaign.

In a statement, Amnesty said forced evictions were "one of the country's most serious human rights violations today.... The increasing number of land disputes, confiscations, and industrial and urban redevelopment projects hurt almost exclusively people living in poverty".

Pay dispute smoulders

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:02 Tep Nimol and Mom Kunthear

Unionist says factory violated the Labour Law

A LABOUR leader filed a complaint Thursday with the Ministry of Labour charging that a Meanchey district garment factory violated labour laws when it closed its doors and laid off workers earlier this month.

Chea Mony, head of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, acknowledged that some laid-off workers had received remuneration but added that the owner of Terraex Knitting and Garment factory had met only a few of the remuneration conditions required by law when 1,700 employees lost their jobs.

"According to Chapter 4, Article 83 of the Labour Law, if a company or factory closes, it must satisfy five conditions, including compensation, bonuses and workers' salaries," he said.

A representative of the factory, who refused to be named, rejected the claims. "Our company closed in early September, and we have paid the workers," the representative said Thursday.

Chhil Sok Khoeun, a representative for the laid-off workers, affirmed the factory's statement, saying: "All workers agreed ... to accept the amounts paid, so it is pointless for Chea Mony to file a complaint."

No boon from mines: survey

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:02 Nguon Sovan

Indigenous residents of two small eastern villages have only slightly benefited from recent mining activity, while the work of foreign-owned companies potentially threatens their livelihoods, according to development watchdogs.

Only a handful of 71 ethnic Bunong families surveyed in Mondulkiri province's Gati and Pou Rapeth villages directly benefited from the mining operations, according to a survey by the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia.

"In both villages, only a few of the indigenous people have been employed by the mining companies," Chen Sochoeun, a researcher with the NGO, said Thursday at a Phnom Penh forum examining development in Cambodia. "Similarly, few indigenous villagers were involved in work to support the mining activities, such as selling food and other goods to the miners."

The forest-dependent villagers identified major impacts including the destruction of resin trees and negative effects on hunting and fishing.

"The mining activities in the two villages pose a potential threat to Bunong livelihoods largely reliant on natural resources," Chen Sochoeun said, adding that the villagers never consented to the mining operations.

Chinese-owned Hai Lan Mineral Company and Vietnamese-owned Gold Metal have been operating in Gati and Pou Rapeth, respectively, since 2006.

A government official acknowledged Thursday that the villagers were not consulted before the mining companies moved in, but Kong Piseth, director of the Industry, Mines and Energy Department in Mondulkiri, insists the villagers will eventually benefit from the mining.

"All of the companies are exploring for minerals, not in the stage of mining, so they do not need many labourers yet," Kong Piseth said. "I believe that it will directly and indirectly benefit local resident when those companies begin mining."

Kong Piseth said there were roughly 13 companies exploring in the province. The Post was unable to contact representatives of the mining companies involved for comment.

The NGO Refugees International has identified the Bunong, who number some 30,000 people in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam border highlands, as a threatened group whose traditions are "under siege".

Kingdom loses three to typhoon

Flooding caused by typhoon Morakot devastated Taiwan last month

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:02 Kim Yuthana

Three Cambodians among the 192 still missing from Typhoon Morakot.

THREE Cambodians are missing and feared dead after Typhoon Morakot tore through Taiwan last month, an NGO has confirmed.

Khat Srey Mach, 33, Kong Srey Mom, 32, and Mol Khmao, 29, have been missing since Morakot, one of the deadliest typhoons to hit Taiwan in recorded history, hit the island and prompted the worst flooding in 50 years.

More than 600 people died, according to the press agency AFP. They were believed killed by floodwaters and mudslides.

Forty-six were injured, and 192 people, including the three Cambodians, are still missing. In one incident, an entire hotel, empty at the time, was swept away by the waters, the BBC reported.

Ya Navuth, executive director of Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility (CARAM) Cambodia, told the Post on Thursday that he had been made aware of the Cambodians' plight by officials at Taipei's Economic and Cultural Office in Ho Chi Minh City but had yet to make contact with their relatives. "We have not heard anything from the victims' families so far after announcing their disappearance," he said. The Cambodian consulate in Vietnam has also been informed.

Typhoon Morakot formed early on August 2 as an unnamed tropical depression. Within hours, it was upgraded to a tropical storm and assigned the name Morakot by the Japan Meteorological Agency. At its peak, Morakot's winds reached speeds of more than 150 km/h. It wrought catastrophic damage in Taiwan, prompting Prime Minister Liu Chao-shiuan to resign earlier this week.

Fire victims make deal with govt

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:02 May Titthara

NEARLY 300 families who lost their homes in a suspected arson attack in Phnom Penh in April have struck a deal with City Hall that will allow them to remain in the capital, a representative told the Post Thursday.

Officials originally said the victims of the April 16 fire in Tomnup Toek commune should relocate to Kandal province's Ponhea Leu district, but residents wanted land in Dangkor district. City Hall agreed on Wednesday, Toch Sophan said.

For the next 100 days, the 288 families will each save US$1 a day. They will then contribute $100 each to the purchase, with City Hall covering the rest. "By December, the residents must have $100. Otherwise, they will not receive land in Dangkor," he said.

Horm Neun, another representative, said the families had entered the agreement voluntarily and had been told by officials that they would still receive the land in Kandal if the Dangkor plan fell through.

Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Mann Chhoeun, the City Hall official who generally handles eviction cases, could not be reached by the Post for comment on Thursday.

More criticism of KRT

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:01 Sam Rith

FORMER Tuol Sleng photographer Nhem En on Thursday seconded Prime Minister Hun Sen's prediction that attempts to prosecute additional Khmer Rouge leaders would be unsuccessful and said Cambodia's war crimes court should instead spend money on his proposed museum for regime-era artefacts in Oddar Meanchey's Anlong Veng district.

"It's worth nothing to spend money on charging more suspects because the Khmer Rouge happened 30 years ago," Nhem En said. "I think it is enough that [Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch] has answered to the court."

Nhem En told the Post in July that he planned to store his Khmer Rouge-era possessions - including what he claims are Pol Pot's sandals and toilet - in a museum. Earlier this year, having failed to raise enough money, he announced a plan to sell his Khmer Rouge-era items for US$1 million, but he was unable to find buyers.

Court spokesman Dim Sovannarom said Nhem En had every right to offer suggestions, but the court would make its own spending decisions.

Workers' ally urges US to cut garment tariffs

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A garment worker operates a sewing machine at Modern Dress Sewing Factory last week in Phnom Penh.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:01 Nathan Green

Labour advocate backs industry in calling for end to US duties on Cambodian garment exports ahead of Washington hearing

ALABOUR activist called on the US Congress on Thursday to provide Cambodian textile and footwear makers duty-free access to its markets on condition they met certain minimum labour laws and standards.

Moeun Tola, head of the Labour Programme Unit at the Community Legal Education Centre in Cambodia, says the concession should be granted along the lines of Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein's Trade Act of 2009, according to a copy of his testimony seen by the Post in advance of his appearance before a human rights commission hearing in Washington later Thursday.

He calls for specific benchmarks to be set in line with international and national labour standards and for the US government to put pressure on Cambodia to "fully implement" its labour laws and pass its long-awaited anti-corruption law.

The Trade Act of 2009 bill extending duty free access to 14 least developed countries (LDCs) - one of which is Cambodia - is currently stuck in the US Senate finance committee. It is the third such bill to go before the Senate, following the Trade Act of 2005 and the Trade Act of 2007, both of which failed.

Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC), said Thursday that he did not expect Moeun Tola to paint a recognisable picture of conditions in Cambodia's garment sector, but he added that any help in securing duty-free status was welcomed.

"On one hand, we are glad as manufacturers that we are not the only ones to see the need for such access, and that we are not fighting alone to reach this goal," he said.

Loo said GMAC had been lobbying the US government since 2004 to secure duty-free access, initially just for Cambodia but recently as part of a group with the 14 LDCs nominated in Feinstein's bill.

The bill was very similar to the previous two bills to go before the Senate, which were introduced following visits by sector delegates led by Commerce Minister Chan Prasidh, Loo said. GMAC has been involved in "five or six" delegations to the US lobbying for duty-free access for the sector since 2004, he said.

Loo added that GMAC was not concerned over access being associated with minimum labour conditions as the association was a supporter of the International Labour Organisation's Better Factories initiative, which was introduced in 2001 to boost labour conditions in exchange for better access to export markets.

"If the US grants Cambodia duty-free access based on continued compliance, be it in the current form or in a modified form, then of course our members will go along with it."

If the bill were passed, which many experts say is unlikely, it would provide a boost to Cambodia's beleaguered garment industry. Garment and textile exports to the US dropped 30 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2009 to US$725.7 million, Ministry of Commerce figures show, dwarfing an 18 percent decline to $1.27 billion in exports to all countries.

When Feinstein introduced the bill on May 21, she said that some of the world's poorest countries faced some of the highest US tariffs when it came to garment exports.

Cambodia pays the highest tariffs, in percentage terms, of any US trading partner because of its dependence on garment exports. The Progressive Policy Institute, a US think tank, says Cambodia paid US$419 million in tariffs on exports worth $2.46 billion in 2007.

OK sought for fertiliser production in Kandal

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:01 Chun Sophal

VIETNAMESE firm Five Star International Group has asked for approval to build a US$65 million natural fertiliser plant in Kandal province, an economic consultant to Vietnam's embassy in Phnom Penh said Thursday.

Le Bien Cuong said the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) was mulling the application.

"We hope that the construction of the new plant will be able to start in October this year," he said.

The group said the plant, to be built in Samraong Thom commune in Kandal province's Kien Svay district, 20 kilometres east of Phnom Penh, will have capacity to produce 350,000 tonnes of fertiliser per year.

The construction of the plant is expected to finish within 20 months of being approved by the CDC, Le Bien Cuong said. CDC officials could not be contacted for comment Thursday.

Lim Sokun, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the investment project would help reduce reliance on imported fertiliser, of which around 100,000 tonnes is imported each year by 20 companies, ministry figures show.

Yang Saing Koma, director of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, said Cambodia needs millions of tonnes of natural fertiliser every year because nutrients have been depleted from most of the country's soil as a result of long-term cultivation.

"If the Vietnamese company can produce natural fertiliser using local raw materials ... it will not only help create job opportunities for Cambodian people but also help re-fertilise our land," he said.

Connecting in a crowded market

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Smart Mobile CEO Thomas Hundt says that price-dumping remains an unresolved issue in Cambodia’s mobile-phone sector.

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:01 Steve Finch

Despite the highly competitive nature of the Cambodian mobile-phone sector, Smart Mobile’s CEO Thomas Hundt says it’s still possible to build loyalty with customers in a developing market

By Steve Finch

Cambodia's mobile phone market has become increasingly competitive, and we've seen companies report reduced revenues in recent months. How have you been affected?
As you rightfully said, it's a very tough market.

I suppose that the majority of operators are losing money at the moment - that is a matter of fact. We have not planned to earn money at this moment of time.

I mean, we launched in February, so, as a mobile phone operator, you cannot be expected to earn a profit after six months.

But, we are growing - we are growing in terms of subscribers, and we are growing in terms of revenues. And this is the key point - that the incumbents are losing market share, losing revenues. I would say that is more or less normal in such a competitive market.

The young operators are attacking heavily, and I suppose this will continue for a while.

Of course, at the end, everyone is looking to make a profit, and our shareholders are also expecting profits from us - that's why they're investing here. Based on growth of subscribers and also market share, we are capable of gaining profits in this market.

As you say, there has to be an expectation that you will be profitable, but, given the tough market conditions, when will that be?

I cannot tell you the exact break-even point that we are aiming for.

In terms of the number of SIM cards sold in Cambodia, around 33 percent of all Cambodians are statistically supposed to have one. But some or even most people have more than one SIM card, so the penetration in terms of people using mobile phones is round about 20 or 25 percent - no-one knows exactly.

Also these numbers published by MPTC [Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications] and its way of calculating subscribers is different from the operators, and these numbers are not 100 percent reflective of the reality. They are likely 90 or 80 percent true, but no one can tell exactly how many of Cambodia's 15 million people are connected to a mobile phone already.

So that means there is enough room to grow. Naturally, there is not so much room for growth in Phnom Penh anymore, so now it's a matter of looking into provincial cities, and these are exactly the regions that we are looking at.

Coming back to the question of break-even point, it's hard to predict exactly. But to reach the break-even point is very real ... in a foreseeable period of time.

Beeline has recently been accused of price-dumping by competitors. Firstly, do you consider Beeline to be price-dumping, and secondly, what regulations are in place in Cambodia to address this issue?

Yes, we consider Beeline at the price they are offering for cross-network calls to be dumping the price.

However, it is not 100 percent clear to us - and I think to everyone in the market - under which basis those aspects can be regulated. Likely it is more falling under the authority of the Ministry of Commerce than the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.

A number of operators, including Mobitel, say that Beeline has only partially resolved this price-dumping issue. Are more meetings planned to address this?

Well, there are no direct meetings now planned with MPTC that I am aware of....

There has been an agreement reached that the tariff for cross-network calls should not be below regulated costs for such calls, and it is now a matter of executing the agreement.

So, I can understand Mobitel's position. And, of course, I cannot understand the position of Beeline to say that if ... Beeline's customers cannot reach Mobitel anymore it doesn't matter for them - it matters significantly. So it is now a matter of executing the agreement.

We have seen that Cambodian mobile customers can be very fickle - many have multiple SIM cards. How do you build and maintain brand loyalty in a market with nine operators?
People are jumping from one to the other operator. And this is a key point that we are working on. The main point for us at the moment is coverage, because people, if they are travelling outside of our coverage area, are practically forced to switch to another operator.

But we are starting our new networks in Battambang, in Poipet, Banteay Meanchey and in Kampong Cham before Pchum Ben festival [September 18 - 21] and Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom, Kampong Chhnang, Sihanoukville and along national highways 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the upcoming weeks.

With this coverage we are enabling our subscribers to keep using us even if they are travelling to their home province, to visit their families or to do business. This is the key to keeping our subscribers loyal to us.

On the other side, even if we don't yet have coverage in the provinces, we have the experience that Cambodian people are very keen to use Smart Mobile because of our brand, our brand consistency, our brand values and our tariffs that we are offering, combined with, I think, one of the best network connections.

We have very short call set-up times, the connection quality is without problems, and also the speech clarity is quite high.

When people return from the provinces, where they have not yet had the chance to use us, they return to us and they use Smart Mobile again.

We tested our brand values in a survey recently to explore how well-perceived we are, how well-known we are after six months of commercial operation, and the result was "outstandingly well".

So, out of the people we asked - randomly selected - more than 50 percent declared that Smart Mobile's branding and marketing campaigns and overall approach in terms of creativity is "highly attractive" or "attractive".

In this regard we were ranked No 2 among nine operators, and 35 percent of the people we asked in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap already have and use our SIM card.

It means when we are spreading out in terms of coverage, we have a very high possibility of keeping our customers loyal to us. And if we are then, as we have been doing so far, offering highly attractive tariffs - the latest one is "WOW!" - customers will be pleased to use us and to remain loyal with us.

Cambodia is one of the most competitive mobile-phone markets on the planet. Can it sustain this number of players?

I believe the market [in Cambodia] is one of the most competitive markets in the world.... And I also believe that, over the mid- to long-term, there will be a consolidation process taking place. Whether four, or five, or six, or seven operators are able to be sustainable and survive in this market is a question that is difficult to answer at this moment in time.

But I believe that nine operators are too many for this market. We see a couple of competitors pretty silent at the moment already. How to interpret those signals is not a question for us.

But Smart Mobile, of course, is building on the strengths that we have developed in the months since our beginning.

Corn plant to begin exporting by year's end

The Phnom Penh Post
Friday, 11 September 2009 15:00 May Kunmakara

HLH Agriculure Cambodia Co Ltd, a Singaporean-owned company that this year invested US$15 million in a corn-processing factory in Kampong Speu province, told the Post Thursday it would begin exporting by the end of the year.

Rort Veasna, purchasing officer at HLH, said his company would export about 300 tonnes of processed red corn to Singapore in November.

"It is our first phase of exports to foreign markets," he said, adding that the corn would be sold at $200 a tonne.

HLH has recently produced 800 tonnes of corn on its 450-hectare farm in Omlaing commune in Thpong district, Kampong Speu, he said, adding that it purchased an additional 1,000 tonnes from local companies and farmers.

An additional 10,000 hectares are being planted in nearby Oral district, he added.

Rort Veasna said that demand from the region had reached 50,000 tonnes for the last quarter of this year, but that HLH had so far not been able to keep up with demand.

"We have not had sufficient capacity for this huge amount because my business plan has only just been completed and some of our crop was sold on the domestic market," he said, adding that HLH had completed sales to CP Group and SCF Company to produce pet food.

Overall, the company has invested $30 million, he said, and plans to spend more - current capacity is 300 tonnes a day with two Chinese-made corn-drying machines and five planting machines.

"Although we cannot currently meet market demand, we will keep trying to purchase domestically and from overseas to enlarge and improve our plantation for exporting not only to Asia, but also European markets," said Rort Veasna.

Cambodia last year exported more than half a million tonnes of red corn within the region, said Mao Thora, secretary of state at the Ministry of Commerce.

Last year Cambodia planted 141,264 hectares of corn, according to official figures, and the Kingdom produced 561,584 tonnes in 2008.

Government promotes exports
"We welcome more foreign investors in the sector to export abroad," adding that Cambodian operations had consistently produced high-quality corn for overseas markets.

The ministry would be ready to assist farmers in exporting the crop, said Mao Thora.

"If a company wants to raise sufficient quantities for export, they should cooperate [with the ministry]," he said.