Friday, 18 September 2009

Si Sa Ket residents oppose PAD rally at Preah Vihear

SI SA KET, Sept 18 (TNA) - Si Sa Ket residents gathered at the base of the stone staircase to the 11th century Preah Vihear temple to voice their disapproval of Saturday's planned protest of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) there.

Over a thousand villagers from Kantharalak district gathered at Phum Saron temple Friday to oppose the PAD plan to rally at the disputed temple.

Local residents said if any violence occurs, it will have social and economic impacts in the area. They said they want the border dispute to be resolved through diplomatic channels.

Thai soldiers posted to the temple vicinity set up barbed wire to block the entrance and block access to Preah Vihear.

Nobel Peace Prize nominee Mu Sochua visits Sacramento

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mu Sochua had a request of her audience: "I ask you to please monitor [my] case, because it's very very likely that I will go to jail," the native Cambodian said in a speech in Sacramento.

The social worker and women's rights and democracy activist was a Nobel Peace Prize nominee in 2005.

About 40 people gathered Monday at noon in a conference room at the U.C. Center in Sacramento to hear Sochua speak. In the speech, presented by the World Affaris Council, she spoke about ending the sex trafficking of women and children, opposing land grabs and reforming the corrupt Cambodian court system.

Sochua came to Northern California in 1973. She earned a degree in psychology from San Francisco State and a master's in social work from the University of California at Berkeley in 1981. Before she could return to Cambodia, Sochua learned that her parents had been killed by the Khmer Rouge, the regime responsible for the deaths of more than a million Cambodians.

Sochua returned to Cambodia after 18 years of exile to help the government rebuild after the Khmer Rouge lost power. She is an outspoken member of Parliament, and spoke about her recent defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister Hun Sen of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

"He said that I go around, grab men and take off my shirt," Sochua said. It's an insult that usually would not be challenged by a woman in a society rife with gender inequality, she explained, but added "that cannot be tolerated. The issue here is dignity."

"That situation was reverse, actually," Sochua said. "An official in the military who was campaigning for the ruling party assaulted me at the marketplace and my shirt came undone."

But before the prime minister could be brought to trial, he countersued Sochua's lawyer. "The Cambodian Bar Association put so much pressure on my lawyer that he would have been disbarred," Sochua said. "Then he left me without defense, apologized to the prime minister and joined the prime minister's party."

So Sochua defended herself in court.

In what she called a show trial in which no investigation was conducted, Sochua was found guilty of "speaking out," "speaking on behalf of women," "spreading disinformation" and "suing [the prime minister]," she said. After not paying a $4,000 fine and being stripped of her legislative immunity, Sochua, a member of Sam Rainsy, the leading opposition party, could face life imprisonment when she returns to Cambodia.

"That's why I'm going from place to place, talking to people like you," she said. In a recent meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Sochua urged the United States to send a high level delegation to assess civil rights issues in Cambodia.

"If I were imprisoned, the situation would bring more attention to donors and the world community," Sochua said. "That is the symbol for struggle for justice, it will speak loud[est]."

Hers is not a poor country, Sochua said, citing Cambodia's natural resources and more than $1 billion of foreign aid per year. She pointed out that $53 million of that money comes from the United States. "It's just badly managed, losing about $500 million a year to corruption and a lack of political will."

Moderator Robert Cassinelli, on the board of the World Affairs Council, spoke of the importance of Sochua's speech. "I would like to thank Mu Sochua for illuminating something which is a [part of the] human condition: human rights and gender issues," he said.

A young Cambodian American asked what Cambodians in the United States can do to help reform the Cambodian justice system.

"I hope that you will take some action, because you can," Sochua said. "I would like you to go and write a letter to your legislators and ask your government, 'What are you doing in Cambodia?' "

Audience member Samedi Thach called for action. "I hope everybody listens to her and writes the letter she asks for and keeps tabs on her to make sure that she doesn't disappear and what she's fighting for doesn't go away.

"Instead of staying here and living the American Dream, like a lot of Cambodians, she's actually trying to make changes in Cambodia," added Thach, a 24-year-old Cambodian American living in Sacramento. "Knowing that she's going to go back to face 20-to-life, or assassination, it makes her message more powerful: She's willing to go back and be a martyr for the cause that she believes in."

Protests to mark Thai coup anniversary

By Frank G. Anderson
Column: Thai Traditions
Published: September 18, 2009

Nakhonratchasima, Thailand — Thailand’s Red Shirts and other supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Saturday will commemorate the third anniversary of the military coup that deposed him, with a huge protest rally in Bangkok.

According to official sources, one of the objectives of the rally is to overthrow the Thai government and, according to Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, to set up “a new state.”

This planned toppling of the Democrat-led government is hardly expected to occur, however, despite some uneasiness. There are far less than 50,000 protesters expected – but surprises have been known to take place in Thailand.

The Saturday rally coincides with a promise by various activist groups, including the Northeast People’s Network, to hold a protest vigil over what Thailand views as the loss of its ancient temple, Khao Phrea Vihear, to its historical rival, Cambodia. The temple sits on the border between the two countries but after a dispute in the International Court in The Hague, the court decided it belonged to Cambodia.

For its part, the Thai government has committed to reinstating the country’s Internal Security Act to ban protesters from the important Dusit district of Bangkok from Friday through Tuesday, Sept. 18-22, to cover the potentially troublesome timeframe. Dusit district, established by King Chulalongkorn, encompasses the country’s Parliament building as well as the royal palace.

Worried debates go back and forth in government offices, on street corners and in academic conference rooms. Will the Saturday commemoration fizzle out – much like the widely feared Y2K event did in 2000 – or blow up into a full-scale rebellion?

Some anti-Thaksin supporters are trying to fan the flames by suggesting that the former prime minister aims to topple the Thai monarchy.

This argument – that Thaksin is bent on overthrowing the monarchy – has been a favorite of militant and military pro-status quo forces in the country, in their concerted efforts to quell unrest and re-establish “domestic unity.” The accusation cannot be substantiated, though one side constantly repeats it and the other side repeatedly denies it.

Substantiation of rumors and false allegations has never been a major hurdle in the Land of Smiles, however, when it comes to dealing with historical and record-setting unrest and troublesome activists. It started with the nation’s political identity crisis after a 1932 coup, when a military junta, claiming to represent the people, converted the nation’s absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

Over the last decade activists in Thailand have becoming more and more active, intensified by the Sept. 19, 2006 coup that took down a democratically elected government. The legitimacy of that election process is open to question; it was challenged by accusations of widespread vote-buying and even more widespread “encouragement” to vote for a particular candidate.

In the Thai political process, both candidates and voters accept the idea that a candidate’s primary loyalty is to his party. This principle invariably weakens grassroots democracy, as it creates a reluctance to call elected officials to task on the one hand, and bottlenecks minority demands that their policies shift to benefit local interests.

Despite whatever occurs on or after Sept. 19, Thailand’s political and social future is likely to remain shrouded in rampant corruption, state-encouraged illusion and outright denial of civil and human rights to the majority of its people – many of whom, in fact, will attest that being deprived of human rights is the best thing for the country.

Militantly conservative traditionalists will cite the need to preserve and protect the monarchy, as well as what they have been taught to believe is the Thai way to resolve political strife – maintain tranquility, and use guns when that does not work. They do not seem to mind seeing their fellow Thais shot down in the streets or unjustly imprisoned. To them, activists who become too vocal are not only working against the interests of the country, but against the very Thai character itself. This rationale has, for a dozen and a half previous coups, proven disastrous for the nation.

Last but not least, this year’s protesters say they plan to make it clear that the country’s senior Privy Council adviser, retired General Prem Tinsulalonda, was behind the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin. The veracity of the claim has gained ground over the last year or two, with many Thais openly “admitting” that Prem was behind the ouster of an arch enemy of the state, Thaksin.

Listening to ousted academic Giles Ungapakorn – safely ensconced in England after fleeing lese majeste charges in Thailand – one wonders just how far any Prem connection went. While Thaksin was still in power, an anonymous CD with startling photos and a narrative of Prem’s alleged misdoings was sent to members of the media. Wisely, no one dared publish the photos or the written material provided, which according to the anonymous donor were obtained by “modern day Japanese ninjas who broke into Prem’s Holy of Holies.”

State media is unashamedly working nonstop to quash any serious study of the issue, aided by strenuous denials.


(Frank G. Anderson is the Thailand representative of American Citizens Abroad. He was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer to Thailand from 1965-67, working in community development. A freelance writer and founder of northeast Thailand's first local English language newspaper, the Korat Post – – he has spent over eight years in Thailand "embedded" with the local media. He has an MBA in information management and an associate degree in construction technology. ©Copyright Frank G. Anderson.)

Civil Society and the Opposition Party Support Action to Create a Working Group to Reinvestigate Criminal Cases – Thursday, 17.9.2009

Posted on 18 September 2009
The Mirror, Vol. 13, No. 630


In view of the content of the article, the headline might be more precisely describing the content if it were to say:

One Civil Society Senior Staff and the Spokesperson of one Opposition Party Support Action to Create a Working Group to Reinvestigate Criminal Cases

There are also critical voices with a civil society background, as well as other voices from the opposition party quoted here, who expressed concern about the role of the special working group mentioned here: Does it infringe on the independence of the courts – well aware that some court actions have triggered the problem? They express the opinion that only a reform of the court system itself may bring lasting results.

“Phnom Penh: An opposition party parliamentarian and a civil society organization support the head of the government creating a mixed working group to work on criminal cases at different irregular law implementation units.

“Recently, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Samdech Akkak Moha Senapadei Dekchor Hun Sen, released a decision dated 4 September 2009 to create a mixed working group to examine and take action on criminal cases at different law implementation units; the working group has 26 members from different sections of the government.

“The spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior, Mr. Khieu Sopheak, could not be reached for comment, as he was busy with meetings, but he had told journalists that the newly created working group will reinvestigate some cases suspected to be handled improperly. He added that previously, police had arrested suspects and sent them to court, but some court officials had released them, claiming a lack of evidence.

“Also, Mr. Khieu Sopheak mentioned the [acid attack] case related to Ms. Chea Ratha [and her accomplices] where [investigating] officers had worked very hard, but the court released them.

“An investigating official of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights [LICADHO], Mr. Oum Sam Ath, told Kampuchea Thmey on 16 September 2009 that it is time that the government reforms the judicial system, especially the court system.

“He added that the head of the Royal Government created this mixed working group because there had been some irregularities at the courts, and the group aims at investigating some irregular cases. He believes that it is part of a reform for the judicial system which ensures court transparency, to provide justice for victims and for the people in general. Also, if the working group can find irregularities and mishandlings of some judges and prosecutors, it will file complaints to the Supreme Council of the Magistracy to take action.

“Mr. Oum Sam Ath went on to say regarding Ms. Chea Ratha’s case, that after the court announced a verdict on 31 August 2009 to withdraw charges against her, the victims fear and hide themselves until now. Mr. Oum Sam Ath considers this case to be irregular, and it needs to be reinvestigated by the working group.

“Mr. Oum Sam Ath added that there are many cases that need to be reinvestigated like the case of Ms. Chea Ratha and of Mr. Born Samnang and Mr. Sok Sam Oeun. He said if the government takes action on those irregular cases, impunity will not continue.

“The Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian and spokesperson of the Sam Rainsy Party, Mr. Yim Sovann, said, ‘The whole court system needs reform, especially relating to judges, and we praise judges who work properly, but judges who do wrong should be punished. Particularly, we need conditions for judges to check and monitor the work of judges so as to have long lasting solutions.’

“Some other police officials who asked not to be named welcome the decision of the head of the Royal government, considering it as a good measure.

“The decision of the head of the Royal Government stated that the working group has the duty to check criminal, human trafficking, and sex exploitation cases, and the actions taken by justice police units, prosecutors, courts, and prisons. If necessary, related case files can be copied for inspection and analysis, to evaluate the actions taken in each case. If any irregularities are found, there have to be reports sent for evaluation by the Minister of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Justice to take further action. In any instance of case files involving serious problems or complications, they must be reported to the head of the government for review and recommendation. The working group has to make reports, tallying the results, and send them to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Defense, and the Minister of Justice. The working group has the authority to involve other expert officials when necessary.”

Kampuchea Thmey, Vol.8, #2051, 17.9.2009
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Thursday, 17 September 2009

Call for security law in Si Sa Ket

Published: 18/09/2009

Puea Thai MP for Chiang Mai Surapong Towichakchaikul has called on the government to invoke the Internal Security Act (ISA) to deal with the yellow-shirts who planned to protest against the Cambodian government in Kanthararak distict of Si Sa Ket province, near Preah Vihear, on Saturday.

“If the yellow-shirts intrude into the disputed border area it could lead to violent confrontation between Thai and Cambodian troops stationed along the border,” Mr Surapong said on Friday.

The government should use the same standard in dealing with the red and yellow shirts, the Chiang Mai MP said.

Cambodian-Thai border situation is calm: Cambodian spokesman

Friday, September 18, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Sep. 18, 2009 (Xinhua News Agency) -- The situation at Cambodia Thailand border areas near 11th century Khmer Preah Vihear temple has been calm so far, the spokesman for the National Defense Ministry said on Friday.

"I am here and the situation at the area is normal up to now," Chum Socheat, the spokesman of Cambodian National Defense Ministry told Xinhua by phone from border area.

"Cambodian riot police authorities have still deployed at the places against Thai border protesters," he added.

A group of Thai protesters from People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have warned that they will rally near Preah Vihear Temple this weekend to protest the mishandling of Thai governments over the disputed border area with Cambodia, and plan to move into the 4.6 square kilometers of land that is claimed by Thailand to hold the protest rally at the areas.

Thai armed forces also have tightened security at Thai- Cambodian border near the temple to prevent any rally protests.

The two neighboring countries share a nearly 800-kilometer long common border and they have never fully demarcated their land border.

The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), on July 2008, approved Cambodia's bid to list Preah Vihear Temple as the World Heritage Site, since then the temple and its adjacent area have become the sites of border conflict between Cambodia and Thailand.

(Source: iStockAnalyst )

2nd Army to rein in PAD border protest

Published: 18/09/2009

The 2nd Army plans to restrict a rally scheduled for tomorrow by a group linked to the People's Alliance for Democracy in a bid to prevent any possible intrusion into a disputed border area claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia.

The move comes amid fears the PAD protesters will enter the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area and proceed to the Preah Vihear temple ruins.

There are concerns this could lead to possible clashes with Cambodian troops and villagers, which would further complicate the border dispute.

Second Army chief Wibulsak Neepal yesterday said an area on the Thai side of the border had been designated for the PAD demonstrators to hold their rally.

Lt Gen Wibulsak said the disputed area, which is claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia, was a danger zone.

He said the overlapping area had limited space and few facilities, and was not suited for a rally.

Thai troops stationed at the border have been told to ensure protesters do not enter the danger area and that there are no clashes between the protesters and Cambodian soldiers and villagers who have built houses and shops in the area.

Those planning to take part in the rally were advised to comply with the law and factor in the significance of maintaining good relations with Cambodia.

Lt Gen Wibulsak was concerned the feared intrusion by the PAD into the 4.6-square-kilometre no-man's land and temple ruins could complicate efforts to resolve the border conflict. "The rally could add to the border dispute and hinder negotiations [to end the dispute] between the two countries," he said.

However, he said some protest leaders had agreed to move to areas in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district which borders the disputed area.

The protest will probably draw supporters from Bangkok as well.

PAD key figure and protest leader Veera Somkwamkid has vowed to lead supporters to the disputed area and the temple tomorrow.

Mr Veera has reportedly distributed leaflets among villagers in provinces close to Preah Vihear in a bid to drum up support "to reclaim Thailand's rightful ownership" of the ancient Hindu temple and the disputed land.

Mr Veera led a march of several hundred supporters on Aug 28 up to the Pha Mor E Daeng cliff in Kantharalak district near the Preah Vihear temple.

Soldiers stopped them from entering the disputed zone. The army only agreed to let eight of the group, including Mr Veera, into the area.

Cambodia yesterday deployed riot police at Preah Vihear in response to the planned protest.

Cambodian defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said at least 50 police with dogs, batons and tear gas had been sent to the temple ahead of the demonstration.

"Our anti-riot police have been deployed to the border at Preah Vihear temple in case the Thai yellow shirt protesters illegally cross the border to cause problems," Chhum Socheat said.

"We will order our forces to prevent them from entering. We don't want bloodshed to happen, but if they don't listen to us, we will use our self-defence measures."

Cambodia to export chopsticks to Japan next year+

Sep 18, 2009

PHNOM PENH, Sept. 18 (AP) - (Kyodo)—Cambodia plans to export chopsticks to Japan early next year to meet the demands of Japanese markets, a local company representative said Friday.

Chan Sophal, president of Green Field Cambodia Co., said he signed an agreement Tuesday with Hashiya Co. of Japan to produce and export chopsticks to Japan beginning early next year.

Sophal said his five-hectare factory for the chopsticks is in Kompong Speu province about 120 kilometers west of Phnom Penh.

According to the plan, 100,000 pairs of chopsticks will be produced per day from bamboo, rubber trees, palm trees and acacias.

The products will be exported by Hashiya, he added.

San Phiruna, director of multilateral relations department of the Commerce Ministry, said Cambodia is in a process to review other Cambodian products that could be exported to Japan.

He added the Japanese market will be Cambodia's "next destination" because Japan has given Cambodia duty-free and quota-free export status.

Thai gov't tightens security in Bangkok, Thai-Cambodian border+

Sep 18, 2009

BANGKOK, Sept. 18 (AP) - (Kyodo)—The Thai government tightened security Friday in an area of Bangkok where a security law was imposed ahead of an antigovernment rally planned for Saturday.

Several hundred police were deployed in the Dusit section of the city, which includes Government House, the Royal Plaza and the office of the Metropolitan Police, to maintain order.

About a hundred police were also posted at the residences of Prem Tinsulanonda, president of the Privy Council, both in Bangkok and in northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima Province, after the protesters vowed to march on his residences.

Prem has been accused by supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of being behind the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin.

According to army spokesman Sansern Kaewkumnerd, up to 7,000 unarmed police, soldiers and civilian officers will be deployed in the restricted areas to deal with an expected 30,000 protesters.

The operation is to be led by the police with the other personnel under their direction.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thuagsuban said, "We don't want to see people's blood, but if the situation is out of control, I have full authority to use an emergency decree."

Suthep will be in charge of rally precautions again while Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva attends the U.N. General Assembly and the G-20 Summit in United States from Sept. 22-27.

The Thaksin supporters have set the Royal Plaza as the site for their rally Saturday against Abhisit and his coalition government.

The rally is also to mark the third anniversary of the coup that toppled Thaksin.

In addition, Thai troops at the Thai-Cambodian border also tightened security to deal with the People's Alliance for Democracy, an anti- Thaksin group that has been protesting in the border areas since Thursday calling for Cambodian soldiers and villagers to leave a disputed part of the border.

PAD vowed to move into 4.6 square kilometers of land that is claimed by both Thailand and Cambodia.

Cambodia earlier this week accused Thai soldiers of burning a 16-year- old Cambodian boy alive after he was detained for illegal logging in the border area.

The Thai military has denied the charge.

The Thai-Cambodia border area has been the site of heightened tension since July last year when Cambodia detained three Thais in a disputed area near Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple, itself at the center of a bitter 50-year dispute.

Thailand occupied the area of the temple in 1949 when Cambodia was a French protectorate, but Cambodia won possession through an International Court of Justice ruling in 1962 and then got World Heritage recognition for it last year, touching off the latest border dispute.

Govt asks Telecom Cambodia to prepare IPO

Friday, 18 September 2009

Cambodian incumbent fixed line operator Telecom Cambodia (TC) has been asked by the Ministry of Finance to prepare to list on the Cambodian Stock Exchange, reports local daily the Phnom Penh Post. According to the report, TC and two other state-owned firms received letters in May instructing them to prepare an initial public offering (IPO), but have since said they would only do so reluctantly. Director general of TC, Lao Sareoun, said he was worried the listing would interfere with the state-owned telco’s business operations, as it lacked the human resources needed to prepare an IPO. He added that the company met listing requirements in terms of financial performance and governance transparency, but warned that it may not be ready to list until the end of next year. Originally planned to launch on 9 September 2009, Ministry of Finance officials hope to open the exchange by the end of the year, but have acknowledged that the launch would depend on the readiness of the three state-owned enterprises earmarked to be the first to join.

Thai army chief rules out new coup

Anupong Paojinda said he feared troublemakers would try to incite clashes between protesters and police at the rally

Thousands of troops and police took up positions in Bangkok ahead of the rally

By Boonradom Chitradon (AFP)

BANGKOK — Thailand's army chief denied Friday that the military was about to stage a coup, as tensions rose ahead of protests for the third anniversary of a putsch that ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Thousands of troops and police took up positions in Bangkok ahead of Saturday's rally by the pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" movement, which wants embattled current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to step down and call elections.

Abhisit is heading to New York at the weekend for the UN General Assembly -- and it was while billionaire Thaksin was out of the country to attend the same event that the military overthrew him in 2006.

"I can reassure everyone that there will be no coup. Absolutely no coup," army chief General Anupong Paojinda told reporters.

"To stage a coup is a big issue for the country and its repercussions would affect everybody. It's not something that anyone wants to do and it would not be in the interest of the country."

The last time he denied that the army was about to intervene in politics was in December when the previous government, led by Thaksin's allies, was trying to end a blockade of Bangkok's airports by the royalist "Yellow Shirt" group.

Anupong, however, disobeyed government orders to crush the airport protests, and within days the fatally weakened administration had been toppled by a court ruling that cleared the way for Abhisit to come to power.

Abhisit's government itself is now on edge, caught in a rift with coalition partners over the choice of a new police chief and keen to avoid a repeat of angry Red Shirt protests in April which left two dead and scores injured.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban warned that if Saturday's protests become violent the government would impose emergency rule, as it did in Bangkok during the riots earlier this year.

"If the normal law cannot cope and the situation is out of control, I will declare a state of emergency," said Suthep, who will be acting prime minister in Abhisit's absence.

Dozens of soldiers armed with riot gear set up barbed wire and concrete blast walls on Friday outside Government House, where Abhisit's offices are located, AFP correspondents said.

Others were posted outside the house of Prem Tinsulanonda, the chief advisor to Thailand's widely revered king. Prem is accused by the Red Shirts of masterminding the coup against Thaksin.

A total of more than 9,000 army, navy and air force personnel along with police would be mobilised for the coup anniversary protests, army spokesman Colonel Sunsern Kaewkumnerd told AFP.

Crowd control measures would start with negotiations, and then proceed to pushing back protesters, arresting leaders, using water cannon and tear gas and finally, shooting rubber bullets if necessary, he said.

Army chief Anupong said he feared that troublemakers would try to incite clashes between protesters and police.

"What we worry about is the acts of ill-intentioned people. That's why I have given orders that troops and police will not use weapons and ammunition or any explosive devices," he said.

Troops fired into the air during the Red Shirt riots five months ago, when Thaksin supporters stormed a major Asian summit in the seaside resort of Pattaya and then rampaged through Bangkok.

Authorities expected around 30,000 protesters from around the country to turn up on Saturday and then disperse around midnight, deputy government spokesman Watchara Kanikar said.

"They cannot mobilise a large number of protesters because of rifts among their leaders," he told reporters.

Twice-elected Thaksin is living in exile to avoid a jail term for corruption. He remains popular in Thailand's rural areas, but is still loathed by the Bangkok-based power centres in the palace, military and bureaucracy.

Thai-Cambodia temple row flares up

Thai-Cambodian tensions simmer over ownership of land on which Preah Vihar temple sits [Reuters]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cambodia and Thailand have sent riot police to a disputed border area in advance of a weekend rally by Thai protesters.

They plan to hold a demonstration over the Preah Vihear temple near the land that is claimed by both countries.

Cambodia says it will attack anyone who crosses into its territory.

Tensions over the temple's ownership heated up last year when the UN cultural agency approved Cambodia's bid to have Preah Vihear named a World Heritage Site.

The move sparked isolated clashes between the two countries' border guards.

The Thai protesters blame current and past governments for failing to protect Thai land and national sovereignty, reviving an issue that has increased nationalist sentiment on both sides of the border.

Cambodian soldiers have been ordered not to allow any spill over of the rally across the border, said Chhum Socheat, the defence ministry spokesman told the Associated Press.

"We have ordered our forces not to allow any Thai protesters to enter even one centimetre onto our side. Once they enter Cambodian territory, our forces will quickly crack down," he said.

Riot police mobilised

About 50 Cambodian riot police were sent to the border on Wednesday, along with a special canine unit used for crowd control, to assist soldiers, according to General Kieth Chantharith, a national police spokesman.

At least 200 Thai police will be deployed on the Thai side and checkpoints have been set up to prevent protesters from reaching disputed territory, Viboonsak Neepan, the Thai commander in the area, told reporters.

Tensions over temple ownership rose last year when Unesco, the UN cultural agency, approved Cambodia's bid to have Preah Vihear named a World Heritage Site.

Thailand initially supported the bid but then reneged after the move sparked outrage and protests.

Both sides rushed troops to the border, which resulted in several small gunbattles.

The World Court awarded the temple to Cambodia in 1962, but sovereignty over the surrounding land has never been clearly resolved.

Cambodia and Thailand share an 800km land border, part of which has never been clearly demarcated because each country relies on different maps.

Are we there yet?

Photo by: Heng Chivoan

The streets around Wat Phnom teem with traffic as Cambodians begin their annual exodus from the capital to their hometowns ahead of this weekend's Pchum Ben holiday, when they will spend time with family and make offerings to their ancestors. An estimated 800,000 vehicles from the capital are expected to clog the Kingdom's roads.

KRT ends evidence phase in Duch trial

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:04 Robbie Corey-Boulet and Cheang Sokha

THE Khmer Rouge tribunal concluded its hearing of evidence in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, commandant of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison where thousands were tortured and consigned to execution.

“I would like to declare the adjournment to this morning’s proceedings now,” chief Judge Nil Nonn told the court, officially ending testimony.

Since the substantive portion of the trial began March 30, the tribunal has heard testimony from seven character witnesses, nine expert witnesses, 17 fact witnesses and 22 civil parties, with 23,742 visitors having observed the tribunal from the public gallery, a statement from the tribunal said.

With testimony and evidence presentation having come to an end, any further hearings prior to the start of the tribunal’s closing arguments on November 23 “will be only related to the evidence submitted [Wednesday] and [Thursday]”, UN court spokesman Lars Olsen said Thursday.

Sitting calmly in the dock, Duch has largely cooperated with the court, offering his comments as officials traced how he took part in the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power and then oversaw Tuol Sleng with brutal efficiency.

“I think the fact that you had a very articulate defendant made this a very meaningful case for the people of Cambodia,” said Heather Ryan, who monitors the court for the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Also Thursday, the National Audit Authority chairman officially became independent counsellor at the tribunal, a role created in part to field corruption complaints, Olsen said.

The government and the UN announced the appointment of Uth Chhorn last month, more than two years after allegations first surfaced that tribunal employees had been forced to turn over a percentage of their salaries to their superiors.

A joint press release dated August 11 hailed the appointment as “a further step to help strengthen the human resources management in the entire [tribunal] administration, including anti-corruption measures, to ensure the requirements of due process of law”.

But the release did not describe the specific ways in which Uth Chhorn would be empowered to resolve complaints.

Uth Chhorn declined to comment Thursday in advance of a press conference scheduled for Wednesday.

Also Thursday, Civil Parties Group 3 filed an additional reparations brief to go along with the joint submission from all four civil party groups.

Lawyer Moch Sovannary told the Post: “My group fully associates itself to the important joint submission filed today by all the civil party lawyers. In addition, my group is also filing today a separate additional brief requesting the [Trial Chamber] to preserve the memory of the victims who disappeared at S-21 and aimed at making sure that these tragedies and sufferings do not occur again in my country”.


Police, army ready for PAD temple protest

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:03 Vong Sokheng and Cheang Sokha

FIFTY riot police officers and dogs have been deployed at the border close to Preah Vihear temple to ensure that a planned demonstration by Thai protesters this weekend does not infringe on Cambodian territory, police officials have said.

The yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) has announced it will hold a rally at Preah Vihear temple Saturday, after filing a petition accusing the Thai government of negligence in allowing Cambodia to “encroach” on the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area around the ruins.

“We hope that there will not be a problem if the Thai protesters rally on their own territory, and our riot police officers are just preparing in case any incident occurs,” Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman Kirt Chantha-rith said Wednesday. “We hope that the Thai authorities will do their job well and prevent the protesters from intruding on Cambodian territory.”

As preparations for the protest gathered pace, Ministry of Defence spokesman Chhum Socheat said that he had received a military report from the border alleging that Thais living near by were being offered 1,000 baht (US$29.69) to join the PAD rally.

The protest is an echo of similar demonstrations last year that triggered a yearlong military standoff at the border. Last July, three Thai demonstrators jumped over the border fence into Cambodian territory and were arrested by Cambodian border guards, triggering the Thai movement into disputed areas around the temple.

“There are some concerns that the Thai protests could lead to violence and reignite armed conflict between the Cambodian and Thai militaries,” said Koy Kuong, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Bun Vanna, deputy chief of staff of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Brigade 8, which is stationed at the temple, said that border troops are ready to counterattack if there is an intrusion.

However, in the wake of August 24’s joint declaration marking an official end to hostilities at Preah Vihear, Thai officials have also pledged to prevent PAD protestors from jeopardising the current detente.

On Thursday, the Bangkok Post quoted Lieutenant General Wibulsak Neepan of the Thai army as saying Thai troops would be deployed from the Thai side to prevent the protesters from entering the disputed area.

Fatal Street 51 crash lands driver in court

Photo by: Philippe Hennen
Bystanders surround a car that crashed into the Walkabout Hotel and Bar at the corner of streets 51 and 174 after colliding with a tuk-tuk and several motorbikes, killing one person and injuring four others.

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

A WOMAN who police suspect was drunk when she ploughed her speeding car through the crowded sidewalks of a popular nightlife area early Wednesday, killing one person and injuring four others, is expected to appear in court today, although authorities have yet to file any charges against her, Phnom Penh Traffic Deputy Police Chief Pen Khun said Thursday.

“We have filed the case to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, but we aren’t making any primary charges,” Pen Khun said.

“We are just informing the court prosecutor that she had been drinking alcohol while driving and was speeding.”

Chuon Saveth, 28, allegedly mowed down four motorbikes and a tuk-tuk, fatally injuring its driver, before slamming her Corolla into the Walkabout Hotel and Bar on Street 51.

Pen Khun identified the tuk-tuk driver as Thai Hour, 55, who later died after he was brought to Calmette Hospital. One witness, who did not wish to be named, said he thought the driver was “deeply drunk”.

“She was driving very fast … and ran down four or five bikes and another tuk-tuk.” The witness claimed the woman tried to drive away from the scene of the crash, but was stopped by bystanders, who physically restrained and “beat her” until police arrived.

Father of burn victim rejects Thai denials

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:03 Thet Sambath

Bullet lodged in bystander could shed light on case

AS Cambodia continued to wait for an official Thai diplomatic response in the case of a young man allegedly shot and then burned alive by Thai troops on the border between the two countries, the victim’s father demanded that Thai officials admit responsibility for his son’s death.

“I was angered to hear the Thai officials’ comment that their soldiers merely shot in the air. My son’s life is not something I will let them lie about or make a mockery of,” Saing Yon, father of murdered 16-year-old Yon Rith, told the Post on Thursday.

“I am still demanding that Thailand make a public admission. I do not need compensation – I want those responsible to be punished.”

Yon Rith was allegedly shot and burned alive last Friday. Fellow villager Mao Kleung was also shot but survived and is recovering in an Oddar Meanchey province hospital. Ten other Cambodians escaped unharmed from the confrontation with the Thai soldiers.

Srey Naren, Oddar Meanchey provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said that the bullet still lodged inside of Mao Kleung will shed light on the role of Thai troops in last week’s incident. When doctors remove the bullet and submit it for analysis, she said, “we will have evidence to put before the Thai foreign affairs officials”.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said on Thursday that his ministry was still waiting for an official written response from the Thai side to Tuesday’s diplomatic note.

“They have to answer because this is a very serious issue. If they do not respond, it means they accept responsibility [for the incident],” Koy Kuong said.

The Bangkok Post reported on Wednesday that Vimon Kidchob, spokeswoman for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied the allegations against the Thai soldiers.

On Thursday, however, an official from the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Post in an email that his government was not ready to make an official statement.

Myanmar, Thai men detained in S'Ville

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:03 Khouth Sophakchakrya

Men say owners kept them at sea for two years

TWO Thai and one Myanmarese fishermen have been arrested in Preah Sihanouk province on suspicion of illegally entering Cambodian waters after escaping from a Thai boat on which, they said, they were mistreated.

Provincial police Chief Tak Vanntha said Thursday that the men were on Phuluvai Island when found by naval police on September 1.

The Thai fishermen were identified as Aphiwadd Khavivong, 25, from Thailand’s Ayutthaya province, and Manop Kesaro, 57, from Samutprakan province. The third man, Nai Yawaddy, 25, is a citizen of Myanmar.

The men said they were working on a Thai fishing boat but decided to abandon ship and swim to the island due to poor onboard working conditions and mistreatment.

“Our passports and identity cards were taken by the fishing boat owner, and they forced us to work from 16 to 18 hours a day. The boat did not dock for about two years,” Aphiwadd Khavivong told police last week.

The men are being detained at the provincial police station and have been supplied with food and medicine while awaiting a decision from the police regarding their return to their respective home countries.

“This is a fine act of humanitarianism done by our police,” said Ny Chakrya, head investigation officer at the local rights group Adhoc.

“We should contact their ambassadors in Cambodia so we can send them back home.”

Local man faces child sex charge

Accused paedophile Phong Thanakorn in detention at Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Photo Supplied

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:03 Chrann Chamroeun

Arrest of Cambodian for abusing three boys a rare event for anti-trafficking police

ACAMBODIAN man has confessed to sexually abusing three underage boys in a case that observers say is a rare example of a local man being tried for child exploitation.

Phong Thanakorn, 47, is charged with committing indecent acts against the boys, aged 14 and 15. He was arrested in April this year following complaints from the victims’ parents.

Prosecutors and anti-exploitation advocates say Phong Thanakorn twice lured the boys from Phnom Penh’s riverside area to his guesthouse in Tonle Bassac commune.

After first denying the charges in a hearing at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday, Phong Thanakorn admitted that he abused the boys by touching their genitals. He said he didn’t believe at the time he was doing anything wrong.

“I really touched the three boys’ genitals, but I thought it was normal because we are the same sex,” he said.

Phong Thanakorn said he paid the boys US$5 to $10 each time for a “massage”.

Samleang Seila, country director of the NGO Action Pour Les Enfants (APLE), said Phong Thanakorn had been on his organisation’s radar for two weeks. Staff members became suspicious after seeing the man interacting closely with the boys.

Samleang Seila said the man tried to persuade the parents to allow their children to leave with him unaccompanied, telling them he was the director of an orphanage who could give the boys study materials.

Instead, Samleang Seila said, the man brought the boys back to his guesthouse.

The case follows a number of child sexual abuse convictions of foreign men in recent months, including French national Jacques Bernard Rene Collinet, 61, who on Tuesday was sentenced to three years in prison.

The prosecution of local men accused of child sexual abuse is much more unusual, Samleang Seila said.

“It is a very rare case to have Cambodian men accused of indecent acts relating to underage boys, but we have experienced two similar cases in Sihanoukville,” he said.

The nationalities may vary, but the operating methods don’t change, Samleang Seila said.

“The Cambodian paedophile and the foreign paedophile’s tactics are similar, using money and generosity to lure children,” he said.

According to statistics APLE has compiled, 12 foreigners and one Cambodian were arrested for crimes related to child sexual exploitation in 2008, with eight of the foreigners eventually convicted. In 2009, 21 foreigners and three Cambodians were arrested. Seven foreigners have been convicted.

None of the Cambodians were convicted in either year, but the cases are still in the court system, according to APLE.

Under Cambodian law, Phong Thanakorn faces a prison term of one to three years and a fine of between 2 million and 6 million riels (US$481-US$1,444) if convicted.

No date has been set for a verdict announcement.

APLE lawyer Peng Maneth, who represents Phong Thanakom’s three alleged victims, said one of the boys has since died. He said he did not know whether the boy’s death was related to his being abused.

Peng Maneth said the boys’ parents are asking for compensation of US$5,000 each.

Festival feeds into a tradition

Photo by: Sovan Philong
A woman offers food to monks at Wat Lanka as part of the traditional 15-day festival of Pchum Ben.

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:03 Jet Odrerir

With such wealth of traditional home-cooked Khmer fare available, god forbid you should offer the ghosts of your ancestors junk food for Pchum Ben

IT’S 4am – in the middle of a dream. Clanging, calling, clanging and calling: “Come and eat!”

Cambodia’s most famous king, Jayavarman VII, started the holiday of Pchum Ben in commemoration of the warriors who died during the great boat battles with the Cham in Siem Reap.

Centuries later, it has shifted to a remembrance of family ancestors. And just like those long-lost warriors, they need some nourishment.

The food, of course, will have to be to Khmer tastes. My friend Chab Kunn says even ghosts would wrinkle their noses at foreign foods, and god forbid you try to give them junk food. It’s only the good old family recipes that will satisfy.

Only a few traditional dishes are offered up to ancestors during Pchum Ben.

Chop chai soup, made with pork, vegetables and pork skin, is one of the essential dishes.

I asked Chab Kunn what kind of vegetables and he said: “All kinds. Whatever they grow in their province.” It reminds me of the old family recipes cooked up at Christmas by my family in the States.

“There are different styles, but they are all Cambodian,” he says.

Pork with fried noodles is the other main fixture on the festive menu. Other dishes include chicken or fish fried with ginger, and roast chicken.

“If people have a house, they have chickens,” he says.

Photo by: Sovan Philong
Left: Nom ahnsahm. Right: Mi sour

The women prepare the dishes, and they are stacked in a bunto – the cylindrical lunch box – and brought to the pagoda to be offered up to the monks.

Some people start cooking and sending in food to the pagoda 15 days before the day of Pchum Ben. However, most will prepare two or three days beforehand.

The mass of food can’t all be eaten by the monks, so it is also a time for giving.

Monks will arrange for food to be sent to troops who can’t get back to their home provinces, and the poor will go to the pagodas to ask for food from the monks.

With people returning to their home province for this holiday, food is being cooked up for their families as well.

This is a special time for city folk to eat the clean country food not found in the cities.

Kunn tells me: “The strong chickens in the countryside are much tastier. They haven’t been pumped up with water like city chickens. And the fish are better, too. They grow up in the rice fields only in the rainy season and have only clean food to eat.”

Then there are the cakes. There are traditionally four kinds of cakes made for Pchum Ben, but two are most prominent.

In keeping with the Hindu and Buddhist faiths, a holiday for the dead should have some symbols of renewal present.

The nom ahnsahm is a linga-shaped cake made with a layer of sticky rice laid in a banana leaf with spread of bean and pork lard. Traditionally, the leaf is wrapped into a roll and the phallic cake tied with the fibre of the banana tree “trunk” and steamed in a large pan.

Nom gkohm starts with a rice flour dough placed into a banana leaf in an oval shape.

It is filled with sesame seeds, red bean paste, palm sugar, peanut and coconut, and also steamed in a large pan and resembles a yoni when finished.

The other two cakes, are nom jaik, which is a banana wrapped in sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled, and nom tmei, which is the same as nom gkohm but without the red bean paste.

These two linga and yoni cakes are not as prevalent.

The cakes will be made up ahead of time and hung on the wall. They are usually eaten for breakfast after being grilled for a few minutes.

But why was I woken at 4am? Bai ben, the rice offering where people throw rice around the pagoda to start things off.

A time to reconnect, a time for renewal – a time to eat.

This is a special time for city folk to eat the clean country food not found in the cities.

Kunn tells me: “The strong chickens in the countryside are much tastier. They haven’t been pumped up with water like city chickens. And the fish are better, too. They grow up in the rice fields only in the rainy season and have only clean food to eat.”

Then there are the cakes. There are traditionally four kinds of cakes made for Pchum Ben, but two are most prominent.

In keeping with the Hindu and Buddhist faiths, a holiday for the dead should have some symbols of renewal present.

The nom ahnsahm is a linga-shaped cake made with a layer of sticky rice laid in a banana leaf with spread of bean and pork lard. Traditionally, the leaf is wrapped into a roll and the phallic cake tied with the fibre of the banana tree “trunk” and steamed in a large pan.

Nom gkohm starts with a rice flour dough placed into a banana leaf in an oval shape.

It is filled with sesame seeds, red bean paste, palm sugar, peanut and coconut, and also steamed in a large pan and resembles a yoni when finished.

The other two cakes, are nom jaik, which is a banana wrapped in sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf and boiled, and nom tmei, which is the same as nom gkohm but without the red bean paste.

These two linga and yoni cakes are not as prevalent.

The cakes will be made up ahead of time and hung on the wall. They are usually eaten for breakfast after being grilled for a few minutes.

But why was I woken at 4am? Bai ben, the rice offering where people throw rice around the pagoda to start things off.

A time to reconnect, a time for renewal – a time to eat.

BACKGROUND: A history of Pchum Ben

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:02 Ou Mom

WHAT does Pchum Ben Festival mean in Buddhism? In the Khmer language, Pchum or Brochum means “a meeting or gathering”. Ben means “a ball of something”, such as rice or meat. The Pchum Ben festival originated in the Angkorian era when people followed animism, before Brahma or Buddhism.

Both Buddhism and animism reflect Khmer respect and remembrance for their ancestors.
Pchum Ben is also a convenient way for Buddhist monks to receive food during the heaviest part of the rainy season while they stay in the pagodas to follow their moral principles.

The first 14 days of the Khmer month Pheakta Bot are called Kan Ben (“observed celebration”). The 15th day is called Brochum Ben or Pchum Ben Day. During Kan Ben, people give Buddhist monks gifts of food and candles. At night Buddhist monks recite a protective prayer. Cambodian artists play traditional music such as yike and lakhon basac. Pchum Ben Day is the biggest celebration. Villagers come from all around to prepare the pagoda of their village the night before the celebration. Pchum Ben is when the villagers gather to celebrate in their villages.

The scriptures relating to the festival are complex, but the first scripture involves the five Buddhas negotiating with hungry ghosts. In the second scripture, from Pet Vuto (Monks’ Governor), the King’s servants and soldiers were commanded to make war. On the ship at night, they met ghosts who were hungry. The servants and soldiers asked: “How can we get food to you?” The ghosts said: “You can offer the food to the person among you who has the five moral conducts or eight moral conducts, and invoke our names.” The third and fourth scriptures say that in the first 15 days of Pheakta Both, the heaviest rainy period, the devil releases the ghosts to find their relatives to receive food.

There are four kinds of ghosts: those eating pus and blood, burning ghosts who are always hot, hungery ghosts and the Pakrakteaktopak Chivi, who can receive food through the monks. The others cannot receive food from their relatives until their sins are reduced to the level of Pakrakteaktopak Chivi.

What is bay ben?
Bay ben (balls of rice) are offered to ghosts at dawn. People believe ghosts with heavy sins cannot receive food during the day. Bay ben is made from sticky rice and sesame. Sometimes people add coconut cream to make it more delicious. Buddhist Institute consultant Miech Ponn said he thinks bay ben should be put on a plate. “Getting rice to the poor, people also can get more merit than only giving it to ants,” Miech Ponn said.

Is throwing away ben rice in the right spirit?

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:02 Tep Nimol

IN pagodas around Phnom Penh on Saturday and Sunday, young people will crowd together before dawn to throw away basketfuls of rice.

It is a tradition that is becoming a form of entertainment for many of these youngsters.

But questions are being raised about the merit of the kan ben or boh bai ben tradition (throwing away the ben rice) at a time when so many villagers are struggling to yield a rice harvest.

Hundreds of Buddhists throw away the bai ben (ben rice) at temple buildings or pagodas during Pchum Ben, believing it gives evil spirits the chance to eat, giving merit to their living relatives.

But 78-year-old Miech Ponn, a consultant of Khmer Customs Discussion Group of the Buddhist Institute, says the rice should be given to beggars and the poor rather than just thrown away.


Miech Ponn said most Khmer people did not understand the reasons behind the celebration, which reduced it to simply a waste of rice.

“Throwing bai ben is not a religious ceremony, but it is just a tradition,” Miech Ponn said, adding that the tradition should be updated. “Some baskets should be arranged for bai ben to be thrown into, and no longer scattered in a disorderly manner or hurled at each other,” he said.

“This will help save food at a time when the world is facing food shortages.”

Vong Sophorn, a monk from Wat Ounalom, said he expected many youths to crowd the pagoda before dawn to throw the rice.

“I also think it is a waste of rice, and it spoils the pagoda compound too,” he said.

“Some bad boys take this chance to touch girls, and some steal things or money while they are pushing each other in the crowd.”

Meas Chanthorn from Peal Nhaek Pir village in Pursat province agreed the rice was thrown uselessly.

“I really regret to see that bai ben is thrown away like that when my villagers and I hardly harvested anything this year because of the lack of rainfall at the beginning of the year,” Meas Chanthorn said.

He said most young adults did not think about merit, but just used the event as a chance to play with each other.

“I think that if they donate the rice to the poor or hungry people, they will receive more and better blessings than giving the rice to the evil spirits.”

Ly Hong, who lives in Phnom Penh, said in his home town in Prey Veng province, people never threw away rice. They put it in dish in the corners of the temple and asked the monk to pray.

“They keep the bay ben clean and then they eat it,” Ly Hong said. “They do not just throw it away like Phnom Penh people.”

But the head of Phnom Penh’s Wat Sampov Meas, Kang Nameamy, said the celebration was important for Cambodians. “They believe that the clean bay ben cannot be dedicated to evil spirits,” he said. “Evil spirits have too much sin to receive clean rice. They can accept only dirty rice.”

An Sim from Lvea Em district in Kandal province said the rice could not be put in a basket or on a pedestal because evil spirits could not accept it. But An Sim said those throwing rice should follow the instructions of the clergymen.

SRP to honour victims of 1997 grenade attack

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:02 Meas Sokchea

THE Kingdom’s main opposition party has invited monks to a special ceremony today to honour Cambodians who sacrificed their lives fighting for political freedom.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker and Secretary General Ke Sovannroth said the party planned to gather 200 people for the ceremony in which 12 monks will be invited to pray for the dead. She said the SRP holds a similar ceremony every year. “We hold this ceremony every year, both on March 30 and on Pchum Ben day,” Ke Sovannroth said.

On March 30, 1997, at least 16 people were killed and another 100 injured during an opposition-led demonstration in front of the former National Assembly building. Four grenades were thrown into a crowd. No one has ever been held responsible or punished by the Cambodian justice system for the crimes.

“The ceremony … is to remind people to be grateful for [the victims’] patriotism, because they sacrificed their lives to demand freedom and democracy,” Ke Sovannroth said.

“We want politicians not to forget those who struggled for freedom and justice.”

Government officials said they would not interfere with the ceremony. Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said: “Our obligation is to uphold the law, strengthen public discipline and find killers.”

Earlier this year, the NGO Human Rights Watch criticised the fact that no one has ever been brought to trial for the fatal 1997 attack. A spokesman called it an “open wound in Cambodia”.

Heritage body planned

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Visitors view exhibits at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum on Wednesday

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:02 Kim Yuthana

Officials to create UNESCO-affiliated preservation committee.

OFFICIALS from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said they plan to establish a UNESCO-affiliated committee to preserve documentary information about Cambodia, after the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Archives were officially inscribed into UNESCO’s Memory of the World register last week.

At a Memory of the World Programme workshop held in Phnom Penh on Thursday, Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Him Chhem said the government hopes to expand its preservation efforts through the new heritage body.

“Our next step is to think of arranging and establishing the National Committee for World Memory like what other countries have already done, in order to further investigate documentary heritage in Cambodia and ensure the protection and preservation of all archives,” he said.

Launched in 1992, the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme promotes the safeguarding of historical archives and collections around the world.

National Committees for World Memory exist in 64 countries and are responsible for implementing the strategies of the broader UNESCO programme.

Teruo Jinnai, president of UNESCO’s Phnom Penh office, said it was likely the committee would be created soon.

The next international meeting of the Committees for World Memory will be held in Macau in July of 2010, he said.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Archives include documents and photographs depicting the fate of the more than 15,000 prisoners held in the compound between 1975 and 1979, during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

The archives consist of 4,186 confessions, 6,226 biographies of prisoners and 6,147 photographic prints and negatives of prisoners, demolished buildings, research activities, mass graves and remains of victims.

These archives, experts say, constitute the most complete existing documentary picture of the prison system under Democratic Kampuchea, a fundamental part of the regime under which an estimated 2 million people (roughly a quarter of the population) lost their lives during a period of three years, eight months and 20 days.

Police Blotter: 18 Sep 2009

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:01 Chhay Channyda

Man, cows perish in lightning strike
A man and two cows died after being struck by lightning on Monday in Kampong Thom province’s Sandan district. District police said that Ban Vy, 25, was hit while he was riding his ox cart from the rice field to his home in Tum Or village.

Cops seize pills in siem reap RAID
Two men were arrested in Siem Reap town for drug trafficking on Tuesday, with police seizing over 1,700 methamphetamine pills. Provincial anti-drug trafficking police said Sok Ly, 40, of Phnom Penh, and Lim Sok Chea, 40, worked as watch repairers in Siem Reap. He said that before the arrest, police posed as drug buyers and prompted the suspects to reveal their stash.

More robbers find their way to jail
Three men were arrested in Meanchey district in Phnom Penh on Tuesday for beating and robbing a group as they left a restaurant. Chhbar Ampov 2 commune police said that the three men used knives to cut at least three victims, robbing them of more than US$800. Police said that victims were on the way home from a restaurant and met the three suspects. The suspects said they did not take any money from the victims, but that they did cut them. Police did not find money in the suspects’ pockets.

Mobile bandits roll into prison
Three men have been arrested for faking a traffic accident to steal nearly US$2,000 from an unsuspecting motorist, police said. The three were arrested in Tuol Sangke commune, in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district, on Wednesday. Police said the crooks’ methods were unconventional, adding that the victim was riding his motorbike with his child when the suspects crashed into him. There was an argument, and one of the suspects took the victim’s wallet and gave it to his associates who were waiting on another motorbike. The wallet was taken immediately and police followed.

Traffic crackdown ends

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:02 Khoun Leakhana

POLICE have declared a monthlong crackdown on vehicles violating traffic laws a complete success.

On August 1, authorities across the Kingdom stepped up efforts to clamp down on illegal vehicles by confiscating cars and motorcycles that failed to comply with traffic laws. Previously, the owners of such vehicles faced nothing more than a fine.

This week, the confiscation campaign drew to a close and police returned to the original fining scheme.

Him Yan, deputy director of the Department of Public Order of the National Police Station, said: “We notice that our [confiscation] campaign has been very successful because nearly 90 percent of the population now understand and abide by the traffic laws. So we think it is time we started fining [again].”

“For motorbikes, we fine 3,000 riels [$0.72] for not having a helmet; 4,000 riels for not having side mirrors and 5,000 riels for overloading. For autos, we fine 5,000 riels for not wearing seatbelts,” he said.

He added that a fine would double if it was not paid within 30 days; triple if not paid within 60 days; and if it remained unpaid after 90 days, the offender would be sent to court.

For motorcycle traffic violations alone, police collect 3 million riels in fines per day, he said.

Cambodia, Thailand agree to deal on traffic

Travellers on the Thai-Cambodian border prepare to cross over to Poipet early last month. The two countries have signed an agreement on transshipping, it was announced Thursday in Phnom Penh.

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:01 Nathan Green

Border-crossing agreement announced Thursday would see daily exchange of trucks in bid to minimise trade obstacles

CAMBODIA and Thailand signed a memorandum of understanding on the exchange of traffic rights Thursday in an effort to boost trade and tourism links between the two countries.

The agreement, which was signed by Cambodia’s Minister of Public Works and Transport Tram Iv Tek and Virachai Virameteekul, a minister attached to the Thai prime minister’s office, will allow a daily quota of trucks to cross the border without having to unload cargo and reload to a second truck on the other side.

Forty trucks from each side would initially be allowed to cross daily, but the quota is expected to be raised progressively.

It was signed on the sidelines of the Second Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Corridors Forum in Phnom Penh, a meeting of ministers from the six countries through which the Mekong River flows.

Arjun Goswami, head of the Southeast Asia Regional Cooperation Group for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which brokered the deal, said it was an important step in boosting trade between the two ASEAN neighbours.

“It will save time; it will increase the speed at which trade can take place,” he said.

Trucks would still need to clear customs under the agreement, and Goswami acknowledged that customs processes at the Poipet border with Thailand still had room for improvement.

“Trade facilitation is an issue for the whole of the GMS; it’s not an issue that’s location-specific to Poipet or location-specific to Bavet,” he said, referring to Cambodia’s major border crossings with Thailand and Vietnam, respectively. “That requires additional work by customs authorities throughout the GMS and by other agencies that are at the borders, and we are focusing a lot of effort in that area. The countries themselves recognise that this is a key issue.”

The memorandum is part of efforts on the Cross-Border Transport Agreement (CBTA), which was signed by the member countries of the GMS – Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – in 1999 as a framework for streamlining intraregional trade.

In the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index for 2008 and 2009, Cambodia was ranked last among countries in Southeast Asia in terms of its customs burden, showing it has much work to do to catch up with its regional neighbours.

Slow progress
Arjun Thapan, the ADB’s director general for Southeast Asia, told the Post in June that progress on the Cross-Border Transport Agreement was “very much” behind schedule in the GMS, singling out talks between Cambodia and Thailand as a major sticking point, particularly when compared to negotiations with Vietnam.

Cambodia and Vietnam signed an agreement on the exchange of traffic rights in May this year with an initial quota of 40 trucks per day allowed to cross without unloading. That has since been increased to 150, but Thapan said Wednesday that the border crossing at Bavet was an example of how countries could work together to boost trade.

The site had been chosen as one of five border-crossing pilot sites by GMS members to get the CBTA working, he said. Between 2003 and 2006, the value of goods moved through the crossing grew 41 percent each year, and the number of people crossing grew 53 percent. The time it took to travel to Bavet from Phnom Penh along National Highway 1 was also reduced 30 percent over the period.

“Urban development along … [National Road 1] happened because there is life there, there is economic activity,” Thapan said, adding that the economic corridors could double or quadruple intraregional trade.

Kingdom, Philippines to set up air routes

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:01 May Kunmakara

CAMBODIA and the Philippines signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday towards allowing direct flights between the two countries, a State Secretariat of Civil Aviation official told the Post Thursday.

“Wednesday’s MoU opens our skies to direct flights from the Philippines. This will be good for our tourism sector," said SSCA Cabinet Chief Long Chheng.

He said that the Philippines’ proposal would open seven weekly flights from Manila to Phnom Penh, 14 flights a week from Clark to Phnom Penh, plus 14 weekly flights to the capital from elsewhere in the Philippines.

“We have not reached a decision on their request yet because we still have to review the possible routes,” said Long Chheng. “I hope that both governments will reach an Air Service Agreement by the end of the year.”

So far in 2009, Cambodia has signed four agreements on direct flights: with Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and now the Philippines. Feasibility studies leading up to the pact have been jointly conducted by Cambodia and the Philippines since 2007.

Kong Sophearak, director general of statistics for the Tourism Ministry, said that his ministry had long been advocating the much-awaited deal as part of a broad effort to draw larger numbers of tourists from regional countries to Cambodia.

“Recently we’ve seen the number of tourists visiting our country from the Philippines increase year on year,” Kong Sophearak said, adding that since both countries are ASEAN members, their citizens do not require visas.

FAO set to launch silk initiative

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:01 Steve Finch

THE UN’s Food and Agricultural Agency announced Thursday the launch of a US$475,000 programme with the government aimed at assisting Cambodia’s struggling silk sector.

The money will be spent on a silkworm egg-production centre, the location for which is still to be determined, the FAO’s country representative Ajay Markanday said Thursday. The FAO has not yet set a time frame for the initiative, which he described as a “pilot exercise”.

Seven demonstration farms will also be established in Kampong Speu, Takeo, Kampot, Kampong Cham, Kratie, Pursat, Siem Reap and Banteay Meanchey provinces, displaying new techniques for silkworm-rearing, an FAO press statement said. Agriculture ministry officials will be trained under the programme, it added.

“Silk is very important for [the Cambodian] rural economy, and poverty reduction, because it generates higher value-added than general crops such as rice,” said Markanday.

Domestic demand for silk is estimated at 400 tonnes per year, the FAO said, but less than 5 tonnes is produced annually, with the shortfall imported from China and Vietnam.

ABA banking on future expansion

Photo by: Tracey Shelton
ABA CEO Madi Akmambet says that despite the impact of the global economic crisis on Cambodian lenders, the bank expects to reduce bad-loan rates by the end of 2009.

[THE] top four is a stable group, and we realise that they will ... be major players.

Friday, 18 September 2009 15:00 Nathan Green

Despite a crowded banking sector, Advance Bank of Asia CEO Madi Akmambet says his bank can compete with the largest lenders in Cambodia as it battles to reduce non-performing loans

By Nathan Green

When Kazakhstan-based investment bank Visor Group bought Advanced Bank of Asia (ABA) in 2007, it inherited some problems in terms of its lending portfolio. What is your strategy for dealing with your non-performing loans (NPL), among the worst in Cambodia?

I wouldn’t say it’s a big problem. Of course we are facing an issue with NPLs, but every bank in Cambodia faces this issue now as a result of the global downturn and the structure of the domestic economy.

Our NPL ratio was quite high in 2007, around 25 percent, and we decreased it to around 12 to 13 percent last year. But it’s a question of economies of scale.

We had a small loan portfolio, and there were a few – and only a few – loans that could be classified as doubtful or bad loans.

We created allowances, provisioning, in accordance with National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) requirements, but this year we recovered a major part of these NPLs and expect to decrease our NPL ratio to around 7 percent.

ABA is a mid-sized lender, 15th in terms of deposits out of 24 commercial banks last year. There are now 28 banks. Can that many survive?
It’s a quite-competitive market, but it is also highly concentrated, with the top four capturing around 65 percent of market share, in terms of total assets.

This top four is a stable group, and we realise that they will continue to be major players, at least in the near future, but it is not so clear that all the mid-sized banks will be strong players in the market.

If you look at the results from the first seven months of this year, not all banks are growing this year; some are decreasing.

In terms of ABA’s branch network, it has expanded from one branch in 2007 to eight branches. Is it fair to say ABA has an aggressive expansion policy?
When the Visor Group bought ABA in 2007, it was a one-branch bank.

We had a strategy to develop the bank more aggressively, which we did by expanding our branch network because that is a channel to deliver our products and services to the market.

We will continue this strategy, and in the most optimistic scenario we will be able to open three branches per year over the next three years.

Aside from new branches, what is ABA’s strategy for growth?
Our short-term strategy is first of all to be a profitable bank.

As you can see in the NBC [2008 banking supervision] report, we had some losses last year and the year before, but that was just because of branch network expansion, the global downturn and its impact on our loan portfolio.

In the mid-term, when we have improved our key financial indicators and are growing, we will apply to be assigned by credit rating agencies, and I think we can then go to the international capital markets.

There are a lot of financial instruments, a lot of ways to attract funds. We expect also that the Cambodia Stock Exchange will be launched.

It’s always a good opportunity to be listed in any stock exchange.

So what is the bank’s long-term goal?
Over the next three or four years, say by the end of 2012, our strategy is to be recognised within the top 10 banks of Cambodia, with market share of 4 to 5 percent – our market share is now only around 1 percent.

We want to be recognised as a stable, mid-sized bank capable of offering a full range of services to Cambodian customers.

We are positioning ourselves as a universal bank, but one focusing on SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], because SMEs are the main growth driver of the economy, contributing 65 percent to GDP, 85 percent of the workforce, 93 percent of all enterprises.

Retail is the secondary priority, and we will offer new products for the retail sector.

The corporate sector is still a priority, but we are focusing on being selective, taking a target market approach.

How do you plan to find viable customers among SMEs?
A major part of the SME sector is the agriculture sector, which is not stable, and they sometimes have difficulty with finance.

But there are a lot of other sectors, too, including wholesale and retail trade, hotels, restaurants and other services, tourism and construction.

We are not saying we will cover all SME clients. We have our credit underwriting approach, our analysis of the credit worthiness of borrowers, and we will use and implement international practices. We will see where we can invest and where we cannot.

You are in the process of rebranding. When can we expect to see the new brand and what will it tell us about ABA?
I don’t want to give an exact date, but in the next month or so.

We will keep our name – we will still be the Advanced Bank of Asia, but we will use the short name ABA Bank in the market.

We will also become more aggressive with PR, with advertising on TV and radio and in newspapers to tell our Cambodian customers, the business community here, that yes, we can offer new products, that we can offer higher quality services.

It is not just a new name and a new logo; the rebranding has a strong foundation with some new products in the pipeline.

What products are these?
Since Visor bought this one branch bank, we have developed ABA in terms of infrastructure, we have upgraded our cost system, we have installed a card-processing centre for Visa and Mastercard.

We launched Mastercard in May this year, and we are in the process of testing and certification with Visa to launch in November or December.

We have also launched Internet banking, but we have not promoted it properly because we stopped our advertising when we began preparing the rebranding.

Our functionality will be the largest on the market; we can offer outwards remittances abroad, which other banks cannot, at least not outside of their bank network.

We also launched a new SME loan policy on the first of June, but again there was no promotion. Despite this, we have already seen demand for this product grow.

We will improve our deposit products as well, not only in terms of interest rates but also in terms of being flexible to meet client needs.

There is a lot of room to grow, to develop our product line, our client relationship services, our methods, our customer care, call centre, sales department. We are working on the whole package.