Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Officials protest building ‘swap’

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Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:05 Meas Sokchea

EMPLOYEES of the National Committee for Organising National and International Festivals (NCONIF) due to be forced from their offices today have protested the scheduled move.

The outcry followed the announcement earlier this month that their offices had been sold to local development company Pheapimex.

In a March 19 letter from Cambodian People’s Party lawyer Khiev Sebphan, workers at the NCONIF were told to vacate offices on Daun Penh district’s Sisowath Quay by today and move to the fourth floor of the General Inspectorate for the National Buddhist Education of Cambodia, the building that once housed the Foreign Ministry. Committee officials say, however, that these facilities are inadequate, with just five rooms for 57 staff members.

A committee employee who asked not to be named said Tuesday that staff members submitted a letter last Friday to NCONIF chairman Kong Sam Ol protesting the move, demanding compensation and several more weeks to prepare for the move. “It is a party matter – we have asked to delay the move until May,” said Chea Sokhom, first deputy chairman of the committee, declining to comment further on the contents of the letter.

Khiev Sebphan said workers would be granted an extra month to move, and that the relocation site could be expanded after consultations with Minister of Cults and Religions Min Khin, who helped broker the sale of the NCONIF building.

Court hearing postponed in forest shooting

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Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:05 May Titthara

A COURT hearing on complaints filed by Forestry Administration officials who say they were shot at by former soldiers when they tried to clear a protected forest area in Oddar Meanchey province was postponed Tuesday when a Siem Reap provincial court judge failed to show up for questioning.

A total of 11 officials based in Samraong were summoned for questioning, as were two RCAF soldiers accused of persuading 200 families to move to the protected area from their village 50 kilometres away.

Earlier this month, complaints were filed with the Interior Ministry and the Siem Reap court following an altercation in which members of military families living in the area allegedly opened fire on Forestry Administration officials and physically assaulted 10 of them.

“We came to appear at the court, but the provincial judges were absent because they were busy having a meeting in Phnom Penh. They should’ve confirmed with us – we have wasted our time,” said Von Buntheoun, the chief of the Forestry Administration office in Samraong town.

The case is being handled by the Siem Reap court because there is no court in Oddar Meanchey.

Siem Reap provincial court prosecutor Ty Soveinthal said the 11 officials should remain in Siem Reap until a new session is scheduled, but the officials said that they had already spent too much money on the trip and planned to return home. The judge, Keo Sok Bundith, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

The two soldiers who were summoned, Hean Sok and Kim Saruon, also did not appear and could not be reached.

The estimated 200 families who have recently moved to the protected area, which was granted protected status last June, agreed in mid-March to leave.

Beauty salon licencing drive follows skin cream fatality

Tith Thida, 16
“I used skin-whitening cream over a month ago and I didn’t have any problems. It made my skin whiter than before and I feel happy when my skin looks so white. I am not afraid of it affecting my skin or health because the shop owner told me she uses good, quality products.”

via CAAI News Media

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:06 Mom Kunthear

Parlours will be required to have documentation, but no deadline set yet, officials say.

BEAUTY salons in Phnom Penh will soon have to be licenced in order to operate, health officials said Tuesday, adding that they will begin checking next week whether local parlours have the proper documents.

The move comes after the death earlier this month of a Banteay Meanchey province woman who suffered a fatal reaction to skin-whitening cream, and also follows a stern warning from Prime Minister Hun Sen over the use of unsafe cosmetic products.

Heng Bun Keat, director of the Ministry of Health’s Food and Drug Department, said he had received a letter from ministry officials Tuesday empowering his department to oversee the licencing of all beauty salons in Phnom Penh, but that a deadline has yet to be set.

“I don’t know how many beauty salons there are in Phnom Penh or the rest of the country, but I will lead my team in determining how many in the capital have licences,” he said, adding that this is a new role for his department.

He anticipated that officials could survey all beauty salons in Phnom Penh by the end of April, and said that during the initial survey there would be no closures of shops due to the lack of licences.

“The first time we check, we won’t crack down on their business if they don’t have a licence, we will just warn them to get the licence from the ministry,” he said.

There is only one confirmed case of death ... that we know about.

According to Heng Bun Keat, the new licencing drive came about following the death of 23-year-old Chhuon Sovann, who began vomiting after she started using a skin-whitening cream on March 2.

So Lida, 30
“I’ve whitened my skin two times already, but now I’ve stopped using skin-whitening creams because I couldn’t stand the cream’s smell, and I got headaches. But it was good when I used that cream because it made my skin whiter and eliminated scars. I have to wear long clothes when I go outside because the sun makes my skin feel like its burning.”

Chhuon Sovann, who died the following Sunday after falling unconscious, had been applying Vietnamese Bao Dam-brand cream. Other Bao Dam products have been found to contain mercury.

Before her death, Hun Sen told health officials in a speech to penalise those who “cause damage to public health” by selling dangerous products or cosmetic services, and he appealed to Khmer women to protect their “natural beauty”.

“There is only one confirmed case of death from the use of skin-whitening cream that we know about,” Heng Bun Keat said Tuesday, adding, however, that there could be more deaths of which the Ministry of Health is unaware and urging customers to go only to beauty salons with licences.

“When a shop has a licence, it means their products and services are good quality,” he said.

Chheng Srey Mao, 25, the owner of Heang Ryna Beauty Shop in Phnom Penh, said Tuesday that she obtained permission from the ministry before she opened her shop, but added that she does not know what officials will come to check about next week.

“My shop has been open one year already, but I have never seen any health officials come by to check my shop,” she said.

She added that she sells skin-whitening creams to her customers and has never received a complaint, although she knows that such products can have negative impacts on her customers’ skin.

Commercial sector hit worst by Ketsana: govt

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Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:06 Tep Nimol

THE National Committee for Disaster Management on Tuesday provided a sector-by-sector breakdown of financial losses incurred as a result of Typhoon Ketsana, and renewed calls for foreign donors and NGOs to assist in the national recovery effort.

All told, the storm, which battered Cambodia last September, cost the Kingdom about US$130 million, according to updated figures presented at a workshop in Phnom Penh.

Damage to the commercial sector – which includes agriculture and industry – totalled about $60 million; damage to the housing, healthcare and education sectors totalled about $42 million, and damage to infrastructure totalled $28 million. So-called secondary sectors, including environment and public administration, sustained about $300,000 in damage, officials said.

Nhim Vanda, the NCDM’s first vice president, emphasised the importance of a speedy recovery. “Disasters will not stop. They will continue to happen,” he said. “We have to prevent, reduce and restore.”

He added: “It is necessary for foreign donors, NGOs and ministries and institutions to join hands and aid Cambodia.”

Keo Vy, deputy director of the NCDM’s communications office, said ministries had been tasked with preparing damage reports for the government, which will soon present specific aid requests to donors.

The Phnom Penh Post News in Brief

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Road Rage: General in court over shooting

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:05 Vong Sokheng

Road Rage

Ageneral in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) and his bodyguard, accused of shooting an ice seller after a traffic accident on Sunday, were sent Tuesday to Kampong Speu provincial court for questioning, which was due to continue today, Khut Sopheang, the court’s chief prosecutor said. The hearing was held despite the fact that the victim’s family accepted compensation in exchange for not filing a complaint. Brigadier General Soy Narith and his bodyguard were arrested Sunday for allegedly shooting Kong Kon, 32, in the neck after the victim’s ice cart cut in front of their car in Samrong Tong district’s Sambou commune. Kong Kon was rushed to Calmette hospital and is now conscious, according to relatives. The victim’s brother, who wished not to be named, said Soy Narith had offered the family US$5,000 in compensation on Monday in exchange for not filing a complaint with the court. But Roth Navy, a provincial monitor for rights group Adhoc, said that although the compensation was paid, the case remained in court. “There was evidence [of a shooting]; therefore, the general has to face criminal charges from the court,” he said.

TV viewing increases

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:06 Cameron Wells

CAMBODIANS are watching more television overall but less during primetime hours, according to a new study from Indochina Research.

According to the study, released this month, television penetration reached 100 percent in 2009, compared to 74 percent five years ago, but primetime viewing dropped from 80 percent to 72 percent last year.

Indochina Research General Manager Laurent Notin said the latter statistic could be attributed to the fact that there are more evening entertainment options available than there were previously.

“The fact is in the evenings there are more things to do nowadays,” he said. “People tend to go out more.”

Early-morning viewing is also on the rise, the study found.

Sex targeted in Sihanouk ville

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:05 Chhay Channyda and David Boyle

POLICE in Preah Sihanouk province rounded up scores of suspected sex workers from restaurants, bars and karaoke parlours last week in a series of raids that officials described as part of an attempt to curb “immorality” and halt human trafficking.

Chor Heng, the provincial deputy police chief in charge of human trafficking, said a total of 61 people had been held during raids on March 25 and March 26.

“Some of them were prostitutes and some were just women who sit out in the front and wave to potential customers of the prostitutes,” he said, adding that those in the latter group had been released after police “secured” guarantees from their employers that they were not sex workers.

He said some of the suspected sex workers had been sent to the provincial Department of Social Affairs, while others had been released.

He added that the raids would continue.

New social enterprise

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:00 Steve Finch

THE social enterprise Export Service Centre, a member of the US-based non-profit organisation Kearny Alliance, has expanded into Cambodia and received its first orders from Europe, a statement said Tuesday. Selling clothing accessories, jewellery and other handicrafts, the operation was first established in Indonesia and has now set up in the Kingdom, employing 34 full-time workers, mostly land-mine and polio victims.

CIMB looks to Cambodia

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:00 Nguon Sovan

CIMB Group Holdings Bhd said Monday that it has applied for a banking licence in Cambodia, though National Bank officials could not confirm the application. “We have applied for licences in Vietnam and Cambodia, that’s all for the moment. But CIMB does have strategies for all other Asean markets,” CIMB chief executive Datuk Seri Nazir Razak was quoted saying by the Bernama news agency. However, he did not reveal the details of the application or when the outcome is expected. Central bank Director General Tal Nay Im and her deputy, Nguon Sokha, said Tuesday they were unaware of the submission. Adrienne Kim, a spokeswoman for CIMB Investment Bank, declined to comment Tuesday.

Insurance plan stalls

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:00 Nguon Sovan

THE plan to establish cross-border insurance to boost trade and tourism among neighboring countries has stalled under Thai political turmoil. “Until now, cross-border insurance has not yet started up, because of the political issue with Thailand,” Chhay Rattanak, chairman of the General Insurance Association of Cambodia (GIAC), told the Post Tuesday. “We’ve lost contact with them for a while.” Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are all awaiting a response from Thailand, he said. In August, six out of seven insurance companies in Cambodia signed an agreement to create an insurance pool for cross-border traffic. Chhay Rattanak told the Post at the time that GIAC would launch the scheme in the first quarter of 2010 at the latest.

Chuan Wei agreement

Wednesday, 31 March 2010 15:00 Post Staff

INTERNET Service provider Chuan Wei has signed a software deal with China’s Vancelinfo Technologies Inc, according to a Monday press statement. The deal will see New York-listed Vancelinfo provide billing and business support, customer relationship management and an operational support system, or “control room” setup for the operator, a Chuan Wei executive said by email Tuesday. The statement did not say how much the deal was worth. The two firms signed the deal on Saturday. Following the announcement Monday, Vancelinfo climbed 1.6 percent in New York to finish at US$22.19. The company was ranked number one among Chinese offshore software development service providers for North America and Europe, according to 2008 revenues.

Switching sims

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Wednesday, 31 March 2010 14:01 Nguon Sovan

SAVVY mobile phone customers continue to benefit from feverish competition among operators, and there are no signs of a slowdown meaning switching SIMs is still rampant.

“If we look back to before last year, when there were only a few mobile phone operators, when I needed a SIM card it cost more than US$10 and had to be filled with $5 to activate it,” Nguon Setha, a second-year student of English Literature at the University of Cambodia, recalled recently.

“Now, a SIM card is less than $1, or free of charge, and, more attractively, there is already credit on it to make calls.”

Now Nguon Setha has 20 SIM cards, but he only keeps one permanent number – his first.

“I still use the first one I had, because all my friends know it,” he said. “For the new cards, I just take the benefits from them, when the companies give them free or sell at quite cheap prices. And I use them to call out. After they run out of credit, I ditch them.”

This strategy has helped him reduce refill costs for the one phone he uses permanently.

“Before, I refilled $5 on my phone every month, but now it’s just once every three months,” he said.

The competitive incentives – free SIM cards, prizes, low tariffs and free minutes – have created other strategies for mobile phone users.

“I have bought around 15 SIM cards, but I use only two SIM cards that have good tariffs, good network coverage and which most of my friends are using,” said Sroeun Sreylis, a second-year business student at Norton University.

“Now, it’s quite cheap, the cost of a SIM cards and tariffs,” she said. “One minute used to cost more than $0.10, but now it’s cheaper, below $0.10, and sometimes with special promotions on in-network calls, and SMSs are free.”

She too said she uses SIM cards just long enough take advantage.

“Usually, for cross-network, the tariff is higher than for inside the network,” she said. “And some of my friends, they use another network, so I have to switch to their network when I call them.”

But do the promotions help the mobile phone operators?

Gary Foo, marketing manager at Hello, the fourth-ranked of nine companies, told the Post that competition has made it impossible to stand out, even if it means a loss of revenue.

“It’s obvious that it affects every operator’s [revenue], but we need to invest a little bit to get new customers in,” Foo said. “And the important thing is we have to maintain our existing customers with good offers and make customers loyal to our service.”

Hello has distributed more than 800,000 SIM cards so far, in a market of around five million mobile phone users, but Foo said he didn’t know how many users were active, although parent company Axiata reported in recent financial results it had 770,000 active users in the Kingdom by the end of last year.

“Normally for free or cheap promotional SIM cards, customers always want to try them,” he said. “But after that, they will consider and make comparisons about the service quality and tariff, so they will take whoever is to their satisfaction.”

Some customers do have many SIM cards, enjoying free or cheap prices, but they generally have one primary card, he said. “Our main focus is on the value to customers, and our service quality, to ensure smooth, non-interference connection calls.”

Promotions helped Beeline Cambodia, which entered the market in mid-2009, reach hundreds of thousands of subscribers. The company announced early this month it had exceeded 367,000 users, with revenue per user climbing.

Nhem Socheata, Beeline’s Cambodia spokesman, would not say how many SIM cards the company put out to reach that many users, but she said the firm had undertaken promotional campaigns with prizes, including a drawing for a new car.

Thomas Hundt, chief executive officer of Smart Mobile, also declined to put a number on the amount of SIM cards the company has distributed, but said it is gaining thousands of new subscribers each day.

“We are working on further enhancement and extension of our coverage, as well as additional products and services to be deployed in the course of 2010,” he told the Post.

“We are quite positive on our growth, and we plan to at least double the amount of users by the end of 2010,” he said, adding that new users were coming from the provinces and Phnom Penh alike.

“Most of [our users] are representatives of the young generation,” he said, “especially students, young professionals of the private and government sectors, but also small and big businesses as our corporate customers.”

Family, Friends Grieve Death Of Teen Killed By Bus

Sodany April Phann

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LIBERTY TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- A Liberty Township family is mourning the loss of a 15-year old girl who was hit and run over by a school bus outside of her aunt's home early Monday morning.

Sodany April Phann, a sophomore at Lakota East High School, was struck in the 4800 block of Long Drive around 6:15 a.m. Her aunt's home is where she often caught the bus, according to police.

Lakota school transportation officials say a Petermann school bus on a route to pick up special needs students was curving around the cul-de-sac in front of the teenager's aunt's house when she was hit. Investigators say Phann was crossing the street to go to her bus stop to wait for a different bus.

Friends and family gathered outside her home all day Monday, just feet from where she died, to sing happy birthday and light candles on a cake. Thursday, April 1, would have been Phann's 16th birthday.

Relatives say the honor roll student never asked for much. For her birthday she just wanted to go to a Justin Beiber concert in June. On Sunday night, her mother told her she wanted to take her to Cambodia to visit relatives for her birthday.

Investigators with the Butler County Sheriff's Office say the school bus driver, June Henry, was going between 3 and 5 mph when she struck Phann. They say she did not see Phann because it was dark.

"We don't know if she was running out to catch the bus, if she stepped out in front of the bus," said Lt. Lance Bunnell. "Unfortunately, the way the area sits and with the dark visibility the bus driver didn't see her and we don't have a good witness saying exactly what the victim did as far as her actions," he said.

A sidewalk memorial for Phann started growing within an hour of police clearing the accident scene. By noon, it included candles and incense from their native Cambodia, along with flowers and a teddy bear; all protected by umbrellas and towels.

"Why? She's just walking to her school bus. How come the bus driver didn't see her? It makes no sense," one of Phann's uncles said.

Another of her uncles says he saw it happen and knocked on the bus to tell the driver what had happened.

Lakota Schools say they are working closely with police, the Ohio State Highway Patrol and Petermann to investigate the deadly accident. Transportation officials say the driver has worked for them for more than 20 years and her record is spotless. She will be on paid administrative leave during the investigation which is expected to take a few days.

A Petermann spokesman says the driver is terribly distraught over the death.

Investigators will take their findings to the county prosecutor who will decide if charges will be filed.

Family Of School Bus Crash Victim Sets Up Memorial

Family and friends write messages for Sodany April Phann.

Who Will Defend the Children in Cambodian Drug Rehab Centres?
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The Nation
By Joe Amon
Published on March 31, 2010

At the end of January, Human Rights Watch released a report on abuses throughout Cambodia's system of drug detention centres. Our report detailed terrible abuses and sadistic violence. The adults and children we interviewed told us of being beaten, whipped and punished with electric shocks.

Unicef provides direct funding for one of the centres, where drug-users and children - some reportedly as young as four - are brought in from the streets. When we briefed them four months before we released our report, they told us they were shocked. They promised to look into the abuses. Children who had been detained at the Unicef-funded centre told us of being tortured. They told us of being forced to do exhausting military exercises, work on construction projects and even dance naked for guards.

We expected Unicef to press for a thorough and independent investigation and to demand that those responsible for the abuses be held accountable. We hoped they would conduct a review of their funding, programming and activities. We expected them to press the Cambodian government more broadly about the detention of children alongside adults.

What actually happened? Not much. Unicef issued a statement when our report was released saying that past reviews conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs - the ministry running the centre - had found no evidence of "major violations". Over the next few weeks Unicef officials defended their support for the centre, saying that they monitor conditions in the centre "from time to time". Unicef's director in Cambodia, Richard Bridle, said that they "look for the positive". At the same time, Bridle conceded that he "wouldn't be surprised" if abuses were taking place, and that these kinds of abuses are "typical in centres [such] as this one".

Last week, Unicef officials visited the centre - the Choam Chao Youth Rehabilitation Centre, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh - and then told reporters that Human Rights Watch had made a mistake. Mr Bridle said that on their visit, Unicef staff had joked with children being held there and found them "engaging". Bridle told the Phnom Penh Post that "there is no culture of violence" at the centre. He pointed to an as-yet-unreleased internal assessment by the Ministry of Social Affairs and to statements made by a non-governmental organisation that provides some services in the centre (and which is also financed by Unicef) to suggest that we had our facts wrong.

It's a tactic we are more accustomed to seeing from repressive governments than from Unicef officials: A quick trip, an internal investigation and an announcement of no wrongdoing.

In contrast to Unicef's cursory review, our investigation was independent and thorough. We conducted detailed, in-depth interviews with 53 people who had been detained in drug detention centres within the last three years, 17 of whom had been detained at the centre Unicef supports. Our interviews were conducted outside of the centres, where children could feel safe from possible retaliation for telling us of their experiences.

While Unicef claims that the Choam Chao centre is "open" and "voluntary", here is what a few children who had been held at the centre told us:

"I tried to escape but my feet got stuck on the barbed wire. I was re-arrested. They beat me with a rattan stick until I lost consciousness and they poured water on me. They said, each time, "Don't run again!" Teap (14 years old);

"As soon as I arrived, the Social Affairs staff kicked and beat me. I don't know why. He said, 'You stay here. Do not run! There are high walls here. If you get re-arrested, I won't be responsible if your leg is broken.'" Chambok (17 years old);

"They shocked the big kids who tried to escape. I saw when they escaped and when they got shocked. They shocked them a lot." Chamnauth (15 years old);

"If anyone tried to escape, he would be punished. Some people managed to escape, some didn't. Most who were punished for escaping would be beaten unconscious. Beatings like this happened every day." M'noh (16 years old).

All of these children were detained during the period when the centre was getting funds from Unicef.

We're not the only ones presenting evidence of abuse. In the same article that quotes Richard Bridle saying that "These were not brutalised kids", the reporter from the Phnom Phen Post quoted a drug-user who had been at the Unicef-funded centre a year ago: "They used sticks. They unlocked the door, entered and started beating. They punched me in the face. They smashed my head against the wall. They beat me three times with the cable in the same place. You could see the flesh come out. It was like pieces of flesh from a fish." He then showed the journalist his scars.

We have briefed Unicef four times, before our report and afterwards, both in Cambodia and New York. It's been six months since we first presented our findings, methodology and recommendations. While Unicef officials defend their colleagues at the Ministry of Social Affairs, who is defending the children at the centre they fund, or at the 10 other drug detention centres throughout the country? When will Unicef decide to listen to the voices of the children who have been beaten and tortured? When will they support our call for a thorough, independent and credible investigation?

Joe Amon is director of health and human rights for Human Rights Watch.

Cambodia opposition asks to halt Vietnam border demarcation

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By Agence France-Presse

Cambodia's main opposition party on Tuesday asked the government to suspend demarcation of a contentious border with neighbouring Vietnam, according to a letter seen by AFP.

Lawmakers from the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), whose leader lives in exile in France, urged Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a review of border markings to "properly and fully respect the territorial integrity of Cambodia".

The Cambodian premier maintains close relations with the Vietnamese regime and Sam Rainsy, whose party shares his name, has repeatedly accused the government of ceding land to Vietnam.

"We, the lawmakers... would like to request the government to suspend the process of planting markers along Cambodian-Vietnamese border," the letter said.

The move follows a government lawsuit filed last month against Sam Rainsy accusing him of publishing a false map on his party's website that disputed delineation of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.

The opposition leader was in January sentenced in absentia to two years in prison in Cambodia for intentionally uprooting temporary border posts and inciting racial unrest.

Two villagers were also found guilty in the October incident in which Sam Rainsy led protesters to uproot six border markers in southeastern Svay Rieng province, alleging they had been illegally placed by Vietnam.

Vietnam condemned the saboteurs' act as "perverse, undermining common assets, violating laws of Cambodia and Vietnam, treaties, agreements and deals between the two countries".

But the SRP's letter to Hun Sen on Tuesday asked that independent experts, lawmakers, journalists, and civil society representatives be allowed to monitor and verify the demarcation process between the two countries.

Cambodia and Vietnam officially began demarcating their contentious border in September 2006 after decades of territorial disputes.

Anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia is rife, fuelled by resentment at Vietnam's expansion over the centuries and the feeling that Cambodia is losing some of its territory.

Vietnam and Cambodia share a 1,270-kilometre (790-mile) border, which has remained vague since French colonial times.

Tree rings reveal two droughts that sealed the fate of Angkor

Today, the city of Angkor in Cambodia lies in ruins. But a thousand years ago, life there was very different. Then, Angkor was the heart of the Khmer empire and the largest preindustrial city of its day. It had a population of a million and an area that rivalled modern Los Angeles. And the key to this vast urban sprawl was water.

Radar images of the city by the Greater Angkor Project (GAP) revealed that Angkor was carefully designed to collect, store and distribute water. The “Hydraulic City” included miles of canals and dikes, irrigation channels for supplying crops, overflow channels to cope with a monsoon, massive storage areas (the largest of which was 16km2 in area), and even a river diverted into a reservoir. Water was the city’s most precious resource, allowing it to thrive in the most unlikely of locations – the middle of a tropical forest.

But water, or rather a lack of it, may have been part of Angkor’s downfall. Brendan Buckley from Columbia University has reconstructed the climate of Angkor over the last 750 years, encompassing the final centuries of the Khmer Empire. The records show that Angkor was hit by two ferocious droughts in the mid-14th and early-15th century, each lasting for a few decades. Without a reliable source of water, the Hydraulic City’s aquatic network dried up. It may have been the coup de grace for a civilisation that was already in severe decline.

Many theories have been put forward for the downfall of Angkor, from war with the Siamese to erosion of the state religion. All of these ideas have proved difficult to back up, despite a century of research. Partly, that’s because the area hasn’t yielded much in the way of historical texts after the 13th century. But texts aren’t the only way of studying Angkor’s history. Buckley’s reconstruction relies on a very different but more telling source of information – Fujian cypress trees.

The trees in question grow in Bidoup Nui Ba National Park in neighbouring Vietnam. They’re a while away from Angkor in Cambodia but their location is far less important than their age. These trees have been growing for around a thousand years and they were around when Angkor was in its prime.

Throughout this time, the climate affected their speed of growth. During years of plenty, they expanded in width far more quickly than during unfavourable drought years. These trends are reflected in the size of their rings and Buckley sampled those by cutting cylindrical cores from the trees. These samples could be very accurately carbon-dated and they provide an invaluable record of the climate in Southeast Asia over at least the past 759 years.

In Buckley’s record, two droughts stood out in terms of their severity and length. The first one in the mid-1300s was the most sustained period of drought in the region over the last eight centuries. The second, while shorter, was often more severe, and included the driest year on record – 1403. The timings of these droughts coincided with periods when the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean was unusually high. Buckley suggests that El Nino, a periodic warming of the Pacific, may have driven the two dry spells.

These disasters have been corroborated by other evidence. Records from Chao Phraya in Thailand also referenced severe droughts in the 14th century, and the dry spells may even have extended into Sri Lanka, India and China.

During this time, the climate also reversed dramatically, with intense monsoons following the two droughts. These oscillating extremes of too little water following by far too much of it pounded the infrastructure of the Hydraulic City. Today’s ruins show signs of the failing structures that marked the city’s end days. Assaulted by sediment carried in floods, some canals suffered metres of erosion in a short space of time. One, which linked the capital with a nearby lake, is now filled with coarse sand and gravel, which suggests that it was rapidly filled by a single flood. That would have suddenly cut the city off from a major water source.

There are signs that the people of Angkor tried to cope with their fluctuating environment by modifying their network. However, that’s easier said than done with a criss-crossing infrastructure that spans a thousand square kilometres. The complicated lattice of waterways would have struggled to adapt.

Of course, a changing environment was far from the only reason behind the fall of Angkor. By the time the droughts kicked in, the city was already weakened by social, economic and political strife. Buckley simply thinks that the climate simply sealed the city’s demise. In fact, others have suggested that some force may have pushed the local people to move from inland agriculture to maritime trade. Buckley says that this transition coincides neatly with the aftermath of the first drought.

The New Demonstration Law Is More Difficult Than That of 1991 Which Did Not Limit the Number of Demonstrators – Tuesday, 30.3.2010
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Posted on 31 March 2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 658

“When the new demonstration law of Cambodia, adopted by the National Assembly in 2009, was published on Monday 29 March 2010 at the Sunway Hotel through a workshop at national level by the Ministry of Interior, officials of civil society organizations said that this new law is more difficult than the previous one.

“A senior investigating official of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Mr. Chan Soveth, spoke to journalists after the workshop, saying that the limitation of the number of people to participate in a demonstration or in a strike, limited to 200, is too tight, because at each factory there are thousands of workers.

“Nevertheless, the Minister of Interior, Mr. Sar Kheng, stressed that for all demonstrations, there must be letters sent to inform the Ministry of Interior in advance, so that it can take measures for security and protection. He added that any group of persons that want to demonstrate must write a letter to their municipal authorities, where the demonstration is to happen, five days before the event, and the number of people allowed to join in a demonstration is only 200.

“Another point that is seen as a threat against those who intend to demonstrate is that the new non-violent demonstration law requires at least three representatives to attach their photos and addresses with the proposed letters. Regarding this point, civil society organization officials said that this makes it probably difficult for those who suffer from injustice or disagree with something to decide to stand as representatives, because those who were targeted in a demonstration can use tricks to put the blame on the leaders of demonstrations. They can be arrested easily as their names, photos, and addresses have already been attached to the papers to be submitted to the Ministry of Interior.

“Mr. Chan Soveth thinks that this new demonstration law imposes more difficult conditions for demonstrators and strikers than that of 1991. The law of 1991 also required to submit request letters to get a permission for a demonstration, but it did not limit the number of people who could participate. Also, the president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association [Mr. Rong Chhun], who frequently appears in demonstrations, said that most articles of the new demonstration law inhibit demonstrators from acting freely. The Constitution, the basic law of the country, clearly states that Khmer citizens have ample rights to enter politics, to demonstrate, to strike, or to assemble.

“Many people are aware that these statements exist only on the paper where the Constitution is printed. Some of those who dare [with reference to the Constitution] to demonstrate when they are not satisfied with the situation in a company, or with actions of the government, have been cruelly confronted by armed forces, when the authorities dispatched them arguing that this is done for public security reasons. Some non-government organization officials say that – because government officials in charge do not have the courage to address problems by meeting protesting citizens face-to-face – they use violent measures to suppress the citizens who act based on the Constitution. Furthermore, because the government is afraid it may get a bad reputation because of demonstrations, it decided to rather violate democratic policy.

“It is natural that people compare the actual situation of different countries implementing democratic principles, like Cambodia and Siam [Thailand]. At present, tens of thousands of red-shirt demonstrators, supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, are all over Bangkok and are shouting their slogans freely to demand the dissolution of the parliament, and of the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vijjajiva, but the armed forces did not harass them. That means that the demonstrators are allowed to express their opinions as they like. This indicates that the democratic space in Siam is wide, and citizens who oppose the government have sufficient rights to express their intentions and their positions toward their government – this is much different compared with Cambodia.”

Moneaksekar Khmer, Vol.17, #3845, 30.3.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Tuesday, 30 March 2010

On Attack Anniversary, a Repeated Plea

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By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Original report from Phnom Penh
30 March 2010

Families of victims in a gruesome 1997 grenade attack renewed calls for the government and the FBI to reopen a stalled investigation Tuesday, as they marked the 13th anniversary of the assault.

Thirteen years ago Tuesday, assailants threw four grenades in the midst of a political rally for the opposition, killing 16 people and leaving 150 more wounded. Each year, the families make a new plea, but no suspects have ever been arrested in the case, which was investigated briefly by the FBI when a US citizen was injured.

Addressing supporters by loudspeaker and a phone link from France Tuesday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who led the 1997 rally, said the dead and wounded must not be forgotten.

“Cambodian leaders were involved in the grenade attack,” he said. “It was not so long ago. The killers and the man behind the killers will be punished or condemned for the killing. The criminals cannot escape justice.”

US Embassy spokesman John Johnson said in an e-mail the FBI investigation was deemed “inconclusive, and the US Prosecutor’s Office declined to pursue the case.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Tuesday the case was not closed.

The attack occurred in front of the former National Assembly, near today’s Ministry of Justice, where a stupa honoring the dead now stands.

At the site Tuesday, more than 100 participants, including victims’ families, Sam Rainsy Party activists and lawmakers, attended a Buddhist ceremony for the dead.

“We call on the Cambodian government and the FBI to reinvestigate the criminal case, to find and arrest the killers and the man behind the killers, for justice,” Sam Vanny, a representative of the victims’ families, said during the ceremony.

“We have been waiting for justice for 13 years,” she said. “We have not taken vengeance, and we have no intention to take vengeance, but it is a duty of law, of democracy and of social justice. So the government should be responsible for bringing the killers to justice.”

Svay Sakhon, who lost his daughter, Chanty Pheakdey, in the attack, said he would continue to wait for the killers to be caught.

“I have waited for the government to help find the killer,” he said. “I’m sorry that I’m not able to speak out. But I still want the government to work hard for justice.”

Human Rights Watch called on the FBI to renew its own investigation of the attack.

“The United States claims that human rights and the rule of law are primary policy goals in Cambodia, yet it withdrew the FBI just when it was close to solving the case and has done nothing for over a decade to resolve it,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director, said in a statement. “This attack has cast a shadow over Cambodia that will only be lifted when the perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Tribunal ‘Accelerating’ Work for Trials: Prosecutor

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By Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Original report from Siem Reap
30 March 2010

Prosecutors are speeding up their work in the second case of the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, a court official said Sunday.

The court was working quickly and efficiently, UN prosecutor Andrew Carley told a group of teachers in Siem Reap, where he spoke during training of a new history book for schools.

The prosecution is moving toward the 2011 trial of at least four detained leaders, Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, following the conclusion of the trial of Kaing Kek Iev, or Duch.

Carley said work was going well with his Cambodian counterpart, Chea Leang.

“I am accelerating, along with my colleague, the work as much as we can,” he said.

Tribunal observers have voiced concerns that aging Khmer Rouge leaders might die before they see a day in court. Carley said Sunday he shared those concerns, but added the trials would continue even if some of the defendants die.

“This trial will come to a conclusion,” he said. “But the best way to do this work is not quickly but efficiently.”

Carley was addressing nearly 200 teachers from across the country who came to Siem Reap to learn to introduce a history book from the Documentation Center of Cambodia into their courses.

The book, “A History of Democratic Kampuchea,” is part of a collaborative effort between the Documentation Center and the government to introduce Khmer Rouge histories into classrooms.

VanceInfo Announces IT Services Engagement with Cambodian Telecom Firm

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BEIJING, March 29 /PRNewswire-Asia/ -- VanceInfo Technologies Inc. (NYSE: VIT) ("VanceInfo") (the "Company"), an IT service provider and one of the leading offshore software development companies in China, today announced an agreement to provide a comprehensive telecommunications back-end management system for Chuan Wei (Cambodia) Company Ltd. ("Chuan Wei"), a provider of cutting-edge broadband services in Southeast Asia. The agreement, signed at a ceremony in Phnom Penh by David Chen, President of VanceInfo, and Chuan Wei's Chairman and CEO, Alan Khov, comes following a rigorous global vendor search and evaluation by Chuan Wei.

Chuan Wei offers corporate communications services in Cambodia through a nationwide fiber-optic network and is planning to introduce wireless broadband services. "Chuan Wei will play a leading role in establishing world-class broadband and ICT infrastructure in Cambodia, so we can afford to work with nothing less than world-class IT services companies having expertise in the telecom space," said Mr. Khov. "Our goal is an integrated solution to handle not only our business and operational support systems (B/OSS), but also billing and customer-relationship management. VanceInfo's software will underpin a new, higher-quality breed of Internet services in Cambodia." Although Internet usage in the country of 15 million people has nearly doubled the past five years, the overall penetration rate is at less than 1 percent of the population. Chuan Wei expects a surge in demand when affordable wireless broadband services become more widely available.

"We are pleased to be selected by Chuan Wei to develop and implement an end-to-end solution for their telecom needs, and excited to help Cambodia advance in the field of information and communications technology," added Mr. Chen. "Our strong IT service offerings in the telecom space allow us to provide a solution that is customized to their specific business, technical and geographic requirements. As with all our clients, we are committed to delivering first-class IT services to Chuan Wei that support an expected rapid expansion of business in the emerging Cambodian telecom marketplace."

VanceInfo performs IT services across multiple geographies including Asia Pacific, the Americas, and Europe for many Fortune 500 clients including leading telecom carriers in mainland China and Hong Kong as well as prominent technology firms such as Microsoft and IBM. The engagement with Chuan Wei in Cambodia sets a new milestone for the Company's strategic business expansion in the South East Asia region.

About VanceInfo

VanceInfo Technologies Inc. is an IT service provider and one of the leading offshore software development companies in China. VanceInfo was the first China software development outsourcer listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Company ranked number one among Chinese offshore software development service providers for the North American and European markets as measured by 2008 revenues, according to International Data Corporation.

VanceInfo's comprehensive range of IT services includes research & development services, enterprise consulting & solutions, application development & maintenance, quality assurance & testing, and globalization & localization. VanceInfo provides these services primarily to corporations headquartered in the United States, Europe, Japan, and China, targeting high-growth industries such as technology, telecommunications, financial services, manufacturing, retail, and distribution.

About Chuan Wei

Chuan Wei (Cambodia) Co. Ltd. is the country's fastest-growing broadband communications provider. Established in June 2008, the company operates a nationwide fiber-optic network and has launched corporate services such as dedicated Internet access, IP transit, private leased circuits (domestic and international), and co-location. It plans to roll out wireless broadband services for the mass market nationwide later this year.

Chuan Wei is rooted in one of Cambodia's most diversified business groups with interests across a wide spectrum of sectors including banking, property development, construction, hospitality, garment, and cement manufacturing.

Safe Harbor

This news release includes statements that may constitute forward-looking statements made pursuant to the safe harbor provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These forward-looking statements can be identified by terminology such as will, should, expects, anticipates, future, intends, plans, believes, estimates, and similar statements. Among other things, the management's quotations contain forward-looking statements. Such statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those projected. Potential risks and uncertainties include, but are not limited to, the company's dependence on a limited number of clients for a significant portion of its revenues, the economic slowdown in its principal geographic markets, the quality and portfolio of its services lines and industry expertise, and the availability of a large talent pool in China and supply of qualified professionals, as well as the PRC government's investment in infrastructure construction and adoption of various incentives in the IT service industry. Further information regarding these and other risks is included in VanceInfo's filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. All information provided in this news release and in the attachments is as of March 30, 2010, and VanceInfo does not undertake any obligation to update any forward-looking statement as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, except as required under applicable law.

SOURCE VanceInfo Technologies Inc.

Work begins on Cambodian hydropower project

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Sopheng Cheang, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday March 30, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- A Chinese company has begun construction of one of several hydroelectric dam projects planned to reduce electricity shortages in Cambodia that environmentalists warn could do more harm than good, an official said Tuesday.

The China National Heavy Machinery Corp. will build the 246-megawatt plant in Koh Kong province, with an investment of $540 million. A groundbreaking ceremony was held Monday, and the project is due for completion by 2014, said Pich Siyun, chief of the province's Industry Department.

"We have a shortage of electricity now, and I hope that the dam would help reduce people's poverty as the price of electricity would be cheaper," he said.

On Thursday, a ceremony is expected to take place in the capital Phnom Penh for the inauguration of another Chinese-built hydroelectricity project in Koh Kong. Pich Siyun said China Huadian Corp. plans to build a $558 million hydropower plant that would generate up to 338 megawatts.

Koh Kong province is about 130 miles (210 kilometers) west of Phnom Penh.

Electricity generation in Cambodia remains largely underdeveloped, with most power plants using fossil fuels. The impoverished Southeast Asian nation also buys electricity from neighboring Vietnam and Thailand.

Power costs in Cambodia are among the highest in the world, and only about 12 percent of its 14 million people have access to electricity, according to the World Bank.

Electricity prices are also a major source of complaint from investors in Cambodia.

In a bid to meet future electricity demand, the government has identified 21 potential hydroelectric dam sites across the country.

But environmentalists have voiced concerns about the impact those projects will have.

In a 2008 report, the U.S.-based International Rivers Network said "poorly conceived hydropower development could irreparably damage" Cambodia's environment and also extract a social cost.

But Pich Siyun dismissed the concerns, saying the projects were studied thoroughly by all concerned ministries before they were approved by the government.

"Of course there is an impact from the dams once we build, but according to our studies, the income from electricity will really boost our economy," Pich Siyun said.

No specific plans have been announced to export power generated from the hydro schemes -- an approach embraced by Cambodia's cash-strapped neighbor, Laos -- but Prime Minister Hun Sen has previously said that if Cambodia's capacity was adequate it would consider selling electricity to Thailand.

Did climatic conditions trigger Angkor's collapse?

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Decades of drought, alternating with intense monsoon rains, may have sounded the death knell for Cambodia's ancient Khmer civilization at Angkor nearly 600 years ago.

Columbia University researchers say this based on an analysis of tree rings, archaeological remains and other evidence.

Their findings may also shed light on what drives - and disrupts - the rainy season across much of Asia, which waters crops for nearly half the world's population.

'Angkor at that time faced a number of problems - social, political and cultural. Environmental change pushed the ancient Khmers to the limit and they weren't able to adapt,' said the study's lead author, Brendan Buckley.

Buckley is a climate scientist and tree-ring specialist at Columbia Univewrsity Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. 'I wouldn't say climate caused the collapse, but a 30-year drought had to have had an impact.'

Some scientists suspect that warming of the global climate may intensify these cycles in the future, raising the possibility of alternating Angkor-like droughts and destructive floods that could affect billions.

Historians have offered various explanations for the fall of an empire that stretched across much of Southeast Asia between the 9th and 14th centuries, from deforestation to conflict with rival kingdoms.

But the new study offers the strongest evidence yet that two severe droughts, punctuated by bouts of heavy monsoon rain, may have weakened the empire by shrinking water supplies for drinking and agriculture, and damaging Angkor's vast irrigation system that was central to its economy.

The kingdom is thought to have collapsed in 1431 after a raid by the Siamese from present-day Thailand.

Scientists led by Buckley were able to reconstruct 759 years of past climate in the region surrounding Angkor by studying the annual growth rings of a cypress tree, Fokienia hodginsii, growing in the highlands of Vietnam's Bidoup Nui Ba National Park, about 700 km away.

By hiking high into the mountain cloud forests, the researchers were able to find rare specimens over 1,000 years old that had not been touched by loggers.

After extracting tiny cores of wood showing the trees' annual growth rings, researchers reconstructed year-to-year moisture levels in this part of Southeast Asia from 1250 to 2008.

The tree rings revealed evidence of a mega-drought lasting three decades-from the 1330s to 1360s-- followed by a more severe but shorter drought from the 1400s to 1420s. Written records corroborate the latter drought, which may have been felt as far away as Sri Lanka and central China.

The study also finds that the droughts were punctuated by several extraordinarily intense rainy seasons that may have damaged Angkor's hydraulic system, said a Columbia University statement.

These findings were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Five Law Students in Mock International Court

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By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
Original report from Washington
30 March 2010

Five Cambodian law students were selected to participate in mock hearings in Washington this month that simulated cases at the International Court of Justice.

The five students were all selected from the Royal University of Law and Science Economics: Prom Savada, Theng Tith Maria, Tan Tepi Kanika, Pea Vanchhay, and Tan Keat Tech.

Magaret Ryan, a teacher at the Royal University of Law and Science Economics in Phnom Penh, was team advisor, coaching the team in basic principles of international law.

The team partook in the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court competition at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, from March 21 to March 27.

This year’s competition covered the lawfulness of measures taken by countries to protect their economic resources.

The program “is an advocacy competition for law students,” student Tan Keat Tech told VOA Khmer. “The International Court of Justice… is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations. Each law school with a law-related degree program may select one Jessup team to represent the school in the competition.”

More than 120 Jessup teams from 76 countries competed in the international rounds of the competition, Savada Prom said.

“Teams of law students compete against one another through the presentation of oral and written pleadings to address timely issues of public international law in the context of a hypothetical legal dispute between nations,” Savada Prom said.

Pleadings were evaluated by judges based upon advocacy skills and knowledge of international law, Tan Tepi Kanika said, adding there are three judges for her team.

The team learned other things, as well.

“In a week-long educational and cultural exchange, attending matches, receptions, panels, workshops and networking events, I had an opportunity to meet law professors from the great law schools of the world [and] meet international law students from 76 countries,” Theng Tith Maria said. “My team experienced the organizing of conferences, the editing of journals and magazines, and the promoting of an international law curriculum.”

Child Dance Troupe Aims for Paid Theater

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By Nuch Sarita, VOA Khmer
30 March 2010

Two groups, Cambodian Living Arts and the Editions du Mekong, hope to introduce national and international tourists to a traditional folk dance through performances by the Children of Bassac at the Phnom Penh National Museum, representatives of the groups said on “Hello VOA” Monday.

Children of Bassac performed for National Cultural Day March 25 and plan another performance for Khmer New Year April 1. Both shows are preludes to planned weekly performances in November and December.

Soeur Vuthy, assistant master of Children of Bassac, told “Hello VOA” the company has 24 dancers, all between the ages of 16 and 21, and was created in 2003 by master Ieng Sithul, a traditional theater singer.

Cambodia Living Arts offers children from disadvantaged backgrounds a chance to tap into Cambodian culture, Soeur Vuthy said.

“The youth from the Children of Bassac Company all live on the Bassac community,” Soeur Vuthy said. “CLA would like to promote them to the general public and help them earn a living from their art.”

Student Neang Kavich has been studying traditional folk dance and music in Ieng Sithul’s classes for six years and is now attending film school at Limkokwing University with the support of CLA’s Arts Scholarship.

Another student, Cham Roun Sophear, began dance classes at age 13. Now she stands out among her peers, and sometime advises younger classmates. She continues to develop her skills in dance and song at the Royal University of Fine Arts, with the support of CLA’s Arts Scholarship.

The performances at the National Museum represent eight types of classical and folk dances: Sampeah Kru, a blessing ceremony; Apsara, or celestial dancers; Beh Krawanh, picking cardamom; Sovann Machha, golden mermaid; Kroma, the scarf dance; Kuoh Angre, clapping the pestles; Chhayam, a popular folk dance usually performed at the annual Kathen religious ceremony; and Phloy Suoy, a wind instrument performance with bamboo, typically played by Cambodia’s minority tribes.

Memorial for victims of a deadly grenade attack, in Phnom Penh

Buddhist monks pay respect in front of a memorial for victims of a deadly grenade attack, in Phnom Penh March 30, 2010. Members of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Tuesday mark the 13th anniversary of an attack on supporters of Sam Rainsy, during which 16 people were killed and another 150 injured. An FBI investigation concluded that Cambodian government officials were responsible for the attack, according to the Human Rights Watch last year. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Buddhist monks pay respect in front of a memorial for victims of a deadly grenade attack, in Phnom Penh March 30, 2010. Members of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Tuesday mark the 13th anniversary of an attack on supporters of Sam Rainsy, during which 16 people were killed and another 150 injured. An FBI investigation concluded that Cambodian government officials were responsible for the attack, according to the Human Rights Watch last year. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Buddhist monks pay respect in front of a memorial for victims of a deadly grenade attack, in Phnom Penh March 30, 2010. Members of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Tuesday mark the 13th anniversary of an attack on supporters of Sam Rainsy, during which 16 people were killed and another 150 injured. An FBI investigation concluded that Cambodian government officials were responsible for the attack, according to the Human Rights Watch last year. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Portraits of a grenade attack victims are seen at a memorial, in Phnom Penh March 30, 2010. Members of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Tuesday mark the 13th anniversary of an attack on supporters of Sam Rainsy, during which 16 people were killed and another 150 injured. An FBI investigation concluded that Cambodian government officials were responsible for the attack, according to the Human Rights Watch last year. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

The relative of a grenade attack victim pays respects in front of a memorial, in Phnom Penh March 30, 2010. Members of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Tuesday mark the 13th anniversary of an attack on supporters of Sam Rainsy, during which 16 people were killed and another 150 injured. An FBI investigation concluded that Cambodian government officials were responsible for the attack, according to the Human Rights Watch last year. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

The portrait of a grenade attack victim is seen at a memorial, in Phnom Penh March 30, 2010. Members of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Tuesday mark the 13th anniversary of an attack on supporters of Sam Rainsy, during which 16 people were killed and another 150 injured. An FBI investigation concluded that Cambodian government officials were responsible for the attack, according to the Human Rights Watch last year. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

Buddhist monks pay respect in front of a memorial for victims of a deadly grenade attack, in Phnom Penh March 30, 2010. Members of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party on Tuesday mark the 13th anniversary of an attack on supporters of Sam Rainsy, during which 16 people were killed and another 150 injured. An FBI investigation concluded that Cambodian government officials were responsible for the attack, according to the Human Rights Watch last year. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea

The man who hip-hopped his way to change
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This is what they call ‘creative education’!

March 30, 2010

Tuy Sobil a.k.a. KK (right) put up the first hip-hop community center in Cambodia called Tiny Toones, using creative education to empower the youth.

The story of Tuy Sobil, a.k.a. KK, isn’t new. But what sets him apart is what he has done with his life after all was said and done.

At 13, KK became a drug user, and a notorious gang member. At 18, he was sentenced to five years of imprisonment for armed robbery, and was deported from California in the United States, to Cambodia in 2004.

But after he was released from prison in the late 80’s, KK, a former champion breakdancer in US, decided to clean up his act and put his talent to good use. He put up a breakdancing group called Tiny Toones in 2004, offering free dance classes, as well as lessons in English and Khmer (Cambodia’s local language), computer literacy, art, and information on HIV/AIDS. From initially just nine children, Tiny Toones started to cater to 50 children, and now has around 5,000 kids at its six sites, mostly at the core of Phnom Penh’s slums.

“Everybody makes mistakes. But as you grow older, you get wiser. Children look up to some people as their role model, some kids pick the right guide, while others follow in the steps of the wrong person. I want to inspire the kids with what I’m doing now, to show them that a guy that can make mistakes but can change his life for the better,” says KK, who recently visited the Philippines to share a few of his breakdancing tricks to some children in Davao City as part of Smart Kids program.


Tiny Toones is the first hip-hop community center in Cambodia to use creative education to empower at-risk youth to lead healthier lives and realize their full potential as leaders. It is funded by Global Fund for Children, Bridges Across Borders, among others.

At Tiny Toones, students learn to live active lifestyles and build self-confidence via the performing arts. Their knowledge is further supplemented by the numerous free classes.

Peer mentors provide support and teach the elements of hip hop, including breakdancing, rapping, beatboxing, and deejaying. Through music, art, and performance, students are able to express themselves but with a distinctively Khmer approach, integrating positive messages about staying in school and living free of sexually-transmitted diseases and drug use.


KK was born in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1977 and was taken to the US. But he says he never became a US citizen.

In Long Beach, California, his jobless, unschooled parents made ends meet by scavenging. Out of place in affluent Southern California, KK became a regular in playground brawls and soon became a crack addict.

“Back then, I was craving for acceptance,” he says.

His daredevil breakdance stunts afforded KK the attention he was desperately looking for.

Now 32, KK rekindles that old passion for dancing to help save Cambodian street kids. Most of his students lack strong role models because their older siblings are active drug users, school dropouts, or sex workers. KK also teaches these children about HIV/AIDS, the risks of drugs and joining gangs, and other issues that underprivileged youth commonly face. Fortunately, many of these neglected and orphaned children idolize KK.

His transition was difficult but life-transforming. “I dealt with discrimination from among the older people in Cambodia with how I look, because I have piercings and tattoos. They judge me by the cover, but they didn’t open to read it,” he shares.

With KK’s perseverance, Tiny Toones has become very popular in Cambodia. He attributes this to the perceived street credibility of the hip hop culture and its humble roots in the ghetto. Tiny Toones began getting offers of donations that afforded them to move to the two-storey apartment, their present headquarters.

Meanwhile, the kids are frequently invited to perform at various events. The dancers get paid to perform at shows.

KK believes that he did not only save streetchildren but he also saved himself. “I made a mistake as a kid, and I’m not gonna let these kids destroy their lives, too. On the surface, it’s only break dance, but what these kids really need is just someone to motivate them,” KK says of his proteges.

Tiny Toones plans to improve the main center’s capacity to serve as a safe haven for a broader range of at-risk urban youth complete with dance studios, recording studio, additional library, classrooms and dormitories, and to create more outreach sites for far-flung communities.

But hip hop arts will always be the heart of the program, KK says. He wants these children to believe in their own dreams and give back to their community.

“I don’t want them to learn just to get by, but to learn to be something or someone in the future.

Everybody is killing their dreams. If they want to be a doctor but they don’t have the money, it’s not true that you can’t be a doctor. In my heart, the more you learn and get into education, you can be anything you want to be,’’ he ends.