Sunday, 22 August 2010

Parliamentarians: Within Seventeen Years, Only Six Ministers Appeared to Make Clarifications in the Parliament – Saturday, 21.8.2010

via Khmer NZ

Posted on 22 August 2010. Filed under: Week 678 |
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 678

“Phnom Penh: According to the first study by Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians, since the general elections in 1993, or within 17 years, only six ministers appeared at the parliament to clarify questions. But government officials explained that, based on the regulations, there clarifications can be given both directly and verbally, or through letters.

“Findings from the study were shown publicly in a press conference on 20 August 2010. The team leader of the Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians, Mr. Son Chhay, said that since 1993, probably only six ministers showed up to respond to questions of parliamentarians in the parliament. That means also that within one 3 years period there was only one minister making clarifications. Until now, the Prime Minister has never come to answer to questions from parliamentarians following Article 96 of the Constitution. It is different from other democratic countries where prime ministers and government members regularly appear to give clarifications in parliament.

Article 96:

The deputies have the right to put a motion against the Royal Government. The motion shall be submitted in writing through the Chairman of the National Assembly.
The replies shall be given by one or several ministers depending on the matters related to the accountability of one or several ministers. If the case concerns the overall policy of the Royal Government, the Prime Minister shall reply in person.

The explanations by the ministers or by the Prime Minister shall be given verbally or in writing.

The explanations shall be provided within 7 days after the day when the question is received.

In case of verbal reply, the Chairman of the National Assembly shall decide whether to hold an open debate or not. If there is no debate, the answer of the minister or the Prime Minister shall be considered final. If there is a debate, the questioner, other speakers, the ministers, or the Prime Minister may exchange views within the time-frame not exceeding one session.

The National Assembly shall establish one day each week for questions and answers. There shall be no vote during any session reserved for this purpose.

“Mr. Son Chhay added that the procedures for questioning and for inviting ministers to appear are difficult. Sometimes, only two months after a request letter was sent there is a response, and sometimes it takes even up to one year. Some ministers do not care about answering questions from parliamentarians.

“A parliamentarian, Mr. Son Chhay, presented a study about government members who did not properly adhere to the principles of the Constitution, which set the rules for questioning and answering to questions of parliamentarians through letters, or straight and verbally.

“Mr. Son Chhay said that 132 letters with questions were sent to members of the government in 2009, but they responded to only 23%, or 39 letters, from Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians. Within eight months of 2010, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians submitted 47 letters to the government, but only 15 letters received a response.

“Mr. Son Chhay added, ‘In 2009, we sent 24 letters to Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, and he responded to 13 letters. The Prime Minister answered more questions than others among the members of the government. The Minister of Interior, Mr. Sar Kheng, received 21 letters from parliamentarians in 2009 and he replied to 9 letters, and in 2010, he received 8 letters and he responded to 2.’

“Mr. Son Chhay went on to say that Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians sent 10 letters in 2009 and 2 more letters in 2010 to the Minister of Water Resources and Meteorology, Mr. Kim Kean Hor, but he did not respond at all. Also, the Minister of Commerce, Mr. Cham Prasidh, did not respond to questions from parliamentarians.

“Mr. Son Chhay stressed that submitting letters to request clarifications and to invite members of the governments, including the head of the government, to appear to clarify questions from parliamentarians in the parliament itself allow the government time to defend itself and to present its achievements in the past. This also helps to encourages the government to work with responsibility. ‘We aim to strengthen the implementation of democracy and to consolidate national institutions.’

“Also, another statement was released by Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians over the loss of their roles in the parliament of Cambodia. Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians voiced strong concern about the possible disappearance of democracy in Cambodia, which is affecting national development and social tranquility more seriously.

“Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians appeal to the ruling party to immediately check to fix all the limitations in order to appropriately implement the principles of multi-party democracy, as stated in the Constitution of 1993.

“Responding to the above mentioned concerns, a spokesperson of the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Council of Ministers, Mr. Tith Sothea, said that to respond, there are two ways: responding by letter, or directly and verbally. So far, government officials frequently sent official letters, and sometimes they appeared directly in parliament to respond. He added that the government is formed by elections, and the Cambodian People’s Party, that won a massive support in the parliament, always rules the country following democracy and respecting the rights of the citizens, who are the voters. The government is not dictatorial or lawless. The government is on the right tract based on democracy. If the opposition party wants further reforms beyond this, it has to wait until it wins the elections.

“A senior member of the Cambodian People’s Party and a long standing member of the National Assembly, Mr. Cheam Yeap, said that the Cambodian People’s Party always obeys the laws and the Constitution since 1993. Also, [the president of the National Assembly] Samdech Heng Samrin, often allows more Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians than those from the Cambodian People’s Party to express their opinions along with the participation of national and international organizations that carefully observe the proceedings.

“In addition, during the press conference in the morning of 20 August 2010, Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians announced that they have sent a letter to the US parliament and Senate to express their support for the United States of America adopting an amendment to financial legislation that requires US listed oil exploration companies operating in Cambodia to publicly disclose their expenditures and income. Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians consider that this law helps to promote transparency in the investment and in the management of income from mines, and in the oil and gas sectors in Cambodia.”

[Rasmei Kampuchea, Vol.18, #5282, 21.8.2010
Newspapers Appearing on the Newsstand:
Saturday, 21 August 2010

Cambodian PM to discuss temple issue with Thai counterpart

via Khmer NZ

Supalak Ganjanakhundee
The Nation (Thailand)
Publication Date : 21-08-2010
The door to resolving the border conflict over the Preah Vihear Temple should be open on both sides as Hun Sen and Abhisit Vejjajiva look for opportunities to meet in October, while Bangkok continues telling Asean not to intervene.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said Asean chief Surin Pitsuwan met Hun Sen on Monday (August 16) and encouraged him to meet his Thai counterpart on the sidelines of the AsiaEurope Meeting in Brussels in October.

"Samdech [Hun Sen] stressed that he would agree to this meeting if Abhisit did, though so far there has been no confirmation that the meeting between the two will be held," Koy Kuong was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying Friday (August 20).

Cambodia raised the Preah Vihear issue with the United Nations and even called on the Asean grouping to lend a hand if all bilateral means failed.

Thailand, however, told Asean that it was quite capable of resolving the Preah Vihear dispute through bilateral discussions, and did not need help from a third party.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya wrote to his Vietnamese counterpart, Pham Gia Khiem, clarifying Thailand's position in response to Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong's recent letter seeking assistance from Asean. Vietnam is currently the chairman of the regional grouping.

"It is our goal to resolve this issue peacefully and in good faith, through bilateral channels in accordance with existing bilateral agreements and international law," Kasit said in his letter.

Despite perceptions of tension, communications between Thailand and Cambodia continue unabated through various channels and mechanisms. Both countries are still cooperating on a wide range of issues at all levels, be they bilateral, subregional or regional and people on both sides of the border continue with their normal crossborder activities.

Kasit said bilateral mechanisms to settle the problem were still working as his government has already resubmitted the minutes of three meetings of the joint boundary committee (JBC) for parliamentary consideration.

The documents have not yet been added to the Parliament agenda due to protests staged by the yellowshirt nationalists on Tuesday. The group is calling on Abhisit's government to scrap the landboundary settlement deal signed with Cambodia in 2000 because it entails territory loss.

However, this should not be seen as an intention to delay the consideration of JBC's work, because the Thai constitution guarantees and protects the rights of individuals to have different opinions, Kasit said in his letter.

China, ASEAN to construct Mekong railway system

via Khmer NZ

Taiwan News, Staff Writer

China is planning to construct a railway system on the Mekong River regions with five countries of the ASEAN amid concerns for further transportation integration, according to local news report.
The plan, announced at the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Ministers Meeting, was endorsed by China, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.

A number of four proposals are considered in the construction scheme with a route linking Bangkok, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam with China the most feasible solution, the report quoted British Broadcast Company (BBC) as saying.

A total of $1.9 billion dollars are estimated to cover the overall costs of the construction scheme with additional $7 billion dollars for upgrading existing railways. The railway system is said to start its maiden voyage in 2025 with a capacity of roughly 3.2 million passengers and 23 million tons of goods.

'Hi Mom, What's the Answer?'

via Khmer NZ

August 20, 2010

By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor

Here’s a novel use of cell phones: They can assist you in cheating. On tests.

As the Agence France-Presse writes, it’s common in Cambodia for students to bribe teachers to let them smuggle notes into exams, and even purchase answer sheets for tests from teachers. And some more high-tech cheaters have people read out answers over mobile telephones to them while they’re taking national exams.

As the Phnom Penh Post, which no doubt is one of your bookmarks, reported last month, “around 108,000 Grade 12 students across the country took Khmer literature, social sciences, geography and chemistry exams, and exams in physics, morality, history and English” were taken later.

"What would happen if they fail?" asked Than Vichea, according to AFP. "We have to think about our expenses for schooling, part-time studies and fuel costs, and especially our time."

Students admitted to the AFP that they had “bribed teachers to allow them to use their mobiles to phone relatives for help during the exams, the results of which will be announced on August 20.”

According to the PPP, Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association, said that “he had already heard reports of teachers receiving between 5,000 riels (US$1.18) and 20,000 riels from students in exchange for answers to the Khmer literature and social sciences exams.”

For some students, however, the results won’t exactly be a surprise. “Candidates in my room could even make a phone call outside during the exams to get answers," said a female student, adding that some students used their phones to take a photo of the answer sheet and send it to each other via the Internet on their phones," she said.

This is what happens when the country’s government, run by the Khmer Rouge, destroys the entire country’s educational system in the 1970s. Building it back becomes a slow, painful process.

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Patrick Barnard

Wrestling With The Khmer Rouge Legacy

via Khmer NZ

Saturday, 21 August 2010
Written by FPIF

Courtesy of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of CambodiaThe Khmer Rouge Tribunal delivered its first verdict in July against Kaing Guek Euv, alias “Duch,” the director of the notorious S-21 prison, a torture and extermination center under the rule of Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. After a 77-day trial, the five judges — two international and three Cambodian — unanimously convicted Duch of committing crimes against humanity. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

This landmark decision came only days after the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh celebrated the 60th anniversary of the restoration of U.S.-Cambodian relations. U.S. officials made no mention of their critical role in helping Pol Pot’s forces come to power. Nor did the trio of former U.S. ambassadors — Charles Ray, Kent Wiedemann, and Joseph Mussomeli — issue any apologies during the two-day celebration for the Nixon administration’s secret B-52 bombings that inflicted massive destruction on the Cambodian countryside or for U.S. diplomatic support for the Khmer Rouge from 1979 to 1990.

During his trial, Duch testified that the Khmer Rouge would have likely died out if the United States had not promoted a military coup d'état in 1970 against the non-aligned government led by Prince Norodom Sihanouk. "I think the Khmer Rouge would already have been demolished," he said of their status by 1970, "But Mr. Kissinger [then U.S. secretary of state] and Richard Nixon were quick [to back coup leader] Gen. Lon Nol, and then the Khmer Rouge noted the golden opportunity."

Because of this alliance, the Khmer Rouge was able to build up its power over the course of their 1970-75 war against the Lon Nol regime, Duch told the tribunal.

At these two events — a condemnation and a celebration — the media paid little attention to U.S. complicity in the Cambodian tragedy. In fact, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal was set up in just such a way as to avoid asking any of the uncomfortable questions about U.S. policy. The tribunal's mandate for indictment only covers the period from April 17, 1975 to January 6, 1979, when the Khmer Rouge regime was already in power.

Any investigation into the time period that covered U.S. bombing before 1975, which directly caused the deaths of 250,000 civilians, could open up former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to liability for war crimes.

After the fall of the Pol Pot regime in 1979, U.S. foreign policy also played a major role in aggravating the sufferings of the traumatized Cambodian people. As a result of the decision to focus only on that time period during the rule of Pol Pot and his regime, the Tribunal conveniently concentrates all the guilt for the atrocities in Cambodia on the Khmer Rouge and little on their enablers.

After 1979

The toppling of the barbarous Khmer Rouge regime, which ended the Cambodian nightmare, should have been cause for international celebration. But Washington and most western governments showed no elation at all because the “wrong country” — Vietnam — liberated the Cambodians. Instead, western governments condemned Vietnam for an illegal invasion.

Washington, meanwhile, joined China in keeping the ousted Pol Pot regime alive by retaining its seat in the UN General Assembly through its diplomatic recognition as the legitimate representative of the Cambodian people. The Khmer Rouge then used its vote, along with U.S. support, to prevent any UN agency from providing development aid to a country trying to rebuild itself from the abject ruins of Pol Pot’s “Year Zero.” UNICEF, a lone exception, was the only UN agency permitted to have an office in Phnom Penh.

Why the Delay?

Why has it taken 30 years to bring Khmer Rouge leaders to trial? The Hun Sen government’s protracted negotiation with the UN legal affairs department is one oft-cited reason. But, in fact, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen requested the UN to set up a tribunal back in 1986. From 1986 - 1987, Australian Foreign Minister Bill Hayden called for Pol Pot to be put on trial. But the Reagan administration blocked his initiative, claiming that any attempt to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders would “undermine” U.S.- Australian relations and the united front, with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, against Vietnam.

Only after the Cold War ended and a Cambodian peace deal was signed could Cambodians put a Khmer Rouge tribunal back on the agenda. In 1997, in his human rights report, UN Special Rapporteur for Cambodia Thomas Hammarberg included a request from Cambodian leaders for a UN-aided tribunal. The General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution that noted for the first time that crimes against humanity had occurred in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, and they needed to be addressed. This delay in bringing the Khmer Rouge to trial stretched for nearly 20 years because Washington blocked all attempts at setting up a tribunal.

Given this unhappy record of the United States and its contribution to the Cambodian tragedy, the Cambodia government had expected that their longstanding request for the cancellation of a very old debt of $339 million would receive a sympathetic hearing in Washington.

After all, this debt is based on original loans to the military regime of General Lon Nol who came to power in 1970 with U.S. military support. Cambodia’s government says that in part, these loans were used to buy weapons and support that war, which caused great suffering to the Cambodian people. Much of the $339 million represents interest accumulated over the last 30 years.

And yet, for all the recent improvement in U.S.-Cambodia relations, Washington remains obdurate in insisting that the current government in Phnom Penh repay the debt.

To show some measure of respect for the Cambodian people, the Obama administration should stop demanding that Cambodians pay for the bombs used to kill so many of their fellow citizens. Washington should reverse current policy and cancel the debt. Moreover, as compensation for people killed and infrastructure destroyed during the war, the United States should extend considerably more humanitarian aid to Cambodian war victims than the few small grants so far provided to U.S. charities. The United States can’t undo all the damage done by the secret bombing campaign and support for the Khmer Rouge. But at this late date, Washington can at least help Cambodia deal with the legacy of the war and the destructive political force that grew out of it.

Tom Fawthrop is the co-author with Helen Jarvis of Getting Away with Genocide? Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (Pluto books distributed in the United States by University of Michigan Press). He has reported on Cambodia since 1979 for The Guardian (UK), BBC, and other media. He is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.


Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF) is a “Think Tank Without Walls” connecting the research and action of more than 600 scholars, advocates, and activists seeking to make the United States a more responsible global partner. It is a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

FPIF provides timely analysis of U.S. foreign policy and international affairs and recommends policy alternatives. We believe U.S. security and world stability are best advanced through a commitment to peace, justice and environmental protection as well as economic, political, and social rights. We advocate that diplomatic solutions, global cooperation, and grassroots participation guide foreign policy. For a more detailed explanation of our foreign policy vision, please consult Just Security, our framework document.

Laos, Cambodian Armies On Better Footing

via Khmer NZ

Written by DATE_FORMAT_LC2

Bandar Seri Begawan - Twenty army personnel from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and the Lao People's Army are currently on better footing following their successful completion in an English course conducted by the Evolution Centre Training Institute of the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

Present to officiate the certificate presentation ceremony was Commander of Royal Brunei Armed Forces Major General Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan bin POKSM DSP Hj Abidin in his capacity as guest of honour.

Speaking on behalf of the class, Cpt Seng Chan Rotana from the Royal Cambodia Armed Forces delivered a closing remark, in which he said, "It is common knowledge that English is an important language for international communication, particularly among our Asean member states, where English is used as an official language - both written and spoken.

"We highly value and appreciate the importance of the English course provided by the Brunei Darussalam Ministry of Defence and the Evolution Center Training Institute. Brunei is the right place for us to learn English, seeing that it is spoken everywhere and considered a second language.

"This course is part of Brunei's contribution towards the establishment of Asean as a community by 2015.
"Moreover, this English course provides a good channel for promoting our mutual understanding and paving the way for future defence cooperation.

"Another strong point is that the facilities provided -including a comfortable classroom, modern computer labs, study schedules and transportation - ensured our learning environment here was very conducive," he added.

Meanwhile, in a separate speech, Major General Dato Paduka Seri Hj Aminuddin Ihsan bin POKSM DSP Hj Abidin praised the excellent speech made by by Cpt Seng Chanrotana, saying it demonstrated the success of the course.

After congratulating the participants, he said, "Though it is a small course, for the Royal Brunei Armed Forces it is a historic achievement as this is the first time we have conducted a course specifically for members of foreign armed forces."

"The participants have come a long way to Brunei from Laos and Cambodia, away from their families to attend the course, which reflects their enthusiasm.

"Over the years, we have seen enduring efforts and initiatives in numerous aspects and at various levels and scopes to build confidence as well as enhance trust and cooperation among Asean member countries.

"Despite our diverse cultural and traditional backgrounds, I believe that it is everyone's wish for the people of the 10 Asean member countries to live harmoniously as a single community in the spirit of friendship and solidarity.

The commander further highlighted, "We in the defence community circle are also actively contributing in our own part to support this noble cause by strengthening our defence and military relations and bridging the communication gap through dialogue, meeting, seminars and organising course such as this."

"I believe that they (training institute) have executed their mission well as proven by Cpt Seng's speech," the commander added.

The Training Institute has become the focal point of training activities within the Royal Brunei Armed Forces.

The curriculum has expanded rapidly to incorporate training for officers and other ranks. It aspires towards becoming a centre for excellence for this country and the region. The centre has also witnessed rapid improvement and expansion of facilities.

"With the expansion and enhanced capabilities, the Royal Brunei Armed Forces is becoming self-reliant in its training needs," he added.

Following the presentation of certificates, the commander handed out awards to the best students.

Cpt Seng Chan Rotana was presented an award for best oral presentation, Capt Soulixay Phichith of the Lao's People Army was awarded for being the best student of the Elementary Course, while CWO Chhon Borey of the Royal Cambodia Armed Forces was named best student of the Intermediate English course. -- Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin

PM ready to talk with Hun Sen at Asem

via Khmer NZ

Published: 22/08/2010

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Sunday he is ready to discuss ways to resolve the rift between Thailand and Cambodia with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen at the Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem).

"I'm ready to talk with Prime Minister Hun Sen concerning the Thai-Cambodian conflict together with the Preah Vihear temple issue at the Asem, scheduled for Brussels in October.

"It is not necessary to bring other organisations to deal with the Thai-Cambodian row since the two countries are well aware that they are neighbouring countries and I believe both of us don't want the problem to escalate," Mr Abhisit said.

As for the Thai court's decision to extradite Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout to stand trial on terrorism charges in the United States, the premier said Foreign Minister's secretary-general Chavanond Intarakomalyasut had clarified the issue the Russian government.

The court's ruling was in line with the law, he added.

Politics Not Involved in Thai-Cambodian “Spy” Accusations

via Khmer NZ

August 22, 2010

Following the detention of three Thai villagers who unknowingly wandered into Cambodian territory recently, Thailand has sort to assure its citizens that the men are not spies and had been detained in an isolated incident unrelated to the ongoing political tensions.

Surin, the 20th of August 2010: The trio of hunters, Sanong Wongchareon, Ling Pongphet and Lan Sapsri, were arrested by Cambodian border police earlier this week after they had strayed across the border from the northeastern province of Surin.

Initial reports suggested that the group were Thai spies due to the ongoing political tension between the neighbouring countries over the Preah Vihear Temple. However, it has now been ascertained that the three men had been carrying crude homemade firearms, hunting and gathering resources in the forested region. Allegedly, they unknowingly crossed the border at which point they were detained by Cambodian authorities.

Second Army Region Commander Lieutenant General Veevalit Chornsamrit reaffirmed the public that the three arrested men, now detained in Siam Reap, are not spies and were merely hunting in the forested border region. Lt. Gen. Chornsamrit explained that the trio would now face legal prosecution in Cambodia before being deported back across the border.

“The villagers simply strayed while hunting for game,” the Thai commander said. “Recently some Cambodians were discovered crossing into Thailand, which we deported back to their homeland, according to the Thai commander.”

Thai officials are now cooperating with their Cambodian counterparts in order to bring back the three men, while residents along the extensive border have been urged to take care when moving close to the border and to refrain from entering the forested regions near the Preah Vihear Temple to avoid a repeat of the ongoing situation.

Deputy Director of the Thailand’s Foreign Ministry (Department of Information) Thani Thangpakdee, revealed that the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh had already been engaged to provide assistance to the three arrested Thai nationals.

UN offers to help resolve Thai-Cambodia dispute

via Khmer NZ

Sunday, August 22, 2010

UNITED NATIONS -- U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon is ready to help Cambodia and Thailand resolve their deadly border dispute, a U.N. spokesman said Friday.

“The Secretary-General hopes that Cambodia and Thailand will resolve the dispute along their border amicably through dialogue,” Farhan Haq told a press briefing. “He stands ready to help the parties.”

The neighboring southeast Asian nations have been locked in a troop standoff at their border since July 2008, when the ancient Preah Vihear temple was granted UNESCO World Heritage status.

The row turned deadly in October of that year when two people reportedly died during an exchange of fire between Thai and Cambodian forces near the site.

The World Court ruled in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia, although its main entrance lies in Thailand.

The exact boundary through the surrounding grounds remains in dispute, and occasional gunfights between troops of the two nations have claimed lives.

The Thai-Cambodia border has never been fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

Confronting Cambodia's past at the Killing Fields

via Khmer NZ

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Story and photography by THOMAS HUANG
The Dallas Morning News

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – I wander the fields, tracing the gentle slopes where the mass graves were. I want to hear the voices of those who died here. I want to hear their stories; that might be a way of honoring them.

Instead, silence enshrouds me. Perhaps that's not a bad thing.

Silence allows me to pray.

Silence helps me hold back the tears.

I've come to the Killing Fields to pay respect to the dead. I've come to remember Dith Pran.

Pran was a wise soul. He had persevered through a great horror, but you wouldn't have known it from his quiet demeanor.

I met him through the Asian American Journalists Association about 15 years ago. Every year at our national convention, I taught and mentored college students on a newspaper project. Every year, Pran, a small man who always carried a camera with him, entered the room and offered words of encouragement.

"Do you know who this man is?" I would ask my students. No, they would say.

Dith Pran

So I would tell them Pran's story. He'd been a photojournalist and translator working with a New York Times reporter in Cambodia in the mid-1970s. He stayed to cover the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge. He survived four years of hard labor under that regime, pretending to be uneducated and hiding his American ties. Finally, Pran escaped to Thailand. He eventually came to the United States and became a Times photographer.

In a way, I knew Pran even before I met him. His story was the subject of the film, The Killing Fields. I was in college when the movie came out, and when I learned about Pran's courage, something stirred inside me. I began to think about becoming a journalist.

I remove my shoes and walk up the steps to the Buddhist stupa, a towering shrine that was built two decades ago next to the fields. I pass an altar of figs, flowers and incense sticks. I'm joined by a few other tourists, but no one says a word.

The sign at the entrance says: "Would you please kindly show your respect to many million people who were killed under the genocidal Pol Pot regime."

From 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader, was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians. In these fields, known as Choeung Ek, the Khmer Rouge executed and disposed of several thousand people.

Many of them had been interrogated, tortured and brought to the fields from Tuol Sleng, known as S-21, an old school that's now a museum a few miles away. Many of them were killed with farm tools: hoes, knives, shovels and hatchets.

Visitors fell silent upon seeing human skulls at the Buddhist memorial to victims of the Pol Pot regime's genocide.

I enter the memorial. Before me, on several levels, lie piles of human skulls. They stare back at me, some discolored, others showing the damage inflicted upon them during the executions.

At first, I am overwhelmed with sorrow and revulsion.

Then I ask myself: How else should we remember the genocide and memorialize the dead?

The Cambodians are still struggling with the best way to bring those responsible to justice. (In July, a United Nations tribunal convicted the first Khmer Rouge official of war crimes and sentenced him to serve 19 years in prison. Four other former leaders await trial.)

But, at least at this memorial, the Cambodians have decided to confront the terrible past and resist erasing history.

Pran died in March 2008 after battling pancreatic cancer. He had worked hard to educate us about the Cambodian genocide. He had worked hard to encourage younger journalists like me.

As I leave the memorial, I say a prayer for Dith Pran, hoping he has finally found some measure of peace.

I say another prayer for his country. Despite Cambodia's beauty, I know it's one of the world's poorest countries, devastated by the killings.

As I leave the fields and walk out onto the city street, a girl approaches me. "Papa," she says in rehearsed English. "Give me one dollar, and I go away."

Photographs line the walls of Tuol Sleng, the old school where thousands were interrogated and tortured in the 1970s.

Then a man nudges his 2-year-old daughter, who is naked, toward me. She holds up her tiny hands in prayer, beseeching me. I turn away; I fear that if I give her money, more people will approach me.

She is silent, and in that silence, I hold back my tears. It isn't until I write these words a few months later that I begin to weep.When you go


Access Phnom Penh on most major airlines, including Korean Air and Delta Air Lines with a connection through Seoul, South Korea. American Airlines has flights with connections through Los Angeles and Hong Kong.


The Killing Fields site, known as Choeung Ek, is about 10 miles south of Phnom Penh, so you'll need to hire a taxi or motorbike to get you there. To enter the memorial, you're asked to donate $3. With that donation, you can get a guide to show you around, but I didn't find that necessary. It's a small area and easily walkable. Steel yourself before you view the human skulls in the Buddhist stupa. In addition to the memorial, signs indicate where detention areas were located, and a visitors center provides historical information about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide. Details: 

Hundreds of human skulls cover several levels of a memorial at the Killing Fields.

Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21, is the former school where thousands of people were interrogated and tortured. It's now the Museum of Genocide. The most moving, and overwhelming, section contains hundreds of photos of the newly arrived. Details:


I enjoyed my stay at the colonial-style Raffles Hotel Le Royal (92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh; It was built in the late 1920s and has a lot of charm. I also received recommendations for Blue Lime, a more modern hotel with 14 rooms (42 Street 19Z;

The Foreign Correspondents' Club (363 Sisowath Quay) has become a bit of a tourist draw, a multilevel complex with a cafe, restaurant, bar and shops. I had a decent chicken sandwich for lunch and an Angkor beer while looking out upon the Tonlé Sap River, trying to do my best foreign correspondent impression.


Phnom Penh was evacuated during the Khmer Rouge regime and became a ghost town. When people moved back, it became a city of drugs, prostitution and violence. Those problems have largely subsided in recent years – or at least are less than evident to the tourist. Still, it's odd to think there'd be good shopping here. Street 240 is known for its antique shops and boutiques. I liked Couleurs D'Asie (33 Street 240), which sells beautiful, traditional Khmer cotton scarves.


The National Museum (just north of the Royal Palace) is a gem. You'll find hundreds of artifacts and statuary from across Cambodia, as well as a courtyard with fountains full of koi. It's a good place to relax after viewing the horrors of the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng. Details:


Tourist information: and  

Getting an electronic visa to Cambodia is easy and costs $25. Apply online at

At Cambodia's Angkor Wat, prattling guide, press of humans detour search for wisdom

via Khmer NZ

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Story and photography by THOMAS HUANG / The Dallas Morning News

ANGKOR WAT, Cambodia – He came to Angkor Wat seeking enlightenment.

He prayed that the spirits of the Khmer kings would whisper wisdom, nudging him out of his midlife drift.

He hoped that the apsaras, the celestial dancers in bas-relief murals, would fill his faltering heart with hope.

He wished that Garuda, the bird-man of Hindu myth, would carry him skyward to behold the fields below, and the forests with a horrific past.

Instead, he found Vithou.
Vithou, in his late 20s, looked no older than 14. A wisp of a mustache shaded his upper lip. When he smiled, I couldn't tell whether he was grinning or scowling. Like most of Angkor Wat's tour guides, he resembled a Boy Scout in his tan shirt and dark slacks.

I had just checked in to the Hotel de la Paix in Siem Reap when he approached. He told me that I could hire him through the hotel's tour desk. I asked him to take me through the temples for the next two days. It was a snap decision I would come to regret.

Dreams had brought me here. Last year, while on an elliptical trainer at the gym (literally running at a standstill), I flipped through a National Geographic. The photo spread mesmerized me. I wanted to see the five spires of Angkor Wat, the best preserved of a thousand temples in Angkor, the capital of the Khmer kingdom, established in the ninth century. It was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, home to as many as 1 million people.

By the 14th century, the region was abandoned. Theories of the kingdom's demise range from disease to Thai invaders. Some scholars think Angkor got too big for its own good, its infrastructure failing the population. Others hypothesize that the inland city became obsolete when the sea trade grew in importance.

Whatever happened, happened. Jungle swallowed the temples. Centuries passed. Cambodians say they never forgot Angkor. But the rest of the world didn't take interest until 1860, when a French naturalist named Henri Mouhot came upon the ruins. Archaeologists hurried here, but then came years of conflict, and then came the Khmer Rouge regime and the genocide, and then came civil war.

While some temples in the Angkor Wat compound prohibit climbing, others welcome tourists to clamber up and down the ruins.
He had risen before dawn to tour the temples with Vithou. He wanted to see the sandstone walls in the pink light. But they were joined by hundreds of other tourists, all elbowing one another to take the iconic sunrise photo.

He had wanted adventure in his life. Out of vanity, he had hoped to impress his loved ones. Instead, he couldn't keep the Korean tourists with their floppy hats out of his camera's view.

Then there was Vithou with his sad story. He had grown up in Siem Reap, watched it blossom from dusty village to a mecca of five-star hotels. His parents had wanted him to become a Buddhist monk; he spent a week at a temple, but it wasn't for him. He got a desk job at a hotel (blessed be the air conditioning), but was ousted for some unstated reason. He ended up as a tour guide.

The sweltering day arrived. They clambered up and down the ruins. They visited the Bayon in Angkor Thom, with its serene carved faces. They entered Ta Prohm, with its giant trees sprouting from piles of stone.

Tourists gather to photograph the sun rising over Angkor Wat. The temple complex is Cambodia's national symbol and appears on the country's flag.

An Italian girl in a sarong emerged from the shadows. She wore lacy gloves, taking photos with a long lens. She was from Milan, and he imagined her as a romantic figure from a modern-day A Room With a View. But she would not return his gaze.

Vithou was a cross between Eddie Haskell of Leave It to Beaver and Chucky, the doll from the Child's Play movies. Like Haskell, he was ingratiating, but always playing the angles. And like Chucky, he wouldn't leave you alone.

He wouldn't stop talking, or touching my arm, even when I wanted to absorb the sacred nature of the temples. He kept telling the same stories. And yet he wouldn't answer my questions, including one about why the Khmer Rouge hadn't wiped out Angkor Wat.

He brought me to a breakfast place and expected me to pay for his meal. He kept telling me when to take photos and when not to. "I can take whatever photo I want to," I finally said, annoyed. In a dark temple, as we crouched down to look at a stone figure behind some rubble, he pulled me forward. "Please," I said, "don't pull me."

The final straw came on the second day of our tour. Several times, he grimaced, rubbed his stomach and asked me to take him out for fried rice. I'd had enough. I asked the driver to drop him off at the hotel.

The giant trees growing out of the ruins have made Ta Prohm one of the most photogenic and popular temples in Angkor.
As we said goodbye, I still couldn't tell whether Vithou was grinning or scowling.

Suddenly, I asked myself: Why do I think I'm any better than he is? My heart began to soften. Here was a young man who was trying to make the best of his situation, trying to make as much money as he could to help his family.

Why should I resent his behavior?

Since when had I become the arrogant tourist?

He came to Angkor Wat seeking enlightenment and adventure.

Instead, he left with questions.

That night, in a car speeding south to Phnom Penh, on a road once plagued by bandits, he looked at the moon, full and low in the sky. The moon was sacred, too, and he wondered whether any of his loved ones were gazing at her right now.

An angelic face peeks out from the roots of a tree growing over a temple

He felt so far removed from them, and he wondered how he had created this geography within his own heart.

When you go


You can fly to Siem Reap from several Asian cities, including Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. There's also a short flight from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, on Bangkok Air. Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat, is about three miles south of the main temple.

If you like the water, you can take a boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap via Tonle Sap Lake. The trip takes several hours and costs about $35. If you're on a budget, you can make the trip on a bus for as little as $11. If you do so, guidebooks recommend bringing earplugs, because the Cambodian pop music played on the buses can get loud.


I booked my guide through my hotel's tour desk for a pricey $40 per day. You can probably do better by checking out the tour companies near the Old Market. Guidebooks also recommend Diethelm ( and Exotissimo ( – top tour operators, but also expensive.

My advice would be to bring a good guidebook on the temples and see them on your own, unless you're the kind of person who enjoys every single anecdote about King Suryavarman II. If you'd really like to get a guide, try hiring him or her for just a day and see whether you get much out of the experience.


Entrance fees for Angkor Wat are $20 for a one-day ticket, $40 for a three-day ticket and $60 for a one-week ticket. The temples are open from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I'd recommend a two- to three-day visit, including seeing the main temple at sunrise one day.

When you visit Angkor Wat, you'll see groups of pilgrims, such as these Buddhist nuns.

The area containing the major temples, including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Banteay Kdei and Preah Khan, is about 16 square miles. You can hire a driver for about $25 a day, or a tuk-tuk (a cart pulled by a motorbike) for about $16, or a motorcycle taxi for about $8.

For a view of Angkor Wat at sunrise or sunset, enter the front of the compound, walk about halfway toward the main temple and make a left or right onto the fields. Even if you go early, you'll probably be competing with a crowd, but that's your best chance at a great photo.

Many of the temples are undergoing restoration, so you'll find certain sections closed to visitors.

Cambodia is hot and sunny, so hit the temples early in the day. Bring a small backpack with bottles of water and wear sunscreen and a cap.

To get the most out of your visit, it does help to be physically fit. Climbing up the steep steps of several of the temples, clambering around the ruins, just traveling from temple to temple – all of it can get grueling, especially in the heat.


I enjoyed staying at Hotel de la Paix (Sivutha Boulevard;, a modern, stylish place with art deco and Khmer influences. The favorite part of my room was the large marble bathtub, which I would soak in after a full day of touring the temples. A journalist friend also recommended Viroth's Hotel (0658 Wat Bo Village;, chic and affordable with only seven rooms.


I had good meals at several places across town, including Khmer Kitchen Restaurant (just north of the Old Market), the Sugar Palm (south of the Caltex gas station), the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Angkor (Pokambor Avenue) and Viroth's Restaurant (246 Wat Bo St.). At most of these places, you can get the traditional tastes of pomelo salad and amok, a dish of fish steamed in bamboo leaves with coconut milk and curry.

If you have an opportunity, try Khmer barbecue with a group of Cambodians. I had the pleasure of being invited to dinner one night. We cooked our meat and vegetables in a central hot pot and drank Angkor beer from what I can only describe as a lemonade dispenser.


If you're tired of the temples, the Angkor National Museum is a nice respite, and it's air-conditioned. You'll find a room with 1,000 Buddha statues and a model of the main temple. Strangely, amid the statues I met a guy from Toronto who told me he was a big Dallas Cowboys fan. "But," he said, "they'll never make it to the Super Bowl with Tony Romo."

The Old Market is in the heart of town and is a good place to buy souvenirs and T-shirts. You can haggle with the vendors to your heart's content.


The Caltex gas station (also known as Starmart) in the middle of town on National Route 6 is a good all-purpose convenience store. You can get coffee and croissants there, and there's an ATM inside.

While the riel is Cambodia's official currency, U.S. dollars can be used anywhere in the country, and most of the ATMs spit out dollars.

Japan team excavates ancient statues in Cambodia

via Khmer NZ

The Yomiuri Shimbun

SIEM REAP, Cambodia--A team of specialists led by the president of Tokyo's Sophia University has excavated the severed upper halves of six Buddhist statues from the Angkor ruins in northwestern Cambodia.

The Sophia University Angkor International Mission, headed by university President Yoshiaki Ishizawa, excavated the statues from a circular moat at the ruins of Banteay Kdei temple on Friday.

About 60 centimeters tall, the statues are believed to have been produced in the late 12th or early 13th century.

Ishizawa and his team have worked to repair and preserve the Angkor ruins, a World Heritage Site. They also excavated Buddhist statues there in 2001, a discovery that brought certain historical events to light, including the fact that Buddhism was suppressed across Cambodia after the death in 1219 of Jayavarman VII, the king who constructed the temple.

The latest excavation found the pieces neatly lined up in the circular moat, which a team member said was "evidence that the people of those days did not lose faith [in Buddhism] despite the oppression."

(Aug. 22, 2010)

Wat's new in Cambodia?

via Khmer NZ

Angkor and the main sights aside, Cambodia is largely unexplored by travellers but the jungle of the north-east makes a great stop en route to Laos or Vietnam

The Guardian, Saturday 21 August 2010

Take me to river … bamboo bridge over the Mekong, Cambodia. Photograph: Alamy

A s I kayaked down the Mekong river, a couple of humps slunk out of the water about 10 metres ahead. Then a couple more to the left, and more to the right, before I finally realised that I was at the centre of a pod of Irrawaddy river dolphins, one of the rarest species on the planet.

Away from the boutique hotels of the Angkor Wat service town of Siem Reap and the cappuccinos and NGO crowd of the capital Phnom Penh, travelling in Cambodia has a distinct edge – and is full of wonderful surprises. Having left the ravages of civil war behind, huge tracts of it are still just opening up to travellers. What awaits them is a nation still mostly untrammelled by tourists, where, in the remoter parts, it's still quite possible to grasp that elusive feeling of discovery.

Bereft of proper roads connecting it to the outside world, Cambodia's north-east province of Ratanakiri is the epitome of an emerging frontier, with vast swathes of rugged forested terrain, waterfalls, pristine lakes and indigenous peoples. It's also starting to be used as a staging post for travellers moving south from Laos or into Vietnam.

Like any of the best places to visit, half the fun is in getting to Ratanakiri, and hundreds of miles of half-built roads, dirt tracks and some very weird food lay ahead of me on my journey from Phnom Penh. With no flights and only the dodgiest bus companies running routes there, the quickest and most comfortable way to reach it was by taxi.

The 280-mile taxi journey to my first stop, in the far north-eastern town of Stung Treng cost just £50 – less than a cab from Heathrow into central London, and also provided me with the chance to see the remarkable backwaters of the country.

An hour or so north of Phnom Penh, we passed the famous spider sellers of Skone. My driver couldn't resist a "You like? You like?" as a street vendor stuck several kebabed arachnids under my nose. We then headed to Kampong Cham with its impressive Mekong-spanning bridge; the river here is magnificent, brooding, massive. Until Cambodia's post-civil war reconstruction began a few years ago, the Mekong also provided the only form of transport north.

Roads have now replaced the river, though some are only half-built. A dusty, bumpy dirt track snakes north to rejoin the Mekong where we drove alongside the river's endless flood plains, passing huge communities of houses, mosques, Buddhist temples and schools, all built on stilts. After a quick noodle stop, we hit the home stretch on a super-smooth, recently completed, Chinese-built road.

At the point where the Sekong river splits off from the Mekong stands the unkempt town of Stung Treng, where I found the Golden River hotel, which proudly boasts the only elevator in the whole of north-east Cambodia.

It was at the Mekong, just north of Stung Treng, that I set out to see the Irrawaddy river dolphins, some of the last remaining on the planet. My guide for the day was Alex Aziz, a tour operator from north London who works with local people to create community-based tourism projects. "There are probably only a couple of hundred healthy adult dolphins left," said Alex as we paddled out into the Mekong, "but we're almost guaranteed to see some here. The villagers protect them and the dolphins have got smart and stay near." Right on cue, they surfaced near our boats.

Bewitched, we paddled down the Mekong and through sunken forests before being picked up a few miles down river.

The next morning we continued the bumpy, dusty drive to Ratanakiri, near the Vietnamese border. This region is the most ethnically diverse community in Cambodia – up to nine different ethnic groups are present. Ratanakiri was heavily bombed by the US during the Vietnam war as it formed part of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. These days Ratanakiri's main settlement, Banlung, is a thriving market town that is making the most not only of a burgeoning tourism industry but also the trading route it finds itself on.

The Yaklom Hill Lodge, opened by a Thai owner, Sompong Sritatera, in 2002, was my home for the night. Yaklom's bungalows are buried in a thick coppice of jungle just outside Banlung. Electricity runs off solar panels, the water isn't heated, but it was refreshingly cool, and the wooden chalets simple and comfortable. Basic, but you don't come here for superlative luxury – the attraction is the private jungle – 10 hectares of verdant foliage and colourful birds and flowers.

One of Banlung's biggest draws is Yaklom Lake – a volcanic crater full of water. "It's a perfect spot for a swim," said Sompong, "but first we have to make the five-mile trek there."

Glad for the help of the guides as we hiked up a steep slippery slope to views across Ratanakiri's rolling landscape, I asked Rin, our guide from the Tamphun ethnic group, what the words were for hello and thank you in his language. "We don't have words for this," he said. "We just offer a big smile."

After stopping for quick drink at the home of a local family, where we witnessed several young women hand-weaving colourful Tamphun cloth, Rin filled me in with more details of how his people live. "The Tamphun eat snake, dog, insect, monkey, mouse, squirrel and frogs. We believe all have spirits but the strongest spirit is in the wild pig," he said. "When we catch the pig we share with the whole village so the spirit is not just taken by one family."

The hike brought us out beside a clear stretch of water, surrounded by giant trees and swooping birds. We walked to the other side where there were fewer people, and several wooden jetties jutting out into the water (used for sunbathing platforms), a cultural centre and several small noodle stalls. Yaklom Lake is protected by several local Tamphun villages, a great example of community-based tourism. But of course it was the long running jump into the gorgeously refreshing waters that sealed the deal.

"You like? You like?" said Rin, as I pulled myself from the waters and reclined on the jetty. At the end of the day my big wide grin just said it all.

• Andrew Spooner is the author of Footprint's Cambodia, and Southeast Asia travel guides (