Friday, 3 September 2010

Group calls Kingdom ‘repressive’ on labour

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:02 Sebastian Strangio

CAMBODIA continued to be a “repressive” environment for labour activists in 2009, despite the existence of relatively progressive legislation, according to a new report from United States-based watchdog Freedom House.

In the report, released on Tuesday in Washington, the group said Cambodia had laws in place that guaranteed labour rights, but that implementation continued to be lacking.

“Despite the fairly robust legal framework, enforcement of labour laws is weak,” the report said. “Anti-union harassment, dismissal of union leaders and supporters, and violence by vigilantes are common.”

The labour report, the first of its kind produced by Freedom House, also cited recent moves to amend Cambodia’s labour laws to allow for the increased use of short-term contracts, which it says discourage workers from supporting trade unions.

“The government has enjoyed increasing success in attractive private investment to Cambodia, and appears to favour the interests of investors and employers over workers‘ rights,” it concluded.

The report also decried the unsolved murders of union leaders including former Free Trade Union head Chea Vichea, who was gunned down outside a newspaper stand in 2004.

In Asia, Cambodia was rated alongside Afghanistan, China and Singapore as “repressive”, with Burma, Laos, North Korea and Vietnam given the lowest classification, “very repressive”.

Moeun Tola, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, said he agreed with the report’s main findings, especially its concerns about the use of short-term contracts.

At a Kampong Chhnang garment factory where dozens of workers fainted on the job last month, he said, workers told him they dared not stop for fear that their three-month contracts would be cancelled.

“My assessment is that if they let such a situation continue, working conditions will get worse,” he said.

Moeun Tola said that as long as Chea Vichea’s killing remained unsolved, the work of union activists would continue to be a “nightmare”.

But Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the Freedom House findings did not reflect the specifics of Cambodia’s situation.

Phay Siphan said that during the global economic downturn, the government had tried hard to “balance labour and employment”, and that it was still pursuing the killers of Chea Vichea.

“We have to try as much as possible to maintain employment for our people,” he said.

Later this month, more than 60,000 garment workers plan to hold a one-week strike in response to the refusal of the Ministry of Labour and industry groups to renegotiate the sector’s newly established minimum wage. The wage was increased by US$5 to $61 per month in July, but unions are demanding that it be raised to as much as $93.

Work halts at Vattanac tower

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Construction workers assemble in protest outside their worksite at the Vattanac Capital high-rise on Monivong Boulevard yesterday.

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:02 Sun Mesa

A KOREAN construction company is set to temporarily postpone work on the Vattanac Capital high-rise on Monivong Boulevard today following two days of protests by disgruntled workers, a union official said yesterday.

Sok Sovandeith, president of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia and a representative of the construction workers, said yesterday that Doo Song Construction Company would halt work on the building in order to discuss the workers’ demands with the project’s key investors. Representatives of Doo Song could not be reached.

More than 700 construction workers have come out against an order that they work an extra night shift in exchange for 3,000 riels (about US$0.75). The workers are currently paid $3.50 per day.

Sreng Nary, a workers’ representative, said the company had agreed to ask its investors for permission to increase workers’ wages from US$3.50 per day to $4 per day, and to restructure regular working hours.

Chhun Leang, president of Vattanac Properties Ltd, said his firm was investigating the dispute.

“We are investigating in order to determine who has caused this problem,” he said. “If it was caused by the [construction] company, the company must be responsible.”

Khieu Savuth, deputy director of the Department of Labour Disputes at the Ministry of Labour, said he believed the company would resume construction early next week.

Suspect in scalding assault walks free

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:01 Chhay Channyda

POLICE in Mondulkiri province yesterday questioned and released an ethnic Phnong woman accused of attacking a malaria patient who was nine months pregnant with boiling hot water, causing serious burns to the victim’s face and torso.

So Sovan, the deputy provincial police chief, said investigators believed Tok Yob, 38, had carried out the attack, but that she was released because she has five young children to care for.

“We questioned her and then released her because we knew that she had five little children. So we will let the court decide,” he said. The case was to be forwarded to the provincial court today.

Police suspect Tok Yob attacked the victim, 31-year-old Yun Sren Mom, out of jealousy.

Yun Sren Mom is married to Chuos Ngeuy, who was first married to Tok Yob and never divorced her, though they now live apart. Tok Yob cares for their five children.

On Tuesday afternoon, Tok Yob went to the house where Chuos Nguey lives with Yun Sren Mom, demanded that Yun Sren Mom pay US$10,000 to support the five children and attacked her with water when she refused.

Tok Yob could not be reached. The family of Yun Sren Mom has asked for $5,000 in compensation.

Migrant work’s middlemen

Photo by: Iwin Loy
Ein Chhunly, a labour recruitment broker, shows a picture of her daughter, Seng Sreytouch.

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:01 Irwin Loy

Kampong Cham province

THE houses in Prek Kruos village are modest dwellings, patched together with wood or thatched leaves. There are no cars to be seen; few families own motorbikes.

This is one of the poorest villages in Kampong Cham’s Sokorng commune, in Kang Meas district, local officials say. But business here has been good for one person.

Ein Chhunly is a recruiter for a labour agency that trains and sends domestic workers to Malaysia. She started working in January and has already recruited 20 women, she said.

“There aren’t many jobs here,” Ein Chhunly said. “Most women work in the farms. They can make only 10,000 riels [US$2.50] each day. It’s not much. So if the parents ask me to help them, I’ll do it.”

Observers say Cambodia’s labour export sector has seen a rapid expansion of late, fuelled in part by Indonesia’s decision last year to prevent its citizens from working as domestic servants in Malaysia, a major employer of household maids.

But although Cambodia licences its labour firms, critics say efforts have not gone far enough to prevent abuses.

In July, police raided two Phnom Penh recruitment agencies after women escaped from their training centre and said they had been forced to live in cramped conditions and barred from leaving.

The government has promised a major revamp of the regulations. But in the meantime, agencies are still actively recruiting young women.

‘I have a chance to help’ In neighbouring Angkor Ban commune, Yu Khorn gestures towards a large wooden house that dwarfs its neighbours. “The lady that lives here used to work in Malaysia,” he said. “Now she’s back. She had some savings and now she’s built a house.”

Yu Khorn started working as a broker for a licenced agency last August. He said he has heard reports of women who say they were treated poorly in training centres, or abused when they started their jobs in foreign countries – but he doesn’t believe them.

Yu Khorn shared a pamphlet he gives to prospective workers. The brochure shows photos of young women holding out fistfuls of US dollars, the bills spread into fans.

“I have a chance to help people in my community to be trained and get more income,” Yu Khorn said.

But Seng Khuy, Angkor Ban’s commune chief, said officials are apprehensive about the brokers, who have been active only in the past year. Lately, local newspapers have been running troublesome stories.

“I read about a lady who jumped from a building to escape,” Seng Khuy said. “But that’s just what the newspaper says. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know.”

In villages throughout this area, the decision to leave the country for work is prompted by a lack of options at home.

Lay Limheang, who returned from Malaysia earlier this year, said she struggled to make ends meet in her previous job in the garment sector.

Last year, a broker convinced her to sign up with a recruitment agency in Phnom Penh. She could double her monthly salary, she was promised.

But after two months in Malaysia, her life became “hell”, she said. Lay Limheang was taught basic English during her training. But her employers in Malaysia spoke to her only in Chinese. When she made mistakes, they responded with violence, she said.

“They used a belt to beat me. The husband slapped me. Once, they hit me until blood came out,” she said.

At one point, she said, her ear was twisted until it swelled into a bulbous lump. Her employers took her to the hospital. “When I told the doctor what happened, he just kept quiet,” she said. One day, her employers told her to pack her bags. She was put on a plane and flown back to Cambodia, her pockets empty. It had been eight months; she was never paid for her work.

Growing concern
Earlier this month, staff members of the NGO Community Legal Education Centre agreed to represent their first domestic worker clients – including Lay Limheang.

“I think it is a problem, but so far few people are making noise,” said Moeun Tola, the head of CLEC’s labour programme. “But now people are paying more attention.”

One industry figure acknowledges that there are significant problems to be addressed.

“We think a lot must be improved to protect migrant workers,” said An Bunhak, director of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies.

The biggest constraint, he said, is that the rules governing recruitment firms are contained in an inadequate 1995 sub-decree that contains no guidelines for basic conditions at training centres. There are no rules about labour firms’ qualifications. And although the Labour Law makes it illegal for employers to hire people to work off debt, there is no explicit language in the sub-decree regarding loans or debts.

But An Bunhak said authorities are serious about modernising the labour export industry. The government has formed a committee, on which he sits, to produce a dramatically revamped sub-decree on recruitment agencies.

Despite the current problems, An Bunhak said, domestic work presents a valuable opportunity for Cambodians – one that shouldn’t be rejected out of hand. “Workers may make $70 in the garment factories. When they go abroad they can get $300 or more. The gap is so big. Overseas migration is contributing to economic development in the households,” he said.

‘Like flying a kite’Back in Prek Kruos village, a small crowd surrounded Ein Chhunly as she unfolded a scrap of paper. She held up a photocopied picture of her eldest daughter, Seng Sreytouch.

The labour agency broker said she, too, had sent her daughters, 21 and 19, to work in Malaysia. Both had held jobs in garment factories, but they had struggled just to survive. So she signed them up with her own recruitment agency.

Though her daughters have yet to send money – the firm is deducting their wages for six months, she said, to pay for their plane tickets and other bills – they have sent word.

On the back of the paper is a handwritten note. She’s happy, Sreytouch wrote; her employers in Malaysia treat her like their own children.

Ein Chhunly said many young women in Prek Kruos are eager to go abroad, but they’re waiting to see what her daughters have to say.

For now, she said, she hasn’t decided if sending her children to Malaysia was the right move.

“I’m not even sure,” she said. “It’s just like flying a kite in the sky.”

Police Blotter: 3 Sep 2010

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Sun Narin

Doctor saves lives of despondent lovers
A pair of star-crossed lovers tried to take their own lives because their parents refused to let them wed, officials in Kratie province said. However, a doctor saved the lovers’ lives after they had both swallowed poison. Neighbours said the man and woman had strolled to the outskirts of their village to commit suicide. Someone saw them lying there unconscious and took them to the hospital quickly, a moved that saved their lives. The man was reportedly injured “a little bit”, whereas the woman’s injuries were more serious because she apparently swallowed more poison. KOH

Car crashes into pole; power outage ensues
Electricity was cut in a Russey Keo district neighbourhood on Sunday after a speeding car crashed into an electricity pole, police said. Officers said the car sped up to overtake a slower motorbike. But it lost control and crashed into the pole, injuring two riders and cutting power to the area. Police took the car to the local station for use as evidence and to ensure the car’s owner would pay for the damage caused.

Pair stumble off after car-versus-tree scrap
A car veered off into a tree in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district on Monday, losing a wheel in the process. The driver was considered lucky because no one was seriously injured as a result of the crash, which happened in the early hours of the morning. Witnesses reported seeing the car being driven very fast before hitting the tree. Two people stumbled out of the car in a state of obvious intoxication, witnesses said. They called for a motorbike taxi and left the scene. The car has been sent to the local police station.

Neighbours speculate after man kills himself
Kandal province residents have been left looking for answers after a 23-year-old factory worker took his own life on Tuesday. Neighbours reported seeing the man looking very sad and troubled the day before. The man’s older sister said she did not know what problems her brother was wrestling with; she just knew that he was sad. Neighbours speculated that the man was having love problems.

Wrong-way driver meets untimely end
A 30-year-old man died instantly after he ploughed into a 12-seat minivan while driving the wrong way down National Road 4 on Monday. A witness said the force of the crash caused the motorist to fall to the road and die. Police said the minivan driver fled the scene and left the vehicle. Police are said to be investigating.

Tobacco gets duty-free boost

Photo by: Rick Valenzuela
A man displays hand-rolled cigarettes of homegrown tobacco in front of a packhouse not far from Kampong Cham town.

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Nguon Sovan

VIETNAM will allow duty-free imports of Cambodian tobacco later this month, as part of agreement set to revive the industry and save it US$2.4 million a year.

The move comes after a three-year deal – that enabled Cambodia to send 3,000 tonnes of tobacco leaf to Vietnam duty-free each year – expired at the end of 2009, a senior commerce official said yesterday.

When that deal ended, distributors hit by duties of around US$800 per tonne had less demand for domestic crops – cutting the price of tobacco by around 50 percent, affecting the Kingdom’s farmers.

The new deal will renew duty-free quotas for 2010 and 2011, a move farmers and tobacco buyers alike have welcomed.

“The agreement will be signed in mid-September,” Sok Sopheak, director general of the Ministry of Commerce said yesterday. The ministry had seen a sharp drop in exports since the quota was stopped, he said.

Kun Lim, head of corporate and regulatory affairs for British American Tobacco, which produces ARA, Liberation and National cigarettes, supported the agreement.

BAT will now be allowed to export 600 tonnes per year duty free. So far this year, it exported no tobacco to Vietnam.

He said: “[The quota] will benefit everyone relevant to this sector. Prices will bounce back.”

Kun Lim advised the government to announce the quota publically, to enable tobacco farmers to prepare themselves for demand. He estimated that Cambodia yields 8,000 to 10,000 tonnes of dried tobacco a year.

Small-scale farmers have seen investments suffer in 2010.

Tobacco farmer Sdoeung Trap, 57, of Kampong Cham’s Koh Samrong commune, said yesterday: “Overall, I and other farmers lost about 20 percent of our investment in tobacco crops this year.”

He said the price of dried tobacco had dropped 50 percent this year, to $1.5 a kilogram from around $3 last year.

Tobacco is grown from November and yields in April. There are about seven exporters of the leaf in Cambodia.

Sok Sopheak said that Vietnam has also extended the quota for duty-free milled rice to 250,000 tonnes this year, up 50,000 tonnes on 2009. The quota would benefit Cambodia by around $2.5 million per year, as duty is around $10 a tonne.

Neither the spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy, Trinh Ba Cam, nor Vietnam’s commercial counselor, Le Bien Cuong, could be reached for comment yesterday.

Disarming beauty

Sculptor Blake with some sculptures from his Fragments series.

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Peter Olszewski

HOTEL de la Paix’s Arts Lounge is going international, and the artist known as “Blake” is coming, in what is an art-world first for Asia, let alone Siem Reap.

The Arts Lounge has, until now, concentrated on showing local artists, mostly of the mixed media milieu. But on September 23 the venue will launch the Asian debut of Fragments, which, according to the press release, is not only “an evocative collection of sculptural works by renowned artist Blake”, but also an “emotive body of sculpture” that “addresses Southeast Asia’s tragic legacy of landmines”.

The feel-good, socially conscious exhibition will also double as a fundraiser – 30 percent of sales will be donated to the Siem Reap-based NGO Cambodian Self Help Demining, founded by former child soldier and now CNN Hero-nominee Aki Ra.

The exhibition comprises 15 bronze sculptures, and each work is named after a type of landmine.

The artist Blake, otherwise known as Blake Ward, was born in Yellowknife, Canada, raised in Edmondton and studied fine arts at the University of Alberta. In 1985 he moved to Paris to further study sculpture, and then went on to Monaco in 1991 to open his Monte Carlo studio.

His sculptures are categorised into three thematic groups: Traditional Figurative Blake sculpture explores notions of idealised beauty; the Re-Think collection is dedicated to the promotion of human rights; and the Fragments series of “dis-figurative work is dedicated to the survivors of landmines”.

Blake’s interest in the landmine issue in this region stems from his six-week visit to Vietnam in 2003 to teach at the Hanoi Fine Arts University. This was the first time a western professor had led classes at the institution since 1945, and during his time on the assignment, he travelled through Vietnam and Cambodia, becoming aware of the ongoing landmine legacy of a war that supposedly ended in April 1975.

His landmine sculptures are purposefully confrontational. Inspired by classical Roman torsos that showed the perfection of the human body, his Fragments works conversely show disfigured, dismembered and limbless bodies.

As the BBC reported in November of 2007, “Limbs have been torn off and flesh ripped apart. A woman has a breast missing. Yet the injured bodies are strangely beautiful. They are art – with a difference.”

Since 2007 the exhibition has done the rounds of Europe and North America and, over a two-year period, Blake has donated three-quarters of the profits from sales of the sculptures to a variety of de-mining groups – about $200,000 in all.

Coincidentally, on Sunday, his newest exhibition concludes in Canada. This is a video installation titled The Burning Buddha to pressure international leaders who refuse to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

To make the video, Blake sculpted a bronze statue of a naked girl seated in the lotus position. He poured gasoline over the figure and lit her on fire. A narrator identifies the countries that have not ratified the agreement.

This gives a good insight into where the artist is at and, on September 23, he’ll be at the Arts Lounge in person.

Blake told 7Days, “I will be there. I arrive a few days before.”

Vietnam agrees to supply additional power

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Chun Sophal

CAMBODIAN officials said yesterday that Vietnam would supply another 30 megawatts of power to the Kingdom in response to an appeal from Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Suy Sem, minister of the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, said yesterday: “We are negotiating with Vietnamese officials and we hope that the additional power supply will be provided no later than the end of this year.”

According to a power-purchasing agreement signed in 2001, Vietnam agreed to supply 200 megawatts of power annually to Cambodia from 2009 – but it has fallen short of the target and supplied only 100 megawatts by March this year.

That prompted Hun Sen to call for Vietnam to supply 50 megawatts more as energy demand rose quickly.

In June this year, Vietnam supplied 20 megawatts more, but Cambodia insisted that the supply was still not enough.

Suy Sem said that power supply in Phnom Penh’s city centre met demand, but that suburban areas had not yet had access to additional power.

“We will use the newly obtained electricity to expand our power-distribution network to Phnom Penh’s suburbs, which at present do not have access,” said Suy Sem.

Phnom Penh, at the moment, consumes 300 megawatts a year. About 40 percent is drawn from Vietnam.

According to the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, energy demand increases from 25 to 30 percent every year.

Ty Thany, director of the Department of Finance and Electricity Price Setting at the Electricity Authority of Cambodia, said that the new power bought from Vietnam was only meeting demand, so electricity prices would not change.

He told customers to expect price change only when all the hydroelectricity dams planned for Cambodia were finished. The dams will be finished between 2011 and 2016.

Building news: Approvals soar in July to $76.7m

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Soeun Say

Building news

THE number and value of construction projects in the Kingdom substantially increased in July, according to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.

Despite a 71 percent drop, the value of projects during the first six months, July saw the ministry approve 250 projects worth US$76.7 million, an 88.5 percent increase on the $40.7 million value of July 2009’s 180 projects.

Projects approved included a 16-storey condominium in Chamkarmorn district, Phnom Penh, a garment factory and warehouse in Dangkor district, and a development by Boeung Tumpun Economic Centre.

Lao Tip Seiha, director of the construction department of MLUC, said yesterday that the government had sought to better facilitate investment in construction and the results were clear.

He added that introducing the foreign property co-ownership law also made investors feel confident.

A sense of optimism seems to be growing in the sector, which learned yesterday that what would be the world’s second-tallest skyscraper is planned for Phnom Penh’s Diamond Island.

David Simister, chairman of CB Richard Ellis Indochina, said yesterday: “We believe that the market is now in a positive growth phase after two years of stagnation.”

Terrible twos no problem for local bar

Dean Williams and staff celebrate the second anniversary of Miss Wong bar. Photo by: NICKY HOSFORD

Miss Wong has survived the two worst years to be in business in Southeast Asia
via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Nicky Hosford

MISS Wong, one of Siem Reap’s favourite bars, celebrated its second birthday last Saturday with flowing champagne cocktails for a packed crowd.

It’s been a rocky but fun-filled two years for the Shanghai-themed cocktail bar, and Kiwi owner Dean Williams is now standing rightly proud of his elegantly kitsch creation.

“We’ve been through some really tough times,” Williams said. “We opened two weeks before the economic crisis kicked in, then [came] the airport closure in Bangkok and other disturbances in Thailand. Miss Wong has survived the two worst years to be in business in Southeast Asia.”

Adding to the woes, for the first four months the bar was operational, water supplies in town had almost dried up, and the venue had to bring in 300 litres of water most days.

But, this being Cambodia, a resilient Williams kept the bar going, even taking on extra work to keep things afloat. He had to cope with dengue fever, a broken leg caused by negligent street maintenance in town and somehow managed to put his head in the ceiling fan – a move that made the whole town wince.

But having ridden out the worst of it, Williams is looking forward to the future.

“I have a lot of ideas for other bars. I’d like to open in another part of Southeast Asia although the economic crisis has put that on the back burner for the moment,” he said.

Williams’ mother described his style as being something like a bull at a gate, hence the accidents. Though this may also be why it seems that no economic crisis could hold Williams or Miss Wong back for long.

Tower could flood market

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Steve Finch

THE surprise announcement that Cambodia may construct the world’s second-tallest building may be good news for Phnom Penh’s prestige, but developer Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp would likely face a considerable financial headache in the process.

At 555 metres, although the project’s sheer scale would no doubt be its greatest draw, a building of this size in Phnom Penh could also become a victim of its huge size. Quite simply, the capital would struggle to absorb the massive increase in space for rent.

Were the building to contain the same ratio of office space as Canadia Tower, for example, at four and a half times as big it would flood the market with roughly 45,000 square metres of work space, equal to nearly 50 percent of the current total in the whole of Phnom Penh.

Although this figure is set to double to 200,000 metres by 2013, according to a 2009 report by international property firm CB Richard Ellis, this would still represent oversupply in the capital even if the tower were not completed for another five years, a realistic time frame.

It is equally difficult to see the required demand for residential or commercial space in the city to justify a building on such a scale.

The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, suffered a similar problem when it opened this year. The huge additional property it added to the already-bloated market in Dubai further entrenched a slump, albeit one caused by the unprecedented global economic crisis.

OCIC has experienced similar problems in relation to Canadia Tower which has suffered from low demand and falling prices per square metre. The firm would of course expect the property market to be healthier than it is today, but even so, surely Phnom Penh would find it difficult to accommodate such a huge addition to the market.

The world’s four tallest structures aren’t built in Dubai, Taipei, Shanghai and Hong Kong for no good reason – these are cities with huge economies and a large projected appetite for real estate in the longer term.

Accounting for supply and demand in Phnom Penh’s still-small property market would be entirely necessary given that this private venture could cost anything up to US$1 billion, when we consider most projects on a similar scale go over budget.

An added problem in Phnom Penh is that the contractor may be building on sand on Koh Pich, an extremely young land formation that experts believe is likely to change in shape over time.

Considering foundation piling, bank protection and other construction necessities based on this proposed river bank location, the project could incur high structural and engineering costs.

As noted on the Invest in Cambodia website: “Phnom Penh is built on soft foundations which necessitate expensive piling for high-rise buildings, and so construction costs are high.”

Project Manager Touch Samnang’s consideration to bring in South Korean building expertise seems to be the norm for similarly large-scale construction projects – Burj Khalifa, Taipei 101 and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur were all built by Samsung Engineering and Construction.

Still, any firm would face the kind of structural challenges posed by the riverbanks of the Tonle Sap. Even if Phnom Penh is largely immune to other threats such as earthquakes and typhoons, that the city is equally resilient to a huge oversupply in property seems much less likely.

Man About Town 03-09-2010

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Peter Olszewski

Butterfly centre finally ready to fly again

ONE of Siem Reap’s newest tourism-ventures-cum-social enterprise, the Angkor Butterfly Centre, which opened on October 1 last year, has been caught up in a legal bun fight with some members of its associated NGO, the Angkor Participatory Development Organisation.

But it looks like the legal drama is now mostly over, bar the rustling of a thousand documents. The centre’s founder, Scottish biologist Ben Hayes, told 7Days that after what appears to have been the last court case last month, the centre will this month re-emerge as a commercial entity with a new name.

“The centre is in the process of being registered as a business and as of this month, upon completion of the business license, it will be business as usual – same site, same original objectives – just a new name due to the registering process,” Hayes said.

Hayes came to Cambodia from Zanzibar where he headed up a similar project.

The Siem Reap centre doubles as a farm and helps to replenish native butterfly stocks.

NGO founder in town

ONE of the distinguished visitors to be in town on Sunday is John Wood, the former Microsoft executive who founded the international NGO Room to Read.

Wood is in town as part of the NGO’s global 10th anniversary celebrations and he will be holding court at the Somadevy Angkor and Spa hotel on Sivutha Boulevard on Sunday evening, where he will be awarded an honourable medal and a certificate of admiration, along with noted international education philanthropists, David and Elsa Brule.

NGO lore says Wood was converted to philanthropy in the 1990s during a trip to Nepal where a school headmaster showed him how few books the school’s library had.

Wood wrote in the school book, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”, and subsequently founded Room to Read.

Raise your glass

RAFFLES Grand Hotel d’Angor’s Restaurant Le Grande has won a coveted Two Glasses Award in US magazine Wine Spectator’s 2010 listings for its wine menu.

It is the only Cambodian establishment to win the honour this year.

But Le Royal, the restaurant attached to the Grand’s “sister” hotel in Phnom Penh, Raffles Hotel Le Royal, won a One Glass Award. So too did Siem Reap’s ultra-exclusive hotel, Amansara.

Little dancers make big pilgrimage

Ritual dancers perform at the peak of the sacred Preah Vihear. Photo supplied by Nginn Karet Foundation

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Ravynn Karet Coxen

AT 4am on a Tuesday last month, two police cars escorting the two buses bound for Preah Vihear arrived at the Nginn Karet Foundation for Cambodia office in Siem Reap to pick us up.

All of the foundation’s staff had requested to be part of the pilgrimage so the buses were packed with enough food and water to feed and refresh 92 people for a whole day, as well as more supplies for ritual offerings. On top of that we had a bunch of elaborate outfits and adornments for the tiny passengers we were off to collect next.

The foundation’s dance and music school, the Conservatoire Preah Ream Buppha Devi, in Chhouk Sar Banteay Srey, was the spot for us to pick up the 62 little dancers who had spent the night there with Neak Krou Channou, a borann classical dance teacher.

It was still dark when we arrived so we requested that the police turn off their sirens, which they did, and keep only the cars’ flashing lights on to guide our path.

In a car with my assistant, I was still working on the invocation and prayers that Krou Saroeun, our main dance teacher, was planning to chant at Preah Vihear.

After a roadside rest stop, during which the children consumed an old lady’s entire stock of freshly cooked sweet potatoes, we headed off again, approaching the Dangrek Mountains.

The scenery was eerie in the mist, yet utterly beautiful. Our convoy stopped at the bottom of the mountain range as only some vehicles could manage to make it up the steep new concrete road.

Sticking together, everything and everyone was transferred into pick-ups and, after paying our respects to the spirits of the land, water and forest with incense, we set off again, this time with 20 additional police escorting us, adding to the original 15.

Midway up the mountain we stopped at a military base and a pagoda. Along with some of the other staff, I went to pay my respects and give alms to the monks and nuns.

The officer in charge of the journey then briefed us on the military situation at Preah Vihear and pointed out the base camp of 10 armed Thai soldiers, which was just a stone’s throw away.

With the police and military in tow, I approached the Thai soldiers and wished them and their families well, and shared my prayers for a happy, peaceful relationship between our two countries, which, as I pointed out, both descended from the bloodline of the Khmer race.

They were quite surprised and wary, but soon smiled and chatted briefly.

Moving on, our last leg of the journey was making our way up the mountain to the incredible Preah Vihear, majestically perched on the ridge of the Dangrek, where Earth meets Heaven.

We unloaded with the help of 40 soldiers who took our various packages up and down the tiers of the temple while the children were fed lunch under the shade of the surrounding trees.

After filling our bellies, we got the kids dressed in their white muslin outfits and adorned them with crowns and bracelets made out of banana trunk peels, arek nuts, lime, jasmine and lotus.

A moment of frustration occurred when a flock of monks arrived in seriously lavish Land Cruisers, looking more like tourists than the encapsulation of piety, what with their shoes, cameras, phones and sunglasses, each of them trying to take pictures of the children.

A moment later an important official from Phnom Penh asked to have his picture taken with the girls as they prepared for the sacred Buong Suong* ritual.

His request unfortunately had to be declined. We apologised profusely, explaining that this was not a show nor a display meant to entertain, but rather a completely pure and strict ritual for the Gods and Borameis (mystical spirits), and had we granted his request, it could weaken the sacredness of our invocation.

The foundation is strict in that all the girls who perform the sacred rituals are virgins and pure. We also ensure that no rich fabrics are used nor any make-up, so as to reach the spiritual level necessary to evoke divine attendance.

As such, it was wonderful to see how respectful and attentive the soldiers and police were towards our spiritual journey.

In lines of four, walking barefoot on the uneven stone path, our group descended to the bottom of the temple and sat in front of the plaque that reads “Preah Vihear Temple”. We each bowed three times with incense in hand, and Krou Saroeun started the chant.

Planting the incense in the ground, the girls then started their sacred dance, which continued all the way up to the peak.

Engrossed in their prayers, they never faltered in keeping to the rhythm of the classical music being played through a tape machine powered by
a car battery.

At each station of the five gopura (entrance gateway), the 62 dancers and all of the foundation’s staff knelt with incense to pray and evoke the deities to descend and receive the Buong Suong with their blessings.

At the holy Srea Meas (Golden Pond), the dancers completed a loop and the two leading the procession collected its sacred water in an ancient bronze receptacle to take it back to the offering site.

Lighting candles and incense and again at the sanctuary in front of the temple’s precipice, we chanted the invocation and called to all the Gods, the Borameis, and the spirits of the royal ancestors involved in the creation of Preah Vihear.

During the last dance, lightning and storm rumbled on the Thai side of the site and the sky darkened with heavy, looming clouds of rain.

Wrapping up, we distributed offerings to the soldiers and left them to meditate on what they had experienced.

We then all climbed back on to the packed trucks to go down to the buses where the children changed back into their normal clothes.

As the day came to an end and night descended on the Kingdom, the girls were full of joy.

We arrived back at the dance school around 9pm, where their parents eagerly awaited their return.

It was certainly a long day, but one which undoubtedly touched many people’s lives.

*Buong Suong is the term used to describe a hallowed act or rite of supplication to the deities. This dance is one of the few considered sacred enough to be performed as part of such a ritual.

Orange People going global

Photo by: Pha Lina
Employees of The Orange People participate in a discussion at the firm’s high-tech Norodom Boulevard office in Phnom Penh.

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 Ellie Dyer

PHNOM Penh-based communications agency The Orange People sees creativity as a valuable commodity, one that has the potential to thrust Cambodia into the international spotlight.

Set up in 2008 and headed by Cambodian-Americans Nathaniel Chan and Sophy Pich, Orange People has developed from an start-up into a burgeoning enterprise employing around 35 staff members.

Marketing experts, graphic designers and animators – around 60 percent of whom are Cambodian – are among those working at its Norodom Boulevard office to produce TV shows, branding campaigns and advertisements for the private companies and NGOs.

“It is about sending a message to the target audience. We tell stories through many forms,” said Orange People Chief Executive Officer Nathanial Chan.

In a domestic market where global giants such as Bates 141 and Ogilvy operate, the company has developed big ideas to differentiate itself from rivals backed by international corporations. Diversifying from traditional branding methods, the company has used “social marketing” to spread brands through new media, TV and word of mouth.

For example, it created a touring television show called ‘You’re the Man’ for NGO Family Health International.Its aim was to challenge traditional male cultural roles by encouraging youths to prove themselves through cooking trials, personality tests and physical competitions.

“You are selling a message and a vision to try and impact change and more positive behaviour,” said Managing Director Sophy Pich, explaining that the show aimed to promote social responsibility amongst young men.

Orange People is also looking ahead to diversify the outlook for the Kingdom’s creative businesses. It is investing in technology to enable outsourcing to the United States. They hope American firms will be attracted by comparatively low Cambodian rates.

As Chan points out, much of the hit cartoon The Simpsons is made in South Korean animation studios, while Argentina has a burgeoning creative outsourcing sector.

“We are very technology-driven and want to put infrastructure in place so if you are sitting in New York you can see what is happening on a second-to-second basis,” he said.

“But having recognition on a global scale – it can’t be accomplished alone. It needs the backing of the entire industry.”

Chan said unity needs to be developed within the Kingdom’s growing marketing and advertising sector, which as yet does not have a cohesive voice and was hit hard by the global financial crisis, when many ad budgets were cut.

Among the survivors of the crisis, competition is still fierce. Chan talks of a “price war” among companies that compete for business through a bidding process.

“That’s how we feel at the moment, although we cannot speak for the entire industry,” he said. “But if we are just focused on competition we are forgetting about the bigger picture five to 10 years from now. We need to move forward as a sector.”

Sophy Pich said he believes skills have to be valued. “We have to stick firm on quality over price,” he said.

And Orange People must keep a close eye cash flow. It is especially important in an industry where clients pay a portion of fees upfront.

Though Chan declined to discuss exact finances, besides saying that the firm had no monetary concerns, he emphasised that “diligence” was needed to balance creativity with cash.

Chevrolet importer celebrates anniversary

via Khmer NZ

Friday, 03 September 2010 15:00 May Kunmakara

AUTO Sales (Cambodia) Ltd, which imports Chevrolet, will celebrate two years of operation in Cambodia tomorrow, counting among its achievements a 50 percent increase in sales quarter-on-quarter this year. Chanchal Singh, facility manager, said the company was proud of its growth and was responding with the launch of a “new product” next month which would target young people.

Vietnam's Complicated Relationship with the US

A soldier holds a rifle in front of a giant image of the late Vietnam's founder Ho Chi Minh during National Day celebrations in Hanoi on September 1. (Photo: Reuters)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

via Khmer NZ

HO CHI MINH CITY — Cheap facsimiles of $100 bills waft in the tropical breeze, littering Ho Chi Minh City's sidewalks with Benjamin Franklin's face. Elsewhere in Vietnam, US President Richard M. Nixon has become a gritty fashion icon, giving politicized street cred to "urban wear" clothes.

Thirty-five years ago, victorious Communist North Vietnam's troops fought their way into South Vietnam's southern port of Saigon and renamed it Ho Chi Minh City to honor their dead, charismatic, wispy-bearded leader. Ho's ubiquitous portrait, however, now competes with symbols of America, one of his worst enemies. Today, on the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh City and the northern capital Hanoi, virtually anything linked to the US is prized, including iPhones, Pepsi, and made-in-Vietnam Converse shoes.

In short, it appeared during a recent visit to Ho Chi Minh City, on Vietnam's streets as well as its ministries, it is engaged in a forked relationship with the United States that can't just be described as love-hate. It appears more complicated than that. Three and a half decades years after the war ended, both countries are still trying to come to terms with the other. Despite Vietnam's feverish adoption of the US's cultural symbols, other American political landmarks—a free and unfettered press, universal suffrage—remain too difficult for the one-time Communist regime.

London-based Amnesty International and other organizations criticize Vietnam for an array of human rights violations. Last September, the Committee to Protect Journalists cited Vietnam for continuing interference and arrests of Web-based journalists and political bloggers. Reporters remain in jail for reporting on corruption and political harassment. Wary of allowing too much American-style freedom, the one-party government heavily censors the Internet and is now targeting online games.

"Game designers will be instructed to produce healthy online games relating to history and cultural traditions," the Vietnam News Service reported in August, outlining new measures issued by the Information and Communications Ministry.

Since diplomatic relations were established in 1995, “bilateral ties have expanded to the point where leaders on both sides describe each other as partners on a number of issues,” according to a study for the US Congressional Research Service by Mark E. Manyin that was published in July, eclipsing the horrors meted out by the Americans from 1965 to 1975. Those are now enshrined in museums that display grim evidence, weaponry, and portraits of devastated Vietnamese from a time when US soldiers called their burnt napalm victims "crispy critters."

"They decide on a water torture," says the caption of a black-and-white news photograph in The War Remnants Museum which documents five American soldiers, including one pouring a canteen onto a horizontal victim's cloth-covered head. "A rag is placed over the man's face and water is poured on it, making breathing impossible. Members of the 1st Air Cavalry use water torture on a prisoner in 1968."

Outdoors sit captured US weaponry including an F-5A jet fighter, A-37 light attack aircraft, M-41 tank, a UH-1H Huey and a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, alongside other pieces. The museum's gift shop sells what looks like US soldiers' metal identification "dog tags" including one issued to B. P. McKenna, serial number B407854 USN, a Protestant with A-Positive blood.

Vietnamese forgers have made a fortune reproducing the tags and selling them to tourists since the 1990s, so it is difficult to determine their authenticity. Genuine or not, their sale at The War Remnants Museum, and at the nearby Ho Chi Minh Museum, symbolizes how Vietnam regards booty linked to the US military's defeat.

Around the corner from The War Remnants Museum, however, a shop boldly calls itself The Death, and showcases Goth-themed shoes, dresses and handbags, indicating a younger generation's different attitude toward the West. The Death shop's sign on Le Quy Don street, in inexplicable broken English, reads: "bitchy me passion over you."

Within sight of Death's door is the former South Vietnamese President's Palace—now Reunification Palace—where the war's final showdown occurred. But that US failure to protect an ally is largely ignored by today's Vietnamese who eagerly watch Hollywood's newest films, subtitled in Vietnamese, including "Inception" at the MegaStar Cineplex in Hanoi, and "Salt" playing at Ho Chi Minh City's Dong Da theater.

While an increasing number of Americans now refer to "Vietnam" as shorthand for the US military's confusion, quagmire and countless killing of innocent people in Afghanistan, the one-party regime in Hanoi is looking toward Washington to improve commercial, cultural and military ties.

Today, the US buys most of Vietnam's exports, and Americans are the biggest investors in the country. In 2009, two-way trade topped more than US $15 billion.

Whatever the rhetoric emanating from the war museum, Vietnam continues to seek a closer embrace, having applied for acceptance into the US General System of Preferences, participating in negotiations for a bilateral investment treaty with the US and working towards membership in the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership, a trade group the US is also considering joining.

And, 15 years after the two countries normalized relations, they conducted joint naval exercises in the strategic South China Sea for a week during August. In what has to be considered a symbolic gesture for both countries the destroyer USS John S. McCain, named for the father of the 2008 Presidential candidate who spent five-and-a-half years in a Hanoi prison after his plane was shot down over North Vietnam, was also allowed to dock in central Vietnam's former US-occupied port of Danang.

America is influencing Vietnam in other ways.

"Many students like to learn English, and it is the number one foreign language which we want to know, so that we can get a good job and progress," said Tu, a young waitress at a new but empty middle-class restaurant. "The second favorite language for young Vietnamese is Japanese, but it is too difficult," she said.

Many Vietnamese, meanwhile, worship dead ancestors by performing a Chinese-influenced ritual of burning small, paper, look-alike items—such as tissue-thin dollhouses, clothing patterns and other symbolic necessities. Believers say the smoke rises to heaven, where deceased family members can grab the goods to make life easier in the afterworld.

In recent years, many Vietnamese have chosen locally-printed facsimiles of $100 US currency notes, sold in funeral shops. The practice is so popular that unburnt fake $100 bills, apparently blown away during spontaneous curbside rituals, occasionally appear underfoot on sidewalks, amid other debris.

The late, disgraced President Nixon is also wedged into modern Vietnam's pop culture. Step inside Mai's, a trendy gallery on Dong Khoi street—which links the colonial French-built Catholic Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Opera House. Designer Mai Lam offered a new, bulky, olive green US army overcoat with a large embroidered American flag on its back, partially obscured by the vividly stitched face of Mr. Nixon wearing a black suit and tie while speaking into a microphone, angry and defiant. Price: $3,500.

"Her much celebrated vintage US army flak jackets, beautified for urban wear with embroidered Buddhas and embellished with precious stones [are] a poignant healing symbolism for someone who has suffered during the war," Mai's Facebook page said. Other distressed fashions bear a portrait of Ho Chi Minh.

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. His web page is

New Malaria Drug Candidate Holds Promise

via Khmer NZ


An international team of scientists has identified a promising drug candidate that represents an entirely new class of medicines to treat malaria, one of the biggest killers in the developing world.

The new drug was shown to be effective when tested in a small number of mice, according to a study appearing in the journal Science. Human trials, backed by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG, could begin later this year.

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images
Khmer families lined to give blood samples at a WHO malaria screening project in July along the Thailand-Cambodia border.

The discovery comes amid two key developments in the fight against the mosquito-borne illness. Several parts of Africa are showing a decline in malaria deaths, thanks to wider use of insecticides and bed nets to ward off mosquitoes that carry the disease, as well as use of artemisinin, a potent drug.

At the same time, there are worrying signs that the malaria parasite in parts of Southeast Asia is becoming resistant to artemisinin, which is the mainstay of combination therapy for as many as 100 million patients world-wide. Resistance has already rendered some older therapies less effective.

"We welcome a new class of drug because it could help us stay one step ahead of the parasite," said Robert Newman, director of the global malaria program at the World Health Organization, who wasn't involved in the Science study. However, he cautioned, "it's a long route to making the drug marketable … many drugs fall by the wayside."

The malaria parasite can cause fever, joint pain and death. Last year, there were an estimated 240 million cases of malaria. Of total deaths, 91% occurred in Africa and 85% were children under the age of five, according to the WHO. But the battle against malaria is making progress, and a potent new drug could help sustain the momentum.

AFP/Getty Images

A mosquito on the prowl

In 2009, malaria deaths world-wide fell to 836,000 from more than one million a few years earlier, including declines in Eritrea, Rwanda, Zambia and Zanzibar. Over the past decade, malaria cases have fallen in nine countries in Africa and in 29 elsewhere.

Most anti-malaria compounds being tested today are derivatives of existing drugs. Many common medicines treat malaria by essentially making the parasite's blood meal toxic. For other medicines, the mechanism is more of a mystery, said Thierry Diagana, co-author of the Science study and malaria program head at the Novartis Institute of Tropical Diseases in Singapore. Finding a drug that can kill malaria in a new way is hard.

When malarial parasites infect people, they spend part of their life cycle in the blood and part of it in the liver. In 2007, Elizabeth Winzeler of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., who also works for Novartis, used robots to screen 12,000 naturally occurring chemicals against plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite. The chemicals were supplied by Novartis, which leads a big effort to develop drugs for tropical diseases. Dr. Winzeler and colleagues at Novartis and elsewhere came up with NITD609, a compound that killed two species of parasites in their blood stage and also proved effective against drug-resistant strains.

The drug, a class of compounds known as spiroindolones, was then tested in mice. A mouse with malaria usually dies within a week. But when NITD609 was orally given to five infected mice, they were cured with no side effects. Other mouse tests also showed promising results.

"The next step would be to go into humans" for early-stage safety testing, said Dr. Winzeler. "As far as I can tell, there are no red flags."

Further studies are in the works, and "provided the outcomes of these studies are favorable, the compound could progress to clinical trials later this year," a Novartis spokeswoman said.

What makes the discovery unusual is that it harks back to an older way of finding novel drugs. The modern, "molecular" approach is to first identify a protein vital to the survival of the malaria parasite, and then screen various drugs until one is found that targets the protein. In the past few years, this approach has been tried on millions of compounds against malaria, with modest success.

The more traditional way is to bombard the entire parasite with various chemical compounds, and see what happens. The hitch is that even if a particular compound is effective, no one knows exactly how it worked. That uncertainty can make it harder to develop the drug for people.

Still, Dr. Winzeler opted for the traditional approach, which yielded a pre-clinical candidate in three years—quick by industry standards. She and her co-authors then figured out that the compound acted on a protein called PfATP4, which allows substances to cross cell membranes. No other malaria drug acts on this protein, though its exact mechanism has yet to be pinned down.

"This approach is upside down. It flies in the face of modern drug discovery," said Tim Wells, chief scientific officer at the Medicines for Malaria Venture, a Swiss-based nonprofit group that helped pay for the Science study.

Other funders, besides Novartis, included U.K.-based Wellcome Trust, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Keck Foundation.

Write to Gautam Naik at  

Glimpses of heaven — and hell — in Cambodia

via Khmer NZ

Posted by: Erik Tryggestad on September 2, 2010

A Buddhist temple, or wat, in rural Cambodia near Phnom Penh (Photo by Erik Tryggestad

Just after finishing our Global South feature on Cambodia, “Life, death and rebirth in The Killing Fields,” I left on an Africa reporting trip. So I didn’t get the chance to share some insights from my visit to Cambodia earlier this year.

I flew to Phnom Penh, the capital, from Singapore and stayed for a few days before traveling northwest to Siem Reap, where I made a brief visit to the Angkor of Faith 4 youth camp. While in Phnom Penh, I stayed at the home of Rich and Ronda Dolan. They moved to Cambodia a few years ago to work with the Cambodia Bible Institute, a satellite campus of Lubbock, Texas-based Sunset International Bible Institute. Rich is the former youth and family minister for the Broken Arrow, Okla., Church of Christ, so we spent some time talking about mutual friends in the Sooner state.

Dennis and Sharon Welch (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

I also met Dennis and Sharon Welch, who also help with the institute. Dennis was an air-traffic controller in Dallas for 20 years before enrolling in Sunset’s mission program in Lubbock. Joy and Lynn McMillon interviewed him in 2007 for a feature on Sunset. It was nice to see him and his wife at work in the mission field.

The Welches are transitioning into a new ministry role. They will oversee the rural nutrition program I wrote about in the Cambodia feature. The program, which provides nutrition and education for 1,600 children in 11 villages, formerly was overseen by Arkansas-based Partners in Progress.

Now the Central Church of Christ in Stockton, Calif., is taking over support of the ministry.

I got to see the nutrition program firsthand while I was in Cambodia. I took some photos and video of happy children lining up to get a nutritious snack from the Cambodian Christians who work with the program. My favorite part was watching the Cambodians hold up flash cards with words like “ear” and “nose” and teaching the children how to say and spell them in English.

Snacks in hand, girls in rural Cambodia are all smiles. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

Troy Snowbarger took me from village to village as he showed me the program in action. He and his wife, Tabitha, have overseen the program for a few years, but plan to return to the States to pursue master’s degrees. They formerly worked with the Peace Corps in East Timor. (I’m guessing they were the first Church of Christ members to set foot in that tiny, impoverished nation, but I could be wrong about that.)

Troy Snowbarger watches as children line up for snacks in rural Cambodia. (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

The Central Church of Christ already has funds committed to oversight of the nutrition program, but more money is needed. If anyone is interested in helping out, please contact the church. (Check out Dennis and Sharon’s blog for more information.)

Church members also teach English using the Bible to Cambodian students in Phnom Penh.

I visited a ministry center where volunteers were doing just that, using the World English Institute curriculum. Partners in Progress had oversight of the program at the time, but in the months since that has changed.

Now the program is called Bible English Study and Training, or BEST. Julie Broyles oversees the program, and she’s looking for teachers to come to Cambodia on short-term mission trips. Contact World English Institute for more info. (Julie is Ronda Dolan’s sister, by the way. They both grew up in Thailand, where their father, Loren Hollingsworth, served as a missionary for 30-plus years.)

Cell block at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Memorial in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

In the Cambodia feature, I wrote about Sokhom Hun, the Cambodian-born minister who endured prison and torture at the hands of the brutal Khmer Rouge.

While I was in Phnom Penh I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Memorial. It’s a former school that became the infamous S-21 prison during the Khmer Rouge years. Vietnamese troops discovered the prison when they ran the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh in 1979. They took photos of the dead bodies strapped to iron bed frames in former classrooms that had become torture chambers.

Those photos hang on the walls of the rooms in which they were taken. The bed frames and the torture implements are still there. The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous notes and photos of the people they imprisoned and murdered there. The photos are on display in the museum. You can see the terror behind the prisoners’ blank stares. An estimated 17,000 people entered those walls and never left.

I can barely put into words what walking through that museum was like. A Cambodian walked up to me while I was looking in one of the rooms.

“Where you from?” he asked, in broken English. I told him I was from Oklahoma.

“This my first time,” he said. Then he shuddered and pointed to his forearms.

I knew what he meant — goosebumps. I had them too.

An interrogation room at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Memorial in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Photo by Erik Tryggestad)

While preparing the report on Cambodia, I was blessed to come across “Survival in the Killing Fields” by Haing Ngor with Roger Warner. Ngor won an Oscar for his portrayal of Cambodian journalist Dith Pran in the 1984 film “The Killing Fields.” Ngor himself was a physician in Cambodia who was tortured repeatedly by the Khmer Rouge. (In fact, what he endured during the regime makes Dith Pran’s experiences seem almost mild.) Ngor is a tragic figure (he was killed in 1996 in an apparent robbery) and his insights into the paranoid mentality of the Khmer Rouge really helped me to understand the regime — as much as it is possible to do so. The parts of the book that deal with torture are graphic, but it’s a compelling read. I highly recommend it.