Thursday, 7 October 2010

Cambodia lays foundations for capital markets

via CAAI

Under the Regulations for the Public Issuance of Equity Securities adopted in January this year, companies offering shares to the public must have shareholder equity of at least five billion riel (US$1.25 million) when they file an application.

For companies with shareholder equity of less than 20 billion riel (US$5 million) on their latest balance sheet, the size of the issue must be equivalent to at least 20% of their equity. For larger companies, the minimum issue size is 15%. When the application is lodged for a public offering, minimum earnings requirements are at least 500 million riel (US$125,000) in net profit for the latest financial year and at least one billion riel (US$250,000) for the previous three years.

These requirements don’t apply to private placements of shares as long as such offerings are made to fewer than 30 people and are not publicly advertised by any means. SECC documentation still has to be completed beforehand, however, and results reported “without delay” to the commission, or “immediately” in the case of a company that is already listed.

Among the disclosure requirements for public offerings are risk factors and management’s perception of risk, including those related to interest and exchange rates. In addition, disclosure documents have to include industry risks, operational risks, non-operational risks, market and technology-related risks as well as risks related to changes in rules and regulations, in national and in international policies.

Fees for initial submission and registration of disclosure documents are 12 million riel (US$3,000) for initial public offerings and 8 million riel (US$2,000) for additional issues. (See table below.) Other disclosure requirements include details of executive compensation, options granted to directors or staff and the identities of shareholders holding more than 5% of the company. In theory, 20% of any public offering is reserved for Cambodian citizens with the remaining 80% open to foreigners or Cambodians. In practice, however, the SECC may reallocate subscriptions to ensure the success of a public issue.

Today, the only Cambodian business listed anywhere is NagaCorp Limited, a Malaysian-controlled company which runs the sole casino in Phnom Penh. Incorporated in the Cayman Islands, NagaCorp is listed on the Hong Kong Exchange. One foreign bank in Phnom Penh says it already has about 10 corporate customers ready to apply for a listing.

Other possible candidates are expected to include Acleda Bank, which has branches in Laos as well as having the largest network in Cambodia, and Sokimex, a petroleum importer and luxury hotel operator with subsidiaries in Vietnam and a joint venture with Marubeni in Sihanoukville servicing oil tankers. The only names to emerge publicly so far, however, are four state-owned enterprises including the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority, a once decrepit utility which has been radically transformed since 1993.

Others are Port Autonome de Sihanouk­ville, Electricit√© du Cambodge and Telecom Cambodia, a recently-incorporated company that operates the country’s fixed-line network and an international gateway as well as providing internet services. Amid public mutterings that listing require­ments are too onerous and that there is no need to raise capital anyway, government officials remain adamant. The main reason for forcing state-owned enterprises to list at this stage, they say, is to increase efficiency and transparency.

Indeed, transparency is something of a buzzword in Cambodia these days. In its latest public opinion poll of global corruption in 2009, Transparency Inter­national ranked Cambodia alongside Indonesia and Mongolia in the second-worst group of countries, where between 23% and 49% of respondents reported paying a bribe in the previous 12 months.

But the survey found too that local public perceptions of corruption were less pronounced than those of experts in the field. Moreover, the survey found that 67% of Cambodian respondents believed that government action in fighting corruption was effective and that this perception had increased since 2007.

Corporate governance

The Regulations on Corporate Governance for Listed Com­panies adopted by the SECC in January outline shareholder rights in considerable detail, including the right to access information, a somewhat contentious issue in Cambodia. In addition to basic shareholder and voting rights, the regulations cover rights related to shareholder meetings, minority share­­­holders and equitable treatment. Company boards must respect the rights of minority shareholders to seek information, voice opinion and seek redress. Boards have to ensure “good communications and appropriate interaction” bet­ween minority shareholders and senior company officers as well as board members.

In addition, companies are prohibited from providing information selectively to any subset of shareholders. In theory, all companies must have a website accessible to the public. Information on the website is supposed to include audited annual financial statements, operating results, quarterly financial reports and details of the directors and senior officers of the company.

In the absence of a website, shareholders can ask for hard copies of this information in exchange for a fee to cover printing and distribution costs. The regulations have a provision against “unfair insider trading” by directors, senior officers or shareholders. From 10 working days before until one day after the release of financial information, company directors and senior officers are prohibited from trading the company’s shares. The trading ban extends to seven working days before until one day after a board meeting.

Under the regulations, company boards must have between five and 15 members of which one-fifth have to be independent directors. Foreigners employed as independent directors have to have worked in the country for at least six months. Individual directors or small groups of directors are prohibited from dominating board decisions. To qualify as an independent director, the regulations list six general conditions to guard against conflicts of interest and nepotism, which is widespread in both the public and private sectors in Cambodia. In addition, independent directors are subject to six somewhat overlapping qualification criteria which apply to family members too.

All listed companies are required to have audit committees and those with assets of more than 200 billion riel (US$50 million) must have a risk management committee. In both cases, committees are required to have at least three members and be chaired by an independent director. Nomi­nation committees to review executive compensation have the same structure but are optional unless required by the SECC.

In the case of risk management committees, risk analysis is defined as describing, identifying and estimating risks. Other duties include risk evaluation, reporting, treatment and monitoring. In addition to various conditions to avoid conflicts of interest with external auditors, listed companies are required to change their auditing firm every three years.

Companies are required to protect the rights of “stakeholders”, defined as creditors, related parties and those with contracts with the company. In addition to having clear management strategies that support and protect stakeholder rights, companies have to ensure compliance with local labour laws and be socially responsible in areas such as consumer and environmental protection. Compa­nies have to recognize and protect the separate rights of those who are both shareholders and stakeholders.

As for disclosure and transparency, listed companies are required to prepare information in language that is easily understood, a growing problem in Cambodia where increasing amounts of “development” jargon have crept into the language.

According to the regulations, ambiguous and technical terms are supposed to be avoided and complex information has to be accompanied by explanations that can be easily comprehended by the general public. Information disclosed to the public must be accessible at minimal cost. In the case of foreign language disclosures, translations into Khmer must be done by SECC-recognized agents (to its credit, the commission already has an English-Khmer glossary of financial terms on its website).

Companies have to designate a person to oversee disclosure matters through an internal information control system. Information disclosures related to corporate governance have to include details about the board, management structure, policies regarding incentives and conflicts of interest, and code of conduct for company directors and senior officers.

Corporate bonds and MTNs

With the absence of any significant issues of Cambodian government securities to develop a market in debt instruments, what are the prospects for corporate bonds? Given the profile of potential issuers and investors, Yutaru Oku, a consultant with the Nomura Research Institute, reckons the priority for corporate bonds should be private placements.

In a presentation to a SECC seminar in Phnom Penh last year, Oku noted that most private companies in Cambodia are family-owned. Most funds come from the owners themselves or their foreign partners, although some funds come from banks as well, especially in the case of working capital. Since companies seeking to expand their external sources of funding beyond banks would need to have audited accounts, an exchange listing may serve as a first step to issuing bonds. “

Listing would be a good opportunity to raise their recognition and brand which privately-owned companies often lack,” Oku says. Given that no companies are currently listed, however, public offerings of corporate bonds seem a distant prospect. In the meantime, private offerings of corporate bonds can fill the gap.

With virtually no institutional investors in Cambodia, Oku sees the most likely investors as high net worth individuals and companies related to issuers. Although detailed regulatory filings for private placements may not be necessary, he notes that issuers may have to supply information to fulfil due diligence requirements of investors such as high net worth individuals. They may also need to appoint trustees in case of default. Other potential investors such as creditors are considered to know issuers well, even without audited financial statements and may not require trustees.

Another option for Cambodian companies would be to issue medium-term notes (MTNs) under the Asean+3 Bond Market Initiative launched in 2003 which is supported by Japan and the ADB. Once they have set up a MTN programme, by registering with the authorities, for example, issuers can issue paper instantaneously. While MTN programmes and shelf registrations are similar in offering simplified procedures, Oku notes that the latter typically apply to public offerings in local currency markets.

Under the Asian Medium-Term Note Programme, procedures for private placements in local markets are universally applied to cross-border and multi-currency issues. For the time being, however, bank certificates of deposit remain the only transferable debt securities to have been issued in Cambodia. The National Bank of Cambodia has issued small amounts of 91-day treasury bills, mainly to state-owned banks.

In addition, the Ministry of Economy and Finance has issued recapitalization bonds with maturities of two to three years as part of the restructuring of the Foreign Trade Bank of Cambodia and insurance companies Caminco and Cambodia Reinsurance. But in both cases, these instruments have been non-transferable. As for institutional investors, one of the long-term goals of the government’s financial sector development strategy is to have a pension and provident fund scheme operating between 2012 and 2015.

CSX: the KRX affiliate in Cambodia

Cambodia Securities Exchange (CSX) was in the final stages of being incorporated in early March with the Ministry of Economy and Finance holding 55% and Korea Exchange (KRX) the remaining 45%. Under a sub-decree issued by Prime Minister Hun Sen in May last year, the seven-member board of CSX comprises four Cambodians and three Koreans and is chaired by Hean Sahib, deputy secretary-general of the ministry.

The chief executive officer of the exchange is Hong Sok Hour, an aide to secretary of state Aun Porn Moniroth, who is also minister attached to the prime minister. The chief operating officer is Min Kyoung-hoon, who KRX appointed along with two other Korean board members in December 2009. The two other Cambodian board members are from the National Bank of Cambodia and the Ministry of Commerce.

“We expect to inaugurate the exchange soon,” Hong says. In addition to providing a trading platform for buying and selling securities, CSX is expected to act as a front-line regulator. The Cambodia-Korea venture dates back to 2006 when KRX signed a memorandum of understanding with the ministry to assist Cambodia in setting up a securities market and exchange staff. In 2007, KRX signed a separate memorandum of understanding with Bank of Lao PDR to help set up a securities market in Laos and exchange information.

Cambodia sanctions private enterprise before Vietnam

A vibrant private sector

A common misconception about Cambodia among both foreigners and Cambodians too young to remember is that the market economy is a relatively recent phenomenon. If securities market development lags Vietnam by 10 years, the logic goes, the private sector must be less developed too.

In fact, the private sector has been flourishing in Cambodia for more than three decades and was officially recognized by the ruling party well before Vietnam launched its new economic policy of doi moi (renovation) in 1986. With the establishment of a new government following the overthrow of Pol Pot forces in 1979, the most urgent priority was to feed people.

Markets accordingly sprang up almost immediately. Rice measured in rusted milk cans served as the main medium of exchange, along with the Vietnamese and Thai currencies (the Khmer Rouge had outlawed currency between 1975 and 1978). As Australian historian Margaret Slocomb has noted, “there was no attempt to regulate the market at this stage, because there was urgent demand for essential items which the state could not provide”.

At the same time, gold was used to import goods from Thailand and Vietnam. “In fact, this amounted to state-sanctioned smuggling by petty traders,” Slocomb says. “In the early days, the smugglers fulfilled an important economic function.” So too did the “family economy”, which complemented the state-­owned sector and half-hearted attempts to form collectives, known as “solidarity groups”.

Planning Minister Chea Soth, today dean of the National Assembly, noted as early as 1983 that the private economy had not only “regained its shape” but that there were too “some who had become capitalist businessmen already”. He reported that by the end of 1983, Cambodia had more than 100,000 solidarity groups comprising 1.3 million households. But about 90% were based on some form of private enterprise and only about 10% were run along purely collective lines.

Soviet caviar

By 1985, the private sector was officially recognized at the fifth congress of the Khmer People’s Revo­lutionary Party, the forerunner to the Cambodian People’s Party that rules the country today. In a report to the congress, President Heng Samrin, currently president of the National Assembly, acknowledged “weaknesses” in the state-owned sector, which was modelled along Soviet lines. “We advocate the development of our economy encompassing four components: economy of the state-run sector, collective economy, family-run economy and private economy,” he told the congress.

At that stage, Vietnam’s economic reform policy was still a year away and Hanoi’s markets were virtually bare, the main imported products being Soviet caviar, vodka and condensed milk. In Phnom Penh, according to Vietnamese soldiers returning from the Cambodian front in 1987, markets were brimming with merchandise from Thailand, notwithstanding a US-led Cold War embargo supported by Asean and China.

A few years later, most of Cambodia’s state-owned enterprises were privatized with port operators and the water and power utilities being notable exceptions. A handful of state-owned financial institutions have since been privatized, or at least partly. It may be a footnote in history but it turns out that Cambodia was the third socialist country in the world to embrace the market economy after Hungary and China, which began their reforms in the 1970s under communist party leaders Janos Kadar and Deng Xiaoping.

Overhauled water supply system reaches farther and more

Outstanding public utility

In 2004, the Asian Development Bank awarded the Phnom Penh Water Supply Authority the ADB Water Prize. Described by the bank as an “outstanding public utility in the region”, the authority has since become one of four state-owned enterprises that have been named as likely candidates for issuing securities. In 1993, when

Cambodia’s political isolation came to an end with UN-supervised elections, water was available only 10 hours a day in the Cambodian capital and less than half of the city’s households were connected, at least officially. With water pressure so low, those that were connected often had to use diesel pumps to transfer water to rooftop storage tanks during the brief periods when supplies were actually available. The utility was heavily subsidized and only 28% of the water sold contributed to revenues, the remaining 72% being lost through waste or illegal connections that were often supplied by employees on the take.

Households without connections, legal or otherwise, were forced to buy water at a considerable cost from private vendors who walked the streets of Phnom Penh with mobile tanks. According to the ADB, it was a “decrepit war-torn water supply system with missing water and missing customers.”

By 2006, the utility was operating 24 hours a day and covered 90% of the city. 94% of the water being pumped was contributing to revenues and full cost recovery had been achieved. During the same period, annual revenues swelled from 700 million riel (US$175,000) to 34 billion riel (US$8.5 million). By 2006, the amount of water being pumped every day had risen to 235,000 cubic metres, up from 65,000 cubic metres in 1993 and 155,000 in the sixties. The number of connections jumped from 27,000 to 147,000 during the 13-year period. Most strikingly, however, was the change in the ratio between staff and connections.

In 1993, the ratio was 22 staff for each 1,000 connections. By 2006, it had dropped to a mere four. By this stage, the water utility faced a new challenge – persuading people to drink the water directly from the tap and get rid of all those redundant rooftop tanks with their dead insects and birds. At the time, tests showed that tap water had become potable and that drinking water in 20-litre plastic bottles, still commonly sold by private wholesalers, was often contaminated with high levels of bacteria due to sloppy processing or unsanitary installation into water dispensers.

Cambodia : Abysmal lawlessness and the powerlessness of the citizens

Posted by Sri Lanka Guardian Cambodia, worldview 12:29:00 PM

Part One

(October 07, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka Guardian) The first election in post Pol Pot Cambodia was held in May 1993. The new constitution promised a liberal democracy and a system of governance based on the rule of law. However, the country is still in a state of abysmal lawlessness and ordinary Cambodians are powerless. There are no institutions in the country which can offer them any kind of protection. The Cambodian police is in a rudimentary stage of development, is known to be corrupt and completely under the political control of the regime and those who are rich and powerful. Cambodian courts are also known to be corrupt and are used as instruments of political control by way of jailing opposition politicians; people resisting land grabbing; those who express independent opinions and civil society activists who express solidarity with victims of abuse of power. There are no institutions that people can turn to make any complaints or to turn to any kind of help when faced with injustice. And the injustices that the peopl e face are many.

The major complaint everywhere is that of "Land Grabbing". Having a title to a plot of land is normally the ultimate guarantee of some security in this poor country. However, having a title to land is of little use when the same land can be allotted to some company by a government authority, who does not even inform the original title holder when such allocations are made. It is only when the company begins the operation to redevelop the land that the original owners get to know that the land they rightfully own has been given away.

Naturally they protest and at that stage security forces enter the scene and harassment is the result. As the people literally have nowhere to go, they fight back. Then they are brought to courts on all kinds of charges and many are detained. There are thousands of reports of such happenings from around the country. "In the capital, Phnom Penh, 133,000 people -- more than 10% of its population -- are believed to have been evicted since 1990." (This is according to a report of reliable civil society organization).

The result of such land evictions is that those who are displaced are excluded from any benefits, and lose their source of income, they are exposed to poor health and their young face lack of education. In a country, with so little opportunities, eviction from land implies a transformation which ends in destitution. Hopes for stability and a future ends for many. Naturally the women and young and the elderly suffer the most. Naturally, prostitution and other similar problems are on the increase in today's Cambodia.

"The Cambodian courts continue to act on behalf of rich and powerful interests, ignoring the evidence, the Land Law and other relevant legislation, enforcing eviction where ownership remains undecided and imprisoning those who dare to protest", states a report from well known LICAHDO, a human rights organization. This view is confirmed by many other organizations and almost everyone.

Cambodian courts are not able to protect land titles. Their function is not the protection of the individual but the interests of those who are in power. The idea of the balancing of interests is an alien concept in Cambodia. The role of the authorities is to protect the state, not the people.

Chinese company inks MoU with Cambodia on economic project

via CAAI

Thursday, 07 Oct 2010Xinhua reported that China ZTE Corporation on Sept 30 signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodian government to cooperate and participate in Cambodia Economic Acceleration Platform project which was launched by Cambodian National ICT Development Authority.

The signing ceremony of the MOU on cooperation was held on September 30th in the presence of Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Council of Ministers Mr Sok An and Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Mr Pan Guangxue and other government officials.

Mr Zhao Yong vice-president of ZTE for Southeast Asian region said at the ceremony that it is the day of a milestone for ZTE. He promised to closely cooperate with NiDA and to fulfill task well within required time and with high quality.

Mr Sok An and Ambassador Mr Pan highly valued the cooperation project between the two countries, and expressing their belief that the project of CEAP will help the Royal Government of Cambodia to develop information and digital age to enhance government working efficiency and to promote the rapid economic development, as well as to contribute for the further enhancing and deepening of the traditional friendly relations between the two countries.

In an effort to speed up the process of building a digital Cambodia, Cambodian NiDA plans to develop Cambodia Economic Acceleration Platform to promote the building of a nationwide high-speed fiber optic information network which will help the building of electronization of commerce, finance, communication, digital television, education, medical, customs administration and others.

The project came in line with the Cambodian government's priority policy to develop the industry of communications with wide acceptance of investments from foreign countries.

(Sourced from Xinhua)

American couple to help Cambodian church

via CAAI

Posted: 7 October, 2010

Jamie and Holle Wollin head to Cambodia

Cambodia (MNN) ― A short term mission trip is what God used to draw a couple to full-time missionary service in Asia.

Jamie and Holle Wollin are in the process of raising support to travel with The Mission Society to full-time work in Cambodia. In their second year of doing short-term mission work in Cambodia, Jamie says, "We discovered that God was really challenging us to think about a new way of life and a new life that He wanted us to embark upon."

That new way of life will be in Cambodia.

Holle says they'll be focusing on two areas of ministry. "We're going to be looking at education and then also business development. I'll be working at an elementary school discipling teachers, developing some curriculum that teaches Christian values, and also teaching [English as a Second Language] ESL."

Jamie says these avenues of ministry came directly from national Cambodian believers. "After interviewing multiple people, it was an overwhelming response: 'Please come and work with us and help us establish better education for our children." And, "Come help the church establish small business enterprises, or things that will help the church get on their own feet (financially).'"

It's in these situations that the Wollins will be sharing the Gospel. "Most people spend--whether you're in America or in Cambodia--three-quarters of their day at school (if you're kids). Or for adults, you spend three-quarters of the day at work. So, discipleship is natural and integral to what we'll be doing," Jamie says.

However, Jamie and Holle still need support to get to the field. You can help them. Click on the link to help.

Cambodian, Thai PM to meet for third time in Hanoi: official

via CAAI

October 07, 2010

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart Abhisit Vejjajiva have agreed to meet again late October this year on the sidelines of the 17th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam in order to find ways to tackle the remaining problems, official news agency AKP reported on Wednesday, citing government official.

Hun Sen has held talks with Abhisit Vejjajiva on the sidelines of the 8th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held on Oct. 4-5 in Brussels, Belgium, AKP said.

It quoted Sry Thamrong, delegate minister attached to the prime minister, as saying that the two premiers have discussed about the redeployment of troops so that the situation could return to that before July 15, 2008 and both sides agreed to meet again in Hanoi in late October.

During the meeting in Brussels, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has informed Hun Sen that the Thai side had invited Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith and other Cambodian journalists to pay a visit in Thailand in mid October, Sry Thamrong was quoted as saying.

This was the second talks between the two leaders. The first one was held on Sept. 24 in New York which had helped to reduce the tension between the two neighboring countries and increase mutual trust.

Cambodia and Thailand has had border conflict just one week after Cambodia's Preah Vihear Temple was registered as World Heritage Site on 15 July 2008.

Since the conflict started, military standoff has been on and off along the two countries' border and several military clashes have already been happened with recorded small causalities from both sides.

The Cambodia-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, and Thailand continues to stake territorial claims of the 4.6 square kilometer area in the vicinity of the Temple of Preah Vihear, which the International Court of Justice on June 15, 1962 ruled in favor to Cambodia, saying Preah Vihear Temple is belonged to Cambodia.


Chiang Mai 11 linked to camp in Cambodia

Report says red shirts had weapons training

Published: 7/10/2010
via CAAI

A government intelligence report claims 11 men arrested at the weekend at a Chiang Mai resort received weapons training in Cambodia.

The men, taken into custody on Saturday night and placed in the witness protection programme, have not been charged with an offence, Chiang Mai police chief Sommai Kongwisaisuk said yesterday.

Six of the men were identified in the intelligence report as having been directly involved with the red shirt movement. The others did not have any known history of participating in anti-government activities or crime.

The intelligence report was obtained by the Bangkok Post yesterday.

Saharat Kaenlek, 35, of Bangkok, was identified in the report as the leader of the group. He is said to have taken part in the red shirt rallies in the capital in May.

Kittichai Chansawatdi, 24, of Prachin Buri, provided most of the in-depth information in the report. He was detained by police after he left Doi Ku Fah resort in Chiang Mai to ask for directions.

Mr Kittichai was quoted as saying they were training to carry out subversive and assassination plots in the capital.

Srithon Srisutham, 31, of Surin, was named in the report as having served as a volunteer guard for the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) in Surin and as having participated in the UDD protest at Ratchaprasong intersection in May.

Suban Yueathonglang, 38, of Uthai Thani, was said to have taken part in the bloody clash between the red shirts and security forces near Phan Fa Bridge on April 10.

Meechai Ninpan, 28, of Prachin Buri, was identified as a red shirt protester wounded on May 19 during the protest dispersal in Bangkok.

Watthana Thamtha, 29, of Khon Kaen, was identified only as having been a drug dealer.

The other five are: Kritphi Satharana, 31, of Udon Thani; Amporn Hemakul, 36, of Kalasin; Somnuek Kaeongam, 53, of Lop Buri, Den Muangkasem, 43, of Chiang Mai; and Thawit Kwangkaeo, 46, of Bangkok.

The 11 had fled to neighbouring Cambodia shortly after the dispersal of the anti-government protest in Bangkok that was led by the UDD on May 19, the report said.

Police suspect they entered Cambodia through Sa Kaeo and travelled for about two hours to stay together with 28 other key red shirt figures and supporters at the Ankor Hotel.

The report said the 39 people were sent to a jungle about 200km from the hotel for weapons training in July.

This took place after Varissareeya Boonsom, 43, and her husband, Kobchai Boonplod, 43, were arrested and deported to Thailand by Cambodian authorities. They are suspected to be linked with the June bombing near the Bhumjaithai Party's head office in Bangkok.

The report said the training, which lasted about six weeks, was a rudimentary course and only some of the participants had a chance to try shooting assault rifles and grenade launchers.

At the end of the training, the 39 people were paid 20,000 baht each rather than 90,000 baht as promised.

They travelled back to Thailand and the 11 men were later sent to stay at the Ku Fah resort and told to wait for further contacts.

Puea Thai Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit said yesterday the report was unreliable.

He said it was a "made-up story" leaked by the government.

"It did not even unveil what agency collected this information," Mr Prompong said.

Residents and the resort owner told police the 11 men had not acted suspiciously and were not receiving arms training. They are "just construction workers", the party spokesman said.

Air traffic controller lands in Cambodia, takes on new role in nutrition program

via CAAI

The Christian Chronicle

On a mission Dennis and Sharon Welch in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

In the Kingdom of Cambodia, Church of Christ members have healed the sick, clothed the naked and fed the hungry.

They also have caught the attention of public officials.

In his monthly briefing, the director of public health for Cambodia’s Kandal province said that Partners in Progress has done “more for the indigent people of his province than any other NGO (non-governmental organization)” said Bill McDonough, the ministry’s director.

Partners in Progress operates the Ship of Life, a medical mission that serves underprivileged communities along the Mekong River. The Arkansas-based ministry also launched a rural nutrition program that now provides food and education for 1,600 children in 12 Cambodian villages.

Recently, Partners in Progress began working with the Central Church of Christ in Stockton, Calif. The church will take oversight of the program, which will be renamed Giving Relief and Care Everyday (GRACE) for Cambodia.

Dennis and Sharon Welch will take over the program from missionaries Troy and Tabitha Snowbarger, who plan to return to the U.S. to pursue graduate degrees next year.

Dennis Welch was an air traffic controller for 29 years before he enrolled at Sunset International Bible Institute in Lubbock, Texas. He and his wife moved to Cambodia to work with a Sunset school in the capital, Phnom Penh.

“The last two years have changed our lives,” Dennis Welch said. “We are so grateful for the ways God has blessed us over and above what we need.”

TO SUPPORT THE MISSION, call the Central church at (209) 466-2701 or see

Students from Portland's Royal Manor Arts College on Cambodia adventure

Students with their teachers Angus Dawson, far right, and Charlotte O’Bierne, third right, and Andy Rowlinson from Wilderness Expertise

via CAAI

Wednesday 6th October 2010

By Martin Lea »

A GROUP of Portland students experienced an intense and exciting Asian adventure.

Twelve students from Royal Manor Arts College signed up for a three-week expedition in Cambodia.

In a first for the college organising a trip beyond Europe, the 16-year-olds got involved in building project at a school, toured the notorious Killing Fields, trekked through the rainforest and visited historic temples.

It was a dramatic change to life in Dorset as the group got used to life in a developing country.

They washed their clothes in a river, endured 44-degree heat one minute and monsoon rains the next, lived without electricity and very basic toilet facilities, and cooked meals on an open fire.

Leaders were nominated each day to co-ordinate activities and make decisions, skills that will no doubt help the students in their lives as they move on from the college.

The trip was 18 months in the planning and the students raised a lot of the money themselves towards the cost. This was done through bag-packing sessions at local supermarkets, sponsored events, quizzes and organising a music concert at the Conservative Club in Easton.

The Cambodia project was introduced to the students as they began year 10 and the dream was finally realised in the summer of 2010 once the students had finished their GCSEs and left school.

The students were accompanied by the college’s director of progress Angus Dawson and head of drama Charlotte O’Bierne, as well as a leader from trip organisers Wilderness Expertise.

Mr Dawson said: “We wanted to offer the students the opportunity to go on an international expedition that was orientated around self development and leadership skills.

“It was an enormous learning curve and I believe the project was a life-changing experience for them.

“Leaders were nominated each day who took charge. For example, when we got to the capital Phnom Penh they had to sort out transport and finances and avoiding getting ripped off. For a 16-year-old in a strange country 9,000 miles away from home that’s quite a challenge.”

He explained how the group was based in the rainforest near the Thai border, first of all working in Tatai village school renovating classrooms and building a volleyball court.

The court was fitted with a net used in a volleyball tournament on Weymouth Beach and the children were presented with shirts collected from the community on Portland as well as other sports equipment.

Mr Dawson said an unforgettable highlight of the trip was a visit to the Killing Fields, the name given to sites where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime during its rule of the country.

Mr Dawson said even though the group was ‘battle hardened’ by then having experienced so much in Cambodia he said it was a very emotional experience.

He said: “We visited a disturbing place known as the S21 interrogation centre where 17,000 people were killed.

“They had photographs of the victims on the wall and it was emotionally draining.

“For our kids to come across violations of human rights like that, it was just overwhelming. You could smell the terror.”

Mr Dawson said the Cambodia expedition has brought all sorts of new horizons to Royal Manor and was so successful another trip is planned in the future, possibly to South America.

Dracula fish, bald bird among strange new species

The "bald" Bulbul bird discovered in Laos' Savannakhet province

via CAAI

BANGKOK — Dracula fish, a bald songbird and a seven-metre (23 feet) tall carnivorous plant are among several unusual new species found in the Greater Mekong region last year, researchers said Wednesday.

Other new finds among the 145 new species include a frog that sounds like a cricket and a "sucker fish", which uses its body to stick to rocks in fast flowing waters to move upstream, according to conservation group WWF.

With fangs at the front of each jaw, the "dracula minnow" is one of the more bizarre new species found in 2009 in the Mekong River region, which comprises Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China's Yunnan Province.

Discovered in a small stream in Myanmar, it is largely translucent and measures up to 1.7 centimetres long.

It is not yet known whether the species is endemic to a single ecosystem within Myanmar, or spread throughout the region as a whole.

Other bizarre discoveries include the Bare-Faced Bulbul bird, which is bereft of feathers on the face and side of the head and has pale blue skin on the rear of the head and around the eyes. It lives in sparse forest on limestone karsts in central Laos.

Among newly recorded plants, the Nepenthes bokorensis plant, found in southern Cambodia, has a climbing length of up to seven metres, with pitchers that trap ants and other insects for food.

"The rate of discovery in the Mekong is almost without equal globally," WWF regional conservation director Stuart Chapman told AFP.

"That's attributed to the enormous geographical and climatic range within the region, going from high altitude to dense tropical forests through to some of the richest freshwater in the world," he said.

"Undoubtedly this region is one of the richest in terms of its biodiversity, but it's also one of the most threatened."

The Greater Mekong region is home to some of the planet's most endangered wild species including tiger, Asian elephant, Mekong dolphin and Mekong giant catfish, said the World Wide Fund For Nature.

WWF has warned the Mekong giant catfish -- one of the world's biggest freshwater fish -- could be driven to extinction if plans to build hydropower dams on Southeast Asia's longest river go ahead, blocking spawning grounds.

"We need to keep one of the treasure troves of the world properly conserved," said Chapman.

Fanged Fish Among New Species Found In Greater Mekong

via CAAI

Posted on: Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Scientists discovered an average of three new biological species each week in the Greater Mekong region of Asia, including such unique life forms as a fish with vampire-like fangs and a 22-foot tall carnivorous plant, international conservation group WWF announced on Wednesday.

According to WWF officials, a total of 145 new species were found in 2009 in the area near the Mekong River, which includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and China's Yunnan Province. Joining the fanged minnow and the massive meat-eating vegetation as the more intriguing discoveries are the only bald songbird in Asia, a sucker-fish that uses its body to stick to rocks in order to move upstream in quickly-moving waters, and a completely new genus of fangless snakes.

"This rate of discovery is simply staggering in modern times," Stuart Chapman, the Conservation Director of WWF Greater Mekong, said in a statement. "Each year, the new species count keeps going up, and with it, so too does the responsibility to ensure this region’s unique biodiversity is conserved… These new species are a timely reminder of the extraordinary biodiversity in the Greater Mekong."

In an interview with AFP, Chapman attributed the rate of discovery "to the enormous geographical and climatic range within the region, going from high altitude to dense tropical forests through to some of the richest freshwater in the world… Undoubtedly this region is one of the richest in terms of its biodiversity, but it's also one of the most threatened."

According to the WWF, the Greater Mekong houses some of the most endangered species of wildlife on Earth, including tigers, the Asian elephant, the Mekong dolphin, and the Mekong giant catfish--one of the largest freshwater fish in the world which the WWF says is threatened by proposed hydropower dams along the river. The conservation group also points to the now-extinct Javan rhino of Vietnam as "one tragic indicator" of the threats facing animal life in the Mekong valley.

"We need to keep one of the treasure troves of the world properly conserved," Chapman told AFP.


Image Caption: Dracula fish (Danionella dracula). Credit: Natural History Musuem London

Cambodian police seize 7 tons of counterfeit beauty products in year's biggest bust

via CAAI

From The Associated Press
October 6, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - Cambodian authorities have seized seven tons of counterfeit beauty products in the nation's biggest such bust of the year.

Police said Wednesday they raided a home on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and found imitations of Cambodian brands of soap, lotions, powders and cosmetics.

Police Col. Long Sreng said four people were arrested in Monday's raid.

Authorities say the counterfeit products can be hazardous for health.

In March, a 23-year-old Cambodian woman died after using a skin-whitening cream that officials said contained high levels of mercury.

Locals fuelling child prostitution

via CAAI

Oct 6, 2010

THERE is a persistent belief among Cambodian men that sleeping with a virgin has rejuvenating powers and can even cure HIV/Aids.

Of the 19 respondents who sold their virginity, 13 said it was to Cambodian clients. 'It's a stupid idea where they think that sex with a young girl will bring them good luck, strong energy or a long life,' said Sao Chhoeurth, executive director of anti-trafficking NGO AFESIP.

Sex with a virgin can cost up to US$2,000 (S$2,617) 'depending on how pretty or young the girl is,' he said, a large sum in a country where more than 30 per cent of its 14 million people live on less than 50 cents a day.

Chin Chanveasna added that aid groups had yet to work out a strategy on how to deal with the problem.

The research, carried out in January, was small-scale but Sao Chhoeurth said the findings reflect the situation across the country.

'If a girl works in a brothel for a long time, most of her customers will be locals,' he said. -- AFP

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIA'S child prostitution problem is usually associated with foreign paedophiles, but the majority of clients paying for sex with children are Cambodian men, campaign groups said on Wednesday.

Foreigners' sex crimes grab the headlines, but the problem of homegrown offenders can be overlooked by authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), according to Chin Chanveasna of End Child Prostitution, Abuse and Trafficking in Cambodia (ECPAT).

In a new study commissioned by ECPAT, an umbrella group for a number of NGOs, 43 out of 44 former child sex workers in Phnom Penh said their regular clients were Cambodian men.

Chin Chanveasna said the police and the government 'have not taken enough measures against Cambodian perpetrators.' But General Bith Kimhong, the director of the Interior Ministry's anti-trafficking unit, said the government was tackling the problem.

'We have taken a serious action against both Cambodian and foreigners who are seeking sex with underage people,' he told AFP.

According to the report, local demand for prostitutes is estimated to contribute between 49 to 70 per cent of the demand for commercial sex in Cambodia. A 'high demand for virgins from Cambodian men fuelling the flow of underage girls into Cambodia's sex trade' was also cited as a concern. -- AFP

How free is Freedom Park?

via CAAI

Article By: Suy Se
Wed, 06 Oct 2010

Cambodian workers pushing a cart loaded with bricks for 'Freedom Park' in Phnom Penh. AFP

It has been billed as Cambodia's version of Speakers' Corner in London, but rights groups fear Phnom Penh's new Democracy Square is designed to keep protesters isolated and out of sight.

Workers are putting the final touches to a 60 by 200 metre, tree-lined open space near the US embassy and the Cambodian capital's famed Wat Phnom temple, which historically marks the centre of the city.

Nicknamed Freedom Park and set to open shortly, it will serve as a designated area for people to air their grievances, not unlike Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park or its equivalent in Singapore.

But rights activists say the move is an attempt to keep protesters off the streets and away from government offices and legislative buildings, which are traditionally the focus of rallies and occasional scuffles with the police.

"Unfortunately, it is far away from the institutions where the decisions are made," said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, adding that he would have preferred a site near the National Assembly.

While would-be protesters can still apply for permission to stage a demonstration in other parts of the capital, critics expect the government will use Democracy Square as an excuse not to grant such permission.

'Protesters will lose the freedom'

"When the park opens, the protesters will lose the freedom to protest in front of key institutions," Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, told AFP.

"They will be threatened and forced to rally at Freedom Park."

Yim Sovann, an outspoken member of parliament from the main opposition Sam Rainsy Party, echoed those concerns.

"It will not be a Freedom Park, but a park to deprive the people of freedom and rights," he said.

He added that the square, an open, un-shaded space in a city where temperatures regularly top 30°C, is too small to accommodate a sizeable crowd.

"We will not stand under the hot sun in such a small place. We will ask for a permit to march through the streets if necessary," he told AFP.

But Phnom Penh's police chief Touch Naruth warned that no more street protests would be allowed because they interrupt the flow of traffic.

'Police would crack down rallies'

He added that police would "crack down" on any unauthorised rallies outside government buildings or Prime Minister Hun Sen's home, another popular protest site.

Last month villagers from Battambang province protesting outside the premier's home about land grabbing were "quite aggressively dragged onto buses" and driven out of town, said Mathieu Pellerin of local rights group Licadho.

And in August 2009, again outside the premier's house, a number of opposition supporters were injured after clashing with police who were seen grabbing, punching and kicking protesters.

Cambodia's government has repeatedly been accused of trying to stifle free speech in the last year.

Last October, it passed a much-criticised law requiring protesters to seek official permission five days ahead of a planned rally and limiting the size of demonstrations in public spaces to 200 people.

Authorities also reserve the right to ban protests on safety grounds.

In a report released earlier this month, Licadho accused the government of continuing to "pursue repressive tactics, terrorising human rights defenders and undermining their ability to defend peacefully the rights of others".

"Now, we see that when rights defenders speak too much, they could end up in jail," the group's president Kek Galabru told AFP.

"Freedom of expression is facing challenges — it's going down," she said.

But government officials insisted the human rights situation in the country was improving and the park was a good idea, modelled on foreign examples.

"Any country has this kind of place. People can protest and say whatever they want in this place," said government spokesperson Khieu Kanharith.

Phnom Penh's Democracy Square will not be Cambodia's only version of Speakers' Corner, as the law calls for similar sites to open in provinces across the country, much to the dismay of activists.

Supreme Court Upholds Acid Attack Verdict

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer

Phnom Penh Wednesday, 06 October 2010

via CAAI
The Appeals Court issued an 18-year prison sentence against the six suspects in absentia and fined $100,000.

“I still worry about the safety of myself and my family because the offenders have not yet been arrested.”

The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of a former military police commander for the acid attack in retribution against a former lover.

Chea Ratha, the former deputy chief of military police, and five accomplices, were released by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in August 2009, whose not guilty verdict was reversed by the Appeals Court in November that year.

The Appeals Court issued an 18-year prison sentence against the six suspects in absentia and fined $100,000. They all remain at large.

They were accused of attacking Ya Sok Nim, the aunt of beauty queen In Solida, the reported lover of Chea Ratha, in May 2008. In Solida, who was not harmed, has said she was forced into a relationship with Chea Ratha until she finally refused.

Ya Sok Nim, whose face was disfigured in the attack and who has gone into hiding since Chea Ratha's release, told VOA Khmer by phone the courts had “provided me and my family justice.”

“I still worry about the safety of myself and my family because the offenders have not yet been arrested,” she said.

Her lawyer, Huang Sopheak, said the verdict was right but the compensation was not enough. However, lawyer for the defense, Nach Try, said the courts had made their decision with insufficient evidence or witnesses.

Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said the conviction sent a positive message that could deter future attacks.

Opposition Preparing Atrocity Crimes Case Against CPP

Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer

Washington, D.C Wednesday, 06 October 2010
via CAAI
Photo: AP
Fleeing Phnom Penh residents carry their belongings after a fuel dump exploded on Sunday July 6, 1997.

“There has been much evidence that remains of those who used cruel power to torture before killing Funcinpec officials after the coup.”

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy says he is prepared to sue Prime Minister Hun Sen for crimes against humanity, for killings alleged committed in the 1997 coup and for the treatment of civilians during the civil war in the 1980s.

“There has been much evidence that remains of those who used cruel power to torture before killing Funcinpec officials after the coup,” Sam Rainsy said Monday.

The fighting in July 1997 led to the crippling of the royalist Funcinpec party, as the Cambodian People's Party seized power from a brokered coalition.

Sam Rainsy said as many as 100 Funcinpec officials were killed or executed in two days of fighting. Spouses of the deceased fled the country, he said, and many now live in dire conditions.

Sam Rainsy recently filed a complaint in the state of New York accusing Hun Sen of collusion in a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally, which killed 16 people and injured nearly 100, including one American.

Prior to those incidents, when Cambodia was occupied by Vietnam, he said, civilians and children were forced to the front lines in Cambodia's civil war, where they cleared the forests and were injured by land mines or fighting. Such acts constitute crimes against humanity, he said.

“There was conscription of civilians to clear the forest, living and working in areas with malaria and land mines,” he said. “That's a criminal policy.”

CPP lawmaker Cheam Yiep dismissed the allegations. During the 1980s, the country was at war with the Khmer Rouge and needed people's help building barricades, assisting the Vietnamese troops and laying mines, he said.

“The volunteer Vietnamese soldiers were like brothers,” he said. “They helped us because we did not have weapons in our hands and had no army.”

He said there is no evidence linking the CPP leadership to crimes that Sam Rainsy has alleged. Hun Sen “does not have any involvement in those issues.” Cheam Yiep said the 2008 election, which the CPP won in a landslide, had been a determination of justice by the public.

“Sam Rainsy has the right to file complaints in the US court, to any courts, even to God, but they will not be able to interfere in Cambodia's internal affairs,” he said.

Sam Rainsy said Monday he was collecting evidence form widows, orphans and the disabled in preparation to file in court.

“Even if it was a long time ago, the courts have the capability to receive complaints [for killings],” he said, citing the arrest of the leaders of Fiji and Panama accused of similar crimes.

Sam Rainsy is currently in exile, facing a prison of 12 years on forgery, disinformation and incitement charges related to public claims he has made of Vietnamese border encroachment. He is currently traveling in the US and will stop next in Canada, where his party is expected to hold a congress.
Phnom Penh

Washington, D.C Wednesday, 06 October 2010

via CAAI
Photo: AP
Social activists carry an anti-corruption banner during a rally in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

“We're using a zero-tolerance principle in our fight against corruption. This means that there are no exceptions, no matter how big or small a case is.”

The government says it now has a five-year strategy to fight corruption that will allow new agencies to punish perpetrators of graft.

The strategy, released by the National Council for Anti-Corruption last week, includes provisions for prevention and punishment, as well as a plan to raise awareness.

The new policy is the result of an anti-corruption law that was passed earlier this year.

“We're using a zero-tolerance principle in our fight against corruption,” said Keo Remy, a spokesman for the anti-corruption body. “This means that there are no exceptions, no matter how big or small a case is.”

Keo Remy said the strategy is built around integrity, accountability and confidentiality, which will encourage public participation.

The in the near-term, officials will began to educate people about the anti-corruption law and the penal code, he said. By early next year, government officials, lawmakers, judges and heads of non-governmental organizations—even security guards for the anti-corruption council—will have to declare their assets.

“Our main goal in doing all of these is to boost our economic growth,” he said. “We want to build confidence among big investors and promote the living conditions of the people.”

Anti-corruption officials have been “carefully recruited,” he said, and can be punished for a range of ethical offenses, including having meals with alleged offenders. Infractions are punishable with up to five years imprisonment, for leaking information to informants.

Ex-Khmer Rouge in former stronghold play the numbers game

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ARTICLE (October 05, 2010) : "They do not have blood on their hands," said Mey Mak, Pailin's bespectacled deputy governor of the four former Khmer Rouge leaders indicted last month by the war crimes court. "Khieu Samphan, for example, he was responsible for the economy. Ieng Sary just went in and out of the country, and Ieng Thirith was only in charge of the social affairs ministry."

"So it seems to me that they are victims," he said of the movement's former head of state, foreign minister and minister of social affairs, respectively. The fourth person indicted was Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two, and regarded as the movement's chief ideologue.

Mey Mak, who worked for a decade as secretary to the Khmer Rouge's late leader Pol Pot, was speaking at a public meeting in late September in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin in western Cambodia. Senior members of the UN-backed war crimes tribunal had travelled there from Phnom Penh 400 kilometres away to explain the court's work.

Their trip into the movement's old heartland came just days after the court indicted the four surviving former leaders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Across Cambodia their indictments are regarded as long overdue.

But that is not the case in former strongholds such as Pailin, where the defendants used to live. Mey Mak told the audience of several hundred police, military and civilians, most of whom former Khmer Rouge, that power lay in Pol Pot's hands. Therefore trying anyone else was inherently unfair.

His comment drew a dry response from international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley. "I certainly anticipate in this trial, as in many others I have done, that responsibility will be laid at the feet of the dead, and the living will claim innocence," Cayley said. The court estimates that up to 2.2 million people died during the Khmer Rouge's catastrophic rule between 1975 and 1979. More than a million likely died violently.

But it turned out that the former cadres at the gathering were more interested in another number: How many people does the court want to try? The answer, Cayley told them, is no more than 10. The first defendant was Comrade Duch, who was jailed in July for 30 years for his role as commandant of the S-21 torture and execution centre. Then there are the four former leaders, whose trial will likely start next year.

Lastly, the court is investigating five more, who remain unidentified. "Those five may or may not go to trial, depending on the work of the investigating judges and what they find," Cayley said. "So with those 10, that is it." It is an answer that goes down well in places like Pailin, but which mystifies the rest of Cambodia. How can no more than 10 people be held accountable for so many deaths?

A large part of that answer is politics, which has constrained the court since before its inception. Many senior figures in Cambodia's government were in the Khmer Rouge, and a court with a wide remit might reveal some uncomfortable truths. Further afield, the United States and China were among the countries involved in supporting the movement at one point or another, but would rather the spotlight shone elsewhere.

Other nations were involved too, but politics has dominated the life of this tribunal. It will likely rear its head again if - as some expect - the court eventually shelves the five new investigations. Doing so would suit Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has come out strongly against them. And it seems unlikely that many of the court's Cambodian staff would feel comfortable going against the premier's wishes.

Mey Mak suggested the court should focus more on national reconciliation and less on investigating the five new suspects, although he conceded that trying the four ex-leaders fits with the tribunal's legal remit. "But like me and others, they wanted to escape from the regime and could not," he said, before asking his home audience: "How could they have escaped?"

Just how responsible these four were for what happened lies at the heart of the tribunal's second case. But a more pressing fact is that the youngest defendant is 78 and one or more might not survive a lengthy trial. So there remains the possibility that 67-year-old Comrade Duch will be the only person held accountable for one of the 20th century's most destructive regimes.

Thailand, Cambodia to hold border talks in Hanoi

via CAAI


Thailand and Cambodia will hold talks on the disputed border area on the sidelines of the 17th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Hanoi late this month, said Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on October 5.

According to MCOT news online, Mr. Abhisit said he had met his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen on the sidelines of the 8th Asia- Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit, in Brussels during October 4-5. He said they discussed the border dispute over the 4.6-square-km area near the ancient temple Preah Vihear.

"There was no conclusion in the latest discussion, which mainly exchanged views over the dispute in an effort for progress, he said.

That is apart from current efforts being made through parliamentary procedures and the Thai- Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC)," he added.

The PM said the two countries would prepare information related to the conflict and would hold talks again when they meet on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Hanoi on October 28-30.

Ex-Khmer Rouge defend the dark past

via CAAI

5 October 2010

The BBC's Guy De Launey travels to Cambodia's north-western Pailin province, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, to meet veterans of the brutal regime.

Sam Soeurn, who is now a farmer, says he spent 15 years as a Khmer Rouge soldier

Sam Soeurn pushes aside the ears of corn that grow in the fields over the dirt track from his house.

He looks more than his 62 years - though the farmer's weather-beaten skin and missing front teeth could account for that.

But he also seems content, smiling broadly at some of his 29 grandchildren as they lay the bricks for a new hen house.

He is greeted with the respect befitting a village chief by the other members of the small community of Tuk Pos in Pailin province.

"Life is good," he says. "We are very happy."

But then he unbuttons his blue shirt to reveal an intricate, faded tattoo. This is what he believes protected him from enemy bullets during his 15 years as a Khmer Rouge soldier.

"In 1972 it didn't matter if you wanted to join the Khmer Rouge or not. There was no choice," he says.

Up to two million people died under Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979.

Policies included the evacuation of cities, forced labour in the rice fields and the summary execution of those considered enemies of the revolution.


Three decades of conflict finally came to an end in the late 1990s as the Khmer Rouge accepted a series of amnesties and in some cases even royal pardons.

In return many of the organisation's members took roles in the government and the military.

Even today, the local government and armed forces in Pailin are dominated by Khmer Rouge veterans.

Their assimilation into mainstream Cambodian society had seemed complete and uneventful.

But with the start of the United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal in 2006, the former cadres have been feeling somewhat less accepted.

And the genocide charges against the four most senior surviving leaders of the organisation have left people like Sam Soeurn feeling exasperated.

"They're old and won't live much longer if they put them on trial. They should be given amnesty and allowed to live freely. That would bring peace to our country," he says.

Instead Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith are due to go on trial sometime in 2011.

As well as the genocide charges, they have been accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Officials from the special court are aware that there are misgivings about their work in former Khmer Rouge areas.

Pailin was their first stop for an outreach forum the week after the genocide charges were confirmed.

A packed hall greeted the foreign and Cambodian officials, with most of the front rows filled with stern faces in military uniforms.

If the international co-prosecutor, Andrew Cayley, had not been a former army man himself it might have made for an intimidating sight.

Local government and armed forces in Pailin are dominated by Khmer Rouge veterans

"It's easy for me to go somewhere we have support," he says. "It's more important to come to a place like this - where there are former Khmer Rouge members integrated in the government."

Indeed Mr Cayley found himself listening to a speech by Pailin's deputy governor in which he spoke warmly of the former Khmer Rouge leaders, and even described them as victims of Cambodia's long conflict.

But the prosecutor believes that when the trial starts, the former cadres will have to face up to the reality of what their leaders did.

"Reconciliation is about rebuilding trust in communities that have been in conflict with each other.

"In Yugoslavia, crimes were denied until they were tried by international criminal courts - and in trying those cases and revealing the truth both the victims and the perpetrators gained some relief and satisfaction that the story had been properly told. Ultimately that led to a healing - and I believe the same thing could happen here."

The former Khmer Rouge cadres at the forum were more sceptical.

Some described their former leaders as "heroes and patriots". Others wondered why only the Khmer Rouge was being singled out when many forces committed atrocities over three decades of conflict.

Sam Soeurn went back to his village, his corn and his two dozen-odd grandchildren.

"There won't be any problems here," he says. "We're normal people now."