Friday, 3 December 2010

Li Wei’s visions defy the laws of gravity

via CAAI

Friday, 03 December 2010 15:01 Sarah Macklin

MONGOLIAN-BORN Li Wei chucked art school and threw himself head first – literally – into a new career as a photographer, snapping impossible scenes without using PhotoShop.

He began taking photos of himself diving and jumping, then branched out into intricate visions achieved using a combination of wires, mirrors, and acrobatics.

Now living and working in Beijing, the 40-year-old artist remains focused on China as a subject, despite winning acclaim for his startling pictures in exhibitions around the world.

Using models and an intricate combination of harnesses, ropes, cranes and scaffolding, he creates oddly joyful and disturbing pictures, using sky as a backdrop. Li Wei says he plans to keep his focus on China, “because my country is vast in terriroty and is now undergoing dramatic changes”. His exhibition at Chinese House at #45 Sisowath Quay runs until December 12.

Festival closes with Night of the Year

Images by German-born Nica Junker, who now works in Japan, are among those featured in the Night of the Year.

via CAAI

Friday, 03 December 2010 15:00 Emilie Boulenger

PHOTOGRAPHY from around the world takes to the streets of Phnom Penh tomorrow for an event billed as the Night of the Year.

Seven large screens have been set up along Sisowath Quay for people to stroll by and view a vast panorama of photography taken by the press worldwide.

With the support and partnership of Les Rencontres d’Arles, this event is the culmination of this year’s week-long Photo Phnom Penh festival.

In addition, circus performers from Battambang’s circus school Phare Ponleu Selpak will stage a special parade as part of the Tini Tinou circus festival.

Here’s a list of screens and the press agencies featured at each screen along the quay. Free festivities begin at 6:30pm.

Screen 1:, Picturetank, Vu, Bophana Centre.

Screen 2: GQ, Hans Lucas, Signatures, Festival de Yangon, The Phnom Penh Post.

Screen 3: Myop, VII, Contour, Melon Rouge, Hatje Cantz.

Screen 4: Le Monde 2, Bar floréal, Reuters, Cambodian Film Commission, Trikaya.

Screen 5: Transit, Ostkreuz, Studio Images, CirkIntérieur, Apeiron.

Screen 6: Luz Photo, Contrasto, Tendance floue, Melon Rouge, Asia Motion.

Screen 7: Intersection Project – Photo Phnom Penh, Canon Photo Shootout, Geo, Io Dona, Noor, Anjali House.

Collision of past and present

Krysztof Zielinski revisits the past in his portraits of his old home village, on show at the Royal University of Phnom Penh until December 12.

via CAAI

Friday, 03 December 2010 15:00 Emilie Boulenger

POLISH photographer Krysztof Zielinski takes us back into the past, photographing the primary school of his home village, in an exhibition at the Royal University of Phnom Penh this week.

Zielinski, who now lives in Berlin but keeps returning to Poland, found his inspiration by coincidence.

“I took some pictures by chance and I was shocked seeing them,” he said. The 20 pictures that are on display are unbelievably colourful and pay a rare attention to detail.

And these images are very far from what the artist had in mind as he went to school during Communist rule. “It was as if I had to explore a place that I knew but that I didn’t know,” he added.

PHOTO PHNOM PENH Krysztof Zielinski.

Zielinski said he cared about the relation between the image and the audience. “In this series, people can imagine their own school,” he suggested.

The artist is not so focused on the strict technical details of photography – he sees his images as more an art work, focusing on details such as texture, patina, and colour. In the three next years, he wants to follow this path, making pictures about his vision of his country – coming from Poland, but feeling at odds with the contrast between past and present.

Siem Reap in the spotlight

Photo by: Will Baxter

via CAAI

Friday, 03 December 2010 15:02 Will Baxter
A cyclist is illuminated by headlights while riding through the Angkor temple complex in Siem Reap province. The Ministry of Tourism has estimated that the number of tourists visiting Cambodia will jump to about 6 million annually by the year 2020. And inevitably Siem Reap, with its World Heritage-listed temples, clean air and cheap hotel rooms, will be at the top of most tourists’ lists. WILL BAXTER

Never-ending cycle: The human cost of slave labour

I don’t want to see the sun go down, I want it to stay forever” says the text in this drawing by trafficking victim Prom Vannak Anan, who also endured the hellish conditions aboard a Thai fishing vessel.

via CAAI

Thursday, 02 December 2010 21:12 David Boyle and Sun Narin

Terror and relief ran through Phal Chantha’s mind as he climbed ashore on a small beach in Malaysia, some 1,200 kilometres across the South China Sea from his home in Cambodia.

Behind him in hot pursuit were the Thai fishermen who he said had subjected him to four months of beatings and slave labour, drugged him and murdered his colleagues as he stood watching.

Ahead lay a hostile jungle, a foreign country and the hope of freedom.

That hope was to prove empty. Phal Chantha soon discovered that he was caught in a cycle of trafficking kept in motion by governmental corruption and multinational brokering networks that operate in Thailand, Malaysia and Cambodia.

In late 2008 while working as a manual labourer for a mere 6,000 riel a day, Phal Chantha was introduced through a friend to a broker who extended a compelling offer: If he was willing to relocate to Thailand, he would be rewarded with a lucrative job in a fish-processing plant.

Employees could expect to earn about US$230 a month, an offer the desperately impoverished man, struggling to send money back home to his family, could not refuse.

It was to be the beginning of a series of deceptions for Phal Chantha, who would fall victim to a widespread and highly organised labour trafficking trade that rights groups say supplies an estimated one-fifth of Thailand’s fishing industry workers.

Labour trafficking ensnares impoverished individuals and their families in a web of slavery and extortion that ceases only when they have been sucked dry of every possession, says Manfred Hornung, a legal advisor from the Cambodian rights group Licadho.

“It goes over the whole three borders if you like, involving three nations with very distinct problems in relation to corruption at all levels,” says Manfred Hornung, who has investigated the slave labour market since 2006.

Shortly after arriving in Thailand, Phal Chantha was locked in a room and drugged. He awoke to find himself enslaved, trapped aboard a Thai fishing boat with no rights and no legal documents. Months of exploitation followed.

“I was forced to work day and night with only one or two hours of sleep in between, and if I didn’t work, they would kill me,” he said of the conditions that led him to risk his life by jumping overboard into darkness and dangerous waters while his boat docked for repairs on December 21, 2009.

In those early hours of the morning, Phal Chantha and three other men swam ashore and embarked on a three-day journey through a jungle somewhere off the northern coast of Sarawak without food, constantly hiding from their tormentors, in search of a town named Sibu mentioned by other slaves.

When they finally arrived and tried to turn themselves in to local authorities, police refused to arrest the men. Shortly afterward they were approached by a man who spoke Thai and talked of employment opportunities that could lead to repatriation.

Phal Chantha and Rim Rann saw through an all too familiar trick, but their colleagues whom they knew only as Phin and Ruen, were deeply homesick and couldn’t help taking the bait.

Manfred Hornung says Phin and Ruen were following a path for trafficked Cambodian workers, a path that has become so well established since he began observing it in 2006 that a thriving slave labour trade has arisen in Sarawak to exploit escapees.

“They are basically stranded in Sarawak and they don’t know where they are.

They don’t know the state, they don’t know the country, but once they are on land and walk the road to try and find help they have already been spotted by brokers,” he says.

Aegile Fernandez, anti-human trafficking coordinator of Malaysia-based NGO Tenaganita, says escapees arrive so frequently that brokers are literally waiting for them on shore.

“The agents are at the coastlines and they know certain spots where the trafficked fishermen jump ship. As soon as they come on shore ... the agents go and tell them you can earn some money.”

Recruited with the promise that after a few years they can earn airfare back to Cambodia, most men see little choice but to agree. With no local language skills, no rights and, most pressingly, no food, they are quickly sold into local labour markets.

Most will never see a paycheck and find themselves subjected to a second round of exploitation that has been documented by Licadho in dozens of cases.

Soon they find themselves faced with a terrible choice: Do they continue to work for an employer who provides no pay and little food, or escape again and throw themselves upon the mercy of the Malaysian legal system?

Those who choose the second path invariably end up in one of Malaysia’s immigration detention centres. Here too, the brokers are waiting.

Their intention at this final stage of exploitation is to extort money from the victim’s family in Cambodia, who must pay $300 to $400 in exchange for the men’s safe return.

This final stage, sometimes referred to as “re-trafficking”, is particularly disturbing, says Hornung. Having already endured terrible hardships, the victim returns to a family that has been financially destroyed.

“If you have to raise $400, you have to give up your land as collateral. If your son comes back with no money in his pocket, it’s a clear recipe for disaster.”

Sith Luos, chief of the anti-human trafficking and juvenile protection office at the police commissariat in Banteay Meanchey province, says the trade in trafficked Cambodian workers is driven by unstoppable illegal migration paths into Thailand.

“In the first half of 2010, 56,282 people have been sent back to Cambodia by Thai authorities,” he said, citing the data for Banteay Meanchey alone.

Just how many additional illegal migrant workers go undetected by Thai authorities remains unclear, but the scale of Thailand’s illegal fishing industry and reliance on foreign slave labour suggests the real figure is significantly higher.

Lim Tith, national project coordinator at the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, estimates the total fish-selling trade in Thailand, registered or otherwise, to be worth $2 billion a year in exports.

“ILO research on the industry, although primarily looking at Burmese migrants, indicates that 20 percent of the migrant workers on the boats are trafficked,” he said.

“We are looking here in the range of tens of thousands of boats,” Licadho’s Hornung said, adding that he has seen little being done in Thailand at the policing level to crack down on the black-market operators.

“We’ve sent information through various channels to police about that, and the response wasn’t very strong, to say the least, about criminal investigations against these practices.”

Sith Luos says that officials in key Cambodian border provinces such as his own are trying to crack down on illegal migration and brokering but simply do not have the resources to deal with the massive flow of people over the border.

Chronic food shortages and poverty are so entrenched in Cambodia’s most impoverished rural provinces such as Prey Veng and Banteay Meanchay that even awareness campaigns alerting people to the risks involved in seeking unregulated employment abroad are failing to curb the wave of migration, Hornung says.

“I think it is a social issue. It has to do with a huge young labour force pressing onto the Cambodian labour market every year so people go out of desperation; its not a matter of choice,” said Hornung.

No one knows exactly how many of these men have ended up languishing in Malaysian detention facilities, but the estimates of returned victims range from 40 to more than 100 in Lenggeng alone.

After authorities eventually apprehended the defiant Phal Chantha and his friend Rim Rann, they were sent through a series of detention facilities until ending up in the notorious Lenggeng detention centre.

“I was sent to live in the small prison cell, 16 metres by 4 metres, with more than 40 people. We slept on each other and shat in the same room,” he said.

From a block of several hundred male detainees from countries around the world, Phal Chantha could hear the cries of about 10 Cambodian women who said they had fled abusive working conditions as house keepers without their passports and had been subsequently detained as illegal migrant workers.

“I felt pity on them very much, but I didn’t know what to do.”

It was also in Lenggeng that Phal Chantha forged a relationship with two other men, Vann Vinn and Sim Ek, and began trying to devise a plan to secure their return to Cambodia.

Hornung explains that, once inside, people like Phal Chantha, Rim Rann, Van Vinn and Sim Ek can be processed under Malaysia’s robust anti-human trafficking legislation, but are sometimes, inexplicably, deemed undocumented migrant workers and considered to have committed criminal offenses.

Sim Ek and Van Vinn were luckily identified as legitimate trafficking victims and eventually transported home through official channels, but Phal Chantha and Rim Rann were subjected to different standards of law.

They were deemed to be undocumented migrant workers, received prison terms of 3 months and on top of routine beatings from the Lenggeng’s guards, were subjected to caning, a punishment under Malaysian law.

“Under Malaysian law, 100 percent of the cases we have dealt with in the past four or five years, all of them have been trafficking victims under the Malaysian anti-trafficking bill,” said Hornung.

Both Hornung and Fernandez agree the legislation alone is an adequate framework to protect trafficking victims such as Phal Chantha and Sim Ek. The problem is not the law but the way it is enforced.

Sim Ek says that other than one brief meeting with Cambodian embassy officials who promised to help him and then went silent, his only contact with the outside world during his incarceration was with brokers who promised to help him – for a price.

“You have 13 of these immigration detention depots in Malaysia.

We have reports about the biggest ones and these seem to be a thriving business,” said Hornung.

Phal Chantha also tried to contact the Cambodian embassy and managed to get onto an embassy official who told him to call back in a few days time.

“I called again and he said that he was a vegetable seller.”

Oung Vantha, an official at the Cambodian embassy in Malaysia, says the embassy does consult with Cambodians stuck in Malaysian detention centres, but is hamstrung by the need to negotiate with Malaysian authorities and the lack of funds to fly victims back home.

“The victims contact the relatives by themselves, so they have money to buy a ticket,” he said.

After that, Oung Vantha says, negotiations can begin with Malaysian immigration officials to secure their release.

“Immigration in Malaysia will prepare the document for the victim and ask the Cambodian embassy to issue the travel document for the victim, and the embassy will issue the Lesser Passe for them,” he said.

Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also stands by the support provided to trafficking victims from Cambodian embassy officials in Malaysia.

“If they call the embassy [in Malaysia], the embassy will take actions to help them immediately, but we are afraid that they do not contact us,” he said.

“I would like them to go to abroad legally, so if something happens to them, we can easily help them.”

But Fernandez gives a very different rendition of the repatriation process.

“If it’s human trafficking victims, then the government sends them back, but if it is undocumented migrant workers, what happens is one way of getting them out is to ask the families to pay.

The immigration officials do this; they get agents who demand or threaten money to get home,” she said.

Although her organisation is not allowed into detention facilities, Fernandez says brokering agents have virtually unfettered access.

“This is a form of corruption because, on one hand, you do not allow NGOs to go in, but you do allow agents. How can you allow them when you say no one is allowed into a detention centre?”

The deputy chief of mission of the Malaysian embassy in Phnom Penh, Raja Saifful Ridzuwan, said he was unaware of re-trafficking in Malaysian detention facilities.

Explicit or implicit, there is evidence, including copies of brokering agreements signed by Cambodian government officials, brokers and families, that immigration officials in Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia are willing players in the business of bondage.

One of the latest returnees, Hornung says, described how a female Cambodian broker named Rum Many (phonetic spelling) was allowed to take all the inmates at Lenggeng into a room, where she made it clear there was only one way home anytime soon – pay her money.

“She was telling them that this would be 1.5 million riel per person so that it would be best for them to cooperate with her and give them the contact details of family members in Cambodia so they can arrange to be returned to Cambodia.”

The Post has obtained a copy of one of the contracts used in 2008 to sanction such a brokering agreement, for the sum of 1.4 million riel.

 A copy of a brokering contract obtained by The Phnom Penh Post and signed by a government official and a broker.

Signed by a victim whose name must be concealed to protect his safety, a woman named Mat Samny acting on behalf of her husband, Loh Samad, and the chief of Panyier Khraet district’s Por Pel commune in Kampong Cham, Sat Mod, the document is a clear example of local government complicity in re-trafficking.
Because low-level government and police corruption is a daily reality in all three countries through which Cambodian male migrant workers are trafficked, Hornung maintains the only way to ensure victims are correctly identified and processed accordingly is through high-level multilateral government cooperation.

“While that is still not happening, there will be continuing extortion and if you look at the wider problem, if the families have to pay for the return, which is in the range of $300 to $400 per head, this will most definitely, invariably lead to further indebtedness of the families,” he said.

Trafficking victim Sim Ek lies in a referral hospital in Banteay Meanchey Province after stepping on a landmine just weeks after returning from his ordeal.

“We had one case of three of them just crouching outside the office, watching the traffic, unable to think, unable to talk. So you have cases in which people are really, really troubled.”

For Phal Chantha, who finally boarded a registered flight bound for Cambodia on May 22, 2010, his release was bittersweet; though his months of bondage had come to an end, his freedom had come at the expense of his family’s financial freedom.

He returned to Olympic market, working the same menial job for the same meager salary and escaped lifelong indebtedness and family resentment only because of the intervention of Licadho.

A few weeks after Sim Ek was reunited with his family, he was working for $2.50 a day scavenging for firewood in a forest not far from his home in Banteay Meachey.

But instead of coming home with money to support his family, he stepped on a landmine.

“I am the only one responsible for my family. What will happen to my family now,” he said, having lost most of his right leg and sustained serious injuries to both hands.

Extortion has taken everything from Sim Ek and he sees only one way out of the vicious cycle.

“I do not want live, not in this world.”

Rail concerns on ADB radar

via CAAI

Thursday, 02 December 2010 21:35 Sebastian Strangio

The Asian Development Bank says it is working with the government to address problems at resettlement sites connected to a bank-funded railway refurbishment project, following the drowning of two children at one such area last month.

In a statement issued late yesterday, the ADB said it was in “constant dialogue with the Government to address and resolve any other outstanding resettlement issues known to us”.

“ADB’s position is to ensure compliance with the ADB safeguard policy by providing additional support to the government agencies concerned,” it said. “ADB will more closely monitor the situation.”

It said issues at the resettlement site were being “actively addressed” through dialogue with the government’s Inter-ministerial Resettlement Committee.

Concerns about the resettlement policy were raised last month, after Hut Heap, 13, and her 9-year-old brother, Hut Hoeub, drowned in a pond at a Battambang relocation site.

After the incident, a coalition of NGOs wrote to the heads of the ADB and the Australian development agency AusAID, which is also funding part of the project, expressing “grave concerns” about the treatment of residents affected by it.

The coalition claimed the Battambang site lacked access to clean water and electricity and called on the ADB and AusAID to “temporarily halt funding tranches” until similar problems at all relocation sites were solved. Rights groups claim an estimated 4,000 families will ultimately make way for the project.

At the time, Nora Lindstrom, an adviser for the housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, one of the signatories of the letter, told The Post her group had documented cases in which households had received “as little as a few hundred dollars” in compensation in addition to a plot of land at a relocation site.

Such a small amount has not allowed families to rebuild their homes to “adequate standards”, she said, adding that many families had been forced to borrow money to survive.

In its statement yesterday, the ADB claimed electricity had been installed at the Battambang site since September and that “all relocated families have access to power”. It also claimed families had access to subsidised drinking water through the IRC, which delivers it to the site through a private water supplier.

Involved rights groups declined to comment on the ADB response late yesterday.

The ADB has approved US$84 million in loans for the project, and AusAID has contributed an additional $21.5 million in grants. Railway lines connecting Kampot to Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh to Battambang are being refurbished in a process that is expected to be completed in 2013.

Koh Pich guards detain photographer

via CAAI

Thursday, 02 December 2010 21:33 Sebastian Strangio and Buth Reaksmey Kongkea

A staff photographer for The Phnom Penh Post was briefly detained by private security guards while taking pictures on Diamond Island yesterday, following last week’s deadly stampede on a bridge leading to the island.

“When I arrived there I started taking pictures, the security guard arrived and asked it I had permission from the developer,” said photographer Pha Lina, who went to the island to take photos of local vendors.

He said three guards escorted him back to their office, where he was forced to delete the photos from his camera, while security guards took down his ID card and motorbike licence plate numbers. A copy was also made of his ID card.

“They said ‘you are not allowed’,” Pha Lina said. “And the security guard explained to me that after the stampede, they don’t want people to report about the quiet place here. We want more people to come.”

The claim came after last week’s deadly stampede, which killed 352 people and injured a further 395. In the wake of the disaster there were concerns Diamond Island – a popular place for weddings – would lose business due to local superstitions relating to the tragedy.

Diamond Island project manager Touch Samnang said there was no order from the company to bar journalists from the island, and denied any photojournalist had been detained by the company’s security guards. But he added that those who are taking photos for their “own business purposes”, such as karaoke producers, required permission.

Susi Tan, the project director of the Overseas Cambodia Investment Cooperation, the project’s developer, said security was bolstered on the island due to this week’s meeting of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties. She could not comment on the actions of the guards who allegedly acted in the name of OCIC.

Diamond Island vendor crisis

Photo by: Pha Lina
A carnival ride sits empty on Diamond Island, Phnom Penh, yesterday. Businesses there have seen a sharp downturn in customers since the deadly water festival stampede.

---------------------------------------------------------We have no money to pay our suppliers. We hope the companies understand our situation and forgive us.
via CAAI

Thursday, 02 December 2010 21:27 Soeun Say

More than 100 vendors at the Diamond Island night market have requested their landlord suspend rent payments for three months, due to a slump in business following last week’s bridge tragedy.

“The place is not like before,” said Yi Bopha, owner of Yi Meng Heang soup and drinks shop yesterday. “It’s so quiet – my business has dropped by 80 to 90 percent”.

The vendors have submitted petitions asking for the suspension of rent payments, but they plan to continue selling their wares in the hopes that custom will see a resurgence in the future.

“Even though we have not [got] customers, we haven’t stop selling. If we stopped it would make the situation quiet forever. So, we must try to sell our products – hopefully the project will return to normal,” said Nou Sokunthy, owner of K & T shop, who added her signature to a petition two days ago.

“We have no money to pay our suppliers. We hope the companies understand our situation and forgive us.”

Nou Sokunthy rents two shops at the night market, one for selling clothing and one for showing 3-D movies. Both had seen huge drop-offs in business.

But Sam Sreyneth, owner of Elite Salon, which is located in front of the scene of the disaster, was optimistic that business would eventually pick up.

“I’m not afraid – we are continuing with our business. If we postpone our plans, it will just make visitors more afraid,” she said.

Officials at the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp-managed Diamond Island night market yesterday confirmed that they had received the petition from vendors, and sounded optimistic that a resolution could be found.

“We have received the request, and it has been sent to top management to find a solution,” said Chan Sotheary, manager of the night market.

“I don’t think their request will be a problem. Our company will take measures on the issue.”

Company officials also plan to meet with vendors to discuss the problems they are facing.

Charles Vann, executive vice president at Canadia Bank and a senior official at Diamond Island developers OCIC, said he had not been able to review the petition yet, but added the firm had officials who were dealing with the vendors’ request.

Official pleads guilty to fraud

via CAAI

Thursday, 02 December 2010 19:08 Chrann Chamroeun

A former Ministry of Economy and Finance official pleaded guilty to charges of forgery and embezzlement during a hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, claiming he had stolen more than US$600,000 of state money to fund a gambling addiction.

Koy Dara, who had been acting bureau director of finance at the ministry for nearly 20 years before his arrest on April 24, said yesterday that he had altered numerous checks and twice forged the signature of one of his superiors to misappropriate money from a state account between early 2009 and 2010.

“I acknowledge and confess my guilt for embezzling state funds, which I did alone with my skillful extending of numbers and correcting numbers on checks,” he said.

“I embezzled state funds ... took this money and lost it gambling at Naga casino for my addiction, [I did] not take the money for supplying my family or other interests.”

According to a statement read out by a court clerk yesterday, Mey Vann, director of the ministry’s Financial Department, testified that an investigation was launched when he realised money had been siphoned out of a state bank account.

“I was very surprised after checking documents from the National Bank of Cambodia [that] alerted that the account had almost run out through [Koy Dara] forging my signature and adding extra numbers on checks every time he got money from the bank,” Mey Vann’s statement read.

“I trusted in him as my personal assistant and secretariat.”

Court prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot, however, questioned whether Koy Dara could have acted alone in siphoning such a large amount of money without the knowledge of his superiors.

He cast doubt on claims that Koy Dara’s “boss Mey Vann and other accountants didn’t know about the accused’s embezzling from checks at the National bank that happened for more than a year”.

Despite these doubts, Ek Chheng Hout called for Koy Dara to receive a “heavy sentence” to set a “good example for other civil officials to be careful and responsible”.

Under Article 49 of UNTAC law, a conviction on charges of forging public documents is punishable by five to 15 years in prison. Under Article 37 of the law, embezzlement by public officials is a felony punishable by three to 10 years in prison and a fine of double the sum of money stolen.

Presiding Judge Ker Sakhorn said a verdict will be announced on December 16.

Cambodians In US Mark Seventh Day Following Diamond Bridge Tragedy

Temple event will benefit stampede victims

via CAAI


By Matt Russell
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

The Cambodian Buddhist temple in southeast Rochester will have a ceremony from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday to honor people who died in a recent stampede in Cambodia.

The stampede, which happened during an annual water festival, reportedly killed 300 people and injured hundreds more. An elder monk at the Rochester temple has a nephew who died in the stampede, said temple member Tracy Sam.

Donations gathered at the event will be sent to Cambodia to help pay for medical care for people who were injured.

The temple is at 4462 29th St. S.E.

Faith, Not Revenge Compels Search for Former Captor

via CAAI

By Stan Friedman

OAKLAND, CA (December 2, 2010) – Chamron Phal speaks gently as he recounts searching Cambodia to meet and offer forgiveness to the former Khmer Rouge prison guard who held him captive and tortured him during the time of the horrific Killing Fields.

Phal, associate pastor at First Covenant Church in Oakland, ministers to Cambodians who are members of the congregation, many of whom suffered under the violent regime of Pol Pot, one-time leader of the Cambodian communist movement. Phal also led the church’s work in planting up to more than 40 churches so far in his native country.

For years, Phal says, he prayed God would give him the “privilege and honor” of meeting the guard. Each time he returned to the country, he would ask villagers if they knew how he might find his former captor. “Not for revenge, not for harm or hurt, but for sharing the good news of Jesus to that former Khmer Rouge communist.

“I want him to know the past can be forgiven and healed if he gives his life to Jesus,” Phal adds. “He can start a new life with Jesus."

Phal finally found the man in December 2006. “He did not recognize me, but I remember him so well,” Phal says. The guard later recognized Phal when he recounted his time as a prisoner.

That was all Phal shared of their history, however. “I don’t mention the past, I only tell him, ‘I miss you brother. I’m looking for you for a long time, but I am so glad I found you.’”

Phal’s offering of love and friendship is obviously genuine, coming from his heart and not out of a sense of obligation. He smiles as he tells of meeting his former guard.

Phal invited the guard to visit him at his hotel. The two met together, and Phal gave him gifts, money, and food. When Phal visited the country again in summer of 2007, he invited the guard to stay with him at the hotel. There, Phal again shared that Jesus could give the guard a new life.

The former guard replied, "Chamron, you know I appreciate your friendship, your love for me, your kindness, your generosity. But, I cannot accept your Jesus.” The man explained it was because he was one of the leaders in the Buddhist temple.

Phal replied, “Even though you can’t accept Jesus, it’s alright. But you and I still friends. Jesus still loves you and I still love you.”

Click here to learn more about Chamron’s encounter with the former guard.

Paul Wilson, First Covenant’s senior pastor, says he is humbled and educated by the associate pastor. “Chamron is filled with love and wonder and he tells the guard over and over I love you, because Chamron believes we get to love everybody and Jesus told him he never has to hate anyone.”

Hate would be an understandable emotion. Phal lived through hell.

From 1975 to 1978, the Khmer Rouge committed genocide in Cambodia, killing an estimated 1.5 million people – roughly one-fifth of the population. The Vietnamese finally overthrew Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader and his communist regime.

Phal grew up in an “extreme Catholic” home, was an altar boy and sang in the choir, but says he never was serious about his faith. Though he lived as he pleased as a young man, he recalls, “Fear gripped my heart. I fear death. I fear darkness. I fear people. I fear strange sounds. I fear cemeteries."

He says now, “I thank God he prepared me to face the Killing Fields.”

Shortly after the Khmer Rouge came to power, Phal was arrested when he was wrongfully accused of stealing grain from a field. He would spend six months in the prison where scores of Phal’s countrymen died.

While imprisoned, he was severely beaten with rods. The scripture he learned as a child strengthened him. “I remembered Matthew 10:28: ‘Do not be afraid of man, who can kill only your body but cannot kill your soul. But fear God, who can destroy both your body and soul into hell.’ ”

He also found spiritual strength in Psalm 23, which his father had sung every day. Phal recites it quietly, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

The final evil the soldiers inflicted on Phal came six months after he first was taken captive. They tried to drown him in water that had flooded the area. “They forced me to walk a kilometer and I lost hope when I reached that place,” he says. “They beat me until I was black and blue and bleeding, and then threw me into the floodwaters.”

Click here to learn more of his capture and near-death experience.

The soldiers then left. Phal swam back to the place where they had thrown him into the water because it was the only dry land - and he escaped from the area the next day.

He was nearly caught several times, but Phal says God answered his simple prayer - “Save me Jesus.”

After the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge, the United Nations opened its largest Cambodian refugee camp across the border in Thailand. Churches had sprung up throughout the camp. “God opened my heart to be transformed by the power of the good news I heard,” he says.

“One afternoon, while I was swinging in a hammock, whistling, a group of children started singing 'At Calvary.' It was the first time I had heard that song,” Phal says. “The words hit me: 'Years I spent in vanity and pride, caring not my Lord was crucified; knowing it was for me he died at Calvary.' I jumped out of my hammock to my knees, confessed all my sins to the Lord, and opened my heart to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.’ Since that time my life has never been the same.”

Phal says God has redeemed his suffering. “Even though I have gone through hardship, suffering and death, it has been very good for my soul. If I had not gone through suffering, my life would have continued in wretchedness.”

He adds, “I now experience complete healing and wholeness by the power and precious blood of Jesus. This is the grace of Jesus.”

Phal eventually was able to make his way to the United States on March 9, 1982. He began his ministry to Cambodian people in Boston, Massachusetts, during his first days in the country and subsequently ministered in Connecticut for 12 years. He made his first trip back to Cambodia in 1991.

Phal felt called to start a church in Oakland, which is where he met Wilson. He was introduced through a mutual friend who had met Phal in the refugee camp. “We really believe God has called us to be partners,” says Wilson.

Phal had been ministering to a Cambodian congregation of 100 people. He led the congregation to become part of First Covenant in 2005. Each Sunday, Phal speaks to the Cambodian members in their native language. He also helps the Cambodians connect to the rest of the multi-ethnic congregation.

Additionally, Phal has led the congregation to connect with people in his homeland. He returns to Cambodia twice a year with mission teams from the Oakland church and other churches to assist the growing number of congregations he has helped plant, including one pastored by a former member of the Khmer Rouge.

Editor’s note: The accompanying photo shows Phal with his family. This is the first in a two-part series. Tomorrow: the growth of the churches in Cambodia.

One more Cambodian dies from stampede tragedy

via CAAI

December 02, 2010

One more man was reported on Thursday dead in the stampede tragedy on Nov. 22 at the Diamond Island bridge during the final day of the Water Festival, bringing the total number of the dead to 352.

"The man suffered serious internal injury in the stampede and died on Wednesday night," said Chuoy Meng, a doctor at the Calmette Hospital, who is in charge of treatment of the injured in the stampede.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said each victim might receive about 12, 000 U.S. dollars through donations from all sources including the 5 million riel (about 1,200 U.S. dollars) provided by the government.

The accident was caused by the panic which soon after led to the stampede.

Cambodia's Water Festival from Nov. 20 to 22 is the largest annual festival in the Southeast Asian nation, around three million Cambodians, especially those from rural areas converged to the city to enjoy the regatta.

Source: Xinhua

Student to help Cambodian orphans on gap year

via CAAI

British students planning a gap year overseas may be inspired to volunteer overseas after reading one young woman's story.

Hereford Sixth Form College student, Melissa Thomas, 17, hopes to carry out voluntary work on behalf of Outreach International at an orphanage in Cambodia, starting in June 2011, the Malvern Gazette reported.

"I aspire to work with children when I'm older so I believe that going to Cambodia would be the greatest experience to have before I go to university," she told the newspaper.

The student is looking to raise £2,000 in donations from individuals and organisations to fund her trip abroad.

Whilst in Cambodia, Melissa will be teaching children English, supporting them in their daily life and play, as well as helping them to raise money through their favourite pastime - dancing.

Last month, Prakriti Malhotra, director of operations at GapGuru, suggested that planning a gap year abroad can provide students with an opportunity to make themselves more employable as graduates.

Read about gap year stories

( Last Updated: 2010-12-02 15:11:40)

A Voice for Cambodia's Youth

 via CAAI


A writer and activist talks about her work and her hopes for Cambodia.

Undated photo of Chak Sopheap.

Chak Sopheap, 25, holds a Master’s Degree in Peace Relations from the International University of Japan and has published English-language articles on the international website Global Voices Online, focusing on corruption, the democratic process, and freedom of expression. She also works with the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and is a founder of Youth Network for Change, a voluntary group dedicated to social change through participation in community events and youth camping. Born in Cambodia’s Kompong Cham province, she now lives in Phnom Penh with her parents and siblings.

"I am very much interested in writing the way researchers do—not leaning toward any one group in civil society or in human rights. I like to write to express the viewpoint of an independent researcher … I have noticed that a lot of people are interested in what I’ve written for Global Voices Online. People from Bangladesh, France, and Russia have translated them into their own languages and have contacted me in person to learn about the situation in Cambodia.

"My family was not well-off. We lived in need, because when my father left Kompong Cham for Phnom Penh, he came alone. By then, he only had one old bike. He struggled to earn a living and later saved up enough to buy a row house, which cost quite a lot at the time. I think that if it had not been for my father’s efforts, this day would not have come for me.

"I received my Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations at Cambodia University, and in Economics at the Pannasastra University of Cambodia. Later, I continued my studies overseas—I had always longed to further my studies in Japan and the United States … I was so proud to be able to study in Japan.

"For the time being, I want to put the knowledge I received during my studies in Japan to use in my country by continuing the work of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and by working with friends and other civil-society groups, sharing the experience and knowledge that I have. In the meantime, I want to become an independent analyst.

"I am convinced that the more we human beings come to know each other, the more we will reduce our misunderstandings and disputes, and thus help our country become more tolerant. We can help to build peace among us, which is my first goal. The second goal I long for is to see our youth share their experiences so that they can generate more ideas and initiatives to help develop our society."

Original interview by Naline Pea. Khmer service director: Sos Kem.

Person of the Year Nominations

 via CAAI

Youk Chhang: Norodom Monineath Sihanouk

Queen Mother Norodom Monineath Sihanouk of Cambodia is the embodiment of resilience, a beautiful woman who has endured countless hardships with dignity and courage.

Through her, we can learn about colonialism, independence, civil war, genocide, democratization and the quest for justice. Her life too will teach us about the complex history of Cambodia, a country often overlooked.

Chhang is Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia

View the full list for "Person of the Year Nominations"

Phnom Penh Buckles Under Megagrowth .

via CAAI

DECEMBER 2, 2010

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—The deadly stampede in Cambodia's capital last week is drawing new attention to problems arising from the city's dramatic but pell-mell growth.

A real-estate and economic boom is transforming Phnom Penh from one of the least developed major cities in Asia—it began seeing its first skyscrapers over the past several years—into the unlikely site for plans to build Asia's tallest building. Prime Minster Hun Sen said in September that the 1,820-foot skyscraper, if completed, would trail Dubai's 2,717-foot Burj Khalifa, the tallest in the world, but surpass Taiwan's 1,667-foot Taipei 101, currently Asia's tallest.

Track Phnom Penh's satellite city projects

Although some residents still doubt the tower will be built, developers have started work on other megaprojects, including four satellite cities that could involve billions of dollars in investment. They are also working on plans for a new stock exchange, a downtown marina and new international hotels.

The construction is coming at a time when growth is already outstripping Phnom Penh's ability to provide basic services such as roads and water, repeating a pattern seen in metropolises such as Bangkok and Jakarta that underwent dramatic—and problematic—transformations when they boomed in the 1970s, '80s and '90s.

No Land Title, No Rights

.Traffic is overwhelming broad avenues laid out under French colonial rule. Human-rights groups say developers are forcing thousands of residents off land in the central city with minimal compensation, and failing to conduct adequate environmental and traffic-impact studies in a rush to cash in.

"It is well known that since 1993, there has been no global urban planning, nor any proper study related to new real-estate zones in connection with sanitary feasibility, urban infrastructure, public transportation" or other key services in Phnom Penh, says Pung Chhiv Kek, president of Licadho, a local human-rights organization that has tracked disputes over land developments and displaced families there.

Developers "just do whatever they want," says Ching Chhom Mony, dean of architecture and urbanism at Cambodia's Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. "Our city development is like a mistake now," he says.

Government officials dispute that assessment. Although Phnom Penh's growth has been "overwhelming" in recent years, much of the new development "can benefit Cambodia a lot," says Chhay Rithisen, a director-general at the department of urbanization at Cambodia's Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. He said the government has a master plan for the city through 2020 and that some of the new developments, especially the satellite cities, will help ease congestion with new roads and other infrastructure.

Phnom Penh is better off in many ways than the megacities of India and China, with a metropolitan-area population of only about two million residents. The major new property investments create construction jobs and draw foreign cash into an economy that was starved of outside investment while Asia's other cities grew.

Still, some planners including Mr. Ching Chhom Mony and human-rights advocates say planning failures pose a serious problem for Cambodia—and also played a role in last week's disaster, in which an estimated 350 people were trampled to death as they crossed a bridge connecting downtown Phnom Penh to a river island where a series of concerts were being held.

The island is central to one of Phnom Penh's gleaming new developments, with a new exhibition center, homes priced from $250,000 to $1.5 million, a waterfront promenade, and a hall for ice sculptures. The area, known as Diamond Island, is also expected to include the new megatower, a hospital and a shopping mall.

Such developments come at a time when Phnom Penh is still dominated by low-rise buildings, temples and shophouses, with many residents relying on motorbikes or motorized rickshaws instead of cars.

Critics say the two bridges that now serve the island aren't nearly sufficient to handle the tens of thousands of people who gathered on the island on Nove. 29 or large crowds for other potential events. A spokesman for Diamond Island, which built the bridge where the stampede occurred and which is controlled by a Cambodian tycoon, said the developer is paying compensation to victims and planning more bridges in the future.

"Nobody expected" such a disaster, said the spokesman, Charles Vann. Diamond Island will proceed and ultimately help make Phnom Penh a more livable city, he said.

"Phnom Penh has been left behind for a long time and now they're giving Phnom Penh an opportunity to grow," Mr. Vann said. "If you have a good master plan, I don't think it's a problem. It will benefit the city."

In the 1970s, Phnom Penh's population dropped to 50,000 or fewer after a radical Maoist group known as the Khmer Rouge outlawed private property and forced residents out in a disastrous bid to create an agricultural utopia.

Vietnamese forces toppled the regime in 1979, leading to years of civil war that petered out in the 1990s.

By 2004, Cambodia was posting annual economic growth in excess of 10%. Investors from South Korea and elsewhere were pouring money into the property market, giving the city its first skyscrapers, including a recently completed 32-story tower named after a local bank owned by the investors behind Diamond Island.

Although new developments stopped during the global financial crisis, many have restarted, though some were scaled down to smaller sizes.

Among the most controversial is a massive city-within-a-city developed by a local company on more than 100 hectares of land, much of which used to be covered by a giant lake near the center of Phnom Penh. The Boeung Kak lake is now being drained, displacing as many as 4,000 families, and giant trucks are leveling sand for construction of housing and commercial developments, though full details remain unclear.

Long Vin, a 45-year-old resident in the area, says a company named Shukaku Inc. ripped down four houses she owned along the lake, including three she rented to other residents. Now she lives in a wood-and-corrugated-metal shanty on the edge of a rail line nearby.

Shukaku had offered her about $8,500 for the four homes, she says, but she refused because she thought they were worth $100,000.

The company offered to relocate her to a new community about 30 kilometers from Phnom Penh, she said, but she and other residents have refused to move because they fear relocation areas are too far away, without sufficient jobs or health care.

Efforts to locate officials at Shukaku were unsuccessful. In a local newspaper interview in October, a representative of the company said it was difficult to do such a major development without some negative impact, and referred other questions to the government.

Government officials have said efforts to handle displaced residents may not be perfect but that development is necessary for the city's progress and that conditions for relocated people will improve over time as new infrastructure and jobs are added in their new communities.

—Sun Narin contributed to this article.
Write to Patrick Barta at

Asian Political Leaders Meet To Address Regional Issues

Kong Sothanarith, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh Thursday, 02 December 2010

via CAAI

Photo: AP
Mushahid Hussain Sayed of Pakistan, secretary-general of Centrist Democrats International Asia Pacific, right, confers with Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, center left, during a signing ceremony in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010. Cambodia hosted a four-day meeting of six general assembly of the International Conference of Asia Political Parties.

“The common efforts between Asian countries are necessary to deal with the region's problems, as well as the problems in the world.”

Ninety-five political leaders from 44 Asia and Pacific nations met in Phnom Penh on Thursday to strengthen their role in the region and boost economic growth and to focus on energy and the environment.

“The common efforts between Asian countries are necessary to deal with the region's problems, as well as the problems in the world,” Prime Minister Hun Sen said in opening remarks for the International Conference of Political Parties of Asia Pacific.

Hun Sen urged participants to push growth within Asia by creating internal demand and internal trade.

An estimated 3.9 billion people live in the Asia Pacific region, accounting for one third of the world's GDP. But many of the Asian nations are hampered by high poverty rates and the region itself is facing a large gap between developed and non-developed countries, Hun Sen said.

In a video address from New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Our future depends on how we work together.”

“I shall encourage all Asian political parties here to build and strengthen the relationship with each other,” Malaysian Prime Minister Dato' Sri Mohamad Najib Bin Tun Haji Abdul Razak said. He urged countries to take “the message of hope and a better future back to your people.”

Hoang Binh Quan, a member of the Vietnamese Central Committee, said the region needed to focus on climate change, poverty, natural disasters and food security.

Li Yuanchao, the Minister of the Organization Department of the Chinese Communist Party, said China would seek relationships and partnerships with neighboring countries while pursuing a “policy for security and progress.”

Report Links Businesses With Rights Abuses

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh Thursday, 02 December 2010

via CAAI

Photo: by Heng Reaksmey
Children sit on top their inundated homes, where Shukaku, Inc., has been pumping fill into Boeung Kak lake, in early November 2010.

"Evictions are regularly conducted by armed Cambodian troops and police, while the political and economic elite benefit from forced evictions.”

Government officials and businesses, backed by a biased court system, are behind many of the most egregious rights violations in the country, a new report has found.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights found what it called a governance gap, where the authorities are unable to protect citizens from rights violations brought about by powerful business interests.

The group also found financial ties between individuals in government and businesses responsible for rights violations, exacerbating the problem. In some situations, it was hard to tell the difference between the government and business, the center said in its report, “Business and Human Rights in Cambodia.”

Land rights violations brought on by economic motives have become endemic, the report said. And land cases and their respective crackdowns have meant curbs on land and labor rights and the freedom of expression and assembly, the report said.

“Victims of evictions are rarely given an opportunity for participation or consultation beforehand and any information which is provided to residents is often incomplete and inaccurate,” it said. “When consultations with communities facing the threat of eviction do occur, they are often manipulative or coercive. Evictions are regularly conducted by armed Cambodian troops and police, while the political and economic elite benefit from forced evictions.”

Rights activists, meanwhile, face regular threats of physical violence or criminal charges when they voice their opposition to harmful developments, it said.

Victims of land or labor violations who seek to demonstrate or protest meet “public and private forces [that] collude to deny them these rights,” it said, adding that the courts were also not free of political or financial influence.

“The judicial mechanisms in Cambodia are in practice utilized by the political, economic and social elite to ensure impunity,” the report said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan called the report an “attack from a non-governmental organization.”

Challenges Await Newly Appointed Tribunal Prosecutor

Sok Khemara, VOA Khmer
Washington, DC Thursday, 02 December 2010

via CAAI

Photo: AP

“We can say there might be new speed or new strategies in relation to the investigation.”

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has named a new international investigating judge, who will step into the UN-backed court as it prepares for a complicated trial for four jailed leaders and considers more indictments.

Siegried Blunk, of Germany, will replace Marcel Lemond, who resigned in September following the end of the investigation stage in a case against four Khmer Rouge leaders.

Blunk, who was appointed by order of King Norodom Sihamoni, assumed office on Dec. 1, according to the tribunal.

Blunk will be facing tough questions at the tribunal, which is to decide on two more cases for indictments, something the Cambodian side of the court opposes. Those cases, Nos. 003 and 004, are in the hands of the investigating judges' office.

“We can say there might be new speed or new strategies in relation to the investigation” of the cases, said Long Panhavuth, who monitors the court for the Cambodian Justice Initiative. “That's what we are all waiting to see.”

The investigating judges have yet to endorse a lawyer for the defense of so far unnamed suspects in cases 003 and 004.

Meanwhile, at least one court observer said the investigating judges should move forward on those cases, following the completion of their investigation of Case No. 002 in September.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has said further indictments could destabilize the country, an opinion echoed by other Cambodian tribunal officials.

Blunk studied law at Munich University and wrote a PhD thesis in international law. He has been a judge since 1977 and has handled both civil and criminal cases, according to a tribunal statement. From 2003 to 2005, he served as an international judge at a UN hybrid court in East Timor.

Families Deal With Shock of Diamond Bridge Tragedy

Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer
Washington, DC Thursday, 02 December 2010

via CAAI

Photo: by Heng Reaksmey
Chea Channy, far right, who was also on the bridge, escaped with other siblings. She spoke along with other family members on a special edition of “Hello VOA” Wednesday.

“Even when I sleep, I still hear their voices calling for help in my ears. I don't know when I'll forget this.”

Family members who lost loved ones in last week's Diamond Bridge stampede say they have been traumatized by the event, which claimed at least 351 lives.

“I'm still in shock,” said Chea Channy, whose 45-year-old father died on the bridge. “Even when I sleep, I still hear their voices calling for help in my ears. I don't know when I'll forget this.”

Chea Channy, who was also on the bridge, escaped with other siblings. She spoke along with other family members on a special edition of “Hello VOA” Wednesday.

The Nov. 22 bridge tragedy shocked the nation and led to an outpouring of donations and sympathy. No one has been singled out for responsibility, in what Prime Minister Hun Sen called an accident without blame.

Family members will receive up to $12,000 each from different organizations, the government, the owners of Diamond Island, and others. But the full reality of the disaster had yet to sink in for some.

Hun Ratha, a monk, lost his 19-year-old brother, Vichet, on the bridge. Vichet had been the breadwinner, and his mother, who was working abroad, has come back to mourn him.

“She is still in great shock and finds it hard to bear the fact that her son has died,” Hun Ratha said.

But he offered some comfort to other victims: “People will eventually die. Therefore, we should learn to calm our feelings of shock. Those who died did not know in advance there would be danger awaiting them. If they had, they would not have gone there. They are now at peace.”

Some family members suggested keeping the bridge as a memorial for victims and not reopening it for public use.

“It would be good if the government kept this bridge just as a memory of the dead victims, because it is very scary to cross it again,” Chea Channy said. “As for me I dare not go there to see it again. I am afraid. The incident was too bad.”

Cambodia to holds first state function at stampede Island

via CAAI

December 02, 2010

Cambodia will hold its first state function on Thursday evening at Diamond Island where 351 people died of stampede on November 22.

Dim Sovanarom, spokesman for the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP), which is being held in Cambodia, said a gala dinner will be held on the Island for all delegations who are attending a series of meetings in Phnom Penh that began on Wednesday.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and vice chairman of the Cambodian People's Party will host the gala dinner for several hundreds of participants who are attending the 6th General Assembly of ICAPP.

He will also address special remarks at the Gala Dinner Celebrating the 6th General Assembly and the 10th Anniversary of ICAPP.

Participants attending the 6th General Assembly are heads of state, former heads of state, heads of governments, former heads of governments, 89 Asian political parties from some 36 countries, observers, environmental experts from international institutions and the United Nations, members of the Centrist Democratic International-Asia Pacific (CDI-AP) as well as delegates from the Permanent Conference of Political Parties of Latin America and the Caribbean (COPPAL).

On Nov. 22 night, 351 people died and 395 others were injured by the stampede that occurred at the Diamond Island Bridge in Phnom Penh on the last day of a three-day water festival in the country.

The accident was caused by the panic which soon after caused the stampede.

Source: Xinhua