Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Celebrate the Right to Be Human (VIDEO)


via CAAI

This post was written by WITNESS
executive director Yvette Alberdingk Thijm.

Soriya's Story

Every year, December 10th marks Human Rights Day. In honor of this day I'd like to share a couple of stories with you. Last winter, I spent a week in Cambodia with our partner organization Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) where I met a young Cambodian woman named Soriya (not her real name) and her 3-year-old niece.

Soriya and her family were part of a community of over one thousand families, who worked as day laborers and street vendors in Phnom Penh. After months of harassment, security forces showed up one day, tore down her home, and transported her and the other thousand families to an empty field, 20 kilometers from the city.

Now Soriya lives in a makeshift village where her home is a tent built out of debris. There are no jobs, no schools, no sewage system, and no safe drinking water. I saw children dying of preventable diseases because they had no access to medical facilities.

But Soriya stayed strong. She was one of the people trained by LICADHO to use a video camera to document her family's eviction. She was able to film the riot police tearing down her home.

In fact, her hands were shaking so violently when filming, that the video she made is nearly unusable. Shaky or not, this video and many others like it are now providing a powerful collective record of a previously silent issue -forced evictions.

2010 Successes in Human Rights

Today we also celebrate some hard-earned successes in human rights.

Together with the National Council on Aging, WITNESS produced a video called "An Age for Justice" aimed at seeking the passage of the Elder Justice Act. It's the first comprehensive legislation that protects older Americans from abuse.

Shockingly, one in every 10 Americans over 60 experience some form of abuse. The video was screened on Capitol Hill -- and I'm thrilled to report the Elder Justice Act was passed as part of the historic Health Care Reform Bill in March this year. Watch the video:

In Kenya, our partner CEMIRIDE used video to document the struggle of the indigenous Endorois people who were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands to make room for a wildlife reserve.

The video was the first to ever be admitted as evidence before the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights. The powerful visuals helped convince the Commission that the expulsion was illegal. The case set a major legal precedent by recognizing the rights of indigenous people to their land.

The video catalyzed a decades long struggle for justice.

Thanks for all YOU do for Human Rights

I would like to thank our courageous partners around the world, and individuals like Soriya, who risk their safety to tell their stories in the pursuit of justice. Today is a celebration of them all. And I thank all of you who are involved in the struggle to advance human rights. We are all connected through our desire to create a better and a more just world.

Do you know of some examples of video being used for human rights change? Tell us about them using the hashtag #video4change on Twitter and we'll share with our online community.

Cambodia prepares second military exercise with U.S. next year

via CAAI

December 13, 2010

Cambodia is planning its second military exercise with the United States next year, a senior military official said Monday.

Gen. Sem Sovanny, chairman of the National Center for Control of Peace Keeping, Demining, and Explosive Remnants of War, said at a one-day meeting on the initiative planning conference in Phnom Penh that the "Angkor Sentinel 2011" will be held next year at which the United States Army Pacific will be the main partner.

Initial plan for the next military exercise will be held in May 2011.

Sem Sovanny said Cambodia is satisfied with the success of the previous and first military exercise.

Cambodia conducted for the first time in July this year the large scale U.S. sponsored military exercise which was participated by some 1,000 military personnel from more than 20 countries.

The exercise was conducted in two forms: Command Post Exercise (CPX) from the hotel in Phnom Penh and Field Training Exercise ( FTX) in Kompong Speu province, about 50 kilometers from Phnom Penh.

The exercise was part of the United Nations Peacekeeping framework for strengthening peace and security, which is known as Global Peace Operations Initiatives (GPOI).

Source: Xinhua

China, Cambodia agree to build comprehensive strategic partnership

 via CAAI

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (R) shakes hands with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during a welcoming ceremony in Beijing, capital of China, Dec. 13, 2010. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi)

BEIJING, Dec. 13 (Xinhua) -- China and Cambodia on Monday agreed to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation and further strengthen bilateral cooperation.

The consensus was reached during talks between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and visiting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in the Great Hall of the People, downtown Beijing.

"Facing the complicated regional and international situation, China and Cambodia should share the opportunities, and join hands in coping with the challenges and promoting peace and development," said Wen.

He said China and Cambodia have forged closer bilateral relations in recent years with frequent high-level contacts, close cooperation on issues involving each other's major concerns and common interests, increasing political and strategic mutual trust, and expanding pragmatic cooperation.

Hun Sen expressed his appreciation to China for its long-term support and assistance to Cambodia. He said Cambodia hoped to continue to have close contact with China at all levels, enhance mutual trust and deepen comprehensive cooperation.

He also vowed that Cambodia would continue to abide by the one-China policy and respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Wen welcomed Cambodia to make full use of the free trade agreement between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and expand investment in China.

Wen said the government would encourage Chinese companies to increase investment in Cambodia and help in its construction of special economic zones. China will look to expand cooperation with Cambodia in areas including agriculture, infrastructure construction, finance and human resources, and continue to provide assistance, he added

The premier called on the two sides to increase per annum bilateral trade to 2.5 billion U.S. dollars by 2015. For the first half of this year, bilateral trade was worth 627 million U.S. dollars, up more than 37 percent.

Hun Sen said Cambodia welcomed China's investment and wanted to export agricultural products to China.

Wen also called on the two countries to strengthen coordination within various regional mechanisms and on coping with non-traditional security threat, so as to maintain their common interest.

Hun Sen said Cambodia will work with China to promote ASEAN-China ties and maintain regional peace and stability.

After the talks, officials from the two countries signed 13 deals on cooperation in areas such as energy, infrastructure, finance and consular affairs.

Lasting from Dec. 13 to 17, this was Hun Sen's third official China visit since taking office.

Besides Beijing, Hun Sen will also visit north China's Tianjin Municipality and east China's Jiangsu Province.

Editor: Fang Yang

Cambodian Rice is Coming To United States

Human Rights Party Wary of Royalist Coalition, For Now

Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh Monday, 13 December 2010

via CAAI

Photo: by Heng Reaksmey
Human Rights Party president Kem Sokha addresses journalists on Monday, saying he has no intention yet of joining a coalition with the revived Norodom Ranariddh Party

“The Human Rights Party always welcomes democratic parties, and the parties that are considering the country's interests and the people's interests.”

The Human Rights Party said Monday it would not join the Norodom Ranarridh Party, which has seen the return of its leader and the prospects of a royalist coalition.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who returned to his party this week, said at a party congress on Saturday he was seeking a partnership with Funcinpec, the only other party to hold administrative seats in the government alongside the ruling Cambodian People's Party. He also said he would seek cooperation with the Human Rights Party.

In a statement to the media on Monday, Kem Sokha, president of the Human Rights Party, said he had not met with the prince, nor would he consider joining a coalition for the time being.

Kem Sokha said Norodom Ranarridh had not yet clearly defined the stance of his party and whether it was a “democratic” or “communist” party. Whether his party would join in a partnership depends on that platform, he said.

“The Human Rights Party always welcomes democratic parties, and the parties that are considering the country's interests and the people's interests,” he said.

Pen Sangha, a spokesman for the Norodom Ranariddh Party, which offiially changed its name back from the Nationalist Party on Saturday, said Kem Sokha and the prince had met with each other in the past to discuss a potential partnership. At the time, Kem Sokha had agreed in principle to join if the prince returned to politics, he said.

Norodom Ranariddh, the main political rival of Prime Minister Hun Sen throughout the 1990s, has remained out of politics since 2008, when he was granted a royal pardon for embezzlement charges against him and returned from exile abroad.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Saturday the return of Norodom Ranariddh to politics should necessitate his resignation as a royal adviser to his brother, King Norodom Sihamoni, a post he has held since his return.

'Billions' of Dollars in Deals Await Hun Sen in China

Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer
Phnom Penh Monday, 13 December 2010

via CAAI

Photo: AP
Prime Minister Hun Sen walks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, after reviewing the honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Monday.

“Cambodia needs infrastructure very much.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen left for China on Monday, where he is expected to sign agreements worth billions of dollars in energy, infrastructure and agriculture projects.

On Sunday, Hun Sen said he was prepared to meet with senior Chinese leaders and sign agreements on 15 different loan, aid and business projects, including the development of a coal-fired electric plant in Preah Sihanouk province. Those would be worth “billions,” he said, without elaborating.

Other projects include construction on 300 kilometers of roads off National Road 4 in Kampot province, irrigation canals and a second bridge linking Phnom Penh to the Chruoy Changvar peninsula between the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.

Hun Sen will be joined on his visit by the ministers of foreign affairs, commerce, industry, agriculture and transportation, among other senior officials.

Sri Thamrong, a spokesman for Hun Sen, told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport on Monday that the visit signified a relationship that was growing and improving in “all fields.”

The agreements could bring much needed development to Cambodian infrastructure, said Chan Sophal, president of the Economic Association of Cambodia.

“Cambodia needs infrastructure very much,” he said. “We still lack agricultural irrigation systems, bridges, roads and more. So I see the construction of this infrastructure as the right point that our economy needs.”

In November, China pledged $1.6 billion in infrastructure projects over the next five years. Meanwhile, trade between the two countries continues to grow.

China has imported nearly $1 billion in goods to Cambodia this year, up from $881 million in 2009. Cambodia has exported $48 million in goods so this year, up from $16 million the year before.

ADB provides 19 mln dollar for conserving forest in Cambodia


via CAAI

PHNOM PENH, Dec 13, 2010 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved to provide 19 million U.S. dollars to Cambodia for conserving threatened forest in Cardamom Mountain and northeastern provinces, according to ADB press release on Monday.

ADB's board of directors approved a total package of 69 million U.S. dollars, of which 30 million dollars loan to Vietnam, the grants of 19 million U.S. dollars and 20 million dollars to Cambodia and Laos respectively, for the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Biodiversity Conservation Corridors Project.

For Cambodia, the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will be the executing agencies for the project, which is due for completion in September 2019.

Ros Sothea, communication coordinator at ADB-Cambodia, told Xinhua on Monday that Cambodia's biodiversity conservation in Cardamom Mountain and northeastern provinces, will begin in April 2011 and complete in 2019.

She said the project will include the planting of native trees and other plants to restore habitats in the threatened forest areas.

The press release said that the whole project covers more than 1.9 million hectares of threatened forest land, home to over 170, 000 mostly poor, ethnic minority people in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen visit China

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) and China's Premier Wen Jiabao inspect an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 13, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee 

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (R) and China's Premier Wen Jiabao inspect an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 13, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee 

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (L) and China's Premier Wen Jiabao listen to their national anthems during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 13, 2010. REUTERS/Jason 

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures as he inspects an honour guard with China's Premier Wen Jiabao (not in picture) during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 13, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee  

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen (front, R) reacts as he and China's Premier Wen Jiabao attend a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 13, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Samdach Krum Preah Prince Norodom Ranaridds Returns To Politics

Posthumous award for Benazir Bhutto

via CAAI

Monday, December 13, 2010

Staff Report

ISLAMABAD: Slain former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was posthumously awarded ‘Service to Humanity’ award at a ceremony by the International Conference of Asian Political Parties (ICAPP) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the last week.

Ex-senator Akbar Khwaja, who attended the ceremony as envoy of PPP Co-Chairman President Asif Ali Zardari, collected the award from Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Other Asian leaders, who were given the awards, included Nepal Prime Minister Madhav Kumar, former president of Indonesia Megawati Sukarnoputri and Philippines ex-president Fidel Ramos.

Leaders of nearly one hundred political parties from Asian and Pacific countries attended the ceremony.

Troops pull back from temple

via CAAI

Published: 13/12/2010 at 12:00 AM

Thai and Cambodian soldiers have pulled out from a temple in disputed territory in a bid to ease border tensions.

ACambodiansoldier looks atadilapidated section of the Preah Vihear temple. WASSANANANUAM

Ten soldiers from each country positioned at Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple withdrew from the area on Dec1.

The Thai troops moved back to a lowland location, which is part of the 4.6-square-kilometre disputed area, while the Cambodian soldiers are now stationed at the entrance of the ancient temple.

Only 40 Cambodian monks remain at Wat Kaew Sikha Khiri Sawara following the troop pullout.

Soldiers have agreed to jointly inspect the temple and the disputed area between 10am and 5pm every day, but they will not stay overnight at the temple.

Cambodia had planned to reopen the ancient Hindu temple to tourists but Thailand set the precondition that vending stalls must not be built near its entrance.

The gate allowing access to the 11th-century site for visitors from Thailand has been closed by Cambodia since July 2008 after a group of Thai protesters rallied near the ruins.

Cambodia has since cut the number of troops at the temple and they no longer carry weapons. Heavy machine guns and artillery were also withdrawn from the temple to create a tourist-friendly atmosphere.

The Unesco World Heritage Committee's blue flag and the Cambodian national flag have been put on the top of the ancient temple and signs announcing the Unesco heritage listing of the temple have been erected at the entrance.

Parts of the ancient temple have begun to crumble. WASSANA NANUAM

Cambodian soldiers and police guarding the site said Cambodian authorities had planned to allow Thai tourists to enter the temple via Mo E-daeng cliff in Si Sa Ket's Kantharalak district as a New Year gift. However, Thailand has refused to open the entrance from its side.

Second Army Region commander Thawatchai Samutsakhon confirmed that Thailand had set the condition that no shophouses be built near the entrance in return for it agreeing to reopen the temple.

He said it would take time for the reopening and more talks between the two countries would be required.

Thai authorities are adopting a wait-and-see attitude towards potential activities by the yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which has campaigned against border talks between the two countries.

The PAD has accused the government of putting the country's sovereignty at stake over the areas adjacent to the Preah Vihear temple in its border negotiations with Cambodia.

It has demanded that the government scrap a memorandum of understanding on boundary demarcation signed with Cambodia in 2000.

Lt Gen Thawatchai said that the military had neither withdrawn troops from the disputed area nor cut their numbers. He said it had only rearranged its troops to avoid confrontations with Cambodian soldiers.

He said the reopening of the ancient temple rested with the governments from the two countries.

Cambodian soldiers and a Chinese construction firm have been seen building a road to Preah Vihear.

Thailand has protested against the construction of the 3,600-metre road, but the protest has been ignored by Cambodia.

Aroad is being built to the temple from the Cambodian side of the border. JETJARASNARANONG

Woodenstairs provide easy access for tourists visiting the ancient ruins from theCambodianside. JETJARASNARANONG

Cambodia, Thailand to hold joint art performances

via CAAI


Artists from Cambodia and Thailand will hold joint art performances in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in December 18.

The event is part of activities to mark the 60th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between Thailand and Cambodia.

Earlier, Thailand and Cambodia organized an art performance in Bangkok in late November. In recent time, Cambodia and Thailand strengthened exchanges in the field of information, culture and arts under signed agreements by the Prime Ministers of both nations in order to restore bilateral ties after a dispute on sovereignty took place two years ago regarding the ancient Preah Vihear Temple.

Cambodian PM to sign 15 deals during China visit

Cambodian PM expects to sign 15 agreements during visit to China, will meet with former king

, On Monday December 13, 2010

BEIJING (AP) -- Cambodia's prime minister kicked off a visit to China on Monday where he was expected to sign more than a dozen agreements in areas such as energy and infrastructure, emphasizing China's growing presence in the region's less-developed countries.

Hun Sen said before his departure that Beijing will provide soft loans to Cambodia for projects that include building a new road and two bridges, one across the Mekong River in the capital, Phnom Penh, and another across the Bassac River, on the outskirts of the capital.

Other deals concern agricultural exports and the development of a coal-powered electricity plant in the coastal province of Preah Sihanouk. The value of the deals was not announced.

Hun held talks Monday with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. He was also scheduled to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao and top lawmaker Wu Bangguo during his five-day stay.

"China and Cambodia continue to strengthen friendly cooperation. This is in the interest of the people of the two nations and also in the interest of regional peace and stability," Wen told Hun Sen.

China's influence in Cambodia is considerable despite Beijing's strong backing of the former Khmer Rouge government that caused the deaths of some 1.7 million people in the late 1970s.

It has provided millions of dollars in aid to Cambodia over the past decade, agreed to write off debts and granted it tariff-free status for some 400 items. Last month, China provided $6 million to help restore a deteriorating temple at the landmark Angkor Wat temple complex.

Earlier this year, China supplied Cambodia with more than 250 military vehicles after the United States suspended a similar shipment. The U.S. decision came after Phnom Penh deported 20 Uighurs, ethnic minorities from far western China who said they were fleeing ethnic violence and wanted asylum in Cambodia.

China accused the Uighurs of involvement in the violence.

While in China, Hun Sen was also expected to visit former King Norodom Sihanouk, who is in Beijing for medical treatment, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Associated Press writer Sopheng Cheang in Phnom Penh contributed to this report.

Not all convinced by Cambodia's action on graft

via CAAI

By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH | Mon Dec 13, 2010

PHNOM PENH Dec 13 (Reuters) - Cambodia has begun to enforce an anti-graft law that came into effect this year but some businessmen and analysts already spot loopholes that could undermine the legislation in one of Asia's most corrupt states.

Corruption is endemic in Cambodia. Watchdog Transparency International's 2010 list of most corrupt countries ranks Cambodia 154th out of 178 nations. Fighting it is something of a novelty, and expectations are modest in the near term.

"If they can enforce the law 70 percent, I'd be really happy," said Mong Reththy, chief executive of Mong Reththy Group of Companies, which has interests in agriculture and the ago-industrial sector.

A verdict in the first trial under the new law is due on Dec. 16. It involves a former Finance Ministry official who is charged with embezzling more than $600,000 by forging is pay cheques over a two-year period and squandering it all on gambling.

Kuy Dara, former acting bureau director of the Financial Industry Department, is the only person charged. He told the court he acted alone, but his attorney and a prosecutor among others doubt that was the case and believe he is protecting more senior officials.

The Anti-Corruption Institution held a seminar on Dec. 9 for hundreds of government members, state functionaries, police and army officials, explaining how civil servants would be obliged from Jan. 1 to declare their assets and debts.

Its head, Om Yentieng, assured the audience that civil servants' wives and children were not obliged to make any declaration; their cash in banks did not have to be declared, he said, adding his view that corruption was not a big problem.

Those are big loopholes, said San Chey, a fellow of the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific, a Manila-based advocacy group.

"When money in banks is not forced to be declared, big officials will just sell their assets and put their cash in banks," he said. "I am not confident in this body."


The Anti-Corruption Institution has said it had evidence to prove at least 40 Cambodian state tax officials had engaged in corrupt practices.

That investigation was opened after claims by 11 non-governmental organisations that officials were pocketing about $1 million a year in road tax payments.

But none of the officials seems likely to be prosecuted.

Instead, the Finance Ministry will be left to decide whether to fire, demote or simply issue a warning to offenders.

Despite its shortcomings, the law has been cautiously welcomed by international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank, and by foreign investors such as Richard Stanger, managing director of Liberty Mining International Pty Ltd.

"It will assist with improving the perception that foreign investors have of the country," Stanger said. "It will assist foreign investors to make more informed decisions."

Peter Brimble, the ADB's chief economist in Cambodia, was also looking on the bright side.

"Corruption remains a critical factor for the business environment in Cambodia. According to the World Bank, corruption was the most important constraint faced by the private sector in late 2009," he told Reuters.

"The new anti-corruption law can play a key role in reducing levels of corruption, and is an important signal of the government's intention to improve the overall business climate." (Editing by Alan Raybould and Jason Szep) prak.chanthul@thomsonreuters.com; +855 2 399 2102; Reuters Messaging: prak.chanthul.reuters.com@reuters.net))

Prolific Chinese artists start drawing friendship paintings in Cambodia

via CAAI


PHNOM PENH, Dec. 13 (Xinhua) -- A delegation of Global Peace Tour of World Famous Chinese Artists with their Drawings starts its five-day visit in Cambodia to draw paintings about Cambodia in order to expand relations on cultures between the two countries.

The delegation, which arrived here on Sunday night, was headed by Li Zhaoxing, chairman of the Foreign Affairs of the National People's Congress (NPC) and former Chinese minister of foreign affairs, including about ten prolific Chinese artists from various Chinese universities.

During a meeting with the management of the Cambodia's Royal University of Fine Arts on Monday, Li Zhaoxing said that he had accompanied Chinese president and prime minister to visit Cambodia many times, "but this is the first time I lead Chinese artists to visit Cambodia."

He said the visit is to strengthen and expand relation and cooperation between China and Cambodia, especially on cultures.

"During the visit, the Chinese artists will draw paintings about daily lives of Cambodian people and the sentiment of Cambodians towards Chinese people in order to show Chinese people when they return," he said.

Bong Sovath, director of the Royal University of Fine Arts, said that it was the first time the delegation visited the school and he asked China to assist Cambodia through accepting Cambodian students to study in the major of fine arts in China and asked China to send Chinese professors to teach in the faculty of plastic arts and paintings, especially ceramics.

Li Zhaoxing promised to convey the suggestions to the Chinese Ministry of Culture saying he hopes the suggestions will be considered soon.

Meanwhile, Li Zhaoxing provided materials for painting and a set of computer to the university.

The delegation also visited the national museum and is schedule to visit Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap province and draw paintings.

Editor: Fang Yang

SCCC to study possible cement plant in Cambodia

via CAAI

Raffles le Royal Hotel, Phnom Penh

Siam City Cement Plc and Cambodia's Chip Mong Group Ltd yesterday (Wednesday, December 8) signed a Memorandum of Agreement for Partnership in Feasibility Study for Cement Plant Investment in Cambodia

After more than half a decade of partnership, SCCC and Chip Mong Group are ready to explore cement plant investment opportunities in Cambodia.

With consistent market growth, good distribution and excellent support from local Cambodian customers, SCCC and Chip Mong Group have taken their partnership a step further by investing in a feasibility study for a 1-1.5 million tons/year capacity cement plant in Cambodia.

This auspicious MoA signing ceremony was attended by Mr. Philippe Arto, Managing Director/Chairman of the Executive Committee, Ms. Chantana Sukumanont , Deputy Chairman of the Executive Committee (Marketing and Sales) representing SCCC; and Ms. PHEAP HEAK chairwoman of the board, Mr. LEANG KHUN Executive Chairman, representing Chip Mong.

Both companies believe that this investment will lead to increased success in Cambodia, which has already proven itself to be a rich market for cement products. SCCC and Chip Mong share the conviction that this proposed new cement plant will further increase the efficiency of their partnership’s operations in Cambodia.

Issued by: Siam City Cement Plc.
For further information: Mr. Kantanit Sukontasap
Vice President, Group Communications
Siam City Cement Plc.
Tel: 0 2797 7060

A sleepy, seaside escape in Cambodia

via CAAI

While Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples are its biggest tourist draw, beach-bound tourists — particularly those looking for more than the backpacker-on-a-shoestring itinerary — are waking up to the unexplored beauty that this steamy-hot country has to offer, including the low-key beach town of Kep and nearby islands.

The Associated Press

KOH TONSAY, Cambodia — Ask for the crab. In black peppercorn sauce.

The proprietor of the thatched-roof and bamboo-walled island restaurant will acknowledge the order in sign language and broken English. She'll shuffle across the seaside grass over to the dock where the crab cages sit, steeping in the Gulf of Thailand's tepid waters.

She'll return with a bucket of crustaceans and fry them in an iron wok over a charcoal fire in her open-air kitchen, searing them in a sauce made largely from sweet, fiery Kampot peppercorns. She'll bring you a heap of steaming seafood, pepper sauce, paper napkins and beer to the shaded picnic tables. You'll eat the crab — soft-shells and all — sucking the sauce from your fingers, drinking the beer to blunt the fiery pepper and thank the stars that few people have discovered the culinary and aesthetic pleasures of this southern coastal region.

While Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples are its biggest tourist draw, beach-bound tourists — particularly those looking for more than the backpacker-on-a-shoestring itinerary — are waking up to the unexplored beauty that this steamy-hot country has to offer. The low-key beach town of Kep and the riverside village of Kampot, a three-hour drive south of the capital Phnom Penh, offer rough edges but simple charms, along with nearby islands like Koh Tonsay, where the crab in peppercorn is served.

The Kep-area beaches also offer alternatives to better-known regional beach resorts like Thailand's Phuket and even Cambodia's own Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville was a favorite of jet-setters (Jackie Kennedy visited in the '60s) before the country was beset by the horrors of wars, coups and the Khmer Rouge. These days, Sihanoukville's luxury resorts have plenty of attitude, having been rediscovered by growing numbers of nouveau-riche Cambodians and others. Sleepy Kep, in contrast, seems to attract a clientele that spurns Sihanoukville's swagger.

A simpler life

The town of Kep consists of a collection of modest residences and hotels tucked into the foliage off crumbling pavement and dusty roads, along with rows of motley shacks and several grand villas, many of which still show the ravages inflicted by the Khmer Rouge who sneered at Kep's bourgeois trappings. Kep Beach is mostly a stretch of rocky sand directly under the main road, though that doesn't stop the locals from swimming along the stony promenade. Notable local landmarks include an unusual nude statue of a fisherman's wife and a monstrous statue of a crab. The 16-room Beach House hotel and its tiny swimming pool hides just above the beach in the tropical hillside foliage, offering sweeping views of the gulf.

Bending around the promontory to the west and north is Kep's main drag, the Crab Market: a line of bamboo and thatch shacks where you can find crab, fish, prawns and squid, not to mention laundry service, tourist trinkets, boat rides, motos (mopeds), cold beer, cheap drugs, Internet connections, massage services and just about anything else you can imagine. The circus mix of locals, backpackers and proper tourists is a prime spot for people-watching.

Farther up the coast are Kep's nicer accommodations. Inland and up in the hills, there's the Veranda, with a wooden restaurant and bar on a slope with a vista of stunning sunsets over the water. Waterside, Knai Bang Chatt has the swankiest lodgings in town with an emerald infinity swimming pool and stylish, modernist building. The hotel's Sailing Club next door has a dining room perched on piers over the water and a small sandy beach where you can sip vodka tonics while the waves lap your toes. Kep Malibu Estates, despite the unusual name, is also perched inland, its swimming pool and grassy yard up a dusty road past rundown shacks and the disconcerting sight of impoverished farm families tending ragged plantings and staring blankly at passing tourists.

Head to the islands

For many, the islands just off of Kep are the real draw. Phu Quoc is the largest, but it belongs to Vietnam and it's some distance away. For that reason, Koh Tonsay — translated as "Rabbit Island" — is arguably the most popular. Like many things in Cambodia, getting there is not entirely for the faint-hearted. Most hotels have connections with boat operators, or you can arrange a boat ride at one of the Crab Market shacks. The skinny boats, built mainly for fishing, are powered by crate-sized outboard engines with propeller shafts the length of a small tree. Their narrow width means they pitch and yaw more than most people feel comfortable with. That said, they move fast, and the 30-minute ride to Koh Tonsay (about $10) takes you out into a bay past poetic scenes of fishermen tending lines and seine nets.

The island reportedly was used at one point as a prison colony by the country's long-ruling monarch, Norodom Sihanouk. Today, however, its dense interior foliage keeps most visitors limited to the crystalline waters that slosh the whitish sands on its north side, where simple wood platforms are dotted with hammocks and thatched roofs. Just inland are the open-air kitchens and shacks of the half-dozen families who cater to tourists. For overnight stays, many families rent bungalows that are nothing more than enclosed shacks with wooden sleeping platforms and mosquito nets.

For most visitors, lounging on the beach platforms, alternating between swimming in the bathwater sea and drowsy contemplation of swaying palms is the most activity one can muster. Occasionally, wiry, naked-to-the-waist Cambodian men shimmying high into tree canopies, hacking at bushel-sized bunches of coconuts with machetes and letting the green fruit thud to the ground, spooking unsuspecting tourists. For less than a dollar, they'll trim off the husks for you, lop a hole into the top and pop a straw in it for the freshest coconut milk you could possibly hope for.

But when hunger truly strikes, it's best to find crab. The size of golf balls, these crustaceans are caught by traditional hook and lines, and left in cages in the water until mealtime. For less than $5, the cook/hostess prepares a mound of the animals, cooked in oil and peppercorns of the Kampot — a once-famous Cambodian agriculture export — and beer for two. The instinct is to equate crab with lobster, use your teeth to dismantle the shell and suck the meat out. But the shells are so soft, you realize it takes less effort to just eat the crab, meat, shell and all. With pepper sauce tingling on your tongue and cold beer washing it down, gorge yourself on Kep's finest culinary offering — and enjoy a place while it remains untrampled by the crowds.

Cambodia to Minnesota: Peou "Beaw" Pin-Mene's story

via CAAI

By Eliana Gramer and Larissa Peifer, TC Daily Planet
December 12, 2010

Peou "Beaw" Pin-Mene, 34, came to Minnesota at the age of six. She and her family survived the Cambodian genocide and after several stays at Thai refugee camps were able to immigrate to the United States.

Where do you and your family come from?

My family is originally from the Kompong Cham Province, and through my late father's work, they relocated multiple times, to different parts of Cambodia.

My mom seldom speaks of my late father's work, perhaps it's too painful for her and I tried to press her for more details and now I've learned to just respect her decision. All that I've been told is that he worked for the government and at the onset of the "Killing Fields," he was told that he needed to take his troops to meet and guard the King of Cambodia. This was April 18, 1975. He was never seen again.

How and why did you and your family decide to come to Minnesota?

Our family didn't make the decision to come to Minnesota voluntarily. We were one of many families displaced as a result of this war. After the Vietnamese took over Cambodia in 1979, families that survived the Khmer Rouge regime, risked their lives walking across the jungles of Cambodia, crossed the border to Thailand and stayed in the refugee camps. My family was among them and luckily we survived the hazardous conditions along the way.

We literally left with just the clothes on our back, without shoes, and on wild, jungle terrain. We not only encountered forest fires, but also Thai officials that were guarding the borders. My mom, my two sisters, my brother and I managed to survive and we stayed in the Thai refugee camps, first in Nung Chan, Thailand. I forgot the second refugee camp we were at because our time there was very brief.

We worked with the people, perhaps volunteers, and got a preparation to America at the refugee camp. We learned the basics: English expressions like, 'Hi, how are you?', 'Excuse me,' etc. They tried their best to help prepare us and they didn't know if we'd end up in a warm or cold state. So they told us about snow and how cold it would get. Although, in the Cambodian language we do not have a term for snow and the closest translation is ice. I was so scared because the ice we were used to seeing, were large blocks of ice. In my four-year-old mind, I pictured these blocks falling from the sky and thought I am going to die in this cold state!

I told my mom that I didn't want to go. She reassured all of us that they wouldn't rescue us only to kill us! I still wasn't convinced until she said that there are beautiful clothes, jewelry and nail polish in America! They also taught us about airplanes and that that was how we were going to America. They showed us a picture of what a seat belt would look like and how to put it on. I won't go any further except to say that nothing prepared us for the extreme cold of Minnesota!

Did your family adapt to Minnesota well?

We arrived in November, 1982 and there was a lot of snow and it was freezing! Now it's 2010 and yes, we are all very well adjusted, although it took us a long time!

It wasn't until we started to learn and speak English and became comfortable with it that we realized that this is our home. Because I was the youngest, I adjusted very quickly. My siblings took a little longer, keep in mind, their ages were 14, 16, and 18 when they arrived and I was only six! As for our mom, it took her even longer!

We would not have been able to adjust as well had there not been people and organizations here to assist us: families, community members, and social service agencies like Catholic Charity and Wilder Refugees Resettlement Programs.

What do you think about the documentary "Enemies of the people"?

The documentary is absolutely valuable and important, although my siblings and my mom do not agree. They lived through it and this is not something they want to remember.

I was born at the onset of this event so my recollections are not as vivid and painful, perhaps more at the subconscious level. This document is very important because it documents a very dark time in our history and it should not be forgotten or repeated. It's important that future generations of Cambodians that are either still in Cambodia or living abroad, such as me, ought to be aware. It is part of history that needs to be shared with future generations of Cambodians and shared with everyone.

This movie gave me a glimpse into the minds of men who led this atrocity and I was startled to learn that this was done in the name of patriotism! What they did was unforgivable and millions suffered. Families were lost and destroyed, our nation, our history, our heritage was almost destroyed! This is a powerful documentary - it's a lesson on leadership, power, and ethics.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working at Metropolitan State University in Student Affairs. My background is in Secondary Education. I taught inner city students in the St. Paul Public Schools before I started working for the Minnesota State Colleges and University Systems.

How would you describe the situation for Cambodians in Minnesota?

We're dispersing throughout different parts of Minnesota and our level of educational attainment all vary. Some families have adjusted to life in America better than others. I'm not active in the Cambodian community, although I am very close to my family and it's our family gatherings and special celebration and holidays that bring us together with members in the Cambodian community.

How does your family deal with the genocide?

My family talks openly, although my mom does not talk about her life before the war, her life with my father. She says that it's too painful to remember those happy moments.

 Eliana Gramer

Eliana Gramer (elianagramer@tcdailyplanet.net) is an exchange student from the University of Trier in Germany and is now attending Hamline University.

Larissa Peifer

Cambodia to Minnesota: Vuth Chhunn's story

Cambodian immigrant Vuth Chhunn, 26.

By Eliana Gramer and Larissa Peifer, TC Daily Planet

December 12, 2010

via CAAI

Vuth Chhunn, 26, came to Minnesota in 1993. His parents are survivors of the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979. Forced out of their country, they fled to a Thailand refugee camp and lived there until the family immigrated to the United States. According to Chhunn, for his parents this move symbolized a life far away from the genocide and a better future for their children.

Did your family adapt to Minnesota well?

The living conditions in Minnesota are significantly better than in the refugee camp, but the climate, particularly winter, and the language is very difficult for my parents. They still have a very hard time adjusting to the weather and language. As for me, I don't really like winter either but I love Minnesota. It's such a great place to live. There are so many Minnesotans that helped my family throughout our time here and help me become who I am today. I am very thankful for all of them!

What do you think about the documentary "Enemies of the people"?

When I was in Phnom Penh in 2007, I heard that some of the younger generation did not believe that the genocide took place in Cambodia. They said that their parents were lying to them. That is the reason why this documentary is very important. It is a testimony of the horrible tragedy that happened in Cambodia during 1975-1979. To have the perpetrators tell their stories and admit to their crimes is a history in itself. This documentary is so valuable to the events that occurred during 1975-1979.

What are you currently working on?

I am the Youth Mentor and Intervention Coordinator at the UCAM, the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota. I currently run the Cambodian Youth Mentorship Program, which brings together Cambodian elementary and middle school students in the Twin Cities to the university students and community members. The main goals of the program are to provide our youths with positive role models and to inspire them with our monthly field trips.

What is important about your work?

From my personal experience, it was very hard growing up as a refugee family. My parents did not speak English and they did not understand a lot of things. Since my older sister and I caught on to English very fast, there was a lot of responsibility that was given to us. I found myself consistently filling out forms, translating at hospitals and schools, and working at an early age to help support them financially. We understood that we needed to help out and be a good role model to our younger siblings.

My work is really important to the Cambodian students and families. I know a lot of Cambodian parents are still struggling with the language barrier. Many families depend on their kids to help them navigate into this society. This causes a lot of stress on both the children and parents. My work is to have the kids understand their parents' situation.

How does your family deal with the genocide?

My family rarely speaks about the Cambodian genocide. It is difficult for my parents to bring back the memories of this horrible time. The only time I really had a real discussion about the genocide was during middle school when I had to do a genealogy project for my class. Even to this day, they rarely speak of the genocide unless I ask them. After a few questions, they prefer to talk about something else.

Do you think families don't talk about the genocide in general?

Families rarely talk about the genocide. It is very difficult for survivors to talk about the genocide, especially to their children. Talking about the genocide will bring back bad memories of the past. As a result, not too many people from the second generation understand the genocide. That is why documentaries like Enemies of the People are so valuable. It teaches the truth about the Cambodian genocide and helps us understand better.

 Eliana Gramer

Eliana Gramer (elianagramer@tcdailyplanet.net) is an exchange student from the University of Trier in Germany and is now attending Hamline University.

Larissa Peifer