Friday, 7 January 2011

Analysis: Surviving the Khmer Rouge

Bou Meng, a survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, speaks to reporters during a visit to the prison in May last year. Photo by: HENG CHIVOAN

via CAAI
Friday, 07 January 2011 15:00 Dacil Q Keo, Nean Yin

FOLLOWING the odour of decayed flesh on January 10, 1979 – 32 years ago on Monday – the invading Vietnamese soldiers drove towards a barbed wired compound that served as the Khmer Rouge regime’s highest level security center.

At the security centre, code named S-21 (“S” for Santebal, the Khmer word meaning “state security organisation” and “21” for the walky-talky number of former prison chief Nath), prisoners were brought in, often handcuffed, to be photographed, interrogated, tortured and executed.

Most prisoners taken to S-21 were Khmer Rouge cadre, including high level officials such as ministers and their families. They were accused of collaborating with foreign governments, spying for the CIA and the KGB, and hence betraying Angkar.

Prisoners were also believed to be have conspired with others and thus were forced to reveal their “strings of traitors”, which sometimes included more than 100 names.

The interrogators at S-21 based their technique on a list of 10 security regulations which included “while getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all”.

Although prisoners often had no idea why they had been arrested, interrogators forced them to confess their crimes. If they did not confess, they would be subjected to physical and psychological torture. However, after having confessed, they were marked for execution.

Initially, prisoners were killed on the grounds of the prison, but as the volume and stench of the corpses rapidly increased and became unbearable, prisoners were then trucked en mass to an open field 15 kilometres away known as Boeung Choeung Ek, or “Crow’s Feet Pond”, to be killed. That place is now commonly known as the Killing Field.

Waiting at the field was a group of about 10 young men led by Teng. Teng, in his early twenties, and his team of teenagers lived in a two-story house that was built on the field in 1977.

They were informed ahead of time of the number of prisoners that would arrive at Choeung Ek so they could dig the graves in advance. According to former S-21 prison guard Him Huy, it was Teng and his team who executed the prisoners once they arrived.

The Tuol Sleng prison, S-21, located in Phnom Penh, was a microcosm of the terror, paranoia and brutality that took place across the country under the reign of the Communist Party of Kampuchea from April 17, 1975, to January 6, 1979.

The prison was one of 196 prisons that existed, although Khmer Rouge leaders claimed that Democratic Kampuchea had no official prisons. The shocking figures commonly associated with the prison – 14,000 killed and seven survivors – rank the prison as one of the most lethal in the 20th century.

There is, however, not a clear consensus on these figures among experts. Recently, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal offered their own numbers based on its criminal case involving Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, the former head of S-21.

The number of prisoners taken to S-21 ranges from the Tribunal’s conservative estimate of at least 12,273 to a scholar’s high estimate of approximately 20,000. The number of survivors has received less scrutiny however, with most Western media generally accepting the figure of seven survivors. This figure of seven has been repeated for more than 30 years now, giving S-21 its notoriously brutal image.

The origin of this number comes from a 1981 film titled Die Angkar (“The Angkar”), produced by Studio H&S of the former East Germany. In this film, the photograph of seven survivors of S-21 was shown.

This photograph has since been featured in notable works including the book A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 (1998) by S-21 survivor Vann Nath, who has served as a primary source of information for experts and scholars.

There is some speculation, however, that seven survivors were intentionally shown to parallel the 7th day of January, the “day of victory” in which Vietnamese forces overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime.

After several years of research, however, the Documentation Center of Cambodia estimates that at least 179 prisoners were released from 1975-1978 and approximately 23 victims survived after Vietnam ousted the Khmer Rouge regime on January 7, 1979.

The release status of the 179 prisoners (of which 100 were soldiers) is based on numerous Khmer Rouge documents and interviews compiled primarily by Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum senior archivist Nean Yin. Most of the 179 who were released have disappeared and only a few are known to have survived after 1979.

Of the 23 who survived after 1979, more than half have disappeared or have died. Several of the survivors who are alive today have recently made the news: Norng Chanphal for being a witness to Case 001 of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, Vann Nath and Chum Mei for being featured in documentary films, and Bou Meng for having a book published about him.

In addition, one survivor of S-21 is now applying for civil party status for Case 002 of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.


Dacil Q Keo and Nean Yin work with the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

French Mobitel talks 'less advanced'

via CAAI

Friday, 07 January 2011 15:00 Post Staff

FRANCE Telecom SA’s talks on acquisitions in Iraq and Cambodia are progressing, and the company may enter Algeria as it expands further into emerging markets, Chief Executive Officer Stephane Richard said.

Talks on a possible deal for a stake in Cambodia’s Mobitel are “less advanced” than those on buying part of Iraq’s Korek Telecom, Richard told reporters in Paris yesterday.

The CEO, who took over last March, is looking to orient France Telecom toward fast-growing countries in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia to offset stagnant revenue at home. He has pledged to spend as much as 7 billion euros (US$9.2 billion) on emerging-market deals by 2015 as part of a plan to double revenue from those countries.

France’s largest phone company is monitoring developments in Algeria, where it could seek a presence either through existing operator Djezzy or other means, Richard said.

France Telecom shares yesterday rose 0.2 percent to 15.98 euros in Paris, valuing the company at about 42.3 billion euros.

In Iraq, France Telecom may take a minority stake in Korek along with “a financial partner” also active in logistics, and with whom the Paris-based company has already cooperated elsewhere, the executive said. He declined to identify the investor.

France Telecom has invested in Kenya with Alcazar Capital Ltd, a Dubai-based private equity firm spun off from Agility Logistics in 2009.

In 2007, Alcazar provided Korek with a $250- million convertible loan. Entering Iraq would expand France Telecom’s influence into the heart of the Middle East, adding to expansion last year into Morocco and Tunisia.

Royal Group Chairman Kith Meng did not discuss the state of Mobitel negotiations when contacted by reporters yesterday.


Private sector loath to stump up cash for tourism promotion

via CAAI

Friday, 07 January 2011 15:00 Jeremy Mullins and Soeun Say

PRIVATE sector representatives say they are reluctant to contribute US$2 million in cash to a public-private initiative to support Cambodian tourism promotion.

The Ministry of Tourism has already contributed $2 million to the National Tourism Promotion Board, and has called on the private sector to contribute an equal amount, said Ang Kim Eang, president of the
Cambodian Association of Travel Agents yesterday.

“The private sector has already given the feedback to the government – we have to pay a number of taxes,” he said. “We don’t think the private sector should come up with any amount of money for the tourism promotion board.”

The association was instead considering contributing ‘in kind’ rather than cash, through making hotel rooms and rental vehicles available for the board.

“Probably we can do it that way,” said Ang Kim Eang on the sidelines of the annual CATA meeting in Phnom Penh yesterday.

“We are doing some campaigns to collect [contributions] in kind.”

Promoting tourism often requires paying for buyers, such as travel agents, to sample local tourism with the aim of garnering favourable reviews and generating business.

Ang Kim Eang said the process could be quite expensive, and added that he supported the idea of a promotion board.

The association is preparing for the 30th ASEAN Tourism Forum, to be held in Phnom Penh later this month.

So far, some 990 “buyers” have registered, far more than the 400 that were planned.

“It’s quite expensive because [the government and the board] have to pay for air tickets for the delegates,” he said. Minister of Tourism Thong Kong could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

On your mark, get set, swim!

Swim safety is extremely important for kids to learn. Photo by: TANOP SCHOOL

via CAAI

Friday, 07 January 2011 15:00 Craig Miles

SIEM Reap’s second annual Swimming Gala is scheduled for January 30, and organisers say there has already been strong interest in the competition, which will feature races for groups between the ages of five and 15.

The venue will be the 25-metre pool at Lotus Resort & Spa on National Road 6.

According to gala organiser and International School of Siem Reap swim instructor Jon Sykes, rosettes and medals will be given to those winning first, second and third places, as well as to those who complete the race.

Last June was the first time the gala had been held and about 50 children took part.

“We would like an improvement in numbers [this year] and are hoping for 60,” said Sykes, adding that last year’s event was a lot of fun and even featured a race for parents.

The aim of the gala is to promote sport and competition swimming in Siem Reap, and to build upon the talent the school has already developed. “Some of the students we have are only three to four seconds off the competitors at the ASEAN games,” a proud Sykes said. He said too that these children had huge potential while only being 13 to 14 years old. He hopes their achievements inspire others to get involved and further promote swimming in Temple Town.

The gala is only open to children who can swim well, but there is also a 12.5-metre swim for beginners.

According to the SwimSafe website, an organisation that teaches survival swimming to children, in Cambodia alone, six children die from drowning every day.

The statistics also show that 95 percent of the children who drowned could not swim.

Competitions such as the swimming gala will hopefully encourage more children to learn to swim and to understand water safety, reducing the number of fatalities in the future.

Registration closes January 20. Details from Gail Anderson on 012 773 542 or Jon Sykes on 089 664 266.

Hip concert rocks trade fair

Chhay Virakyuth was one of the popular Cambodian singers who performed at the giant concert.

via CAAI

Friday, 07 January 2011 15:00 Thik Kaliyann

ALMOST 100,000 people packed into Siem Reap’s Angkor Kjong Yu entertainment area last week during the four-day Siem Reap International Commerce Trade Fair from Thursday to Sunday.

According to Trade Fair program manager Va Kri, participants in the event increased by nearly 50 percent on last year.

“The first exhibition took place in December last year and had around 50,000 visitors,” Va Kri said. “That’s 16 percent of the total population in Siem Reap.

“Around 200 stores welcomed customers to look at their products and these included international products from China, Vietnam and Thailand.”

He said the main objectives of the trade fair were to encourage business growth by networking with local and international traders, to encourage consumers to use Khmer products, to promote awareness of Khmer culture through the display of Cambodian products, and to investigate new products.

He added that a further purpose of the fair was to reinforce the strong economy in Siem Reap province as it was the second largest commercial area in Cambodia.

The fair was organised by the Siem Reap Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with private company Angkor Cable Television, and was supported by the Siem Reap Authority and Provincial Tourism Ministry.

Meanwhile, the fair’s giant concert running from Friday to Sunday attracted huge crowds who were thrilled by famous Cambodian singers such as Ouk Sokun Kanha.

Kanha, from Hong Meas, performed her new song “Pu Kae Mless” while working her trademark hip-hop dancing style.

Interest in the stage began well before the stars took to it, with Cambodian dance groups performing to hip-hop songs.

During the concert, a lucky draw was held on stage for Angkor Cable Television customers which gave away three Yamaha Fino scooters.

Man about town

via CAAI

Friday, 07 January 2011 15:00 Peter Olszewski

Best of Angkor Tour
THE World Monuments Fund’s Best of Angkor tour runs from February 6-11, and the group will be based at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. The tour will be led by John Stubbs, an adjunct associate professor of Columbia University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Stubbs is also vice-president of field projects at the World Monuments Fund (WMF) and is in charge of planning and coordinating the group’s various field projects and related activities in 16 countries.

In his role as overseer of WMF’s World Monuments Watch Program, he tracks progress at 115 additional sites.

The whirlwind tour will take in more than 15 temples but, like most WMF outings, only the well-heeled are catered for. Stubbs proves to be a very expensive tour guide. The whirlwind tour costs $2250, and does not include airfares, hotels etc. Two free dinners are provided and the fee also incorporates a tax-deductible $1000 “contribution” to WMF.

It’s an aerotropolis
SIEM Reap is not just getting a new international airport – it’s getting an “aerotropolis”, according to US-based Fast Company magazine.

An aerotropolis is a new urban form placing airports in the centre with cities growing around them, connecting workers, suppliers, executives and goods to the world marketplace. The term was originally devised by John D. Kasarda who works with regions and countries to leverage airports and their surrounding areas for economic growth.

According to Fast Company, the planned Siem Reap airport “fits the label of an aerotropolis”.

The magazine quotes Greg Lindsay, co-author of the forthcoming book, Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next, as saying: “The likely model for Cambodia’s aerotropolis is Subic Bay in the Philippines, which transformed the former US Navy base into a fairly large, high-tech manufacturing zone in the 1990s after FedEx opened its pan-Asian hub there.”

Lindsay added: “There’s a saying that ‘airlines don’t serve airports; they serve markets,’ meaning they want to go where passengers already are. In this case, the tourist draw of Angkor Wat could be a big help and considering the UN World Tourism Organisation expects China to have 100 million outbound tourists a year by 2020, Cambodia is probably trying to snag a few million.”

But the Siem Reap logistics still have some experts scratching their heads. As Fast Company pointed out, in 2009 Cambodia had 2.3 million visitors, but the annual capacity of the new airport will be 15 million, leaving a huge gap to be filled.

Dancing for MFI success


via CAAI

Friday, 07 January 2011 15:00 MAY KUNMAKARA

Dancers perform during the opening of a new head office for Hattha Kaksekar Limited microfinance institution yesterday. The opening, on Phnom Penh’s Street 271, was presided over by H.E Chea Chanto, governor of National Bank of Cambodia. He said that Cambodia’s MFIs offered loans worth 1,803,000,000,000 riel [US$446 million] to 1,098,387 customers in 2010 – an increase 40 percent and 20 percent respectively compared to 2009.

Pool sharks


via CAAI

Friday, 07 January 2011 15:00 Sovan Philong

Children play pool at a shop along the railway tracks surrounding Boeung Kak lake in Tuol Kork district last month. Residents living along the railway lines are eventually to be evicted to make way for the government’s ongoing railway rehabilitation project.

Seven Thais Appear In Cambodian Court For The Second Time For Illegal Entry

Chinese lakeside link confirmed

Photo by: Pha Lina
Boeung Kak residents protest against the Chinese involvement in the controversial development of the Boeung Kak lake at Phnom Penh’s ‘Freedom Park’ yesterday.

via CAAI

Thursday, 06 January 2011 22:10 Khouth Sophak Chakrya and James O'Toole

Prime Minister Hun Sen has approved a joint-venture partnership to develop the controversial Boeung Kak lake project involving a Chinese firm and a local company linked to ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin, according to a document signed by the premier and Phnom Penh Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema.

In 2007, local developer Shukaku Inc, owned by Lao Meng Khin, was granted a 99-year lease to develop the lake. In a letter dated November 12 of last year and obtained yesterday, Kep Chuktema wrote to Hun Sen to inform him that Shukaku had established a partnership with China’s Inner Mongolia Erdos Hung Jun Investment Co.

“Shukaku’s owner has asked to register the land in the 99-year lease agreement ... under the new name of Shukaku Erdos Hung Jun Property Development Co, Ltd, for directly implementing the project in the Boeung Kak area,” Kep Chuktema wrote.

Hun Sen initialled the letter on November 27 along with a brief, handwritten notation reading: “agree to the offer”.

Rights groups say the emergence of the document, which confirms earlier reports of Chinese involvement in the lake development, underscores the lack of transparency surrounding the project and the willingness of the government to approve large-scale foreign investment deals without assessing the consequences for local residents.

The lakeside development, which rights groups say will ultimately displace more than 4,000 families, is the largest and most prominent example of the urban evictions that have displaced thousands of the capital’s poor in recent years. Protests by Boeung Kak residents have become a weekly occurrence in Phnom Penh, as homes are flooded or even submerged by the filling of the lake and villagers charge that they are being denied market value in compensation for their homes.

Kep Chuktema’s letter follows Chinese-language news reports from September stating that Hung Jun had set up a partnership in July with Shukaku and Cambodia International Investment Development Group.

CIIDG is also linked to Lao Meng Khin. According to an undated government investment publication available online, the firm runs a special economic zone in Sihanoukville, with Lao Meng Khin listed as the “zone developer”.

In a 2009 announcement to the Malaysian stock exchange, Malaysia’s Leader Universal Holdings announced a proposed joint venture agreement with CIIDG to develop a coal-fired power plant in Sihanoukville. The listed headquarters for CIIDG in the announcement is the same Daun Penh district address that houses Pheapimex, a local conglomerate owned by Lao Meng Khin’s wife, Choeung Sopheap.

In September, Hung Jun chairman Wang Linxiang traveled to Cambodia for a meeting with Hun Sen that was also attended by Choeung Sopheap. The lake development was part of a US$3 billion package of investment deals that also included a 750-megawatt power station in Sihanoukville and a bauxite exploration project in Mondulkiri province, according to Chinese news reports.

At the time, Eang Sophalleth, assistant to Hun Sen, told The Post that the meeting was to discuss the power station project and real estate developments, but did not mention Boeung Kak lake.

The prime minister, Eang Sophalleth said, “fully supported” Hung Jun’s proposals. Eang Sophalleth did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

Shukaku representative Lao Vann declined to comment yesterday on the Hung Jun partnership.

“I don’t know about this, and now I am sorry, I’m busy finding a solution for people who have volunteered to receive compensation,” he said.

Chinese Embassy spokesman Qian Hai denied that any Chinese firm was involved with the project, declining to comment on Kep Chuktema’s letter or the Chinese news reports on Hung Jun’s involvement.

“There’s no Chinese company involved at this stage,” he said.

Some Boeung Kak residents said this week that they would boycott all Chinese products if Hung Jun does not send a representative to negotiate with them.

“We will starve to death if they do not find a solution for us and forcibly evict us from our homes,” 32-year-old lakeside resident Naon Sok Nen said yesterday.

City Hall claims around 2,000 families from the lack have already accepted compensation packages.

Those facing eviction have received varying compensation options, including cash payments of $8500, housing at a relocation site in Dangkor district, or on-site relocation, the plans for which have yet to materialise. In the meantime, many of those still in their homes have complained of rashes and health problems as the lake-filling inundates the community with floodwaters and sewage.

“The Chinese… should conduct the impact assessment and should do a public consultation with the residents,” said Sia Phearum, secretariat director of Housing Rights Task Force.

Kep Chuktema said in his letter to the premier that the relocation process was going smoothly, held up only by “powerful people and opportunists trying to make difficulty for the company”. But Nora Lindstrom, programme development manager at local housing NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, called this claim unfounded.

“Faced with forced eviction, it is the residents right to demand adequate compensation that does not push them into poverty,” she said in an email.

Sia Phearum said Kep Chuktema and his subordinates likely felt pressure to emphasise “potential for development and benefit” rather than giving a proper account of the project.

“The residents really want to meet with the government, top leaders of the municipality, or the private companies, both local and Chinese,” Sia Phearum said. “They want to support the government, but so far, there’s no public consultation - they never consult with the people.”


Banks benefit from recovery

via CAAI

Thursday, 06 January 2011 19:57 May Kunmakara

Leading Cambodian banks said outstanding loans and deposits grew substantially during 2010 compared with the previous year’s figures, boosted by the Kingdom’s strengthening economy.

In Channy, ACLEDA Bank president and chief executive, estimated the Kingdom’s overall banking industry grew about 20 percent last year compared with 2009.

“Last year, we had more commercial enterprises opening, which was a very good sign for our country because [people] can see our economy is growing constantly and especially that our regulations are strong,” he said.

ACLEDA Bank saw outstanding loans rise by 36.82 percent to US$744.31 million by the end of 2010 from $544 million.

Deposits reached $911 million from $692 million, an increase of 31.65 percent.

“People are starting to understand and trust our banking industry as it offers convenient and safe services for them,” he said.

Canadia Bank saw total assets reach more than US$1 billion – a 30 percent increase on 2009 – according to Dieter Billmeier, the bank’s vice president and advisor.

Loan demand similarly increased about 30 percent, based on internal audits, especially in the second half of 2010, Billmeier said via email.

Gross loans rose to a total $520 million by the end of 2010, from $385 million for 2009.

Deposits increased by more than 40 percent from 2009, reaching about $820 million. Billmeier attributed the growth to the developing of local industries such as agriculture, import and export trading and tourism-related projects.

The property sector, however, especially consumer products like home loans, did not follow the high growth rates of other loan sector applications, he said.

“Since business and economic confidence is returning in Cambodia, I predict growth rates for this sector to be stronger in 2011,” he said, adding that the bank’s shareholders’ equity was set to pass $130 million at the end of December 2010.

Smaller operators also saw improvement. Two large South Korean banks, which opened subsidiaries in Cambodia around mid-2009, also reported increasing business. Kookmin Bank Cambodia, which began operating locally in May 2009, saw outstanding loans sharply increase on a percentage measure, given its low base.

End of year figures showed loans doubled to $16.2 million in 2010, from $8 million, while deposits hit $19.9 million, an $8.5 million increase, according to Jang Ki-sung, chief executive of the Cambodian subsidiary.

“The economy in Cambodia is recovering from the global financial crisis in 2008, that’s why our loans and deposits are increasing because Cambodian people are gradually beginning to use the bank more,” he said.

Han Peng Kwang, senior vice president of Hwang DBS Commercial Bank which opened its doors late July 2009, said loans rose by about 200 percent with total borrowers increasing. Deposits increased 14 percent.

Hwang DBS mostly offered business loans to small and medium enterprises, and some home loans.

“We believe that SMEs play an important role in contributing to the economic growth of the country and we can play our part in the country’s growth by providing the necessary financing and services required by these businesses to grow and expand,” he said.

ACLEDA reported 0.5 percent of its total loan book was non-performing loans, dropping from 0.8 percent in 2009.

Hwang DBS had an NPL rate of 1.7 percent, Kookmin reported zero NPLs, and Canadia saw its NPLs fall to 6.2 percent from 8.2 percent in 2009.

Global lessons for NGO law

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, speaks to residents of the city’s Dey Krahorm community following their eviction in January 2009.


Good NGO legislation should enshrine the rights of Cambodian citizens to speak out, associate and organise.


via CAAI

Thursday, 06 January 2011 21:38 Thomas Miller

ON December 15, the government finally made public a draft of its new NGO law, trumpeting it as a tool for fighting terrorism and crime, increasing transparency in the Kingdom’s vast NGO sector and regulating groups that are “working for the opposition”.

As civil society workers across the nation brace for the law’s passage, local activists have voiced fears about the possible effects of the legislation.

Coming amid a resurgence in government confidence – which has seen the jailing in absentia of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and public threats of the expulsion of United Nations officials and diplomats – local rights group Licadho described it as “the most serious threat to civil society in years”.

If implemented in its current form, critics say the draft law – lacking sufficient safeguards – will violate the right to freedom of association and hamper NGO activities, especially those of small community organisations.

They have called on the government to accept a longer period of consultation and a joint working group to finish drafting the law. Licadho and other organisations have stated that they don’t want an NGO law at all.

As the two sides trade invective in both public and private, the implementation of similar regulations in other countries may provide a cautionary tale about the granting of too much power to governments to regulate civil society.

The view from Dhaka
Representatives of the Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar, founded in 1994, say that its activities have been increasingly restricted under current regulations that place tight controls on any NGO activities linked to foreign funding.

In a rights report issued last month, Odhikar documented an increasing level of government interference in its programmes, in addition to the surveillance and intimidation of the state’s security apparatus.

In August 2009, the government’s NGO Affairs Bureau, which is under the authority of the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s office, ordered Odhikar to halt a programme focused on documenting and preventing torture, citing the “reservations” of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Though Odhikar submitted a writ petition to the High Court, which eventually ruled against the government, the message from the authorities was clear, said Odhikar’s executive secretary Adilur Rahman Khan.

“Human rights organisations, especially [those] which are critical against the atrocities of the government, torture, ill-treatment and impunity of the regime, like Odhikar, face massive difficulty in getting their projects approved,” Khan said via email.

In recent months, the organisation has documented numerous instances in which security or police officials paid visits to Odhikar’s offices to request information from its leadership.

In November, after several such visits, an official warned Odhikar’s director that the government was “extremely annoyed” with the organisation, and that officers from the Special Branch of the police were “constantly monitoring” their office.

“Such incidents of constant visits, telephone calls and request for information that can be obtained from government records are clear examples of harassment and intimidation and an attempt to disrupt the functioning of a human rights organisation,” states the Odhikar report.

Other countries too have seen a recent tightening of regulations. In a special report issued last month, the United States-based International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law took aim at what it termed the “wave of constraint” embodied by legal developments in countries such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Honduras, Iran and Bahrain, all of which took place in November and December.

“The restrictions proposed in these laws will create a burdensome web of regulations for civil society groups and are evidence that the backlash against civil society is ongoing, transcending legal systems and political cultures,” the report states.

ICNL said Cambodia’s law also bore many of the hallmarks of this global crackdown, including restrictions on the number and nationality of NGOs’ founding members, onerous registration requirements, government powers to suspend or terminate organisations and limits on the activities of foreign NGOs.

Discretionary authority in the draft law has emerged as a critical issue. The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights concluded from a review of 50 countries that NGO laws should be “evaluated, first and foremost, for the vagueness of the language and the broad discretionary powers that they grant to governments”.

Best practice?
However, a number of countries, including Azerbaijan, Iraq, Kosovo, Macedonia, Mexico, Russia and Serbia, have recently adopted changes to their legal frameworks that safeguard civil society, according to ICNL.

“Good NGO legislation should enshrine the rights of Cambodian citizens to speak out, associate and organise, which underpin the very existence of civil society and which form the basis of effective community development,” said David Robinson, ICNL’s programme manager for Asia and the Pacific.

“However, as in Cambodia and also in Vietnam, there was a reluctance to endorse and encourage the local community decision-making and action that would result from progressive, enabling legislation,” he added.

In contrast, the ICNL points to a law passed in Iraq last year, which recognised “the right to form an NGO as well as the right to associate without forming a legal entity”. It also includes “objective rules” for registration and operations that limit the government’s discretion in refusing registration or interfering with NGO affairs. NGOs are permitted to fundraise both domestically and abroad.

Though ICNL criticised the Iraqi law for restrictions on foreign NGOs, it noted that the legislative process included a large coalition of civil society members with support from the UN that introduced revisions to a more restrictive draft law proposed by the government.

Adapting to political realities
However, some say that within the current Cambodian context, the perfect may well be the enemy of the good. Hisham Mousar, a former staffer for local rights group Adhoc and the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, said NGOs should ensure that the law is consistent with human rights, but that they would be better off with a law than without.

“It reflects the reaction, the continuous reaction of civil society, is to refuse,” said Mousar, who currently heads the French cooperation programme at the Royal University of Law and Economics.

“But we have to build the rule of law, we have to build something. We cannot say that the judge is not independent, we cannot say that we do not trust in the lawmaking process, and [on] the other hand, continu[e] to be here, to take salary, to have big cars, [to have an] easy life in Cambodia.”

Mousar said civil society organisations felt particularly vulnerable because of the lack of political opposition following the Cambodian People’s Party landslide victory at the 2008 national elections.

“They prefer to wait for a better day when they can benefit, [when] they can enjoy, as in the past, the umbrella of political opposition,” Mousar said. “Now they are too exposed.”

Mousar argued in favour of an engagement between civil society and government – despite the mismatch in power between the two sides.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the law was geared towards creating “one civilised nation”.

“If you live in the jungle you don’t need a law – but in society … you have to comply with the law,” Phay Siphan said.

Ultimately, however, Robinson said an NGO law should do more than simply place restrictions on civil society.

“[Such laws] should not simply be a mechanism for encouraging and controlling international NGOs providing aid in line with pre-determined government priorities,” he said.

“This is, to a large degree … what the Cambodian law provides for.”

Jailed Thai MP questioned

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
A group of Thai nationals, including Thai Democrat Party lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth (second from left), are escorted into Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday.

via CAAI

Thursday, 06 January 2011 21:57 Cheang Sokha and James O’Toole

A Thai parliamentarian arrested for trespassing in Banteay Meanchey province last week told Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday that he had “unintentionally” crossed into Cambodian territory, his defence lawyer said.

Cambodian lawyer Ros Aun, who is defending Panich Vikitsreth, a lawmaker from Thailand’s ruling Democrat Party, said his client told investigating judge Chang Sinath that he had traveled to the contentious Thai-Cambodian border to meet with Thai villagers who claimed border markers had been moved by Cambodians onto Thai territory.

“He said he crossed the border unintentionally,” Ros Aun said. “His visit to the border area came at the request of the [Thai] villagers.”

Panich was arrested last week along with six other Thais near a military encampment in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district. The group were charged last week with illegal entry and unlawfully entering a military base, charges that carry a combined maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.

Ros Aun said yesterday that the investigation remained ongoing despite a day-long questioning session. A trial date in the case has not yet been set.

Arrested along with Panich was Veera Somkwamkid, an activist from Thailand’s “Yellow Shirt” movement who has staged repeated rallies at the border to protest against alleged Cambodian encroachment.

Panich’s claim that he accidentally entered Cambodia is seemingly at odds with statements he reportedly made in a video of his expedition that surfaced in the Thai press this week. In the video, Panich is seen talking on the phone to his secretary, asking that an aide to Thai premier Abhisit Vejjajiva be informed that the group had crossed into Cambodia.

Abhisit has admitted sending Panich to investigate the border area, but has denied ordering him to enter Cambodia.

The arrests followed several months of relative amicability in the oft-strained relationship between Thailand and Cambodia. In August, the countries normalised ties that had been downgraded in 2009 following Cambodia’s provocative appointment of ousted former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra as an economics adviser to the government.

Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the case was “separate from our diplomatic relations”. He declined to speculate on whether Prime Minister Hun Sen would request pardons for the group following a possible conviction.

“Right now, it’s in the hands of the court,” he said.

Ministry issues alcohol warning

Photo by: Pha Lina
Son Chanthy, a 25-year-old construction worker from Kandal province, drinks rice wine with friends after clocking off work in October.

via CAAI

Thursday, 06 January 2011 18:05 Mom Kunthear

Health Minister Mam Bun Heng has made calls for people to limit their alcohol consumption in a bid to cut government spending on related health and social problems.

The December 31 statement, which has been published in Khmer-language newspapers, warns that alcohol consumption can lead to health problems including liver or stomach ulcers, as well as heart attacks and strokes “that can cause death”.

In addition, the statement cautions, alcohol contributes to social ills.

“To drink wine or other alcohol also causes domestic violence, arguments in restaurants or other public places, and [can lead people] to face HIV/AIDS when they lose control of themselves,” it states.

It also notes that about 100 people have died over the past four years after indulging in homemade moonshine.

“[People] can become poisoned if the wine or other alcohol is produced without good standards,” reads the statement, which then goes on to highlight the links between alcohol consumption and traffic accidents.

A total of 1,649 people died in traffic accidents last year, 12 percent of which involved people driving under the influence of alcohol, according to Ministry of Interior Ministry figures.

Sok Sokun, director of the municipal Department of Health, said Thursday that moderate consumption of alcohol, about 10 millilitres per day, could have health benefits, but warned against binge drinking.

“We can drink a small glass of alcohol a day to make our health good, but if we drink too much it affects our health and safety,” he said, adding that alcoholism could also contribute to poverty.

“The Ministry of Health usually thinks about the people’s health and benefits in order to reduce poverty because some people drink alcohol without working,” Sok Sokun said.

During a meeting last month, a coalition of civil society groups called on the government to restrict advertising and increase taxes on alcoholic beverages in a bid to stem alcohol-related health and social issues.

A study conducted by the People’s Centre for Development and Peace presented at the workshop showed that 30 percent of the daily expenses of 1,400 people surveyed across seven provinces went towards alcohol.

Overall, 16 percent of those surveyed were found to be alcoholics, while 58 percent of respondents aged between 15 and 25 said they drank every day.

There is no law regulating the minimum drinking age in Cambodia.

Smartphone demand rises

via CAAI

Thursday, 06 January 2011 20:22 Jeremy Mullins

Cambodian consumers are increasingly purchasing higher-end phone handsets, according to industry experts.

“Consumers are definitely very savvy and we can see they are updated with the latest and coolest [handsets],” said mobile provider Hello’s marketing manager Gary Foo on Thursday. “We recognise consumer trends [are] moving towards smartphones.”

Hello was the first service provider to introduce Blackberry handsets to the Kingdom two years ago and has launched two new models this week – the white Blackberry Bold 9780 and the Blackberry Curve 9300 phones.

Hello now has five different Blackberry models available from Canadian handset manufacturer Research in Motion.

Data demand

Gary Foo said Hello was seeing strong demand for its data services, though voice related calls were now its main revenue driver. Declining to give the exact number of data users, he said figures were growing healthily and were encouraging.

“Voice will continue to be the majority revenue contribution so it will take time, but nonetheless [data services are] something we would continue to invest in,” he said.

“The challenge is keeping up with consumers’ ever changing trends.”

The move towards smartphones was most evident in major cities and among businessmen, he said.

A number of other companies providing smartphones have recently made pushes into the Kingdom.

Nokia and LG push

South Korean handset manufacturer LG opened an outlet on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard last year, while Finland’s Nokia also opened its first office in Cambodia in 2010.

Nokia Business Development Manager for Cambodia and Laos Mohammed Mesbahuddin said that most of the major international handset brands were now present in Cambodia. Data services were becoming a key driver in how companies sold handsets, he said.

“Mobile internet will overcome fixed internet [on computers] in a short period of time,” he said. “It’s already happening in [other parts of] Asia.”

Nokia launched a new data handset in Cambodia this week, the X2-01, which is aimed at a younger demographic.

Area man works to protect children from exploitation

 via CAAI

By Carrie J. Sidener

Published: January 06, 2011

Credit: Kim Raff/The News & Advance
Gary Reynolds spoke at an international law enforcement conference in Cambodia to talk about child sex trafficking.

It wasn’t until the tail end of his career that Gary Reynolds encountered a case that changed him.

The law enforcement officer was serving as chief of police in Winchester when his department investigated the abduction of a 13-year-old girl.

She had been groomed by a man she met on the Internet. He abducted her and sexually assaulted her at a local hotel.

“That was when I first became aware of the Internet being used for the sexual exploitation of children,” Reynolds said.

“I’ve seen catastrophic crashes, fatal traffic accidents, stabbings, shootings, and yet when I see images of children being sexually assaulted. … It sticks with me more than anything else.”

When Reynolds retired, he came to work for the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office as part of the Southern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children task force, known locally as Operation Blue Ridge Thunder.

He also became involved in the nonprofit Safe Surfin’ Foundation, whose mission is to educate the public about Internet-related crimes against children and provide communities with the information to protect children from Internet predators.

Reynolds began to look into the sexual tourism trade in foreign countries. He soon became an adviser to the Intergovernmental Child Cyber Control Organization, which works to protect children on the Internet through education.

Child sexual exploitation happens in every economic, social, ethnic and religious group, according to the organization’s website. The Internet provides a more anonymous way to seek out and exploit children for pornography, sex acts and sexual tourism.

That association led Reynolds last month to a United Nations conference in Cambodia involving representatives of 52 Asian nations, where he spoke about international sexual tourism and how the Internet is used typically by American men to facilitate sexual relations with children in those countries.

Safe Surfin’ and the Cambodian government paid for Reynolds’ expenses.

“It was very eye-opening for me,” he said. “I went into downtown Bangkok and I was able to observe firsthand children on the street corners offering themselves up for prostitution.”

“It’s obscene to see police officers standing on the corners where this was occurring and yet taking no action to stop it,” he said.

Nations with thriving sex tourism industries also suffer from widespread poverty, high illiteracy rates and limited employment opportunities.

Poorer nations rely on tourism and can end up turning a blind eye to the crimes.

Pimps go to the farms in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and offer families $500 cash, telling parents they are taking the child to a major city to give them a job and an education. Those children end up in a life of prostitution.

“I was told for a young girl or boy who was inexperienced, the Johns are charged up to $10,000,” Reynolds said.

The vast majority of those who travel to these countries to pay for child prostitutes are white men from North American and European countries. They are typically over the age of 35 and are professionals or retired.

“A lot of people just don’t understand how often this goes on,” he said. “We have laws in the U.S. that prohibit Americans from going to other countries to engage in sexual acts with minors. But it is very hard for us to enforce them in other countries that provide little support.

“Many laws are almost impossible to enforce because of limited resources.”

He hopes that his work can help prevent more children from falling victim to such predators.

“I considered it a personal honor to speak there. I hope it makes a difference.”

No bail for seven jailed in Phnom Penh

 via CAAI

By The Nation, Agencies
Published on January 7, 2011

Drawn-out taking of testimony leaves lawyers no time to file requests; Panich claims unintentional crossing as Veera remains defiant over charges

Seven Thai nationals who faced trail in Cambodian court for trespassing were in critical situation yesterday as their prosecution would drag on with no time to submit bail request, resulting in longer stay in Prey Sar prison.

The seven Thais including the ruling Democrat Party's lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth and yellow shirted activist Veera Somkwamkid appeared in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in blue prisoner dresses.

They testified in the closed door court room one by one, beginning with Panich who told the court that he crossed to the disputed border area by accident.

Panich told the court that he had "crossed into Cambodian territory unintentionally," his Cambodian attorney Ros Aun told AFP by telephone.

"He said he came (to the border area) because Thai people claimed it is their land. He said he was walking without knowing that he was entering Cambodian territory and was captured by the authorities."

Veera, who was previously arrested in the same location in August, told reporters briefly as leaving the court that "they are forcing us to accept the accusation."

Panich, Veera and other yellow shirted activists who claimed they are patriotic group were arrested last week in the border near Sa Kaeo's Ban Nong Chan while inspecting the disputed area. A leaked video clip indicated that Panich and the group were aware of entering into Cambodia side as he phoned to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's aide to convey his message.

The Royal Thai Survey Department indicated that the group went 55 meters deeper into the territory under sovereignty of Cambodia before the capture.

The Thai government failed to settle the case outside the court room since Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly was furious with Veera's second trespassing.

They were charge of illegal entry and unlawful entering to military areas, the charges with combined 18 month jail term.

The Thai foreign ministry said it would allow the Cambodian court to continue without intervention but urged Phnom Penh to speed up the process and hand them only lenient punishment.

The court spent the whole yesterday for the testimony of seven detainees and it set no time line when the entire trail would be completed.

Their lawyer had no time to submit bail request yesterday and would not until Monday as Friday is Cambodia's public holiday. The court has five days to consider the bail request, said Thai Foreign Ministry's spokesman Thani Thongpakdi. "We expect to know whether they would get free on bail by January 14," he said.

Prime Minister Abhisit called a meeting with many concern ministers and officials including Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, Justice Minister Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and Kasit's secretary Chavanond Intarakomalyasut to discuss the situation of the seven Thai people in Cambodian court.

Chavanond told reporters after the meeting that Prime Minister Abhisit did not have any more instruction but wrapped up the situation and expected the group would have to stay longer in the Cambodian prison.

Thai MP in Cambodia court over border incident

Thai Democrat Party lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth (R) and another activist walk at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court

via CAAI

PHNOM PENH — A Thai ruling party politician charged with illegally entering Cambodia told a court in the capital Phnom Penh Thursday that he had crossed the disputed border by accident, his lawyer said.

Panich Vikitsreth of the Democrat Party was taken from prison to Phnom Penh Municipal Court with six other Thais for a closed-door preliminary hearing in a case that has strained diplomatic ties between Cambodia and Thailand.

Panich told the court that he had "crossed into Cambodian territory unintentionally," his Cambodian attorney Ros Aun told AFP by telephone.

"He said he came (to the border area) because Thai people claimed it is their land. He said he was walking without knowing that he was entering Cambodian territory and was captured by the authorities."

The detainees, dressed in blue prison clothes, did not respond to questions from reporters as they were led into court for questioning. No trial date has yet been set.

The seven Thais were charged late last month with illegally crossing the border and entering a military area with ill will, despite a call from Thailand for their immediate release.

If convicted on both counts they face up to 18 months in prison.

Thai officials have acknowledged that the seven were on Cambodian territory when arrested.

Deputy Thai Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said Thursday Bangkok might seek a royal pardon for the seven if the court sentences them.

"I expect the court will deliberate the case based on the fact that Thais trespassed without ill-intention and with mercy to Thai nationals," he said.

"We want Cambodia to know that we are very worried, although we respect its judicial system and sovereignty. I am optimistic that the trial will be quick," he said.

The neighbours have long been at odds over their border, which is not fully demarcated, partly because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia. There was a series of deadly border clashes in 2008.

But Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman Koy Kuong told AFP the case would "not affect diplomatic relations" with Thailand.

When asked about a possible pardon, he said: "The case is in the hands of the court. I cannot say anything now."

Volunteer Doctors From US See Throng of Patients

Men Kimseng, VOA Khmer
Washington, D.C Thursday, 06 January 2011

via CAAI

Photo: AP
A nurse checks dengue fever patient.

“Some of the patients rarely go to see a doctor, and some didn't even know their diseases.”

More than 50 volunteer medical personel from the US are in Cambodia to treat some of the country's poorest on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

The group is led by Tan Song, a Long Beach, Calif., doctor, and hope to treat a number of diseases, from seasonal colds to diarrhea, intestinal worm infections, high blood pressure, lung infections and diabetes.

More than 700 people sought the free services of the doctors and medical staff on the first day, Monday.

“Some of the patients rarely go to see a doctor, and some didn't even know their diseases,” Tan Song told VOA Khmer.

Most of the patients came from nearby areas of Phnom Penh, although some came from as far as the provinces of Kampong Cham, Kampong Speu and Prey Veng.

The volunteers worked nearly non-stop, with just a short break for lunch, Tan Song said. “This is testament that each of them is very dedicated to the mission,” he said. “They love the people.”

The project received a boost from the unplanned visit of US congresswoman Laura Richardson, whose House of Representatives district, the 37th, includes Long Beach and has some 50,000 US-Cambodian constituents.

Richardson was on a separate fact-finding mission to Cambodia earlier this week.

Trial Opens in Cambodia for Thai Nationals

Ron Corben
Bangkok 06 January 2011

via CAAI

Photo: AFP
Thai 'Yellow Shirt' activist Veera Somkwamkid (L) and Thai Democrat Party lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth (R) walk at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, 6 Jan 2011

A Cambodian court has begun hearings into the cases of seven Thais arrested last month for illegally entering the country. Some political analysts say the episode raises questions over the government’s close ties with nationalist group, the People’s Alliance for Democracy.

The Thais, including a member of parliament, were brought before a judge Thursday in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. They were detained December 29 after crossing into Cambodia.

If found guilty of illegal entry and entering a military area, the seven could face jail terms of up to 18 months.

The leader, Panich Vikitsreth, is a member of the Democrat Party of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

Among those arrested was Veera Somkwamkid, a former leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, and of the Thailand Patriot Network, an offshoot of the PAD. Veera was briefly detained last year in the same area but was quickly sent back to Thailand.

The Thailand Patriot Network says Cambodian nationals occupy Thai territory along the border in Sa Kaeo province, 245 kilometers from Bangkok.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political scientist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, says the evidence indicates a deliberate crossing into Cambodia.

"The videos, the evidence so far and the statements from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - including senior officials - suggest that the seven Thais who have been arrested did indeed cross over into Cambodian territory," Thitinan said. "But what it says about the Patriotic Thais or the Patriot Thai Network is that it is intent on stirring up trouble."

In video clips posted on the Internet, Panich is seen speaking on a mobile phone, saying he crossed into Cambodia and asks that Abhisit’s secretary be told.

Thitinan says the incident points to the PAD’s influence on the Abhisit government. The PAD played a key role in protests that led to a military coup to oust former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006.

And in 2008 PAD demonstrators shut down Bangkok’s airports and occupied the prime minister’s office building, until court rulings removed two pro-Thaksin governments.

After that, parliamentary maneuvering brought Abhisit to power. Thitinan says those ties to the PAD are now hurting the government.

"This is a reminder that the liability from having been so closely tied to the PAD has come back to haunt and boomerang against the Democrat Party and the Abhisit government. It shows also that the government does not seem to know what its doing," Thitinan said.

The arrests have hurt efforts to improve relations with Cambodia. Ties had deteriorated after Thaksin visited Cambodia in 2009. He faces corruption charges at home and lives abroad.

Thai foreign ministry officials said the Phnom Penh court Thursday completed hearings for three of the detainees. More hearings must be held before a verdict is handed down.

The Thai government says it is working to get the seven released and sent home.

CAMBODIA: Winning the battle against schistosomiasis

 via CAAI

KRATIE, 6 January 2011 (IRIN) - Health officials in Cambodia are making inroads in their battle against schistosomiasis, a chronic and debilitating disease commonly known as snail fever.

Photo: Lynn Maung/IRIN
Freshwater snails act as hosts for the parasitic disease

In northeastern Cambodia, more than 80,000 people living along the 5,000km-long Mekong River are at risk of schistosomiasis, according to the National Center for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (CNM).

"We've seen a very [big] drop from the last decade," Muth Sinuon, a parasitic worms specialist at the government body, said. She places current prevalence rates at less than 5 percent - a steep fall from the mid-1990s.

"Back around 1995, we saw that between 30 and 70 percent of people in Kratie and Stung Treng were infected," she said. The chronic disease is endemic in the two poor, remote provinces in northeastern Cambodia.

Schistosomiasis is known as snail fever because the parasite lives in freshwater snails. According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), people become infected when larval forms of the parasite - released by freshwater snails - penetrate their skin during contact with infested water.

In Cambodia, residents go fishing in rivers when water levels are low during the dry season, from February to May, and contract the disease from infested water.

The disease spreads through bathing, washing laundry and fetching water, Muth said.

Left untreated, the worm is perilous even though mortality is low. Schistosomiasis can cause bloody faeces and urine, a bloated belly, intestine damage, liver disease and bladder cancer, say health experts.

In terms of its social and economic impacts, snail fever is second only to malaria as the most devastating parasitic disease in tropical countries, according to the Carter Center, a non-profit charity based at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Risk to children

Because of their hygiene and play habits in the water, children are particularly at risk.

"These parasites cause growth retardation in children, short- and long-term memory problems, difficulty with reasoning and reading comprehension," said Taing Tek Hong, a US-based Cambodian gastroenterologist, who travels regularly to Cambodia.

Heavily infected people are at risk of malnutrition.

Parasite's lifecycle

Photo: Courtesy of CNM
Abdominal bloating is a common outcome

When human urine or faeces containing the parasite's eggs enter the water, the eggs hatch and release larvae, which search for river snails that live in the fissures of partially submerged rocks.

They enter the snail and multiply, then look for a new host in the water. They break through human skin and infiltrate the blood, move to the liver, and grow into worms.

From there, the worms travel through the blood, laying thousands of eggs in the intestine or bladder.


Since 2002, the Cambodian government has overseen a vast deworming programme. In 2004, the country was the first to reach the WHO's goal of covering three-quarters of school-aged children, or three million people.

Once a year in Kratie and Stung Treng, authorities treat schistosomiasis patients with Praziquantel, a drug that is usually effective with a single dose.

The campaign has led to a drastic fall in cases, said Duong Socheat, head of the CNM.

Even so, more needs to be done to improve sanitation and education, he said.

Many people still defecate into rivers because they have limited access to toilets. Fewer than 16 percent of rural Cambodians have access to adequate sanitation, says the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

According to WHO, around the world, 700 million people may be at risk of schistosomiasis. More than 207 million people are infected worldwide, the majority in Africa. Most live in poor communities without access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

Control of schistosomiasis is based on drug treatment, snail control, improved sanitation and health education, the world health body says.