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Friday, November 23, 2012

Cambodia has no political prisoners, but politicians with criminal records: PM

PHNOM PENH, Nov. 23 (Xinhua) -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly said Friday that the country has "no political prisoners, but politicians with criminal offences."

His remarks were made after the opposition party and human rights activists repeatedly appealed to the government to release political prisoners.

U.S. President Barack Obama also expressed the need for Cambodia to release political prisoners during a bilateral meeting with Hun Sen on Monday while he visited Cambodia to attend a series of the Summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). .

 Obama highlighted, for instance, one case of a radio broadcaster Mam Sonando who had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

"Cambodia has no political prisoners, but politicians with criminal acts," Hun Sen said Friday during a ceremony to deliver land titles to residents in Preah Vihear province.

"They want me to intervene, but they allege that I control judicial system, so if I intervene to release prisoners, it means that I influence the judicial system," he said.

"The judicial system is independent, I cannot intervene," the premier said. "You committed criminal acts, you must be jailed."

Besides Mam Sonando's case, Cambodian court sentenced self- exiled Sam Rainsy, leader of the country's main opposition party, to 11 years in jail in absentia for two counts -- publishing a false map of the border with Vietnam and accusing Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong of being a member of the Democratic Kampuchea, or known as Khmer Rouge regime.

In addition, the court has jailed a handful of people involved in land protests or illegal land possession.

Opposition and human rights activists called the imprisonments "a political motivation."

Hun Sen warned that people in land disputes should not seek interventions from politicians or non-governmental organizations or he would not solve the issues for them. . Read more!

Asean declaration allows Cambodia to flout human rights, warn campaigners

Critics fear south-east Asian human rights declaration sanctions Cambodian government's maltreatment of dissenters

Barack Obama  East Asian Summit Plenary Session
US president Barack Obama arrives at the east Asia summit at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Tuesday. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP


Human rights groups in Cambodia fear a new south-east Asian declaration of human rights could conversely offer the government in Phnom Penh a figleaf to clamp down on dissent. Cambodia signed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) human rights declaration on Sunday, two days before the arrival of the US president, Barack Obama, on his tour of the region.

But the declaration has been widely criticised, including by the US state department, which said it was "deeply concerned" the declaration could "weaken and erode" the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Civil society and pressure groups denounced the declaration, saying it "undermines, rather than affirms, international human rights law and standards". The groups said it was "deplorable" that Asean states had adopted a declaration that "implies their people are less deserving of human rights than the people of Europe, Africa or the Americas".

The declaration's vague wording gives scope for Asean governments to exclude serious abuses because of "national particularities" or "cultural background". Restrictions on a wide array of grounds, including "national security" and "public morality", could see governments apply the rules only when it suits them, or hide behind compliance .

In Cambodia, recent alleged abuses include the fatal shooting by police of environmental activist Chut Wutty; the murder of Hang Serei Oudom, a journalist working on illegal logging stories; the killing of 14-year-old Heng Chanth allegedly by security forces during a forced eviction; the conviction in absentia of opposition leader Sam Rainsy; and the jailing of Beehive radio station owner Mam Sonando.

Last month, the EU urged the Cambodian government to stop forced evictions and called on the European commission (EC) to investigate the country's economic land concession policy, raising the prospect of sanctions. EU trade restrictions could have serious repercussions – Cambodian exports have flourished under the EU's Everything but Arms (EBA) agreement, which allows tax-free and quota-free access. The EU is also Cambodia's largest aid donor.

Cambodia's chargé d'affaires in Brussels, So Soengha, lambasted the EU's "wrong and biased" resolution. "With this regard to the alleged serious widespread land rights violation, forced eviction and excessive use of forces related to the so-called economic land concession, the charges are simply false and based on media reporting," Soengha said. "It is the position of the royal government of Cambodia to always provide a fair compensation, land swap and on-site relocation, wherever possible."

He pointed to Cambodia's "tireless efforts" to ensure fair land deals, "such as the imposition of the moratorium on new economic land concessions, review of existing land concessions, and the concerted efforts of the diligent work of some 1,500 volunteer students to assist with land titling for some 350,000 families, which amounted to 1.2m hectares [3m acres] of land".

Economic land concessions cover an estimated 2m hectares (4.9m acres), or about 10% of Cambodia's land mass. Since the moratorium, around a dozen new concessions have been revealed, although the government claims these had already been granted.

Australia, another of Cambodia's key donors, has voiced similar concerns to the EU. US lawmakers, ahead of Obama's visit, accused Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, of corruption and human rights abuses, alleging he is increasingly relying on politically controlled courts to facilitate land seizures to "bolster his unpopular rule". Obama told Hun Sen that Cambodia must allow fair elections and release "political prisoners".

But Cambodia's leaders, many of whom cut their teeth during the communist era, seem out of touch with changing times. The arrest last week of eight residents of a community scheduled for eviction near Phnom Penh airport is a typical example. Those detained had painted the letters SOS on their roofs in an apparent plea to Obama.

"What these villagers have done is not criminal," said Ee Sarom, programmes co-ordinator of Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, a local urban rights NGO. "In fact, it is the forced evictions that are illegal – so far, the authorities have not respected Cambodian law with respect to the threatened evictions around the airport." . Read more!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Iranian Warships Dock in Sudan

Iran says two of its warships have docked in Sudan, days after Sudan accused Israel of bombing an arms factory in Khartoum.

Iran's state-run news agency, IRNA, says a destroyer and a helicopter carrier arrived in Sudan Monday to ensure security for shipping lanes.  It said the vessels were also bringing a message of peace and friendship.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said the Iranian fleet's commanders will meet their Sudanese navy counterparts during their visit.

Last week, the Sudanese government accused Israel of using warplanes to bomb an arms factory in Khartoum.  Officials say the alleged bombing was an attempt by Israel to "frustrate" Sudan's military capabilities.

Israel's military has declined to comment on the accusations.

Israel has previously accused Sudan of supporting Palestinian militants.

Sudan has blamed Israel for previous attacks, including a deadly 2009 air strike on a weapons convoy. 
Read more!

US, Cambodia to Resume Child Adoptions

Cambodia announced Monday that it has agreed to resume child adoptions with the United States beginning next year.

Cambodia's secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Long Visalo, announced the move, a decision that reverses a ban on foreign adoptions that has been in effect since 2009.  He said after a meeting in Phnom Penh with the U.S. special advisor for children's issues, Ambassador Susan Jacobs, that adoptions will resume on January 1.

Long Visalo says that only 200 Cambodian children at most will be allowed to be adopted each year by U.S. families.

“We have now set on a quota, like for instance, we allow the U.S. to adopt between one hundred up to two hundreds children, annually.  No more than that," said Visalo.

Visalo said Cambodia has put regulations in place to ensure safe adoptions.  He said his country passed a law in 2009 to better regulate adoptions, following criticism that some children were being sold to adoption agencies and others were ending up in human tracking rings.

“We pay great attention to the future of those kids and we also take into consideration those who wish to adopt a child.  Some don’t have a child and wish to adopt one, and they meet our legal requirement so we have to do it," Visalo said.

Ambassador Jacobs is on a trip through Asia to discuss international adoptions as well as child abductions.
Read more!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Laos Offered WTO Membership

BANGKOK — The World Trade Organization has offered membership to Laos, an impoverished, one-party communist state. After years of slow negotiations the Southeast Asian Nation has moved its economy away from centralized control toward a market-oriented one.


Handicraft and souvenir vendors wait for customers and tourists at the night market of Luang Prabang, October 18, 2009.


After 15 years of negotiations, the World Trade Organization on Friday officially invited Laos to become a member.

 The invitation is recognition of the country’s efforts to change laws and policies to comply with the trade club’s requirements and the market access demands of its more than 150 members.

  It also comes after years of steady annual economic growth averaging more than six percent. This year it could top eight percent, the highest in Southeast Asia.

Michael Ewing-Chow, the WTO chair at the Center for International Law in Singapore, says membership for Laos gives it access to WTO benefits - but it signals a more fundamental change for the nation.

 "The real value for Laos is really that they're moving their economy away from the more centralized, planned one of the past to one where they're really looking at how best to create entrepreneurship, free markets in their country," Ewing-Chow noted. Small, poor, and land-locked, Laos is run by the same communist party that took power in 1975.

Like most communist states, Laos' economy was centrally controlled and it aligned itself with the former Soviet block countries.

But from the mid 1980s Vientiane slowly moved toward a more market-oriented economy.

Now, a country that was once reliant on foreign assistance is becoming a major destination for foreign investment, which this year topped $2 billion.

 It is the last of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to be welcomed into the global trade club.

WTO information officer Peter Ungphakorn says, once Laos ratifies the agreement, ASEAN will be able to speak as one voice at the WTO.

He says membership could also give the Lao economy a boost as it did for other former centrally planned economies China and Vietnam.

 "It can also make Laos more attractive for foreign investment because it will be showing that it can apply predictable, transparent, ruled-based principles to its economy," said Ungphakorn.

The biggest investors in Laos are also its major trade partners and neighbors - China, Thailand and Vietnam.

But most investment is in natural resources such as agriculture, hydropower and mining, much of which is sold to its neighbors.

 Analysts say membership in the WTO should help diversify foreign investment and trade into other sectors.

 Nicolai Imboden is executive director of the Idea Center in Geneva, a group assisting developing countries like Laos to integrate into the world economy.

He says Laos is not yet able to compete as a production base, so European and American companies will be slower to invest.

 "Thailand is very big in investments. Vietnam starts now. Singapore is doing a lot, you know. I think Korea will come," he said. "There is clearly, as you know also, there is a moving out of low-cost manufacturing from China towards the south and I think Laos will profit from that," said Imboden.

 ASEAN plans to form an economic community by the end of 2015 linking up the region. Beijing plans to spend billions on train and road connections through Laos.

Ewing-Chow says that puts Laos in a prime position to become a hub for ASEAN-China trade.

"China is its big neighbor to the north and its major neighbor to the south is Thailand. Both of these are increasingly players in the Laotian economy and will continue to be the case for many years to come," he said. "However, if Laos becomes a major hub for the region it then becomes able to tap into the network of the other economies which seek to move goods and services and people up and down that particular corridor connecting China with ASEAN."

Despite the development and rapid growth in Laos, more than a quarter of the country's six and a half million people are still living in poverty.

The United Nations ranks Laos at 138 of 187 countries in terms of development. Laos hopes membership in the WTO will help it break free from its "least developed country" status.

 Its lawmakers are expected to officially accept the WTO membership offer in December. . Read more!

US Economy Advances 2 Percent in 3rd Quarter

The United States says its economy grew by 2 percent in the July-to-September period, a slightly faster pace than economists had projected.

The government said Friday that increased consumer spending, accounting for 70 percent of the world's largest economy, led the advance. American economists had projected growth of 1.8 percent in the third quarter, up from the 1.3 percent figure recorded in April, May and June.

 In addition, the U.S. said increased spending on defense projects and renewed residential construction pushed the economy ahead. That helped offset flat spending by businesses for new equipment and software, the weakest reading in that category in three years, and the economic effects of last summer's severe drought in the country's vast farmlands.

 The U.S. has struggled to recover from the depths of the recession in 2008 and 2009, the country's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. More than 12 million workers remain unemployed, and the modest growth has not been robust enough to significantly cut the high jobless rate.

The state of the U.S. economy, and voters' perception of it, is a central issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, leading to the November 6 election.

U.S. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, says the economy is on a path to recovery. But his Republican challenger, wealthy businessman Mitt Romney, says his policies would boost job growth and lead to a faster advance. . Read more!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

‹ Back to ASEAN Beat Human Rights Plague Cambodia’s UN Bid

cambodiaWhen Cambodia’s bid for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council first got into full swing the authorities in Phnom Penh were boasting more than 100 countries had decided to throw their backing behind the tiny Southeast Asian nation.

There was an additional advantage. Cambodia’s unflinching support for China’s regional foreign policy meant Beijing’s support and that of its friends and allies was a given. Its main competition was Bhutan – enormously popular but a diplomatic minnow even when compared with the likes of Cambodia. A required two-thirds majority from the General Assembly seemed assured.

But it was not to be. Outside countries and civil society groups – incensed by Cambodia’s human rights record – objected. The entourage who accompanied the Secretary General Ban ki-Moon to Cambodia in 2010, when Prime Minister Hun Sen apparently made some stunning faux pars, was also determined.

The net result was South Korea made a late bid and won.

Of those most opposed to Cambodia’s bid, Baroness Glenys Kinnock – a member of British House of Lords and the Global Witness advisory board – was perhaps the most cutting. Writing in the New York Times, she said Cambodia alongside other “state-looting dictators” should not be running at all.

“Cambodia is in the grip of an unprecedented land-grabbing crisis as an increasingly confident and insatiable elite helps itself to pretty much any natural resource it wants, ignoring its own laws and bulldozing local communities and dissenters out of the way,” she said.

 Kinnock reserved most of her criticism for Hun Sen, adding: “It is tempting to describe what is happening as a descent into chaos. It is not chaos: It’s the systematic capture of the state and its resources and the elimination of free speech by a profoundly corrupt regime, and it can be stopped.”

 Such criticisms are becoming all too common. But more disturbing was the government’s response to Kinnock, which would have failed to pass muster even in an elementary primary school debate.

 Kuoy Kong, spokesperson and Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was charged with writing back and included such pearls of wisdom as: "Do you really believe a nation could get out of poverty by selling weaving baskets to tourists?"

 Kong continued: "You should know also that the billions of dollars of aid which came in Cambodia went the most part to feed the army of NGOs, including the one you are now sitting on the advisory board and enjoying its perks and writing this article on its behalf in your comfortable sofa in London, and drinking cappuccino, if not martini. And you are talking about poverty in Cambodia. Please.”

 Throughout the response it becomes clear that Cambodia can do with a bit more help. Its criticisms of Kinnock – whose arguments were based on undisputed facts -- were little more than childish tantrums.

Instead the authorities in Phnom Penh might be better off following the General Assembly’s lead and take a good hard look at themselves.

 None of the three bidding countries gained the required 128 votes from the assembly for victory. South Korea secured 116 votes and Cambodia scored 62, well ahead of Bhutan which was dropped from the second round of voting.

 South Korea then won easily with 149 votes leaving Cambodia to lick its wounds with just 43 votes, devastatingly short of the promises and expectations raised through Cambodia’s relations with China and other members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) who also promised votes.

As a measure of Chinese influence, and of what diplomats really think of Cambodia, this vote was telling.

Chinese influence is not what it claims to be but, more importantly, Cambodia was judged by the heavy-handed tactics too often deployed by the authorities to ensure the whims of the moneyed elites and the designs of big corporations are met while silencing dissent.

If Cambodia fails to deal coherently and meaningfully with this issue then it should expect to see its place on the international stage further marginalized and any future overtures for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council rebuffed in equal measure. Read more!

Monday, October 22, 2012

U.S. Leads Naval Exercises In Cambodia

PHNOM PENH: Members of the United States Navy aboard the USS Vandegrift will join the Royal Cambodian Navy to conduct an exercise from Oct. 22-26 in Cambodia’s Sihanoukville in order to boost naval cooperation, according to a press release from the U.S. Embassy to Cambodia on Saturday.

The third Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Cambodia exercise will focus on enhancing maritime security skills through activities such as maritime interdiction, diving and salvage operations, maneuvering, and disaster response, the press release said.

In addition, the five-day exercise aims to increase cooperation, promote understanding, and build trust between the U.S. and Cambodian navies through sports and social events.

In 2010, Cambodia participated in the CARAT exercise for the first time. Other CARAT participants include Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, and Timor-Leste, the press release said. Since 1995, CARAT exercises have taken place on an annual basis in the Southeast Asia region. . Read more!

Royal faux pas sparks Cambodian factory unrest

PHNOM PENH — Police in Cambodia were called in on Monday to prevent a riot at a factory whose Chinese manager angered 1,000 workers by ripping up photos of recently deceased former king Norodom Sihanouk.

Police handcuffed Wang Zia Cha, manager of the Top World factory in Phnom Penh, and escorted her to the nearest makeshift shrine honouring Sihanouk where she lit incense and knelt down as employees looked on.

"The workers were very angry with her. If we hadn't stepped in on time, the situation could have turned serious," said Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Sovann.

Wang will remain in detention as authorities investigate whether she broke the law, he said. Unlike neighbouring Thailand, Cambodia does not have specific legislation against insulting the monarchy.

The incident happened after some employees at the factory stopped work to gather around two pictures of Sihanouk.

"When the Chinese lady saw the pictures, she grabbed them... she tried to tear the photos, but she was unable to and she used scissors to cut them," factory employee Sroy Phalla, 42, told AFP.

 Top World said staff had been given the day off after the "regretful" incident and Wang had been removed from her role as chief of a production unit.

Sihanouk, who steered Cambodia through decades marked by independence from France, civil war, the murderous Khmer Rouge regime and finally peace, died of a heart attack on October 15 aged 89. Read more!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Scott Neeson left Hollywood to save children rooting in Cambodia's garbage dumps

He sold his mansion, Porsche, and yacht and set off for Cambodia to provide food, shelter, and education to destitute children.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Scott Neeson's final epiphany came one day in June 2004. The high-powered Hollywood executive stood, ankle deep in trash, at the sprawling landfill of Stung Meanchey, a poor shantytown in Cambodia's capital.

In a haze of toxic fumes and burning waste, swarms of Phnom Penh's most destitute were rooting through refuse, jostling for scraps of recyclables in newly dumped loads of rubbish. They earned 4,000 riel ($1) a day – if they were lucky.

Many of the garbage sorters were young children. Covered in filthy rags, they were scruffy, sickly, and sad.

Clasped to Mr. Neeson's ear was his cellphone. Calling the movie mogul from a US airport, a Hollywood superstar's agent was complaining bitterly about inadequate in-flight entertainment on a private jet that Sony Pictures Entertainment, where Neeson was head of overseas theatrical releases, had provided for his client.

Neeson overheard the actor griping in the background. " 'My life wasn't meant to be this difficult.' Those were his exact words," Neeson says. "I was standing there in that humid, stinking garbage dump with children sick with typhoid, and this guy was refusing to get on a Gulfstream IV because he couldn't find a specific item onboard," he recalls. "If I ever wanted validation I was doing the right thing, this was it."

. And here is the rest of it.
Doing the right thing meant turning his back on a successful career in the movie business, with his $1 million salary. Instead, he would dedicate himself full time to a new mission: to save hundreds of the poorest children in one of the world's poorest countries.

Much to everyone's surprise, within months the Australian native, who as president of 20th Century Fox International had overseen the global success of block-busters like "Titanic," "Braveheart," and "Die Another Day," quit Hollywood. He sold his mansion in Los Angeles and held a garage sale for "all the useless stuff I owned." He sold off his Porsche and yacht, too.

His sole focus would now be his charity, the Cambodian Children's Fund, which he had set up the previous year after coming face to face, while on vacation in Cambodia, with children living at the garbage dump.

"The perks in Hollywood were good – limos, private jets, gorgeous girlfriends, going to the Academy Awards," says Neeson, an affable man with careworn features and a toothy smile. "But it's not about what lifestyle I'd enjoy more when I can make life better for hundreds of children."

He sits at his desk barefoot, Cambodian-style, in white canvas pants and a T-shirt. At times he even sounds like a Buddhist monk. "You've got to take the ego out of it," he says. "One person's self-indulgence versus the needs of hundreds of children, that's the moral equation."

On the walls of his office, next to movie posters signed by Hollywood stars, are before-and-after pictures of Cambodian children. Each pair tells a Cinderella story: A little ragamuffin, standing or squatting in rubbish, transforms in a later shot into a beaming, healthy child in a crisp school uniform.

Neeson has more than 1,300 sets of such pictures; that's how many children his charity looks after. Every one of the children, the Australian humanitarian stresses, he knows by sight, and most of them by name. "You go through a certain journey with them," he says.

Houy and Heang were among the first who started that journey with him in 2004. Abandoned by their parents, the two sisters, now 17 and 18, lived at the dump in a makeshift tent.

"We felt sick and had no shoes. Our feet hurt," Houy recalls in the fluent English she's learned. "We'd never seen a foreigner," Heang adds. "He asked us, 'Do you want to study?' "

Today the sisters are about to graduate from high school. They want to go on to college.
Neeson maintains four residential homes around town for more than 500 other deprived children and is building another. He operates after-school programs and vocational training centers. He's built day cares and nurseries.

His charity provides some 500 children with three meals a day and runs a bakery where disadvantaged youths learn marketable skills while making nutrient-rich pastry for the poorest kids. It pays for well over 1,000 children's schooling and organizes sightseeing trips and sports days for them.

"I drive the staff crazy," says Neeson, who employs more than 300 locals, many of them former scavengers. "If I come up with a plan, I want to see it implemented within 48 hours. If I see a need, I want to do something about it. You don't want to see suffering prolonged."
He sees plenty of both need and suffering.

After decades of genocide and civil war, millions of Cambodians live in abject poverty. Many children are chronically malnourished, and many never even finish primary school.

On a late afternoon, as garbage pickers begin to return to their squalid dwellings of plastic sheets, tarpaulins, and plywood, Neeson sets out on his daily "Pied Piper routine."

Navigating a muddy path, pocked with fetid puddles and strewn with trash, which winds among clusters of derelict shacks and mounds of garbage, he picks his way around a squatters' community. Everywhere he goes, children dash up to him with cries of "Papa! Papa!" They leap into his arms, pull at his shirt, cling to his arms, wrap themselves around his legs.

"Hey, champ!" he greets a boy who clambers up on him. "He needs a dentist so badly," he notes, referring to the boy's rotten teeth. His charity offers free health care and dental services to the children and their parents.

In 2007 Neeson won the Harvard School of Public Health's Q Prize, an award created by music legend Quincy Jones. In June he was named "a hero of philanthropy" by Forbes magazine. ("Well, I finally made it into Forbes," he quips. "But no 'World's Richest' list for me.")

When Neeson spots certain kids, he hands them their portraits from a sheaf of newly printed photographs he carries around.

"I want them to have mementoes of themselves when they grow up and leave all this behind," he explains. They give him their latest drawings in return.

He stops at a windowless cinder-block shanty inhabited by a mother and her three teenage daughters. The bare walls are adorned with Neeson's portraits of the girls in school beside their framed Best Student awards.

"I'm so proud of my children," says Um Somalin, a garment factory worker who earns $2 a day. "Mr. Scott has done wonders for them."

Neeson rescued one girl from being trafficked, another from domestic servitude, and the mother from a rubber plantation, after he had come across the youngest girl living alone at the dump. "We always bring the family back together," he says. "We help everyone so no one slips through the cracks."
The need is great: Life here can be unforgiving. "This girl has an abusive father. This one here fell into a fire when she was 6. That guy got shot. That one there lost an arm in an accident," Neeson says, reeling off details.

Then, flashlight in hand, he doubles back down another path – and steps into what seems like a different world. Behind a high-security fence, children sit in neat rows in brightly painted classrooms, learning English and math in evening classes. Others play on computers in an air-conditioned room.

Until recently, the site where Neeson's new school now stands was a garbage dump.
"When I started working for him, I was surprised how much he does for the children," says Chek Sarath, one of his helpers. "He places their well-being above his own."

Neeson stops by young children who have their eyes glued to a Disney cartoon playing from a DVD.
"I miss a lot about Hollywood," Neeson muses. "I miss Sundays playing paddle tennis on the beach with friends and taking the boat out to the islands.

"Sundays here, I'm down at the garbage dump. But I'm really happy."
• Learn more about Scott Neeson's work at www.cambodianchildrensfund.org.

Donate / get involved

UniversalGiving helps people give to and volunteer for top-performing charitable organizations worldwide. Projects are vetted by UniversalGiving; 100 percent of each donation goes directly to the listed cause.

To support programs in Cambodia and elsewhere, UniversalGiving recommends:
Asia America Initiative builds peace, social justice, and economic development in impoverished, conflict-plagued communities. Project: Support a healing center for child victims of war.

Globe Aware promotes cultural awareness and sustainability. It seeks projects that will help people live happy, healthy, and independent lives. Project: Teach English in Cambodia.

Plan International USA works side by side with communities in 50 developing countries to end the cycle of poverty for children. Project: Give school supplies to children in need.

• Sign up to receive a weekly selection of practical and inspiring Change Agent articles by clicking here.
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Cambodian prince quits polictic for the second time

PHNOM PENH, Aug 10, 2012 (AFP) - Cambodian Prince Norodom Ranariddh on Friday announced that he was quitting politics for a second time after he was perceived as an obstacle to a merger between royalist parties.Norodom-Ranariddh

The son of beloved former king Norodom Sihanouk agreed in May to combine his eponymous Norodom Ranariddh Party with Funcinpec in a bid to reinvigorate the royalist movement ahead of next year's general elections.

"I would like to announce, from now on, that I stop doing politics and will not take responsibility for any work and decisions made by the Norodom Ranariddh Party any more," Ranariddh said in a statement.

The prince did not provide the motive behind his decision to leave politics but it comes after senior officials from both parties accused him of standing in the way of a smooth merger, in an apparent clash of personalities.

Ranariddh was ejected from Funcinpec in 2006 for alleged fraud involving the illegal sale of the party's headquarters. He formed his own party shortly afterwards.

The prince was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in jail over the charges the following year and quit politics in late 2008 after receiving a royal pardon.

He returned to the political scene in late 2010, vowing to re-unite the royalists.

The prince's political career began with great promise when, in 1993 as head of Funcinpec, he won Cambodia's UN-sponsored election.

But he was forced to accept a co-prime mini

ster -- the current premier Hun Sen -- who then ousted him in a bloody coup in 1997.
Read more!

Cambodia’s Hun Sen Has a Secret Plan

By James Hookway

Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen says he has a “secret strategy” to prevent his Southeast Asian nation from being dominated by its much larger neighbors: casinos.

In a five-hour, 20 minute address to Cambodia’s parliament Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen explained that his plans to turn this country of 15 million people into a global gaming hub is in fact part of a longer-term strategy to prevent neighbors such as Vietnam and Thailand from encroaching on Cambodian turf.

Border disputes are a recurring problem in the region, with Thai and Cambodian troops occasionally locking horns in Cambodia’s east. A contentious border demarcation process with Vietnam is still under way, and Mr. Hun Sen’s opponents have accused him of giving away territory to regional rivals, especially Vietnam, in the past. But on Thursday he took them to task.

“I don’t like casinos, but the biggest goal for giving permission to build casinos is to protect the border,” Mr. Hun Sen, 61 years old, told lawmakers in a marathon address, which was estimated by aides to be his longest yet. The predominantly Buddhist country now has more than 25 casinos, with more gaming tables on the way. “One can remove border markers, but one can’t remove five-storey hotels. Don’t be stupid.”
Worse, Mr. Hun Sen said, his critics had forced him to reveal his clandestine security plan. “This should be a secret strategy to protect the nation,” Asia’s longest-serving leader barked in his televised speech, which was mandatory viewing for civil servants, who watched their leader speak without breaks or taking questions.

It’s unclear how firmly Mr. Hun Sen’s tongue was planted in his cheek. His long and often rambling speeches frequently invite comparison with other long-winded leaders, such as Fidel Castro or Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, and he often upbraids erring ministers on live television.

Earlier this year, he also lashed out at foreign correspondents for daring to suggest that Cambodia might use its role as host of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year to prevent the trade and security-bloc from taking a common stand against one of Cambodia’s main allies, China.

“I think he was being facetious” when unveiling his secret casino plan, said Ben Lee, an analyst with Macau-based consultancy iGamix.

It wasn’t immediately possible to reach a Cambodian government spokesman, and Vietnamese government officials didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Cheam Yeap, a member of Mr. Hun Sen’s party in the legislature, said the casino plan “is Prime Minister Hun Sen’s own strategy to protect the border. The prime minister is serious with his speech.”


There has been an extraordinary surge in new casinos opening their doors for business in Cambodia in recent years. Its government is attempting to attract a slice of the gaming money that has made Asia a new global center for the industry, and Cambodia’s borders are lined with casinos catering to Thai and Vietnamese gamblers who are prohibited from gambling in their own countries.

Opponents regularly criticize Mr. Hun Sen for promoting casinos for visitors. Many Cambodians, who are legally barred from gambling, see the joints as morally degrading.

Yet the industry has also created thousands of jobs in a country that is still striving to overcome of the chaos of the 1970s, when the former Maoist Khmer Rouge regime killed or contributed to the deaths of an estimated 2 million people. The country’s casinos range from hard-scrabble affairs in border outposts to palatial buildings in Phnom Penh, such as the riverside NagaWorld resort, which is adding 220 rooms to its existing 500.

The government says gaming generated around $20 million in tax revenues last year, up 25% from the year before, and which is re-invested in health care and education.

Authorities are now eyeing more casino developments in other tourist areas, including the towns of Siem Reap and Sihanoukville as Cambodia hopes to follow in the path of other gaming centers such as Macau, which last year pulled in $33.5 billion in gaming revenue, more than the five times the amount raked in in Las Vegas.

It is unclear how successful Cambodia will be in capturing a larger slice of this market, though squeamishness over the suitability of gaming in a predominantly Buddhist society doesn’t appear to be getting in the way of the country’s longer-term commercial and, possibly, national security goals.
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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cambodia: Violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY
KHM 003 / 0712 / OBS 073
Violations of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly/ Threats
Cambodia
July 30, 2012
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources of the disruption by armed security forces of a training workshop organised jointly by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) on the issue of land rights.
According to the information received, on July 27, 2012, three commune police officers from Patang, as well as one Rattanakiri provincial police officer, the Patang Village Chief, the Patang Commune Chief and the Deputy Commune Chief – one of them carrying an M-16 assault rifle – disrupted a training session on land rights organised jointly by ADHOC and CCHR in Patang village, Patang commune, Rattanakiri province. The officials argued that they were acting upon orders from the provincial authorities, because they had allegedly failed to satisfy notification requirements. It is to be noted however that under Article 3 of the Cambodian 2009 Law on Demonstrations, organisers are exempted from notification requirements for all educational/training activities related to social interests. Notwithstanding this exemption, the CCHR had sent a letter to Patang Village Chief in order to notify him of the upcoming training session..

In order to ensure the physical safety of the attendees, ADHOC and CCHR decided to stop the training session. As the security forces and provincial authorities departed, the Patang Commune Chief accused ADHOC of engaging in “incitement activities”, and the police officers told CCHR staff members that their security would not be guaranteed if they did not leave the area.

 The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the disruption of this training session on the issue of land rights, as well as about the threats directed against ADHOC and CCHR representatives, since they seem to merely aim at hindering their human rights activities. Violations of land and housing rights are widespread and serious in Cambodia. Government harassment and intimidation of villagers, activists and organisations defending these rights are also increasing. The Observatory therefore calls upon the Cambodian authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against these organisations and their members.
Actions requested:
Please write to the Cambodian authorities and ask them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of the members of ADHOC and CCHR, as well as all human rights defenders and their organisations in Cambodia;
ii. Put an end to all acts of harassment against ADHOC and CCHR members as well as against all human rights defenders and their organisations in Cambodia;
iii. Conform with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, and in particular :
- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or in association with others, to promote the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- and Article 12.2 which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”.
iv. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Cambodia.
Addresses:
· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 36 06 66 / 855 23 88 06 24 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh
· Mr. H.E. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice, No 240, Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: 023 364119. Email: moj@cambodia.gov.kh
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 212708. Email: moi@interior.gov.kh
· Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 21 61 44 / + 855 23 21 69 39. Email: mfaicasean@bigpond.com.kh
· Ambassador Mr. Sun Suon, Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74. Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh; cambodge@bluewin.ch
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.
***
Paris-Geneva, July 30, 2012
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
· Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29
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Philippines hits out at Cambodia in China row

MANILA — The Philippines said Tuesday it had summoned Cambodia's ambassador to explain comments he made accusing it and Vietnam of playing "dirty politics" in trying to solve a maritime row with China.

The move appeared to further deepen divisions within the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), more than two weeks after a ministerial meeting hosted by Cambodia ended in disarray over the sea dispute.

Foreign Department spokesman Raul Hernandez said Cambodian ambassador Hos Sereythonh was asked Tuesday to personally explain his comments, but he failed to turn up claiming he was sick.
"We will continue to summon him until he is able to come," Hernandez said in a statement.

. And here is the rest of it.
"We want him to explain what he meant when he stated that the 'inflexible and non-negotiable position of two countries of ASEAN is dirty politics'."

The comments were in a letter Hos sent to the editor of the Philippine Star, one of the country's leading newspapers, on Monday.

In the letter, Hos accused the Philippines and Vietnam of working to "sabotage and hijack the joint communique" during the ASEAN meeting.

Hos argued that the Philippines and Vietnam should not blame Cambodia for ASEAN's failure to issue an end-of-meeting statement spelling concerns in the region, a first in its 45 year history.
Hos accused the two countries of playing "dirty politics".

Hernandez on Tuesday charged that Cambodia, a close ally of China, rejected at least five final drafts of the joint statement that would have addressed the maritime row.

China claims sovereignty over nearly all of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast natural resources.

But ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan, have overlapping claims in the area.

Tensions have escalated this year, with China becoming embroiled in diplomatic rows with the Philippines and Vietnam.

Diplomats had said the Philippines called on its fellow ASEAN members at the Cambodia meeting to support it against China.

Indonesia's foreign minister subsequently launched a mission to save the bloc's 'cohesiveness', resulting in a belated statement affirming commitments to a proposed 'code of conduct' over the South China Sea.

Hos could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Gene analysis connects Cambodian EV-71 to Asian outbreaks

Jul 27, 2012 (CIDRAP News) – A preliminary genetic analysis of enterovirus serotype 71 (EV-71) isolates from Cambodia suggests that the virus is part of ongoing EV-71 outbreaks in Asia and is similar to those in other countries in the region, including Vietnam.

Writing in a ProMED Mail post yesterday, Philippe Buchy, MD, PhD, who heads the virology unit at the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia, wrote that the lab analyzed three randomly selected isolates from patients in different parts of Cambodia over 4 weeks.

Genetic sequencing showed that the viruses aligned with sequences from strains isolated in Vietnam in 2011 and 2012, in Shanghai in 2011 and 2012, and from those in other Asian countries that have been submitted to GenBank. He added that phylogenetic analysis suggests that the EV-71 sequences from Cambodia cluster with EV-71 genotype C4 strains recently isolated in Vietnam and are closely related to those detected in China.

Buchy said further genetic studies continue, but it's useful to know that the strains in Cambodia are part of an ongoing outbreak of hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) across the region, an important consideration given that Cambodia doesn't have enough data to gauge the true case-fatality rate of its EV-71 outbreak.

ProMED Mail is the online reporting system of the International Society for Infectious Diseases.

In a comment accompanying the post, ProMed moderator Craig Pringle, PhD, a virologist and emeritus professor at the University of Warwick in England, proposed that, based on the institute's phylogenetic findings, some of the subgenotypes should be reclassified. This would include designating the C4 subgenotype as a new genotype D, he said.

He said scientists await the results of further isolate analysis, especially of genotype C4 and any possible relation to clinical severity.

In other developments, Beat Richner, MD, founder and head of Kantha Bopha Children's Hospitals in Cambodia—where many of the country's EV-71 patients with encephalitis and severe lung complications were treated—yesterday lashed out for the second time against the World Health Organization (WHO) for statements it made during the outbreak.

He said the WHO statements created panic and gave the impression that steroid treatment made some of the children's conditions worse.

In a letter posted on his Facebook page, he wrote that all 72 children treated at Kantha Bopha had encephalitis, which must be treated with steroids to ease brain swelling. He pointed out that HFMD lesions are a symptom that can be caused by an array of viruses and that the severely ill patients the hospital treated didn't have the lesions.

Richner said the patients' cause of lung destruction in the last 6 hours of their lives still isn't clear.
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US Navy hospital ship provides assistance to Cambodian communities

The United States Navy Military Sealift Command's hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) docked at Cambodia's Sihanoukville Autonomous Port on Sunday in order to provide free medical, dental, veterinary, and engineering assistance to communities.

The ship was greeted by Admiral Tea Vinh, Commander of Cambodian Navy, and Jeff Daigle, US Embassy Charg d'Affaires, as well as other Cambodian senior naval officials.

Speaking at the event, Tea Vinh said that the hospital ship's visit will help strengthen bilateral ties between Cambodia's Navy and the US Navy.

"Moreover, the ship's visit will benefit Cambodian people as its staff will provide free-of-charge medical treatment," he said.

According to a press release from the US Embassy here, the ship has more than 1,200 multi-national military service members and civilians onboard.

The visit is made under the Pacific Partnership Program 2012. Pacific Partnership is US Pacific Fleet's largest annual humanitarian and civic action mission in the Asia-Pacific region that involves coordination amongst host and partner nations, non- government organizations (NGOs), and other international agencies to ensure a synchronized ability to respond to natural disasters, said the press release.

It will stay at the port until August 11. During that period, the Mercy staff will provide free medical services including optometry, dental, pediatrics, and general medicine to locals, it said.

Cambodia first hosted Pacific Partnership in 2010 when over 14, 000 people received free medical services.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

French Architect Tied to Disgraced Chinese Politician Arrives in Beijing

BEIJING -- The French government said on Monday that its diplomats visited a French architect over the weekend after he arrived in Beijing from Cambodia in connection with the case of a disgraced Chinese politician and his wife, but French officials disputed earlier accounts that the Chinese had taken him into custody.

After news media reports on Saturday that the Chinese had taken the architect, Patrick Henri Devillers, 51, into custody, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said that Mr. Devillers was being "housed" in "proper conditions" and that he was not in prison. "He is well; he's in great health," said the spokesman, Bernard Valero.

An official at the French Embassy in Beijing said French diplomats would visit Mr. Devillers again this week. But officials did not specify his whereabouts or say whether he was free to leave China.

  Devillers was one of a group of Westerners friendly with the now-disgraced Chongqing party chief, Bo Xilai, and his wife, Gu Kailai, as they gained greater political standing in China in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Devillers helped lay out a new street grid for the city of Dalian when Mr. Bo was its dynamic mayor, and he later was a business partner with Mr. Bo's wife.

The Chinese couple's downfall began after another Westerner who had been part of their circle, Neil Heywood, was found dead last November in a hotel room in Chongqing. The cause of death was initially ruled to be alcohol poisoning. But in February, Mr. Bo's police chief, Wang Lijun, went to the United States Consulate in Chengdu and revealed that Ms. Gu may have helped arrange Mr. Heywood's murder, drawing international attention to the case and opening a rare window into power struggles within China's top leadership.

The scandal quickly broadened. Mr. Bo, whose populist agenda had already alienated some of the leadership, was stripped of his post amid suggestions that he had an extensive surveillance network that reached the party's top echelon. He has not been seen publicly in months and is believed to be held in Beijing. Ms. Gu is also in custody in connection with Mr. Heywood's case. Mr. Wang has not been seen since he was escorted from the Chengdu consulate.

Mr. Devillers's whereabouts had been a mystery for months, until a reporter for The New York Times found him in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in May. At the time, he said he had no interest in getting involved in the investigation by the Chinese into the Heywood murder.

But he then appeared to become the object of a tug of war between France on one side and Cambodia and China on the other. China is Cambodia's biggest foreign donor, and it enjoys Cambodia's loyalty in many disputes.

On June 13, Mr. Devillers was arrested in Phnom Penh at China's request. Cambodian officials, aware of protests from France, said at the time that they would not send the architect to China without proof of wrongdoing. He was released at the request of China last Tuesday, the Cambodian authorities said, and he boarded a plane for Shanghai the same day.

Before leaving, he made a video for the Cambodian authorities in which he said that he was leaving for China voluntarily and that he would go to Beijing. It showed Mr. Devillers sitting on a couch and answering questions in French from what appeared to be a Cambodian official holding a microphone.

"I reiterate that I'm leaving freely to this destination," he said.

Scott Sayare contributed reporting from Paris.

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Cambodia's construction sector will see a slowdown in 2012

BMI View: We remain convinced that Cambodia's construction sector will see a slowdown in 2012, despite robust growth in project approvals over January and February. Not only do issues such as flood concerns and poor global economic outlook remain pertinent, but we have also seen a marked increase in the number of large-scale projects being delayed by business environment risks. This suggests there is a problem moving project approvals along to the construction phase. As a result, we forecast Cambodia's construction sector to experience a slowdown in 2012 with real growth of 6.6%, down from an estimated 13.7% in 2011. The key developments in Cambodia's infrastructure sector are:

In March 2012, Australian logistics group Toll Group announced that it withdrew from its 30- year concession to operate Cambodia's railway network. Toll Royal Railway, a joint venture (JV) between Cambodia's Royal Group and Toll Group, suspended all railway operations for a year and laid off half of its 120 personnel on a recall basis at the end of March 2012. The JV had secured the concession in mid-2009 and was part of a plan to revive the country's decrepit railway network, following years of neglect.

In April 2012, Thailand power producer Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding has formed a joint venture (JV) with Cambodian tycoon Ly Yong Phat for the construction of a US$3bn coal-fired power plant in the province of Koh Kong. This JV agreement comes after Ratchaburi completed a feasibility study for the 1800-megawatt (MW) power plant in February 2012. Besides developing the coal-fired power plant, the JV, named KK Power, is also planning to invest up to US$30mn in transmission lines between the power plant and the Tatay hydropower plant in Koh Kong. KK Power is holding negotiations with Thai officials regarding the tariffs for the coal power plant. Upon completion, the Koh Kong project will be the largest power plant in Cambodia.

In April 2012, Heng Development announced that it is planning to spend around US$200mn on a water treatment project in Cambodia, in a joint venture (JV) with China CAMC Engineering and BIG International. Heng Development is to own a 30% in the JV, while China CAMC Engineering and BIG International would hold a 50% and 20% stake, respectively. CAMC and BIG have been carrying out research in coastal areas, Battambang, Kampong Cham and Kandal province.

The price of this market report covers 4 quarterly reports on this sector. This quarterly report will be downloadable instantly as a PDF document, with the 3 remaining reports delivered at regular intervals throughout the year.
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Frenchman shot and killed in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — A Frenchman living in the Cambodian capital has been shot and killed in what police suspect was a botched robbery or a crime of passion.

Police say 43-year-old Franck Mathieu was shot early Tuesday while riding his motorcycle in Phnom Penh. He later died in hospital.

District police chief Houth Chan Yaran says police are searching for three suspected attackers and investigating Mathieu's Cambodian girlfriend.

The website for Cambodia's Deum Ampil newspaper quoted Mathieu's 20-year-old girlfriend as saying they had lived together several months. She said she discovered his body in the street as she returned home from a market.

A witness told the website he saw three attackers attempt to rob Mathieu. One of them shot Mathieu who refused to hand over what appeared to be a mobile phone.

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Cambodia's Banking Sees 31 pct Lending Growth

Loan demands from Cambodia's banking industry had surged by 31 percent in the last twelve months thanks to the growing business activities in trade, real estate, agriculture and manufacturing, a central bank's senior official said Tuesday.

As of June 2012, the kingdom's 32 commercial banks had lent a total of 4.92 billion U.S. dollars, an increase of 31 percent from 3.75 billion U.S. dollars at the end of June last year, Nguon Sokha, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC), said, citing the NBC's data.

She said that 32 percent of the loan went to trade, 16 percent to real estate, construction and mortgage, 10 percent to agriculture, 9 percent to manufacturing, and the rest went to tourism and services sector.

In terms of deposit, she said, the customers' deposits at the banks had reached 5.64 billion U.S. dollars by the end of June this year, up 23 percent from 4.58 billion U.S. dollars in last June.

"Generally, loan demand has increased in all sectors that reflect better business environment in the country," she said, adding that the banking industry in the last twelve months was very healthy.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cambodian govt critic faces trial

PHNOM PENH — Human rights campaigners on Tuesday called for the release of a Cambodian radio station owner and prominent government critic who faces up to 30 years in prison for an alleged secessionist plot.

Mam Sonando could face a maximum of 30 years in prison if he is convicted of all the charges (AFP/File, Hoang Dinh Nam

Mam Sonando, owner of the independent Beehive station, was arrested on Sunday on charges including insurrection, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, and inciting people to take up weapons against state, his lawyer Sok Sam Oeun told AFP.

He has been accused of masterminding a plot to establish an autonomous region in eastern Kratie province, the scene of violent land rights protests. A teenage girl was shot dead there in May when security forces clashed with demonstrators.
Sonando, the 71-year-old president of campaign group the Association of Democrats, has dismissed the accusations.

If convicted on all charges he could face a maximum of 30 years in prison, according to his lawyer.
He was arrested previously in 2003 and 2005 for his political activities and defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen's government.

The 60-year-old strongman has ruled Cambodia since 1985 and has vowed to remain in power until he is 90 years old.

Sonando's detention came just two days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concluded an official visit to Cambodia. He was placed in pretrial detention on Monday afternoon, according to his lawyer.

"Sonando's arrest on the heels of Clinton's visit is a brazen signal that Hun Sen thinks that the US wants his cooperation on other matters so much that he isn't afraid to lower the boom on his critics," said Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 22 local rights groups, also urged the authorities to immediately free Sonando so as "to save the country's reputation", saying his arrest lacked legal grounds.

Activists say land conflicts are Cambodia's most pressing human rights issue. Protests have intensified this year and campaigners say the authorities are increasingly cracking down on dissent.
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Cambodian broadcaster detained on insurrection charges

Radio journalist Mam Sonando, seen here with police in court in 2005, was charged with anti-state activities on Monday. (Reuters/Chor Sokunthea)

Radio journalist Mam Sonando, seen here with police in court in 2005, was charged with anti-state activities on Monday. (Reuters/Chor Sokunthea)

Bangkok, July 17, 2012--Cambodian authorities should immediately release Mam Sonando, one of the country's leading critical journalists, who has been held since Sunday on anti-state charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

More than 20 officers arrested Mam Sonando, owner, director, and political commentator of Beehive Radio, one of Cambodia's few independent news outlets, at his home in Phnom Penh, the capital, according to news reports. Police questioned him for more than two hours on Monday, and then lodged anti-state charges against him that included insurrection, news reports said. Mam Sonando could face up to 14 years in prison, the reports said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials accused Mam Sonando of orchestrating recent protests in Kratie province in which villagers clashed with security forces over a land dispute with a private Russian company, according to news reports. Tensions surged in May when a 14-year-old girl was killed during a military operation to clear the land for foreign development, reports said. Beehive Radio frequently airs reports on human rights-related issues, including what it called a recent surge in the state-backed seizure of land across the country.

The journalist was denied bail and is being held in Phnom Penh's notoriously overcrowded Prey Sar Prison, according to news reports citing his lawyer.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen has a well-worn history of leveling unsubstantiated anti-state charges against journalists to stifle criticism of the administration," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative. "The insurrection charges fit a disturbing retaliatory pattern, and authorities must drop them immediately."

Police detained Mam Sonando just days after the conclusion of the high-profile Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Phnom Penh, according to news reports. By Sunday, most top foreign dignitaries and members of the international press had left the country, the reports said.

This marks the third time Mam Sonando has been imprisoned for his reporting, according to CPJ research. In 2005, he was jailed for three months after Hun Sen filed criminal defamation charges against him over a Beehive Radio broadcast on territorial concessions the government planned to make to Vietnam. In 2003, the journalist was jailed after being charged with inciting riots after broadcasting news of the anti-Thai rioting in Phnom Penh.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

ASEAN Members Fail to Draft South China Sea Statement

PHNOM PENH — Southeast Asian ministers have failed to reach a common position on the maritime dispute involving the South China Sea. Senior officials emerged from a forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, unable to reach their goal of hammering out a joint statement representing the members’ views on the issue.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, center, and Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba shake hands before their trilateral meeting during the ASEAN Regional forum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 12, 2012.


ASEAN foreign ministers have been attempting all week to craft a statement summarizing its members' position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. But when senior ministers emerged from the Asean Regional Forum Thursday - the pinnacle of this week’s meetings - disappointment was evident.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said it was “irresponsible” that ASEAN nations have not come up with a common statement.

“Whenever there are incidents, that’s actually the moment that we should reinforce our efforts, not be grinding to a halt," said Natalegawa. "This time last year we had a similar problem between Cambodia and Thailand - it was a more direct intra-ASEAN conflict, but it was not impossible to find a solution within ASEAN. And in this instance it’s, I find it perplexing, and to be candid and honest, really, really disappointing.”
Four ASEAN members - Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam - claim overlapping parts of the South China Sea. China claims almost all of the sea and there have been frequent confrontations over the region. A decade ago, ASEAN and China agreed to work together to develop a code of conduct of operations in the sea. But China wants to settle territorial disputes with individual nations, not the bloc as a whole.

Earlier this week, ASEAN members said they had agreed in principle on “key elements” of a code, and would approach China about opening negotiations.

Late Thursday, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan indicated there is a chance of some sort of agreement on a statement by the end of the week. He downplayed the setback.

“But I think all the dialogue partners, all the major powers are still supporting and expecting ASEAN to take the leading role," said Pitsuwan. "In that sense I think they will have to give the space for ASEAN to move in the direction of constructive and positive and contributing to the process. This time it’s a hiccup within the ASEAN group. We could not find one common position on just one issue. The rest is O.K.”

Coming into this week’s meetings, analysts predicted tensions about the South China Sea would form a major part of discussions here.

This week also saw a dispute emerge beyond ASEAN’s boundaries. Japan lodged a formal protest with China, after Chinese vessels approached a group of small islands that Japan controls, but China claims.

This week’s meetings conclude on Friday. A leaders’ summit is scheduled for November.
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ASEAN Talks Focus on S. China Sea Disputes

PHNOM PENH — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined senior South East Asian officials for high-level discussions in Cambodia Thursday. Ministers attending the Association of South East Asian Nations’ meetings have sought to downplay friction between member states and China all week. Yet, behind the scenes, simmering tensions from maritime disputes continue to contrast with the ministers’ public assurances of mutual cooperation.

 
 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, left, listens to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, right, during their meeting at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 12, 2012.


Coming into this week’s meetings, analysts predicted tensions about the South China Sea would form a major part of discussions here. That dispute puts four ASEAN nations with competing territorial claims up against China, which claims most of the body of water.

But this week saw more controversies emerge, beyond ASEAN’s boundaries. Japan announced it had launched a formal protest with China, after Chinese vessels approached the Senkaku Islands, a set of remote islands claimed by both countries.

 Both Japan and China are dialogue partners-not full members of ASEAN. But the issue still came up during bilateral discussions this week.

"In light of the historical facts and on the basis of historical law, there is no doubt that the Senkaku islands are an ancient territory of Japan. Furthermore, Japan has maintained valid control over the islands,” said Naoko Saiki, spokeswoman for Japan’s foreign minister.

In a statement this week, the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh confirmed that Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi met with Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba on the sidelines of the ASEAN meetings. The statement says Yang stressed that the Diaoyu Islands, as they are known in China, “have always been China’s territory since ancient times, over which China has indisputable sovereignty.”

Publicly, of course, both countries have said they will not let the dispute cloud their relations.

But for the Philippines, an ASEAN member that has tried to advance South China Sea discussions all week, it is another worrisome maritime controversy involving China. On Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario drew a parallel between the Senkaku controversy and China’s role in the South China Sea dispute.

“It looks like they’re becoming more aggressive every day,” Del Rosario said.

This week’s ASEAN meetings are to conclude Friday.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mystery Cambodia Disease Solved, Reportedly Exacerbated by Inappropriate Steroid Use

The mysterious illness that killed more than 60 Cambodian children has been determined, according to medical doctors familiar with the investigation.

The World Health Organization and the Cambodian Ministry of Health concluded that a combination of disease-causing micro-organisms is to blame for the illness, according to CNN reports.

Officials from the WHO investigating the outbreak have concluded that the pathogens associated with the illness, which quickly destroys the lungs of its victims, is a combination of enterovirus 71 or "hand, foot and mouth disease", streptococcus suis, which can lead to bacterial meningitis in people who have close contact with pigs or with pork products, and dengue fever which is transmitted by mosquitos.

WHO also found that steroids, which are used to help patients by suppressing their immune system, actually worsened the illness in most of the patients, sources told CNN.

While not all the pathogenic microorganisms were found in all patients, doctors concluded that the illness was caused by their combination and exacerbated by inappropriate steroid use.
CNN reported that sources did not want to be identified because the results of the WHO investigation have not yet been released to the public. However the health organization is expected to announce shortly that area healthcare workers refrain from treating patients who exhibit symptoms of the illness with steroids. Symptoms of the illness include severe fever, brain swelling, and difficulty breathing.

Health experts are worried that disease rates will spike because Cambodia is currently in its rainy season which is usually accompanied by an increase in the mosquito population and inadequate sanitation.

In the past four months, Cambodian doctors have been stumped with the mysterious disease that kills children so fast that nearly all those infected die within a day or two of being admitted to hospital.

Dr. Beat Richner, head of the children's hospitals in Phnom Penh, which cared for 66 patients affected by the illness, 64 of whom died, said that no new cases of the illness had been confirmed since Saturday, according to CNN. 

Most children who have contracted the mystery disease have come from southern Cambodia, but health officials are still investigating the location of the cluster, a specific area in the country where a lot of cases are coming from.
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Clinton Meets With Asean States Ahead of Regional Forum

“I understand that Asean faces a variety of challenges and even growing pains as it adapts and takes on new responsibilities.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton opened a US-Asean ministerial meeting in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, as international foreign ministers gather for a major regional security forum to open Thursday.


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with US Ambassador to
 Cambodia William E. Todd upon arriving in Phnom Penh on Wednesday.
 Clinton touched down Wednesday between monsoon rainstorms. She delivered an address ahead of her meeting, saying she “strongly” supports Asean. The US has recently undertaken more engagement in Southeast Asia, where China’s influence continues to grow.

“I understand that Asean faces a variety of challenges and even growing pains as it adapts and takes on new responsibilities,” she said. “But I believe Asean plays an indispensable role in holding this region’s institutional architecture together and in advancing the common interest of all stakeholders in the Asia Pacific.

Many of those stakeholders have been meeting all week to try to reach an agreement on a code of conduct for the South China Sea, where overlapping claims by China, Vietnam and the Philippines are a major security issue for Asean. Read more!