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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Former Khmer Rouge photographer seeks redemption through museum

Tuesday January 23rd, 2007

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - A former chief photographer at a torture centre run by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge wants to set up a museum, featuring pictures of the notorious group's leaders, as his way of apologizing for the death and destruction they caused.

Ngem En, now 47, documented for the Khmer Rouge the thousands taken into Phnom Penh's S-21 prison for torture and eventual execution in the late 1970s. Haunting photos of the victims are the centrepiece of an existing genocide museum at the prison site, also known as Tuol Sleng.

Historians estimate that more than 1.7 million Cambodians died of execution, starvation, overwork and inadequate medical care due to Khmer Rouge policies. Ngem En wants to set up a museum at Anlong Veng, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in northern Cambodia where he now serves as a deputy district chief.

The project would be his "opportunity to apologize to all the victims who have suffered during that era," he said Tuesday. He would exhibit pictures of all Khmer Rouge leaders who ruled Cambodia from 1975-79, including Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Son Sen, he said."

It was these leaders who caused destruction and misery to Cambodia."The project would "let the next generation of Cambodians understand about Pol Pot's cruel regime," he said. Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot died in 1998 but other former leaders of the group are still alive and living freely in Cambodia. Ngem En said he has a collection of photographs he has taken or obtained over the past few decades and that as many as 1,000 pictures could be suitable for display. The project, if realized, could also help the local economy, he said.

The museum would be an added attraction for tourists coming to visit Anlong Veng, where Pol Pot died and the Khmer Rouge movement finally collapsed in 1999. The government has designated Anlong Veng, about 300 kilometres northwest of Phnom Penh, an official historical site. Tourist attractions include the house of Ta Mok, the former Khmer Rouge army chief who died in July last year, and the spot where Pol Pot was cremated. While apologizing for his work as a photographer for the Khmer Rouge, Ngem En said he had no choice if he wanted to survive."I deeply regret it but nobody could help anyone," he said.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, an independent group researching the Khmer Rouge's crimes, said Ngem En's readiness to apologize publicly through his project provides an example to the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders and would help national reconciliation. He said he admires Ngem En's "frankness, courage and initiative" in undertaking a project based on his own work."

He came to us with a bunch of photographs saying that he wanted to tell the history to the public as a Khmer Rouge person," said Youk Chhang, himself a survivor of the regime. Ngem En said he does not know yet how much the project will cost and is looking for interested partners to join in the venture. Read more!

The Chinese Government had signed approval for loan to Cambodia

Cambodian children are in debt for 207 million US. dollars more. Will Cambodia be able to pay back all the Debts or Cambodia will sell its conscience to the Maoist regime like Khmeer Rough? Or will it sell the Kingdom to China to deal with debts?

Officials here on Monday signed an agreement for China to provide 207 million U.S. dollars of loans to Cambodia to develop its infrastructure construction.

Li Jun, Vice President of the China Import-Export Bank, and Cambodian Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhun signed the agreement in the presence of Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jinfeng.

According to a press release issued by the Cambodian Ministry of Economy and Finance, 190 million dollars' worth of preferential buyer's credit loan will go for the construction of National Road No. 8 from Khsach Kandal to the Cambodian-Vietnamese border, the Perek Tamak Bridge, the Prek Kdam Bridge, and the National Road 76 from the junction of National Road No. 7 in Snoul to Sen Monorom District, Mondulkiri Province.

Meanwhile, 17 million dollars of preferential loan will be used for the construction of the Cambodian section of the Greater Mekong Sub-region Information Superhighway.

During the ceremony, Keat Chhun expressed appreciation for China's consistent help, while Li said he expected the loans to contribute more to Cambodia's economic development and the Chinese- Cambodian ties.

Foreign loans have been one of the major economic propellers for the kingdom, which altogether received some 6.2 billion U.S. dollars of various loans from 1922 to 2005, according to official statistics. Read more!

Cambodia reopens Sihanoukville airport

Tue, Jan. 23,200

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - The airport at Sihanoukville, Cambodia's main coastal city, has reopened with hopes high that it will further spur travel and the country's burgeoning tourism industry. A Soviet-made Antonov-24 plane belonging to a locally owned airline company landed at the Sihanoukville airport following an opening ceremony Jan. 13, said Norinda Khek, spokesman for Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports, or SCA, a subsidiary of the French construction group Vinci.

He said the plane flew from Siem Reap province, Cambodia's main tourist hub, and that it carried 11 passengers, who were airline staff flying on the promotional trip. It was the first landing at the airport in the last three years, he added.

The airport had been closed for reconstruction.

The airport, located about 115 miles southwest of the capital Phnom Penh, is expected to serve as the first air link between Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, home to the famous Angkor temples, deputy tourism minister Thong Khon said.

He said he hoped the airport's reopening would encourage tourists to extend their stay to enjoy Cambodia's sandy beaches after touring the temples.

"This is part of our strategy in linking the two tourist destinations," he said, adding that 1.7 million tourists visited Cambodia last year, about a 20 percent increase over 2005.

Tourism has become a major source of income for the cash-strapped Southeast Asian country.
Norinda Khek said that the airport will host only domestic flights because its mile-long runway can accommodate only propeller planes.

But he said the company plans to extend the runway to 1.4 miles to handle jet aircraft by the end of the year. Read more!

Cambodia will claw poachers

BANGKOK, Jan 23 (IPS) - A regional wildlife body is aiming to spread its net wide to trap poachers and illegal loggers, now that a section of Cambodia's nature crime investigators have been armed with new legal tools. A week-long training programme held at Sihanoukville, the main beach resort in that South-east Asian nation, was geared to plug a gap that has long helped major wildlife criminals to get away -- investigations that were too weak to build legal cases.

''Prosecution has always been a problem in Cambodia. There have been very few successful cases,'' Steven Galster, director of field operations at WildAid, the global conservation lobby, told IPS from the site of the training, which ended Tuesday. ‘'We have trained them to set up long-term investigations and to build strong cases to catch the criminals.'' The skills that the 31 Cambodian officers from agencies like the police, the forest department and the customs have acquired are part of a drive by the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) to mount a counter offensive against the region's illegal wildlife trade, a multimillion-dollar industry. ASEAN, which stands for the Association of South-east Asian Nations, is a 10-member bloc that includes Brunei, Burma (or Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. ASEAN-WEN was set up in December 2005.

The need to save Cambodia's wildlife is best captured in the fate of one of its prized predators, the tiger, which is on the verge of extinction. WildAid has also documented other species that have been targeted by poachers, such as pythons, elongated tortoise and pangolins. Other conservation groups like TRAFFIC, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, say that Cambodia's bears, monitor lizards, crocodiles and macaques are as vulnerable to the claws of the poachers. Cambodia's wildlife has become increasingly in demand as ‘'stocks run dry in Vietnam,'' James Compton, TRAFFIC's South-east Asia regional director, said in an interview.

The growing demand from Vietnam and China, neighbouring countries which have been enjoying a long spell of rapid economic growth, has seen the demand for wildlife and wildlife products rise, he said. ‘'(They are used) for traditional medicine, wild meat, pets and private zoos.'' TRAFFIC recently noticed Vietnamese traders on the Vietnam-Cambodian border ‘'commissioning Cambodian poachers to hunt a shopping list of wildlife species,'' Compton revealed. ‘'Wildlife trade is very lucrative and is therefore attracting the business and entrepreneurial community who stand to gain significantly from this trade.''

A study by the World Bank in 2005 offers a glimpse at the profits involved. The wildlife trade in Vietnam in 2002 was estimated at 66.5 million US dollars, the Bank noted in ‘Going, Going, Gone: The Illegal Trade in Wildlife in East Asia and Southeast Asia.' In Indonesia, the study added, an average of over 50 tigers were killed every year from 1998 to 2002. Cambodia's wildlife had been part of this supply chain in the 1970s, too, when the country, caught in a bloody civil war and drawn into the war in Vietnam, came under the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. ‘'By the late 1970s, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge had traded 25 million dollars worth of wild animal parts to the Chinese for weapons and supplies,'' adds the Bank's study. And as Cambodia's small team of rangers working in the country's pristine forests well know, trying to fight the poachers or illegal loggers comes with a high risk, including being attacked by poachers.

In September 2005, for instance, two forest rangers were killed by loggers along the boundary of the Phnom Aurual Wildlife Sanctuary, which lies east of Phnom Penh. A daunting challenge, says the London-based environmental group Global Witness, is one posed by the corruption linked to highly-placed government officials thriving on the illegal logging trade, which has severely depleted the forests. ‘'Wherever there is a forest in Cambodia, there is illegal logging,'' Jon Buckrell, forest policy coordinator at Global Witness, told IPS. ‘'It goes hand-in-hand with systemic corruption. Illegal logging is the preserve of the powerful and well connected -- if you are a poor farmer you cannot simply walk into a forest and start cutting down valuable trees.''

Recent policy decisions by Phnom Penh are expected to worsen this environment, Buckrell said, pointing to new economic land concessions granted ‘'to create plantations'' in natural forest areas. ‘'These permits are illegal and designed to provide a pretext for companies to undertake clear-cutting operations and sell the timber.'' Cambodia's loss of an estimated 2.5 million hectares of forest cover between 1990 and 2005 has even alarmed the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Troubled by the rampant scale of illegal logging in the 1990s, the IMF cancelled a 120 million US-dollar loan. Galster, of WildAid, concedes that corruption will be an issue for the newly trained nature crime investigators, ‘'Corruption is an issue, but half the problem is the lack of skills to deal with the major criminals.'' Read more!

Psychologist seeks to examine 'jungle woman' in Cambodia

Jan. 23,2007

A SPANISH psychologist traveled to see Cambodia's "jungle woman" yesterday to evaluate her condition since she was recently discovered naked and unable to speak after apparently spending nearly two decades alone in the wild. Hector Rifa, a doctor of psychology from Spain's University of Oviedo, said he wanted mainly to make sure the woman was treated properly for what appears to have been a traumatic experience. But it is also possible he may find clues to the woman's true identity - whether she is indeed a local girl who went missing in 1988, as claimed by a family in northeastern Cambodia who has taken her in as their long lost daughter.

Rifa was driving 13 hours yesterday from Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh to meet with the woman in Rattanakiri province's Oyadao district. The family of a village policeman there, Sal Lou, says they are certain the woman is Rochom P'ngieng because of a scar they can recognize on her right arm. The girl disappeared while tending water buffalo when she was eight years old.

With no other evidence supporting the claim, however, her actual identity is a mystery to other people, who speculate that she may just be a troubled person who became lost much more recently in the jungle. In any case, her inability to communicate and evident attempts to escape from the family that has given her shelter indicate she is in a difficult psychological situation."We need to make an evaluation of the situation because until now nobody was taking care" of her, said Rifa, who has been working in Cambodia on health promotion for indigenous people in the province over the past four years for the Spain-based group Psychology Without Borders.

He said he thinks the woman's case may not be anything more extraordinary than that of any other person having difficulty adapting to normal life after being lost in the jungle for an extended period."It is not extraordinary ... or anything coming from another world," he said.

Many villagers believed she may be possessed by a jungle spirit. On Monday, two Cambodian human rights groups expressed fear the woman may be suffering from the spotlight cast on her since she emerged from the wild, and offered to provide any necessary medical and psychiatric treatment. Read more!

EU increasingly impatient with Cambodia over anti-corruption law

Jan 23, 2007, 7:55

Phnom Penh - International donors are increasingly impatient with delays in implementation of a long-awaited anti-corruption law, German Ambassador to Cambodia Pius Fischer said Tuesday.

Fischer, who is the acting European Union (EU) president, called it an important issue for EU policy in Cambodia and could not be sidestepped.

'We strongly advocate the fight against corruption and the early adoption of an anti-corruption law in Cambodia,' he said after addressing a seminar on EU-Cambodian relations in Phnom Penh.

'We cannot debate any longer. For 10 years the royal Cambodian government has discussed a law against corruption. Now is the time to act and implement that law.'

Fischer also warned that implementation was as important as the law itself, and donors would be happy with no less than a politically independent anti-corruption body which can 'locate, integrate and develop cases against corruption.'

Endemic corruption has consistently been cited as a major hurdle to Cambodia's development.
Last November, Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Cambodia at 151 out of 163 countries in its 2006 corruption perceptions index survey.

The group made its ranking on a definition of corruption as 'the abuse of public office for private gain.' Cambodia scored just 2.1 points out of 10, earning it the second lowest position in Asia, ahead of only Myanmar.

Donors have repeatedly threatened to withhold funds from aid-dependent Cambodia if it continues to delay adopting the law. The government promised a new law by the end of last year but later announced that it needed to make changes to the penal code first.

As well as being an important donor to Cambodia, the EU is also a powerful trading partner, ranking as Cambodia's second most-important destination for exports and its sixth leading source of imports, according to 2005 trade statistics, with Germany at the top of the list. Read more!

Hun Sen to allow firms to import oil over borders

Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that he will allow private companies to import gasoline from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam in order to cut down its prices and contain smuggling, local media said on Monday.

The high price of gasoline because of gas smuggling by paying the sum to currupted border authorities. The price of gasoline had been staying high for several months and causing economic harship. The government had lost million dollars in tax.

Hun Sen declared his decision during a meeting at the Council of Ministers here on Friday, after Ministry of Finance and Economy failed to convince the five main gas traders operating in the country to lower their prices, the Cambodian Daily quoted government spokesman and Information Minister Kiheu Kanharith as saying.

"Hun Sen is allowing any company to import lower-priced gasoline to Cambodia. We can not wait for the companies (to lower their prices), or it will be too late," he said.
The five companies are Caltex Cambodian Ltd, Total Cambodge, Sokimex, Kampuchea Tela Co. Ltd, and PTT (Cambodia) Ltd.

They told the paper that the introduction of new traders to import gasoline will not affect the current gasoline price, but it may help combat smuggling. The question is why is not going to affect gas prices? are some of the above gas companies belong to high ranking government officials, may be? or they have to pay some bribe to high ranking officials.

About 30 percent of gasoline price is paid to the government as tax, they added.
The opposition Sam Rainsy Party has been pressing the government in recent months to make efforts to decrease gasoline price in order to benefit the mass.

Cambodia's gas prices are among the highest in the region, almost one U.S. dollar per liter. There is something wrong in somewhere that force the gas price have to be high in order to survive their business. Or may be the Law disorder in Cambodia is good for the looting. Read more!