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Friday, July 27, 2007

Finland Provides 2 M USD For Cambodia to Improve Its Land Registration

By Candy Chabada

Finland has donated about 2 million US dollars for Cambodia to improve its land registration, said officials to Xinhua on 21 July.
Mean Chanvanny, a chief of Cabinet of Ministers said that the fund will be used by Ministry of Urbanization and Construction to adopt modern information technology, to strengthen public awareness and to increase community participation in the sector of land registration.

Chhun Lim, a Minister of Urbanization and Construction said that Finland has been helping Cambodia handle the land registration. From the year 2002 up until the year 2007, it has been providing about 3.5 million US dollars for Cambodia to improve its land registration. Read more!

Cambodia: World Bank Approves $36.25 Million Grant for Commune/Sangkat Development and Improved Local Governance

In Bangkok: Pichaya Fitts
In Phnom Penh: Bou Saroeun
In Washington: Mohamad Al-Arief at
(202) 458-5964

Phnom Penh, July 26 — Today, the World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors reaffirmed its support for Cambodia’s decentralization to the communes/sangkats and related local governance reforms, by approving a $36.25 million grant in additional financing for the Rural Investment and Local Governance Project (RILGP), as a supplement to the original RILGP which provided $22 million during 2003 - 2007.

The additional financing aims to expand the project support from the current 15 to 23 provinces, provide continuing financing for an additional three years from 2007 – 2009 to the intergovernmental fiscal transfer, the Commune/Sangkat Fund, and facilitate an accelerated increase in the amount of the overall intergovernmental fiscal transfer and related commune allocations.

The World Bank’s Country Assistance Strategy for Cambodia 2005 - 2008, endorsed by the Board in May 2005, recognizes governance issues as the primary obstacle to growth, poverty reduction, and aid effectiveness, and supports decentralization as a means to improve local governance and accountability. Through the RILGP – Additional Financing, the Bank will continue to support decentralized and participatory local governance systems and provision of priority public goods and infrastructure at the commune/sangkat level.

Mr. Ian Porter, World Bank Country Director, said, “While RILGP and RILGP-Additional Financing fund specific investments at the commune level, the institutional arrangements, procedures and funds flow are integrated as much as possible into the government’s own structures and systems. This has helped to build capacity directly within government institutions, strengthen government systems, and thus create a strong basis for sustainability and scaling-up of development impacts.”

H.E. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Mister of Interior said, “The Royal Government of Cambodia very much welcomes and appreciates the support of the World Bank to rural development and poverty reduction efforts through the provision of priority infrastructure and public goods at the commune level, and strengthening of the decentralized participatory local governance system, under the Royal Government’s Strategic Framework for Decentralization and Deconcentration Reforms. In particular, the Bank’s support of Commune/Sangkat Fund through RILGP Additional Financing is very important, since it provides ongoing support to the Royal Government’s own intergovernmental fiscal transfer system, and will allow an increase in allocations of development funding to the communes over the coming 3 years.”

Ms. Nisha Agrawal, Country Manager for Cambodia said that the RILGP-Additional Financing is also aiding in harmonization and alignment of development partner support. “The Royal Government will use part of the additional grant to support development of a National Decentralization and Deconcentration Program, which will elaborate the implementation details for the National Strategic Framework for Decentlization and Deconcentration Reforms and will help to provide a better foundation for coordinated donor support in future,” she said.

The Bank Board’s approval of the additional financing for RILG is the first for Cambodia under the Bank’s policy, adopted on May 19, 2005, which enables the Bank to provide additional financing in the context of ongoing, well-performing projects, such as RILGP, to scale up the project’s impact and development effectiveness. This approval follows the recent Board approval of a $15 million grant for the Poverty Reduction Growth Operation (PRGO).

For more information on the World Bank and its work in Cambodia, please visit:
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'They planned to kill me - but I survived'

Cambodia's Ray Charles lookalike endured serious hardships. Jon Lusk on the man who escaped the Khmer Rouge

Friday July 27, 2007

With his legs folded under him as he sits on the floor, Kong Nay seems a frail figure, dwarfed by the large banjo-like instrument he holds. There's a flash of gold fillings in his smile, and when he sings, the voice of a much stronger man jumps out, answering the call of his strings.
This 61-year-old Cambodian is a master of the chapei dong veng, an ancient long-necked guitar with two strings thought to have arrived in Cambodia with the Buddhist faith nearly two millennia ago. Kong's penetrating, nasal wail closely follows or spars with the simple and often melancholic tunes he plunks out on the nylon strings of the instrument. The dark glasses that mask his heavily pock-marked face and sightless eyes have earned him the nickname of "the Ray Charles of Cambodia", but the two artists have rather different stories.

"I'm so excited and honoured that they compare me to him. But at the same time I'm not very happy with myself because the American Ray Charles was so rich and I'm so poor," he chuckles.

meet Kong on his first day in the UK, where he is touring with his 21-year-old protege Ouch Savy to promote their joint debut album, Mekong Delta Blues. Kong admits he doesn't really know what the blues are - not the musical kind, anyway. But the superficial resemblance of his music to the African-American form, and the tough life he's lived do more than justify the title.

Born in the southern Cambodian province of Kampot, Kong was blinded by smallpox at the age of four, and as a boy fell in love with the sound of the chapei. "I felt it was something that I should learn, something that would give me a good life in the future," he recalls.

His family was too poor to afford one, though, and for five years he sang and mimicked the chapei vocally, until his father finally bought him an old one. At 13, he began to take lessons from an uncle, mastering the basic repertoire within only two years. He then began playing professionally, improvising on traditional folk songs by spontaneously spinning stories like a hip-hopper, tailoring them to each audience.

"At 18 I met my wife [Tat Chhan] and we started our life together, depending on chapei. We managed to earn a good living. Not too rich, not too poor, but just good enough to survive, like other people. But when the Khmer Rouge took over, that was a big turning point in my life," he says with characteristic understatement.

In 1975, like millions of other Cambodians, his entire family was deported to a forced labour camp by Pol Pot's genocidal regime. Despite the Khmer Rouge's dislike of artists in particular, they found a use for Kong. "I was forbidden from singing folk tales, or songs that touched on social issues. Instead they told me to sing something that served their propaganda. So during the lunch break, I would sing and play to entertain people."

While most prisoners were given three large spoons of rice per day, Kong and anyone else who was sick or disabled got only one, and starved more rapidly. After two years, they stopped Kong's music altogether and forced him to work. "They planned to kill me. I was on their list. But then the Vietnamese [army] invaded and so I survived." During the bombing that ended the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror, Kong and his wife each lost a brother. Another of Kong's brothers had been executed, but all seven of their children - three born in the camp - miraculously survived.

In 1979, the family returned to their village, where Kong resumed his life as a chapei artist, and they had three more children. In 1991, Kong won a national chapei singing contest in Phnom Penh, and the following year moved there at the invitation of the Cambodian ministry of culture. The salary was poor, but his family - and those of a few other artists who had survived the genocide - were allowed to build homes in the city's Tonle Bassac squatters' community.

Then in 1998, Kong received a young visitor called Arn Chorn-Pond, a former refugee who now lived in the US. He was another survivor of the killing fields, who had been forced take part in atrocities from the age of nine and had returned to Cambodia periodically over the previous decade, trying to make peace with his past. Cambodia had lost around 90% of its artists in the genocide, and Chorn-Pond's family, which had run an opera company, had been particularly hard hit.

"When I came back to Cambodia in 1989, I found nobody here, except one of my sisters," he explains from Phnom Penh, his voice still raw with anguish. "They were all starved to death or killed by the Khmer Rouge - my dad, my mum, my cousin, my nephew, my uncle ... 35 in my family had disappeared."

With Kong Nay and several others, Chorn-Pond founded the Cambodia Master Performers Programme, which soon became Cambodian Living Arts, a charity dedicated to reviving the country's performing arts by helping to lift surviving artists out of poverty and employing them to pass on their skills to the next generation. "It was for me an urgent thing to start this, because I knew that my culture was going down in the next 10, 20, 30 years, if no one did anything about it," he says.

In 2003, Kong began teaching four young students, including Ouch Savy. That same year both he and Chorn-Pond appeared in the harrowing Emmy-nominated film The Flute Player, now being shown before each of his UK performances. When Peter Gabriel saw it, he was so moved that he began donating equipment and expertise to CLA, which led to the recording of Mekong Delta Blues.

Chorn-Pond's vision is of a Cambodian artistic renaissance by 2020, but it won't be easy. The loss of so many artists created a cultural vacuum that has been filled by foreign music, leaving most Cambodian youth hooked on western rap and rock or Chinese pop, and scornful of their own traditions. Government arts funding has been very limited during Cambodia's slow economic recovery, but ironically, Kong and his neighbours are now under pressure to move 20km away as developers eye their inner-city land. He relates this in the song My Life - as close as he's prepared to get to singing about politics these days. Apart from wanting to stay put, what else does he wish for?

"I hope that peace will prevail. There should be no more fighting, no more civil wars, no more conflicts. I am sick and tired of it."

· Kong Nay is playing at Womad, Charlton Park (0845 1461735), until Sunday, then touring.
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Putting the Khmer Rouge on Trial

By Kevin Doyle/Phnom Penh

At 82, Nuon Chea's eyesight is failing and most days he sports large, dark sunglasses. What remains of his white hair is slicked back in strands and though his breath labors painfully at times, he can still sit upright and at full attention for hours when discussing his role in Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime. A former chief lieutenant to leader Pol Pot, Nuon Chea is the highest-ranking Khmer Rouge member still alive — and the key figure in a coming courtroom showdown which international and Cambodian prosecutors hope will hold the remnants of the regime accountable for the estimated 2 million deaths which occurred during their bloody reign in the late 1970s.

It's a trial that has long been coming. After Cambodia appealed for international assistance in setting up a genocide tribunal in 1997, it took another nine years of governmental foot-dragging and tortuous negotiations with the United Nations over the shape and structure of the court before prosecutors and judges were sworn in last July. Since then, the proceedings have encountered months of legal wrangling and administrative delays, leading to concerns that the few surviving Khmer Rouge leaders could die of old age before being brought to justice.

This month, however, seems to mark a point of no return. On July 18, prosecutors submitted the names of five possible suspects to the court's investigating judges. That list has not been released to the public, though it's widely assumed to consist of elderly regime leaders like Nuon Chea, who have lived in quiet retirement since abandoning their movement in the late-1990s after reaching a peace deal with the government.

For his part, Nuon Chea is sure his name is at the top of the list. With the death of Pol Pot in 1998, he admits that he is now "responsible for everything that happened."

"I consider this court a battlefield fight between patriots and invaders. I will not allow anyone defeat me," the former communist revolutionary says, speaking from his small wooden house in Pailin on the Thai border in northwest Cambodia. If called before the court, he plans to explain that the killings were "not a policy" of the regime, a line all former Khmer Rouge leaders have stuck to. Nuon Chea rejects the idea that the fanatical legions of young Maoist rebels he led during the 1970s executed thousands and dumped them in mass graves, or that hundreds of thousands more were worked to death, succumbing to starvation and disease in the countryside after being forced to labor day and night to build the Khmer Rouge's vision of an ideologically pure agrarian society. Publicly he will only say that "mistakes" were made under the Khmer Rouge, and still speaks proudly of his former boss, Pol Pot. He has hinted that the skulls and bones in Cambodia's thousands of mass graves could merely be those of Cambodians killed by U.S. bombing during the civil war of the 1970s or the Vietnamese incursion of 1979.

Nuon Chea is the most outspoken of the former Khmer Rouge leaders; other likely targets of the tribunal have taken a lower key approach. Khieu Samphan, 76, the former Khmer Rouge head of state, lives near Nuon Chea in Pailin but has had little to say on the speculation that he is one of the five defendants. Ieng Sary, 78, the regime's former foreign minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith, 75, the former minister of social affairs, have also avoided the media. A young man who answered the door at their large house in a quiet neighborhood in central Phnom Penh said the couple had recently gone to Bangkok, where they frequently travel for medical treatment. Kang Kek Iev, 63, known as Duch when he headed the S-21 torture center in Phnom Penh where thousands were imprisoned and executed, is the sole regime member in prison. Now a born-again Christian, Duch has been held in pre-trial detention since 1999 after being discovered working for a local humanitarian organization.

With the names of the five suspects now in the hands of the investigating judges, the evidence will be analyzed — prosecutors have submitted 14,000 pages of documentation, including interviews with 350 witnesses — and a decision taken on whom to charge. That could happen as early as January 2008, with the first trials soon after, officials at the tribunal said. All that's needed now is just a little more patience, according to Youk Chhang, Cambodia's foremost researcher on the Khmer Rouge and head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. "This is a lesson we can learn from. Not just for Cambodia, but globally, as genocide seems to happen everywhere now," he says. "It's time for us to solve this and move on."
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