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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

World Bank Grants $70M in Cambodia Aid

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - The World Bank said Tuesday it will give US$70 million (euro51.3 million) to Cambodia to help reduce its widespread poverty in a package that includes a plan to import cheap electricity from the country's neighbors.

Some US$18.5 million (euro13.5 million) will be used to build cross-border transmission lines to Laos and Vietnam to import electricity to Cambodia, the bank said in a statement Tuesday. The project is expected to be completed by August 2011, it said.

The new power lines will connect Kampong Cham province in the east with Vietnam, and Stung Treng province in the northeast with Laos, the bank said in June. The two provinces now have some of highest electricity rates in the world.

Customers in the provinces pay up to US$.30 (euro.22) per kilowatt-hour of electricity. The tariffs are expected to drop to between US$.10 (euro.07) to US$.15 (euro.11) per kilowatt-hour once the transmission lines are operational, the bank said.

The remaining money in the aid package will be used for projects supporting development of the private sector, public financial management, good governance, natural resource management and decentralization of local government, the statement said.

The funds will help "build stronger institutions of governance that will lead to higher growth and faster poverty reduction," Ian Porter, the bank's country director for Cambodia, said in the statement.

Cambodia has achieved double-digit economic growth during the last three years but still remains one of the world's poorest nations.

Donors in June pledged US$689 million (euro501 million) in aid for Cambodia after rapping the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen for failure to combat corruption. The World Bank statement did not say whether the new aid is part of the earlier pledge.

Fraud and corruption in the procurement process led the World Bank in June 2006 to freeze US$7.6 million (euro5.6 million) in funding for several projects in Cambodia. Hun Sen angrily said there was no proof of wrongdoing.

Early this year, the bank lifted the suspensions after it agreed with the government on new frameworks for improving implementation of the projects.
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CAMBODIA: Khmer Krom seek return of defrocked monk

The Khmer Krom Federation is applying international pressure to demand the return to Cambodia of defrocked monk, Tim Sakhorn. The Khmer Krom are a minority group in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam and Cambodia. The former abbott of the Phnom Den pagoda in Cambodia went missing for a month after being defrocked in June for allegedly stirring unrest in Vietnam. He's now facing a charge in Vietnam for entering the country illegally.

Presenter - Sonja Heydeman Speaker - Giap Tran, Treasurer of the Khmer Krom Federation in the US); Director of the Hawaian Institute for Human Rights, Joshua Cooper.

HEYDEMAN: The Director of the Hawaian Institute for Human Rights is concerned for the welfare of Tim Sakhorn.

Joshua Cooper says the Khmer Krom Federation, as well as its alliances of NGO's and activists have been working full-time since the first whisper of the former abbott's disappearance.

COOPER: From the issue of the disrobing which we find was not accurate in any way, to the issue of the deportation, which was also alarming, and then of course to the disappearance. We know that there's actually new international instrument on disappearances, we've actually utilised every international mechanism available from the special rapporteurs focussing on religious freedom to the special rapporteurs on indigenous people. So we've been active so that hopefully it wouldn't come to that level of a story about a sad situation, but more importantly about people standing up for their rights from the beginning.

HEYDEMAN: Joshua Cooper says he believes Tim Sakhorn will be successfully freed.

COOPER: And we believe that through our efforts of organising with our NGO networks as well as academics, and more importantly through the international institutions guaranteed to protect and promote human rights, they will be successful to secure his release.

HEYDEMAN: The Human Rights Institute Director says sources in Vietnam are trying to keep track of the location and condition of Tim Sakhorn.

Mr Cooper says this is not the only case they're watching.

COOPER: The case of the five who had been disrobed and then also faced charges and so I think this is important is that if we hadn't done the groundwork in the last five years these kind of things that are taking place to Khmer people I mean almost for centuries, and definitely in the last decades from the 70s onwards, but no one knew about the Khmer people and their struggle for self-determination. And what we have then is we've taken this case to the International Court of Justice, to the international human rights bodies such as SEDA focussing on women's rights. And so I think that work has made it then more of a story and more people are aware, whereas unfortunately these human rights violations have taken place consistently for a long period of time. The only difference now is the world is watching.

HEYDEMAN: The Director of the Hawaian Institute for Human Rights, Joshua Cooper.

The Treasurer of the Khmer Krom Federation in the US, Giap Tran, says Khmer Krom communities around the world are actively seeking the release of Tim Sakhorn.

Mr Tran says the Vietnamese government has systematically tried to erase the Khmer Krom entirely.

He says part of the dilemma is the lack of global awareness of their plight.

TRAN: Around the world it seems since the French colonised there they ceded the land to Vietnam, since then all the history has been erased and millions of Khmer Krom that be a part of that land that has been buried under Vietnamese regime.

HEYDEMAN: Mr Tran says he feels such a great sense of sadness for his people.

TRAN: Right now what I can feel for them is like a stateless people. When we lived in Vietnam, Vietnamese government never gave any respect as a people, as Vietnamese citizens. They tried to do all kinds of oppression to make Khmer people leave the country. When we left the country to Cambodia, Cambodian government announced that they recognised Khmer Krom as a citizen when we get to Cambodia. But in reality there's no protection, there's no legal mechanism to help us when we're in Cambodia. So when you look into both countries, not willing to recognise us as people, so it's got to be very, very emotional.

HEYDEMAN: Meanwhile, the Hawaian of Institute for Human Rights Director, Joshua Cooper says there needs to be mechanisms in place in the region to promote and protect human rights.

COOPER: The European Court of Human Rights exists, Africa's creating a court and inter-America has a court and a commission. We believe we don't want there to be more Tim Sakhorns and we believe the only way to do that is to build institutions on a regional level that will then take the cultures as well as the global customs and norms into account. So we believe a human rights instrument at the regional level in Asia would be one of those aspects. So we're not just focussing on Tim now, but also for the future for all people who stand up for their human rights.
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