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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cambodia's Innocence for sale

Ethnic discrimination fuels a vile trade

THE virginity trade can sound as innocuous as the clink of ice in a glass. Roving young women equipped with ice buckets and tongs have long been a fixture of Cambodia's karaoke parlours. Now scores of “ice-pickers” are being groomed to supply a thriving market for virgins.

Capitalising on an influx of foreign visitors, Cambodia has become the region's prime destination for purchasing “unbroken” under-age girls. Among the foreign clientèle, the vast majority are Asian nationals: Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Japanese men who believe that deflowering a virgin will rejuvenate and purify them.

Meeting the demand is a growing number of ethnic Vietnamese—a group historically reviled by the ethnic-Khmer majority, but prized by the visitors for their pale complexions. Though ethnic-Vietnamese are estimated to make up no more than about 5% of Cambodia 's population—the government has never issued official figures—they represent almost one-third of virginity sales, according to “Ties That Bind”, a new study by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Helen Sworn, of the Chab Dai Coalition, a network of Christian anti-trafficking groups, says that some are still trafficked across the border. But most are Cambodian-born daughters of Vietnamese migrants who arrived in the 1980s and 1990s, lured by the prospect of jobs. Many migrants have instead fallen into debt. They suffer discrimination from Khmers, who associate the newcomers with centuries of Vietnamese colonisation.

Entire families have chosen to build their livelihoods around the country's sex industry. “It's the bread-and-butter of daily life,” says one Vietnamese woman who sold her 14-year-old daughter to a brothel. “Most of us think it's just a job, a career to earn our living...And the girls try to do whatever their parents tell them.”

Such sordid realities were once in plain view, when notorious red-light districts were in full swing on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. But nearly four years ago, Hun Sen, the prime minister, led a much-publicised campaign to curb brothels. Resourceful traffickers, madams and pimps responded by pushing low-end sex work underground and infiltrating more up-market hotels, casinos and bars. So Keo Thea, of the Phnom Penh police's anti-trafficking division, says it is now harder to trace traffickers and their victims. “We need to dress our officers up like businessmen to reach them.”

Unlike in a dingy brothel, work in a boisterous karaoke parlour can appear to be voluntary. The girls are not locked up by managers who arrange to sell their virginity. But recruiters still routinely use deception and force, says the IOM, and the proportion of under-age girls is far higher, particularly among ethnic Vietnamese.

The repugnance the trade provokes among both local authorities and international aid donors has helped expedite the progress of a much-delayed anti-trafficking bill. Its passage would bring Cambodian law closer in line with international norms. Given the complicity of Cambodian officials in the sex industry, this would be no small accomplishment.

But such forward momentum is also undercut by Cambodians' popular disgust for the ethnic Vietnamese and the political acrimony they inspire. The migrants are routinely demonised by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.

“They're an easy scapegoat,” says J.K. Reimer, a consultant to anti-trafficking groups in Phnom Penh. “There is the perception that Khmers have a higher standard of purity than Vietnamese—that the Vietnamese are selling their daughters, but the Khmers are not.”

San Arun, a senior official in the Women's Affairs Ministry, says the government holds no bias against trafficked Vietnamese. She cites an agreement with Vietnam to protect all victims, whatever their status. But without more concerted intervention, says Ms Reimer, the community risks becoming more ghettoised. The supply of girls—and the rings that traffic them—will be unbroken.

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Cambodia seeks effective ways to spread key information to SMEs

Participants from Cambodian public and private sectors Thursday discussed effective strategies to spread information about key developments in the business environment to small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

The Cambodian government is currently undertaking significant reform measures to improve the business environment and in particular creating a more enabling environment for SMEs, which constitute well over 90 percent of all of Cambodia's business enterprises, a press release said.

Discussions focused on how to get information about new commercial laws, the streamlined business registration process, the decentralized business registration initiative in Battambang, the SME Subcommittee's new business licensing hotline, and the financial accounting template for SMEs, it said.

The participants noted the different strategies required to disseminate information to SMEs and local government officials, and they exchanged experiences on what works well in Cambodia and elsewhere, it added.

"There have been extensive improvements made by the government to facilitate the development of SMEs over the past two years, but we need to improve awareness of these reforms among the small business community and local government officials," said Keo Rottanak, Secretary of the SME Subcommittee.

"By getting more information about the reforms out to SMEs and local government officials, enterprises will be able to take advantage of the improved legal and regulatory framework for business," he added.

The meeting was hosted by the SME Secretariat and the Cambodian Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy (MIME) through support of the Asian development Bank's technical assistance under the Cambodia SME Development Program, the press release said.

Source: Xinhua
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More than 60 Vietnamese Montagnards flee to Cambodia

More than 60 Vietnamese ethnic minority Montagnards have crossed the border to Cambodia to seek asylum through the UN refugee agency.

The human rights group, Adhoc, says 40 Vietnamese Montagnards entered Cambodia earlier this week, and another group of 22 crossed the border three weeks ago.

Pen Bunna of the human rights group, Adhoc, says the refugees are hiding in dense forest in northeastern Ratanakiri province.

He says the UNHCR office in Phnom Penh has been informed of their whereabouts.

Around 2,000 Montagnards - a group whose members backed US forces during the Vietnam war - fled to Cambodia in 2001 and 2004 after security forces crushed protests against land confiscations and religious persecution.
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Cambodian man charged with injecting love interest with his blood

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: A Cambodian man was charged Thursday with injecting a woman with his own blood after she refused to reciprocate his love, a judge said.

Lon Sopheaktra, 22, is being detained at a prison on suspicion he injected a syringe of his blood into the woman's rib cage and waist as she walked home from school, said Duch Sok Sarin, a judge at Battambang provincial court. He faces up to two years in jail if found guilty of assault, the judge said.

If the assailant's blood is found to be infected with the AIDS virus, the maximum penalty would be increased to 15 years, Duch Sok Sarin said.

Police said the suspect fell in love with the woman when the two were classmates in 2004. After the woman refused his advances, he came up with the scheme to inject her with his blood, they said.

"He thought that if he could not marry her, at least his blood can stay inside her body," police officer Tan Sophal said. "That's why he injected her with his blood."

Battambang province, where the attack occurred, is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northwest of the capital, Phnom Penh.
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