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Friday, October 05, 2007

Pretty in pink

By Cassie Phillips for CNN

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia (CNN) -- From my table at work, I have a partial view of the courtyard through the window and the double doors to the right. This allows me to gaze out and watch the kids playing during the day when I tire from work.

Despite finding the weather to be incredibly hot, I still observe office dress code and wear longer pants and skirts everyday.

In my first week of work I learned all of the kids at Homeland have their own clothes and are responsible for washing them. The kids run around in any assortment of pants, shorts, jeans and T-shirts. One boy in particular always catches my eye when he wears his pink bubble gum colored shirt and soccer shorts. I often find myself envious of his soccer shorts and irritated by his pink shirt.

The type of clothing worn by Khmer sometimes surprises me. Pajamas are commonly worn as daytime apparel, be it silky flowered pink pajamas for boys at play or patterned cotton matching sets for women. Men at work often sport traditional komars (short wraparound skirts) and bare chests.

The more I learn about social customs, I see how gender dictates both the actions and dress of men and women. Generally, women show the least amount of skin while men can show quite a bit without fear of scorn.

Children are free to roam the streets naked until late toddlerhood and beyond in some places.

I've recently learned colors do not have the same meaning as they do in the United States. Nonetheless, pink shirts on men remain the most striking and interesting to me as an American woman living in Cambodia.

As I've come to understand the color pink in the American context, it hasn't been until fairly recently that the color pink was liberated from its gender assigned designation to women.

I understand that a man wearing pink in Cambodia does not carry the same social meaning as it does in the United States. However, every time I see a man in pink, it brings into focus the tension I feel my gender creates as I negotiate the prescribed role of women in Cambodia.

Despite foreign women having a larger degree of acceptable social behaviors, I try to stay attuned to the roles Cambodian women fill. As such, I am acutely aware that I am a woman in Cambodia. This awareness comes from my consciousness of needing to go home when it starts to get dark if I am alone, to finding very few outlets for women to have fun, especially when considering their male counterparts.

I see men playing football or doing other team sports everywhere. However, I have never seen a woman playing. When I ask about it, I'm told, "girls don't play sports because it's too hard to teach them". Nevertheless, when I ask to join in games, men are very responsive and welcoming.

As a woman, I never feel discouraged from playing sports or going out for drinks on the weekend. This is in large part because I am a foreigner. At the same time, I note that local women never partake in these activities.

It seems that Khmer women understand very well that they are to stick to what women always do and not try new things.

Not wanting to believe that women do not feel restricted by these narrow roles, I continue to ask women if they are interested in learning to play sports or try something new over the weekend. It seems the women I meet know that they are to go to school, take care of siblings and stay inside when it gets dark. While some may express some interest in trying something out of the ordinary, they would never act upon it.

To their credit, all of the women I know are very busy all the time. It's as if free time does not exist for many women in Cambodia. However, even when women do have free time, they seem content not exploring new and different social activities.

I do not expect women in Cambodia to behave the same as men, however I'm shocked by their compliance with traditionally determined acceptable social behavior.

Still, I can't help but think if these women had role models or examples of women who dared not to conform they might try new things.

Not wanting to completely cast social order aside, I feel I have the opportunity to communicate a different story about women through my actions. For example, I still want to respect Cambodian culture, but also challenge myself and others to better understand this culture.

Perhaps I will never wear shorts to work, but I might join in a game of football and show how a woman can still be a woman and be athletic. In time, I would like to earn social approval as a woman but also suggest to those around me that women can still be respectable and do something different.
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UN Reports Call for Changes in Structure of Khmer Rouge Tribunal

By Rory Byrne

A United Nations agency says the U.N. should pull out of the special tribunal set up to try leaders of Cambodia's genocidal Khmer Rouge government unless reforms are made. Separately, two United Nations experts have reported serious problems with the administration and hybrid structure of the tribunal. Rory Byrne reports for VOA from Phnom Penh.

The United Nations Development Program was commissioned last year to report on hiring practices at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The assignment followed allegations that Cambodian employees had paid court officials to obtain their positions with the tribunal.

A UNDP report published this week says no evidence of salary kickbacks was discovered. But the report says investigators did find that the Tribunal is employing unqualified Cambodian staff, at inflated salaries, and without proper hiring procedures.

The report says that if the Cambodian side of the tribunal does not agree to reforms in procedures and structure, "serious consideration should be given to withdrawing from participation in the project altogether."

A second U.N. report this week pointed out numerous administrative shortcomings, and recommended shifting control of crucial court functions to the United Nations.

The tribunal is a joint U.N.-Cambodian court, with Cambodian judges holding three of the five slots. The other two are held by international jurists selected by the U.N. The second report says that because Cambodia's judiciary is weak, the tribunal may be subject to political interference.

Peter Foster, the official spokesman for the U.N. side of the hybrid court, says the reports are being studied for possible action.

However, experts say that fully implementing the recommendations would require re-negotiating the agreements that established the tribunal - a move Foster says would endanger the whole process.

"Renegotiation would take some time," he said. "We have to remember that it took 13 years to get to the agreement that we have in place now, and we certainly don't want to reopen that and spend another 13 years."

Foster says it is possible the U.N. can take more of a "leadership role" without making major changes to the existing agreements.

"A 'leadership role' is a term that can be defined in many ways, it doesn't necessarily means that we have to renegotiate part of the contract or part of the agreement or change the basic fundamentals of how we're structured," he said. "We can certainly make adjustments within the current system to provide greater assistance and greater advice to our Cambodian colleagues…"

Foster says some remedial measures have already been taken, and that experts are being recruited to improve the functions of the tribunal and ensure fairness.

The court is currently investigating five people for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule over Cambodia, during which up to two million people died. So far, two suspects have been detained: former prison chief Kaing Kek Eav, alias Duch, and Khmer Rouge ideologue Noun Chea. Cases against the other three are being prepared.

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Cambodia trip the 'ultimate' work experience for journalism student

By HoldtheFrontPage staff

A journalism student from the University of Sheffield has spent a week in Cambodia on the ultimate work experience trip.

Kirstie Kinrade won the trip after entering a writing contest run by the charity World Vision and Bliss magazine.

During the week there she spent time investigating the country's child sex trafficking problem.

She interviewed girls who had been rescued after being sold to brothels, and went out at night to meet street children who are part of a scheme run by World Vision to teach them life skills.

She also travelled to a school where the older children volunteered to teach the younger pupils how to avoid being tricked into the sex trade.

She was accompanied on the trip by officials from World Vision and a journalist from Bliss, and Kirstie's diary from the trip has now been published in the current edition of the magazine.

A futher real-life feature is also due to be published in next month's issue.

Kirstie, (21), told holdthefrontpage: "The trip was shocking and upsetting at times, but it was a really good experience - the best work experience I could ask for.

"Seeing my work in Bliss is a bit strange.

"I've had stuff published in local papers but it is strange to see it in a national magazine. But it is good for my CV."

She added: "I learned how to interview vulnerable people, and how to conduct interviews through a translator.

"I was glad because the team I was with allowed me to do my own thing and to interview people by myself, which has really boosted both my confidence and my shorthand speed!

"As well as doing a diary and a feature article for Bliss magazine I also kept an audio diary for BBC radio and a video diary for Sky TV."

Kirstie, who is a final-year student on the BA Journalism course, won the trip after entering a contest to write 150 words about a 'world issue that concerns you'. She wrote about the media, and how it fails to report on things that don't affect the western world.

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Sucked into a Black Hole


At night, the streets of Phnom Penh reveal the country's vast wealth gap. In front of shopping centers selling luxury cosmetics, whole families sleep on patches of sidewalk; beggars missing limbs, a legacy of civil war, crowd outside upscale restaurants where a tiny élite downs French entrées and chic cocktails. But many average Cambodians hope this poverty will vanish, thanks to an apparent miracle: the country has discovered oil. Off Cambodia's southern coast, explorers have found as much as 500 million barrels, potentially providing over $1 billion annually to the country.

Cambodia is hardly unique. As oil prices hit record levels, multinationals are hunting for black gold in ever more unlikely places, and many Southeast Asian nations now are eagerly exploring new fields. Yet few seem to realize that rather than miracles, oil often brings misery, including the massive graft witnessed in some petroleum-rich African and Middle Eastern states.

Ten years ago, with a barrel of oil dipping to about $10, there was little interest in Southeast Asian petroleum, other than established deposits in Indonesia and Brunei. But now, global instability and rising demand from India and China have spiked oil prices to over $80 per barrel, and governments are nationalizing major fields from Russia to Venezuela. At the same time, as offshore technology improves, oil firms can hunt in deeper, tougher waters, like the Timor Gap between Australia and East Timor. So the region has exploded with oil fever. Vietnam plans to explore in seven offshore blocks, Malaysia this summer launched the deepwater Kikeh field, and Indonesia expects production from its vast Cepu oil field to start next year. East Timor could earn at least $10 billion from the Gap, and Burma has discovered offshore fields that could contain 2.5 trillion cubic feet (70.8 billion cubic meters) of gas.

But oil can lead to the "resource curse" — a government-connected élite profits, most people still suffer, and the economy winds up dependent on petroleum and facing inflation from rising oil revenues. Nigeria, for example, ranks in the top 10 of world oil exporters, yet 60% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, and the country's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has said that the government has stolen or wasted some $400 billion, a fair share of which presumably came from oil.

Many Asian countries could go Nigeria's way so far as oil is concerned. Cambodia, which is still recovering from the Khmer Rouge era, ranks near the bottom of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, and does not possess the institutions to monitor how the government uses its new oil riches. East Timor's economy will have almost no other foundations — studies estimate over 90% of government revenues eventually will come from oil. Before its latest brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors, Burma's military regime already demonstrated such little concern for its people that it reportedly spent among the lowest on health care per person of any government on the planet. Hiding out in its new jungle capital Naypyidaw, the junta has not even suggested that oil money will benefit its people. While many oil companies support the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which pushes countries to explain how they spend petroleum money, Chinese oil giants, dominant in Burma, refuse to sign up. Even Brunei, a country that at least used decades of petroleum wealth to provide free health care, is not immune. Suckled on oil, Bruneians demonstrate minimal entrepreneurship, leaving the country with almost no industry when oil runs out, possibly within 20 years.

Some Southeast Asian governments seem to want to learn from the mistakes committed by other countries. East Timor has created a national petroleum fund to save revenues for future generations. Dili has also enlisted advisers from Norway, one of the best examples of putting black gold to good use, to manage its oil money. But noble intentions are not enough. East Timor NGOs worry that their country's oil laws are so vague that they open the door to mismanagement and skimming. A damning World Bank–Indonesia joint study earlier this year showed Indonesia was struggling to spend state funds on decent development projects.

Cambodia could be the biggest worry. Prime Minister Hun Sen has pledged to steer oil revenues toward poverty reduction, but his government has offered no clear plans of how it will ensure riches are spent wisely. The promise of wealth has already sparked a property boom in Phnom Penh, a possible early sign of inflation. In the future, no doubt, Cambodia's capital will boast even more classy French bistros. But it just might have more beggars, too.

With reporting by Joshua Kurlantzick is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power is Transforming the World

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