The land of heroes
Our heroes
Our land
Cambodia Kingdom

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gen. David Baker dies at 62

Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David E. Baker, a combat fighter pilot and former Vietnam War prisoner of war, died Thursday of congestive heart failure. He was 62.

Gen. Baker, called "Bull" by fellow fighter pilots because of his aggressive flying style, was a forward air controller during the Vietnam War whose aircraft was shot down by a missile while flying over Cambodia in June 1972. He is the only prisoner of war repatriated from that war who went on to carry out 20 fighter missions over Baghdad as an F-15 pilot during the Persian Gulf War.

"He was a hero who fought in two wars and a leader in the Air Force who went on to have a tremendous career in the investment community," said Edward Garlich, director of the Stanford Policy Research Group who worked with Gen. Baker in Washington. "He will be sorely missed."

Gen. Baker was born in Huntington, N.Y., and began his career in the Air Force in 1969 after graduating from Hofstra University.

He was deployed to then-South Vietnam in January 1972 and was taken prisoner June 27, 1972, after his Cessna O-2A aircraft was shot down. He spent the next eight months as a prisoner of the Viet Cong in Cambodia until his release Feb. 12, 1973.

During the ordeal, he was wounded trying to escape after he stole a rifle and shot several of his captors. He is the only Air Force prisoner repatriated from Cambodia after the war ended.

Complications from the leg wound lingered for years and led to his hospitalization at Walter Reed Army Medical Center several months ago.

Gen. Baker told associates he was lucky to be returned from captivity alive and was the first Air Force POW to be released by the Viet Cong. The release from captivity is "something I will always be proud to remember for the rest of my life," he once told former POW returnees.

After the war, Gen. Baker became an F-15 fighter pilot and held positions with the Air Force in the Netherlands, Africa and Egypt.

In 1991, he was deployed as deputy commander of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia. He flew 20 combat missions during the Gulf War.

In 1994, he worked in the Pentagon as vice director of operational plans and interoperability on the Joint Staff. He retired in 1997 and became a financial adviser and consultant to investors.

His numerous awards and medals include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, Bronze Star Medal with "V" device and oak leaf cluster, and Purple Heart

He is survived by his wife Carol, his sons David Jr. and Christopher, and a twin brother, retired Rear Adm. Stephen Baker.

Gen. Baker composed a poem while in Viet Cong captivity that he wrote down after his release, which thanked God for keeping the camp's seven men alive despite Communist brutality. It concluded by imagining the day they would be freed:

"We will be a little older, but much more wise,

And I don't mean from listening to Communist lies.

If there is one thing upon which seven men can agree.

That one thing is: Freedom is not free!"

Read more!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Border dispute 'now better understood'

Although the Preah Vihear issue seems to have cooled down, the Foreign Ministry's mission to build people's understanding about the issue continues through the Phra Viharn Centre headed by Paskorn Siriyaphan. The former diplomat based in Phnom Penh talks to THANIDA TANSUBHAPOL about this newly established office.

Why was the centre set up and when did it start operations?

The ministry set up the centre on Oct 8 last year and it started operations six days later. The centre is under the permanent secretary's office and is supervised by the Legal and Treaties Department chief.

Its mandate is to improve coordination among internal departments on the Preah Vihear issue. The International Organisation Department deals with Unesco, the Legal and Treaties Department deals with border issues, the East Asian Department deals with Cambodia on bilateral issues and the Information Department deals with public relations in general.

In addition, the centre will also take care of other issues which are not the particular responsibility of any department as well as acting as the secretariat for Preah Vihear issue meetings.

The centre was also set up under Article 190 (3) of the constitution which stipulates that prior to any binding agreements [about a border line change] being signed with the international community or an international organisation, cabinet must inform and provide the opinions of the public to parliament and be ready for any queries related to such an agreement.

The centre is responsible for providing information and listening to the public while border and demarcation talks with Cambodia are in progress.

What information has the centre given to the people?

We have four kinds of information. The first is the background of the border issue. The second describes the causes of the tension last year after Cambodia was trying to list the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site while some parts of the compound would have affected Thailand's rights as a claimant. The third explains what happened as the military forces of the two countries were still there. And the last explains what the ministry is doing to cut tension in the short term and negotiate under the framework of the Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) in the long run.

What is the aim of the centre? We would like people to understand more about the Preah Vihear issue and try not to use emotions or misunderstand things to launch accusations against each other.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya reaffirmed that the sharing of information with people must be done transparently and without conflict of interest.

He has also made this a priority of the centre.

The centre has also opened a webpage at the ministry's website to listen to public opinion. It will also develop booklets about the issue for public distribution soon.

What is your plan for sharing information with the public? We plan to reach out to people in each province every month. We held three public opinion sessions.

After parliament approved the short- and long-term negotiation frameworks with Cambodia on Oct 28 last year, we held the first session at Chulalongkorn University on Nov 6, the second on Dec 16 in Si Sa Ket and the latest on Jan 20 in Chanthaburi province.

The information will not be the same every time as we will update it to include the latest results of the minister's visits to Cambodia or the outcome of the latest JBC meeting.

We plan to repeat this in all seven provinces along the Thai-Cambodian border.

We will go back to Si Sa Ket again after there is progress in negotiations with Cambodia (because the temple is located opposite the Thai border in this province.)

Has public opinion changed after the three public meetings?

Yes. I think they understand the issue better. We will not try to argue with the public but will give them all the necessary facts. People in Si Sa Ket and Chanthaburi shared the same opinion that we must protect Thai sovereignty and must have a clear position over the Preah Vihear issue.

In the meantime, we must also keep a good relationship with Cambodia especially in trade between our two peoples. They would like to see trade come before politics and would like the situation to return to normal.

As long as there is a negotiation mechanism, the tension along the border will be toned down. Border demarcation will surely take a long time to complete but we should do everything to avoid further confrontation.

Read more!

UN criticises forced evictions in Cambodia

GENEVA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The Cambodian government is forcing tens of thousands of poor people from their homes in a grave breach of human rights, a U.N. investigator said on Friday.

Raquel Rolnik, United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing, called for a halt to the evictions in the Southeast Asian country.

"The increase in forced evictions throughout Cambodia is very alarming," Rolnik said in a statement.

Cambodian police fired teargas to move more than 130 families last weekend from a Phnom Penh slum facing the Mekong River, without giving them prior notice, she said. It was the latest of a series of land disputes in the country where garment factories and hotels are springing up fast.

Rolnik, a Brazilian architect and urban planner, said those evicted from the site that the Cambodian government had sold to a private company should be compensated for losing their homes.

Witnesses said an elderly woman and a boy were hit by a bulldozer during the nightime eviction, and other residents were injured by clubs and stones, some seriously.

Police denied using excessive force against the group who had waged a 3-year battle against their eviction.

"We did not use violence against them, but tear gas to disperse the people who resisted," Phnom Penh police chief G. Touch Naruth told Reuters.

In her statement, Rolnik said Cambodia sould stop the practice that results in increased homeless and destitution.

"Forced evictions constitute a grave breach of human rights. They can be carried out only in exceptional circumstances and with the full respect of international standards," she said. (Reporting by Laura MacInnis; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Read more!

B.C. court rejects challenge of Canada's child-sex tourism law

VANCOUVER, B.C. — A British Columbia court has rejected a constitutional challenge of Canada's child-sex tourism law in the case of a man charged with abusing children in three countries, setting the stage for his trial 12 years after the alleged offences began.

Kenneth Klassen faces 35 charges for the exploitation and sexual abuse of children in Cambodia, Colombia and the Philippines between July 1997 and March 2002.

Klassen challenged the child-sex tourism law saying the incidents happened in other countries where Canadian courts have no jurisdiction.

But B.C. Supreme Court Justice Austin Cullen found that the law against child-sex tourism is internationally valid because so many countries have similar legislation and because of the existence of international children's rights treaties.

"In the absence of extraterritorial legislation, Canada would become a safer harbour for those who engage in the economic or sexual exploitation of children," Cullen wrote in a recent decision.

"The sale of children and the sexual exploitation of children through prostitution and the creation of child pornography are thus activities which, conducted anywhere, a nation has a sovereign interest in preventing among itsnationals or residents, simply because of their nationality or residence."

According to the United Nations, as of Jan. 5, 130 countries have signed an international treaty agreeing to the creation of extraterritorial laws against child-sex offences, including Cambodia, Colombia and the Philippines.

The child-sex tourism laws in Canada were enacted in 1997 and bolstered five years later to no longer require the consent of the foreign country where allegations of sexual abuse took place.

Klassen was the first to challenge the law on constitutional grounds.

In 2005, Vancouver hotel employee Donald Bakker was the first Canadian to be convicted under the law.

Bakker received a 10-year sentence for 10 sexual assaults on girls between seven and 12 in Cambodia, where he videotaped his horrific exploits.

Last November, two Quebec aid workers pleaded guilty to sexually abusing teenage boys while working at an orphanage in Haiti.

Armand Huard, 65, was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 10 out of 13 charges of sexual touching and invitation to sexual touching.

Denis Rochefort, 59, who worked at the same orphanage, was sentenced to two years for similar acts.

Klassen, a 58-year-old father of three, is accused of abusing girls as young as nine. He was charged in March 2007 after a two-and-a-half-year international investigation that netted videos showing a man having sex with young girls.

He was charged with 14 counts of sexual interference, 14 counts of invitation to sexual touching, three counts of making child pornography, three counts of procuring and one count of permitting illegal sexual activity.

University of British Columbia law professor Benjamin Perrin, an expert in child-sex tourism legislation, said the court decision is a major victory for those who have been fighting for the rights of children abused abroad by foreigners.

"It's the first decision by a Canadian court which does confirm the constitutional validity of this child-sex tourism legislation," he said.

"I also provides a significant boost for prosecutors, non-governmental organizations who work in this area and police to begin to more proactively enforce Canada's child-sex tourism law."

Last November, international representatives at a conference in Rio de Janeiro called on various countries, including Canada, to designate a lead agency to enforce extraterritorial laws related to the sexual exploitation of children.

Perrin said the RCMP's National Child Exploitation Co-Ordination Centre needs to proactively enforce Canada's laws by training officers in child-sex tourism hot spots and work with non-governmental organizations that assist victims of western sex offenders.

Participants at the conference also encouraged countries to establish an international notice system to warn other jurisdictions about travelling sex offenders so they could refuse them entry.
Read more!

Cambodia: Internet censorship targets artists

As the number of Internet users has been growing rapidly in Southeast Asia in recent years, online censorship has proliferated, from China to Cambodia, as if it runs through the Mekong river.

Not only the “Great Firewall of China” that is known to many people, democratic country like Thailand also blocks a large number of Web sites; in Vietnam, its Ministry of Information and Communication has recently released a circular to regulate and enforce blogging rules in the country in late 2008. With rules and regulations in place, these governments have developed and deployed their own censorship machine to control how citizens publish and access online contents.

Although Cambodia has the lowest Internet penetration rate (70,000 users as of 2007), artists, however, are more recognized not through offline exhibitions, but their presence on the world wide web. This increasing use of blog to reach out larger audiences attracts more than attention and support.

A former freelance editorial cartoonist for Far Eastern Economic Review from 1997-1999, Bun Heang Ung presently lives in Australia. Observing his home country Cambodia from the other side, the 57-year-old cartoonist launched Sacrava Toons blog in 2004, nearly a decade after he published ‘The Murderous Revolution : Life and Death in Pol Pot's Kampuchea,' his first book of black and white line illustrations that tells his very own experiences of the Khmer Rouge regime. In voicing his opinions, the talented cartoonist publish his drawings of all things that matter to him on the Web. In one of his recent posts, he used ‘I have a dream' as a backdrop for his illustration of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

Recently, according to Wikileaks, the political cartoonist's blog is being blocked in Thailand, where its Ministry of Information and Communication Technology is in charge of banning Internet sites that violates its Kingdom's lèse majesté.

Cambodian blogger Thom Vanak, at Blog By Khmer, made his point on the issue:


Regarding Lèse majesté, although I think it's archaic and outdated law in this day and age, but nevertheless, it's still Thai's law. If I ever set my foot on Thai soil I would respect their laws. The same if I'm to visit any other country, I would respect the local laws of that country.

While the prominent cartoonist's blog appears on censorship list (as of 20 Dec 2008) by Thailand, the Cambodian Ministry of Women's Affairs, in December last year, threatened to block a Web site that contains artistic illustrations of bare-breasted Apsara dancers and a Khmer Rouge soldier. The attempt to shut down reahu.net (or at least to filter it by Internet Service Providers in the Cambodian capital) was echoed by a human rights activist, who was quoted as saying that “the Web site should be shut down because it appealed too much to young Cambodians.”

Reahu.net is currently not accessible by Internet visitors in Cambodia, while there is no issue with access in the U.S. The error message appears:

Screenshot of reahu.net site being filtered by Cambodia's Internet Service Providers

Cambodia's most prominent anonymous blog author at ‘Cambodia: Details are Sketchy' wrote about the controversial issue:

“If anyone should understand the value of free speech, the deputy director of communication and advocacy at Licadho seems a likely candidate. It is disheartening that Vann Sophath supports censoring Reahu’s illustrations”

Artist Reahu posted a note on his site, recently becoming popular after gaining media attentions in the past few months, in response to his critics:

Judging from the complaints, I wonder how we as Khmer will be able to make it in the 21st Century. Please be open-minded, you must be able to see beyond the four walls surrounding your hut.

Read more!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why Asia Could Be The Best Place To Park Your Money

By Irwin Greenstein

A new labor report by an agency of the United Nations indicates that Asia could be the best place for investors to wait out the global recession. While the report does not indicate abundant opportunities in Asian regions, it does show that Asia could be more resilient and consequentially return potential longer term gains.

For investors in survivor mode, the report may be interpreted as an investment roadmap with a relatively safe course.

The report, titled Global Employment Trends, is an annual survey from the International Labour Office (ILO), arm of the U.N that brings together governments, employers and workers to jointly shape policies and programs for fair and humane employment practices.

Based on new developments in the labor market, the report says global unemployment in 2009 could increase over 2007 by a range of 18 million to 30 million workers, and more than 50 million if the situation continues to deteriorate.

The ILO also said that in this last scenario some 200 million workers, mostly in developing economies, could be pushed into extreme poverty.

The lowest unemployment rate was observed in East Asia at 3.8%, followed by South Asia and South-East Asia & the Pacific where respectively 5.4 and 5.7% of the labor force was unemployed in 2008, according to the ILO.

As per the report, three Asian regions – South Asia, South-East Asia & the Pacific and East Asia – accounted for 57% of global employment creation in 2008. In the Developed Economies and European Union region, 900,000 jobs were lost in 2008.

Compared with 2007, the largest increase in a regional unemployment rate was observed in the Developed Economies and European Union region, from 5.7 to 6.4%. The number of unemployed in the region jumped by 3.5 million in one year, reaching 32.3 million in 2008.

In looking at the breakdown of the Asian regions identified in the report, we see countries where cheap labor abounds. While this may not be the best possible news for the ILO, the lower unemployment rates in Asia could show an acceleration in outsourcing – not just from the industrialized West, but from mature emerging markets such as China and India.

For example, South Asia consists of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and other countries. Pakistan’s large-scale manufacturing efforts have stumbled over the past few years due to rising commodity costs. Now that commodity prices have plunged, and manufacturers seek out lowest cost providers, Pakistan could see a turning point in this sector.

Bangladesh, meanwhile, has seen exports rise 60% since 2004. It is now the second largest exporter of apparel to the U.S. market after China.

Southeast Asia consists of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia. Given their proximity to China and India, these countries could see trickle-down business as the two emerging-market giants move away from knock-offs to creating original intellectual property.

In East Asia, the countries to watch for growth are Hong Kong, Macau, Japan and South Korea. Although the global recession has certainly put a damper on these fast-growing economies, the investment returns from these regions could outpace industrialized countries based the ILO’s employment numbers.

This could be a prudent time for investors to investigate ETFs and other funds that get you into these markets without the risk of cherry picking stocks.

Read more!

FARMS makes headway on Cambodia self-sufficiency project

Cambodia (MNN) ― After years of living in refugee camps, many Cambodians who now are free are unsure of how to handle life on their own. Vietnam occupied Cambodia from the 1950's until the 1990's and held many of its people in camps for at least that long.

"[Cambodia] is probably one of the more difficult areas I've seen in the world: the skills, the background, and the history of most Cambodians revolves around being refugees. Now they're being relocated back into their own country without the history that's normally there with a people like this," says FARMS International's Joseph Richter. "I think one of the big challenges is the dependent mentality, which is just the result of living in a camp for 20 or 30 years."

Years ago, FARMS took notice of the need in Cambodia, especially as it related to native Christians, and they began to seek out ways to start a program there. FARMS plans to help people on their way to financial and vocational independence.

"The whole idea of self-help is new to people," Richter explains. On Richter's most recent trips to the area, however, Christians have seemed receptive. "People there were very encouraged, I think, about the FARMS idea of helping people locally so that they could help their own churches."

FARMS is currently raising funds in preparation to officially launch a program in Cambodia alongside two or three other organizations within the next few months. The program will be run through local churches and will provide micro-loans, as well as help with technical and managerial skills, in order to get people on their feet again. Distribution of aid in these forms also provides a platform to share the Gospel.

"FARMS believes that the church is the center for development in any community," says Richter. "It's a very natural thing that people can share what God has done in their lives through the program and through their belief in Jesus. This is the way FARMS really accomplishes evangelism: through the changed lives of the people involved in the churches."

While FARMS is preparing to launch the program, Richter asks for prayer that native believers' hearts will be open to a new way of living, and there will be progress made toward independence.

If you would like to help begin this important new ministry in Cambodia, click here.


Read more!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rebuilding Cambodia

By Weng Aow
General Manager
Angkor Palace Resort

CAMBODIA first became a part of my life in 1997 when I volunteered for a project there for Raffles International.

I went to bring over the pioneer batch of Cambodian hospitality trainees from Phnom Penh to our hotels in Singapore for systematic on-the-job training.

These trainees would eventually form the backbone of the hospitality industry in Cambodia. Back in 1997 when Raffles was preparing for the opening of its two properties in Cambodia, there were hardly any skilled hospitality workers to speak of, given the tragic past of the kingdom.

In 1997, not many foreigners were keen to work in Cambodia. The country was going through political turmoil and there was no stability. Having personally experienced the rough political situation and lawlessness, including the evacuation of foreigners, I felt a calling to be here and a strong desire to be part of the country's rebuilding efforts.

Having been trained as an officer in the SAF, I was grateful that my training came in handy during this crisis.
We in Singapore have been very fortunate to be living in a peaceful environment and this crisis was an eye-opener for me. I do not see myself as just a hotelier but prefer to look at this as a vocation to help the locals improve their lives through imparting skills and knowledge.

Today, I am managing a Cambodian-owned 259-room Angkor Palace Resort & Spa with a staff strength of nearly 300. Called 'The Palace in Siem Reap', it is an authentic Cambodian designed and built resort. The Palace sits on a land area of 11 hectares and comes with its own golf driving range.

The people here have gone through so much political volatility and social unrest. I feel it's my calling to help them regain their lost heritage and pride, and rebuild their homes. The Cambodians are eager to move on and are motivated to improve their lives. Their innate charm and warmth make them natural candidates for the hospitality industry.

In October 2008, the resort embarked on a Responsible Tourism programme which aims to better the lives of the community. These include classroom construction for impoverished villages and training for teachers, purchase of school materials, and toilet and well building projects in the rural areas. We are fortunate to have the support of our owner-cum-architect in carrying out these projects.

As far as I am aware, the number of Singaporeans in Siem Reap is probably less than 20. But in Phnom Penh, there is a Singapore Club called The Buaya Club (I kid you not) with a membership of over a few hundred formed for the purpose of golf. I am now an ardent golf enthusiast and on weekends you will find me at the Angkor Golf Club or practising at the driving range in the Resort. I am happy to play the game with any visiting Singaporean needing a partner in Siem Reap.

As a Singaporean, I have also volunteered Angkor Palace Resort as a rendezvous point for Singaporeans living in Siem Reap in the event of an emergency.

I am not sure where I will be in the long term, but I do think this is a country with lots of opportunities to offer for work or business; and most importantly, a chance to be part of history-making in the positive sense. Against a historic backdrop of monumental temples from one of the most significant eras gone by, one can't help but feel inspired to continue with the noble ideals of the ancient monarchs who once ruled this kingdom.

We invite Singaporeans living overseas or posted abroad to write about life, culture and doing business where you are.
Read more!

Cindy McCain resumes international aid work

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Cindy McCain, the wife of the former Republican presidential candidate, resumed her international aid work this week with a stop in Dubai on her way to India and Cambodia to volunteer at maternity hospitals.

McCain, 54, frequently does charity work overseas. The wife of Arizona Senator John McCain is a member of the board of Halo Trust, an international land-mine removal group, and Operation Smile, which provides surgery for children born with cleft palates.

On Tuesday, she toured the World Food Program's warehouse in this Gulf city-state and on Wednesday she gave an interview to Al-Arabiya — the pan-Arab satellite television network that Barack Obama gave his first formal TV interview to as president.

She said she was relieved her husband's long election campaign was over.

"From (a) health aspect, I am very glad it's over," she said. It was "wild and nuts" at times, but also "a remarkable experience to be a contender for the highest office in the land."

She said humanitarian organizations are feeling the pinch of the global economic crisis.

"The crisis will make Americans look at themselves closer. ... I hope it will, because it is always best when you start at home first," she told The Associated Press. "These are hard economic times ... and everyone, including the humanitarian world, is feeling it."

"I hope President Obama, for the good of the U.S., can solve this problem," she added. "It's my job to continue to encourage people to make sure people are cared for around the world."
Read more!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Summit Hotels & Resorts welcomes its first member in Cambodia

Preferred Hotel Group is pleased to announce its newest member - Angkor Palace Resort & Spa in Siem Reap - under the Summit Hotels & Resorts brand, a collection of more than 150 internationally acclaimed hotels and resorts that celebrate local luxury.

Located just 15 minutes from the Angkor temples and 10 minutes from the airport, the Angkor Palace Resort & Spa is set amidst 11 hectares of exotic tropical gardens and offers a delightful resort base from which to discover the legendary temples of Angkor. The first Cambodian-owned luxury five-star resort accommodation, its design, décor and furnishing reflect the finest in traditional Khmer architecture.

The resort features 251 guestrooms and suites and eight villas, all tastefully furnished in Cambodian style with inlaid teak floors and traditional poster beds with balconies overlooking the gardens. Complimentary broadband Internet is also offered in all rooms and wireless internet access is available in public areas. Business travelers are catered for with a fully-equipped business center and meeting facilities can cater for up to 200 persons.

The resort features 251 guestrooms and suites and eight villas, all tastefully furnished in Cambodian style with inlaid teak floors and traditional poster beds with balconies overlooking the gardens. Complimentary broadband Internet is also offered in all rooms and wireless internet access is available in public areas. Business travelers are catered for with a fully-equipped business center and meeting facilities can cater for up to 200 persons.

Four restaurants and bars offer a traditional Khmer menu as well as international cuisine. The Kainnora Spa is a relaxing sanctuary with nine treatment rooms and four spa villas offering a wide range of holistic body treatments including traditional Khmer massage, body wraps and scrubs. Other recreational facilities include a gym, two tennis courts and a large freeform outdoor swimming pool surrounded by lush greenery. Newly-opened, a golf driving range is located within the hotel with 16 sheltered golf driving bays. Also, the resort is within a 10-minute drive to Angkor Golf Resort, a Nick Faldo design 18-hole golf course, and host to the prestigious Indochine Cup.

"Siem Reap is one of the major tourism hotspots in Asia and we are thrilled to be partnered with a hotel that is truly representative of genuine Cambodian hospitality. We aim to bring high-end FIT and MICE business to the city and to the resort through our global channels," said Mark Simmons, Area Managing Director, Asia.

"As a member of Summit Hotels, Angkor Palace Resort & Spa joins a hotel brand that is made up of some of the finest hotels in the world. With Summit Hotels' stringent criteria to ensure all members meet global service excellence and quality standards, we are able to offer and ensure five-star quality services to all discerning travelers visiting Angkor Wat temple complex, an UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site," said Weng Aow, General Manager, Angkor Palace Resort & Spa..
Read more!

Newest fibre-optic cable is set to set get Cambodia connected

Written by Hor Hab and Chun Sophal

Hopes high $18 million infrastructure project will bring cheaper, faster internet to Cambodia

CAMBODIA is expected to complete the latest stage of its telecoms infrastructure development in April - a fibre-optic cable to Laos that will connect to China's Yunnan Province, telecommunications officials said Monday.

Cambodia and Laos signed a memorandum of understanding on January 12 in Champassak province, Laos, to finalise the arrangement.

Cambodia Telecom has implemented the project on the Cambodian side with construction already complete, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun told the Post Monday.

The US$18 million project - built with a loan from China - would, he added, "improve the quality of internet, telecommunications and televisions system transfer".

It is part of information and communication technology [ICT] in Cambodia, he said, adding that the new infrastructure would offer greater opportunities for connectivity in Cambodia.

The project will also improve the speed of internet connections and reduce the cost of telecommunication services, said Sao Valak, CEO of internet service provider Campura System Corp.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This connection ... can integrate economic and political cooperation.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"With this cable link, Cambodia is no longer isolated from the rest of the world," he added.

Integrating with the region
The new cable has been constructed in two phases, the first a 113-kilometre section from Poipet on the Thai border up to Siem Reap province. This section is then connected to a longer 700-kilometre fibre optic cable that runs north of Siem Reap province across the Lao border at Nong Nonkhien.

In turn, the Laotian connection extends the cable network already in place in China's Yunnan province.
Another fibre-optic cable crosses Cambodia east to west between Thailand and Vietnam - a project implemented with money from Germany - meaning the new cable to China will further develop Cambodia's telecommunications system as part of the greater Mekong subregion.

"This connection is very important because it can integrate economic and political cooperation with the region and the world," said Ken Chanthan, president of the ICT Association of Cambodia.

Still, many challenges remain, he added. Cambodia still suffers from a lack of IT human resources and very low internet connectivity in rural areas.

"We can create job opportunities for our people if we can develop ICT to a certain level, because ICT services are still limited. We always hire overseas consultants," he said.

Sao Volak called on Cambodian people - and particularly students - to take full advantage of improved infrastructure by becoming better trained in information technology. .
Read more!

Spread of Malaria Feared as Drug Loses Potency

By THOMAS FULLER

TASANH, Cambodia — The afflictions of this impoverished nation are on full display in its western corner: the girls for hire outside restaurants, the badly rutted dirt roads and the ubiquitous signs that warn “Danger Mines!”

But what eludes the naked eye is a potentially graver problem, especially for the outside world. The parasite that causes the deadliest form of malaria is showing the first signs of resistance to the best new drug against it.

Combination treatments using artemisinin, an antimalaria drug extracted from a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine, have been hailed in recent years as the biggest hope for eradicating malaria from Africa, where more than 2,000 children die from the disease each day.

Now a series of studies, including one recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine and one due out soon, have cemented a consensus among researchers that artemisinin is losing its potency here and that increased efforts are needed to prevent the drug-resistant malaria from leaving here and spreading across the globe.

“This is something we can’t just slide under the carpet,” said R. Timothy Ziemer, a retired admiral in the United States Navy who heads the President’s Malaria Initiative, the $1.2 billion program started by the Bush administration three years ago to cut malaria deaths in half in the countries affected worst.

Admiral Ziemer met with Thai and Cambodian officials last month to assess the resistance problem, which affects the same drugs used by the malaria initiative in Africa.

“We feel that we not only have to beat the drum but shake the cage: guys, this is significant,” he said.

Though the studies show relatively early signs of resistance to artemisinin, the drugs were judged to have failed in only two patients in the recently published study. Even they were eventually cured.

But malaria experts note that several times in the past, this same area around the Thai-Cambodian border appears to have been a starting point for drug-resistant strains of malaria, starting in the 1950s with the drug chloroquine.

Introduced immediately after World War II, chloroquine was considered a miracle cure against falciparum malaria, the deadliest type. But the parasite evolved, the resistant strains spread, and chloroquine is now considered virtually useless against falciparum malaria in many parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa.

It took decades for this resistance to spread across the world, so by the same token artemisinin-based drugs are almost sure to be useful for many years to come.

To protect against artemisinin resistance, the global health authorities are trying to assure that it is sold only as a combination pill with other antimalaria medicines that linger longer in the blood, mopping up any artemisinin-resistant parasites.

The two most recent tests showing artemisinin resistance were done with pills that had no combination drug. But if resistance spreads, there are no new drugs to take the place of artemisinin-based combinations and no immediate prospects under development.

“This could spread in any direction; we have to make sure it doesn’t,” said Pascal Ringwald, malaria coordinator at the World Health Organization, who three years ago led a study of drug resistance in Cambodia and is co-author of a coming study on the subject. “We know it’s not yet in Bangladesh,” he said. “It’s not yet in India.”

Scientists have documented how malarial parasites that were resistant to chloroquine in the 1950s spread across Thailand, Burma, India and over to Africa, where a vast majority of the nearly one million annual malaria-related deaths occur.

To prevent a recurrence with artemisinin therapies, the United States has put aside political considerations and approved a malaria monitoring center in military-run Myanmar, formerly Burma. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest donors to malaria research, is giving $14 million to the Thai and Cambodian governments to help pay for a containment program.

That program includes efforts to supply the area with mosquito nets, a screening program for everyone living in affected areas and follow-up visits by health workers to assess the effectiveness of the drugs, said Dr. Duong Socheat, director of Cambodia’s National Malaria Center. On the Thai side of the border, the government has “motorcycle microscopists” who take blood samples from villagers and migrant workers, analyze them on the spot and distribute antimalaria drugs.

But some experts would like to see an even more aggressive approach.

“Many of us think this should be treated on the same order as SARS,” said Col. Alan J. Magill, a researcher at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland. “This should be a global emergency that is addressed in a global fashion.” SARS, the respiratory disease that spread rapidly through Asia and beyond in 2003, killed more than 700 people.

The falciparum parasite is one of four types of malaria and by far the most virulent. It enters the bloodstream through a mosquito bite, and after incubating about two weeks, it multiplies and takes over red blood cells. There it causes fever, chills, headaches and nausea, among other symptoms. If untreated, the infected cells can block blood vessels and fatally cut off blood supply to vital organs.

The recent studies show that artemisinin-based drugs are becoming less effective in removing the parasite from the bloodstream. While a few years ago it took the drugs 48 hours to clear the bloodstream of parasites, it now can take 120 hours.

“What our study demonstrates is that therapy for some patients fails — the malaria goes away and comes back,” said Lt. Col. Mark M. Fukuda, a United States Army doctor whose study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in December.

Different regions rely on different artemisinin combinations. The Cambodian government recommends that artemisinin be combined with mefloquine, which was developed by the American military and is known commercially as Lariam. Artemether, a derivative of artemisinin, is often combined with another antimalarial drug, lumefantrine. This was recently judged to be the most effective combination in a study of children in Papua New Guinea.

The same combination is also expected to be approved for sale in the United States soon, marketed by Novartis and mainly intended for people traveling overseas or for those who arrive in the United States with malaria.

The mosquito responsible for transmission of malaria is still endemic in the United States. But modern housing, better access to health care and the use of insecticides have virtually eradicated the disease in wealthier countries.

Here in Tasanh, a village 20 miles east of the Thai border, Dr. Fukuda and a team of researchers work in what is euphemistically called a more challenging environment. Tasanh is served by a dirt road and has no running water and no public supply of electricity.

In a small, spartan clinic, Chet Chen, an 18-year-old malaria patient, lies listlessly on an old metal-framed bed next to a sample of his urine in a used water bottle. The male nurse who examines blood samples is out helping to fix the weed whacker, which has broken.

In a small but newer annex to the clinic, Dr. Fukuda and his researchers work in a trilingual environment — Khmer (Cambodian), Thai and English — that sometimes sows confusion.

Americans in the clinic recently chuckled when a Thai researcher described a patient as having a “hot body” — a literal translation of “fever” in Thai, but one that evoked nightclub images.

Dr. Fukuda calls this region of Cambodia the “canary in the coal mine” for drug resistance.

In the past, migrant workers in plantations and gem mines are believed to have helped spread drug-resistant strains westward. A history of civil unrest, counterfeit drugs and a weak and underfinanced government has made it difficult to control malaria. In the case of chloroquine, preventive use of the drug — including putting it in table salt to protect a wide swath of the population — might have actually encouraged resistance to the drug, Dr. Fukuda and others say.

It was not until the 1990s that mefloquine, the American army drug, was combined with artemisinin, made from a Chinese herb.

Artemisinin-based combinations turned out to be fast-acting and seemed to slow transmission of the disease, said Dr. John MacArthur, an infectious disease expert with the United States Agency for International Development in Bangkok.

Dr. MacArthur and others say resistance to malaria drugs is a natural consequence of widespread use of the drug. “In the case of malaria, it’s the Darwinism of the parasite,” he said. “It likes to survive.”

Still, some researchers remain concerned about sending the wrong message to the public about the efficacy of artemisinin-based drugs.

“This is not the death knell of artemisinin,” said Dr. Nicholas White, a malaria expert who is chairman of a joint research program between Oxford University and Mahidol University in Thailand. “The drug still works in Cambodia, maybe not as well as before.”

But given the history of drug failures here, there appears to be a consensus on the solution.

“Get rid of all malaria from Cambodia,” Dr. White said. “Eradicate it. Eliminate it.”
Read more!

Cambodia tribunal dispute runs deeper

PHNOM PENH: At first glance it seems to be simply a numbers game: whether to try 5, 10 or more defendants for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people at the hands of the Khmer Rouge three decades ago.

But as a United Nations-backed tribunal prepares to hold its first trial session next month, it is embroiled in a wrangle over numbers that goes to the heart of longstanding concerns about the tribunal's fairness and independence.

The Cambodian government, critics say, is attempting to limit the scope of the trials for its own political reasons, a limit that the critics say would compromise justice and could discredit the entire process.

"To me, it's the credibility of the tribunal which is at stake, its integrity and therefore its credibility," said Christophe Peschoux, who heads the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia.

The first defendant is the man with perhaps the most horrifying record: Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, the commander of the Tuol Sleng torture house in Phnom Penh, where at least 14,000 people were sent to their deaths. His trial is to open with a procedural hearing, set for Feb. 17, at which more substantive sessions, involving witnesses and evidence, are expected to be scheduled.

Four other defendants, all of whom were members of the Khmer Rouge Central Committee, are also in custody, waiting their turns to face charges in crimes that occurred while they were at the top of the chain of command from 1975 to 1979. As much as one-fourth of the population died from disease, hunger, overwork or execution under the Khmer Rouge's brutal Communist rule.

Those five defendants are enough, Cambodian officials say.

But foreign legal experts counter that within reasonable limits, the judicial process should not be arbitrarily limited.

After a decade of difficult and not always friendly negotiations between the United Nations and the Cambodians, a hybrid tribunal is in place, with Cambodian and foreign co-prosecutors and panels of co-judges in an awkward political and legal balancing act. Now, even before Duch's trial gets under way, that balance is being tested.

Last month the foreign co-prosecutor, a Canadian named Robert Petit, submitted six more names to the court for investigation, saying that he had gathered enough evidence to support possible charges. Petit's Cambodian counterpart, Chea Leang, objected - not on legal grounds, but for reasons that appear to reflect the government's position on the trials.

Additional indictments, the Cambodian prosecutor said, could be destabilizing and would cost too much and take too long and would violate the spirit of the tribunal, which she said envisioned "only a small number of trials."

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who bargained hard with the United Nations over the shape and scope of the tribunal, has said that trying "four or five people" would be enough, although there is no formal limit on the number.

Indeed, Peter Maguire, author of "Facing Death in Cambodia," suggests that Hun Sen's plan might be to try only Duch - "a garden-variety war criminal" - and hope the political defendants die before they can be tried and judged.

The additional names submitted by Petit have not been made public. But people close to the court say that none of them holds a significant position in Cambodia's current government.

Both Hun Sen and several senior members of his government were Khmer Rouge cadre, but experts say they do not fall under the scope of the tribunal and are not at risk of prosecution.

The mandate of the court is to try the top leadership of the Khmer Rouge and "those most responsible" for the crimes - that is, people like Duch, who oversaw the torture and killing of thousands of people.

In Cambodia, though, courts do not head off in their own directions without tight control from Hun Sen or the people around him. Some advocates of the tribunal - the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC - see it as offering Cambodia a model for a more independent judiciary.

"Some in Phnom Penh are apparently frightened that the ECCC might actually succeed - that it might serve as an example of accountability that could be applied more widely," said James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

"With the Feb. 17 start of the first trial fast approaching, now is the moment to show that the court is not a tool of the Cambodian government," he said. "The court's credibility is on the line."

Most Cambodians are eager to see Khmer Rouge leaders brought to trial, according to an extensive survey published last week by the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

But the study found that about one-third of people answering the survey had doubts about the tribunal's neutrality and independence, perhaps because of their experience with their own corrupt and politically controlled judiciary.

Confidence in the tribunal has also been eroded by allegations of kickbacks that are familiar in the Cambodian court system.

The allegations have left the United Nations with the awkward choice of taking action or being seen as condoning corruption.

Now, with the dispute between the two co-prosecutors in the open, the checks and balances of the hybrid court will meet their first major test.

The dispute over the number of defendants must now go to a pre-trial chamber whose makeup reflects the supermajority structure of the tribunal, which is made up of three Cambodian judges and two foreigners. One of the foreign judges must join the Cambodians, in a four-vote majority, for a decision to prevail.

If the panel is deadlocked three to two, according to court rules, the prosecution must proceed.

But court watchers said it remained to be seen how cooperative the Cambodian staff would be if the government did not want those cases to move forward.

There is nothing so far to suggest that this process will not work as it should, said David Scheffer, a law professor at Northwestern University School of Law who took part in negotiations to create the tribunal.

The real test, he said in a recent article in The Phnom Penh Post newspaper, will be whether the judges in the pre-trial chamber "step up to the plate and do their duty with the highest degree of judicial integrity."

"We can all assess that when their decision is rendered," he said.
Read more!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Cambodia cuts bank rate

PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIA cut its bank reserve requirement by four percentage points and ended a restriction on real estate lending on Monday to boost growth in the cooling economy, a national bank official said.

Mr Tal Nay Im, director general of the National Bank of Cambodia, said it had cut the reserve requirement to 12 per cent and eliminated a cap whereby only 15 per cent of a bank's total loans could be for real estate deals.

The moves aim to stimulate lending, which it hopes will lift the country's sagging property market, she added.

'We decreased the reserve requirement from 16 percent to 12 percent so that the banking system has more liquidity to provide credit to the economy,' Mr Tal Nay Im said, adding that the regulation was effective from Monday.

Cambodia's national bank increased the reserve requirement last April amid worries that its economy would overheat as inflation reached more than 25 perc ent due to soaring crude oil and food prices at the start of the year.

But now analysts say there is little risk of inflation as commodity prices have been battered by the global financial crisis.

International financial organisations expect Cambodia's economy to grow by less than five per cent this year.

Cambodia averaged double-digit economic growth each year from 2004 to 2007, but due to lower demand from other countries for its main industries - garments, construction and tourism - it slowed to less than seven percent in 2008.

Despite the excellent growth over the past several years, underemployment - in which work earns only a meagre return - remains high in Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries.

Some 35 per cent of the country's 14 million people live on less than 50 cents a day. -- AFP

Read more!

Cambodia Keeps Tax Breaks as Shortage of Cash Prevents Stimulus

By Daniel Ten Kate

Cambodia, reliant on overseas aid to finance a quarter of the national budget, said it will extend tax breaks for clothing manufacturers and invest in power plants as a cash shortage restricts its ability to provide economic stimulus.

“We cannot distribute cash to the people,” Hang Chuon Naron, secretary-general of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, said in a telephone interview from Phnom Penh on Jan. 23. “What we can do is give targeted tax cuts to garment factories and spend more on infrastructure so we can prepare for economic development in the future.”

Cambodia needs to reduce business costs because it can’t afford the stimulus measures adopted by richer neighbors Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia. The International Monetary Fund said the economy, Southeast Asia’s second poorest, may grow 4.75 percent this year, the slowest pace in 11 years.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said the government should ask for more grants and loans to fund a $500 million stimulus package he has proposed. The money would go to stabilizing crop prices and the construction of irrigation and road networks, he said.

“The Cambodian government is disconnected with reality and when the fallout materializes, it will be a terrible awakening,” Sam Rainsy said in an interview from Phnom Penh. “Every country around the region has announced a stimulus package, but Cambodia has done nothing so far.”

The government will extend a 2006 profit tax exemption for garment factories until the end of this year, Hang Chuon Naron said. That will help cut costs for an industry that accounted for 12 percent of gross domestic product in 2007 by supplying clothes for retailers such as Gap Inc. and Stockholm-based Hennes & Mauritz AB.

Donor-Funded

The tax breaks will be coupled with donor-funded investments in rural roads, power plants, irrigation systems and telecommunications networks, he said. More than two-thirds of the nation’s labor force work at least some of the time in the countryside, according to the Economic Institute of Cambodia.

Tourism, construction and garments, which together make up more than 60 percent of the economy, all face threats to growth this year, Hang Chuon Naron said. The number of foreign visitors may fall by 20 percent, construction will slow and garment exports might drop more than the 2 percent decline in 2008, he said.

“It’s very difficult to make a judgment about garment exports this year because we don’t sell high-end products,” he said. “We have to look at the real figures for the first quarter, which will be crucial.”

Dwindling Factories

The number of garment factories fell 10 percent to about 260 last year, leaving 20,000 workers without jobs, said Roger Tan, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers’ Association of Cambodia. The industry, which employs about 320,000 of Cambodia’s 14.2 million people, sells 70 percent of its products to the U.S., where retail sales have fallen for six straight months.

“Even if factories want to operate on the same scale, they may be forced to reduce their scale on account of reduced credit lines,” Tan said in an interview. “Buyers in Europe and America are telling us to ship on consignment.”

Cambodian lawmakers last month passed a $1.8 billion budget for 2009, increasing spending by a third from last year. The passage came days after donor countries pledged $950 million in aid, almost 40 percent more than they offered in 2008.

Last year marked an end to four straight years of economic growth in excess of 10 percent spurred by foreign-investment friendly policies such as 99-year leases for agricultural land, tax holidays and low import tariffs. The boom helped Prime Minister Hun Sen’s party win 73 percent of seats in a July election.

Stock Exchange

The country plans to open its first stock exchange in December, undeterred by a global financial crisis that halved the value of markets in neighboring Thailand and Vietnam last year. Government coffers may soon get a boost from petroleum concessions in the Gulf of Thailand, where Chevron Corp., the second-biggest U.S. oil company, struck oil in 2005.

The government doesn’t have many options to boost the economy besides tax cuts and tackling corruption to ensure a more efficient use of donor funds, said Kang Chandararot, an economist with the Cambodia Institute of Development Studies. Transparency International, a global non-governmental organization, ranked Cambodia 166 out of 180 countries in its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.

“Not wasting the money we received from donor countries is the only way to induce private investment,” he said by phone from Phnom Penh. “Confidence in the real estate and construction sectors is in free fall.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net
Read more!

REFILE-Cambodia, Thailand agree on more border talks

PHNOM PENH, Thailand and Cambodia agreed on Monday to more talks to resolve a dispute over a stretch of land at their border near the 900-year-old Preah Vihear temple that spilled over into fighting last year.

"This is another step forward. We must show our restraint," Cambodian foreign minister Hor Namhong told reporters after a two-hour meeting with his Thai counterpart, Kasit Piromya.

The two countries agreed in November to pull out troops from the disputed area and follow up with joint demarcation of the heavily mined frontier. However, the fall of the Thai government in December delayed implementation of the plan.

Kasit, who was a prominent member of the royalist Thai protest group that stirred up last year's bad blood over the temple, said it was important to resolve the long-running dispute through peaceful means.

The pair also agreed on a joint committee to meet in March to look at a stretch of disputed sea in the Gulf of Thailand believed to contain oil and natural gas.

The Hindu Preah Vihear temple sits on an escarpment that forms the natural border between the two southeast Asian nation and has been a source of tension for generations.

The International Court of Justice awarded it to Cambodia in 1962, but the ruling did not determine the ownership of 1.8 square miles (4.6 sq km) of adjoining scrubland, leaving considerable scope for disagreement. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Ed Cropley)

Read more!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Leaving Iraq: Take cue from past strategies

Bennett Ramberg

served in the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs in the George H.W. Bush administration

As Barack Obama's administration debates the pace and consequences of withdrawal from Iraq, it would do well to examine the effect of other American exits. Although U.S. commitments to Lebanon, Somalia, Vietnam and Cambodia differed mightily, history reveals that despite immediate costs to America's reputation, disengagement ultimately redounded to America's advantage.

In all of these cases, regional stability of sorts emerged after a U.S. military withdrawal, albeit at the cost of a significant loss of life. America's former adversaries either became preoccupied with consolidating or sharing power, suffered domestic defeat, or confronted neighboring states. Ultimately, America's vital interests prevailed. The evidence today suggests that this pattern can be repeated when the United States leaves Iraqis to define their own fate.

The 1982-84 intervention in Lebanon marks the closest parallel to Iraq today. A country torn by sectarian violence beginning in 1975, Lebanon pitted an even more complex array of contestants against one another than Iraq does now.

Into this fray stepped the United States and its Western allies. Their objective was to create a military buffer between the PLO and Israeli forces in Beirut in order to promote the departure of both. The massacres in Palestinian refugee camps prompted a new commitment to "restore a strong and central government" to Lebanon, to quote President Ronald Reagan. Instead, Western forces became just one more target, culminating in the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks that killed 241 Americans and a similar suicide bombing two days later that killed 58 French soldiers.

In February 1984, facing a quagmire, Reagan acceded to Vice President George H.W. Bush's recommendation to get out of Lebanon. But the withdrawal of Western forces did not stop the fighting. The civil war continued for six more years, followed by a bumpy political aftermath: Syrian intervention and expulsion (two decades later), as the Lebanese defined their own fate with the United States exercising only background influence.

In 1992, the sirens of Somalia's political collapse lured the United States into another civil war to save a country from itself. The U.S. humanitarian mission sought to salvage a failed United Nations enterprise to secure and feed Somalia's ravaged population.

The United States committed 28,000 troops, which for a time imposed a modicum of security. But ill-equipped and poorly led U.N. replacement forces for the American presence put the remaining U.S. troops in the bull's eye. The ensuing bloodbath generated images that the public could not stomach, prompting the exit of U.S. and then U.N. forces.

As unrest mounted, offshore U.S. forces monitored and intercepted jihadists who sought to enter Somalia, while Kenya and Ethiopia kept the unrest from metastasizing across the region. In 2006, the capture of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, raised the specter of a jihadist state. But quagmires can be a two-way street. Following Ethiopia's intervention, the Islamists were out of power.

Somalia remains a dysfunctional state, as rival clans, jihadists, and an interim government compete for power. The United States exercises limited influence from afar.

Regional and domestic factors have cauterized the consequences of America's retreat from Vietnam and Southeast Asia, resulting in a stable region. But the United States saw things differently in the 1960s.

As President George W. Bush argued about Iraq, President Lyndon Johnson predicted that defeat in Vietnam "would be renewed in one country and then another." What Johnson failed to foresee were the domestic and regional constraints that would prevent the dominoes from falling in the way he predicted.

Although the United States bombed northeastern Cambodia intensely throughout the Vietnam War years, it had no stomach for a ground commitment there. The Nixon administration tried to bolster Cambodia's military government, but the United States could not sustain a government that could not sustain itself.

Rather than the dominoes falling after America's retreat from Saigon in 1975, a Vietnam-Cambodian war ensued. This stimulated China's unsuccessful intervention in North Vietnam. The withdrawal by all of these invading armies to the recognized international boundaries demonstrated that nationalist forces were dominant in the region, not communist solidarity.

None of these exits was without consequence. But, while the United States suffered costs to its reputation, the supposed advantages from this for U.S. opponents proved illusory.

America's departure from Mesopotamia will likewise put the burden of problem-solving onto Iraqis and other regional players, leaving the United States offshore to assist when and where it deems appropriate. History suggests that, in fits and starts, Iraq, like Vietnam and Lebanon, will sort out its own affairs.


Read more!

Thai minister to discuss temple dispute in Cambodia

BANGKOK (AFP) — Thailand's new foreign minister will travel to Cambodia on Sunday for his first official visit, with both neighbours hoping to make progress on resolving a sporadically violent territorial dispute.

A foreign ministry official said that Kasit Piromya would leave for Phnom Penh at 6:55pm (1155 GMT) and arrive back Monday evening, with the disputed land around Cambodia's Preah Vihear temple likely on the agenda.

"The foreign minister will make his first official visit to Cambodia mainly to introduce himself to Cambodia and strengthen relationships between the two countries," a press officer at the ministry said.

"He may ask about or mention some issues such as Preah Vihear... to update information and see the progress of those issues."

A spokesman from Cambodia's foreign ministry told AFP on Thursday that officials including Kasit's counterpart, Hor Namhong, will urge the visiting minister to help broker a peaceful solution as soon as possible.

Troops from Cambodia and Thailand clashed on October 15 on disputed land near the 11th century Preah Vihear temple, leaving four soldiers dead.

The Cambodian-Thai border has never been fully demarcated, in part because it is littered with landmines left over from decades of war in Cambodia.

Tensions flared in July when the cliff-top Khmer temple, which is in Cambodia, was awarded United Nations World Heritage status, rekindling the long-running disagreement.

Troops from both sides have been stationed around the area since then, and negotiations aimed at reaching a solution stalled last year as Thailand was gripped by political turmoil which brought down the previous government.

New Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva named Kasit as foreign minister last month, but he has turned out to be a controversial choice.

Kasit was a vocal supporter of protests which shuttered Bangkok's airports for a week in November and December, and the staunch nationalist also criticised the previous government's handling of the crisis with Cambodia.

Kasit is due to meet Cambodian premier Hun Sen, King Norodom Sihamoni and other high-ranking officials.
Read more!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Cambodian adventures for traveller

Chris Tofield continues his journey through South East Asia

The journey from Langawi Island to Cambodia via Thailand went pretty smoothly. The ferry journey took around 4 hours to Trap (Thailand ).

It was on arrival that the visa situation had changed because visitors to Thailand arriving overland or by ferry would only be granted a 15 day visa. It didn’t bother me as I was just passing through but worth bearing in mind.

Then took a bus to Phuket where I stayed a couple of days. It is set up there very much for tourism and seemed to me the lovely Thai attitude had changed and they were just after your money.

Then we took a bus to Bangkok, which, though a 13 hour journey wasnt too bad as 7 hours of the trip was in a V.I.P. minibus. Very grand and comfortable and leather seats etc, with only two of us travelling.

I did one night in Bangkok, found a decent guesthouse in the backpackers area.

Arranged the trip to Combodia, another bus trip to the border, overnight at guesthouse then 1 a hour ride to the border, paid the visa cost (only accept Thai Bhat-1,200) which is 30 U.S. Dollars. It should be 26 Dollars!

Bus to Sihanouville (4 hours) found a cheap guesthouse downtown called Good Day mate. Air conditioned, telephone and hot water so all the home comforts. There are a lot of guesthouses and hotels in Sihanouville, some on the beaches and some in the town.

Sihanou Ville is relatively new as a tourist destination but has all you need. General mode of transport is tuk tuk or on back of motorbike. Beaches are pretty good and lots of boat trips to various islands scattered around.

I paid 10 dollars for a Booze Cruise which was arranged by Utopia Guesthouse, which seems to cater for the entire backpacking visitors to visit here. Very laid back and friendly.

The booze trip was pretty laid back and friendly as well. I vaguely remember playing footie on the beach of some island and jumping off a cliff into the sea.

So off to Phnom Penn when hopefully will arrange a jungle trek and trip up the Mekong River. New Year was wild.

So far, I am very impressed with Cambodia.
Read more!

Pig breeder clinches £1m Cambodia deal

By Mark Casci

AT a time when the welfare standards of Britain's pig farms are being discussed at the highest level, a batch of top quality breeding pigs are being dispatched to the Far East.

Yorkshire-based international pig breeding company ACMC has clinched what is thought to be the first ever deal to ship them to Cambodia.

Worth nearly £1m, the deal will see ACMC's special Meidam and Voltane damlines and Vantage sirelines, plus boars representing all three breeds being sent to the South East Asian country.

The deal has been struck by the Cambodian government as it strives to cope with its expanding population, which is expected to grow from its present 13 million to 16 million by 2015.

The country at present imports 2,000 pigs a day – mostly from neighbouring Thailand.

The news comes at a time when Britain's pig farming industry is striving to reduce the amount of cheap pork entering the country, and to emphasise the high quality of the methods of which pork is reared domestically.

TV chef Jamie Oliver will present a documentary on Thursday this week on the issue, Jamie Saves Our Bacon, during which he spoke to several Yorkshire farmers and butchers.

The project involves the pigs being sent to a new specially designed five-hectare site in the Prey Nop district of Sihanoukville city in the west of the country. The site will house the nuclear herd and which is expected to eventually supply enough commercial AC1 sows to produce 1.1 million slaughter pigs a year. It is also anticipated to provide employment for thousands of people in rural Cambodia.

A spokesman said: "Interestingly, Cambodia will be importing genes, albeit much modified, originally sourced from the Far East.

"More than two decades ago the prolific Chinese Meishan was brought into Europe. Over a 20-year period ACMC used these genetics to create a new breed, the Meidam, to boost productivity. The Meidam is selected with 16 functioning teats and produces 15 per cent more milk than conventional European lines, enabling it to rear more pigs. In Europe, the AC1 has been shown to produce up to 30 pigs per sow."

The spokesman added that ACMC believes it is the only company that has managed to incorporate this ability while maintaining high quality lean carcasses in the finishing generation – and this is what appealed to the Cambodians

A new company has been formed to handle the operation under the name of M's Pig ACMC (Cambodia) Ltd.

The project will also encompass a feed-milling operation with a projected output of 330,000 tonnes a year and a slaughter and processing plant to produce premium quality pork.

Read more!

Cambodian police use teargas to evict slum dwellers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodian police fired teargas and eight people were injured on Saturday during the forced eviction of 80 families from a Phnom Penh slum, rights activists and police said. At least two of the eight slum dwellers were seriously hurt in clashes with clean-up crews hired to tear down the dwellings on government land recently sold to a private company. Police cordoned off roads around the area near the Russian embassy, as the 300 workers backed by bulldozers and cranes cleared away the decade-old community. Rights activist Am Sam Ath and witnesses said eight people were injured during the forced eviction, including two seriously hurt and sent to hospital.

Witnesses said an old woman and a boy were hit by a bulldozer, while others were hurt in clashes with the workers armed with clubs and stones. Police denied using excessive force to evict the group, who had waged a 3-year battle against their eviction.

"We did not use violence against them, but tear gas to disperse the people who resisted," Phnom Penh police chief G. Touch Naruth told Reuters.

The eviction came after the squatters rejected the company's offer of $20,000 per family in compensation for the prime 2-hectare (4.9 acres) plot of land facing the Mekong River.

Land disputes are a hot issue in Cambodia, where garment factories and hotels have sprung up to expand the major textile and tourist industries. Last week, police opened fire on farmers protesting against a land grab south of Phnom Penh, wounding two of them, rights activists said. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alex Richardson)
Read more!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Chinese seek warm vacations despite economic chill

By Lucy Hornby

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - China's bitter winter cold and economic chill have not frozen a newly popular way for Chinese to celebrate the Lunar New Year -- they're going abroad, rather than returning to hometowns to visit their families.

For some, the cold front that moved across northern and central China on Friday strengthened the desire to go somewhere warm, with Vietnam and Cambodia benefitting from Chinese fears that unrest in December has made Thailand unsafe.

The Year of the Ox begins on Monday, and is traditionally a time for Chinese to gather with families and set off fireworks.

In recent years, some prosperous Chinese have chosen an exotic holiday abroad instead, a trend that has slowed down, but not been stopped by the global economic slowdown.

"I was looking for a warm place, but in China there's only Hainan island and it's too expensive. So I chose Southeast Asia," said Jenny Jing, a consultant in Shanghai.

"Originally I was not considering Thailand because I'd already been and because I'm concerned about safety. But now Vietnam and Cambodia are so popular they've gotten expensive so Thailand is back as my Plan B."

Thailand was one of the first countries to open to Chinese tourists, about a decade ago, but heavy Chinese news coverage of protesters shutting down Bangkok's airport in December has deterred some would-be travellers.

For many Chinese professionals, the New Year's holiday is one of the few times in the year they are guaranteed a week off. That encourages them to head further a field.

Sun Wei, a lawyer in Beijing, is spending her first New Year abroad with friends in Cambodia. She said she visits her parents often enough that they won't miss her during the holiday.

"We might eat some dumplings to celebrate New Year's Eve. We'll see if we can find them there or not," she said.

But the gathering financial chill in China has slowed the growth rate of overseas travelers, as pay reductions and a business slowdown has cut into disposable incomes. The number of visa applications for travel to Australia, for instance, is about the same as last year, even through the drop in the Australian dollar makes the country a lot cheaper for Chinese.

"This year, relatively few Chinese are going overseas. They are not getting as many year-end bonuses as usual. I imagine big companies are controlling costs," said Yang Shuxian, a travel agent in Beijing.

"I'm mostly hearing about Vietnam or Malaysia. No one wants to go to Thailand because of the reports of political unrest."

Read more!

Thai FM to officially visit Cambodia next week

BANGKOK, Jan 23 (TNA) - Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will make an official visit to Cambodia next week for the first time since taking his post in December, a senior official said on Friday.

Mr. Pisanu Suvanajata, deputy director of the Department of East Asian Affairs, confirmed Mr. Kasit's visit to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, scheduled for Sunday and Monday (January 25-26) at the invitation of Hor Namhong, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

In addition, during the two-day trip, the Thai foreign minister is scheduled to make a courtesy visit to His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia.

He will also meet high-ranking Cambodian officials including Senate President Chea Sim, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Prime Minister Hun Sen and meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

In addition to introducing himself, Mr. Kasit will reaffirm Thailand's readiness to host next month's Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN) summit in Hua Hin to senior Cambodian officials.

He will also meet with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong regarding the Thailand-Cambodia border situation, in particular the disputed Preah Vihear area, in a bid to strengthen bilateral relations and to alleviate any problems by peaceful and sincere means.

Mr. Pisanu added that the Thai-Cambodian Joint Boundary Commission (JBC) is working on resolving the Preah Vihear dispute. The JBC will meet on the issue in early February in Bangkok. (TNA)
Read more!

Extending a hand to Cambodia

Future Cambodia Fund director Kylie Tattersall in Andong, a settlement outside Phnom Penh. She holds a girl whose father was shot dead over a $US2.50 debt. Photo: H Shipp

By Will Hinc

On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese forces rolled into Phnom Penh, deposing Pol Pot and sending his genocidal Khmer Rouge regime fleeing westward. Thirty years later, Australians are helping to rebuild the nation.

TODAY is a relatively pleasant day in Andong, a settlement just outside Phnom Penh. The sun is peeking through wispy cloud, and nearby rice paddies are dotted with soaring palm trees. There are bubbling green pools of fetid filth under the small, stilted huts, malnourished children with bloated stomachs wander vacantly, and groups of possibly rabid dogs eye off visitors.

But, reflects sometime Melburnian Kylie Tattersall, it's sometimes much, much worse. "It pours down in the rainy season. Within two minutes you've got black raw sewage up round your knees and children running through that … I've been in it myself."

Tattersall is one of about 2500 Australians working in Cambodia, many of them in aid and development. Three decades after the overthrow of dictator

Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge forces, Cambodia is still recovering. Pol Pot's rule, synonymous with the deconstruction of Cambodian society and the atrocities of the Killing Fields, was followed by 18 years of civil strife — the legacy of which still lies buried across the country in the form of more than 4 million landmines.

An inescapable reminder of the chaos that has plagued the country, the hidden munitions have killed more than 19,400 people and injured countless more in the past 14 years, according to the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System.

Above the surface, there are other problems. This remains a country in which only 16 per cent of rural dwellers have access to a toilet, more than 12,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases, and gross national income is just $US490 ($A750) per capita.

Tattersall describes how more than 5000 Cambodians were forcibly evicted from their Phnom Penh homes in June 2006, driven 22 kilometres out of the city and deposited on the barren, undeveloped patch of land where they now live. Like many Phnom Penh residents, most did not have legal land title; that system fell off the rails in 1975 after Pol Pot evacuated the city and sent its former residents to work — and die — in the countryside.

Shown the road by developers and their hired guns, Andong's poor are just some of the 30,000 Amnesty International says have been evicted in Phnom Penh since 2003.

Gradually, however, the country is finding its feet, assisted in part by the Australian Government and a willing body of everyday Australians such as Tattersall.

"Some people explain (Andong) like a refugee camp, but without all the assistance," says Tattersall. "It's effectively a dumping ground. There's no sanitation, there's nothing." Save for one small enclosure, 100 metres from the edge of the slum and just across the village's "shitting field", the place reeks of despair.

But even in Andong — amid chronic disease, malnutrition and violence — there is hope. This small, fenced enclosure is "Happy Garden", a sanctuary created by Australian charity Future Cambodia Fund (FCF) for Andong's young. In any other setting, the learning complex, playing field, playground, hard court, water wells and toilets would barely raise an eyebrow. Here, the tiny compound is everything the local children could want — an escape from reality.

The centre, now managed by Tattersall, was founded by another Australian, Leigh Mathews, also of Melbourne. Named Young Victorian of the Year late last year for her efforts in establishing FCF, Mathews is now a finalist in the Australian of the Year awards, to be announced in Canberra tomorrow.

Mathews formed FCF in 2004 after stopping in Cambodia on the way home from a working holiday in the UK. "I was deeply affected by Cambodia when I got to Siem Reap (in the country's north-west)," she says. "I hadn't been exposed to that type of poverty before."

The newly formed charity started by running a street clinic in Siem Reap and then began a program providing support for children with neurological problems. Then, in April 2007, Mathews visited Andong. "I was absolutely horrified … People were living under tarps with just pieces of cardboard and reeds. (Andong) had been there almost a year and it looked like it had been set up a week."

Future Cambodia Fund focused on alleviating the trauma of displacement. Happy Garden now caters for 100 to 180 children at a time, with staff engaging them in sports, learning, health and creative activities; on the day of this visit, the youngsters are putting on a musical performance. With a car battery powering the stereo, the young boys and girls — faces heavy with make-up — sing and dance for the audience.

One of the smaller Australian NGOs in Cambodia, FCF operates on a yearly budget of about $US50,000 ($A76,000). At the other end of the spectrum is development agency CARE Australia, running on about $US9 million a year. Funded by government aid programs and private initiatives, CARE has been working in Cambodia since 1990 in areas including agricultural development, mine removal, crisis management, health and education.

In Pailin, a remote district in the far west of the country, South Australian agriculture adviser Greg Secomb is the only Westerner living in the district. Secomb points to a 29-kilometre road built last year under CARE management and funded by AusAID to the tune of $US600,000. Unremarkable to any Western observer, the graded, red-earth road — signposted with a small Australian Government insignia — has changed lives, he says.

"There's a lot of pride in that road. You're out in the middle of Woop Woop and you see that (Australian) logo and you know the impact it's made for thousands of people."

Travel times to schools and hospitals have been cut from eight hours to three in some instances, and where farmers once had their prices beaten down by middlemen, they can now take their own produce to market and receive a fair price.

Elsewhere, at the village of Ou Chheukroam, Village Development Committee chief Chhim Chhon points out an area of 123,000 square metres. Cleared by CARE Australia under a previous program, the area was found to contain 428 anti-personnel mines, one anti-tank mine and 110 pieces of unexploded ordnance.

Farmed by starving, desperate villagers before it was cleared of mines, the minefield took five lives and maimed more than 20 others, Chhim says. Now, the land is covered with crops, and children and livestock can wander where they please. Bright blue plastic water pumps are scattered through the village and Chhim is halfway through building a frog farm with the assistance of CARE.

Working with 2654 families in just this region, CARE's activities include providing frog and fish farms, allocating land tenure, offering microfinance, setting up village councils, training in rice production and crop rotation, installing water pumps and building infrastructure.

The alternative — removing the mines and walking away — leaves villagers ill equipped to farm their land and vulnerable to land-grabbers.

Through AusAID, Australia contributed $60.7 million to development in Cambodia last year, making it the country's fourth-largest bilateral donor.

Professor David Chandler, a Cambodia scholar at Monash University, says Australia was one of the first nations to enter the state in 1989, following Vietnam's withdrawal. In the ensuing years, Hawke government foreign minister Gareth Evans was instrumental in setting up the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 in what was "a very much-Australian led" process, Chandler says. The accords paved the way for UN-sponsored democratic elections in May 1993, a key moment in the nation's history.

Today, well over 100 Australians are working in volunteer programs at any one time. Anna Olsen, 28, of Collingwood, has just finished an 18-month contract with Australian Volunteers International, which placed her with the Ministry of Women. "I loved it," she says. "I really like living in Phnom Penh and it sounds kind of twee, but I like the people."

As technical assistant to the minister, Olsen organised meetings, helped in policy formation and negotiated the tangled business practices that have led Transparency International to rank Cambodia the equal 12th-most corrupt nation in the world.

Australian Volunteers International country manager Mary Flood says the group has placed more than 270 volunteers in Cambodia since the dark days of the early 1980s. Fifteen to 20 highly qualified Australians represent it in roles across the country at any one time. "We have staggeringly good people wanting to come here," Flood says. There appears to be no shortage of Australians wanting to fill Olsen's boots.
Read more!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Expert calls for Cambodian gov't to lower bank reserve rate

PHNOM PENH, The government must lower the reserve rate of banks so that financial institutions can loan more money and fuel the economy in the grips of a financial slowdown, national media reported on Thursday.

The National Bank of Cambodia, in an attempt to lower inflation and cool the lending market, began requiring in May 2008 that banks double their reserves from 8 to 16 percent of all their foreign currency.

"Inflation is coming down particularly in food and energy costs(since December 2008) and now the danger is the economy slowing down, so at some stage (the government) might relax some of its policies on credit squeezing," English-Khmer language newspaper the Cambodia Daily quoted John Brinsden, vice president of the Acleda Bank, as saying.

.
The reserve rate has significantly cut Acleda's ability to issue loans, he said, adding that outstanding loans at Acleda grew just 5 percent in the last six months of 2008 after the central bank doubled the reserve rate.

Prior to that, in the first six months of 2008, outstanding loans at Acleda grew 50 percent to more than 450 million U.S. dollars, he said.

"We just do not have the funds we would like (available)," he added.

The Cambodian economy enjoyed double-digit increase during the 2005-2007 period, but down to below 10 percent in 2008 and will further slide to around 5 percent in 2009, according to the forecasts by experts and international financial institutions.

Read more!

Cambodian armed forces commander fired

The head of Cambodia's armed forces was dismissed from his post Thursday and replaced with a longtime loyalist of Prime Minister Hun Sen with whom he served in the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
A royal decree announced the removal of Gen. Ke Kim Yan, the commander in-chief of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, who was replaced by his deputy, Gen. Pol Saroeun.

No reason was given for the move. Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said it was a normal reshuffle, which was initiated by the government.

After Ke Kim Yan, 53, failed to support Hun Sen's 1997 coup against then co-Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh, he was marginalized and left without any real power. He was threatened several times with dismissal by the prime minister, whose control of the country is virtually unchallenged.

Ke Kim Yan joined the Cambodian armed forces in 1979 and became its head in 1999. Politically he allied himself with Hun Sen's rivals in the ruling Cambodian People's Party leadership.

Pol Saroeun, meanwhile, is known to have close ties to Hun Sen. Both served during the communist Khmer Rouge regime that took power in 1975, and both fled the murderous group before it was ousted in 1979.

Several other top members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party are also former members of the Khmer Rouge, whose radical policies are widely considered responsible for the deaths of at least 1.7 million people though execution, starvation, overwork and starvation. Several members are the regime have been charged with war crimes at a U.N.-backed genocide tribunal.
Read more!

Cambodia opposition seeks Obama's help in murder probe

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's opposition leader Thursday urged US President Barack Obama to help find the killers of a prominent union boss, as hundreds of people gathered to mark five years since his murder.

Chea Vichea, who headed the country's largest labour union and was a vocal critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, was gunned down at a Phnom Penh newsstand on January 22, 2004.

The daylight murder shocked Cambodia and badly fractured the country's nascent workers' movement. It was condemned by rights groups as a brutal attempt to silence opposition-linked unions.

"I beg US President Barack Obama to help Cambodian people find the criminals to bring them to justice," opposition leader Sam Rainsy told a crowd Thursday at the spot where Chea Vichea was shot.

The politician marched through Phnom Penh with some 300 garment workers and unionists to place wreaths and light incense sticks at the newsstand.

Sam Rainsy criticised authorities for failing to arrest the real culprits, but said he hoped that a "push from outside" would bring "change" in the case of Chea Vichea's murder over the next year.

Cambodia's highest court late last month provisionally released two men convicted of killing Chea Vichea and ordered the case to be re-tried, citing unclear evidence.

The two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, had been arrested just days after the union chief's 2004 death, convicted of murder and quickly sentenced to 20 years each in prison.

The United States and UN welcomed the decision by the court to order a retrial. International and local rights watchdogs had called the conviction and trial deeply flawed and said the true perpetrators remained at large.

But two other labour leaders have also been murdered since Chea Vichea's killing, in an escalation of attacks against workers' rights advocates.

Their deaths cast a pall over Cambodia's key garment industry, with several major clothing labels warning the government that swift justice was needed for their continued presence in the country.
Read more!

Indian doctor gets prestigious Cambodian award

New Delhi (PTI): Chinkholal Thangsing, a doctor from India, who is currently Asia Pacific bureau chief of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has been honoured with a prestigious Cambodian award for his contribution towards humanitarian services in the country.

'Royal order of Sahametrei' is conferred primarily on foreigners who have rendered distinguished services to the King and to the nation by Royal decree of the King of Cambodia, a release issued by AIDS healthcare foundation (AHF) here said.

"The award recognised Thangsing's exemplary contribution and dedication towards humanitarian services rendered by him and and the organisation for the people living with HIV/AIDS and general public in Cambodia," it said.

Giving away the award, Cambodia's Health Minister Mam Bun Heng said, "This is a big honour and my proud privilege to hand over the 'Sahametrei' to you, to honour and recognise your selfless dedication and contribution to better the lives of our people."

AHF is the US' largest non-profit HIV/AIDS healthcare, research, prevention and education provider. Its bureau operates in Cambodia, China, India, Thailand, Vietnam and Nepal.

Read more!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Vietnam: Halt Abuses of Ethnic Khmer in Mekong Delta

Government Suppresses Peaceful Protests for Religious, Cultural, and Land Rights

New York, January 21, 2009) - The Vietnamese government should immediately free Khmer Krom Buddhist monks and land rights activists in prison or under house arrest for the peaceful expression of their political and religious beliefs, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Khmer Krom is a large ethnic group in the Mekong Delta that is central to Vietnam-Cambodia relations.

The 125-page report, "On the Margins: Rights Abuses of Ethnic Khmer in Vietnam's Mekong Delta," documents ongoing violations of the rights of the Khmer Krom in southern Vietnam and also abuses in Cambodia against Khmer Krom who have fled there for refuge. Wary about possible Khmer Krom nationalist aspirations, Vietnam has suppressed peaceful expressions of dissent and banned Khmer Krom human rights publications. It also tightly controls the Theravada Buddhism practiced by the Khmer Krom, who see this form of Buddhism as the foundation of their distinct culture and ethnic identity.

"Vietnam's response to peaceful protests provides a window into the severe and often shrouded methods it uses to stifle dissent," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The government should be trying to engage in dialogue with the Khmer Krom, rather than throwing them in jail."

Drawing on detailed interviews with witnesses in both Vietnam and Cambodia, the report shows that Khmer Krom in Vietnam face serious restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, association, information, and movement. In researching this report, Human Rights Watch came into possession of internal memos circulated by the Communist Party of Vietnam and Vietnamese government officials outlining their concerns about unrest among Khmer Krom in the Mekong Delta and strategies to monitor, infiltrate, and silence Khmer Krom activists. The documents are included in an appendix to the report.

"The official documents we publish today lay bare the efforts by the Vietnamese government to silence critics," said Adams. "This is bare-knuckled, indefensible political repression."

"On the Margins" provides a rare, in-depth account of a protest conducted by 200 Khmer Krom Buddhist monks in Soc Trang province, Vietnam, in February 2007. Protesters called for greater religious freedom and more Khmer-language education. Although the protest was peaceful and lasted only a few hours, the Vietnamese government responded harshly. Police surrounded the pagodas of monks suspected of leading the protest. Local authorities and government-appointed Buddhist officials subsequently expelled at least 20 monks from the monkhood, forcing them to defrock and give up their monks' robes, and banishing them from their pagodas. The authorities sent the monks back to their home villages and put them under house arrest or police detention, without issuing arrest warrants or specifying the charges against them. During interrogations, police beat some of the monks.

In May 2007, the Soc Trang provincial court convicted five of the monks on charges of "disrupting traffic" and sentenced them to two to four years of imprisonment. Some of the monks were beaten during interrogation. After the demonstrations, the authorities instituted stricter surveillance of Khmer Krom activists, restricted and monitored their movements, banned their publications, and monitored their telephones.

The report also examines rights abuses of Khmer Krom who have moved to Cambodia, where they remain among Cambodia's most disenfranchised groups. Because they are often perceived as ethnic Vietnamese by Cambodians, many Khmer Krom in Cambodia face social and economic discrimination and unnecessary hurdles to legalizing their status.

The Cambodian government has repeatedly stated that it considers the Khmer Krom to be Cambodian citizens. Yet the Cambodian authorities often react harshly when Khmer Krom become too critical of the Vietnamese government, a close ally of the Cambodian government. In 2007, Cambodian police forcefully dispersed a series of protests in Phnom Penh by Khmer Krom monks denouncing the rights abuses they had experienced in Vietnam.

In February 2007, a Khmer Krom monk, Eang Sok Thoeun, was killed in suspicious circumstances after he participated in a protest in Phnom Penh. In June 2007, Cambodian authorities arrested, defrocked, and deported to Vietnam a Khmer Krom activist monk, Tim Sakhorn, who was sentenced in Vietnam to a year in prison. Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian government to investigate thoroughly the killing of Eang Sok Thoeun, and on the Vietnamese government to allow Tim Sakhorn, placed under house arrest in Vietnam after his release from prison in May 2008, to return to his home in Cambodia if he chooses.

"The killing, imprisonment, and defrocking of Khmer Krom monks sends a chilling message to Khmer Krom activists in both Cambodia and Vietnam," said Adams. "An ethnic group that should enjoy the protection of two countries finds itself stripped of protection by both."

Read more!