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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cambodia's 2 main opposition parties ally for upcoming elections

PHNOM PENH, The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Human Rights Party (HRP), which are two main opposition parties in the Cambodian National Assembly, agreed Thursday in principle to establish a political alliance called the Democratic Movement of Change (DMC) for the upcoming elections.

The DMC is a new political force to lead and advance the country to have prosperity, according to the joint statement issued by both parties.

The upcoming elections include the 2012 commune council election and the 2013 general election.

"Our candidates will be registered to represent only one party in polling constituency," SRP president Sam Rainsy and HRP president Kem Sokha told reporters at a press conference.

"We will walk on the non-violent and legal strategies for political actions," Sam Rainsy said, adding that the movement does not oppose any individual or parties.

Meanwhile, Khem Sokha appealed to intellectuals and democratic supporters to join the DMC for upcoming elections.

In last year's general election, the SRP won 26 seats and HRP won three seats in all the 123 seats in the National Assembly.
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Cambodia aims to roll out forest preservation program

PHNOM PENH, The Forestry Administration of Cambodia hopes to implement by September a program designed to prevent development projects from decimating Cambodia's forests, national media reported Thursday.

The program would prioritize the use of law enforcement to crack down on illegal loggers, the identification and demarcation of forest areas, increased community participation in forest conservation, and investment in research projects related to the country's forests, Ty Sokhun, director of the administration, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying.

Currently, the administration has completed 30 percent of a draft document detailing the program, Ty Sokhun said, adding that they hope to hold forums for public discussion of the program in May and to implement it in September.

"We strongly believe that this program will not only make forests in Cambodia more abundant but also improve the lives of people living in rural communities and reduce poverty throughout the country," he said.

Meanwhile, Keng Pou, a member of the Phnong minority group living in Ratanakkiri province, called for the government to assist local efforts to encourage forest preservation.

"We need the government to encourage us, and support and protect us when we are fighting against illegal loggers," he told the Post.

He said some members of his village have sustained serious injuries while fighting off illegal loggers.
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Traffickers prey on Cambodian men

By Jon Govett

POPOK, Cambodia: "They killed one crewman for something very simple," said Thung Yeap. "He just wanted to go home. He kept asking. So in the end, the captain shot him dead."

Thung Yeap is one of the lucky survivors of a journey that starts in some of Cambodia's poorest villages and sometimes ends, fatally, in the waters of the South China Sea.

According to local law enforcers and international agencies, hundreds like Thung Yeap, mostly Cambodian farmers, have fallen victim in recent years to traffickers who turn them over to crews on Thai fishing boats, where they work without pay and often at gunpoint.

"It is an issue that needs urgent attention," said Lim Tith, national project coordinator for the United Nations' Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, or Uniap, in Phnom Penh. "It really is a kind of descent into hell."

Kept at sea sometimes for years, these men, who have typically paid to be smuggled into Thailand with the promise of good factory jobs, are often treated brutally, subjected to beatings and even death for any attempted escape.

Until recently their plight fell under the radar of regional law enforcement agencies. Far from shore, the abuse they suffer evades detection, and legal jurisdiction is murky. The victims themselves have often hesitated to seek help, fearing they could be prosecuted as illegal immigrants.

Only in the past year have Thailand and Cambodia expanded trafficking laws written to protect women and children who were sold or tricked into prostitution or other forms of forced labor to explicitly include men. The hope is that men who find themselves in another country as a result of trafficking will be more likely to approach the authorities and be given assistance, because they will be recognized as victims rather than illegal migrants.

Cambodia and Malaysia also recently signed a memorandum of understanding on combating trafficking, as many of the Thai fishing boats operate in Malaysian waters.

Thung Yeap was able to return home to Popok village in Kampong Thom Province last month because he escaped when his fishing boat made a rare stop in port in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. The Malaysian authorities detained him as an illegal immigrant before sending him back to Cambodia.

He and Dorn Chenda, who is from Steung Saen village in Kampong Thom, ended up in the same detention center in Sarawak, and Uniap worked with the Cambodian human rights group Licadho to have them repatriated to Cambodia.

Kampong Thom is one of the country's poorest districts, blighted until just 10 years ago by fighting between Cambodian government troops and Khmer Rouge guerrillas.

"People live hand to mouth round here," said Prak Phanna, village headman of Anlong Kranh, a village near Popok. "We used to make some money cutting and burning trees for charcoal, but the government made this illegal recently, so we have nothing. I'd say most people maybe make $20 to $30 a month around here. So, when the young men can't make ends meet, they go to Thailand."

Chorn Theong Ly, also from Anlong Kranh, was among them.

"One day a middleman came to our village," he recalled. "He said he would take us to Thailand, where we could have an easy life, working in factories. He said we'd earn 4,000 baht a month there," an amount equal to $115. "So, we each paid him 3,000 to smuggle us across the border."

What followed was a nightmare.

"When we got to Thailand we were taken to a house in Samut Prakan" - a seaside province south of Bangkok - "and locked up there. We began to realize then that something was wrong. At 4 a.m. they came for us, the traffickers, and took us straight to the boats. It was then we realized we had been sold to a fishing captain. And by then it was too late to act."

Forced to work under the supervision of an armed Thai crew, the Cambodians - some of whom had never been afloat before - suffered terribly.

"We were all seasick, and I remember vomiting blood," said Chorn Theong Ly. "The captain beat me, too, using an octopus tentacle as a whip. I was beaten almost unconscious. I also saw other crew members killed, twice - one shot, the other beaten to death, when he refused to work."

The promised wages never arrived.

"After four months at sea," said Dorn Chenda. "I started demanding my wages. They told me they had sent them to my wife back in Cambodia. But it turned out they'd never paid her a penny."

The boats typically operate out of ports like the one in Samut Prakan.

"That is one place where there are many houses where the traffickers can lock up the new arrivals," said Manfred Hornung, monitoring consultant with Licadho. "They are brought there illegally, so have no papers, and are totally at the mercy of the traffickers."

The Thai police say they are aware of the practice but say that enforcement is difficult.

"When some do escape, they usually don't want to talk to the police," said Lieutenant Colonel Thakoon Nimsombun of the Thai Justice Ministry's Department of Special Investigations Anti-Trafficking Center, often referred to as DSI. "When they go back to Cambodia, they just disappear, and it's difficult to find them again."

Lisa Rende Taylor, chief technical adviser at the Bangkok office of Uniap, said that until the anti-trafficking laws were extended to cover men, there was little incentive for victims to cooperate.

"In one case, when a boat had put out to sea and run out of gas, many of the trafficked crew had died, with the bodies thrown overboard," she said. "When the boat was finally brought back to port, there was a big question as to what law to prosecute them under. The crew were classed as illegal immigrants, so how could they testify without being arrested?"

Another problem, said Police Colonel Akarapol Punyopashtambha of the DSI, "When the crimes are committed, they are out at sea, and there are a lot of jurisdictional problems there. They may be at sea for years, too, so it's hard to get to them."

Meanwhile, in Kampong Thom, the survivors of this ordeal at sea are now trying to come to terms with their experience.

"We were always thinking of escaping," recalled Thung Yeap. "There was no way, though. We were powerless. The sea itself was our prison."
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.C. aid worker dies after Cambodia attack

A B.C. aid worker who was severely injured after being attacked in Cambodia last week has died from his injuries.

Jiri Zivny, 46, of Kamloops, B.C., died at 5:15 p.m. local time Thursday in Phnom Penh's Calmette hospital, where he was being treated for serious head injuries.

Zivny was attacked after he withdrew money from an ATM in Preah Sihanouk Province last Friday, about four hours south of Phnom Penh. He was reportedly clubbed in the head by assailants who stole his cash, his wallet, some of his clothes and left him for dead.

Zivny's medical insurance had expired and his death comes as his agency was trying to raise funds to bring him back to Canada for medical treatment -- a flight that could cost up to $20,000.

Friend and fellow aid worker Monty Aldoff says Zivny received a "substandard" level of medical care in the capital city's hospital.

"The conditions were deplorable," he told CTV News Thursday morning, his voice breaking. "It stunk and there were rats everywhere and it was just substandard. Unacceptable."

Aldoff, with help from the International Humanitarian Hope Society, the Kamloops, B.C. agency they worked with, brought in an American doctor to oversee Zivny's progress.

Zivny was in the country delivering supplies to Asian orphanages, as part of a trip organized by the B.C. charity. He had been travelling with other IHHS members in December, but had decided to extend his trip.

IHHS president Evelyn Picklyk told The Canadian Press that Zivny had a passion for his work with children.

"Every time we went to an orphanage, he was in tears," she said.

While Picklyk said aid workers generally travel in groups, she confirmed that Zivny had been travelling alone at the time that he was attacked.

According to the Canada Revenue Agency website, the IHHS falls under the "missionary organizations and propagation of gospel" category of charitable organizations. It has held charitable status since Jan. 1, 2007.
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