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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poor Cambodians face eviction under new law: report

PHNOM PENH — Hundreds of poor communities in the Cambodian capital face potential forced evictions after parliament this week passed a controversial law, rights groups warned Thursday.

Lawmakers on Tuesday voted through a law on expropriations which will give the authorities legal grounds to seize private property for public development projects in Cambodia.

The law still needs to be approved by the senate and promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni, but it has raised concerns from rights groups about a surge in forced evictions.

"The existence of a law on expropriation which was just recently passed... will create more negative effects on the poor people in the city," the rights groups said in a joint statement.

The statement said there were 410 vulnerable communities of urban poor in Phnom Penh, with 74 of them threatened with eviction.

"These (74) communities have already received notifications from the government authorities that ordered them to voluntarily move away from their homes with little compensations, the groups said.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, the Housing Rights Task Force, and the NGO Forum on Cambodia also said they had "deep concern about potential forced evictions of urban poor people from their communities in the near future".

The Cambodian government has faced mounting criticism for a spate of forced evictions throughout the country over the past few years at the hands of the army and police as land prices have risen.

Cambodia in September ended a World Bank-financed land-titling programme amid increasing property disputes and allegations of land-grabbing.

Land ownership is a controversial problem in Cambodia, where legal documents were destroyed under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s and civil war that ended in 1998.

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Cambodia court orders arrest of opposition leader

By Jared Ferrie


PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - An arrest warrant has been issued for the leader of Cambodia's main opposition party after he ignored a provincial court order to appear for questioning, a government spokesman said on Thursday.

Sam Rainsy failed to appear for questioning on Monday about an Oct. 25 incident in which demarcation posts were uprooted along Cambodia's border with Vietnam.

A Phnom Penh court issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday, although it was not announced publicly.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan confirmed on Thursday that the warrant had been issued for Rainsy, who leads the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).

In an email from France, Rainsy told Reuters he would not appear in court because the case against him was politically motivated.

"The court in Cambodia is just a political tool for the ruling party to crack down on the opposition," he said. "I will let this politically subservient court prosecute me in absentia because its verdict is known in advance."

Phay insisted the judges made their decisions free of political interference and said the warrant was issued only because Rainsy missed his court date.

"No matter who you are you have to appear in court, that's the law," he said.

Rights groups have accused the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of using the courts to crack down on opposition.

On Nov. 16, the CPP-dominated government voted to strip Rainsy of his immunity for the second time in 2009.

Rainsy faces charges of racial incitement and destruction of property for his alleged role in uprooting six border posts, which local farmers claimed were placed on their land.

Vietnam lodged an official complaint over the incident. The countries are in the process of demarcating their 1,270-metre long border, but farmers on the Cambodian side have claimed they are losing land as Vietnam encroaches on Cambodian territory.

A group of villagers from Svay Rieng province, on the frontier with Vietnam, brought their concerns to Rainsy, who is a fierce critic of Vietnam's influence in Cambodian affairs.

Vietnam is a growing investor in Cambodia, and the countries signed a memorandum of understanding at a forum in Ho Chi Minh City on Dec. 26, which will guide Vietnamese investments that officials said could top $6 billion.

(Editing by Alex Richardson)


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Cambodia’s ‘jungle woman’ speaking normally, dad says

AFP , PHNOM PENH


Cambodia’s “jungle woman,” whose story gripped the country after she apparently spent 18 years living in a forest, has begun speaking normally instead of making animal-type noises, her father said.

Rochom P’ngieng, now 28, went missing as a little girl in 1989 while herding water buffalo in Ratanakkiri Province, about 600km northeast of the capital Phnom Penh.

In early 2007, the woman was brought from the jungle, naked and dirty, after being caught trying to steal food from a farmer. She was hunched over like a monkey, scavenging on the ground for pieces of dried rice.

She could not utter a word of any intelligible language, instead making what Sal Lou, the man who says he is her father, calls “animal noises.”

JUNGLE WOMAN’

Cambodians described her as “jungle woman” and “half-animal girl” and since rejoining society Rochom P’ngieng has battled bouts of illness and was hospitalized in October after refusing food.

Sal Lou said late on Wednesday, however, that this month his daughter had started to understand Cambodia’s Khmer language and could even speak the language of his ethnic Phnong tribe.

“She is becoming a normal human being like others. She has been starting to speak out now — she speaks the language of Phnong,” Sal Lou said by telephone. “She can ask for food, water and so on when she feels hungry.”

The apparent breakthrough happened after Rochom P’ngieng’s hospitalization, when doctors gave her injections to treat a nervous illness for a few days, Sal Lou said.

VERY GENTLE

“She is very gentle and I am very happy with her progress,” he said, adding that her condition appears to be improving from day to day.

Sal Lou said his daughter had stopped trying to flee into the jungle as she had in the past.

“Even though we tried to take her into jungle, she wanted to stay at home,” he said.

The jungles of Ratanakkiri — some of the most isolated and wild in Cambodia — are known to have held hidden groups of hill tribes in the recent past.

In November 2004, 34 people from four hill tribe families emerged from the dense forest where they had fled in 1979 after the fall of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime, which they supported.
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CAMBODIA Coadjutor appointed for Phnom Penh vicariate

PHNOM PENH (UCAN) -- A coadjutor to the country’s only Catholic bishop has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI.

On Dec. 24, the Vatican announced that Father Olivier Schmitthaeusler, 39, has been made coadjutor apostolic vicar of Phnom Penh apostolic vicariate.

The Paris Foreign Missions (MEP) priest was serving as Phnom Penh vicar general as well as head of the vicariate’s education committee when he was handed his new post.

Duong Savong, director of the Cambodia Catholic Culture Center, said he hopes Father Schmitthaeusler, in his new role, will help Catholics develop their faith and improve relations with other religions alongside Bishop Emile Destombes.

The coadjutor of a Church jurisdiction shares episcopal responsibility with the local Church head and may also succeed him. In August 2010, Bishop Destombes will turn 75 and will be required to request retirement according to Church law.

Father Werachai Sri Pramong of the Thai Missionary Society said the new appointment shows the Church in Cambodia is growing.

Kol Cheang, a member of the parish council of Our Lady of the Smile Parish here, said Father Schmitthaeusler is a good choice since he has good relations with local Catholics, people of other religions, as well as with local and national government officials.

“He has helped young people get an education and has built schools for poor people in the countryside.”

Father Schmitthaeusler was born on June 26, 1970, in Strasbourg, France. His father is a permanent deacon of Strasbourg archdiocese.

After ordination as an MEP priest in 1998, he went to Cambodia as a missioner. He then became a pastor in the Takeo and Kampot areas in the south of the country. Since 2002 he has served as director of the Catholic Education Committee of the Phnom Penh apostolic vicariate. From 2003-2005, he also taught Church history at the major seminary in Phnom Penh before being appointed vicar general in 2007.
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