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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chinese firm seeking investment opportunity in rice exports, hotel industry in Cambodia

China's COFCO, the largest oils and food importer and exporter in China and a leading food manufacturer, on Tuesday afternoon expresses its interest to invest in rice exports and tourism in Cambodia.

"We are very interesting in rice exports from Cambodia and hotel industry in Cambodia,"Yang Hong, vice president of China Oil and Foodstuff Corporation (COFCO), said on Tuesday during a meeting with the officials at the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC).

"After the possibility study about the investment opportunity here, we will take the two sectors into investment consideration," she added.

She said that the Beijing-based COFCO Group is a leading firm in the businesses of biofuel and biochemical production, oilseed processing, rice trading and processing for exports, brewing materials production, and wheat processing, moreover, the group also engages in real estate businesses.

Vongsey Vissoth, secretary general of the Ministry of Finance, said that Cambodia has produced 7.3 million tons of rice paddy in 2010, of which the surpass quantity is 3.5 million tones of rice paddy or 2.1 million tons of processed rice that is available for exports.

"China just signed a rice inspection and quarantine cooperation agreement with Cambodia in October that is easier for Chinese investors to export rice from Cambodia,"he said.

Tith Chantha, director general of the Ministry of Tourism, said that currently Cambodia has 438 hotels with 24,239 rooms, accommodating around 2.1 million foreign tourists last year.

"Cambodia has potentials in tourism and the extent of the economy is bigger, it is estimated that Cambodia needs up to 40, 000 rooms by 2015 as the number of foreign tourists is expected around 3.7 million at that year,"he said, adding"so putting your investment in the sector from now is the right time."

The 13-member delegation consisted the officials of COFCO and ICBC.

Sok Cheda, the CDC's secretary general, said that the delegation comes to Cambodia after Jiang Jianqing, President of Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) met with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Nov. 5 in Phnom Penh and expressed the bank's purpose to open its branch in Cambodia and he promised with the prime minister to attract more Chinese investors to Cambodia.

Source: Xinhua
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First Cambodia doc in leak

The WikiLeaks website has released the first document in its cache of American diplomatic cables relating to Cambodia, in which eminent Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew discusses the Kingdom’s close relations with China.

In a diplomatic cable labeled “secret” and sent in May last year by the American embassy in Singapore, Lee comments on China’s increasing global economic and diplomatic reach, briefly mentioning Cambodia.

“Within hours, everything that is discussed in ASEAN meetings is known in Beijing, given China’s close ties with Laos, Cambodia and Burma,” the cable states, quoting Lee.

The cable is only one of more than 250,000 American foreign policy documents WikiLeaks has pledged to release gradually in the coming months. An initial batch of documents was released on Monday and 281 had been released in total as of yesterday evening.

US embassy spokesman Mark Wenig declined to address the content of the document.

“As a matter of policy, the Dept of State does not comment on allegedly leaked documents,” he wrote in an email yesterday. “Foreign governments should be assured that the United States Government is committed to ensuring the confidentiality of information and will continue to strengthen the security of our systems.”

Officials at the Singapore embassy did not respond to a request for comment yesterday, nor did Chinese embassy spokesman Qian Hai. Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said he would “try to check the information”, declining to comment further.

The bulk of the cable released yesterday focuses on Lee’s analysis of North Korean and Chinese politics, with Cambodia mentioned only once. None of the more than 1,000 documents in the WikiLeaks’ archive that US officials classified as Cambodia-related – including 777 cables from the American embassy in Phnom Penh – have yet been made public.
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Talent lines up for Cambodia badlands drama

PRINCIPAL photography begins on Monday on Say Nothing, the new Australian film starring Teresa Palmer and Joel Edgerton.

Writer and director Kieran Darcy-Smith tells Reel Time he had "never felt more alive" ahead of cameras rolling. "I've been waiting for the pressure but I don't feel much pressure yet because it all seems to be falling into place," he says. Darcy-Smith's psychological drama and mystery tells the story of four friends on a Southeast Asian holiday, where one goes missing. The film, also starring Darcy-Smith's wife, co-writer Felicity Price, and Antony Starr, will film in Cambodia in the new year after a Sydney shoot. Darcy-Smith admits he has a love affair with the region having written his first script while travelling there after leaving drama school in 1996.

"The places we're shooting are pretty crazy, the badlands," he says of his filming locations near southern Cambodian coastal town, Sihanoukville. "It's really important to me that it's a credible world and a credible story and shooting Cambodia in Sydney just wasn't going to cut it." He says he feels fortunate the film managed to secure Palmer and Edgerton while their international careers are taking off. Edgerton, who met Darcy-Smith at drama school, later becoming his best man, is about to perform opposite Jennifer Garner in the Disney film, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, while Palmer's latest film, I Am Number Four, is expected to be one of the main sci-fi blockbusters of 2011. Angie Fielder will produce the film in association with Blue Tongue Films with funding from Screen Australia, Screen NSW and Fulcrum Media Finance. Hopscotch Films will distribute the film in Australia and New Zealand.

TWO Australian animated films have made the list of 33 films to qualify for consideration as nominees for best animated short at the coming 2010 Academy Awards. It's a hefty list that includes new shorts from Pixar (the wonderful Day and Night which preceded Toy Story 3), the Road Runner's return at Warner Bros in 3D, and new films from the legendary Bill Plympton and two other former nominees, Tomasz Baginski and Don Hertzfeldt. That said, Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing, adapted by Tan and Andrew Ruhemann, has swept all before it thus far and must be a strong chance to make the final five nominees. Reel Time is yet to see the other local contender, Chris Kezelos's Zero, but it too has a long list of awards alread and is nominated for an AFI Award.

AUSTRALIAN audiences have again ignored an Australian genre film, with the accomplished western Red Hill, starring Ryan Kwanten, only managing $110,000 in its first weekend despite warm reviews and media interest. A weekend in which the seventh Harry Potter film earned another $6.7 million (for $25.85m in 10 days) and a new Robert Downey Jr road trip comedy, Due Date, opened with $2.7m, is hard to read. But Red Hill's screen average of $1912 didn't compare so well with screen averages for independent foreign films including Monsters ($3343), Agora ($5707) and Winter's Bone ($2830). But the question is whether it will result in a sudden shift in development thinking among our film agencies though, after a rapid shift towards genre filmmaking this year.

MELBOURNE family crime drama Animal Kingdom has picked up yet another award, nabbing the best screenplay prize for David Michod at the Stockholm International Film Festival. Debra Granik's US indie drama Winter's Bone was named best film.

THE fourth Asia Pacific Screen Awards will be presented on the Gold Coast tomorrow. The awards, honouring films from the region, will choose from 31 films from 15 countries. Guests will include best actor nominees Tony Barry and Indian star Atul Kulkarni, and best actress nominees Tejaswini Pandit from India and the Chinese star of leading nominee, Aftershock, Xu Fan. The ceremony will be webcast at www.asiapacificscreenawards.com and on the Australia Network on January 9. Read more!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cambodia PM says no one responsible for stampede

By Prak Chan Thul


PHNOM PENH — Cambodia's prime minister said on Monday no state officials were to blame for a stampede last week that killed 351 people and ruled out resignations in the aftermath of the country's worst tragedy in three decades.

Long-serving premier Hun Sen said calls for senior figures within the government and security forces to step down were politically motivated to serve opposition parties, but he said mistakes had been made and the situation was badly handled.

"No one will resign from their positions after what happened," Hun Sen said during the opening of a new government building in the capital, Phnom Penh.

"The incident happened because of carelessness and we didn't expect this thing to happen," he added. "The biggest mistake was that we had not fully understood the situation."

The stampede caused the biggest loss of life in Cambodia since the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge's regime's four-year reign of terror in the late 1970s, during which an estimated 1.7 million people were executed or died of starvation or disease.

The accident happened late on Monday last week when hoards of people celebrating an annual Water Festival on a man-made entertainment island crossed a narrow bridge at the same time. For some reason, the crowd suddenly panicked.

Footage showed hundreds piled on top of each other, screaming for help, wedged under bodies, dead, alive and unconscious for about three hours. Security personnel appeared disorganized and unsure of how to rescue survivors.

A government committee announced the findings of its investigation on Monday and said the panic was caused by the slight swaying of the Diamond Gate bridge -- as part of its design -- under the weight of at least 7,000 people, who thought it was about to collapse.

It also said large movements of people in both directions, along with rumors that some people had been electrocuted, added to the chaos. Investigators said there were no electrocutions and no one had died from drowning, contrary to some witness accounts, and suffocation was the cause of most of the deaths.

TIMELY RESCUE

"The panic caused the stampede," said Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, who is head of the committee. "People were jammed at all ends and the ones in the middle were the victims."

Investigators said rescue efforts were timely and the number of people involved in the operation was sufficient. People pour into Phnom Penh from the countryside for the three-day festival and investigators estimated 4 million had attended. The city has a population of up to 2 million.

The death toll was 456, but that was later scaled down to 351 when officials said many bodies had been counted twice. Hundreds were injured.

Hun Sen, whose government has promised $12,000 for the families of each victim, had been widely expected to absolve his government of blame and analysts say it is unlikely there will be any repercussions for his powerful Cambodian People's Party (CPP), which enjoys a huge parliamentary majority.

Experts attribute Hun Sen's quarter-century in office to his blend of populism and cronyism and say it is unlikely the government or the judiciary will pursue any action against the CPP's influential allies among the police and business elite.

But many Cambodians believe heads should roll and say someone should take the blame for the handling of the rescue effort.

"If they had worked faster, they might have saved many more lives," said survivor Chum Srey, 30. "They must take responsibility for this, for the sake of the families."

The opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) said the government was "careless and incompetent."

"With the loss of nearly 400 lives and many injuries, there must be people responsible," said party member Yim Sovann..
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Cambodia Catholics visit water festival victims

Phnom Penh Catholics have responded to last week’s Water Festival tragedy which killed at least 375 revelers by organizing hospital visits to survivors of the deadly stampede.

“We come here to share the sorrow,” said Sang Yeth, a member of the charity committee of St. Joseph’s Church.

On Nov. 26, she led a group parishioners to Preah Ketomilia Hospital in the capital where more than 40 of the injured were hospitalized.

Hundreds more injured are being treated at two other hospitals.

The parishioners also distributed 40,000 riel (about US$10) to each victim, most of whom were poor farmers who came from the provinces to celebrate the Water Festival in the capital.

Sam Sotom, who was caring for her three injured sons, told ucanews.com that she was grateful for the Church’s support.

Local priest Father Bruno Cosme added that the Catholic group wanted to show their solidarity with the victims.

“We take time to talk, to encourage people to give hope even though we don’t have much time with them,” he said.

Parishioners and students from Don Bosco schools in Cambodia are also collecting money to assist the victims.

Meanwhile, Caritas Cambodia has joined with other NGOs to provide daily meals to 450 patients in five hospitals where the injured have been admitted.

“We are doing this because the hospitals could not provide food for them,” explained Sok Sakhan, the Caritas disaster management officer.

Earlier on Nov. 25, all Catholic churches in Cambodia offered Mass and prayed for the victims of the tragedy.
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Cambodia gears up to host ATF 2011 TRAVEX

ETW Staff – Mumbai

The ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2011 TRAVEX, to be held from January 19-21, 2011, at Phnom Penh’s Diamond Island Convention and Exhibition Center, Cambodia has recorded strong interest and rapid take-up rate early in its registration process. The 2011 ASEAN leisure travel trade event, showcasing the largest contingent of ASEAN destination products and services, is also expected to feature a larger show with 25 per cent more booths space than last year.

More than 70 per cent of the 450 available booth space has already been secured by around 240 exhibiting companies from across the 10 ASEAN countries - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. More than 600 applications received from across the world.

Dr Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism, Cambodia, and permanent vice-chairman of ATF 2011 Organising Committee explained, “Improving market optimism aside, a significant part of this year’s interest also has to do with the appeal of Cambodia as a destination. International delegates are motivated to experience the country’s rich cultural, natural, and historical heritage.”

Ministry of Tourism, Cambodia, will host the three day event’s opening and closing ceremony. ATF 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of this event since its inauguration in Malaysia in 1981. ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) is a cooperative regional effort to promote the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region as one tourist destination. Read more!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stampede death toll rises to 351

The number of people killed in a bridge stampede during the Cambodian capital's annual water festival now stands at 351, the social affairs minister said on Sunday. The figure, which included 222 females, is four higher than previously announced, while the number of injured stood at 395, said a
statement signed by Ith Samheng, who sits on a committee investigating the disaster.

It said each of the wounded would receive free treatment and assistance from the Cambodian Red Cross as well as 1,000,000 riels (USD 244) from the government.

Cambodia's most popular festival ended in tragedy on Monday after crowds panicked on an overcrowded bridge leading to an island that was one of the main event sites.

Authorities have said a full report on the incident would be released in the coming week.

Initial findings from the investigating committee suggest the stampede occurred after rumours rippled through the crowd that the suspension bridge to Phnom Penh's Diamond Island was about to collapse.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has described the disaster as Cambodia's worst tragedy since the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 reign of terror, which killed up to a quarter of the population.

The city will continue to host the yearly festival despite the deaths, according to Chea Kean, deputy secretary general of a government festival committee, who said yesterday it was an "age-old tradition" in the country.

The three-day event, which marks the reversal of the flow between the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, usually draws millions of visitors to the capital to enjoy dragon boat races, fireworks and concerts.
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China finances restoration of historic Shiva temple in Cambodia

Nevada, US, November 28, 2010:

Hindus have applauded China for reportedly financing the restoration of deteriorating Ta Keo Hindu temple in Cambodia’s UNESCO World Heritage Site Angkor temple complex, which began on November 27.

Restoration will take about six million dollars and eight years to complete. People’s Republic of China also assisted in the restoration (2000-2008) of 12th century Hindu temple in Angkor named Chausay Tevada, costing about two million dollars, reports suggest.

Said to be built entirely of sandstones by kings Jayavarman V and Suryavarman I in late 10-early 11th century, Ta Keo (Preah Keo) is a pyramid of five levels. Fragments of pedestals and lingas are found in/around its towers. Its primary deity is said to be Shiva. At the foot of the eastern stairways, there is a statue of kneeling Nandi, which indicates that Ta Keo was a Shaivite temple.

Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that more needed to be done to safeguard the Angkor temple complex and its surroundings and deteriorating bas-reliefs; save it from vandalism and looting; put some controls on unchecked tourism; check the demand for water table which could undermine the stability of sandy soils under the temples.

Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, also urged UNESCO World Heritage Convention and Cambodia government to provide more funding for the upkeep of the temple complex and spend more than half the ticket revenue on the temples. He commended China for bankrolling the restoration of historic Hindu temples.

Angkor Archaeological Park contains magnificent remains of over 1000 temples going back to ninth century, spread over about 400 square kilometers, and receives about three million visitors annually.
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Boy who fled K.Rouge returns to Cambodia a US navy commander

By Michelle Fitzpatrick (AFP)

PHNOM PENH — When the destroyer USS Mustin docks in Cambodia next week it will be more than just a routine mission for the ship's commander.

Michael Misiewicz is Cambodian by birth and was just a child when he was wrenched from his family and homeland 37 years ago, to be sent away from the country to escape the civil war with the Khmer Rouge.

He has not set foot on Cambodian soil since.

"I have been fighting a lot of emotions about coming back to my native country," said Misiewicz, who was born Vannak Khem, of his impending return.

"To know that I've got relatives there that have wanted to see me for decades... I don't know if I will be able to hold back the tears," he told AFP by telephone aboard the US warship.

The 43-year-old was a small boy in the early 1970s when Cambodia was engulfed in a civil war between government troops and communist Khmer Rouge fighters.

In 1973, his father arranged for him to be adopted by an American woman who worked at the US embassy and was preparing to leave the increasingly dangerous country.

The move meant Misiewicz avoided one of the most brutal chapters of 20th century history -- the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime that caused the deaths of up to two million people from starvation, overwork and execution.

"At that age I was a happy-go-lucky kid. I really didn't have any sense of the war or bad things going on in Cambodia," said Misiewicz, recalling that he had no qualms about leaving.

"I was excited about getting on a plane, going to a new world where I could eat popcorn and have all the watermelon I wanted," he said.

But his mother's tearful goodbye is engraved in his memory. "My mom was so, so upset. I promised her I'd buy her a big house one day."

The young Cambodian built a new life for himself in his adoptive country, enlisting in the navy after graduating from high school in Lanark, Illinois.

It was while he was attending the US naval academy that he began to learn about the atrocities that had taken place in his homeland.

Misiewicz had received no news from his family and assumed the worst.

"I felt a lot of guilt. Why was I the lucky one?," he said. "I really doubted that my family had survived the whole Khmer Rouge era. I tried not to think about it."

What he did not know was that his mother and three of his four siblings had survived and managed to flee the country in 1983, ending up in the United States themselves.

They were now living in Austin, Texas, desperately trying to find him.

It took six years of searching, but finally the family learnt that Misiewicz had lived in Alexandria, Virginia when he first arrived in the US.

Combing through old phonebooks, they eventually made contact with his ex-babysitter who happened to know his current whereabouts.

After 16 years of silence, one phone call reunited him with his family.

"One day, in 1989, I got a call out of the blue. It was my older brother," said Misiewicz.

The joy of reunion was tempered by the news that his father had been executed by the Khmer Rouge in 1977 and his infant sister had died, probably of malnutrition, during the "Killing Fields" era.

Misiewicz, who has more than 300 sailors under his charge, says he often thinks about how hard it must have been to make the choice to separate him from his family.

"I am so grateful my father had the wisdom to make that decision. It was a very tough decision, very heart-breaking," he said.

Now Misiewicz is looking forward to reconnecting with relatives and exposing his sailors to the country through community outreach projects and training exercises with the Cambodian navy.

The USS Mustin, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, will be stationed in Sihanoukville, on Cambodia's southwestern coastline, for four days from Friday.

"I've been so blessed to have had these opportunities and I feel honoured and privileged to come back," the ship's commander said.

Misiewicz added that he feels "very close" to his birth mother and siblings.

"I did buy my mom that house -- in Texas," he said -- making good on a promise made nearly four decades ago.
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

First Vietnamese supermarket to open in Cambodia

A corner of the first Vietnam Supermarket in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which will open in the end of December.


The first Vietnam Supermarket in Cambodia will open on December 29, creating advantageous condition for domestic businesses to sell and advertise Vietnamese goods to people in this neighboring country.

Construction of the Vietnam Supermarket, in Monivong Street, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, has a total capital of US$3 million, invested by Z38 Company, a member of Vietnamese Business Association in Cambodia.

Located on 3,300 square meters, the supermarket will sell goods for Vietnamese companies with the prices set by themselves. Payment would be conducted through Agribank, BIDC Bank and Sacombank.

Seng Meng, the supermarket chairman and the association deputy chairman, said that the Vietnam Supermarket will meet demand of oversea Vietnamese living in Cambodia and the rising number of Cambodian who have loved Vietnamese goods.

In addition, the facility will help those who want to but yet expand business to Cambodia as they have been afraid of language difference and procedures, he said.

Besides having his supermarket to sell their goods, Vietnamese companies could hire stalls to do that themselves. The Vietnam Supermarket will assist them with export-import procedures and selling staff, who are oversea Vietnamese being able to speak both Vietnamese and Cambodian.

The Z38 Company has planned to open another three Vietnam Supermarkets in other Cambodian provinces including the famous tourist destination Siem Reap.
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Akron natives wage campaign against sex trafficking of children

Pat Galbincea, The Plain Dealer

MIDDLEBURG HEIGHTS, Ohio -- Akron natives Carl and Laurie Ralston have a strong calling to prevent the sex trafficking of children.

They've dedicated their lives to doing something about it. It was one of the reasons they recently brought 21-year-old Nhu Thanh, a sex-trafficking victim at age 12 while in Cambodia, to Grace Christian & Missionary Alliance Church in Middleburg Heights to talk about the problem.

The Ralstons were so moved by Nhu's story when they learned of her plight in 2003 that one year later -- before they ever met or saw her -- Carl Ralston sold his lucrative insurance business in Akron to establish Remember Nhu, an IRS-recognized nonprofit organization to help prevent children from entering the sex trade.

"I had heard about Miss Nhu from a missionary in Cambodia," Ralston said. "After he told his story about her, God spoke to my heart. My wife and I wanted to help this young lady."

Six-year search finally finds sex trafficking victim

The Ralstons made six trips to Cambodia over three years before they found her. They walked up and down the Mekong River with Nhu's picture, asking people if they recognized her.

They finally found someone who recognized Nhu in July 2006. The Ralstons found her working in a hair salon in Phnom Penh.

Her story, which she told earlier this month in services at Grace CMA Church, evoked tears from the congregation, according to church Senior Pastor Jonathan Schaeffer.

Carl Ralston first talked about Nhu to church members three years earlier, explaining how he hoped to establish Remember Nhu. One member wrote him a check for $5,000.

Grandmother, deep in debt to feed family, sells girl into sex trade

Nhu, who spoke with The Plain Dealer at the church Tuesday, said her mother abandoned her when she was only 3 days old. She has seen her mother only three times in her life.

She was raised by her grandmother, but by the time she was 12, her grandmother had to borrow money to feed and clothe the family -- with interest at 10 percent per week on the unpaid balance.

Nhu said that since there was no work in Cambodia, her grandmother sold her to a woman who in turn demanded Nhu satisfy the sexual desires of a man who was 30 years older. She spent three days with him in a hotel.

Nhu was sold into sexual slavery two more times before she begged her grandmother to stop for fear she would be sold next to a brothel.

"I went to school to learn cosmetology when I was 13," Nhu said, "and I cleaned at the school because I couldn't afford the tuition. When I completed one year of school, I went to work when I was 14 -- working 12 hours a day with one or two days off a month."

Instead of intervention, giving children a home -- and hope

That's when the Ralstons found Nhu and were able to assist her. Carl Ralston decided to build a home in Cambodia to educate and shelter children like Nhu who were at risk of being sold into sex trafficking.

"My wife and I decided to focus on preventing sex trafficking rather than intervening," he said. "Intervention hasn't worked well. We researched and found it takes $6,000 a year to try and get a child out of the sex trade . . . and found 75 percent of them fall back or relapse into it.

"But the cost of prevention is only $700 a year to care for and train and educate these children, and only 3 percent of them end up in the sex trade."

The Ralstons' first home was built in Phnom Penh in January 2007, housing 18 children. Nhu became the home's first employee, helping train the children and then opening up a hair salon. Most children came via word-of-mouth seeking a haven from sex trafficking.

From this origin, Remember Nhu now has eight homes in five countries -- Cambodia, the Philippines, India, Thailand and Myanmar (formerly Burma) -- with about 200 children. The Ralstons have rescued 300 children.

"We teach the kids English, get them computer literate and send them to public schools," Carl Ralston said. "We want to get them into college, but if they're not college bound, we get them vocational training.

"We keep these kids safe from sex trafficking . . . and that can be up to age 22. We keep them until they are no longer at risk."

Caring for a child costs $60 a month

The Ralstons said they can care for each child -- giving them food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care -- for $60 a month. The last home they built in Thailand cost $120,000 and houses 60 children and young adults.

Nhu and the Ralstons have received major help from 3,500-member Grace CMA Church. There are 70 individuals sponsoring 70 girls at risk, Schaeffer said, and 41 families are sponsoring the building of another Remember Nhu home next March in Thailand.

Carl Ralston, who is 49, and his 42-year-old wife plan to fight sex trafficking overseas until the problem is eradicated. They, along with Nhu, moved to Thailand in May.

"We're committed to stop this until the day we die," he said. "We figure sex trafficking became a big problem in a 10-year period of time, so maybe we can stop it in a 10-year period."

As for Nhu, her plans are to improve her English so she can speak eloquently on behalf of the organization named after her.
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Survivors Recall Horrifying Hours on Bridge

From left to right: Ros Kong, Bun Sophal, and Math Seila. The Diamond Bridge survivors were guests on Hello VOA, on Thursday.


On Monday night, there were sounds of joy, as revelers spent the last few hours of the three-day Water Festival on Diamond Island. But as they crossed the bridge, those sounds were replaced by groans, as more and more people packed onto the structure.

People were pressed from all sides, three survivors of the tragedy, which claimed 347 lives, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday.

“When the crowd became more and more narrow, with people pushing in, it was hard to breathe,” said Ros Kong, who was stuck among the mass of people that would eventually panic and stampede. “People then tried to push upwards to breathe. The whole crowd became like trees bent in a gust of wind, to the left or right, as the wave of pushing surged.”

Authorities have not found a definitive moment when the overcrowding devolved into something more dangerous, but an investigative committee official said Wednesday he suspected people thought the swaying suspension bridge was close to collapse.

As panic ensued, people began to climb over each other. Those who could not stand fell beneath the feet of the others. Health officials say most of the casualties were crushed or suffocated.

For survivor Bun Sophal, the stampede led to an arduous wait on the bridge, as police and medical responders fought a heavy crowd to reach the bridge.

“I almost made it to the end of the bridge,” Bun Sophal said. “But because it was too narrow, I got stuck right there. I had to wait until I almost died for police to come.”

The survivors spoke live following a national day of mourning that brought some comfort to relatives of the victims. But serious questions remain as to who was responsible for allowing thousands of people to crowd onto the bridge.

Callers to “Hello VOA” said they wanted to know what caused the panic and who was to blame for the deaths. So far there have been few answers. The government’s inquiry is expected to issue results next week.

“I don’t know if there were police at both ends, because I was trapped in the middle of the bridge,” Math Seila, a third survivor said. “Had there been, they would have been able to save us on time.”

She eventually jumped from the bridge, escaping the crush of people but injuring herself in the process.

Ros Kong said it took almost two hours for police to reach the bridge.

“I could only see the authorities coming to help us after people started fainting and died,” Math Seila said. “Had there been security forces close by, they would have helped us long before. I just wonder why.”
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TV Raises More Than $1 Million for Victims of Tragedy

CTN and Bayon have continuously taken donations, at time broadcasting pleas for aid and running donation totals during regular programming.


Following Monday’s Diamond Bridge tragedy, nearly $1.5 million has come in from concerned Cambodians via fund drives by two TV stations, for both the families of the dead and for those injured.

By Friday evening, Bayon TV had raised more than $1.08 million and CTN had brought in more than $500,000.

A total 347 people died on the bridge and another 395 were injured, when a mass of Water Festival revelers stampeded on the crowded bridge Monday night.

The country’s worst tragedy in decades was felt across Cambodia and in expatriate Cambodian communities abroad, culminating in a national day of mourning Thursday.

CTN and Bayon have continuously taken donations, at time broadcasting pleas for aid and running donation totals during regular programming.

Officials from both stations said they would end their fund drives Friday and aim to distribute the money to families of the dead next week.

Hout Kheang Heng, deputy director general of TV and Radio Bayon, which is operated by the prime minister’s daughter, said 100 percent of the fundraising would go directly to victims as cash. Teams will travel to the villages where the families or survivors live or to hospitals to deliver the money, he said.

Chhun Kosal, deputy director of CTN’s fundraising committee, said so far with about 85 percent of the donations counted, the station has raised $420,000 and 373 million riel, or $93,000. They will also deliver 100 percent of the cash to survivors and relatives next week, he said.

Both said the relatives of the dead would receive more than survivors.

However, members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party and a workers union representative said they are skeptical the money will reach the hands of those it was meant for.

That’s because during similar fundraising for soldiers stationed near a border dispute with Thailand since 2008, there was little transparency and it remains unclear where the money went, said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Teacher’s Association.

A similar problem could plague the donation efforts for the bridge victims, he said.

“I really admire both stations for opening fundraising,” he said. “It shows that Khmer love Khmer. But what I’m worried about is that the expenditure of funds will not be transparent for the victims.”
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US-Cambodians Join Mourning for Bridge Tragedy

Yap Kimtung, president of Cambodian American for Human Rights and Democracy, signed in, while at the embassy.


Cambodian-Americans gathered at their embassy in Washington on Wednesday to pay their respects to those who died in Monday’s bridge tragedy.

Though none had relatives among the 347 dead from the Diamond Bridge stampede that has shocked the country, many wept openly at the incident.

“I feel deeply sad,” said Keo Tom, the main organizer of the gathering. “I am really sorry that there was such a horrible tragedy, and it has never happened before. We are so touched that we have to be here today to pay our respect to their souls.”

“I am so sorry, and it is not me alone, but many other Cambodian-Americans are also sad for such a tragedy,” said Yap Kimtung, president of the Cambodian Americans for Human Rights and Democracy.

Organizers will also hold a religious ceremony at a local temple to pray for the dead, who were trammeled Monday night on a crowded bridge following Water Festival celebrations.

The Cambodian Education Excellence Foundation will create scholarships for children whose parents died at the bridge, the foundation’s president, Kchao Sarang, said.

The Cambodian Embassy made an appeal for aid.

“There is still time for people to donate funds to support the victims,” Cambodian Ambassador Hem Heng told VOA Khmer. “If they don’t have the means to send it to Cambodia, the embassy will help facilitate that.”
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Cambodian water festival will continue despite tragedy

Lauren Crothers Special to The Star

People place offerings and incense sticks for the victims of the stampede near the Diamond Gate bridge, site of a stampede late on November 22 which left nearly 350 people dead, in Phnom Penh on November 25, 2010 as Cambodia holds a national day of mourning.


PHNOM PENH—The bodies lay on mats, some cocooned in clear plastic body bags. Others were shrouded with thin, white sheets, some blotted with specks of blood. The bodies seemed innumerable, filling the porch area of a makeshift morgue on a sandy plot in Khmer Soviet Hospital.

An anxious crowd overwhelmed hospital officials, sitting at a little table nearby laden with papers and photographs of corpses bearing ID numbers. Relatives wanted to know where their loved ones were.

This was an end no one saw coming when the annual water festival, which ushers in the end to the monsoon season and marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap river, on the banks of which this mostly sleepy Cambodian capital lies.

The festival, in many ways, is the event of the year, marked by boat races, concerts, fairground rides and an influx of up to 3 million people this year — mostly from the provinces — to the city.

The long stretch of open park area from Independence Monument to the riverbank is crammed with stalls selling everything from face whitening cream to laundry powder to prawn crackers in bulk — and the constant, high-pitched drone of promotional specials make sure the crowds here can’t ignore it.

What usually takes a 10-minute walk from the monument, built to mirror one of Angkor Wat’s iconic pagodas, can take almost an hour during the festival. While many of roads are closed to traffic, that doesn’t mean the driver of a moto, the preferred method of transport here, will obey.

So the crowds negotiate each other, the blaring speakers and rogue motos. The throng is headed in the direction of Koh Pich, or Diamond Island, a short walk over one of two bridges connecting it to the mainland. The people are here for food, the fair, perhaps a concert or some Japanese wrestling. The entire experience is a sensory overload, punctuated by the fact that no one can really get anywhere quickly. It’s an awkward, shuffling, dodging, waiting game when there are millions of people headed in the same direction.

And on Monday, the final night of festivities, the sheer number of people coupled with a comparatively small bridge resulted in a stampede that left at least 347 people dead, and nearly 400 more injured.

A government investigation found that thousands of revellers cramming the bridge panicked as it began to sway under their weight. Some shouted that the structure was going to collapse; the crowd pushed and heaved, setting off the stampede.

It was the kind of tragedy people here are saying they have not seen here since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

Behind the cordoned-off scene on Friday night, in the shadow of the Nagaworld Hotel and Casino, crowds gathered to light incense, say prayers and just stare at what some are now calling the “Bridge of Ghosts.”

Sem Sophea, 36, a businessman in Phnom Penh, came to see the site for himself, having spent the first day of the festival in the beach resort town of Sihanoukville, about three hours away, and the second at home with his family.

“The way it generally works is that the city people keep their distance, while the people from the provinces flock here,” Sophea said. “They want to experience city life, see the development, go to the carnivals. City people have seen it all before — they just want some peace and quiet.”

The water festival, which will continue next year, is steeped in tradition, typified by boat races and a carnival atmosphere. Now it will be irrevocably connected with the tragedy.
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National Assembly Passes $2.4 Billion Budget

The 2011 budget, totaling $2.4 billion, allocates military and security spending of $304 million, including $190 million for the Ministry of Defense.


With a day of mourning for the Diamond Bridge tragedy behind it, the National Assembly took up debate and passed next year’s budget, approving an increase of nearly half a billion dollars.

The 2011 budget, totaling $2.4 billion, allocates military and security spending of $304 million, including $190 million for the Ministry of Defense. The Interior Ministry received $114 million, health $169 million, and education $223 million.

Ouk Rabun, secretary of state for the Ministry of Finance, told lawmakers his ministry would accept recommendations from the National Assembly on “better public finance management.”

The main opposition, the Sam Rainsy Party, said it did not support the budget, claiming it had misplaced funding priorities.

“The sectors of the government considered a priority, like the Ministry of Agriculture, received 1.8 percent of the total expenditure,” Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the party, said. The ministries of rural development, land management and water resources each only receive 1 percent of the total, he said.
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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Holy Jolie: Cambodian temple takes Angelina's name

It is regretable and sad to hear the name of Ta Prom Temple had changed to Angelina Jolie Temple. Ta Prom Temple were built by our Cambodian warior kings and heroes. The Ta Prom Temple is the thousand years history of Khmer Empire, the Temple is representing million Khmer people and culture. Agelina Jolie is just actress, she had no credit for this Temple or our ancestors. The Ta Prom Temple and Khmer cultures are not for Jokes and laughting at in any form.

Hindu leader says locals now call 12th-century site the 'Angelina Jolie Temple' following 2000 shooting of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
Name drop ... the temple at Ta Prohm – now commonly referred to as the 'Angelina Jolie Temple', according to a local religious leader. Photograph: Alamy

filming location but the people of Cambodia, where she shot Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2000, are said to have renamed a temple after her.

Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, told the WENN news agency that the star is so beloved in Cambodia a world-famous Hindu religious site in Angkor has been renamed the "Angelina Jolie Temple".

"It's a 12th-century site called Ta Prohm; it is otherwise known as Old Brahma and was initially named Rajavihara or the royal monastery," he said. "Now it's popularly called the Angelina Jolie Temple."

The building was the setting for various scenes in Tomb Raider – in which Jolie, as Lara Croft, battled a secret society called the Illuminati for possession of an ancient talisman. Today, local restaurants sell a Tomb Raider cocktail (Cointreau, lime and soda – said to be Jolie's tipple of choice). Meanwhile, the actor's son Maddox was born in the Siem Reap province in which the temple complex is located.

Jolie's unofficial honour appeared to come with responsibilities, as Zed called on the actor to use her public profile and her status as "the patron saint of Cambodia" to help conserve the site. He added: "I'd urge Angelina Jolie to raise awareness about better preservation of this world heritage, as more needs to be done to safeguard the temple complex and its surroundings [and] save it from vandalism and looting."
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Valley business aids one of CNN's ‘Heroes'

And tonight when CNN televises its “Top 10 Heroes,” Debby Alexander, proprietor of Peabody's CafĂ© & Bar, will quietly celebrate the good works of Aki Ra and the role the Palm Springs restaurant played to help his cause.

Ra, a former child soldier for the Khmer Rouge, has dedicated his life to detonating and dismantling the landmines he once placed in Cambodia.

For Alexander's part, Peabody's held three separate fundraising events — at which Cambodian art and donated items from Palm Springs businesses and small hotels were sold — with longtime customer Bill Morse to raise $22,000 for the landmine relief fund.

When CNN taped its all-star annual tribute in the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, Alexander was one of 13 people to get an invitation from Ra and Morse to attend the red carpet event featuring Jessica Alba, Renee Zellweger, Marisa Tormei, Aaron Eckhart, Demi Moore and Halle Berry as presenters.

“It was a real thrill,'' she said.

“When Renee Zellweger came out and introduced Aki, he spoke before this big crowd with limited English,'' Alexander said.

“He spoke about his wife dying last year, and how much she had helped him. It got emotional.”

Alexander was able to see Morse for a few minutes as well.

He and his wife, Jill, moved to Siem Reap, Cambodia, last year to help Ra get international certification and a license from the Cambodian government to legally remove landmines that once were deactivated with a stick.

Morse also helped Ra get a $100,000 grant to buy a truck and assemble a rapid response team that can respond to villagers who find mines.

Ra, who sometimes placed up to 1,000 landmines a day in the 1980s, has not only cleared more than 50,000 of the estimated 6 million explosives the war left behind. Ra has also cared for dozens of children who have been maimed by mines.

“I got to see Bill for a minute before he and Aki Ra flew back to Cambodia,'' Alexander said.

“I got to meet other people who have helped the landmine relief fund. While at the taping, I also got to meet Richard Fatoussi, who is making a film about Ra.”

Alexander said that film, “The Perfect Soldier,'' has just been presented to judges of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

The CNN show will be televised at 5 p.m. today.

Peabody's Cafe, 134 S. Palm Canyon Drive, will be closed tonight for the holiday and this simple reason: Alexander has a date with the TV.
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Questions Remain in Cambodia Crush

By Set Mydans

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — More than two days after hundreds of people died in a huge, tightly jammed crowd on the last night of a water festival, both the cause and the death toll remained unclear on Thursday.

Most of the victims were caught in a crush on a small bridge. Rather than being trampled, the victims suffocated or were crushed to death by a dense, immobile crowd in which some people were trapped for hours.

Various officials gave different counts of the death toll, whichmay not include victims who drowned or were taken from the scene.

On Wednesday, the government said at least 350 people had died and 400 were injured. But among other tallies on Thursday, the Phnom Penh Post newspaper, citing government sources, said the death toll had climbed to 456.

As grief and shock turned to demands for explanations, questions grew on Thursday over the cause of the crush, over the response by the police and over the city’s readiness to handle an influx of as many as 3 million people for the festival.

A preliminary government investigation reported that the mostly rural holiday-goers panicked when the suspension bridge began to sway slightly under the weight of the crowd.


This conformed with a report by a military police investigator, Sawannara Chendamirie, who said on the morning after the disaster that survivors told him there had been shouts that the bridge was collapsing.

There have been reports, beginning immediately after the disaster, that some people were electrocuted, possibly by strings of lights on the fretwork of the bridge. Some reports said the police fired water hoses at the crowd that might have contributed to this.But doctors at Calmette Hospital, the city’s main hospital, said they had seen no sign of electrocution among either the injured or the dead. They said this absence of evidence did not rule out the possibility, but they said most of the injured had suffered from the squeezing of the packed crowd. Some patients at the hospital said they had been unable to breathe and had passed out.

The police came under criticism for a failure of crowd management and for an inadequate and incompetent response to the disaster. One officer said only half the officially reported number of police were actually deployed. Badly injured survivors reported being dumped into vehicles together with the dead.

The government did quickly mobilize help for relatives of victims, many of whom traveled from distant provinces to claim the dead. Tables were set up near a makeshift morgue to confirm identities. Military trucks offered transportation home for coffins and family members. The morgue was all but cleared within a day, although some people wandered the hospital grounds holding snapshots of missing relatives.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission issued a report that documented the questions and criticisms.

“While the exact cause of the stampede last night remains unclear, with contradictory reports indicating it may have been instigated by either crowd antics or poor construction of the bridge to Koh Pich island, the failure of the state to control the crowd and limit the damage from the stampede is clear,” the report said.

“It is clear, too, that Phnom Penh was unprepared for any large-scale disaster,” the report said. “Responses by police and military were lacking and may even have contributed to the stampede while hospitals were overwhelmed. Emergency and medical personnel resorted to piling bodies together, covering them with mats or sheets.”
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Filipino-owned logistics company

BY GENIVI FACTAO
Logistic company Airspeed International yesterday said it is extending its reach to Vietnam and Cambodia to take advantage of the growth of intra-Asia trade.

Rosemarie Rafael, president of Airspeed International, said its expansion to Vietnam and Cambodia was prompted by the transfer of many garments manufacturers to these two countries.

Airspeed is a privately-owned Filipino company engaged in air and sea freight forwarding (inbound and outbound Manila) as well as international door-to-door parcel and cargo service, and customs brokerage.

It handles shipment of garments, perishables and tropical fish, handicraft, electronics and pharmaceuticals. Garments account for 30 to 40 percent of shipments handled while pharmaceuticals account for roughly the same volume.

Most of the garments are shipped to United States and Middle East countries while the destination for pharmaceuticals is Singapore. Exports of tuna, mangoes and okra go to Japan.

In 2009, the company handled $3.61 million worth of air cargo business, against $4.21 million in 2008, because of the economic crisis.

"Coming from a very low level (of revenues) in 2009, we expect a 100 percent increase this year, but in 2011 the growth will be about 20-30 percent," said Mariz Regis, vice president and general manager.

No data was available as to how much was shipped using ocean freight, which is the fast growing revenue generator with 60 percent, compared to airfreight with 40 percent.

She said the growth in the company’s revenues will be driven by the expansion in Vietnam and Cambodia. Sea freight will also lead the growth with the inflow of oversized cargo deliveries.

On the domestic front, Airspeed already covers the entire country, providing logistic service even to remote areas.

"We deliver a variety of products. We even had cargoes drawn by carabao to reach clients in mountainous areas. We always think of service innovations to address our customer’s need," Regis said.

She added that the also deliver lechon from Cebu. And on time to preserve the freshness of the product.

Airspeed use different airlines, including Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Delta Airline, China airline, Asiana, Korean Air, Emirates, Etihad, Gulf Air and United Airlines.

It uses the Lorenzo Shipping and some ro-ro ships for domestic deliveries. The company has a fleet of more than 20 trucks.

Airspeed has been consistently ranked among the top 10 in the forwarding category by the International Air Transport Association.

"We are proud that a Filipino-owned company is in the elite company of such industry giants in the logistics industry. We will continue to strive and do better by continuously providing price-competitive rates and delivering world-class service to clients. In this way, businesses will find us to be good partners as we understand their needs and offer them the best possible rates," Rafael said.

Airspeed marks it 25th year in service on December 2.

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Cambodia holds day of mourning for stampede victims

Cambodia is holding a day of mourning for more than 450 people killed in a festival stampede.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is due to join officials and grieving relatives for a religious ceremony at the footbridge where the tragedy happened.

A preliminary investigation has found that the swaying of the bridge near the capital, Phnom Penh, triggered a panic.

Witnesses said some people were crushed on the bridge, while others fell into the river and drowned.

Crowds of revellers had been crossing the bridge to reach an island where an annual water festival was being held on Monday.

A committee set up to investigate the disaster found that many of the people on the suspension bridge were from the countryside and were unaware that such structures often swayed, local media reported.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 are thought to have been on the bridge at the time.

Cremations

"Some started screaming that the bridge was collapsing, that people were getting electric shocks and that the iron cables were snapping, so the people pushed each other and fell down and the stampede happened," said Prum Sokha, heading the panel of inquiry.

The first funerals and cremations took place across the country on Wednesday.

Mr Hun Sen said a memorial would be built "to commemorate the souls of the people who lost their lives in the incident... and to remember the serious tragedy for the nation and the Cambodian people".

But many relatives say they want answers.

"I feel very sad and angry about what happened," said Phea Channara at a funeral service for his 24-year-old sister near Phnom Penh.

"I wonder if the police really did their job. Why did they allow it to happen?"

Mr Hun Sen has described the stampede as the country's biggest tragedy since the Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s, which left an estimated 1.7 million people dead.
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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thailand sends its condolences

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya have sent letters of condolence to the Cambodian government over the stampede tragedy in Phnom Penh.

No Thais were among the victims, according to the Thai embassy in Cambodia.

"On behalf of the government and people of Thailand, I wish to extend my sincere condolences and sympathy to you and, through you, to the bereaved families of the victims in this tragic incident," the prime minister said in the letter.

The government has donated US$30,000 (900,000 baht) to help the Cambodian people. The Thai-Cambodian Friendship Association has opened Krung Thai Bank account number 0021482001 to receive donations. Read more!

Cambodia stampede: 'I was in the middle. Everyone was falling'


Ben Doherty speaks to survivors of the crush that Cambodia's PM called 'the greatest tragedy in more than 31 years'


Police begin their investigations amid the belongings left behind by victims of the festival crush on Rainbow Bridge. Photograph: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP/Getty Images



Ben Doherty in Phnom Penh

On Monday night this week the streets of Phnom Penh were full, there were market stalls and music, fairground rides and partygoers crowding every available inch of space in the city.

Sopheap Meng and his older brother Sovaan were on the Rainbow Bridge, a structure spanning barely 50 metres, connecting Cambodia's capital with Koh Pich, also known as Diamond Island, at the heart of the annual Water Festival.

The three-day festival, Bon Om Touk, is the biggest party of the year here. It causes the normally sleepy city to swell by more than 2 million people, international and domestic visitors coming for the parties and the boat races, and to give thanks for the end of the rainy season.

But shortly before 10pm, the night of celebration turned disastrous. A big crowd of people packed on to the narrow Rainbow footbridge panicked, surged and created a crush.

In a few terrifying minutes the crush led to deaths of 378 or more people, and left more than 700 injured. Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, described the occurrence as the greatest tragedy to befall the country since the blood-soaked rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Most of those who died were from the rural areas, unwilling to jump from the bridge because they could not swim; they did not know the water was only waist deep. Most were young, and most women, unable to resist the weight of humanity pushing them to the ground. They suffocated on the bridge, or drowned having fallen unconscious into the water.

Sopheap Meng had gripped his brother's hand as tightly as he could. He fought the crush pushing him to the ground.

"But there was no air, I could not breathe. I got pushed to the side of the bridge, people were falling all around, on to my arm, and I had to let go." Rescued by police from the crush which had pinned his legs, it was hours before 18-year-old Sopheap found his brother again. Sovaan's corpse was pulled from the heap of bodies on Rainbow Bridge.

What sparked the panic is the subject of countless theories. Some at the scene yesterday said it started when word swept among the tightly packed crowd that the bridge was about to collapse. One witness said he saw the bridge bouncing under the weight of the people.

Others said the panic started when the multicoloured lights strung from the suspension ropes began sparking.

There were still more rumours – of mass food poisoning starting the crush, or a gang of youths robbing the crowd. It could be that there were just too many people on the narrow concrete footbridge.

The Rainbow Bridge was built this year, and only open for the festival. It was supposed to be a one-way system, leading people from the island to the city. People trying to get on to the island were meant to take a second bridge, which was 200 metres to the south. But the Rainbow Bridge was closer to the action and, amid the excitement and the celebrations, the regulations were relaxed.

Lin was right in the middle of the bridge with his girlfriend Ni when the crush became unbearable.

"I realised I could not move," Lin told the Guardian. "I could not go back, I could not go forward. People were pushing from everywhere and there was nothing I could do. I was right in the middle, everyone around me was falling, one on top of another, they were being crushed. There were dead people all around me." His girlfriend survived too, shaken but uninjured. "We are the lucky ones today. One in 1,000 lucky. Two more minutes and I would have fallen too."

Yesterday the bridge remained littered with the evidence of the tragedy: there were thousands of shoes, shirts and hats, left behind in the terror that consumed those caught in the crush. Police and army officers pored over the items for clues.

On the banks of the Bassac river, relatives of the victims made Buddhist offerings and prayed for the lost.

At the nearby Calmette hospital a makeshift open-air morgue was laid out in the grounds. Bodies were arranged in lines on straw mats inside a large white tent.

Family members peered through open windows, searching for their loved ones. Those identified were covered with a white sheet, those unknown were left exposed so that they could be claimed. Flies buzzed constantly in the stifling heat.

Boupha Lak sat at her dead daughter's feet, gentling stroking them, waiting for the paperwork to be completed so she could take her home.

Boupha said: "She went to the festival to see her friends, but she was alone on the bridge when it happened – her friends I have seen today, they were on the other side. She was found on the bridge, crushed underneath all the other bodies. They told me she was on the bottom."

In the heat of midday, coffins lined with wallpaper began arriving in army lorries. They were given out to the family members of victims, along with transport to take their loved ones home.

One woman wailed at the pile of wooden coffins, her daughter's name scrawled in text on the lid of one. "It's not fair," she cried. "My daughter doesn't deserve this. She deserved a long life."

Cambodia is a country much too used to tragedy, its people weary of loss and of suffering. The prime minister acknowledged as much when he spoke in the middle of the night on Monday. "This is the greatest tragedy in more than 31 years after the Pol Pot regime," Hun Sen said in reference to the Khmer Rouge, whose regime killed a quarter of the Cambodian population, an estimated 1.7 million people, between 1975-79. "I ask you all to understand me and forgive me for this very bad situation."

The prime minister declared Thursday a day of mourning, and he promised compensation of 5m riel (about £780) to the families of those killed and 1m riel to those who were injured.

In the late afternoon, more than one hundred monks held a Buddhist vigil at the bridge, burning incense and offering prayers for the souls of the deceased.

By sunset, all the bodies had been cleared from the makeshift morgue at Calmette hospital. Army lorries bound for the provinces, loaded with plain brown coffins and grieving relatives, rolled out of the city all evening.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Cambodia's Prince Considers Re-entering into Politics

Cambodia's Prince Norodom Ranariddh said Monday he is considering re-entering politics in order to reunite all forces, in particular, the royalists who have been split apart.

Prince Ranariddh is now a president of the supreme advisory council to the Royal Palace.

The prince announced in October 2008 his complete resignation from politics after his Norodom Ranariddh Party won only two seats in Lower House in general election in July 2008.

The Lower House is seated by 123 members of parliament from the ruling Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, opposition Sam Rainsy Party, Human Rights Party, FUNCINPEC Party, and Norodom Ranariddh Party.

The Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) was established in 2007 after the prince was toppled from the president of the royalist FUNCINEC Party in 2006.

However, NRP was later changed to Nationalist Party led by Chhim Seakleng, his former colleague.

But on Monday, Chhim Seak Leng said the party's members wanted to see Prince Ranariddh return to politics and lead the party.

The prince said he would love to see the Nationalist Party changed to its former name as Norodom Ranariddh Party by December this year.

Prince Ranariddh is the son of former King Norodom Sihahouk and is the elder brother of the present King Norodom Sihamoni. He had been the first prime minister in 1993 and the president of the National Assembly in 1998.
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Cambodia Water Festival turns tragic with deadly stampede

By Julie Masis, Correspondent

At least 339 people died in the stampede, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen, who called it a terrible tragedy. The Water Festival has seen troubles in past years.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

A stampede in Cambodia late Monday night killed at least 339 people and injured as many more, with hospital officials projecting the death toll would continue to rise.

The stampede happened during Cambodia's annual Water Festival, which drew a record 4 million people from around the country and region to watch three days of traditional boat races on the Bassac River in the capital.

Prime Minister Hun Sen called it the "biggest tragedy since the Pol Pot regime." While the comparison is extreme – the Khmer Rouge caused the deaths up to 2 million people in the late 1970s – this is the most deadly incident at a festival plagued by repeated problems.

A Singaporean boat capsized in 2008 and killed five rowers, and one Cambodian rower drowned in 2009. The latest incident raises questions whether the government has the capabilities to handle the ever larger festival crowds, which have increased by several million people in recent years and overwhelmed Phnom Penh's facilities.

The stampede broke out on a recently built bridge that crosses from the mainland over the Bassac River to Diamond Island, where a concert was held Monday night to conclude the Water Festival.

Yan San, who was visiting from outside the city, says the bridge became clogged at 9 p.m., a stampede began at 11 p.m., and he himself was stuck on the bridge until 1 a.m. with is legs injured.

“People were stuck on the bridge, they could not move, so they pushed others into the water," says Mr. Yan, sitting in a wheelchair outside Calmette Hospital, where he and hundreds of others were being treated. "I was stuck on the bridge for five hours and I could not move."

Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed the nation at 2:30 a.m. local time and updated the toll to 339 people dead and 329 injured, according to the Phnom Penh Post. “With this miserable event, I would like to share my condolences with my compatriots and the family members of the victims,” he said.

As the night wore on at Calmette, more than 50 bodies were laid in the hospital's courtyard for family members to identify. Ambulances continued to arrive early into Tuesday morning. The hospital was inundated with patients sitting in hallways and lying on floors awaiting treatment.

The exact cause of the stampede was unclear. Reuters reported that a scare was set off when several people were electrocuted from an unknown source. CNN reported that Cambodian police sparked the stampede by firing a water canon at pedestrians to get them to move off the bridge.

“A lot of people jumped into the water because they knew how to swim and they were scared they would die otherwise," says Kim Houng, who was being treated at Calmette early Tuesday morning after passing out on the bridge.

“If I was on the side of the bridge, I would have jumped in the water, too.”

(With additional reporting from Phok Dorn in Cambodia.)


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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Drug trafficking ruled beyond UN protection

By Unique Group Travel in Sydney. Ideal for family, friends & staff.

DOES trafficking drugs make you a member of a social group?

The question was considered by the Refugee Review Tribunal when a Cambodian man, jailed for smuggling drugs into Australia, applied for a protection visa after he was transferred to a detention centre on parole.

The man was carrying drugs when he was arrested on his arrival in Australia in 2006.

Advertisement: Story continues below He feared that if he returned to Cambodia, he would be harmed by his co-accused because he informed on them, and that his conviction for drug smuggling put him at risk of harm from the local authorities.

The 1951 United Nations Convention defines refugees as people who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to "a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion".

The man argued that as a former police officer and deputy governor involved in drug-related offences he was a member of a social group.

The tribunal members accepted that in Cambodia "corrupt officials may tolerate the drug trade, that some of the leaders of the drug-smuggling enterprise have political power in Cambodia, and that some are even government officials themselves".

But they found the man's fears did not fall within the scope of the convention.

"The essential and significant reason for the harm the applicant fears is not his membership of any group, but what he has done - namely involved himself in drug trafficking," they said.

The members concluded Australia did not owe him protection obligations and rejected his visa application.

The man had sought a review of the decision in the Federal Magistrates Court, arguing that the tribunal "erred in law because it failed to see my situation as a human situation". A magistrate, Kenneth Raphael, found the tribunal had made no error and dismissed the man's application.

Previous cases have held that fear of revenge, unless linked with race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a social group, would not normally amount to persecution under the convention.

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PM Abhisit asks Cambodian counterpart to confer on Preah Vihear temple

BANGKOK, Nov 21 -- As Thai activists plan to rally at Parliament later this week to protest two government-sponsored constitutional amendments, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva on Sunday defended his administration's policy on the ancient Preah Vihear temple which has soured relations with neighbouring Cambodia for some past years.

During his weekly TV and radio address, Mr Abhisit said he met and discussed with his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen on the sidelines of the 4th Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) Summit, held in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh last Wednesday, on the temple and its surrounding area.

The Thai premier said last week's meeting was the fourth time he had met and discussed with his Cambodian counterpart and that relations between the two neighbouring countries have obviously been improved.

Mr Abhisit said he had told Mr Hun Sen that the temple problem arose because Cambodia had asked UNESCO to name Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site, despite the two countries still not agreeing on the area surrounding it.

The 2000 agreement between the two countries on the Survey and Demarcation of the Land Boundary plus the Thai-Cambodian Joint Commission on Demarcation for Land Boundary (JBC) set by the memorandum of understanding are important as they prevent Phnom Penh from managing the contested area surrounding the temple, he said.

“JBC memos haven’t yet been approved by the Thai Parliament and are now stalled, preventing Cambodia from proposing a management plan for the area temple environs,“ Mr Abhisit said.

Three previous JBC memos must be endorsed by the Thai parliament as required by the Constitution, which states that any pact with other countries needs House approval.

Mr Abhisit said Mr Hun Sen understood the Thai process at last week's meeting and agreed to avoid military confrontation along the border and would proceed handling the issue under the JBC framework.

His comments were made as the 'Yellow Shirt' People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) activists plan to protest at Parliament Tuesday, Wednesnay and Thursday Nov 23-25 during a joint sitting of both houses to consider charter amendments to change Thailand’s electoral system and systems of approving international agreements which require parliamentary approval.

The PAD opposes parliamentary endorsement of three previous memos by the JBC, claiming they may end up in the loss of Thai territory adjacent to the temple. They also demand revocation of the MoU signed in 2000.

The International Court of Justice in 1962 ruled that the 11th century temple belongs to Phnom Penh, and UNESCO named it a World Heritage site in 2008 after Cambodia applied for the status.

Both countries claim a 1.8-square-mile (4.6-square-kilometre) strip of land adjacent to the cliff-top temple.

Giving reassurances that his government has no hidden agenda behind the controversy, Mr Abhisit said the most important thing now is to “protect Thailand’s sovereignty and benefits”. (MCOT online news)
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Cambodia: Following the music in Phnom Penh

By Thomas Huang

PHNOM PENH -- The quiet boy, Kosair, takes me for a walk through his village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. We walk down a dirt path, past a small storefront where a woman comforts her baby.

Cars and motorbikes have gathered in front of another house; there's a wedding party tonight.

We walk by a group of dark-haired schoolgirls who stare at me, and their giggles turn to laughter. I know I must be a peculiar sight, a tall Chinese-American man in clothes rumpled by days of travel.

Every so often, people on motorbikes zoom by, and I clutch my camera more tightly, protecting it from their rooster tails of golden dust. I assure myself that the boy and I are safe.

This is a peaceful village, and while Phnom Penh was a violent city just a few years ago, things have stabilized.Still, I am disoriented; I don't belong here; I don't know where we are going. I could lose my way, and who would know?

The boy, Kosair, with large, watchful eyes, walks in the glow of the sun, bare-chested, wearing knee-length shorts and sandals. I am staying with his family in a house owned by a friend, an American journalist.

We pantomime our way through a conversation. We move our first two fingers, pointed downward, to show that we are going for a walk. We hear a song in the distance. To my ears, it sounds like a blend of xylophone, wind chimes and steel drums.

Together, Kosair and I say, "Music." We point at other things and say the words: Car, road, tree, house, river.

We cross a bridge over the Mekong River, and, looking back, Kosair gestures toward our starting point, a small house on the riverbank. "Dey Sena," he says, or something that sounds like that. His mother's name is Sena. Perhaps he is saying, "That's my mother's house."

Kosair seems to be guiding me toward the music. We are curious about where it's coming from. I wonder whether it's coming from a temple. We turn down another dirt road and pass several traditional stilt houses. A few people sleep in hammocks in the space underneath their houses.

We never do find the source of the music.

Kosair notices that a man in a white shirt is following us. The boy seems a little spooked. He motions for us to return home. We walk a little more quickly. Our stride grows a little longer. Once home, we are greeted by Kosair's grandfather and his mischievous little sister, Sreyleak.

The family embraces me with their warmth and cooks me a dinner of Khmer chicken soup, stir-fried shrimp and vegetables, and steamed rice. I eat my meal on the patio and watch the fishermen in their skiffs float by. Families emerge from their houses to bathe their children in the river.

My friend's place is a compound of small houses overlooking the Mekong River. I sleep under mosquito netting, in a guest room near a grove of mango trees, guarded by two excitable dogs. I toss and turn.

Late into the night, the neighborhood wedding party celebrates with loud Cambodian pop music, and I can hear drunken voices trying, unsuccessfully at times, to sing along.

Then there is quiet for a while, but music starts up again at 5 in the morning. (Later, I learn that it is wedding season in Cambodia, and the predawn music signals the beginning of another wedding.)

The wake-up call turns out to be a blessing.

Jumping out of bed, I pull on my clothes and wander out into the humid air, stepping gently onto the patio with my camera.

I hear the song of cicadas, the wind rustling the trees, the lapping of water on the banks. In the soft, new light, I watch a man and woman paddle their boat down the river, stopping every so often to catch fish in their nets. Downstream, in the distance, several men help their cows wade (and then swim?) to the opposite shore.

I try to capture this scene, the sunrise over the river, with my camera, but I am no photographer, and I can't quite make the images show what my eyes see.

I think about the woman I loved for many years, a steadfast traveling partner. I want to share this moment with her, but she is not there.

Still, it is a profound experience. Even though I am not a particularly religious person, I am moved to whisper, "Thank you, God."

And then it is a new morning. I hear the laughter of Kosair and Sreyleak. I walk back to the house to pack my things and say goodbye.
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China's billions reap rewards in Cambodia

By John PomfretWashington Post Staff Writer


IN KOH KONG, CAMBODIA Down a blood-red dirt track deep in the jungles of southwestern Cambodia, the roar begins. Turn a corner and there is the source - scores of dump trucks, bulldozers and backhoes hacking away at the earth. Above a massive hole, a flag flaps in the hot, dusty breeze. The flag of the People's Republic of China.

Here in the depths of the Cardamom Mountains, where the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge communists made their last stand in the late 1970s, China is asserting its rights as a resurgent imperial power in Asia. Instead of exporting revolution and bloodshed to its neighbors, China is now sending its cash and its people.

At this clangorous hydropower dam site hard along Cambodia's border with Thailand, and in Burma, Laos and even Vietnam, China is engaged in a massive push to extend its economic and political influence into Southeast Asia. Spreading investment and aid along with political pressure, China is transforming a huge swath of territory along its southern border. Call it the Monroe Doctrine, Chinese style.

Ignored by successive U.S. administrations, China's rise in this region is now causing alarm in Washington, which is aggressively courting the countries of Southeast Asia. The Obama administration has cultivated closer ties with its old foe Vietnam. It has tried to open doors to Burma, also known as Myanmar, which U.S. officials believe is in danger of becoming a Chinese vassal state. Relations have been renewed with Laos, whose northern half is dominated by Chinese businesses. In a speech about U.S. policy in Asia on Oct. 28, before she embarked on her sixth trip to Asia in two years, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton used military terminology to refer to U.S. efforts: "forward-deployed diplomacy."

During a recent trip to Phnom Penh - the first of a U.S. secretary of state since 2002 - Clinton, while speaking to Cambodian students, was asked about Cambodia's ties to Beijing. "You don't want to get too dependent on any one country," she told them.

Still, China powers ahead.

China has concluded a free-trade deal with all 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, while a similar U.S. pact is only in its infancy. It is cementing ties with Thailand - a U.S. ally - despite recent political unrest there.

In Cambodia, Chinese firms have turned mining and agricultural concessions in Mondulkiri province in the eastern part of the country into no-go zones for Cambodian police. Guards at the gates to two of them - a gold mine and a hemp plantation - shoo travelers away unless they are able to pay a toll. "It's like a country within a country," quipped Cambodia's minister of interior, Sar Kheng, at a law enforcement conference earlier this year, according to participants at the meeting.

China's real estate development firms have barged into Cambodia with all the ambition, bumptiousness and verve that American fruit and tire firms employed in Latin America or Africa in decades past. One company, Union Development Group, of Tianjin in northern China, won a 99-year concession for 120 square miles - twice the size of Washington - of beachfront property on the Gulf of Thailand. There Chinese work teams are cutting a road and mapping out plans for hotels, villas and golf courses. The estimated investment? $3.8 billion. The target market? The nouveau riche from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Last month, China pledged to support the construction of a $600 million stretch of railway between Phnom Penh and Vietnam that will bring China a major step closer to incorporating all of Southeast Asia, as far south as Singapore, into its rail network.

Across Cambodia, dozens of state-run Chinese companies are building eight hydropower dams, including the 246-megawatt behemoth on the Tatay River in Koh Kong. The total price tag for those dams will exceed $1 billion. Altogether, Cambodia owes China $4 billion, said Cheam Yeap, a member of the central committee of the ruling Cambodia People's Party.

"This takeover is inevitable," said Lak Chee Meng, the senior reporter on the Cambodia Sin Chew Daily, one of the country's four Chinese-language dailies, serving a population of 300,000 Chinese-speaking Khmer-Chinese and an additional quarter-million immigrants and businessmen from mainland China. "Cambodia is approaching China with open arms. It's how the United States took over its neighborhood. It's geopolitics."

Purchasing sway

The perennial question about China's rise is when will Beijing be able to translate its cash into power. In Cambodia, it already has.

Cambodia has avoided criticizing Beijing over the dams China is building along China's stretch of the Mekong River - installations that experts predict will upend the lives of millions of Cambodians who live off the fishing economy around the great inland waterway, Tonle Sap.

Cambodia so strictly follows Beijing's "one China" policy that it has refused Taiwan's request to open up an economic office here despite the many millions of dollars' worth of Taiwanese investment in Cambodia.

China's heft was also clearly on display in December when Chinese and American diplomats went toe-to-toe over the fate of 20 Uighur Chinese who had fled to Cambodia and were seeking asylum. China said that some of the men, members of a Chinese Turkic minority, were wanted for having participated in anti-Han Chinese riots in Xinjiang in July 2009. The United States said don't send them back.

China threatened to cancel a trip by its vice president, Xi Junping, who was coming to Cambodia with deals and loans worth $1.2 billion in his briefcase. So Cambodia returned the Uighurs to China. Two days later Xi, who is on track to be China's next leader, arrived in Phnom Penh.

In April of this year, the U.S. State Department announced that to punish Cambodia, it was canceling a shipment of 200 U.S. surplus military trucks and trailers. Less than three weeks later, China donated 257 military trucks.

Cambodia has also followed China's lead when it comes to the South China Sea, a 1 million-square-mile waterway that China asserts belongs to Beijing. In July, Clinton, speaking in Hanoi, challenged China's claims to the open seas and advocated a multilateral approach to divvying up the fishing rights and offshore oil and gas that the sea is believed to contain. China opposes multilateral negotiations, preferring to divide and conquer with bilateral talks. Last month, Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, backed China's approach.

China's one-upmanship with the United States continued earlier this month. A day after Clinton left Cambodia, Wu Bangguo, one of China's top Communist Party officials, arrived in Phnom Penh. During her visit, Clinton had raised the possibility that the United States might forgive a portion of Cambodia's debt to the United States; it owes $445 million. Wu was more forthright. He struck $4.5 million off Cambodia's tab; Chinese officials are considering forgiving an additional $200 million.

Only a few obstacles

China's road to domination here hasn't been without potholes. Vietnam, which ousted the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 and installed Hun Sen, has woken up to the threat of increased Chinese influence and has directed Vietnamese state-owned companies to pour money into Cambodia. From $28 million in 2008, Vietnamese investment jumped to $268 million in 2009 and to $1.2 billion this year, according to Cambodian government statistics.

The Vietnamese military runs Cambodia's No. 2 - and soon to be No. 1 - telecommunications company. Most government officials use its services because it gives them SIM cards loaded with free minutes.

But China is quick to counter Vietnam. Chinese and Cambodian officials this month signed a $591 million loan package - Cambodia's biggest ever - from the Bank of China for Cambodia's other main telecommunications company. The only catch is that $500 million was earmarked to buy Chinese equipment from the Chinese telecom giant Huawei.

Even Cambodia's ruler, Hun Sen, has sometimes chafed at the bearhug from Beijing. In December 2009, Chinese workers finished a massive $30 million government building where the prime minister was supposed to house his offices. But Hun Sen didn't like the place, complained about its squat toilets and the fact that "it didn't even have a proper chandelier," according to a Western diplomat. There were also concerns that China had bugged the premises. So Hun Sen built new offices next door and opened both buildings last month.

Historical influence

China has exercised imperial sway over Cambodia for centuries. Eight hundred years ago, Chinese troops bailed out Khmer kings; friendly Chinese warriors are carved on the side of the famed 12th-century Bayon temple near Angkor Wat. In the 1950s and 1960s, Communist China embraced the regime of King Norodom Sihanouk and provided the Khmer Rouge with inspiration, security and economic assistance throughout their bloody rule from 1975 to 1979. Sihanouk, now 88 and the king father, resides in Beijing.

Huo Zhaoguo, a Chinese manager of Union Development's massive project along the Cambodian coast, is typical of the new Chinese coming to this country. In the 1980s in Lanzhou in northwestern China, Huo struck it rich selling beans but then lost his fortune. He washed up in Cambodia in the 1990s, chasing a Vietnamese dealer who owed him money. Huo returned to Lanzhou penniless but couldn't stay. "I'd been rich there once and so everybody laughed at me," he said. "A man needs self-respect."

Huo moved back to Cambodia and opened a noodle stand. He moved up to a noodle restaurant and then met the boss of Union Development, who came to his shop searching for northern Chinese food. The boss gave Huo a chance at Union, and now Huo is overseeing road construction. Union got the land because it had the cash and the connections, Huo said.

"This country is too poor and the corruption is the same as China," he observed. "If you have power here, you have a great future."

"Cambodians feel no pressure to succeed. They even take weekends off. Not us," he said, with the air of colonial supremacy you hear from many Chinese in Cambodia. "We work."
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Former Khmer Rouge fighter haunted by his past

By Suy Se (AFP)


PHNOM PENH — Stumbling across the photo of his twin brother who died more than three decades ago was the last thing former Khmer Rouge fighter Uch Sokhon expected on a visit to Cambodia's genocide museum.

"I feel shocked," the 53-year-old said, gently wiping the dusty glass frame holding a black-and-white image of his brother, immortalised at the age of 20. "But it was a long time ago."

The picture is one of hundreds of mugshots of condemned prisoners on display at Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. Now a genocide museum, it was at the centre of the Khmer Rouge security apparatus between 1975 and 1979.

Some 15,000 inmates, including women and children, lost their lives and torture was routinely used to extract confessions from terrified prisoners at the facility, also known as S-21.

Sokhon and some 300 other people, mainly former Khmer Rouge supporters and fighters, recently travelled all night on buses from the northwestern Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin to tour the prison for the first time.

Pailin was one of the final refuges of the brutal regime, which was driven from power in 1979. Soldiers and officials fled to the remote region to re-group and try to battle the new government

The trip was organised by the UN-backed war crimes court -- which was set up in 2006 to bring ex-regime leaders to justice -- and aims to increase awareness among Cambodians about the ongoing trials.

Confronting victims as well as former soldiers and cadres with the jail and the court's work is a key part of bringing closure to the past, a court spokesman said.

"We believe it is easier for people to understand the mission of the tribunal when they see Tuol Sleng and the court with their own eyes," Lars Olsen said.

Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was the first to face justice at the UN-backed court.

In a landmark ruling in July, the tribunal sentenced him 30 years in jail, though the case is now under appeal.

Walking past the tiny cells that held some of the prisoners, including perhaps his own brother, and after inspecting the torture implements on display, Sokhon says he regrets his own past actions.

"I feel remorse and pain because I also used to be a fighter for Democratic Kampuchea (the Khmer Rouge)," said the teary-eyed civil servant.

Sokhon said he and his identical twin, Sokhan, both joined the hardline communist movement in 1971 aged just 15 because it was the only way to survive.

Dedicated fighters, they quickly rose through the ranks to become mid-level military commanders.

But the regime turned against Sokhan when he tried to help a relative who had caused a minor accident in February 1976.

Sokhon had left the keys in the ignition of a bulldozer he had been using to dig irrigation channels, when his cousin Thein decided to take it for a ride.

He accidentally turned the vehicle over -- an arrestable offence in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge.

Sokhon told his senior cadres his cousin was to blame for the incident, but when his twin heard the news he insisted on protecting their relative.

"I warned my brother not to help our cousin otherwise he would lose his position and be arrested," Sokhon said. "But he said he must help him.

"A few days later I was told that my brother was arrested... And I knew he had been sent to Tuol Sleng."

Despite his brother's detainment, Sokhon continued to fight for the Khmer Rouge -- even after Vietnamese forces ousted them from the capital in 1979.

He lost his right eye in 1989 when a grenade landed near him during a fight against government troops, and there are still more than 20 pieces of shrapnel lodged in his body.

After years of combat, Sokhon defected to the government in 1996 alongside the regime's foreign minister Ieng Sary. Two years later, the civil war ended.

"Now, I hate the regime very much. I am glad that the regime leaders are standing trial," he said.

Up to two million people died from starvation, overwork and execution during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

The four most senior surviving regime leaders -- including Ieng Sary -- are due to face trial next year for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for their part in Cambodia's "Killing Fields" era.

Cambodian and international prosecutors have disagreed on whether to pursue more suspects and Prime Minister Hun Sen told UN chief Ban Ki-moon last month that a third case was "not allowed" because it could spark renewed civil war.

Sokhon said his own personal journey to face the past was over.

"I don't want to remember. I want it to end here. But that does not mean I still support the Khmer Rouge," he said.

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