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Friday, January 01, 2010

Sam Rainsy Calls for Release of Two Farmers

By Heng Reaksmey, VOA Khmer


Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Friday he would abide by a court summons and return to the country if authorities release two people arrested in December over the alleged destruction of border markers in Svay Rieng province.

Sam Rainsy has had his parliamentary immunity suspended and has a warrant out for his arrest, following failure to appear in Svay Rieng court on Dec. 28.

He is facing charges of racial incitement and the destruction of property, for allegedly leading a group of villagers to uproot border markers in Chantrea district. Villagers there say they are facing the loss of farm land from Vietnamese encroachment.

Speaking to VOA Khmer by phone from France, Sam Rainsy said he would return to Cambodia “when the Khmer authorities release two farmers who have been in jail on Dec. 23 and return the land to those people.”

“I’m responsible for everything,” he said. “I pulled out the border markers. It does not involve those people.”

Sam Rainsy said the border issue was a political case that needed to be solved politically. “I will try to find a solution from the international community,” he said.

Koam Chhean, head of the Svay Rieng court, said Friday authorities had to hold the two farmers. “The law is the law,” he said. “Sam Rainsy understands the law too. Why did he say like that?”

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Laos, Cambodia To Discuss Border Markers

By Chun Sakada, VOA Khmer


Officials from Cambodia and Laos will meet in Vientiane next week to discuss lingering border disputes and potential trade agreements.

Cambodia’s delegation, led by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, is expected to leave Tuesday. Hor Namhong will meet with his Lao counterpart, Thoungloun Sioulith.

Talks over two days will focus on “all fields, such as border issues, anti-drug smuggling, anti-terrorism, anti-cross-border crimes, trade, economy, education, tourism, investment and others,” said Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the ministry.

Cambodia and Laos have worked steadily to mark their shared borders, erecting 121 markers between 2000 and 2005. Negotiation is needed on a further 20 markers.

“We will push the Lao side to speed up the planting of the remaining border markers as soon as possible,” Koy Kuong said.
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Cambodian opposition leader slams court ruling

REUTERS, PHNOM PENH


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

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

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

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

In an e-mail from France, Rainsy said he would not appear in court because the case against him was politically motivated.

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

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

“No matter who you are you have to appear in court, that’s the law,” Phay said.

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

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

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

Vietnam lodged an official complaint over the incident.

The countries are in the process of demarcating their 1,270m-long border, but farmers on the Cambodian side have claimed they are losing land as Vietnam encroaches on Cambodian territory. A group of villagers from Svay Rieng Province took their concerns to Rainsy, who is a fierce critic of Vietnam’s influence in Cambodian affairs.

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

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Small Muslim Sect Worries Over New Influences

By Pich Samnang, VOA Khmer


Toothless and balding, Bhann Tes sat on a wooden bed, writing Cham script in a handheld notebook outside a mosque on Udong mountain, some 30 kilometers from Phnom Penh.

The mosque, which looks more like a Buddhist temple, might not be recognizable to more orthodox Muslims. Nor would the practices of Bhann Tes, who belongs to a rare sect of Islam whose members say is in decline.

Bhann Tes, who is 76, travels to the mosque from his home, 20 kilometers away in Kampong Chhnang province, just once a week to pray. This was required by Allah to maintain a good mind, he said. To pray five times a day, as other Muslims do, was not necessary, he said.

“Allah did not tell us to physically pray five times a day, but only to keep our minds clean of bad thoughts, like wanting to steal others’ property, telling lies, or cheating others,” he said.

Bhann Tes belongs to the Imam San sect of Islam, better known as Jahed, who comprise an estimated 37,000 Cham Muslims and whose beliefs merge the teachings of the Quran with older traditions and customs like ancestor worship.

The small group is now facing a new threat, as money and influence from other Islamic groups, including those in Arab states, have begun drawing the Jahed under their influence.

“They consider us out of their group, but we follow the same holy book,” said Kai Tam, a revered Jahed elder. “They pray with body movement, and we just pray without it.” (Women, he said, are not required to pray at all.)

“I am worried that we may lose our customs and identity in the future, as some of our members have already lost their self-identity to join with the other groups for money,” Kai Tam said in an interview at his home in Kampong Chhnang’s Kampong Tralach district.

However, Sos Kamry, who leads the majority of Cambodia’s Muslims as a mufti, denied Jaheds were being lured by material gain or money.

“Those who have joined our group did it on a voluntary basis, especially after they returned from overseas studies or pilgrimages in some Arab states, where they witnessed the true practices of Islam,” Sos Kamry said. “They call themselves Muslims, but they worship our Lord a bit differently. They may not yet know how to do it fully, but when they understand it better they follow [us] because their practices exist nowhere else in the world.”

Emiko Stock, a French anthropologist who has studied the Cham for nearly a decade, said leaders of the Imam San community often refuse aid from other Islamic sects for fear they might lose their identity.

“For instance, if they accept aid from Arab states or other countries, they said they are worried that the way of practicing their religion would be changed, such as the observance of Mawlut ceremony and the prayers for their ancestor.”

Although Cambodia’s two sects of Islam practice the same religion quite differently, no clashes or mishaps have been reported in the Buddhist-dominated country.

Min Khin, the Minister of Cults and Religion, and Senate President Chea Sim each said separately at a Buddhist conference this week that Cambodia would maintain freedom of religion.

For worshippers like Bhann Tes, the differences make no difference.

“We are all walking toward the same light,” he said. “It’s just that the way we are taking is different. Who will reach the light first, let’s just wait and see.”

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