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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

US pledges $5 million to Khmer Rouge court

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – The United States has pledged five million dollars to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal amid the troubled court's attempts to address corruption allegations, an envoy said Wednesday.

Stephen Rapp, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, told reporters the donation was made "in light of continued progress" with the establishment of an independent official to help monitor graft.

The UN-backed court, which finished arguments in its first trial in November, has faced controversy over allegations of government interference and claims that Cambodian staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs.

"We believe that credible steps have been taken (against corruption)," Rapp said in a US embassy press conference.

"The whole world is aware that Cambodia is moving forward from a dark period of its history," he said, adding the funds would be intended for the court's second trial, of four senior regime leaders, expected to begin early next year.

Up to two million people were executed or died of starvation, disease and overwork as the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge movement emptied cities and enslaved the population on collective farms in its bid to create a communist utopia.

The long-awaited first trial heard Duch, real name Kaing Guek Eav, acknowledge responsibility and beg forgiveness for overseeing the torture and execution of more than 15,000 people at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison.

Rapp told reporters he was not troubled by allegations that Cambodia's administration has attempted to interfere in the tribunal to protect former regime members who are now in government.

"From my observations, the court is able to do its work," Rapp said.

Amid repeated warnings by premier Hun Sen that further cases against the hardline regime could spark civil war, Cambodian and international prosecutors have clashed over whether the court should pursue more suspects.

The tribunal was created in 2006 after several years of haggling between Cambodia and the UN.
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Cambodian ex-king returns home from China


PHNOM PENH (AFP) – Cambodia's elderly former king Norodom Sihanouk and his family returned home on Wednesday from China where he spent seven months receiving medical treatment, officials said.

Sihanouk, his wife, and his son King Norodom Sihamoni were greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Hun Sen and other senior government officials.

Oum Daravuth, a member of the royal cabinet, told reporters that Sihanouk was now in "good health" and that his royal presence would bring harmony to the kingdom and its people.

Sihanouk, 87, has suffered from a number of ailments, including cancer, diabetes and hypertension.

In July last year he returned to Cambodia after a stay of almost one year in China, where he was successfully treated for a third bout of cancer.

He and his wife returned last September for a check-up and treatment, while Sihamoni flew to see the pair in Beijing last month.

The ex-monarch said last October that he had lived too long and wished to die as soon as possible, according to a personal handwritten note on his website. "Lengthy longevity bears on me like an unbearable weight," he said.

One of Asia's longest-serving monarchs, he abruptly quit the throne in October 2004 in favour of his son, citing old age and health problems.

Despite abdicating, Sihanouk remains a prominent figure in Cambodia and often uses messages on his website to comment on matters of state.
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ADRA Helps Displaced Residents Following Destructive Fire in Cambodian Capital

SILVER SPRING, Md.--More than 2,000 people were affected when a house fire broke out on March 8, destroying an entire block of homes in a low-income section of Tuol Kork, in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh, reported the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA).

According to ADRA Cambodia country director, Mark Schwisow, house fires are common in the shanty areas of Phnom Penh due to the construction of small, wooden homes, which are often built in close proximity to each other. In addition, when an emergency occurs, Schwisow explained, the small entryways into these areas hinder critical response vehicles, which are unable to access the affected buildings, leading to widespread destruction of entire blocks of homes.

"Families have been forced to move in with family members and friends, or onto small spaces by the railroad, or the pagoda compound near where they lived," said Schwisow.

To meet the immediate needs of 2,000 survivors, ADRA worked with the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cambodia to purchase emergency supplies and basic food supplements, including rice, sugar, oil, fish, noodles, and tarpaulins. This aid was distributed on March 10, in collaboration with the Phnom Penh governor's office, and with the support of other local institutions.

ADRA International, the ADRA Asia Regional Office, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Cambodia, and ADRA Cambodia funded the response.

In April 2008 and 2009, ADRA also provided assistance to local residents following two separate fires that displaced more than 3,500 people in impoverished sections of Phnom Penh.

ADRA has been active in Cambodia since 1988 in the main sectors of Health, Water and Sanitation, and Food Security.

Follow ADRA on Twitter and Facebook to get the latest information as it happens.

To send your contribution to ADRA's Emergency Response Fund, please contact ADRA at 1.800.424.ADRA (2372) or give online at www.adra.org.

ADRA is a non-governmental organization present in 125 countries providing sustainable community development and disaster relief without regard to political or religious association, age, gender, race or ethnicity.

For more information about ADRA, visit www.adra.org.
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Camouflage expert discovered in Cambodia

Researchers have discovered a cryptic species of gecko in the Cardamom Mountains of Cambodia, reports Fauna & Flora International (FFI), a conservation group that operates in the region.

The new species, named Cnemaspis neangthyi after Neang Thy, a Cambodian conservationist, was first collected during a field survey led by Dr Lee Grismer of La Sierra University in 2007. It is characterized by a broad flattened head and cryptic coloration that helps it blend in with rock surfaces and tree trunks.

Neang, who runs FFI’s Cardamom Mountains Research Group and works for Cambodia's Ministry of Environment, said the discovery highlights the need to study and protect the Cardamom region, a biodiversity trove that is under threat from agriculture, fire, and illegal logging.

"Maybe this [discovery] will also help to involve Cambodian people more in the conservation of species, landscapes and habitats," he said in a statement. "If we do not do this, many animals in Cambodia may soon become extinct and we will not be able to show them to our children."

The Cardamom Mountains region has been named a Global Biodiversity Hotspot and is home to at least 62 globally threatened animal and 17 globally threatened tree species. According to FFI, the Greater Cardamoms cover over 2 million hectares of forest, making it one of the largest remaining blocks of evergreen forest in Southeast Asia.
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Who will defend the children in Cambodia?

At the end of January, Human Rights Watch released a report on abuses throughout Cambodia's system of drug detention centres.

Our report detailed terrible abuses and sadistic violence. The adults and children we interviewed told us of being beaten, whipped and punished with electric shocks.

Unicef provides direct funding for one of the centres, where drug-users and children - some reportedly as young as four - are brought in from the streets. When we briefed them four months before we released our report, they told us they were shocked.

They promised to look into the abuses. Children who had been detained at the Unicef-funded centre told us of being tortured. They told us of being forced to do exhausting military exercises, work on construction projects and even dance naked for guards.

We expected Unicef to press for a thorough and independent investigation and to demand that those responsible for the abuses be held accountable. We hoped they would conduct a review of their funding, programming and activities. We expected them to press the Cambodian government more broadly about the detention of children alongside adults.

What actually happened? Not much. Unicef issued a statement when our report was released saying that past reviews conducted by the Ministry of Social Affairs - the ministry running the centre - had found no evidence of "major violations".

Over the next few weeks Unicef officials defended their support for the centre, saying that they monitor conditions in the centre "from time to time". Unicef's director in Cambodia, Richard Bridle, said that they "look for the positive". At the same time, Bridle conceded that he "wouldn't be surprised" if abuses were taking place, and that these kinds of abuses are "typical in centres [such] as this one".

Last week, Unicef officials visited the centre - the Choam Chao Youth Rehabilitation Centre, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh - and then told reporters that Human Rights Watch had made a mistake. Mr Bridle said that on their visit, Unicef staff had joked with children being held there and found them "engaging".

Bridle told the Phnom Penh Post that "there is no culture of violence" at the centre. He pointed to an as-yet-unreleased internal assessment by the Ministry of Social Affairs and to statements made by a non-governmental organisation that provides some services in the centre (and which is also financed by Unicef) to suggest that we had our facts wrong.

It's a tactic we are more accustomed to seeing from repressive governments than from Unicef officials: A quick trip, an internal investigation and an announcement of no wrongdoing.

In contrast to Unicef's cursory review, our investigation was independent and thorough. We conducted detailed, in-depth interviews with 53 people who had been detained in drug detention centres within the last three years, 17 of whom had been detained at the centre Unicef supports. Our interviews were conducted outside of the centres, where children could feel safe from possible retaliation for telling us of their experiences.

While Unicef claims that the Choam Chao centre is "open" and "voluntary", here is what a few children who had been held at the centre told us:

"I tried to escape but my feet got stuck on the barbed wire. I was re-arrested. They beat me with a rattan stick until I lost consciousness and they poured water on me. They said, each time, "Don't run again!" Teap (14 years old);

"As soon as I arrived, the Social Affairs staff kicked and beat me. I don't know why. He said, 'You stay here. Do not run! There are high walls here. If you get re-arrested, I won't be responsible if your leg is broken.'" Chambok (17 years old);

"They shocked the big kids who tried to escape. I saw when they escaped and when they got shocked. They shocked them a lot." Chamnauth (15 years old);

"If anyone tried to escape, he would be punished. Some people managed to escape, some didn't. Most who were punished for escaping would be beaten unconscious. Beatings like this happened every day." M'noh (16 years old).

All of these children were detained during the period when the centre was getting funds from Unicef.

We're not the only ones presenting evidence of abuse. In the same article that quotes Richard Bridle saying that "These were not brutalised kids", the reporter from the Phnom Phen Post quoted a drug-user who had been at the Unicef-funded centre a year ago: "They used sticks.

They unlocked the door, entered and started beating. They punched me in the face. They smashed my head against the wall. They beat me three times with the cable in the same place. You could see the flesh come out. It was like pieces of flesh from a fish." He then showed the journalist his scars.

We have briefed Unicef four times, before our report and afterwards, both in Cambodia and New York. It's been six months since we first presented our findings, methodology and recommendations.

While Unicef officials defend their colleagues at the Ministry of Social Affairs, who is defending the children at the centre they fund, or at the 10 other drug detention centres throughout the country? When will Unicef decide to listen to the voices of the children who have been beaten and tortured? When will they support our call for a thorough, independent and credible investigation?

Joe Amon is director of health and human rights for Human Rights Watch.
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Cambodia fish exports climb to 30 mln USD in 2009

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia exported 30,000 tons of fish products and earned 30 million U.S. dollars in 2009, local media quoted figures from the government as saying Wednesday.

The Ministry of Agriculture's Fisheries Department reported Tuesday that 20,000 tons of fresh fish and 10,000 tons of processed fish went to international markets last year, an increase of 5,000 tons over 2008.

But an official said that the shipments were putting pressure on local supplies.

"We do not want to export too much because we want to give an adequate supply to local demand," Sam Nov, deputy director of the department, was quoted by the Phnom Penh Post as saying, but without specifying the amount of fish needed for Cambodia itself.

The government has had to work to balance the rise in international demand for Cambodia's fish products with the needs of Cambodians, for whom freshwater fish are a staple.

Cambodians brought in 465,000 tons of fish in 2009, according to the Fisheries Department report. Of that, 390,000 tons were freshwater fish.

The total haul for 2008 was 365,000 tons, a more than 25 percent increase.

However, only 25,000 tons, worth 25 million U.S. dollars, were exported -- 17,000 tons of fresh fish and 8,000 tons of processed fish.

Cambodia exports elephant fish, grouper, lobster, crab and prawns, along with processed freshwater fish. Buyers include Australia, China, China's Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.
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