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Friday, September 30, 2011

Foreign Investment Brings Cambodia Growth, New Issues

A train prepares to start during the official recommencement of commercial train services on a rehabilitated rail corridor in Phnom Penh October 22, 2010.

Cambodian officials say the country's economic growth rate is set to exceed seven percent this year. According to financial analysts even if the global economy slows, Cambodia is well prepared to deal with it, partly because of strong foreign investment. But the billions of dollars flowing into the country are also raising concerns about the political and social impact from massive development projects.

Cambodia has posted strong economic growth in the two years since the 2008 global financial crisis. Foreign investment, a growing tourism industry and a strong agricultural sector have been key to that growth.

The country's garment and textiles sector is also doing well, with exports set to rise by 40 percent this year.

"The Cambodian economy is probably in the best shape it has ever been in - absent is what is going on the rest of the world," said Stephen Higgins, chief executive officer for ANZ Royal Bank in Phnom Penh. "The economic growth this year we think will be in the range of seven to eight percent, and the normal global environment we would expect probably eight to 10 percent in the next few years."

But Higgins says inflation must be kept under control, especially with regard to rising food prices.

Despite economic uncertainty in Europe and the United States, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimated growth this year at 6.8 percent and only expects the rate to decrease slightly next year.

Analysts say foreign investors from Japan are seeking alternatives to China and Thailand. They are joining long standing regional investors such as Vietnam and South Korea.

But China remains the country's top investor. Chinese state media report that investors have poured in about $5.5 billion in the first seven months of the year.

Among the investments is a luxury property development project worth $3 billion. China has also provided money for hydropower and road construction. And two of China's leading banks, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Bank of China, opened branches in Cambodia this year.

ADB senior economist Peter Brimble says while funds from China are welcome, Chinese aid can be restrictive.

"Chinese aid is extremely tied; [there is] no bidding. It's quite likely - especially if it's a loan rather than a grant - you may actually be paying more for what you are getting just because the Chinese don't believe in competitive bidding. I think the government knows that."

Critics say China's economic influence is linked to its political concerns. They point to an incident in 2009 when Cambodia deported 20 Muslim ethnic Uighurs who sought asylum after fleeing violence in China. Soon after their departure, a senior Chinese official arrived in Cambodia to sign 14 trade deals worth $850 million.

David Carter, president of the Australian Business Association of Cambodia, says Cambodia has welcomed investment from China.

"Certainly it has a big influence on the place," said Carter. "Bridges and roads are being built. So there's a feeling that a lot of Chinese money around the place, but I think most people are aware it will come with obligations attached. So it's good, but you have to pay your bills back at some time."

The development projects funded by those investments can have a dramatic impact on one of South East Asia's poorest nations. While officials have welcomed investments in upgrading Cambodia's infrastructure, there have also been thousands of evictions to make way for new projects. In 2010, rights groups estimate 30,000 people were forced from their homes by mining, agriculture and hydropower projects.

The Housing Rights Task Force, a rights group that has been critical of government resettlement policies, says up to 150,000 people may be evicted in the coming years. They say at least 80,000 evictions could occur in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Hang Chayya, director of the Khmer Institute for Democracy, says foreign investors must respect human rights in order to maintain long term relationships in Cambodia.

"Any bilateral relationship with China has to be done on one that respects human rights and democracy in the country," said Chayya. "And this is what is not happening in the government taking the option of dealing with China."

Cambodia's economic performance will be highlighted in 2012, when Phnom Penh hosts the annual meetings of the regional Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Analysts say Cambodia's economic future increasingly lies with the fortunes of its close neighbors Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, and its distant neighbor to the north, China.
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Cambodia: a country with its eye on the past

Clover Stroud revels in the colour, energy and optimism of modern Cambodia, but also discovers a country where few people remain unaffected by its recent history.


Mekong River fishermen are struggling to survive by fishing for food in everyday in modern Cambodia

Children are playing basketball in the water. In a caged court on a lake, they dance with the ball, slamming it into the wire walls encasing them. A boat bobs alongside, its driver shouting to the children. They thrust hands out for cartons of mango juice which he exchanges for sweaty coins.

I've never seen a basketball court on water, but this is Cambodia and it's one of many things in the country that opens my eyes. The court is on Lake Tonle Sap, south of Siem Reap, home to catfish, freshwater dolphins, lots of crocodiles and towns of stateless Vietnamese, who arrived in 1979 with the soldiers.

Today 1.4 million live in floating villages, another four million on the banks. The villages, like much in Cambodia, are testimony to the ingenuity of people fighting for survival. Houses built on bamboo stilts skim the water, faded tarpaulins cover verandas slung with hyacinth-rope hammocks. Women tend steaming pots, lids rattling, over stoves. Children, who can swim before they walk, leave for school in punts.

The men fish, or squat, smoking, watching for a water rat to kill with a slingshot. A thick, inescapable smell of concentrated fish laces the air, the main ingredient of teuk trei, or fish sauce, which I'll take home but fail to reproduce the scented, tangy flavours of sumlar ngam ngouw (chicken soup) and other dishes I'd eaten at the Abacus Restaurant on Pum Khun Street in Siem Reap.

Girls with hair the colour of plums wave at me, even though they know I won't buy their bags of charcoal. Still, they pull their boat towards mine, handing me slices of mango, but disappearing, beyond reach, as I try pass them some money.


The people are poor, certainly, but there's a vibrancy to what appears to be a thriving community, with a Roman Catholic church and Buddhist temple beside each other, a busy supermarket and cafés selling frog fried with garlic and rat stewed with ginger.

The floating villages embody the opposites and incongruity of Cambodia. It's a place of fragrance and beauty, of colourful temples and magical music; a place where I experienced only generosity and kindness from everyone I met. But there's sadness too, of course, because it's impossible to forget 1975, when the Khmer Rouge perpetrated genocide, and banned money, school, hospitals, law, religion and families.

As a visitor, knowing how to deal with Cambodia's past is difficult. I wasn't sure whether to visit Choeung Ek, the killing fields museum, or Tuol Sleng S-21, where thousands were tortured. But so many conversations I had with temple guides, porters and waitresses referred to the past that I realised it was something one had to acknowledge and try to understand.

On a baking afternoon I went to the killing fields and the school, and the piles of skulls, buried bones and hundreds of photographs of people on their way to death were as dreadful and harrowing as you'd expect. Afterwards, I realised these were necessary visits: in this beautiful and confusing country, no one remains unaffected by the past.

But there's an optimism too, in the sense of a country getting to grips with becoming the place it knew it could be. Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are very different, but both embody this spirit. The capital is a tangle of broad avenues and teeming markets, where the memory of the country's past as a French colony is evident in the numerous grand colonial buildings, peering incongruously from behind lines of motorbikes, many piled with entire families, or tuk-tuks racing down the street like children's toys.

By evening the Mekong dominates the city, as boats lit by lanterns bob past cafés spilling across the banks, places where families gather, teenagers on bikes sell baguettes and an older generation play chess, their grandchildren playing excitedly around their feet.

DID YOU KNOW?
Such is Angkor Wat’s significance in Cambodia that it features in white at the centre of the country’s flag
 

In the tropical gardens of the Royal Palace, beneath the glimmering towers of the Silver Pagoda, is a life-size gold Buddha studded with diamonds. It's jaw-dropping, but I preferred the sense of the messy, living spirit of the city at the hilltop temples of Wat Phnom, where Cambodians come to pray for luck in everything from love and life to job interviews and exams. Offerings of grilled meat and eggs surrounded by grubby stacks of money pile the altars. Hundreds of Buddhas cover the temple floor, glittering with coloured lights, and stacks of plastic plates wait for offerings. Outside, girls sell cages of birds, which are released for good luck and fly over the city that roars beneath the hill, even after the sun has gone down.

Siem Reap is more sedate, around 190 miles to the north-west, a necessary stop en route to Angkor Wat. Laid out on a grid, it feels like a provincial town, but with a proliferation of new restaurants and bars. Of course you should go to Angkor Wat, because nothing about the temples, rising from the jungle, disappoints, except, perhaps, for the number of visitors. The scale is staggering, and there's a palpable sense of excitement in watching the sun break over the temples.

Stranger, and less visited, are the temples of Beng Mealea, about 35 miles east of the city. These temples are surrounded by a huge moat, the jungle twisting through the remaining stones, so that you clamber along wooden walkways, with a sense of the strange, massive jungle all around.

I was lucky too, as I was travelling with Cox & Kings, which organises safari-style camps as accommodation. Arriving by night, after a long journey down potted roads, I fell asleep to the chirp of the jungle and woke to the screech of swallows outside my tent. As the light thickened, I could make out a massive step pyramid through the trees, reminding me of Mayan temples I'd seen in Mexico.

There were no other visitors, just monkeys and red kite to accompany me as I scrambled around the ruins. I hadn't expected a safari camp near Siem Reap, but this is Cambodia, where children play basketball on water, and where almost everything surprises.

WHAT TO AVOID

Crossing Phnom Penh on foot is exhausting and best avoided. Instead take a moto (motorbike taxi) or cyclo (the distinctive Cambodian cycle rickshaw), which can be picked up on the pavement.

For an English-speaking moto driver, try the ones who wait around the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (00855 760280; Pokambor Street; www.fcccambodia.com). For the best cyclos, try the Cyclo Centre Phnom Penh (9D 158 Street; 991178).

Local delicacies in the market include spider and beetles, and sadly there are places to try snake and turtle all over Phnom Penh; avoid illegally hunted animals such as pangolin and bear.

In the cities it’s best not to eat with your fingers. Locals will not object if you use your right hand, but not your left, to pick up a piece of meat such as a chicken leg.

It’s considered rude to use a toothpick without covering your mouth with one hand.

GETTING THERE
There are no direct flights to Cambodia. Thai Airways (020 7491 7953; www.thaiairways.co.uk) offers flights from Heathrow to Phnom Penh, changing in Bangkok, from £700 return.

PACKAGES

Cox & Kings (020 7873 5000; www.coxandkings.co.uk) organises eight-night tours of Cambodia from £2,845 per person, including private transfers, guides and excursions, a return economy flight and two nights at Raffles Le Royal Phnom Penh (Landmark Room), three nights at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor (Landmark Room) and three nights at the Temple Safari.

Seasons (01244 202000; www.seasons.co.uk) offers a seven-night journey through Cambodia from £2,570 per person, including flights, b & b, transfers and excursions, with three nights in Siem Reap, two in Phnom Penh and two at an eco-resort at Koh Trat, in the south-west of the country.

THE INSIDE TRACK

The killing fields at Choeung Ek are eight miles south of Phnom Penh, on Monireth Avenue (daily 7am-5pm; £3). The entrance to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh (daily 7.30am-5.30pm; £3) is off Street 113.

Angkor Wat is essential, but other temples are often quieter and as rewarding: 12th-century Ta Som, once a hiding place for the Khmer, is known for the two massive Bodhisattva heads in the roots of a kapok tree. Neck Pean, or “entwined serpents”, has a series of pools linked by walkways, thought to represent a mythical Himalayan lake.

Chong Kneas is the closest floating village on Lake Tonle Sap to Siem Reap, where you’ll find fishermen, boat-makers and crocodile farmers at work.

For a stilted village, visit Kompong Khleang, especially in the early morning, when the fishermen and schoolchildren leave the village. Boats (£30 for 2-10 people) can be taken from the port at Chong Kneas.
Visitors cannot drive cars in Siem Reap, but you can visit Angkor Wat by tour bus from the bigger hotels. Better still, take a guide. Friendly and punctual, English-speaking Kim San organises single or multi-day trips of the area, including Angkor Wat, Beng Mealea and the floating villages (00855 12 448456; www.angkor-guide.com; from £45 for day tour for 2-4 people).

THE BEST HOTELS

OK £Clean, dormitory beds or basic rooms in one of the friendliest hotels in Phnom Penh, just off the Mekong riverfront. Basic bar and restaurant, and the owner will help organise visa extensions (986534; hello0325@hotmail.com; from £1).

Mahogany ££Traditional Siem Reap guesthouse and one of the oldest of its type in the city. The friendly proprietor, known as Mr Prune, is an encyclopedic source of knowledge (963417; 593 Wat Bo Street, Siem Reap; from £14).

Raffles Hotel Le Royal £££
The grandest hotel in the capital, situated in a colonial building dating from 1929, with a big pool. The Elephant Bar is a good place to go for happy-hour cocktails (5pm-7pm) for Cambodian glamour (981888; www.phnompenhraffles.com; from £135).

THE BEST RESTAURANTS

Khmer Surin Restaurant ££Excellent stir-fries, including morning glory and shrimp, and a lively, student crowd. Afterwards nip next door to the massage rooms for the best foot massage in the city (No 9, Street 57, off Sihanouk Blvd 12302 Phnom Penh; 363050).

Restaurant Bopha £££On the banks of the Mekong, this terrace restaurant serves excellent Khmer food, including delicious chicken with banana flower soup and water buffalo, which is like a leaner version of beef; traditional Apsara dancing most evenings, 7pm-9pm (Sisowat Quay, by Siem Reap ferry; bopha-phnompenh.com; 427209).

Foreign Correspondents’ Club £££ In the old French governor’s mansion, this is a Cambodian institution, with a terrace overlooking Pokambor Avenue by the Siem Reap river. Stick with the Khmer dishes, including excellent fish amok (Pokambor Street; www.fcccambodia.com; 760280).

FURTHER READING

The Gate by Francois Bizot: French ethnologist Bizot was captured and imprisoned for three months in the jungle by the Khmer Rouge. He befriended his captor, Comrade Duch, perpetrator of some of the most horrific atrocities in Tuol Sleng.

Rivers of Time by Jon Swain: famous as the journalist in David Puttnam’s film The Killing Fields, Swain lived in Cambodia from 1970 to 1975, during the arrival of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh.

First They Killed My Father: a Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung: Ung was five when the Khmer Rouge arrived, born to an educated family who were all in grave danger, but who survived by posing as illiterate peasants. Ung escaped to Thailand, but not before her parents and two of her six siblings were killed.
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Scores die in worst Mekong flooding since 2000

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - At least 150 people in Cambodia and southern Vietnam have died in the worst flooding along the Mekong River in 11 years after heavy rain swamped homes, washed away bridges and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

Worse could be in store if Typhoon Nesat, which killed at least 39 people in China this week and plowed into northern Vietnam on Friday, dumps rain deep enough inland to further swell the Mekong.

Flooding across the fertile Mekong Delta helped drive rice prices to a three-year high in Vietnam this week, traders said, which will add to inflation problems. The delta produces more than half of Vietnam's rice and 90 percent of its exportable grain.

In Cambodia, 141 people have died since August 13 due to Mekong flooding and flash floods, the Cambodian National Disaster Management Committee said.

"Now, more than 200,000 hectares (494,200 acres) of our rice paddies are under water but we don't yet know the full extent of the damage," said Keo Vy, deputy information director at the National Disaster Management Committee.

Cambodia is a minor rice exporter, but Vietnam is the world's second-biggest exporter behind Thailand.
In 2000, the worst flooding in decades killed more than 480 people across the Delta region. The following year, more than 300 people died when the Mekong, which flows 4,350 km (2,700 miles) from the glaciers of Tibet to the rice-rich Delta of southern Vietnam, overflowed its banks.

Some 150,000 families had been affected by the flooding in Cambodia this year and another 15,000 evacuated to higher ground, said Men Neary Sopheak, deputy secretary general of Cambodia's Red Cross.
Down river in Vietnam, at least nine people have died since seasonal floods arrived in the Delta in August, government and provincial disaster reports said. Floods had inundated nearly 3,800 houses and nearly 700 people were evacuated in An Giang province and the city of Can Tho.

Dykes and bridges were washed away in places and roads submerged by the muddy deluge. Production of shrimp and fish had been affected in parts of the Delta.

PEAK OF FLOODING NEAR?

Flooding is forecast to peak in Vietnam in early October. The waters had already peaked in Cambodia and were receding there slowly, the Vietnamese government said on Friday.

Water had reached 4.76 metres (15 ft 7 in) early on Friday at Vietnam's Tan Chau gauging station, 0.26 meter (10 in) above Alarm Level Three, the most dangerous flood condition at which inundation is widespread and dykes are in jeopardy.

It was forecast to peak at 4.9 metres (16 ft) by Sunday, the government said. Water 5 metres deep can submerge one-storey houses, which are common in the Delta in southern Vietnam.

Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai urged the provincial authorities to evacuate people from dangerous areas, speed up the rice harvest and close more schools to prevent deaths.

Around 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres) of the Delta's third rice crop have been inundated as floods broke through dyke sections in the provinces of Dong Thap and An Giang, and another 90,000 hectares (22,240 acres) were under threat.

The region has planted nearly 600,000 hectares (1.58 million acres) for the current crop, which is mainly for domestic consumption, and only 5 percent has been harvested, the agriculture ministry said.

In Thailand, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said 180 people had died in flooding since mid-July caused by tropical storm Nock-Ten and seasonal monsoons.

Two million people in 23 provinces have been affected, with 2.4 million acres of farmland under water. Officials say rice has been harvested early in some areas, which may cut yields.

Flooding was reported in the night bazaar in the northern town of Chiang Mai, popular with tourists, and flash floods and landslides were reported in areas around town due to the high level of the Ping river, officials said.
(Additional reporting by Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi and Jutarat Skulpichetrat in Bangkok; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Alan Raybould and Sanjeev Miglani)
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Thailand mulls asking Cambodia to transfer two detained Thai activists

BANGKOK, Sept 30 - Thailand is considering asking Cambodia to transfer two Thai activists detained in the neighbouring country for espionage to serve out their jail terms in their own homeland, a government spokesperson said on Friday.

Thai government spokeswoman Thitima Chaisaeng made the statement following a report in Phnom Penh Post about possible prisoner swap between Thailand and Cambodia.

Ms Thitima said the government is now mulling over asking Cambodia to transfer Veera Somkwamkid, coordinator of Thailand's Patriots Network, and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, now in a Cambodian jail on spying charges and illegal entry.

She said the idea was floated during the recent visit of Thai Defence Minister Gen Yutthasak Sasiprapa to the neighbouring country and that the law on the transfer of prisoners has been enforced since 2009 but on condition that the prisoners must serve out one-third of their jail terms.

For royal pardon, the prisoners must serve two-thirds of their assigned jail term, so it depends on the Cambodian government as to how it will proceed with the Thai request, the spokesperson said.

Ms Thitima added there is also a possibility that the prisoners' jail term will be reduced on Cambodian special occasions to one-third before being transferred to Thailand.

"The government wants to secure the release of Mr Veera and Ms Ratree as soon as possible," she stated.

The Phnom Penh Post earlier quoted Ms Thitima as saying prisoner exchanges between Phnom Penh and Bangkok could take place “very soon” and that the Thai Ministry of Justice had begun examining in detail how to circumvent existing legal impediments.

A Cambodian court on Feb 1 ruled that the pair were guilty of espionage, illegal entry, and trespassing in a military zone. Mr Veera was sentenced to an eight-year jail term while Ms Ratree was handed a six-year jail term. Their petitions seeking a royal pardon were rejected as the Cambodian government asserted the two must serve two-thirds of their jail terms first. (MCOT online news)
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Engineers Without Borders helps Cambodia

By



Fresno State students give classes at the National Technical
Training Institute in Cambodia. Cambodia students learn the
basic function of wind turbines. Courtesy of Jameson Schwab


Twelve-to-16 Fresno State engineering students annually travel oversees to support community-driven development programs and help poor communities become more industrialized.

“Engineers Without Borders really opened my eyes to the world and gave me an experience that I will never forget,” Fresno State student Jameson Schwab said.

EWB-USA sends a team of students from Fresno State every year to Cambodia to construct a project. This year in December, 10 students will be sent to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

“Our role for this semester and project is to design, prototype, build and test a vertical access wind turbine,” Carson Schafer, Fresno State mechanical engineer and leading mechanical officer for EWB-USA, said. “We will then teach the Cambodian students [at the National Technical Training Institute] how to use it and the basic functions behind the concept of the wind turbine.”

Fresno State engineering student and EWB-USA President Daisy Manivong hopes that in addition to helping Cambodian villages improve their lifestyle by providing electricity, the engineering program will continue to thrive and improve other communities.

Manivong added that she perceives EWB-USA as a club that opens up opportunities to all Fresno State students.

“Since my freshman year I have been involved in the organization and my goal is to continually keep the club going because it benefits not only engineer students, but other majors as well,” Manivong said.

In December EWB-USA will be sending a team of students comprised of mechanical, electrical and civil engineers who will travel to Cambodia to construct a wind turbine.

“I hope we end up with a good team that goes to Cambodia and does the project well,” Manivong added.

“Fresno State students will benefit from this program by not only learning,” Manivong said. “They will be able to take [that knowledge] to their fields.” Manivong encourages all students to get involved in EWB-USA.

Fresno State professor Michael Jenkins said Associated Students, Inc., contributes from $10,000 to $15,000 through the Student Instructionally Related Activities program to EWB-USA.

“Our main challenge is funding and getting support from sponsors. But we’ve been helped by IRA a lot,” added Manivong.

Another challenge for EWB-USA is language barriers. This challenge is through training, language and cultural classes.

“The impact we made as a group in Cambodia will always be something I can be proud of,” Schwab said “Knowing we helped other students and showed them new things is something this organization has done for the past few years and will keep doing for years to come.”
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Thursday, September 29, 2011

TPRF Aid to help build new wells, private food in Cambodia

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF) is contributing US$21,200 to assist efforts that will bring clean water and immediate food relief to more than 550 people in the Kampong Speu province of Cambodia, where malnutrition has long been a common contributing cause of death among children.

The funds will support a long-term effort by Cambodia's Sao Sary Foundation (SSF) to assist families in one of the nation's poorest districts, which sits west of Phnom Penh. In addition to building wells and distributing rice, the program calls for the provision of farm tools, seeds and training in agriculture and managing family finances.

"TPRF is pleased to be working with SSF," says TPRF President Linda Pascotto, "because they are approaching the problems of severe poverty in Cambodia on multiple levels, with the objective of producing self-sustaining communities. SSF has already demonstrated measurable success from their efforts."
In addition to constructing three wells and distributing 50-pound bags of rice to nearly 90 households, SSF will use TPRF funds to issue water filters, hand pumps, water containers and food for livestock. The program also includes distribution of farming-tool kits, seeds for home gardens, income-management guidance and training on intercropping to increase yields.

Vichetr Uon, SSF's executive director and founder, says that Sao Sary Foundation works in one of the three poorest provinces of Cambodia, a country in which 42% of the population lives in extreme poverty. In Kampong Speu, 57% of households live under a poverty line, identified by the nation's Ministry of Planning as living on less than US$1.25 per day. Vichetr Uon explains that most inhabitants of this area are forced to seek seasonal work in neighboring provinces, where workers are often exploited and sometimes not even paid for their work.

"Parents often force young daughters to work using forged documents saying they are of minimum working age for local factories," Uon says, "in order to provide financial support to their families."

Low annual rainfall and lack of sanitation are related problems in a nation still recovering from decades of civil war, economic stagnation and genocide.

Specific programs for the estimated 560 direct beneficiaries of TPRF's aid, also include teaching community development skills, household planning, budgeting, literacy, agricultural extension and group formation.
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UN expert says Cambodia rights progress a 'mixed bag'

GENEVA — Despite significant human rights progress in Cambodia, freedom of expression has worsened, a UN expert told AFP, describing the situation as "a mixed bag".

"In some areas there has been some improvement, whereas in some areas things have regressed a bit," the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi said.

"So it's a mixed bag," he said.

While praising the government's decision to reconsider a controversial draft law on civil society bodies, he said "freedom of expression and harassment of civil society representatives, lawyers and people belonging to the opposition has worsened."
The problem, he said, was a "harsher, less liberal interpretation and application of the law" by judges and prosecutors.

"The law, as it stands today, makes defamation, disinformation and falsification of information criminal offences," Subedi said, explaining that these offences should be decriminalized.

He gave the example of a UN staff member who was jailed for six months, "for merely printing information from the internet and sharing it with her colleagues".

The laws are also impacting policymaking, Subedi said.

"When an MP criticizes a government policy ... that MP has to be very careful with the words that they use, whether that will amount to a criticism of the prime minister, or ministers, because that could be construed as defamation," the rapporteur explained.

Subedi however praised the government's decision to reconsider a controversial law which would require any civil society organisation, including NGOs, to register with the government and notify authorities of its activities.

"This law has been sent back to the minister of the interior. And they are reconsidering it, which is a good indication.

"They could have pushed it through parliament, which they didn't," Subedi noted.
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Road accidents kill 25 people in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH (Xinhua) -- Road accidents had killed 25 Cambodian people and injured another 166 during the celebration of the country's second largest religious festival, Pchhum Ben on Sept. 26-28, according to a report from the Ministry of Public Work and Transport on Thursday.

The report showed that a total of 75 road accidents happened nationwide during this year's celebration, down 24 percent compared to 99 cases in last year's celebration.

Preap Chan Vibol, director of the transport department of the Ministry of Public Work and Transport, said Thursday the number of the dead was still the same as that of last year, but the injured people have dropped 30 percent to 166 people from 239 injured in last year's celebration.

The Pchhum Ben festival is the second largest religious festival in Cambodia after the Khmer New Year.

Road accidents caused by three main factors: over-speed driving, reckless, alcohol driving, and overtaking, he said.

The death toll of road accidents has become the No. 1 killer in Cambodia among those of HIV/AIDS and mine casualties.

In 2010, 1,816 people were killed by road accidents, and 70 percent of the deaths were motorcycle drivers, according to the reports by the ministry. The country lost 279 million U.S. dollars from road accidents last year.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Opposition Activist Fears Arrest Ahead of Election

An opposition party activist in Kandal province says the court there is trying to detain him ahead of local elections next year.

Meas Peng, a Sam Rainsy Party second deputy commune chief in Kien Svay district, is accused of initiating the destruction of private property in a land dispute in the province.

However, he said Tuesday he feared the courts were seeking to detain him to prevent him from contesting commune council elections next year.

“I am living in a safe area and am worried that the Kandal authorities will arrest me,” he said. “My case involves politics, because the commune election is coming soon.”

He said he has asked international and national rights groups to intervene on his behalf.

The court summoned him on Friday, claiming he had incited villagers to violence in a dispute with Prak Savuth, a provincial council member who was awarded 40 hectares of land by the courts. More than 100 families have contested the decision.

Meas Peng said he had observed demonstrations by the villagers in his role as a commune official, but he denied inciting them.

Kandal court judge Lim Sokhuntha called for his arrest, but when police detained Meas Peng and brought him to the local prison, there was no official documentation, so his lawyer, Chhoung Chu Ngy, said he took him back home.

Chhoung Chu Ngy said Tuesday the judge had acted outside the law and could be sued for ordering an arrest without a proper detention order.

Lim Sokhuntha could not be reached for comment Monday. However, In Van Vibol, chief judge of the Kandal court, said the judge had not acted improperly. He declined to give more detail, saying the case was ongoing.

Adhoc investigator Chan Saveth said Monday the court must not act under political pressure. Meas Peng had not committed incitement, according to Adhoc observations, he said.

The detention order for Meas Peng follows a request last week from the Sam Rainsy Party that another of its Kandal activists, Mouek Chea, be freed from similar charges after leading a protest in Phnom Penh last month.
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No transfer for Veera, Ratree

Two Thai nationalists jailed in Cambodia for “spying” do not qualify for a transfer to serve their terms in Thailand as their charges are a security concern, Justice Minister Pracha Promnok said yesterday.

Pracha’s statement kills any chance of yellow-shirt activists Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon being released from prison in Cambodia soon. The pair were jailed on charges of espionage, receiving eight and six years respectively in December 2010.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly initiated an idea to exchange the pair for Cambodian nationals jailed in Thai prisons when he met Thai Defence Minister Yuthasak Sasiprapha last week.
Currently, there are 39 Thais detained in Cambodia, while more than 2,200 Cambodians are jailed in Thailand.

Thailand and Cambodia signed an agreement on the transfer of prisoners that came into force in 2009, but it was not an agreement to exchange prisoners, Pracha said.

Prisoners qualified for transfer under with the agreement must serve at least a third of their jail term first and their charges must not involve security matters, he said.
“Basically the cases of Veera and Ratree are not qualified for transfer and so far the Justice Ministry has not yet received a request from concerned parties,” Pracha said.

The prisoner transfer could only be conducted with the consent of three concerned parties; the prisoners themselves, their countries of origin and the host country where they were sentenced, Pracha said. Thailand has similar agreements with 31 countries around the world.

Since the agreement with Cambodia, Phnom Penh requested the transfer of four prisoners detained on charges of smuggling drugs and two had already been sent to Cambodia, he said.
Phnom Penh is now requesting the transfer of five more prisoners and all qualify, Pracha said, noting the five did not include any charged with spying.

Attempts to free Veera and Ratree failed several times during the previous government due to poor relations. The new government has sparked hopes as it was on good terms with leaders in Phnom Penh.

Hun Sen promised Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra when she visited Cambodia early this month he would seek ways to reduce the jail terms of the Thai activists as the chance of a royal pardon was slim. Officials said they would only qualify for a royal pardon once they have served two thirds of their jail term.
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Feeding dead, Pchhum Ben festival in Cambodia

By Nguon Sovan

KANDAL, Cambodia, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Since early Tuesday morning, Chhin Som, 65, has got up to prepare food, fruit, candles and incense sticks in order to bring to pagodas to dedicate to his deceased wife and ancestors on the occasion of Pchhum Ben festival, the country's second largest religious festival.

Chhin Som had spent his one-month savings of 100,000 riels (25 U.S. dollars) from his sales of farm-grown bananas to buy fragrant rice and meats to cook for his deceased wife and ancestors.

He believed that the food would be reached his wife and other ancestors through the Buddhist monks' dedication.

"This is the only way through the Buddhism that I can express my affection and memory to my wife who died last year and to other ancestors," said Chhin Som, a resident of Kandal province's Mukampol district, some 45 kilometers east of Phnom Penh.

During the jubilant occasion of Pchhum Ben day, Cambodian Buddhists bring food, cash, and praying things to offer to Buddhist monks in pagodas in order to dedicate to their deceased relatives and ancestors; in return, they wish for longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity.

Chhin Som said he would bring food, some cash and other stuff to three pagodas in the district to wish his wife to be re-born in a better life.

The Pchhum Ben festival is usually celebrated on the 15th day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar. Before the day of Pchhum Ben, there is Kan Ben festival lasting for 14 days.

During the 15-day period, every early morning at four, monks chant in religious language and laypersons gather at the pagodas to toss small and round pieces of sticky rice on the ground to feed the sinful dead ancestors and then offer food to the monks.

"Some ancestors had committed bad acts in former lives, so after their deaths, they become sinful spirits; and the toss of sticky rice is to feed them," venerable Seng Sovannarith, chief of the monks at Machoeum Sararam pagoda in Mukampol district, said Tuesday during a sermon.

According to Buddhism, it is believed that, during the 15-day period, the spirits of the dead ancestors walk the Earth.

"The period is the annual holiday for ghosts and spirits--they are allowed to visit their descendants on the earth and they go to seven pagodas searching for food that is offered to them through the monks," he explained.

Departed souls try to find their relatives at seven pagodas if they fail to find their families making offerings to dedicate to them, it is believed that departed souls will bother and curse their descendants throughout the year, he added.

"Traditionally, the festival is to dedicate to the souls of spirits, ancestors and the dead through reciting by Buddhist monks," he said. "It is also the time to pay gratitude to their parents and elderly people through offering cash and other gifts."

Buddhism is the state's religion in Cambodia with more than 90 percent of the country's 14.3 million people holding it.

The country has approximately 4,400 Buddhist pagodas with more than 50,000 monks in all 24 provinces and cities, according to the records of the Ministry of Cults and Religion.

About 80 percent of the population in this Southeast Asian nation lives in rural areas; however, most young adults have migrated to cities and towns for jobs, mostly in garment industry.

Pchhum Ben festival is also a time for family reunion.

"It's the jubilant occasion we can re-unite our family," Long Vicheka, 22, a garment worker in Phnom Penh, said on Monday before catching a taxi to his hometown in Kampong Cham, some 120 kilometers East of Cambodia.

Vicheka has 6 siblings living in different provinces in Cambodia.

"At this time of the year, all my siblings and their spouses always travel to the hometown to see my parents and other relatives," he said.

This year's celebration was made amid the disaster of Mekong River and flash floods hitting most parts of the country since last month. The floods have claimed at least 97 lives and affected 90,300 families, according to Phay Siphan, the spokesman for the Council of Ministers, on Monday.
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Surapong: Hun Sen will help Veera, Ratree get pardons

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has shown an intention to help Thai Patriots Network coordinator Veera Somkwankid and his secretary Ratree Pipattanapaiboon get a royal pardon, Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said in New York on Tuesday.

Mr Surapong said the matter was discussed with Hun Sen when he and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited Cambodia on Sept 15.

The Cambodian prime minister said he would help by getting a reduction of the jail terms they were sentenced to by the Phnom Penh Court. This would enable them to meet the requirement for seeking a royal pardon.

Steps must be taken before reaching that stage but it was unlikely to be too long before they were freed because Hun Sen had expressed his intention to help, said the foreign minister.

Mr Surapong said this move to help Veera and Ratree out under a royal pardon was not the same as that mentioned by Justice Minister Pracha Promnok on Monday.

Pol Gen Pracha said the two could not be freed early under a presoner exchange programme, in which a prisoner can be sent home after having served one-third of the sentence first and the case must not concern national security.

Veera and Ratree were among the seven Thais arrested by Cambodian authorities for illegally crossing the border into Cambodia on Dec 29 last year. Five of them confessed to the illegal entry charges, were sentenced to jail terms, and released shortly after some time in jail.

Veera and Ratree were additionally charged with spying. The court sentenced Veera to eight years in prison and Ratree to six years after finding them guilty as charged.

Under Cambodian law they must first serve two-thirds of their sentences to be eligible for a royal pardon.

Mr Surapong also said representatives of all countries he met with had asked about the state of Thai-Cambodian ties and they were pleased to learn from him that the two countries could now resume their normal relationship.

Relations between Thailand and Cambodia soured during the Abhisit Vejjajiva government because of internal political pressure within Thailand.

Prospects for improved relations came with the Pheu Thai Party's victory in the July general election.

“Many countries are glad that Thailand can now talk with Cambodia, so the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (Asean) can now move toward becoming a single community in 2015,’’ said Mr Surapong.

They included German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

Mr Thailand is expected to expand relations with Germany through exchanges of science, renewable energy and other innovations in which Germany has expertise.

During a meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Thailand asked to opt out of hosting the CICA meeting because of budget and personnel constraints.

However, Thailand affirmed its firm policies on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) promotion and drug suppression as it wanted CICA to promote the cooperation of the border security and transnational crimes.

With Ukraine, Thailand has sought cooperation with it on trade expansion.

Thailand has asked Ukraine to allow multiple visa entry for Thai agro-business giant CP Group and Boonrawd Brewery, which have started doing business in that country.

In return, Ukraine asked Thailand to consider a 30-day visa free privilege for its citizens to visit Thailand, said Mr Surapong.

He also said Iran has asked Thailand for support it during the Human Rights Council meeting after it Teheran was condemned for not allowing women to drive cars.
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Floods kill 158 in Thailand, 61 in Cambodia

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The death toll from flooding in Thailand since mid-July has risen to 158, while 61 people have died in neighbouring Cambodia in the past two weeks, authorities in the two countries said on Monday.

More than 2 million acres of farmland in Thailand are now under water, an area 11 times the size of Singapore.

"Twenty-three provinces in the lower north and central Thailand are under water and nearly 2 million people have been affected by severe floods and heavy rain," Thailand's Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said.

Flooding has also affected the capital, Bangkok, which sits only two metres above sea level. The Chao Phraya river has overflowed into roads in some areas, although the authorities have reinforced its banks to prevent serious flooding.

The Meteorological Department warned 39 provinces, mostly in central and northeast Thailand, to be ready for possible flooding and heavy rain in the coming week.

Thailand's main rice crop of the year is normally harvested from October. According to media reports, some farmers have started harvesting early to try to get their crop in before floods hit, which could result in lower yields.

Some may be unable to harvest properly because fields are inundated.

Thailand is the world's biggest rice exporter. It is forecast to produce 25.1 million tonnes of unmilled rice in the main crop, up from 24 million last year.

Its monsoon season usually runs from August to October.

After a teleconference with governors in flood-hit areas, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said 40 billion baht ($1.2 billion) was expected to be used in long-term projects for flood prevention, but she gave no detail of the projects.

In Cambodia, Keo Vy, deputy information director of the National Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), said the death toll in provinces along the Mekong River and Tonle Lake was likely to rise once provincial authorities submitted new reports.

"The worry now is about a lack of food, and the health of people and animals," Keo Vy said, adding that 163,000 hectares (407,000 acres) of rice paddies and 63,000 homes were under water.

NDMC Vice-President Nhim Vanda said flooding in August had already damaged rice paddies around the country.

"The damage is now double," Nhim Vanda said. "We are worried that the water will go down slowly, which will destroy rice that is already planted."

Cambodia produces around 7 million tonnes of unmilled rice a year at the moment. Very little of it is directly exported. A great deal goes over the border to Vietnam to be milled and re-exported.

(Reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat in Bangkok and Prak Chan Thul in Cambodia; Editing by Alan Raybould)
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Emergency Session Held Over Ongoing Flooding

Prime Minister Hun Sen called an urgent cabinet meeting on Monday, gathering senior officials and provincial leaders to deal with ongoing flooding that has killed at least 60 people and inundated tens of thousands of homes.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told reporters outside the meeting at the Council of Ministers that the government was trying to ensure that famine did not follow the flooding, which have continued since August.

Provincial governors have been ordered to stay in the countryside to deal with the problem, he said, as efforts are being coordinated between local authorities and the Cambodian Red Cross.

Flooding has affected 90,000 families across 14 provinces, killing at least 34 children and destroying some 200 homes, the National Committee for Disaster Management said Monday.

Khieu Kanharith said that no foreign assistance was being sought currently, but he appealed for volunteers. Other priorities are to make sure rice and other agricultural production can begin in earnest when the water levels recede and that post-flooding diseases are mitigated.
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Many in Electorate Don’t Understand System: Monitors

“We must prepare a fair election system to provide the possibility for people to have full rights in registration and voting rights.”
 
An election worker calls votes off a ballot as election observers look on through a window, (file photo).
A high number of Cambodian voters do not understand the electoral process, while others distrust the electoral system, observers say, as registration for next year’s local elections continue.

In forums conducted last year in three provinces and the capital, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights found a high number of people were not convinced elections ensured equal participation and were wary of the National Election Committee.

Cambodia is preparing for commune elections in 2012 and national parliamentary elections the year after.

Kuoy Bunroeun, a lawmaker for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, said the election process is difficult for many Cambodians, while the National Election Committee has not done enough to inform the electorate.

“We must prepare a fair election system to provide the possibility for people to have full rights in registration and voting rights,” he said.

With 460,000 of 470,000 potential new voters registered, NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha said Monday that people seem to understand the process.

“New eligible voters always go to register, because of their understanding,” he said. “And more importantly, people in new resettlements are going to register. It means that they know their rights and roles in participating in the elections and the democratic process.”

However, Hang Puthea, executive director for the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said the National Election Committee must strengthen its work until the public can accept the committee’s management of the process.

“In relation to the knowledge of elections, Cambodians still need more training,” he said. “That means people will not clearly understand the election process, and they still have a distrust of the election system.”
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Friday, September 23, 2011

New Book Explores Cambodia’s ‘Hidden Scars’



"Many people who are affected by trauma would never think
 to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but in fact
they would go to a “kru” or go to a monk."

[Editor’s note: “Cambodia’s Hidden Scars” delves into the trauma caused to the Cambodian population by the Khmer Rouge, even today. One of the authors, Daryn Reicherter, is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. He has researched mental health and human rights issues in Cambodia, Haiti, Indonesia and other countries. He spoke to VOA Khmer about the reasons such study in Cambodia deserves closer attention.]

What is the book mainly about?

The book is about the idea that human rights violations, armed conflict and war cause psychological and psychiatric outcomes. Many Cambodian survivors were affected by the war and the trauma in terms of their psychological outcome. The book is really meant to be more an advocacy piece, not just to highlight statistics about how trauma has affected Cambodians but to start a dialogue on how psychology affects the [UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal] process and affects the victims as they go through the court’s process. The last part of the book looks at what measures have been done, and what measures can be done, to provide more resources for people who were affected psychologically by the war.

Why was this study important to undertake?
I actually work in California with refugees, survivors of human rights violations, from all over the world. Specifically, I work with the Cambodian population in the [San Francisco, Calif.] Bay area. And that population really has increased incidents in mental health disorders as compared with some of the other refugee population overseas. Their symptoms are profound, even though the trauma was years and years ago.

How are individual Cambodians affected by this trauma and how has Cambodian society been affected over all?
The first part of the book is really devoted to answering that question. On the individual basis, every person is different, and everybody’s experience is different, but there tends to be characteristic outcomes for everybody that has been exposed to terrible violence. What we see in Cambodia are very high statistics of people with distress after Pol Pot.

The other chapter of the book looks at the multi-generational affect. Cambodia has a very high percentage of people exposed to extreme violence, and people who have negative psychological outcomes because of that. We could imagine that those psychological outcomes cause areas of dysfunction, like problems with their family, problems with employment, problems with their personal lives, and you can imagine the ripple effect by having so many people exposed. It’s not just the individual who is having a hard time functioning, it’s more a community of people who are having a hard time functioning together.

When you have been exposed to trauma, and now you have some mental health issues, the parenting style may be different for people who are survivors as compared with people who are not. One of the chapters examines the concept of how the generations that have come after Pol Pot have been affected by their parents and are having different behaviors. In other words, they have different parenting strategies because of their experience and that translates into the next generation.

What are the treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder?
The book is a little bit unspecific on that point. When we are treating PTSD in mental health in the West, there are some evidence-based practices that we understand, and we use medication and psychotherapy. The specific concept that is used in mental health in the United States may not always be 100 percent applicable in Cambodia.

In Cambodia, it is not necessarily just a mental health issue; it’s beyond mental health. Many people who are affected by trauma would never think to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but in fact they would go to a “kru” or go to a monk. There really needs to be a hybridized approach to address this problem in Cambodia, because if you just put money into the mental health system and just expect people to show up at the office of a psychiatrist, we are not necessarily going to see that. But there really needs to be some dialogue between disciplines.

Is it that people don’t understand PTSD, or that they better trust traditional means of treatment?
I think both are true. First of all, there is a large stigma around mental health in Cambodia—and also other places. They don’t know that they have a disease that would be something that could be treated by a psychiatrist or psychologist, but in fact, very often they are going to religion or to folk medicine or even the primary care doctors.

The other issue is access. If somebody who lives in the countryside in Cambodia did recognize their symptoms as a mental health disorder, and they wanted to get treatment in mental health, really there is no access to it. The people would not understand that mental health disorder, because there is not a very good public advocacy campaign to explain what mental health is.

What is the role of the tribunal in helping address this problem?
One of the things that the prosecutors did in the opening day of the trial was to talk about the potential reparations that may come out of the court, and one of the reparations that was suggested was the improvement in the resources for mental health. And as far as I know, this has not been suggested as a reparation in other courts like this one. I don’t think the court is going to create a mental health clinic, but the court could be an advocacy piece.

If the court finds at the end that reparations are important and that mental health should be considered, reparation could be directed at the government to make changes or improve the status of mental health delivery, or to the international community, to say, Cambodia has been struggling with this issue and the court has recognized this and recommends that international donors consider more funding toward this issue of trauma mental health, which is really behind many social problems that are happening in contemporary Cambodia.

Where will the book be distributed?
The book will be distributed in Cambodia. There are specific targets where we are trying to make the book available for free, but for other people, they’ll have to buy it through the Documentation Center of Cambodia. In order to have powerful advocacy, you have to make your information available. Some specific parts of the book are being translated into Khmer. Some of the concepts and recommendations that we made will definitely be translated into Khmer.

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Sam Ransey appeals defamation sentence

Sam Rainsy’s lawyer yesterday asked the Appeal Court to overturn a defamation and disinformation conviction against the opposition leader for his allegation that Foreign Minister Hor Namhong had run a Khmer Rouge prison.

No decision was reached by Presiding Judge Seng Neang, but Hor Namhong’s lawyer, Kar Savuth, told the court he hoped “100 per cent” the two-year jail term imposed on Rainsy in April this year for alleging his client ran the Boeung Trabek prison would be upheld.

“The penal procedure code states clearly that whoever files the complaint must be present at the hearing, and Sam Rainsy was not present,” Kar Savuth said.

“If the culprit [Rainsy] was not present, the opposition’s complaint must perish uselessly and the court must keep the old verdict.

“Therefore, I believe the court dares not to change the old verdict.”

Rainsy was convicted of making the allegations, which he has repeated in his autobiography, Rooted in Stone, during a memorial at the Choueng Ek Killing Fields in 2008.

He was fined US$2,000 in addition to his jail sentence.

But Choung Choungy, the attorney representing the SRP leader, who lives in France, told the court that Rainsy had never mentioned any specific names when he made the allegations in 2008, accusing a government off-icial of having run a prison for the Khmer Rouge.

“Excellency Hor Namhong and Excellency Sam Rainsy are public individuals who cannot avoid criticism. If he [Namhong] wants to avoid criticism, he does not need to hold a public position,” Choung Choungy said.

Seng Neang said the court’s verdict would be announced on October 5.
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UCC To Mark 34 Years Serving Cambodian Community

By Stephanie Minasian
From helping residents receive groceries to providing English as a Second Language classes to those in need, the United Cambodian Community (UCC) has spent 34 years assisting people from all over Long Beach. The anniversary will be celebrated on Sept. 28.

With one of the largest Cambodian populations outside of Cambodia, more than 300,000 people migrated to this area in the 1970s to escape the persecution of the Khmer Rouge. About 1.5 million Cambodian people, who were killed, starved or held captive in labor camps during the Khmer Rouge’s reign.

In 1977, UCC was formed in Long Beach.

“Refugees came here, and they are sometimes bitter towards the government because of what happened to them in Cambodia,” said UCC executive director Sara Pol-Lim, M.S. “When they immigrate here, the number one barrier is the language and the inability to access health care.”

She added that many of these Cambodians go without health treatment, and many times, their conditions become chronic and deadly. This is where UCC steps in, said Pol-Lim.

“If you don’t ask for help or get treatment until the condition becomes chronic, then you can die,” she said. “We are now an organization that mobilizes and shows people what is good for them.”

UCC has received a grant from the California Community Foundation for subsidized food to give to families in need. UCC was able to give $50 gift certificates to 700 families to use at grocery stores in the area. One woman who received the $50 was able to provide food for her husband’s funeral, Pol-Lim said.

“We hand out food twice a month for those who are in critical need,” she said. “Those who benefitted from the $50 for food were able to buy some extra things for their families.

The grant also helps the organization train residents on issues in public policy and how to advocate for social services in their community. UCC also has worked with the California Health Endowment’s Healthy Communities Initiative in Long Beach.

“What’s healthy for the mainstream may not be healthy for ethnic groups,” she said. “We are now an organization that mobilizes and shows people what’s good for them… It’s either you can stay in a poverty-stricken neighborhood because you didn’t stand up for something better, or you can change these beliefs of the ethnic communities.”

Some of the additional programs the organization provides are a women’s focus group, youth services, English as a Second Language classes, monthly community meetings, citizenship education and more.

When seniors or young people arrive on their first day at UCC, they pledge a commitment to the community — whether it be to volunteer or just be a good citizen. Each of them writes their pledge on a colorful square fabric to place on the wall.

“It’s really a cool piece here,” said UCC project coordinator Chad Sammeth about the quilt. “All of the people on this quilt range from ages 13 up to 75 years old.”

To commemorate its 34 years of service, UCC is hosting a seven-course dinner to honor and celebrate Supervisor Don Knabe and Dr. Christina Lee, for their dedication to the Cambodian community, Pol-Lim said.

The dinner will begin with registration at 6 p.m. next Wednesday, Sept. 28, at Hak Heang Restaurant; 2041 E. Anaheim St. Tickets are $50 per person, or $60 at the door.

“We are so grateful that for more than 30 years, we have sustained,” Pol-Lim said.

UCC is at 2201 E. Anaheim St., Suite 200. For more information, call 433-2490.
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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Choppers rescue tourists caught by Cambodian flood

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Flash floods at a centuries-old temple in northeastern Cambodia stranded about 200 foreign tourists Thursday, forcing officials to use helicopters to evacuate them to a nearby town.

The group visiting the 10th century Banteay Srey temple included tourists from the U.S., South Korea, France, Britain and Russia, district official Mom Vuthy said. The flooding also forced thousands of area residents to abandon their homes for high ground, or to camp on roofs or in trees, he said.

Brittny Anderson, 26, from Oregon said she was grateful for local residents who brought food to the stranded tourists as they waited on high ground for the helicopter rescues.

"I am scared for the villagers whose houses were under water," she said in a telephone interview. "I heard that the villagers had climbed trees and I'm very worried for their safety."

The temple is just 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Angkor Wat temple complex, one of Asia's greatest landmarks and Cambodia's top tourist attraction. It was not yet known if any of the region's temples were damaged in the flooding, said Mey Marady, vice secretary general of Apsara Authority, a government agency that oversee the temples.

Nationwide flooding since August has killed 28 people.
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Khmer Rouge Tribunal Splist wars crimes trial

A United Nations-backed tribunal in Cambodia says four ex-Khmer Rouge leaders charged with genocide in the deaths of up to 2 million people will first face prosecution individually for crimes against humanity, in a move to speed up proceedings.

The tribunal move, announced Thursday, separates the trials of the four senior surviving members of the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge, which ruled the Southeast Asian nation from 1975 to 1979. The defendants, all of whom deny the charges, include nominal Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, described as the regime's chief ideologue. Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife Thirith also face the same charges.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.

A tribunal statement Thursday said the division aims to safeguard the interests of victims, as the long-awaited prosecutions in a single trial could take years, and the elderly defendants – all older than 78 – are likely to die before verdicts are reached. The tribunal statement estimated it could take as long as 10 years to reach a verdict in a single trial.

No timetable was announced for the start of the separate trials.

In a landmark first trial last year, the tribunal sentenced former Khmer Rouge lieutenant Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to 30 years in prison for his role as chief of the notorious Tuol Sleng torture prison during the regime's rule. The tribunal later reduced the sentence to 19 years, granting Duch credit for time already served while awaiting trial. Prosecutors have appealed the reduced sentence and are awaiting a tribunal ruling.
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Heritage sites in Cambodia and Tanzania get preservation grants

Two UNESCO World Heritage sites have received major funding to save them from decay, Art Daily reports.


The sites are Phnom Bakheng in Cambodia and Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania. Phnom Bakheng temple is part of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex and was built in the late ninth to early tenth centuries AD.

Kilwa Kisiwani in Tanzania, shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image, is less known but historically important. This trading center was founded at the same time that Phnom Bakheng was being built. The site includes a fort, a grand mosque, palaces, and lots of other buildings. This entrepôt brought together Africans, Arabs, and Europeans and created a blend of cultures that can be seen in its crumbling architecture.

Both sites are feeling the weight of time and are in desperate need of preservation. Phnom Bakheng is in special danger because of the large number of visitors it gets. The World Monuments Fund has received grants for both from U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation to the tune of $450,000 for Phnom Bakheng and $700,000 for Kilwa Kisiwani. The World Monuments Fund is earmarking an additional $150,000 for Phnom Bakheng.

While a world-famous place like Angkor Wat getting funding isn't a huge surprise, the fact that a lesser-known but equally important site such as Kilwa Kisiwani is getting preserved is good news. The majority of visitors I've met in Africa went there for the wildlife and culture, both of which are fascinating, but are generally unaware of Africa's rich and complex history. The lions are lovely and the gazelle are great, but you also need to see the pyramids of Sudan and the cave paintings of Somaliland.
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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sam Rainsy Sentence Slightly Reduced in Map Case

The Cambodian Court of Appeals on Tuesday reduced by three years the prison sentence for exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy on criminal charges of disinformation.

Sam Rainsy was facing a 10-year sentence for allegedly publishing a map of the border with Vietnam in 2009 that the government said was fraudulent.

Sam Rainsy has said that Cambodia is losing land to Vietnamese encroachment, a politically sensitive claim the government denies. He had offered as proof a map on his party’s website a map he said showed border encroachment in 2009. He was then charged with publishing a false map and with disinformation.

The opposition leader is also facing a two years sentence for destruction of property and racial incitement for uprooting markers on the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province in 2009, a related incident.

The charges have kept him away from the country, even as it moves towards local elections next year and national elections the year after.

Appeals Court judge Chhun Leang Meng said the new sentence reflected punishment outlined in a recently passed penal code. He issued a fine of 3 million riel, about $715, and ordered compensation to the Cambodian government of 60 million riel, about $14,300.

Sam Rainsy’s defense lawyer was not present at court on Tuesday, but he was appointed representation by the Cambodian Bar Association. The attorney, Reach Hok Seng, declined interviews after the hearing.

Government lawyer Ky Tech called the decision “fair” and said the administration would not appeal it, noting that the court had followed the new penal code rather than the Untac code previously used by the judiciary.

Sam Rainsy could not immediately be reached for comment, but Yim Sovann, a spokesman for the opposition party, said the party “does not care about the courts in Cambodia.”

He called Sam Rainsy a “patriot” for defending Cambodia’s borders and said there would be no appeal to the Supreme Court.
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7 reds allowed to visit Cambodia

The Criminal Court on Tuesday granted permission for seven red-shirt leaders facing charges to travel to Cambodia from Sept 22-26 for a friendly football match in Phnom Penh.

The seven are Natthawut Saikua, Weng Tojirakarn, Korkaew Pikulthong, Yossawaris Chuklom or Jeng Dokchik, Wiphuthalaeng Pattanaphumthai, Nisit Sinthuprai, and Phumkitti Sukjindathong.

They placed 600,000 baht each as surety.

The court had earlier allowed four of them - Natthawut, Weng, Korkaew, and Yossawaris - to visit Cambodia on Sept 15-19 to make preparations for the football match - when Thaksin Shinawatra was also in the country.

The four and three other red-shirts, all of them charged with terrorism in connection with last year's violent political protests and prohibited from travelling abroad, requested permission for a new trip to Cambodia today.

Mr Natthawut admitted that during the first visit he and other red-shirt leaders met former prime minister Thaksin, who conveyed his regards to the Thai people and the government.

They also met Arisman Pongruangrong, another red-shirt leader who fled the country before the end of the red-shirt protests on May 19 last year.

Mr Natthawut said he tried to persuade Mr Arisman to return home and surrender to authorities but the man said he still had some problems.

Mr Korkaew, who also went to Cambodia on the first trip, said those in the opposition who criticised the red-shirts were narrow-minded because the visit was to promote relations between the two countries which would benefit Thailand.
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Cambodia, Vietnam talk trade

CAMBODIA and Vietnam yesterday pledged to strengthen cooperation on a range of issues involving trade and investment, in order to boost increasing trade between the neighbouring countries.

Bilateral trade between the nations is currently in its most significant period, with trans-border business continuing to grow, Cambodia Chamber of Commerce President Kith Meng told around 50 Vietnamese investors at a Cambodia-Vietnam Business Forum held yesterday.

“Both our countries have enjoyed remarkable economic success over the past decade, which has created opportunities for business, while also helping many people to escape poverty,” he said.

The total trade volume between the ASEAN members in the first eight months of 2011 increased 37 percent to US$1.08 billion compared to the same period last year, Ministry of Commerce figures showed.

A breakdown of the figures showed that Cambodia’s exports to Vietnam soared 116 percent year-on-year to $105 million, while in the opposite direction trade rose 43 percent hitting $976 million, in the same period.

“Last year, bilateral trade between our countries increased 37 percent, to more than $1.8 billion,” Kith Meng said, adding that he expects Cambodia’s GDP to surpass last year’s figure of 6 percent, possibly hitting 8 percent, in light of positive gains in the garment sector.

President of the National Assembly of Socialist Republic of Vietnam Nguyen Sinh Hung said at the forum yesterday that Vietnam is committed to strengthening cooperation on political, economic and social issues with Cambodia.

“We will invest together in our agriculture sectors, while also investing in the mining, energy and industry sector,” he said, adding that he expects Vietnamese investors to start looking into alternative sectors in the neighbouring Kingdom.
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What's causing Mass fainting in Cambodian factories

By Adrew Marshall

Why are hundreds of female workers collapsing at Cambodian factories? And could it have something to do with Pokémon cartoons, "World Trade Center syndrome" and the Tanganyika laughter epidemic of 1962?

Last week a team of experts from the U.N.'s International Labour Organization (ILO) gathered in Phnom Penh to seek an answer to the first question. In the past three months, at least 1,200 workers at seven garment and shoe factories have reported feeling dizzy, nauseated, exhausted or short of breath, and hundreds have been briefly hospitalized. No definitive explanation has yet been given for these so-called mass faintings. One baffled reporter described them as "unique to Cambodia." (Read how companies are abandoning Chinese factories in search of cheaper options.)

Hardly. It's been almost 50 years since girls at a boarding school in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) were struck by an illness whose symptoms — fainting, nausea and helpless laughter — soon spread to other communities. Or consider the Pokémon contagion in 1997, when 12,000 Japanese children experienced fits, nausea and shortness of breath after watching a television cartoon. Sufferers of World Trade Center syndrome, meanwhile, blamed proximity to Ground Zero for coughs and other respiratory problems long after airborne contaminants posed any health threat.

All these are examples of mass hysteria, a bizarre yet surprisingly common phenomenon that is increasingly recognized as a significant health and social problem. For centuries it has crossed cultures and religions, taking on different forms to keep pace with popular obsessions and fears. In our post-9/11 world, it thrives on the anxiety caused by terrorist attacks, nuclear radiation and environmental gloom. "At any one time there are probably hundreds of episodes happening all around the world," says Simon Wessely, a psychology professor at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. "They just don't normally get reported."

While New York City firefighters and Tokyo schoolchildren have both succumbed to what experts categorize as a mass sociogenic or psychogenic illness, young women are particularly vulnerable — and in Cambodia they make up most of the garment industry's 350,000-strong workforce. Conditions for workers have improved over the years, says the ILO, but few would envy their lot. Women leave their villages to toil in suburban factories for long hours and low pay, often making products for famous Western brands such as Puma and H&M. They live in grim communal shacks, eating sparingly so that they can send as much money as possible back to their homes.(Read about the burden of good intentions in manufacturing.)

"Stress, boredom, concern about their children and other factors among young females could trigger psychogenic fainting or other illnesses," says Ruth Engs, a professor of applied health sciences at Indiana University who investigated an outbreak of mass hysteria at a Midwestern university in 1995 after false reports of a toxic leak caused dozens of people to fall ill. "Poor ventilation, few breaks, stress from piecework production and other workplace conditions would all be contributing factors."

There have been dozens of similar episodes in Cambodian factories since the garment industry began rapidly expanding in the late 1990s. The recent incidents involved groups of up to 80 workers at a time, but the women didn't actually faint. "They don't lose consciousness," says Tuomo Poutiainen, chief technical adviser for Better Factories Cambodia, an ILO program seeking to improve factory working conditions. "They become powerless and lie down, and that's repeated by some co-workers."
This is unwise, says Wessely, who has studied cases of mass hysteria dating back to the Middle Ages. In previous centuries, reports of mass hysteria were common in European convents. Forced to join by their elders, young women endured hunger, boredom, isolation and beatings. They rebelled against these harsh regimes with behavior that at the time was attributed to demonic possession. They had fits, ripped off their veils, swore and blasphemed, exposed their private parts and meowed like cats. Some nuns were branded witches and beheaded or burned at the stake.

Such episodes weren't confined to Christian institutions in days of yore. In Malaysia in 1987, a number of Muslim girls took hostages at knifepoint at their oppressive religious school in Kedah state. This act of desperation followed a series of "crying fits, screaming, abnormal movements, possession states and histrionics," according to a 2002 academic paper co-written by Wessely and Australian sociologist Robert E. Bartholomew. Factories have also been fertile grounds for mass hysteria. The first recorded outbreak occurred at a cotton mill in Lancashire, England, in 1787, when 24 workers — all but one of them female — violently convulsed and reported feeling suffocated, according to the academics' report. Similar episodes were reported in France, Germany, Italy and Russia, but their numbers declined in the 20th century as unions gained power and workers' health and safety conditions improved.

For the past century, episodes of mass hysteria have been dominated by reports of strange odors and fears of toxic gases. In the 1930s and '40s, dozens of people in Virginia and Illinois reported being attacked by "mad gassers" who released toxic fumes into their homes; the odors were later found to have been caused by such mundane things as blocked chimneys and flatulence. Then came Sept. 11. The terrible events of that day, and the anthrax attacks that followed, caused profound anxiety about terrorism. There were thousands of anthrax false alarms in October alone, in which the reported symptoms were hard to distinguish from those of a real attack.(Read about China's rising production costs.)

An abnormal odor is now the trigger "in nearly all episodes of acute mass hysteria," Wessely says. In Cambodia, a bad smell was reported at a factory that makes clothing for H&M before some 200 workers collapsed in two separate incidents in August. But investigations by Cambodian officials, the ILO and H&M "have not found any plausible causes so far," H&M said in a statement. "The workers' health, well-being and safety are of importance to us and we [will] do all we can to find the root causes of the incidents." It dismissed a diagnosis of mass hysteria as "speculating."

ILO experts might yet discover a cause that rules out mass hysteria. (In the 1980s, Puerto Rican garment workers diagnosed with hysteria were later found to have been poisoned.) Nevertheless, a decade of unsolved mass faintings reflects unfavorably on Cambodia's garment industry and the famous Western companies it supplies. "This is a wake-up call for the industry to pay more attention to the well-being of the workers," Poutiainen says. "At the end of the day, they have given a lot to Cambodia."
See photos of Chinese workers.


After medical checks and rest, the women returned to work, with no apparent ill effects. "The good thing is none of the workers has a serious medical condition," Poutiainen says. "But it's also troubling because employers and managers can't get to the root cause." He admits that "some kind of mass-hysteria element" might be involved, but adds that the ILO wants first to eliminate other factors. Its investigative team includes experts in health and safety, industrial hygiene and nutrition — but not in behavioral psychology.(Read about China's at-risk factories.)
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Monday, September 19, 2011

Kasit: Hun Sen's meddling cause for concern

Thailand should be concerned about Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's actions now he has a Thai fugitive to his country, former foreign minister Kasit Piromya said on Monday.


Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya (right) and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen depart the stage after a group photo during the opening of the 16th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit in Vietnam on April 8, 2010. (Photo EPA)

"A group of journalists from Cambodia came to meet me and I asked them to tell Cambodian authorities that Thailand is apprehensive about Prime Minister Hun Sen, who held a reception for a fugitive instead of cooperating with Thai authorities by bringing that person back to face justice in his own country," Mr Kasit said.

The Democrat list MP said Hun Sen's action showed that he backed certain political groups and that he would not accept any other side that he did not support.

"The Cambodian premier is violating the Asean charter by intervening in Thailand's internal affairs, and should refrain from doing so.

"The Democrat Party has never interfered in Cambodia," he said.

On fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's comment that Thailand, Cambodia and Brunei are like brothers, Mr Kasit said the stance of the Sultan of Brunei was not yet known.

"The Sultan of Brunei is amataya [aristocrat elite] and the prai [peasants or commoners] must get his permission first," the Democrat MP said.

People were suspicious of the ties between Thaksin and Hun Sen and they should explain why they shared the same ideology, he said.

The Cambodian government could expedite the return of the two jailed yellow-shirt supporters, Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon, to Thailand. Their's was more a political case than a criminal case, Mr Kasit added.

Ousted premier Thaksin arrived in Phnom Penh on Sept 16 to attend the Asian Economic Forum Conference and meet Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Veera and Ratree were among the seven Thais arrested by Cambodian authorities for illegal entry in late December last year.

Five of them were released after being sentenced to a jail term for illegal entry and having served some time during the investigation.

Veera and his secretary were sentenced to eight and six years in prison respectively for illegal entry and an additional charge of espionage. Veera had previously been deported for illegal entry and warned not to do it again.
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